Last Post, by Ford Madox Ford

Chapter 5

BUT no . . . that must have been about twelve, or earlier or later, on that infernal day. In any case he could not remember any subsequent meal he had had then; but he remembered an almost infinitely long period of intense vexation. Of mortification in so far as he could accuse himself of ever having felt mortified. He could still remember the fierce intaking of his breath through his nostrils that had come when Christopher had announced what had seemed to him then his ruinous intentions. . . . It had not been till probably four in the morning that Lord Wolstonmark had rung him, Mark, up to ask him to countermand the transport that was to have gone out from Harwich. . . . At four in the morning, the idiotic brutes. — His substitute had disappeared in the rejoicings, and Lord Wolstonmark had wanted to know what code they used for Harwich because the transport must at all costs be stopped. There was going to be no advance into Germany. . . . He had never spoken after that! His brother was done for; the country finished; he was as good as down and out, as the phrase was, himself. In his deep mortification — yes, mortification! — he had said to Christopher that morning — the nth November, I9I8 — that he would never speak to him again. He hadn’t at that moment meant to say that he would never speak to Christopher at all again — merely that he was never going to speak to him about affairs — the affairs of Groby! Christopher might take that immense, far-spreading, grey bothersome house and the tree and the well and the moors and all the John Peel outfit. Or he might leave them. He, Mark, was never going to speak about the matter any more. He remembered thinking that Christopher might have taken him to mean that he intended to with-draw, for what it was worth, the light of his countenance from the Christopher Tietjens manage.

Nothing had been further from his thoughts. Her!’ had a soft corner in his heart for Valentine Wannop. He had had it ever since sitting, feeling like a fool, in the anteroom of the War Office, beside her-gnawing at the handle of his umbrella. But, then, he had recommended her to become Christopher’s mistress: he had, at any rate, begged her to look after his mutton chops and his buttons. So that it wasn’t likely that when, a year or so later, Christopher announced that he really was at last going to take up with the young woman and to chance what came of it — it wasn’t likely that he intended to dissociate himself from the two of them.

The idea had worried him so much that he had written a rough note — the last time that his hand had ever held a pen — to Christopher. He had said that a brother’s backing was not of great use to a woman, but in the special circumstances of the case, he being Tietjens of Groby for what it was worth, and Lady Tietjens — Marie Léonie — being perfectly willing to be seen on all occasions with Valentine and her man, it might be worth some-thing, at any rate with tenantry and such like. Well, he hadn’t gone back on that!

But once the idea of retiring, not only from the Office but the whole world, had come into his head it had grown and grown, on top of his mortification and his weariness. Because he could not conceal from himself that he was weary to death — of the Office, of the nation, of the world and people. . . . People . . . he was tired of them, and of the streets, and the grass, and the sky and the moors. He had done his job. — That was before Wolstonmark had telephoned, and he still thought that he had done his job of getting things here and there about the world to some purpose.

A man is in the world to do his duty by his nation and his family. . . . By his own people first. Well, he had to acknowledge that he had let his own people down pretty badly — beginning with Christopher. Chiefly Christopher. But that reacted on the tenantry.

He had always been tired of the tenantry and Groby. He had been born tired of them. That happens. It happens particularly in old and prominent families. It was odd that Groby and the whole Groby business should so bore him; he supposed he had been born with some kink. All the Tietjenses were born with some sort of kink. It came from the solitude maybe, on the moors, the hard climate, the rough neighbours — possibly even from the fact that Groby Great Tree over-shadowed the house. You could not look out of the school-room windows at all for its great, ragged trunk, and all the children’s wing was darkened by its branches. Black! . . . funeral plumes! The Hapsburgs were said to hate their palaces — that was no doubt why so many of them, beginning with Juan Ort, had come muckers. At any rate, they had chucked the royalty business.

And at a very early age he had decided that he would chuck the country — gentleman business. He didn’t see that he was the one to bother with those confounded, hard — headed beggars or with those confounded wind-swept moors and wet valley bottoms. One owed the blighters a duty, but one did not have to live among them or see that they aired their bedrooms. It had been mostly swank that, always; since the Corn Laws, it had been almost entirely swank. Still, it is obvious that a landlord owes something to the estate from which he and his fathers have drawn their incomes for generations and generations.

Well, he had never intended to do it, because he had been born tired of it. He liked racing and talking about racing to fellows who liked racing. He had intended to do that to the end.

He hadn’t been able to.

He had intended to go on living between the Office, his chambers, Marie Léonie’s and week-ends with race-horse owners of good family until his eyes closed. . . . Of course God disposes in the end, even of the Tietjenses of Groby! He had intended to give over Groby, on the death of his father, to whichever of his brothers had heirs and seemed likely to run the estate well. That would have been quite satisfactory. Ted, his next brother, had had his head screwed on all right. If he had had children he would have filled the bill. So would the next brother. . . . But neither: of them had had children and both had managed to get killed in Gallipoli. Even sister Mary, who was actually next to him and a maîtresse femme if ever there was one, had managed to get killed as a Red Cross matron. She would have run Groby well enough — the great, blowsy, grey woman with a bit of a moustache.

Thus God had let him down with a bump on Christopher. . . . Well, Christopher would have run Groby well enough. But he wouldn’t. Wouldn’t own a yard of Groby land; wouldn’t touch a penny of Groby money. He was suffering for it now.

They were both, in effect, suffering, for Mark could not see what was to become of either Christopher or the estate.

Until his father’s death Mark had bothered precious little about the fellow. He was by fourteen years the younger: there had been ten children altogether, three of his own mother’s children having died young and one having been soft. So Christopher had been still a baby when Mark had left Groby for good — for good except for visits when he had brought his umbrella and seen Christopher mooning at the school-room door or in his own mother’s sitting — room. So he had hardly seen the boy.

And at Christopher’s wedding he had definitely decided that he would not see him again — a mug who had got trepanned into marrying a whore. He wished his brother no ill, but the thought of him made Mark sickish. And then, for years, he had heard the worst possible rumours about Christopher. In a way they had rather consoled Mark. God knows, he cared little enough about the Tietjens family — particularly for the children by that soft saint. But he would rather have any brother of his be a wrong un than a mug.

Then gradually, from the gossip that went abroad, he had come to think that Christopher was a very bad wrong un indeed. He could account for it easily enough. Christopher had a soft streak, and what a woman can do to deteriorate a fellow with a soft streak is beyond belief. And the woman Christopher had got hold of — who had got hold of him — passed belief too. Mark did not hold any great opinion of women at all; if they were a little plump, healthy, at little loyal and not noticeable in their dress that was enough for him. . . . But Sylvia was as thin as an eel, as full of vice as a mare that’s a wrong un, completely disloyal and dressed like any Paris cocotte. Christopher, as he saw it, had had to keep that harlot to the tune of six or seven thousand a year, in a society of all wrong uns too — and on an income of at most two. . . . Plenty for a younger son. But naturally he had had to go wrong to get the money.

So it had seemed to him . . . and it had seemed to matter precious little. He gave a thought to his brother perhaps twice a year. But then one day — just after the two brothers had been killed — their father had come up from Groby to say to Mark at the Club:

“Has it occurred to you that, since those two boys are killed, that fellow Christopher is practically heir to Groby? You have no legitimate children, have you i” Mark replied that he hadn’t any bastards either, and that he was certainly not‘ going to marry.

At that date it had seemed to him certain that he was not going to marry Papist Marie Léonie Riotor, and certainly he was not going to marry anyone else. So Christopher — or at any rate Christopher’s heir — must surely come in to Groby.

It had not really, hitherto, occurred to him. But when it was thus put forcibly into his mind he saw instantly that it upset the whole scheme of his life. As he saw Christopher then, the fellow was the last person in the world to have the charge of Groby — for you had to regard that as to some extent a cure of souls. And he, himself, would not be much better. He was hopelessly out of touch with the estate, and, even though his father’s land-steward was a quite efficient fellow, he himself at that date was so hopelessly immersed in the affairs of the then war that he would hardly have a moment of time to learn anything about the property.

There Was, therefore, a breakdown in his scheme of life. That was already a pretty shaking sort of affair. Mark was accustomed to regard himself as master of his fate — as being so limited in his ambitions and so entrenched behind his habits and his wealth that, if circumstances need not of necessity bend to his will, fate could hardly touch him.

And it was one thing for a Tietjens younger son to be a bold sort of law-breaker — or at any rate that he should be contemptuous of restraint. It was quite another that the heir to Groby should be a soft sort of bad hat whose distasteful bunglings led his reputation to stink in the nostrils of all his own class if a younger son can be said to have a class. . . . At any rate in the class to which his father and eldest brother belonged. Tietjens was said to have sold his wife to her cousin the Duke at so contemptible a price that he was obviously penniless even after that transaction. He had sold her to other rich men — to bank managers, for instance. Yet even after that he was reduced to giving stumer cheques. If a man sold his soul to the devil he should at least insist on a good price. Similar transactions were said to distinguish the social set in which that bitch moved — but most of the men who, according to Ruggles, sold their wives to members of the government obtained millions by governmental financial tips — or peerages. Not infrequently they obtained both peerages and millions. But Christopher was such a confounded ass that he had got neither the one nor the other. His cheques were turned down for twopences. And he was such a bungler that he must needs get with child the daughter of their father’s oldest friend, and let the fact be known to the whole world. . . .

This information he had from Ruggles — aud it killed their father. Well, he, Mark, was absolutely to blame: that was that. But — infinitely worse-it had made Christopher absolutely determined not to accept a single penny of the money that had become Mark’s and that had been his father’s. And Christopher was as obstinate as a hog. For that Mark did not blame him. It was a Tietjens job to be as obstinate as a hog.

He couldn’t, however, disabuse his mind of the idea that Christopher’s refusal of Groby and all that came from Groby was as much a manifestation of the confounded saintliness that he got from his soft mother as of a spirit of resentment. Christopher wanted to rid himself of his great possessions. The fact that his father and brother had believed him to be what Marie Léonie would have called maquereau and had thus insulted him he had merely grasped at with eagerness as an excuse. He wanted to be out of the world. That was it. He wanted to be out of a disgustingly inefficient and venial world, just as he, Mark, also wanted to be out of a world that he found almost more fusionless and dishonest than Christopher found it.

At any rate, at the first word that they had had about the heirship to Groby after their father’s death, Christopher had declared that he, Mark, might take his money to the devil and the ownership of Groby with it. He proposed never to forgive either his father or Mark. He had only consented to take Mark by the hand at the urgent solicitation of Valentine Wannop. . . .

That had been the most dreadful moment of Mark’s life. The country was, even then, going to the devil; his brother proposed to starve himself; Groby, by his brother’s wish, was to fall into the hands of that bitch. . . . And the country went further and further towards the devil, and his brother starved worse and worse . . . and as for Groby . . .

The boy who practically owned Groby had, at the first sound of the voice of the woman who wore white riding-kit and called “Hi-hup!”— at the very first sound of her voice the boy had scampered oft through the raspberry canes and was now against the hedge, whilst she leaned down over him, laughing, and her horse leaned over behind her. Fittleworth was smiling at them benevolently, and at the same time continuing his conversation with Gunning. . . .

The woman was too old for the boy, who had gone scarlet at the sound of her voice. Sylvia had been too old for Christopher: she had got him on the hop when he had been only a kid. . . . The world went on.

He was nevertheless thankful for the respite. He had to acknowledge to himself that he was not as young as he had been. He had a great deal to think of if he was to get the hang of — he was certainly not going to interfere with — the world, and having to listen to conversations that were mostly moral apophthegms had tired him. He had got too many at too short intervals. If he had spoken he would not have, but, because he did not speak, both the lady who was descended from the Maintenon and that boy had peppered him with moral points of view that all required to be considered, with-out leaving him enough time to get his breath mentally.

The lady had called them a corrupt and effete aristocracy. They were probably not corrupt, but certainly, regarded as landowners, they were effete — both he and Christopher. They were simply bored at the contemplation of that terrific nuisance — and refusing to perform the duties of their post they refused the emoluments too. He could not remember that, after childhood, he had ever had a penny out of Groby. They would not accept that post; they had taken others. . . . Well this was his, Mark’s, last post. . . . He could have smiled at his grim joke.

Of Christopher he was not so sure. That ass was a terrific sentimentalist. Probably he would have liked to be a great landowner, keeping up the gates on the estate — like Fittleworth, who was a perfect lunatic about gates. He was probably even now jaw-jawing Gunning about them, smacking his boot-top with his crop-handle. Yes-keeping up the gates and seeing that the tenants’ land gave so many bushels of wheat to the acre or supported so many sheep the year round. . . . How many sheep would an acre keep all the year round, and how many bushels of wheat, under proper farming, should it give? He, Mark, had not the least idea. Christopher would know — with the difference to be expected of every acre of all the thousand acres of Groby. . . . Yes, Christopher had pored over Groby with the intentness of a mother looking at her baby’s face!

So that his refusal to take on that stewardship might very well arise from a sort of craving for mortification of the spirit. Old Campion had once said that he believed — he positively believed with shudders — that Christopher desired to live in the spirit of Christ. That had seemed horrible to the General, but Mark did not see that it was horrible, per se. . . . He doubted, however, whether Christ ‘would have refused to manage Groby had it been his job. Christ was a sort of an Englishman, and Englishmen did not, as a rule, refuse to do their jobs. . . . They had not used to. Now, no doubt, they did. It was a Russian sort of trick. He had heard that even before the revolution great Russian nobles would disperse their estates, give their serfs their liberty, put on a hair shirt and sit by the roadside begging. . . . Something like that. Perhaps Christopher was a symptom that the English were changing. He himself was not. He was just lazy and determined — and done with it!

He had not at first been able to believe that Christopher was resolved — with a Yorkshire resolution — to have nothing to do with Groby or his, Mark’s, money. He had, nevertheless, felt a warm admiration for his brother the moment the words had been said. Christopher would take none of his father’s money; he would never forgive either his father or his brother. A proper Yorkshire sentiment, uttered coldly and, as it were, good-humouredly. His eyes, naturally, had goggled, but he had displayed no other emotion.

Nevertheless, Mark had imagined that he might be up to some game. He might be merely meaning to bring Mark to his knees. . . . But how could Mark be more brought to his knees than by offering to give over Groby to his brother? It is true he had kept that up his sleeve whilst his brother had been out in France. After all, there was no sense in offering a fellow who might be going to become food for powder the management of great possessions. He had felt a certain satisfaction in the fact that Christopher wax going out, though he was confoundedly sorry too. He really admired Christopher for doing it — and he imagined that it might clear some of the smirchiness that must attach to Christopher’s reputation, in spite of what he now knew to be his brother’s complete guiltless — ness of the crimes that had been attributed to him. He had, of course, been wrong — he had reckoned without the determined discredit that, after the war was over, the civilian population would contrive to attach to every man who had been to the front as a fighting soldier. After all, that was natural enough. The majority of the male population was civilian, and, once the war was over and there was no more risk, they would bitterly regret that they had not gone. They would take it out of the ex-soldiers all right!

So that Christopher had rather been additionally discredited than much helped by his services to the country. Sylvia had been able to put it, very reasonably, that Christopher was by nature that idle and dissolute thing, a soldier. That, in times of peace, had helped her a great deal.

Still, Mark had been pleased with his brother, and once Christopher had been invalided back, and had returned to his old — tin saving depot near Ealing, Mark had at once set wheels in motion to get his brother demobilized, so that he might look after Groby. By that time Groby was inhabited by Sylvia, the boy, and Sylvia’s mother. The estate just had to be managed by the land-steward who had served his father, neither Sylvia nor her family having any finger in that; though her mother was able to assure him, Mark, that the estate was doing as well as the Agricultural Committees of grocers and stock — jobbers would let it. They insisted on wheat being sown on exposed moors where nothing but heather had a chance, and active moorland sheep being fattened in water-bottoms full of liver fluke. But the land — steward fought them as well as one man could be expected to fight the chosen of a nation of small shop-keepers. . . .

And at that date — the date of Christopher’s return to Ealing — Mark had still imagined that Christopher had really only been holding out for the possession of Groby. He was, therefore, disillusioned rather nastily. He had managed to get Christopher demobilized — without telling him any-thing about it — by just about the time when the Armistice came along. . . . And then he found that he really had put the fat in the fire!

He had practically beggared the wretched fellow, who, counting on living on his pay for at least a year longer, had mortgaged his blood-money in order to go into a sort of partnership in an old-furniture business with a confounded American. And, of course, the blood-money was considerably diminished, being an allowance made to demobilized officers computed on the number of their days of service. So he had docked Christopher of two or three hundred pounds. That was the sort of mucky situation into which Christopher might be expected to be got by his well-wishers. . . . There he had been, just before Armistice Day, upon the point of demobilization and without an available penny! It appeared that he had to sell even the few books that Sylvia had left him when she had stripped his house.

That agreeable truth had forced itself on Mark at just the moment when he had been so rotten bad with pneumonia that he might be expected to cash in at any moment. Marie Léonie had indeed, of her own initiative, telephoned to Christopher that he had better come to see his brother if he wanted to meet him on this side of the grave.

They had at once started arguing — or, rather, each had started exposing his views. Christopher stated what he was going to do, and Mark his horror at what Christopher proposed. Mark’s horror came from the fact that Christopher proposed to eschew comfort. An Englishmen’s duty is to secure for himself for ever reasonable clothing, a clean shirt a day, a couple of mutton chops grilled without condiments, two floury potatoes, an apple pie with a piece of Stilton and pulled bread,a pint of Club Médoc, a clean room, in the winter a good fire in the grate, a comfortable arm-chair, a comfortable woman to see that all these were prepared for you, to keep you warm in bed and to brush your bowler and fold your umbrella in the morning. When you had that secure for life, you could do what you liked provided that what you did never endangered that security. What was to be said against that?

Christopher had nothing to advance except that he was not going to live in that way. He was not going to live in that way unless he could secure that, or something like it, by his own talents. His only available and at the same time marketable talent was his gift for knowing genuine old furniture. So he was going to make a living out of old furniture. He had had his scheme perfectly matured; he had even secured an American partner, a fellow who had as great a gift for the cajolement of American purchasers of old stuff as he, Christopher, had for its discovery. It was still the war then, but Christopher and his partner, between them, had predicted the American mop-ping up of the world’s gold supply and the consequent stripping of European houses of old stuff. . . . At that you could make a living.

Other careers, he said, were barred to him. The Department of Statistics, in which he had formerly had a post, had absolutely cold-shouldered him. They were not only adamant, they were also vindictive against civil servants who had become serving soldiers. They took the view that those members of their staffs who had preferred serving were idle and dissolute fellows who had merely taken up arms in order to satisfy their lusts for women. Women had naturally preferred soldiers to civilians; the civilians were now getting back on them. That was natural.

Mark agreed that it was natural. Before he had been interested in his brother as a serving soldier, he had been inclined to consider most soldiers as incompetent over Transport and, in general, nuisances. He agreed, too, that Christopher could not go back to the Department. There he was certainly a marked man. He could possibly have insisted on his rights to be taken back even though his lungs, being by now pretty damaged by exposure, might afford them a pretext for legally refusing him. H.M. Civil Service and Departments have the right to refuse employment to persons likely to become unfit for good. A man who has lost an eye may be refused by any Department because he may lose the other and so become liable for a pension. But, even if Christopher forced himself on the Department, they would have their bad mark against him. He had been too rude to them during the war when they had tried to force him to employ himself in the faking of statistics that the Ministry had coerced the Department into supplying in order to dish the French, who demanded more troops. With that point of view, Mark found himself entirely in sympathy. His long association with Marie Léonie, his respect for the way in which she had her head screwed on, the constant intimacy with the life and point of view of French individuals of the petite bourgeoisie which her gossip had given him — all these things, together with his despair for the future of his own country, had given him a very considerable belief in the destinies and, indeed, in the virtues of the country across the Channel. It would, therefore, have been very distasteful to him that his brother should take pay from an organization that had been employed to deal treacherously with our Allies. It had, indeed, become extremely distasteful to him to take pay himself from a Government that had forced such a course upon the nation, and he would thankfully have resigned from his Office if he had not considered that his services were indispensable to the successful prosecution of the war which was then still proceeding. He wanted to be done with it, but, at the moment, he saw no chance. The war was by then obviously proceeding towards a successful issue. Owing to the military genius of the French, who, by then, had the supreme command, the enemy nations were daily being forced to abandon great stretches of territory. But that only made the calls on Transport the greater, whilst, if we were successfully and unwastefully to occupy the enemy capital, as at that date he imagined that we obviously must, the demand for the provision of Transport must become almost unmeasurable.

Still, that was no argument for the reentry of his brother into the service of the country. As he saw things, public life had become — and must remain for a long period — so demoralized by the members of the then Government, with their devious foreign policies and their intimacies with a class of shady financiers such as had never hitherto had any finger in the English political pie — public life had become so discreditable an affair that the only remedy was for the real governing classes to retire altogether from public pursuits. Things, in short, must become worse before they could grow better. With the dreadful condition of ruin at home and foreign discredit to which the country must almost immediately emerge under the conduct of the Scotch grocers, Frankfort financiers, Welsh pettifoggers, Midland armament manufacturers and South Country incompetents who during the later years of the war had intrigued themselves into office — with that dreadful condition staring it in the face, the country must return to something like its old standards of North Country common sense and English probity. The old governing class to which he and his belonged might never return to power, but, whatever revolutions took place — and he did not care I— the country must reawaken to the necessity for exacting of whoever might be its governing class some semblance of personal probity and public honouring of pledges. He obviously was out of it, or he would be out of it with the end of the war, for even from his bed he had taken no small part in the directing of affairs at his Office. . . . A state of war obviously favoured the coming to the top of all kinds of devious stormy petrels; that was inevitable and could not be helped. But in normal times a country — every country — was true to itself.

Nevertheless, he was very content that his brother should, in the interim, have no share in affairs. Let him secure his mutton chop, his pint of claret, his woman and his umbrella, and it mattered not into what obscurity he retired. But how was that to be secured? There had seemed to be several ways.

He was aware, for instance, that Christopher was both a mathematician of no mean order and a Churchman. He might perfectly well take orders, assume the charge of one of the three family livings that Mark had in his gift, and, whilst competently discharging the duties of his cure, pursue whatever are the occupations of a well-cared-for mathematician.

Christopher, however, whilst avowing his predilection for such a life — which, as Mark saw it, was exactly fitted to his asceticism, his softness in general and his private tastes — Christopher admitted that there was an obstacle to his assuming such a cure of souls — an obstacle of an insuperable nature. Mark at once asked him if he were, in fact, living with Miss Wannop. But Christopher answered that he had not seen Miss Wannop since the day of his second proceeding to the front. They had then agreed that they were not the sort of persons to begin a hidden intrigue, and the affair had proceeded no further.

Mark was, however, aware that a person of Christopher’s way of thinking might well feel inhibited from taking on a cure of souls if, in spite of the fact that he had abstained from seducing a young woman, he nevertheless privately desired to enter into illicit relations with her, and that that was sufficient to justify him in saying that an insuperable obstacle existed. He did not know that he himself agreed, but it was not his business to interfere between any man and his conscience in a matter of the Church. He was himself no very good Christian, at any rate as regards the relationships of men and women. Nevertheless, the Church of England was the Church of England.

No doubt, had Christopher been a Papist he could have had the young woman for his housekeeper and no one would have bothered.

But what the devil, then, was his brother to do P He had been offered, as a sop in the pan, and to keep him quiet, no doubt, over the affair of the Department of Statistics, a vice-consulate in some Mediterranean poi-t — Toulon or Leghorn, or some-thing of the sort. That might have done well enough. It was absurd to think of a Tietjens, heir to Groby, being under the necessity of making a living. It was fantastic, but if Christopher was in a fantastic mood there was nothing to be done about it. A vice-consulate is a potty sort of job. You attend to ships’ manifests, get members of crews out of jail, give old lady tourists the addresses of boarding-houses kept by English or half — castes, or provide the vice-admirals of visiting British squadrons with the names of local residents who should be invited to entertainments given on the flagship. It was a potty job; innocuous too, if it could be regarded as a sort of marking time. . . . And at that moment Mark thought that Christopher was still holding out for some sort of concession on Mark’s part before definitely assuming the charge of Groby, its tenants and its mineral rights. . . . But there were insuperable objections to even the vice — consulate. In the first place, the job would have been in the public service, a fact to which, as has been said, Mark strongly objected.

Then the job was offered as a sort of a bribe. And, in addition, the consular service exacts from every one who occupies a consular or vice — consular post the deposit of a sum of four hundred pounds sterling, and Christopher did not possess even so much as four hundred shillings. . . . And, in addition, as Mark was well aware, Miss Wannop might again afford an obstacle. A British vice-consul might possibly keep a Maltese or Levantine in a back street and no harm done, but he probably could not live with an English young woman of family and position without causing so much scandal as to make him lose his job. . . .

It was at this point that Mark again, but for the last time, asked his brother why he did not divorce Sylvia.

By that time Marie Léonie had retired to get some rest. She was pretty worn out. Mark’s illness had been long and serious; she had nursed him with such care that during the whole time she had not been out into the streets except once or twice to go across the road to the Catholic church, where she would offer a candle or so for his recovery, and once or twice to remonstrate with the butcher as to the quality of the meat he supplied for Mark’s broths. In addition, on many days, she had worked late, under Mark’s — directions, on papers that the Office had sent him. She either could not or would not put her man into the charge of any kind of night nurse. She alleged that the war had mopped up every kind of available attendant on the sick, but Mark shrewdly suspected that she had made no kind of effort to secure an assistant. There was her national dread of draughts to account for that. She accepted with discipline, if with despair, the English doctor’s dictum that fresh air must be admitted to the sick — room, but she sat up night after night in a hooded chair, watching for any change in the wind and moving in accordance a complicated arrangement of screens that she maintained between her patient and the open window. She had, however, surrendered Mark to his brother without a murmur, and had quietly gone to her own room to sleep, and Mark, though he carried on almost every kind of conversation with his brother, and though he would not have asked her to leave them in order that he might engage on topics that his brother might like to regard as private — Mark seized the opportunity to lay before Christopher what he thought of Sylvia and the relationships of that singular couple.

It amounted, in the end, to the fact that Mark wanted Christopher to divorce his wife, and to the fact that Christopher had not altered in his views that a man cannot divorce a woman. Mark put it that if Christopher intended to take up with Valentine, it mattered practically very little whether after an attempt at a divorce he married her or not. What a man has to do if he means to take up with a woman, and as far as possible to honour her, is to make some sort of fight of it — as a symbol. Marriage, if you do not regard it as a sacrament — as, no doubt, it ought to be regarded — was nothing more than a token that a couple intended to stick to each other. Nowadays people — the right people — bothered precious little about anything but that. A constant change of partners was a social nuisance; you could not tell whether you could or couldn’t invite a couple together to a tea — fight. And society existed for social functions. That was why promiscuity was no good. For social functions you had to have an equal number of men and women, or someone got left out of conversations, and so you had to know who, officially in the social sense, went with whom. Everyone knew that all the children of Lupus at the War Office were really the children of a Prime Minister, so that presumably the Countess and the Prime Minister slept together most of the time, but that did not mean that you invited the Prime Minister and the woman to social — official functions, because they hadn’t any ostensible token of union. On the contrary, you invited Lord and Lady Lupus together to all functions that would get into the papers, but you took care to have the Lady at any private, weekend-ish parties or intimate dinners to which the Chief was coming.

And Christopher had to consider that if it came to marriage ninety per cent. of the inhabitants of the world regarded the marriages of almost everybody else as invalid. A Papist obviously could not regard a marriage before an English registrar or a French main’ as having any moral validity. At best it was no more than a demonstration of aspirations after constancy. You went before a functionary publicly to assert that man and woman intended to stick to each other. Equally for extreme Protestants a marriage by a Papist priest, or a minister of any other sect, or a Buddhist Lama, had not the blessing of their own brand of Deity. So that really, to all practical intents, it was sufficient if a couple really assured their friends that they intended to stick together, if possible, for ever; if not, at least for years enough to show that they had made a good shot at it. Mark invited Christopher to consult whom he liked in his, Mark’s, particular set and he would find that they agreed with his views.

So he was anxious that if Christopher intended to take up with the Wannop young woman he should take at least a shot at a divorce. He might not succeed in getting one. He obviously had grounds enough, but Sylvia might make counter-allegations, he, Mark, couldn’t say with what chance of success. He was prepared himself to accept his brother’s assertions of complete innocence, but Sylvia was a clever devil and there was no knowing what view a judge might take. Where there had been such a hell of a lot of smoke he might consider that there must be enough flame to justify refusing a divorce. There would no doubt be, thus — a beastly stink. But a beastly stink would be better than the sort of veiled ill — fame that Sylvia had contrived to get attached to Christopher. And the fact that Christopher had faced the stink and made the attempt would be at least that amount of tribute to Miss Wannop. Society was good-natured and was inclined to take the View that if a fellow had faced his punishment and taken it he was pretty well absolved. There might be people who would hold out against them, but Mark supposed that what Christopher wanted for himself and his girl was reasonable material comfort with a society of sufficient people of the right sort to give them a dinner or so a week and a week-end or so a month in the week — ending season.

Christopher had acquiesced in the justness of his views with so much amiability that Mark began to hope that he would get his way in the larger matter of Groby. He was prepared to go further and to stake as much as his assurance that if Christopher would settle down at Groby, accept a decent income and look after the estate, he, Mark, would assure his brother and Valentine of bearable social circumstances.

Christopher, however, had made no answer at all beyond saying that if he tried to divorce Sylvia it would apparently ruin his old — furniture business. For his American partner assured him that in the United States if a man divorced his wife instead of letting her divorce him no one would do any business with him. He had mentioned the case of a man called Blum, a pretty warm stock — exchange man, who insisted on divorcing his wife against the advice of his friends; he found when he returned to the stock market that all his clients cold‘-shouldered him, so that he was ruined. And as these fellows were shortly going to mop up everything in the world, including the old-furniture trade, Christopher supposed that he would have to study their prejudices.

He had come across his partner rather curiously. The fellow, whose father had been a German–Jew but a naturalized American citizen, had been in Berlin mopping up German old furniture for sale in the American interior, where he had a flourishing business. So, when America had come in on the side that was not German, the Germans had just simply dropped on Mr. Schatzweiler in their pleasant way, incorporated him in their forces and had sent him to the front as a miserable little Tommy before the Americans had been a month in the show. And there, amongst the prisoners he had had to look after, Christopher had found the little, large-eyed sensitive creature, unable to speak a word of German but just crazy about the furniture and tapestries in the French chateaux that the prisoners passed on their marches. Christopher had befriended him; kept him as far as possible separated from the other prisoners, who naturally did not like him, and had a good many conversations with him.

It had appeared that Mr. Schatzweiler had had a good deal to do in the way of buying with Sir John Robertson, the old old-furniture millionaire, who was a close friend of Sylvia’s and had been so considerable admirer of Christopher’s furniture-buying gifts that he had, years ago, proposed to take Christopher into partnership with himself. At that time Christopher had regarded Sir John’s proposals as outside the range of his future; he had then been employed in the Department of Statistics. But the proposal had always amused and rather impressed him. If, that is to say, that hard-headed old Scotsman who had made a vast fortune at his trade made to Christopher a quite serious business proposition on the strength of Christopher’s flair in the matter of old woods and curves, Christopher himself might take his own gifts with a certain seriousness.

And by the time he came to be in command of the escort over those miserable creatures he had pretty well realized that after the necessity for escorts was over he would jolly well have to consider how he was going to make a living for himself. That was certain. He was not going to reinsert himself amongst the miserable collection of squits who occupied themselves in his old Department; he was too old to continue in the Army; he was certainly not going to accept a penny from Groby sources. He did not care what became of him — but his not caring did not take any tragico-romantic form. He would be quite prepared to live in a hut on a hillside and cook his meals over three bricks outside the door — but that was not a method of life that was very practicable and even that needed money. Everyone who served in the Army at the front knew how little it took to keep life going — and satisfactory. But he did not see the world, when it settled down again, turning itself into a place fit for old soldiers who had learned to appreciate frugality. On the contrary, the old soldiers would be chivvied to hell by a civilian population who abhorred them. So that merely to keep clean and out of debt was going to be a tough job.

So, in his long vigils in tents, beneath the moon, with the sentries walking, challenging from time to time, round the barbed wire stockades, the idea of Sir John’s proposition had occurred to him with some force. It had gathered strength from his meeting with Mr. Schatzweiler. The little fellow was a shivering artist, and Christopher had enough of superstition in him to be impressed by the coincidence of their having come together in such unlikely circumstances. After all, Providence must let up on him after a time, so why should not this unfortunate and impressively Oriental member of the Chosen People be a sign of a covenant? In a way he reminded Christopher of his former protégé Mac-master — he had the same dark eyes, the same shape, the same shivering eagerness.

That he was a Jew and an American did not worry Christopher; he had not objected to the fact that Macmaster had been the son of a Scotch grocer. If he had to go into partnership and be thrown into close contact with anyone at all he did not care much who it was as long as it was not either a bounder or a man of his own class and race. To be in close mental communion with either an English bounder or an Englishman of good family would, he was aware, be intolerable to him. But, for a little shivering, artistic Jew, as of old for Macmaster, ht? was quite capable of feeling a real fondness — as you might for an animal. Their manners were not your manners and could not be expected to be, and whatever their intelligences, they would have a certain little alertness, a certain exactness of thought. . . . Besides, if they did you in, as every business partner or protégé must be expected to do, you did not feel the same humiliation as you did if you were swindled by a man of your own race and station. In the one case it was only what was to be expected, in the other you were faced with the fact that your own tradition had broken down. And under the long strain of the war he had outgrown alike the mentality and the traditions of his own family and his own race. The one and the other were not fitted to endure long strains.

So he welcomed the imploring glances and the eventual Oriental gratitude of that little man in his unhappy tent. For, naturally, by communicating in his weighty manner with the United States Headquarters when he happened to find himself in its vicinity, he secured the release of the little fellow, who was by now safely back somewhere in the interior of the North American Continent.

But before that happened he had exchanged a certain amount of correspondence with Sir John, and had discovered from him and from one or two chance members of the American Expeditionary Force that the little man was quite a good old-furniture dealer. Sir John had by that time gone out of business and his letters were not particularly cordial to Tietjens — Which was only what was to be expected if Sylvia had been shedding her charms over him. But it had appeared that Mr. Schatzweiler had had a great deal of business with Sir John, who had indeed supplied him with a great part of his material, and so, if Sir John had gone out of business, Mr. Schatzweiler would need to find in England someone to take Sir John’s place. And that was not going to be extraordinarily easy, for what with the amount of his money that the Germans had mopped up — they had sold him immense quantities of old furniture and got paid for it, and had then enlisted him in the ranks of their Brandenburgers, where naturally he could do nothing with carved oak chests that had elaborate steel hinges and locks. . . . What then with that, and his prolonged absence from the neighbourhood of Detroit, where he had mostly found his buyers, Mr. Schatzweiler found himself extremely hampered in his activities. It therefore fell to Christopher, if he was to go into partnership with the now sanguine and charming Oriental, to supply an immediate sum of money. That had not been easy, but by means of mortgaging his pay and his blood — money, and selling the books that Sylvia had left him, he had been able to provide Mr. Schatzweiler with enough to make at least a start somewhere across the water. . . . And Mr. Schatzweiler and Christopher had between them evolved an ingenious scheme along lines that the American had long contemplated, taking into account the tastes of his countrymen and the nature of the times.

Mark had listened to his brother during all this with indulgence and even with pleasure. If a Tietjens contemplated going into trade he might at least contemplate an amusing trade carried on in a spirited manner. And what Christopher humorously projected was at least more dignified than stockbroking or bill-discounting. Moreover, he was pretty well convinced by this time that his brother was completely reconciled to him and to Groby.

It was about then and when he had again begun to introduce the topic of Groby that Christopher got up from the chair at the bedside that he had been occupying and, having taken his brother’s wrist in his cool fingers, remarked:

“Your temperature’s pretty well down. Don’t you think it is about time that you set about marrying Charlotte? I suppose you mean to marry her before this bout is finished; you might have a relapse.”

Mark remembered that speech perfectly well, with the addition that if he, Christopher, hurried about it they might get the job done that night. It must therefore then have been about one o’clock of an afternoon about three weeks before the 11th November, 1918.

Mark had replied that he would be much obliged to Christopher, and Christopher, having roused Marie Léonie and told her that he would be back in time to let her have a good night’s rest, disappeared, saying that he was going straight to Lambeth. In those days, supposing you could command thirty pounds or so, there was no difficulty in getting married at the shortest possible notice, and Christopher had promoted too many last — minute marriages amongst his men not to know the ropes.

Mark viewed the transaction with a good deal of satisfaction. It had needed no arguing; if the proceeding had the approval of the heir-presumptive to Groby there was nothing more to be said against it. And Mark took the View that if he agreed to a proceeding that Christopher could only have counselled as heir-presumptive, that was an additional reason for Mark’s expecting that Christopher would eventually consent to administer Groby himself.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54