You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 22

Morningside Prospect

EDWARD ALBERT married Mrs Butter a month after the decree was made absolute. They were married in a Registry Office and Pip and Millie were witnesses. She would not be married in church. “That wouldn’t be right,” she said. “Not for us two. I’ve been married in church before thank you.”

And with this the frank record of our sample’s sex life comes to an end. Edward Albert Tewler had grown up by this time and arrived at man’s estate, and henceforth there was no more essential change for him in these matters. Many little things happened, they continue to happen to this day, in his sexual reactions, but they marked nothing novel in the rhythms of his being. His fundamental curiosities were allayed, and if he peeped now he peeped for satisfaction and not for knowledge. He had his flirtatious and knowing moments, he would smirk at anything attractively feminine, but henceforth his passions were on the whole satisfactorily assuaged. He allowed himself to forget many phases in his development that we have been able to recall. He hated the memory of Evangeline, but with a diminishing bitterness. She was a bad woman and he had got rid of her. His bitterer humiliations passed out of his memory except now and then in a dream. He reshaped his private autobiography until it seemed almost that Evangeline had divorced him. He had seen through her and got rid of her because he had fallen in love with a better woman.

By imperceptible degrees the simpler, stronger mind of the new Mrs Tewler came to dominate the general form of his life. It was she who broached the idea of going right out of London to live in the country. It was all very well, she said, to live in London if you were in society or business or anything like that, but why should they? They could live in some pleasant place, near the sea for instance, near some town but not in it, at half the cost. If they got a place near a golf links he could learn to play golf. There wasn’t much sense in hitting about an expensive little ball from place to place until you lost it, and then beginning all over again day after day, but men seemed to find something in it and some women even went so far in humouring them as to play the game with them, but she couldn’t imagine herself going as far as that. But it helped a man to get to know people and it took him out of himself, and Mrs Tewler No. 2 was very clear on the necessity of taking Edward Albert out of himself.

He might get a nice little car and learn to drive it. “Why not? Then he ought to look into his affairs more than he had been doing. He would be able to restore his overstrained resources by saving and finding suitable mortgages. He might get to friendly terms with his bank manager and find local opportunities. If they were to get near a big seaside town they would be able to run in and see cinemas and things, and there would be schools presently for Henry. And doctors.

All these possibilities floated into his mind from the second Mrs Tewler’s occasional remarks, and most of them he made his own, and expanded and reproduced for her always respectful approval. They sought a home according to her specifications and they found one near the golf links at Casing, twelve miles and a half from the borough boundary of Brighthampton on Sea. It stood in a row of kindred little villas, Morningside Prospect, fundamentally alike but varied by differences in their bow windows, gothic stone work, green slates or tiles, red brick or white roughcast, so that each had a certain individuality of its own.

Individuality, mitigated uniformity, was the ruling idea of the Casing Prospect Estate Company. Its leading director, seeking something a little different from the Avenues, Terraces, Roads, Gardens and Places that dominate building estate nomenclature, came one day on some mention of the Nevsky Prospekt and seized upon it with the decision of genius. Morningside Prospect faced the sunrise and its back gardens glowed in the afternoon. Sundown Prospect was back to back with it, separated from it by a great profusion of tamarisk and some wind-twisted pines. There was a Channel Prospect with a better view of the sea but rather windy and an Empire Prospect with no particular outlook; there was Brighthampton Prospect and St Andrews Prospect looking out on the links.

All the houses were as alike as pigs in a litter, but by the most sedulous exertions any exact repetition had been avoided. In only one instance had that directors imagination gone a little too far; he had found a stock of pseudo-Javanese figures, plinths and gateways, intended for a still-born Oriental Café” in Brighthampton which had failed to produce its capital; the stuff was offered at a knock-out price and he bought it up. Opportunity rather over-stimulated his imagination. He created Celestial Prospect, a name which many serious people thought either ominous or blasphemous, and with the idea of giving it a still more oriental flavour he turned all the little houses aslant, so that they were in echelon instead of line abreast. Celestial Prospect never let so well as its brothers. From the first it seemed to attract the wrong sort of people, people who brought banjos with them, women who wore trousers, people who lit up Chinese lanterns at night and had moonlight singsongs, flitters, tenants who kept the company’s agents alert at the end of every quarter. One man painted his Javanese plinths in a most objectionable manner. Happily Celestial was a good half mile away from Morningside, and for the Tewlers, there was no need to go that way; it was a mere intermittent nocturnal melodious disrespect not nearly so troublesome as the corncrakes beyond the links.

There was much in common among the tenants of Morningside Prospect. They were all living very easily. There were two types of them. There were two young couples who had come for the sun and air, one because the husband was tuberculous and one because the wife was so afflicted. They had “moans”; they never revealed what they were, and one of the husbands designed tessellated pavements in a geometrical manner that the world had so far failed to appreciate. The idea of a deep-seated and indefinite illness appealed to Edward Albert and as soon as he heard of his possible neighbours he told the agent that his health, too, wasn’t by any means as good as he liked. He had to take things easy for a time anyhow. “It’s something the doctor can’t quite make out,” he said. “But London’s no place for me.

“I get it there.” And he indicated the upper buttons of his waistcoat. “You can’t be too careful.”

Apart from these sun and air cases the tenants were quiet men of a certain maturity. They were “comfortably off.” Younger wives or unmarried sisters did for them, and there was a niece or so and a few children. Both types were agreed in eschewing strenuousness from all their living and doing, and everybody in the Prospect, except one man with a cork leg and the tessellationist, played golf.

The Prospect Club had only an eight hole course, but there were the Casing links halfway to Brighthampton and further along, close to the sea, the Brighthampton Borough links. So that the countryside was always dotted with little intent groups of baggy knickerbockered men and sympathetically attired women marching gravely with their instruments and attendants in the track of an elusive ball, occasionally overtaking it and pausing to do further execution upon it and then on again. Day after day and all round the earth the stern unsmiling golfers marched and smote and marched again, without haste or laughter. The game had been endemic in the east of Scotland for some centuries and had been supposed peculiar to Scotchmen. Then suddenly it had swept like a pestilence about the earth. No race, was found to be immune. It is calculated that the number of miles walked every day in the days of the Golf Age,. . . . But statistics will impair the severity of our narrative!

The elder tenants of Morningside Prospect, were, I have said, all very similar to one another. Yet they were not a band of brothers; they came from many different parts of the world. Men have speculated about the instinctive elements in the make-up of certain insects that enable them to find their way across immense distances to the rare and peculiar plant or animal upon which they may mate or feed or lay their eggs. It is a miracle of selection reminding us of that vision of Swedenborg’s where all the damned and blessed fly of their own accord to the particular places appointed for them, hellions of every sort to their hells and the blessed to their heavens. And the particular thing that had assembled all these worthy men in Morningside Prospect was the searing influence of Monday morning upon their souls.

From the ages of thirteen or fourteen onward they had all been working, year in and year out, at occupations that required their punctual appearance at a place of business at a specific hour on Monday morning and had fixed them rigidly to meal times and routines of punctuality always. They had taken perhaps a fortnight or less of holiday in the year, glorious days that made fifty Mondays in the year darker by contrast.

All through their lives they had toiled and dealt faithfully with their employers and behaved circumspectly, and saved money with one sole object in view, retirement. No living dangerously for them, no invention nor discovery, but retirement. For them, not having to go to work on Monday, not hurrying to the shop or office in the morning, had become the Supreme Good. Religious people talk of the Desecration of the Sabbath, but for these worthy souls, who had been the backbone of that ordered business world that is now crumbling down to irreparable ruin, the Desecration of the Week Day was the crowning triumph of life. They trampled upon their defeated fetters, at eleven o’clock in the morning, at three o’clock in the afternoon, with a feeling of peculiar blessedness. So, all over the world of the great decay, the exploiters of land, the building estates, built their Morningside Prospects, as moth hunters treacle for moths, and there these men who had retired, according to their means and dimensions, came and lived, and Mr and Mrs Tewler abode beside them.

They lived in Homestead, in Morningside Prospect, for the rest of their lives until an accident overtook and destroyed it in 1941. and they lived in considerable contentment A certain slovenliness of accent that had characterised Edward Albert’s English became rather more apparent, and he forgot all his Elementary French except Parlez-vous Français? used in a facetious manner. He had a nice little garden, too small and sandy for any real gardening but pleasant to potter about in. He would sometimes clip his hedge in front and mow an infinitesimal lawn with a miniature mowing machine. He read less and less. He found even detective stories difficult to follow. He tried to find what is called a “hobby”, but this was difficult. He affected amateur carpentry and bought a ready-made workshop, Villa Size No. 3; he christened this the Glory Hole, and thither he would retire for mysterious activities. He found fretwork attractive and he made a triple hanging bookshelf whose only faults were that it seemed to have no centre of gravity and there were no books in the house to put on it. It hung in his bed — room. He liked to look at it. He was, he admitted, never very good with his hands.

Both he and Mrs Tewler were fond of cats. The black cat from Torrington Square lived for eleven years and was supplemented and then succeeded by a number of other mitigated Toms. Edward Albert devoted himself to golf. His astigmatism was diagnosed for the first time by a fellow player who offered useful advice to him, and he went to an oculist and got a pair of spectacles that greatly improved his game. His drives never went far enough because he had a subconscious dread of going too far, but his putting was slow, careful and fairly good. Like most of his neighbours he was a sincere but not extravagant Christian, that is to say he believed no end and never went to church if he could help it. Mrs Tewler never went to church or expressed any pious or impious sentiment. Faith for her had proved a disappointment too deep for words. The church of Casing, the only one within a Sabbath day’s journey, was reputed to be “high”, not quite the flavour for Morningside Prospect, and there was a little parson who aroused suspicion by trotting about the churchyard and vicarage shyly but importantly in a biretta and soutane when any reasonable creature would be wearing thin flannel. At times Edward Albert was still aware that away beyond the limits of Morningside Prospect, ideers were buzzing and booming, but a mere whisper of “Bawls” dispelled any anxiety. Naturally he increased in girth and substance through the circling years.

Season succeeded season. Year after year the great Orion, with the Dog Star at his heels, marched in glory across the heavens and the signs of the Zodiac succeeded one another in due order In their presumably benevolent watch over mankind. Life in Morningside Prospect went on like a sleeping top within these vast rotations, or like a tremendous clock with Morningside Prospect at its centre, and if you had suggested to any of its tenants, young or old, that this reef of happy retirement was at the heart not so much of a time keeper as of a time bomb, you would have been regarded as the wildest, most unnecessary of Buzzers and you would have been told to stop talking Bawls until you desisted.

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