Meanwhile, by H. G. Wells

§ 2

Both Philip and Cynthia had a feeling that they had much to communicate to each other and neither knew how to set about communicating. She even thought of writing him a long carefully weighed letter; it was a trick her father had in moments of crisis, retreat to his study, statements, documentation, distribution; her brain kept coining statements and formulæ, but it seemed useless to write a long letter to some one who was so soon to depart and make letters the only means of intercourse. Moreover he kept drifting in and out of her sitting-room and sitting beside her couch, so that she had no time for any consecutive composition. He would pat her and caress her gently, sit about her room, fiddle with things on her dressing-table or take up and open books and then put them down again, and he would sometimes sit still and keep silence for five minutes together. He had a way of getting up when he had anything to say and walking about while he said it, and he seemed never to expect her to answer at once to anything he said. And if they were walking in the garden then on the contrary he would stop to deliver himself, and afterwards pick a flower or throw a pebble at a tree. As soon as Lady Grieswold and the Bullaces and Tamars were well out of the way, and the weekly visiting-day when the chars-a-bancs poured their polyglot freight through the garden was past, she came down out of her seclusion and walked about the paths and stairways with him and sat and talked here and there. They never seemed to thresh anything out and yet when at last he too had gone, she began to realise that they had, in phrases and fragments, achieved quite considerable exchanges. Three separate times he had said: “You’ve never looked so lovely as you do now,” which did not at all help matters forward but still seemed somehow to make for understanding.

She detected in herself a disposition to prelude rather heavily, to say often and too impressively: “Philip, dear; there is something I want to say ——” She hated herself every time she found that this preluding tendency had got her again, and had foisted itself upon her in some new, not instantly avoidable variation.

Yes, things were said and there were answers and acceptances. In the retrospect things fell into place and the remark of the late afternoon linked itself to the neglected suggestion of the morning. He had attended to her observations more than she had supposed, and expressed himself she realised with a fragmentary completeness.

Among the things she thought had been got over between herself and Philip was the recognition of their personal difference. They had to understand that their minds worked differently. Mr. Sempack had made that very plain to her, plainer even than he had intended, and she meant to make it very plain to Philip. Philip would have to make allowances for her in the days ahead. It was not only she who had to make allowances for Philip. They had to see each other plain. Illusions were all very well for lovers but not for the love of man and wife.

“I worry more with my mind over things than you do,” she had struggled with it. “Your mind bites and swallows; you hardly know what has happened, but mine grinds round and round. I’m an intellectualiser.”

“You’re damned intelligent,” said Philip loyally.

“That’s not so certain, Phil. I not only think a thing but I’ve got to think I’m thinking it. I’ve got to join things on one to the other. I’ve got to get out my principles and look at them, before I judge anything Philip, has it ever dawned on you that I’m a bit of a prig?”

“You!” cried Philip. “My God!”

He was so horrified; she had to laugh. “Dear, I am,” she said. “I don’t forget myself in things. You do. But I’m always there, with my set of principles complete, in the foreground — or the frame if you like — of what I’m thinking about. You can’t get away from it, if you are like that.”

“You’re no prig,” said Philip. “What has put that into your head?”

“And so far as I can see,” she said, “it’s no good making up your mind not to be a prig if you are a prig. That’s only going one depth deeper into priggishness.”

Philip had one of his flashes. “Still that’s not so bad as making up your mind that you won’t make up your mind not to be a prig, you little darling. This — all this is adorable and just like you. You are growing up in your own fashion, and so perhaps am I. I’ve always loved your judgments and your balance. . . . How little we’ve talked since our marriage! How little we’ve talked! And I always dreamt of talking to you. Before we married I used to think of us sitting and talking — just like this.”

That was a good phase of their time to recall. And she recalled it, with a number of little things he said later, little things that came back again and again to this question of some method, some reasoned substance, in their relationship that she had broached in this fashion. At times he would say things that amounted to the endorsement and acceptance of her own gently hinted criticisms. It was queer how he gave them back to her, enlarged, rather strengthened.

“Of course,” said Philip, half a day later; “all this taking things for granted is Rot — sheer Rot. Everyone ought to think things out for himself. Everyone. Coal strike. Everything. How lazy — in our minds I mean — people of our sort are! We seem to take it all out of ourselves keeping fit. . . . Fit for nothing.”

And: “Empty-minded. I suppose that people never have been so empty-minded as our sort of people are now. Always before, they had their religion. They had their intentions to live in a certain way that they thought was right. Not simply just jazzing about. . . . ”

It was extraordinary with what completeness he grasped and accepted her long latent criticisms of their life in common. “Puppy,” he remarked, “only put the lid on. I see I must get clear. The damned thing of it, wasn’t that at all. It was the drift. The day after day. The tennis. Just anything that happened.”

He had seized upon her timid and shadowy intimations to make a definite project for their intercourse while he was away. “Prig or no prig,” they were to explain their beliefs to each other, clear up their ideas, “stop the drift.” They were to write as fully and clearly as possible to each other. “God and all that,” he said. It didn’t matter.

“I’ve never written a letter, a real letter, I mean about serious things, in my life. I shall try and write about ’em now to you. Just as I see them over there. I shan’t write love-letters to you — except every now and then. Lill’ nonsense, just in passin’. I shall write about every blessed thing. Every blessed thing.

“You mustn’t laugh at the stuff I shall send you. It will clear my mind. People of our sort ought to be made to write things down what we believe. Just to make sure we aren’t fudging.”

Walking up and down with her in the broad path beyond the stone of the sweet Lucina, he remarked at large, loudly and with no sequence: “Prig be damned!”

And also he said: “A woman is a man’s keeper. A wife is a man’s conscience. If he can’t bring his thoughts to her — she’s no good at all.

“No real good.”

Then a confession. “I always thought of talking about things with you. When first I met you. We did talk rather. For a bit.”

Her fullest memory was of him late at night on the balcony outside her sitting-room. She was lying on a long deck-chair and he stood leaning against the parapet, jerking things at her, going from topic to topic, lighting, smoking, throwing away cigarettes.

“Cynthia,” he asked abruptly, “what do you think about Socialism and all that sort of thing?”

So comprehensive a question found her unprepared. One was trained at school, he went on, to think “that sort of thing.” Rot and not think any more about it. But it wasn’t Rot. There was such a thing as social injustice. Most people didn’t get a fair deal. They didn’t get a dog’s chance of a fair deal.

He stepped to another aspect.

“Have you ever thought of our sort of life as being mean, Cynthia?”

Latterly she had. But she wanted him to lead the talking and so she answered: “I’ve always assumed we gave something back.”

“Yes. And what do we give back?”

“We ought to give back ——” She paused.

“More than we do.”

“Considering what they get,” he said. “Rather!

“F’r instance,” he began and paused.

The moon with an imperceptible swiftness was gliding clear of the black trees and he stood now, a dim outline against a world of misty silver, taut and earnest, leaning against her balustrade. “I’ve been trying to make out this coal story for myself,” he said. “Rather late in the day seeing how deep in coal we are. But I’ve always left things to Uncle Robert and the partners. I grew up to the idea of leaving things to Uncle Robert.”

The face of Uncle Robert, Lord Edensoke, the head of the Rylands clan, came before her eyes, a hard handsome face, rather like Philip, rather like Geoffry; she could never determine in her own mind which he was most like. He was the autocrat of the Rylands world and she fancied a little hostile to her marriage. It was very easy to understand how Philip had grown up to the idea of leaving things to Uncle Robert.

“I don’t like the story,” Philip was saying.

“You know, Cynthia, it’s a greedy history, on our part.

“I wish old Sempack hadn’t trotted off in the way he did. I’d have liked to have had a lot of this out with him. That old boy has a kind of grip of things. I’m getting his books. I suppose it was just his tact took him off. He noticed something. Of that trouble. Thought we might want a bit of time together. We did. But I’d have liked to have had his point of view of a lot of things. We coal-owners f’r instance.

“You know, Cynthia, in the coal trouble, we coal-owners don’t seem to have done a single decent thing. I mean to say a generous thing. I mean we just stick to our royalties. We get in the way and ask to be bought off. I think you ought to read a bit of this Royal Commission Report. It’s in the file of the Manchester Guardian downstairs. I’ll mark you some papers. There’s the Commission’s report and the Labour Plan and various schemes and they’re all worth reading. These are things we ought to read. It’s a Tory Commission, this last one. The other wasn’t. The Justice Sankey one. But the things this Report is kind of obliged to say of us. Ever so gently, but it gets them said. The way we hang on. And get. I never saw it before. I suppose because I’ve never looked. Been afraid of being called a prig perhaps. Taking life too seriously and all that. But when you look straight at it, and read those papers — which aren’t Bolshevik, which aren’t even Labourite, mind you — you see things.”

He faced the socialist proposition. ”Are we parasites?” he asked.

Out of something he called their “net production” of coal, Rylands and Cokeson got in royalties and profits seventeen per cent. “Royalties by right and profits by habit,” he said. She made a mental note to find out about net production.

He laughed abruptly. “I’m talking to-night. I seem to be doing all the talking. Just outpouring.”

“Oh! I’ve wanted you to talk,” she said. “For all our life together I’ve been wondering —— What does he think? What does he feel? I mean about these things — these things that really matter. And this is how you feel. It’s so true, my dear, we don’t give enough. We’re not good enough. We take and we don’t repay.”

“But even if we did all we could, how could we repay?”

“We could at least do all we could.”

He stood quite still for a time and then came over to her. He bent down over her and sat down beside her, he kissed her face, cool and infinitely delicate in the moonlight, and crumpled up beside her chaise-longue, a dark heap with a pale clear profile, and his ear against her hand. She loved the feel of his ear.

“My dear, it’s so amazing!“ he whispered. “When we begin to look at ourselves. To see how near we may be to the things they say of us in Hyde Park.”

He brooded. “Getting all we do out of the country and doing nothing for it. A bit of soldiering in the war — but it was the Tommies got the mud and the short commons. And things like that. . . . What else have I done for — this?”

This in his whispered voice was all the beauty in their lives, this warm globe of silver and ebony in which they nestled darkly together.

“Presently I am expected to sit for Sealholme — just to make sure nobody gets busy with our royalties. . . .

“Suppose I stood for Sealholme on the other side!

“It is funny to wake up, so to speak, and find myself with all this socialism running about in my head.”

He rubbed his ear and cheek against her hand as a cat might do. “Is it you, has given me this socialism? I must have caught it from you.”

She pinched his ear softly. “You’ve been thinking.”

“If it isn’t you, it’s ——”

He paused for her to fall into his trap.

“Sempack,” she guessed.

“Bullace,” he said. “Queer beast. Something between an ass and a walrus. Egg on his moustache. But he gave the show away. All his talk about labour — and keeping labour down. So utterly mean. Bluster and meanness. Yes. But how does Bullace stand to Uncle Robert? . . .

“Where does Uncle Robert come in?”

Long silence.

“You are the rightest thing in the world, Cynthia. I’ve not given you a fair chance with me. I’ve never given us a fair chance with ourselves. We have to think things out. All this stuff. Where we are and what we are.”

He sighed.

“And then I suppose what we have to do.”

He went off at a tangent. “My Cynthia. I love you.”

“My dear“ she whispered and drew his head into the crook of her arm against her crescent breast and kissed his hair.

“Two kids. That’s been the pose. Pretty dears! Lovely to see how happy they are. Uncle Robert will see to things. But not such kids. Not such kids that we can’t spend twenty-two thousand a year on ourselves and bring a child into the world. What am I? Twenty-nine! . . . Too much of this darling kid business. We’re man and woman, caught unprepared. . . . ”

He had a flash of imagination. “Suppose I went and looked over this balcony and down there in the black shadows under the palm trees I saw the miners who pay for this house, with their lanterns, cramped as they are in the mine, creeping forward, step by step, picking and sweating through the shadows, eh? Chaps younger than me. Boys some of ’em. And suppose one or two of ’em looked up! . . .

“God! the things I don’t know! The things I’ve never thought about! The hours of perfect health I’ve spent on that cursed tennis court while all this trouble was brewing! . . . When you and I might have been talking and learning to understand!”

Astounding this burst of pent-up radicalism! How long had it been accumulating?

Brooding, reading, thinking; how silent he had been! And then these ideas, these very decisive ideas — for all their inchoate expressiveness.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30