They came out into the bright open where all the distances under the tall sky showed with distinct prismatic outlines. They made a little group of seven — for Tietjens would not have a caddy — waiting on the flat, first teeing ground. Macmaster walked up to Tietjens and said under his voice:
‘You’ve really sent that wire? . . . ’
‘It’ll be in Germany by now!’
Mr Sandbach hobbled from one to the other explaining the terms of his wager with Mr Waterhouse. Mr Waterhouse had backed one of the young men playing with him to drive into and hit twice in the eighteen holes the two city men who would be playing ahead of them. As the Minister had taken rather short odds, Mr Sandbach considered him a good sport.
A long way down the first hole Mr Waterhouse and his two companions were approaching the first green. They had high sandhills to the right and, to their left, a road that was fringed with rushes and a narrow dyke. Ahead of the Cabinet Minister the two city men and their two caddies stood on the edge of the dyke or poked downwards into the rushes. Two girls appeared and disappeared on the tops of the sandhills. The policeman was strolling along the road, level with Mr Waterhouse. The General said:
‘I think we could go now.’
‘Waterslops will get a hit at them from the next tee. They’re in the dyke.’
The General drove a straight, goodish ball. Just as Macmaster was in his swing Sandbach shouted:
‘By God! He nearly did it. See that fellow jump!’ Macmaster looked round over his shoulder and hissed with vexation between his teeth:
‘Don’t you know that you don’t shout while a man is driving? Or haven’t you played golf?’ He hurried fussily after his ball.
Sandbach said to Tietjens:
‘Golly! That chap’s got a temper!’
‘Only over this game. You deserved what you got.’ Sandbach said:
‘I did . . . But I didn’t spoil his shot. He’s outdriven the General twenty yards.’
‘It would have been sixty but for you.’
They loitered about on the tee waiting for the others to get their distance. Sandbach said:
‘By Jove, your friend is on with his second . . . You wouldn’t believe it of such a little beggar!’ He added: ‘He’s not much class, is he?’
Tietjens looked down his nose.
‘Oh, about our class!’ he said. ‘He wouldn’t take a bet about driving into the couple ahead.’
Sandbach hated Tietjens for being a Tietjens of Groby: Tietjens was enraged by the existence of Sandbach, who was the son of an ennobled mayor of Middlesbrough, seven miles or so from Groby. The feuds between the Cleveland landowners and the Cleveland plutocrats are very bitter. Sandbach said:
‘Ah, I suppose he gets you out of scrapes with girls and the Treasury, and you take him about in return. It’s a practical combination.’
‘Like Pottle Mills and Stanton,’ Tietjens said. The financial operations connected with the amalgamating of these two steelworks had earned Sandbach’s father a good deal of odium in the Cleveland district . . . Sandbach said:
‘Look here, Tietjens . . . ’ But he changed his mind and said:
‘We’d better go now.’ He drove off with an awkward action but not without skill. He certainly outplayed Tietjens.
Playing very slowly, for both were desultory and Sandbach very lame, they lost sight of the others behind some coastguard cottages and dunes before they had left the third tee. Because of his game leg Sandbach sliced a good deal. On this occasion he sliced right into the gardens of the cottages and went with his boy to look for his ball among potato-haulms, beyond a low wall. Tietjens patted his own ball lazily up the fairway and, dragging his bag behind him by the strap, he sauntered on.
Although Tietjens hated golf as he hated any occupation that was of a competitive nature, he could engross himself in the mathematics of trajectories when he accompanied Macmaster in one of his expeditions for practice. He accompanied Macmaster because he liked there to be one pursuit at which his friend undisputably excelled himself, for it was a bore always brow-beating the fellow. But he stipulated that they should visit three different and, if possible, unknown courses every week-end when they golfed. He interested himself then in the way the courses were laid out, acquiring thus an extraordinary connoisseurship in golf architecture, and he made abstruse calculations as to the flight of balls off sloped club-faces, as to the foot-poundals of energy exercised by one muscle or the other, and as to theories of spin. As often as not he palmed Macmaster off as a fair, average player on some other unfortunate fair, average stranger. Then he passed the afternoon in the club-house studying the pedigrees and forms of racehorses, for every club-house contained a copy of Ruff’s Guide. In the spring he would hunt for and examine the nests of soft-billed birds, for he was interested in the domestic affairs of the cuckoo, though he hated natural history and field botany.
On this occasion he had just examined some notes of other mashie shots, had put the notebook back in his pocket, and had addressed his ball with a niblick that had an unusually roughened face and a head like a hatchet. Meticulously, when he had taken his grip he removed his little and third fingers from the leather of the shaft. He was thanking heaven that Sandbach seemed to be accounted for for ten minutes at least, for Sandbach was miserly over lost balls and, very slowly, he was raising his mashie to half cock for a sighting shot.
He was aware that someone, breathing a little heavily from small lungs, was standing close to him and watching him: he could indeed, beneath his cap-rim, perceive the tips of a pair of boy’s white sand-shoes. It in no way perturbed him to be watched, since he was avid of no personal glory when making his shots. A voice said:
‘I say . . . ’ He continued to look at his ball.
‘Sorry to spoil your shot,’ the voice said. ‘But . . . ’
Tietjens dropped his club altogether and straightened his back. A fair young woman with a fixed scowl was looking at him intently. She had a short skirt and was panting a little.
‘I say,’ she said, ‘go and see they don’t hurt Gertie. I’ve lost her . . . ’ She pointed back to the sandhills. ‘There looked to be some beasts among them.’
She seemed a perfectly negligible girl except for the frown: her eyes blue, her hair no doubt fair under a white canvas hat. She had a striped cotton blouse, but her fawn tweed skirt was well hung.
‘You’ve been demonstrating.’
‘Of course we have, and of course you object on principle. But you won’t let a girl be man-handled. Don’t wait to tell me, I know it . . . ’
Noises existed. Sandbach, from beyond the low garden wall fifty yards away, was yelping, just like a dog: ‘Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!’ and gesticulating. His little caddy, entangled in his golfbag, was trying to scramble over the wall. On top of a high sandhill stood the policeman: he waved his arms like a windmill and shouted. Beside him and behind, slowly rising, were the heads of the General, Macmaster and their two boys. Farther along, in completion, were appearing the figures of Mr Waterhouse, his two companions and their three boys. The Minister was waving his driver and shouting. They all shouted.
‘A regular rat-hunt,’ the girl said; she was counting. ‘Eleven and two more caddies!’ She exhibited satisfaction. ‘I headed them all off except two beasts. They couldn’t run. But neither can Genie . . .
She said urgently:
‘Come along! You aren’t going to leave Gertie to those beasts They’re drunk . . . ’
‘Cut away then. I’ll look after Gertie.’ He picked up his bag.
‘No, I’ll come with you,’ the girl said.
Tietjens answered: ‘Oh, you don’t want to go to gaol. Clear out!’
‘Nonsense. I’ve put up with worse than that. Nine months as a slavey . . . Come along!’
Tietjens started to run — rather like a rhinoceros seeing purple. He had been violently spurred, for he had been pierced by a shrill, faint scream. The girl ran beside him.
‘You . . . can . . . run!’ she panted, ‘put on a spurt.’
Screams protesting against physical violence were at that date rare things in England. Tietjens had never heard the like. It upset him frightfully, though he was aware only of an expanse of open country. The policeman, whose buttons made him noteworthy, was descending his conical sand-hill, diagonally, with caution. There is something grotesque about a town policeman, silvered helmet and all, in the open country. It was so clear and still in the air; Tietjens felt as if he were in a light museum looking at specimens . . .
A little young woman, engrossed, like a hunted rat, came round the corner of a green mound. ‘This is an assaulted female!’ the mind of Tietjens said to him. She had a black skirt covered with sand, for she had just rolled down the sandhill; she had a striped grey and black silk blouse, one shoulder torn completely off, so that a white camisole showed. Over the shoulder of the sandhill came the two city men, flushed with triumph and panting; their red knitted waistcoats moved like bellows. The black-haired one, his eyes lurid and obscene, brandished aloft a fragment of black and grey stuff. He shouted hilariously:
‘Strip the bitch naked! . . . Ugh . . . Strip the bitch stark naked!’ and jumped down the little hill. He cannoned into Tietjens, who roared at the top of his voice:
‘You infernal swine. I’ll knock your head off if you move!’
Behind Tietjens’ back the girl said:
‘Come along, Gertie . . . It’s only to there . . . ’
A voice panted in answer:
‘I . . . can’t . . . My heart . . . ’
Tietjens kept his eye upon the city man. His jaw had fallen down, his eyes stared! It was as if the bottom of his assured world, where all men desire in their hearts to bash women, had fallen out. He panted:
Another scream, a little farther than the last voices from behind his back, caused in Tietjens a feeling of intense weariness. What did beastly women want to scream for? He swung round, bag and all. The policeman, his face scarlet like a lobster just boiled, was lumbering unenthusiastically towards the two girls who were trotting towards the dyke. One of his hands, scarlet also, was extended. He was not a yard from Tietjens.
Tietjens was exhausted, beyond thinking or shouting. He slipped his clubs off his shoulder and, as if he were pitching his kit-bag into a luggage van, threw the whole lot between the policeman’s running legs. The man, who had no impetus to speak of, pitched forward on to his hands and knees. His helmet over his eyes, he seemed to reflect for a moment; then he removed his helmet and with great deliberation rolled round and sat on the turf. His face was completely without emotion, long, sandy-moustached and rather shrewd. He mopped his brow with a carmine handkerchief that had white spots.
Tietjens walked up to him.
‘Clumsy of me!’ he said. ‘I hope you’re not hurt.’ He drew from his breast pocket a curved silver flask. The policeman said nothing. His world, too, contained uncertainties, and he was profoundly glad to be able to sit still without discredit. He muttered:
‘Shaken. A bit! Anybody would be!’
That let him out and he fell to examining with attention the bayonet catch of the flask top. Tietjens opened it for him. The two girls, advancing at a fatigued trot, were near the dyke side. The fair girl, as they trotted, was trying to adjust her companion’s hat; attached by pins to the back of her hair it flapped on her shoulder.
All the rest of the posse were advancing at a very slow walk, in a converging semi-circle. Two little caddies were running, but Tietjens saw them check, hesitate and stop. And there floated to Tietjens’ ears the words:
‘Stop, you little devils. She’ll knock your heads off.’
The Rt. Hon. Mr Waterhouse must have found an admirable voice trainer somewhere. The drab girl was balancing tremulously over a plank on the dyke; the other took it at a jump; up in the air — down on her feet; perfectly business-like. And, as soon as the other girl was off the plank, she was down on her knees before it, pulling it towards her, the other girl trotting away over the vast marsh field.
The girl dropped the plank on the grass. Then she looked up and faced the men and boys who stood in a row on the road. She called in a shrill, high voice, like a young cockerel’s:
‘Seventeen to two! The usual male odds! You’ll have to go round by Camber railway bridge, and we’ll be in Folkestone by then. We’ve got bicycles!’ She was half going when she checked and, searching out Tietjens to address, exclaimed: ‘I’m sorry I said that. Because some of you didn’t want to catch us. But some of you did. And you were seventeen to two.’ She addressed Mr Waterhouse:
‘Why don’t you give women the vote?’ she said. ‘You’ll find it will interfere a good deal with your indispensable golf if you don’t. Then what becomes of the nation’s health?’
Mr Waterhouse said:
‘If you’ll come and discuss it quietly . . . ’
‘Oh, tell that to the marines,’ and turned away, the men in a row watching her figure disappear into the distance of the flat land. Not one of them was inclined to risk that jump: there was nine foot of mud in the bottom of the dyke. It was quite true that, the plank being removed, to go after the women they would have had to go several miles round. It had been a well-thought-out raid. Mr Waterhouse said that girl was a ripping girl: the others found her just ordinary. Mr Sandbach, who had only lately ceased to shout: ‘Hi!’ wanted to know what they were going to do about catching the women, but Mr Waterhouse said: ‘Oh, chuck it, Sandy,’ and went off.
Mr Sandbach refused to continue his match with Tietjens. He said that Tietjens was the sort of fellow who was the ruin of England. He said he had a good mind to issue a warrant for the arrest of Tietjens — for obstructing the course of justice. Tietjens pointed out that Sandbach wasn’t a borough magistrate and so couldn’t. And Sandbach went off, dot and carry one, and began a furious row with the two city men who had retreated to a distance. He said they were the sort of men who were the ruin of England. They bleated like rams . . .
Tietjens wandered slowly up the course, found his ball, made his shot with care and found that the ball deviated several feet less to the right of a straight line than he had expected. He tried the shot again, obtained the same result and tabulated his observations in his notebook. He sauntered slowly back towards the club-house. He was content.
He felt himself to be content for the first time in four months. His pulse beat calmly; the heat of the sun all over him appeared to be a beneficent flood. On the flanks of the older and larger sandhills he observed the minute herbage, mixed with little purple aromatic plants. To these the constant nibbling of sheep had imparted a protective tininess. He wandered, content, round the sand-hills to the small, silted harbour mouth. After reflecting for some time on the wave-curves in the sloping mud of the water sides, he had a long conversation, mostly in signs, with a Finn who hung over the side of a tarred, stump-masted, battered vessel that had a gaping, splintered hole where the anchor should have hung. She came from Archangel; was of several hundred tons burthen, was knocked together anyhow, of soft wood, for about ninety pounds, and launched, sink or swim, in the timber trade. Beside her, taut, glistening with brasswork, was a new fishing boat, just built here for the Lowestoft fleet. Ascertaining her price from a man who was finishing her painting, Tietjens reckoned that you could have built three of the Archangel timber ships for the cost of that boat, and that the Archangel vessel would earn about twice as much per hour per ton. . . .
It was in that way his mind worked when he was fit: it picked up little pieces of definite, workmanlike information. When it had enough it classified them: not for any purpose, but because to know things was agreeable and gave a feeling of strength, of having in reserve something that the other fellow would not suspect . . . He passed a long, quiet, abstracted afternoon.
In the dressing-room he found the General, among lockers, old coats and stoneware washing-basins set in scrubbed wood. The General leaned back against a row of these things.
‘You are the ruddy limit!’ he exclaimed.
The General said he had sent Macmaster off with Sandbach in the two-seater. Macmaster had to dress before going up to Mountby. He added: ‘The ruddy limit!’ again.
Because I knocked the bobbie over?’ Tietjens asked. ‘He liked it.’
The General said:
‘Knocked the bobble over . . . I didn’t see that.’
‘He didn’t want to catch the girls,’ Tietjens said, ‘you could see him — oh, yearning not to.’
‘I don’t want to know anything about that,’ the General said. ‘I shall hear enough about it from Paul Sandbach. Give the bobbie a quid and let’s hear no more of it. I’m a magistrate.’
‘Then what have I done?’ Tietjens said. ‘I helped those girls to get off. You didn’t want to catch them; Waterhouse didn’t, the policeman didn’t. No one did except the swine. Then what’s the matter?’
‘Damn it all!’ the General said, ‘don’t you remember that you’re a young married man?’
With the respect for the General’s superior age and achievements, Tietjens stopped himself laughing.
‘If you’re really serious, sir,’ he said, ‘I always remember it very carefully. I don’t suppose you’re suggesting that I’ve ever shown want of respect for Sylvia.’
The General shook his head.
‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘And, damn it all, I’m worried. I’m . . . Hang it all, I’m your father’s oldest friend.’ The General looked indeed worn and saddened in the light of the sand-drifted, ground-glass windows. He said: ‘Was that skirt a . . . a friend of yours? Had you arranged it with her?’
‘Wouldn’t it be better, sir, if you said what you had on your mind? . . . ’
The old General blushed a little.
‘I don’t like to,’ he said straightforwardly. ‘You brilliant fellow . . . I only want, my dear boy, to hint that . . . ’
Tietjens said, a little more stiffly:
‘I’d prefer you to get it out, sir . . . I acknowledge your right as my father’s oldest friend.’
‘Then,’ the General burst out, ‘who was the skirt you were lolloping up Pall Mall with? On the last day they Trooped the Colour? . . . I didn’t see her myself . . . Was it this same one? Paul said she looked like a cook maid.’
Tietjens made himself a little more rigid.
‘She was, as a matter of fact, a bookmaker’s secretary,’ Tietjens said. ‘I imagine I have the right to walk where I like, with whom I like. And no one has the right to question it . . . I don’t mean you, sir. But no one else.’
The General said puzzledly:
‘It’s you brilliant fellows . . . They all say you’re brilliant . . . ’
‘You might let your rooted distrust of intelligence . . . It’s natural of course; but you might let it allow you to be just to me. I assure you there was nothing discreditable.’
The General interrupted:
‘If you were a stupid young subaltern and told me you were showing your mother’s new cook the way to the Piccadilly tube, I’d believe you . . . But, then, no young subaltern would do such a damn, blasted, tomfool thing! Paul said you walked beside her like the king in his glory! Through the crush outside the Haymarket, of all places in the world!’
‘I’m obliged to Sandbach for his commendation . . . ’ Tietjens said. He thought for a moment. Then he said:
‘I was trying to get that young woman . . . I was taking her out to lunch from her office at the bottom of the Haymarket . . . To get her off a friend’s back. That is, of course, between ourselves.’
He said this with great reluctance because he didn’t want to cast reflection on Macmaster’s taste, for the young lady had been by no means one to be seen walking with a really circumspect public official. But he had said nothing to indicate. Macmaster, and he had other friends.
The General choked.
‘Upon my soul,’ he said, ‘what do you take me for?’ He repeated the words as if he were amazed. ‘If,’ he said, ‘my G.S.O. II— who’s the stupidest ass I know — told me such a damn-fool lie as that I’d have him broke to-morrow.’ He went on expostulatorily: ‘Damn it all, it’s the first duty of a soldier — it’s the first duty of all Englishmen — to be able to tell a good lie in answer to a charge. But a lie like that..:
He broke off breathless, then he began again:
‘Hang it all, I told that lie to my grandmother and my grandfather told it to his grandfather. And they call you brilliant! . . . ’ He paused and then asked reproachfully: ‘Or do you think I’m in a state of-senile decay?’
‘I know you, sir, to be the smartest general of division in the British Army. I leave you to draw your own conclusions as to why I said what I did . . . ’ He had told the exact truth, but he was not sorry to be disbelieved.
The General said:
‘Then I’ll take it that you tell me a lie meaning me to know that it’s a lie. That’s quite proper. I take it you mean to keep the woman officially out of it. But look here, Chrissie’— his tone took a deeper seriousness — If the woman that’s come between you and Sylvia — that’s broken up your home, damn it, for that’s what it is! — is little Miss Wannop . . . ’
‘Her name was Julia Mandelstein,’ Tietjens said.
The General said:
‘Yes! Yes! Of course! . . . But if it is the little Wannop girl and it’s not gone too far . . . Put her back . . . Put her back, as you used to be a good boy! It would be too hard on the mother . . . ’
‘General! I give you my word . . . ’
The General said:
‘I’m not asking any questions, my boy; I’m talking now. You’ve told me the story you want told and it’s the story I’ll tell for you! But that little piece is . . . she used to be! . . . as straight as a die. I daresay you know better than I. Of course when they get among the wild women there’s no knowing what happens to them. They say they’re all whores . . . I beg your pardon, if you like the girl . . . ’
‘Is Miss Wannop,’ Tietjens asked, ‘the girl who demonstrates?’
‘Sandbach said,’ the General went on, ‘that he couldn’t see from where he was whether that girl was the same as the one in the Haymarket. But he thought it was . . . He was pretty certain.’
‘As he’s married your sister,’ Tietjens said, ‘one can’t impugn his taste in women.’
‘I say again, I’m not asking,’ the General said. ‘But I do say again too: put her back. Her father was a great friend of your father’s: or your father was a great admirer of his. They say he was the most brilliant brain of the party.’
‘Of course I know who Professor Wannop was,’ Tietjens said. ‘There’s nothing you could tell me about him.’
‘I daresay not,’ the General said drily. ‘Then you know that he didn’t leave a farthing when he died and the rotten Liberal Government wouldn’t put his wife and children on the Civil List because he’d sometimes written for a Tory paper. And you know that the mother has had a deuced hard row to hoe and has only just turned the corner. If she can be said to have turned it. I know Claudine takes them all the peaches she can cadge out of Paul’s gardener.’
Tietjens was about to say that Mrs Wannop, the mother, had written the only novel worth reading since the eighteenth century . . . But the General went on:
‘Listen to me, my boy . . . If you can’t get on without women . . . I should have thought Sylvia was good enough. But I know what we men are . . . I don’t set up to be a saint. I heard a woman in the promenade of the Empire say once that it was the likes of them that saved the lives and figures of all the virtuous women of the country. And I daresay it’s true . . . But choose a girl that you can set up in a tobacco shop and do your courting in the back parlour. Not in the Haymarket . . . Heaven knows if you can afford it. That’s your affair. You appear to have been sold up. And from what Sylvia’s let drop to Claudine . . . ’
‘I don’t believe,’ Tietjens said, ‘that Sylvia’s said anything to Lady Claudine . . . She’s too straight.’
‘I didn’t say “said,"’ the General exclaimed, ‘I particularly said “let drop.” And perhaps I oughtn’t to have said as much as that, but you know what devils for ferreting out women are. And Claudine’s worse than any woman I ever knew . . . ’
‘And, of course, she’s had Sandbach to help,’ Tietjens said.
‘Oh, that fellow’s worse than any woman,’ the General exclaimed.
‘Then what does the whole indictment amount to?’ Tietj ens asked.
‘Oh, hang it,’ the General brought out, ‘I’m not a beastly detective, I only want a plausible story to tell Claudine. Or not even plausible. An obvious lie as long as it shows you’re not flying in the face of society — as walking up the Haymarket with the little Wannop when your wife’s left you because of her would be.’
‘What does it amount to?’ Tietjens said patiently: ‘What Sylvia “let drop”?’
‘Only,’ the General answered, ‘that you are — that your views are — immoral. Of course they often puzzle me. And, of course, if you have views that aren’t the same as other people’s, and don’t keep them to yourself, other people will suspect you of immorality. That’s what put Paul Sandbach on your track! . . . and that you’re extravagant . . . Oh, hang it . . . Eternal hansoms, and taxis and telegrams . . . You know, my boy, times aren’t what they were when your father and I married. We used to say you could do it on five hundred a year as a younger son . . . And then this girl too . . . ’ His voice took on a more agitated note of shyness — pain . . . ‘It probably hadn’t occurred to you . . . But, of course, Sylvia has an income of her own . . . And, don’t you see . . . if you outrun the constable and . . . In short, you’re spending Sylvia’s money on the other girl, and that’s what people can’t stand.’ He added quickly: ‘I’m bound to say that Mrs Satterthwaite backs you through thick and thin. Thick and thin! Claudine wrote to her. But you know what women are with a handsome son-in-law that’s always polite to them. But I may tell you that but for your mother-in-law, Claudine would have cut you out of her visiting list months ago. And you’d have been cut out of some others too . . .
‘Thanks. I think that’s enough to go on with . . . Give me a couple of minutes to reflect on what you’ve said . . . ’
‘I’ll wash my hands and change my coat,’ the General said with intense relief.
At the end of two minutes Tietjens said:
‘No; I don’t see that there is anything I want to say.’ The General exclaimed with enthusiasm:
‘That’s my good lad! Open confession is next to reform . . . And . . . and try to be more respectful to your superiors . . . Damn it; they say you’re brilliant. But I thank heaven I haven’t got you in my command . . . Though I believe you’re a good lad. But you’re the sort of fellow to set a whole division by the ears . . . A regular . . . what’s ‘is name? A regular Dreyfus!’
‘Did you think Dreyfus was guilty?’ Tietjens asked.
‘Hang it,’ the General said, ‘he was worse than guilty — the sort of fellow you couldn’t believe in and yet couldn’t prove anything against. The curse of the world . . .
‘Well, they are,’ the General said: ‘fellows like that unsettle society. You don’t know where you are. You can’t judge. They make you uncomfortable . . . A brilliant fellow too! I believe he’s a brigadier-general by now . . . ’ He put his arm round Tietjens’ shoulders.
‘There, there, my dear boy,’ he said, ‘come and have a sloe gin. That’s the real answer to all beastly problems.’
It was some time before Tietjens could get to think of his own problems. The fly that took them back went with the slow pomp of a procession over the winding marsh road in front of the absurdly picturesque red pyramid of the very old town. Tietjens had to listen to the General suggesting that it would be better if he didn’t come to the golf-club till Monday. He would get Macmaster some good games. A good, sound fellow that Macmaster now. It was a pity Tietjens hadn’t some of his soundness!
Two city men had approached the General on the course and had used some violent invectives against Tietjens: they had objected to being called ruddy swine to their faces: they were going to the police. The General said that he had told them himself, slowly and guiltily, that they were ruddy swine and that they would never get another ticket at that club after Monday. But till Monday, apparently, they had the right to be there and the club wouldn’t want scenes. Sandbach, too, was infuriated about Tietjens.
Tietjens said that the fault lay with the times that permitted the introduction into gentlemen’s company of such social swipes as Sandbach. One acted perfectly correctly, and then a dirty little beggar like that put dirty little constructions on it and ran about and bleated. He added that he knew Sandbach was the General’s brother-in-law, but he couldn’t help it. That was the truth . . . The General said: ‘I know, my boy: I know . . . ’ But one had to take society as one found it. Claudine had to be provided for and Sandbach made a very good husband, careful, sober, and on the right side in politics. A bit of a rip; but they couldn’t ask for everything! And Claudine was using all the influence she had with the other side — which was not a little, women were so wonderful! — to get him a diplomatic job in Turkey, so as to get him out of the way of Mrs Crundall! Mrs Crundall was the leading Anti-Suffragette of the little town. That was what made Sandbach so bitter against Tietjens. He told Tietjens so that Tietjens might understand.
Tietjens had hitherto flattered himself that he could examine a subject swiftly and put it away in his mind. To the General he hardly listened. The allegations against himself were beastly; but he could usually ignore allegations against himself, and he imagined that if he said no more about them he would himself hear no more. And, if there were, in clubs and places where men talk, unpleasant rumours as to himself he preferred it to be thought that he was the rip, not his wife the strumpet. That was normal, male vanity: the preference of the English gentleman! Had it been a matter of Sylvia spotless and himself as spotless as he was — for in all these things he knew himself to be spotless! — he would certainly have defended himself, at least, to the General. But he had acted practically in not defending himself more vigorously. For he imagined that, had he really tried, he could have made the General believe him. But he had behaved rightly! It was not mere vanity. There was the child up at his sister Effie’s . It was better for a boy to have a rip of a father than a whore for mother!
The General was expatiating on the solidity of a squat castle, like a pile of draughts, away to the left, in the sun, on the flatness. He was saying that we didn’t build like that nowadays.
‘You’re perfectly wrong, General. All the castles that Henry VIII built in 1543 along this coast are mere monuments of jerry-building . . . ”In 1543 jactat castra Delis, Sandgatto, Reia, Hastingas Henricus Rex“ . . . That means he chucked them down . . . ’
The General laughed:
‘You are an incorrigible fellow . . . If ever there’s any known, certain fact . . . ’
‘But go and look at the beastly things,’ Tietjens said. ‘You’ll see they’ve got just a facing of Caen stone that the tide floated here, and the fillings-up are just rubble, any rubbish . . . Look here! It’s a known certain fact, isn’t it, that your eighteen-pounders are better than the French seventy-fives. They tell us so in the House, on the hustings, in the papers: the public believes it . . . But would you put one of your tiny pet things firing — what is it? — four shells a minute? — with the little bent pins in their tails to stop the recoil — against their seventy-fives with the compressed-air cylinders . . . ’
The General sat stiffly upon his cushion:
‘That’s different,’ he said. ‘How the devil do you get to know these things?’
‘It isn’t different,’ Tietjens said, ‘it’s the same muddleheaded frame of mind that sees good building in Henry VIII as lets us into wars with hopelessly antiquated field guns and rottenly inferior ammunition. You’d fire any fellow on your staff who said we could stand up for a minute against the French.’
‘Well, anyhow,’ the General said, ‘I thank heaven you’re not on my staff, for you’d talk my hind leg off in a week. It’s perfectly true that the public . . . ’
But Tietjens was not listening. He was considering that it was natural for an unborn fellow like Sandbach to betray the solidarity that should exist between men. And it was natural for a childless woman like Lady Claudine Sandbach, with a notoriously, a flagrantly unfaithful husband, to believe in the unfaithfulness of the husbands of other women!
The General was saying:
‘Who did you hear that stuff from about the French field gun?’
‘From you. Three weeks ago!’
And all the other society women with unfaithful husbands . . . They must do their best to down and out a man. They would cut him off their visiting lists! Let them. The barren harlots mated to faithless eunuchs . . . Suddenly he thought that he didn’t know for certain that he was the father of his child and he groaned.
‘Well, what have I said wrong now?’ the General asked. ‘Surely you don’t maintain that pheasants do eat man-golds . . . ’
Tietjen proved his reputation for sanity with:
‘No! I was just groaning at the thought of the Chancellor! That’s sound enough for you, isn’t it?’ But it gave him a nasty turn. He hadn’t been able to pigeon-hole and padlock his disagreeable reflections. He had been as good as talking to himself . . .
In the bow-window of another hostelry than his own he caught the eye of Mr Waterhouse, who was looking at the view over the marshes. The great man beckoned to him and he went in. Mr Waterhouse was aware that Tietjenswhom he assumed to be a man of sense — should get any pursuit of the two girls stopped off. He couldn’t move in the matter himself, but a five pound note and possibly a police promotion or so might be handed round if no advertisement were given to the mad women on account of their raid of that afternoon.
It was not a very difficult matter: for where the great man was to be found in the club lounge, there, in the bar, the major, the town clerk, the local head of the police, the doctors and solicitors would be found drinking together. And after it was arranged the great man himself came into the bar, had a drink and pleased them all immensely by his affability . . .
Tietjens himself, dining alone with the Minister to whom he wanted to talk about his Labour Finance Act, didn’t find him a disagreeable fellow: not really foolish, not sly except in his humour, tired obviously, but livening up after a couple of whiskys, and certainly not as yet plutocratic; with tastes for apple-pie and cream of a fourteen-year-old boy. And, even as regards his famous Act, which was then shaking the country to its political foundations, once you accepted its fundamental unsuitedness to the temperament and needs of the English working-class, you could see that Mr Waterhouse didn’t want to be dishonest. He accepted with gratitude several of Tietjens’ emendations in the actuarial schedules . . . And over their port they agreed on two fundamental legislative ideals: every working man to have a minimum of four hundred a year and every beastly manufacturer who wanted to pay less to be hung. That, it appeared, was the High Toryism of Tietjens as it was the extreme Radicalism of the extreme Left of the Left . . .
And Tietjens, who hated no man, in face of this simpleminded and agreeable schoolboy type of fellow, fell to wondering why it was that humanity that was next to always agreeable in its units was, as a mass, a phenomenon so hideous. You look at a dozen men, each of them not by any means detestable and not uninteresting: for each of them would have technical details of their affairs to impart: you formed them into a Government or a club, and at once, with oppressions, inaccuracies, gossip, backbiting, lying, corruption and vileness, you had the combination of wolf, tiger, weasel, and louse-covered ape that was human society. And he remembered the words of some Russian: ‘Cats and monkeys. Monkeys and cats. All humanity is there.’
Tietjens and Mr Waterhouse spent the rest of the evening together.
Whilst Tietjens was interviewing the policeman, the Minister sat on the front steps of the cottage and smoked cheap cigarettes, and when Tietjens went to bed, Mr Waterhouse insisted on sending by him kindly messages to Miss Wannop, asking her to come and discuss female suffrage any afternoon she liked in his private room at the House of Commons. Mr Waterhouse flatly refused to believe that Tietjens hadn’t arranged the raid with Miss Wannop. He said it had been too neatly planned for any woman, and he said Tietjens was a lucky fellow, for she was a ripping girl.
Back in his room under the rafters, Tietj ens fell, nevertheless, at once a prey to real agitation. For a long time he pounded from wall to wall and, since he could not shake off the train of thought, he got out at last his patience cards, and devoted himself seriously to thinking out the conditions of his life with Sylvia. He wanted to stop scandal if he could; he wanted them to live within his income, he wanted to subtract that child from the influence of its mother. These were all definite but difficult things . . . Then one half of his mind lost itself in the rearrangement of schedules, and on his brilliant table his hands set queens on kings and checked their recurrences.
In that way the sudden entrance of Macmaster gave him a really terrible physical shock. He nearly vomited: his brain reeled and the room fell about. He drank a great quantity of whisky in front of Macmaster’s goggling eyes; but even at that he couldn’t talk, and he dropped into his bed faintly aware of his friend’s efforts to loosen his clothes. He had, he knew, carried the suppression of thought in his conscious mind so far that his unconscious self had taken command and had, for the time, paralysed both his body and his mind.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50