Jumping down from the high step of the dog-cart the girl completely disappeared into the silver: she had on an otter-skin toque, dark, that should have been visible. But she was gone more completely than if she had dropped into deep water, into snow — or through tissue paper. More suddenly, at least! In darkness or in deep water a moving paleness would have been visible for a second: snow or a paper hoop would have left an opening. Here there had been nothing.
The constatation interested him. He had been watching her intently and with concern for fear she should miss the hidden lower step, in which case she would certainly bark her shins. But she had jumped clear of the cart: with unreasonable pluckiness, in spite of his: ‘Look out how you get down.’ He wouldn’t have done it himself: he couldn’t have faced jumping down into that white solidity . . .
He would have asked: ‘Are you all right?’ but to express more concern than the ‘look out,’ which he had expended already, would have detracted from his stolidity. He was Yorkshire and stolid: she south country and soft: emotional: given to such ejaculations as ‘I hope you’re not hurt,’ when the Yorkshireman only grunts. But soft because she was south country. She was as good as a man — a south-country man. She was ready to acknowledge the superior woodenness of the north . . . That was their convention: so he did not call down: ‘I hope you’re all right,’ though he had desired to.
Her voice came, muffled, as if from the back of the top of his head: the ventriloquial effect was startling:
‘Make a noise from time to time. It’s ghostly down here and the lamp’s no good at all. It’s almost out.’
He returned to his constatations of the concealing effect of water vapour. He enjoyed the thought of the grotesque appearance he must present in that imbecile landscape. On his right an immense, improbably brilliant horn of a moon, sending a trail as if down the sea, straight to his neck: beside the moon a grotesquely huge star: in an extravagant position above them the Plough, the only constellation that he knew; for, though a mathematician, he despised astronomy. It was not theoretical enough for the pure mathematician and not sufficiently practical for daily life. He had of course calculated the movements of abstruse heavenly bodies: but only from given figures: he had never looked for the stars of his calculations . . . Above his head and all over the sky were other stars; large and weeping with light, or as the dawn increased, so paling that at times, you saw them; then missed them. Then the eye picked them up again.
Opposite the moon was a smirch or two of cloud; pink below, dark purple above; on the more pallid, lower blue of the limpid sky.
But the absurd thing was this mist! . . . It appeared to spread from his neck, absolutely level, absolutely silver, to infinity on each side of him. At great distances on his right black tree-shapes, in groups — there were four of them — were exactly like coral islands on a silver sea. He couldn’t escape the idiotic comparison: there wasn’t any other.
Yet it didn’t exactly spread from his neck: when he now held his hands, nipple-high, like pallid fish they held black reins which ran downwards into nothingness. If he jerked the rein, the horse threw its head up. Two pricked ears were visible in greyness: the horse being sixteen two and a bit over, the mist might be ten foot high. Thereabouts . . . He wished the girl would come back and jump out of the cart again. Being ready for it, he would watch her disappearance more scientifically. He couldn’t of course ask her to do it again: that was irritating. The phenomenon would have proved — or it might of course disprove — his idea of smoke screens. The Chinese of the Ming dynasty were said to have approached and overwhelmed their enemies under clouds of — of course, not acrid — vapour. He had read that the Patagonians, hidden by smoke, were accustomed to approach so near to birds or beasts as to be able to take them by hand. The Greeks under Paleologus the . . .
Miss Wannop’s voice said — from beneath the bottom board of the cart:
‘I wish you’d make some noise. It’s lonely down here, besides being possibly dangerous. There might be clicks on each side of the road.’
If they were on the marsh there certainly would be dykes — why did they call ditches ‘dykes,’ and why did she pronounce it ‘dicks’? — on each side of the road. He could think of nothing to say that wouldn’t express concern, and he couldn’t do that by the rules of the game. He tried to whistle ‘John Peel’! But he was no hand at whistling. He sang:
‘D’ye ken, John Peel at the break of day . . . ’ and felt like a fool. But he kept on at it, the only tune that he knew. It was the Yorkshire Light Infantry quick-step: the regiment of his brothers in India. He wished he had been in the army; but his father hadn’t approved of having more than two younger sons in the army. He wondered if he would ever run with John Peel’s hounds again: he had once or twice. Or with any of the trencher-fed foot packs of the Cleveland district, of which there had been still several when he had been a boy. He had been used to think of himself as being like John Peel with his coat so grey . . . Up through the heather, over Wharton’s place; the pack running wild; the heather dripping; the mist rolling up . . . another kind of mist than this south-country silver sheet. Silly stuff! Magical! That was the word. A silly word . . . South country . . . In the north the old grey mists rolled together, revealing black hillsides.
He didn’t suppose he’d have the wind now: this rotten bureaucratic life! . . . If he had been in the army like the two brothers, Ernest and James, next above him . . . But no doubt he would not have liked the army. Discipline! . . . He supposed he would have put up with the discipline: a gentleman had to. Because noblesse oblige: not for fear of consequences . . . But army officers seemed to him pathetic. They spluttered and roared: to make men jump smartly: at the end of apoplectic efforts the men jumped smartly. But there was the end of it . . .
Actually, this mist was not silver, or was, perhaps, no longer silver: if you looked at it with the eye of the artist . . . With the exact eye! It was smirched with bars of purple; of red; or orange; delicate reflections: dark blue shadows from the upper sky where it formed drifts like snow . . . The exact eye: exact observation: it was a man’s work. The only work for a man. Why then were artists soft: effeminate: not men at all: whilst the army officer, who had the inexact mind of the schoolteacher, was a manly man? Quite a manly man: until he became an old woman!
And the bureaucrat then? Growing fat and soft like himself, or dry and stringy like Macmaster or old Ingleby? They did men’s work: exact observation: return no. 17642 with figures exact. Yet they grew hysterical: they ran about corridors or frantically rang table bells, asking with high voices of querulous eunuchs why form ninety thousand and two wasn’t ready. Nevertheless men liked the bureaucratic life: his own brother, Mark, head of the family: heir to Groby . . . Fifteen years older: a quiet stick: wooden: brown: always in a bowler hat, as often as not with his racing-glasses hung around him. Attending his first-class office when he liked: too good a man for any administration to lose by putting on the screw . . . But heir to Groby: what would that stick make of the place? . . . Let it, no doubt, and go on pottering from the Albany to race meetings — where he never betted — to Whitehall, where he was said to be indispensable . . . Why indispensable? Why in heaven’s name! That stick who had never hunted, never shot: couldn’t tell coulter from plough-handle and lived in his bowler hat! . . . A ‘sound’ man: the archetype of all sound men. Never in his life had anyone shaken his head at Mark and said:
‘You’re brilliant!’ Brilliant! That stick! No, he was indispensable!
‘Upon my soul!’ Tietjens said to himself, ‘that girl down there is the only intelligent living soul I’ve met for years.’ . . . A little pronounced in manner sometimes; faulty in reasoning naturally, but quite intelligent, with a touch of wrong accent now and then. But if she was wanted anywhere, there she’d be! Of good stock, of course: on both sides! . . . But, positively, she and Sylvia were the only two human beings he had met for years whom he could respect: the one for sheer efficiency in killing: the other for having the constructive desire and knowing how to set about it. Kill or cure! The two functions of man. If you wanted something killed you’d go to Sylvia Tietjens in the sure faith that she would kill it; emotion: hope: ideal: kill it quick and sure. If you wanted something kept alive you’d go to Valentine: she’d find something to do for it . . . The two types of mind: remorseless enemy: sure screen: dagger . . . sheath!
Perhaps the future of the world then was to women? Why not? He hadn’t in years met a man that he hadn’t to talk down to — as you talk down to a child: as he had talked down to General Campion or to Mr Waterhouse . . . as he always talked down to Macmaster. All good fellows in their way . . .
But why was he born to be a sort of lonely buffalo: outside the herd? Not artist: not soldier: not bureaucrat: not certainly indispensable anywhere: apparently not even sound in the eyes of these dim-minded specialists . . . An exact observer . . .
Hardly even that for the last six and a half hours:
‘Die Sommer Nacht hat mirs angethan
Das war ein schweigsame Reiten . . . ’
he said aloud.
How could you translate that? You couldn’t translate it: no one could translate Heine:
‘It was the summer night came over me:
That was silent riding . . . ’
A voice cut into his warm, drowsy thought:
‘Oh, you do exist. But you’ve spoken too late. I’ve run into the horse.’ He must have been speaking aloud. He had felt the horse quivering at the end of the reins. The horse, too, was used to her by now. It had hardly stirred . . . He wondered when he had left off singing ‘John Peel.’ . . . He said:
‘Come along, then: have you found anything?’
The answer came:
‘Something . . . But you can’t talk in this stuff . . . I’ll just . . . ’
The voice died away as if a door had shut. He waited: consciously waiting: as an occupation! Contritely and to make a noise he rattled the whip-stock in its bucket. The horse started and he had to check it quickly: a damn fool he was. Of course a horse would start if you rattled a whipstock. He called out:
‘Are you all right?’ The cart might have knocked her down. He had, however, broken the convention. Her voice came from a great distance:
‘Pm all right. Trying the other side . . . ’
His last thought came back to him. He had broken their convention: he had exhibited concern: like any other man . . . He said to himself:
‘By God! Why not take a holiday: why not break all conventions?’
They erected themselves intangibly and irrefragably. He had not known this young women twenty-four hours: not to speak to: and already the convention existed between them that he must play stiff and cold, she warm and clinging . . . Yet she was obviously as cool a hand as himself: cooler no doubt, for at bottom he was certainly a sentimentalist.
A convention of the most imbecile type . . . Then break all conventions: with the young woman: with himself above all. For forty-eight hours . . . almost exactly forty-eight hours till he started for Dover . . .
‘And I must to the greenwood go,
Alone: a banished man!’
Border ballad! Written not seven miles from Groby!
By the descending moon: it being then just after cockcrow of midsummer night — what sentimentality I— it must be half-past-four on Sunday. He had worked out that to catch the morning Ostend boat at Dover he must leave the Wannops’ at 5.15 on Tuesday morning, in a motor for the junction . . . What incredible cross-country train connections! Five hours for not forty miles.
He had then forty-eight and three-quarter hours! Let them be a holiday! A holiday from himself above all: a holiday from his standards: from his convention with himself. From clear observation: from exact thought: from knocking over all the skittles of the exactitudes of others: from the suppression of emotions . . . From all the wearinesses that made him intolerable to himself . . . He felt his limbs lengthen, as if they too had relaxed.
Well, already he had had six and a half hours of it. They had started at 10 and, like any other man, he had enjoyed the drive, though it had been difficult to keep the beastly cart balanced, the girl had had to sit behind with her arm round the other girl, who screamed at every oak tree . . .
But he had — if he put himself to the question — mooned along under the absurd moon that had accompanied them down the heaven: to the scent of hay: to the sound of nightingales, hoarse by now, of course — in June he changes his tune; of corncrakes, of bats, of a heron twice, overhead. They had passed the blue-black shadows of corn stacks, of heavy, rounded oaks, of hop oasts that are half church tower, half finger-post. And the road silver grey, and the night warm . . . It was midsummer night that had done that to him . . . Hat mirs angethan.
Das war ein schweigsame Reiten . . .
Not absolutely silent of course: but silentish! Coming back from the parson’s, where they had dropped the little London sewer rat, they had talked very little . . . Not unpleasant people the parson’s: an uncle of the girl’s: three girl cousins, not unpleasant, like the girl but without the individuality . . . A remarkably good bite of beef: a truly meritorious Stilton and a drop of whisky that proved the parson to be a man. All in candlelight. A motherly mother of the family to take the rat up some stairs . . . a great deal of laughter of girls . . . then a re-start an hour later than had been scheduled . . . Well, it hadn’t mattered: they had the whole of eternity before them: the good horse — really it was a good horse! — putting its shoulders into the work . . .
They had talked a little at first; about the safeness of the London girl from the police now; about the brickishness of the parson in taking her in. She certainly would never have reached Charing Cross by train . . .
There had fallen long periods of silences. A bat had whirled very near their off-lamp.
‘What a large bat!’ she had said. Noctilux major . . . ’
‘Where do you get your absurd Latin nomenclature from? Isn’t it phalaena . . . ’ She had answered:
‘From White . . . The Natural History of Selborne is the only natural history I ever read . . . ’
‘He’s the last English writer that could write,’ said Tietjens.
‘He calls the downs “those majestic and amusing mountains,"’ she said. ‘Where do you get your dreadful Latin pronunciation from? Phal . . . i . . . i . . . na! To rhyme with Dinah!’
‘It’s ”sublime and amusing mountains,” not “majestic and amusing,"’ Tietjens said. ‘I got my Latin pronunciation, like all public schoolboys of to-day, from the German.’ She answered:
‘You would! Father used to say it made him sick.’ ‘Caesar equals Kaiser,’ Tietjens said . . .
‘Bother your Germans,’ she said, ‘they’re no ethnologists; they’re rotten at philology!’ She added: ‘Father used to say so,’ to take away from an appearance of pedantry.
A silence then! She had right over her head a rug that her aunt had lent her; a silhouette beside him, with a cocky nose turned up straight out of the descending black mass. But for the square toque she would have had the silhouette of a Manchester cotton-hand: the toque gave it a different line; like the fillet of Diana. It was piquant and agreeable to ride beside a quite silent lady in the darkness of the thick Weald that let next to no moonlight through. The horse’s hoofs went clock, clock: a good horse. The near lamp illuminated the russet figure of a man with a sack on his back, pressed into the hedge, a blinking lurcher beside him.
‘Keeper between the blankets!’ Tietjens said to himself: ‘All these south-country keepers sleep all night . . . And then you give them a five-quid tip for the week-end shoot . . . ’ He determined that, as to that, too, he would put his foot down. No more week-ends with Sylvia in the mansions of the Chosen People . . .
The girl said suddenly; they had run into a clearing of the deep underwoods:
‘I’m not stuffy with you over that Latin, though you were unnecessarily rude. And I’m not sleepy. I’m loving it all.’
He hesitated for a minute. It was a silly-girl thing to say. She didn’t usually say silly-girl things. He ought to snub her for her own sake . . .
‘I’m rather loving it, too!’ She was looking at him; her nose had disappeared from the silhouette. He hadn’t been able to help it; the moon had been just above her head; unknown stars all round her; the night was warm. Besides, a really manly man may condescend at times! He rather owes it to himself . . .
‘That was nice of you! You might have hinted that the rotten drive was taking you away from your so important work . . .
‘Oh, I can think as I drive,’ he said. She said:
‘Oh!’ and then: ‘The reason why I’m unconcerned over your rudeness about my Latin is that I know I’m a much better Latinist than you. You can’t quote a few lines of Ovid without sprinkling howlers in . . . It’s vastum, not longum . . . “Terra tribus scopulis vastum procurrit” . . . It’s alto, not coelo . . . “Uvidus ex alto desilientis.” . . . How could Ovid have written ex coelo? The “c” after the “x” sets your teeth on edge.’
‘That’s purely canine!’ she said with contempt.
‘Besides,’ Tietjens said, longum is much better than vastum. I hate cant adjectives like “vast.” . . . ’
‘It’s like your modesty to correct Ovid,’ she exclaimed. ‘Yet you say Ovid and Catullus were the only two Roman poets to be poets. That’s because they were sentimental and used adjectives like vastum . . . What’s “Sad tears mixed with kisses” but the sheerest sentimentality?’
‘It ought, you know,’ Tietjens said with soft dangerousness, ‘to be “Kisses mingled with sad tears” . . . “Tristibus et lacrimis oscula mixta dabis."’
‘I’m hanged if ever I could,’ she exclaimed explosively. ‘A man like you could die in a ditch and I’d never come near. You’re desiccated even for a man who has learned his Latin from the Germans.’
‘Oh, well, I’m a mathematician,’ Tietjens said. ‘Classics is not my line!’
‘It isn’t,’ she answered tartly.
A long time afterwards from her black figure came the words:
‘You used “mingled” instead of “mixed” to translate mixta. I shouldn’t think you took English at Cambridge, either! Though they’re as rotten at that as at everything else, father used to say.’
‘Your father was Balliol, of course,’ Tietjens said with the snuffy contempt of a scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge. But having lived most of her life amongst Balliol people she took this as a compliment and an olive branch.
Some time afterwards Tietjens, observing that her silhouette was still between him and the moon, remarked:
‘I don’t know if you know that for some minutes we’ve been running nearly due west. We ought to be going southeast by a bit south. I suppose you do know this road . . . ’
‘Every inch of it,’ she said. ‘I’ve been on it over and over again on my motor-bicycle with mother in the side-car. The next cross road is called Grandfather’s Wantways. We’ve got eleven miles and a quarter to do. The road turns back here because of the old Sussex iron pits; it goes in and out amongst them; hundreds of them. You know the exports of the town of Rye in the eighteenth century were hops, cannon, kettles, and chimney backs. The railings round St Paul’s are made of Sussex iron.’
‘I knew that, of course,’ Tietjens said: ‘I come of an iron county myself . . . Why didn’t you let me run the girl over in the side-car, it would have been quicker?’
‘Because,’ she said, ‘three weeks ago I smashed up the side-car on the milestone at Hog’s Corner: doing forty.’
‘It must have been a pretty tidy smash!’ Tietjens said. ‘Your mother wasn’t aboard?’
‘No,’ the girl said, ‘suffragette literature. The side-car was full. It was a pretty tidy smash. Hadn’t you observed I still limp a little?’
A few minutes later she said:
‘I haven’t the least notion where we really are. I clean forgot to notice the road. And I don’t care . . . Here’s a signpost though; pull in to it . . .
The lamps would not, however, shine on the arms of the post; they were burning dim and showing low. A good deal of fog was in the air. Tietjens gave the reins to the girl and got down. He took out the near light and, going back a yard or two to the signpost, examined its bewildering ghostlinesses . . .
The girl gave a little squeak that went to his backbone; the hoofs clattered unusually; the cart went on. Tietjens went after it; it was astonishing; it had completely disappeared. Then he ran into it: ghostly, reddish and befogged. It must have got much thicker suddenly. The fog swirled all round the near lamp as he replaced it in its socket.
Did you do that on purpose?’ he asked the girl. ‘Or can’t you hold a horse?’
‘I can’t drive a horse,’ the girl said; ‘I’m afraid of them. I can’t drive a motor-bike either. I made that up because I knew you’d say you’d rather have taken Gertie over in the side-car than driven with me.’
‘Then do you mind,’ Tietjens said, ‘telling me if you know this road at all?’
‘Not a bit!’ she answered cheerfully. ‘I never drove over it in my life. I looked it up on the map before we started because I’m sick to death of the road we went by. There’s a one-horse bus from Rye to Tenterden, and I’ve walked from Tenterden to my uncle’s over and over again . . . ’
‘We shall probably be out all night then,’ Tietjens said. ‘Do you mind? The horse may be tired . . .
‘Oh, the poor horse! . . . I meant us to be out all night . . . But the poor horse . . . What a brute I was not to think of it.’
‘We’re thirteen miles from a place called Brede; eleven and a quarter from a place whose name I couldn’t read; six and three-quarters from somewhere called something like Uddlemere Tietjens said. ‘This is the road to Uddlemere.’
‘Oh, that was Grandfather’s Wantways all right,’ she declared. ‘I know it well. It’s called “Grandfather’s” because an old gentleman used to sit there called Gran’fer Finn. Every Tenterden market day he used to sell fleed cakes from a basket to the carts that went by. Tenterden market was abolished in 1845 — the effect of the repeal of the Corn Laws, you know. As a Tory you ought to be interested in that.’
Tietjens said patiently: He could sympathize with her mood; she had now a heavy weight off her chest; and, if long acquaintance with his wife had not made him able to put up with feminine vagaries, nothing ever would.
‘Would you mind,’ he said then, ‘telling me . . .
‘If,’ she interrupted, ‘that was really Gran’fer’s Want-ways: midland English. “Vent” equals four crossroads: high French carrefour . . . Or, perhaps, that isn’t the right word. But it’s the way your mind works . . . ’
‘You have, of course, often walked from your uncle’s to Gran’fer’s Wantways,’ Tietjens said, ‘with your cousins, taking brandy to the invalid in the old toll-gate house. That’s how you know the story of Grandfer. You said you had never driven it; but you have walked it. That’s the way your mind works, isn’t it?’
She said: ’Oh!’
‘Then,’ Tietjens went on, ‘would you mind telling me — for the sake of the poor horse — whether Uddlemere is or isn’t on our road home. I take it you don’t know just this stretch of road, but you know whether it is the right road.’
‘The touch of pathos,’ the girl said, ‘is a wrong note. It’s you who’re in mental trouble about the road. The horse isn’t . . .
Tietjens let the cart go on another fifty yards; then he said:
‘It is the right road. The Uddlemere turning was the right one. You wouldn’t let the horse go another five steps if it wasn’t. You’re as soppy about horses as as I am.’
‘There’s at least that bond of sympathy between us,’ she said drily. ‘Gran’fer’s Wantways is six and three-quarter miles from Udimore; Udimore is exactly five from us; total, eleven and three-quarters; twelve and a quarter if you add half a mile for Udimore itself. The name is Udimore, not Uddlemere. Local place-name enthusiasts derive this from “O’er the mere.” Absurd! Legend as follows: Church builders desiring to put church with relic of St Rumwold in wrong place, voice wailed: “O’er the mere.” Obviously absurd! . . . Putrid! ”O’er the“ by Grimm’s law impossible as “Udi“; ”mere“ not a middle low German word at all . . . ’
‘Why,’ Tietjens said, ‘are you giving me all this information?’
‘Because,’ the girl said, ‘it’s the way your mind works . . . It picks up useless facts as silver after you’ve polished it picks up sulphur vapour; and tarnishes! It arranges the useless facts in obsolescent patterns and makes Toryism out of them . . . I’ve never met a Cambridge Tory man before. I thought they were all in museums, and you work them up again out of bones. That’s what father used to say; he was an Oxford Disraelian Conservative Imperialist . . . ’
‘I know, of course,’ Tietjens said.
‘Of course you know,’ the girl said. ‘You know everything . . . And you’ve worked everything into absurd principles. You think father was unsound because he tried to apply tendencies to life. You want to be a Nenglish country gentleman and spin principles out of the newspapers and the gossip of horse-fairs. And let the country go to hell, you’ll never stir a finger except to say I told you so.’
She touched him suddenly on the arm:
‘Don’t mind me!’ she said. ‘It’s reaction. I’m so happy. I’m so happy.’
‘That’s all right! That’s all right!’ But for a minute or two it wasn’t really. All feminine claws, he said to himself, are sheathed in velvet; but they can hurt a good deal if they touch you on the sore places of the defects of your qualities — even merely with the velvet. He added: ‘Your mother works you very hard.’
‘How you understand. You’re amazing: for a man who tries to be a sea-anemone!’ She said: ‘Yes, this is the first holiday I’ve had for four solid months; six hours a day typing; four hours a day work for the movement; three, housework and gardening; three, mother reading out her day’s work for slips of the pen . . . And on the top of it the raid and the anxiety . . . Dreadful anxiety, you know. Suppose mother had gone to prison . . . Oh, I’d have gone mad . . . Weekdays and Sundays . . . ’ She stopped: ‘I’m apologizing, really,’ she went on. ‘Of course I ought not to have talked to you like that. You a great Panjandrum; saving the country with your statistics and It did make you a rather awful figure, you know . . . and the relief to find you’re . . . oh, a man like oneself with feet of clay . . . I’d dreaded this drive . . . I’d have dreaded it dreadfully if I hadn’t been in such a dread about Gertie and the police. And if I hadn’t let off steam I should have had to jump out and run beside the cart . . . I could still . . . ’
‘You couldn’t,’ Tietjens said. ‘You couldn’t see the cart.’
They had just run into a bank of solid fog that seemed to encounter them with a soft, ubiquitous blow. It was blinding; it was deadening to sounds; it was in a sense mournful; but it was happy, too, in its romantic unusualness. They couldn’t see the gleam of the lamps; they could hardly hear the step of the horse; the horse had fallen at once to a walk. They agreed that neither of them could be responsible for losing the way; in the circumstances that was impossible. Fortunately the horse would take them somewhere; it had belonged to a local higgler: a man that used the roads buying poultry for re-sale . . . They agreed that they had no responsibilities; and after that went on for unmeasured hours in silence; the mist growing, but very, very gradually, more luminous . . . Once or twice, at a rise in the road, they saw again the stars and the moon, but mistily. On the fourth occasion they had emerged into the silver lake; like mermen rising to the surface of a tropical sea . . .
Tietjens had said:
‘You’d better get down and take the lamp. See if you can find a milestone; I’d get down myself, but you might not be able to hold the horse . . . ’ She had plunged in . . .
And he had sat, feeling, he didn’t know why, like a Guy Fawkes; up in the light, thinking by no means disagreeable thoughts — intent, like Miss Wannop herself, on a complete holiday of forty-eight hours; till Tuesday morning! He had to look forward to a long and luxurious day of figures; a rest after dinner; half a night more of figures; a Monday devoted to a horse-deal in the market-town where he happened to know the horse-dealer. The horse-dealer, indeed, was known to every hunting man in England! A luxurious, long argument in the atmosphere of stable-hartshorn and slow wranglings couched in ostler’s epigrams. You couldn’t have a better day; the beer in the pub probably good, too. Or if not that, the claret . . . The claret in south-country inns was often quite good; there was no sale for it so it got well kept . . .
On Tuesday it would close in again, beginning with the meeting of his wife’s maid at Dover . . .
He was to have, above all, a holiday from himself and to take it like other men, free of his conventions, his strait waistcoatings . . .
The girl said:
‘I’m coming up now! I’ve found out something . . . ’ He watched intently the place where she must appear; it would give him pointers about the impenetrability of mist to the eye.
Her otter-skin cap had beads of dew; beads of dew were on her hair beneath: she scrambled up, a little awkwardly: her eyes sparkled with fun: panting a little: her cheeks bright. Her hair was darkened by the wetness of the mist, but she appeared golden in the sudden moonlight.
Before she was quite up, Tietjens almost kissed her. Almost. An all but irresistible impulse! He exclaimed:
‘Steady, the Buffs!’ in his surprise.
‘Well, you might as well have given me a hand. I found,’ she went on, ‘a stone that had I.R.D.C. on it, and there the lamp went out. We’re not on the marsh because we are between quick hedges. That’s all I have found . . . But I’ve worked out what makes me so tart with you . . .
He couldn’t believe she could be so absolutely calm: the after-wash of that impulse had been so strong in him that it was as if he had tried to catch her to him and had been foiled by her . . . She ought to be indignant, amused, even pleased . . . She ought to show some emotion . . .
‘It was your silencing me with that absurd non-sequitur about the Pimlico clothing factory. It was an insult to my intelligence.’
‘You recognized that it was a fallacy!’ Tietjens said. He was looking hard at her. He didn’t know what had happened to him. She took a long look at him, cool, but with immense eyes. It was as if for a moment destiny, which usually let him creep past somehow, had looked at him. ‘Can’t,’ he argued with destiny, ‘a man want to kiss a schoolgirl in a scuffle . . . ’ His own voice, a caricature of his own voice, seemed to come to him: ‘Gentlemen don’t . . . ’ He exclaimed:
‘Don’t gentlemen? . . . ’ and then stopped because he realized that he had spoken aloud.
‘Oh, gentlemen do!’ she said, ‘use fallacies to glide over tight places in arguments. And they browbeat schoolgirls with them. It’s that, that underneath, has been exasperating me with you. You regarded me at that date — three-quarters of a day ago — as a schoolgirl.’
‘I don’t now!’ He added: ‘Heaven knows, I don’t now!’
She said: ‘No, you don’t now!’
‘It didn’t need your putting up all that blue-stocking erudition to convince me . . . ’
‘Blue-stocking!’ she exclaimed contemptuously. ‘There’s nothing of the blue-stocking about me. I know Latin because father spoke it with us. It Was your pompous blue socks I was pulling.’
Suddenly she began to laugh. Tietjens was feeling sick, physically sick. She went on laughing. He stuttered:
‘What is it?’
The sun!’ she said, pointing. Above the silver horizon was the sun; not a red sun: shining, burnished.
‘I don’t see . . . ’ Tietjens said.
‘What there is to laugh at?’ she asked. ‘It’s the day! . . . The longest day’s begun . . . and to-morrow’s as long . . . The summer solstice, you know . . . After to-morrow the days shorten towards winter. But to-morrow’s as long . . . I’m so glad . . . ’
‘That we’ve got through the night? . . . Tietjens asked.
She looked at him for a long time. ‘You’re not so dreadfully ugly, really,’ she said.
‘What’s that church?’
Rising out of the mist on a fantastically green knoll, a quarter of a mile away, was an unnoticeable place of worship: an oak shingle tower roof that shone grey like lead: an impossibly bright weathercock, brighter than the sun. Dark elms all round it, holding wetnesses of mist. ‘Icklesham!’ she cried softly. ‘Oh, we’re nearly home. Just above Mountby . . . That’s the Mountby drive . . . ’ Trees existed, black and hoary with the dripping mist. Trees in the hedgerow and the avenue that led to Mountby: it made a right-angle just before coming into the road and the road went away at right-angles across the gate. ‘You’ll have to pull to the left before you reach the avenue,’ the girl said. ‘Or as like as not the horse will walk right up to the house. The higgler who had him used to buy Lady Claudine’s eggs . . . ’
Tietjens exclaimed barbarously:
‘Damn Mountby. I wish we’d never come near it,’ and he whipped the horse into a sudden trot. The hoofs sounded suddenly loud. She placed her hand on his gloved driving hand. Had it been his flesh she wouldn’t have done it.
‘My dear, it couldn’t have lasted for ever . . . But you’re a good man. And very clever . . . You will get through . . . Not ten yards ahead Tietjens saw a tea-tray, the underneath of a black-lacquered tea-tray, gliding towards them: mathematically straight, just rising from the mist. He shouted: mad: the blood in his head. His shout was drowned by the scream of the horse: he had swung it to the left. The cart turned up: the horse emerged from the mist: head and shoulders: pawing. A stone sea-horse from the fountain of Versailles! Exactly like that! Hanging in air for an eternity: the girl looking at it, leaning slightly forward.
The horse didn’t come over backwards: he had loosened the reins. It wasn’t there any more. The damndest thing that could happen! He had known it would happen. He said:
‘We’re all right now!’ There was a crash and scraping: like twenty tea-trays: a prolonged sound. They must be scraping along the mudguard of the invisible car. He had the pressure of the horse’s mouth: the horse was away: going hell for leather. He increased the pressure. The girl said:
‘I know I’m all right with you.’
They were suddenly in bright sunlight: cart: horse: commonplace hedgerows. They were going uphill: a steep brae. He wasn’t certain she hadn’t said: ‘Dear!’ or ‘My dear!’ Was it possible after so short . . .? But it had been a long night. He was, no doubt, saving her life, too. He increased his pressure on the horse’s mouth gently: up to all his twelve stone: all his strength. The hill told, too. Steep, white road between shaven grass banks!
Stop, damn you! Poor beast . . . The girl fell out of the cart. No! jumped clear! Out to the animal’s head. It threw its head up. Nearly off her feet: she was holding the bit . . . She couldn’t! Tender mouth . . . afraid of horses . . . He said:
‘Horse cut!’ Her face like a little white blancmange!
‘Come quick,’ she said.
‘I must hold a minute,’ he said, ‘might go off if I let go to get down. Badly cut?’
‘Blood running down solid! Like an apron,’ she said.
He was at last at her side. It was true. But not so much like an apron. More like a red, varnished stocking. He said: ‘You’ve a white petticoat on. Get over the hedge; jump it, and take it off . . . ’
‘Tear it into strips?’ she asked. ‘Yes!’
He called to her; she was suspended halfway up the bank:
‘Tear one half off first. The rest into strips.’
She said: ‘All right!’ She didn’t go over the quickset as neatly as he had expected. No take off. But she was over . . .
The horse, trembling, was looking down, its nostrils distended, at the blood pooling from its near foot. The cut was just on the shoulder. He put his left arm right over the horse’s eyes. The horse stood it, almost with a sigh of relief . . . A wonderful magnetism with horses. Perhaps with women, too? God knew. He was almost certain she had said ‘Dear.’
She said: ‘Here.’ He caught a round ball of whitish stuff. He undid it. Thank God: what sense A long, strong, white band . . . What the devil was the hissing . . . A small, closed car with crumpled mudguards: noiseless nearly: gleaming black . . . God curse it: it passed them: stopped ten yards down . . . the horse rearing back: mad Clean mad . . . something like a scarlet and white cockatoo, fluttering out of the small car door . . . a general. In full tog. White feathers! Ninety medals! Scarlet coat! Black trousers with red stripes. Spurs, too, by God!
‘God damn you, you bloody swine. Go away!’
The apparition, past the horse’s blinkers, said:
‘I can, at least, hold the horse for you. I went past to get you out of Claudine’s sight.’
‘Damn good-natured of you,’ Tietjens said as rudely as he could. ‘You’ll have to pay for the horse.’
The General exclaimed:
‘Damn it all! Why should I? You were driving your beastly camel right into my drive.’
‘You never sounded your horn,’ Tietjens said.
‘I was on private ground,’ the General shouted. ‘Besides I did.’ An enraged, scarlet scarecrow, very thin, he was holding the horse’s bridle. Tietjens was extending the half petticoat, with a measuring eye, before the horse’s chest. The General said:
‘Look here! I’ve got to take the escort for the Royal party at St Peter-in-Manor, Dover. They’re laying the Buffs’ colours on the altar or something.’
‘You never sounded your horn,’ Tietjens said. ‘Why didn’t you bring your chauffeur? He’s a capable man . . . You talk very big about the widow and child. But when it comes to robbing them of fifty quid by slaughtering their horse . . . ’
The General said:
‘What the devil were you doing coming into our drive at five in the morning?’
Tietjens, who had applied the half petticoat to the horse’s chest, exclaimed:
‘Pick up that thing and give it to me.’ A thin roll of linen was at his feet: it had rolled down from the hedge. ‘Can I leave the horse?’ the General asked.
‘Of course you can,’ Tietjens said. ‘If I can’t quiet a horse better than you can run a car . . .
He bound the new linen strips over the petticoat: the horse dropped its head, smelling his hand. The General, behind Tietjens, stood back on his heels, grasping his gold-mounted sword. Tietjens went on twisting and twisting the bandage.
‘Look here,’ the General suddenly bent forward to whisper into Tietjens’ ear, ‘what am I to tell Claudine? I believe she saw the girl.’
‘Oh, tell her we came to ask what time you cast off your beastly otter hounds,’ Tietjens said; ‘that’s a matutinal job . . .
The General’s voice had a really pathetic intonation:
‘On a Sunday!’ he exclaimed. Then in a tone of relief he added: ‘I shall tell her you were going to early communion in Duchemin’s church at Pett.’
‘If you want to add blasphemy to horse-slaughtering as a profession, do,’ Tietjens said. ‘But you’ll have to pay for the horse.’
‘I’m damned if I will,’ the General shouted. ‘I tell you you were driving into my drive.’
‘Then I shall,’ Tietjens said, ‘and you know the construction you’ll put on that.’
He straightened his back to look at the horse.
‘Go away,’ he said, ‘say what you like. Do what you like! But as you go through Rye send up the horse ambulance from the vet.’s . Don’t forget that. I’m going to save this horse . . . ’
‘You know, Chris,’ the General said, ‘you’re the most wonderful hand with a horse . . . There isn’t another man in England . . .
‘I know it,’ Tietjens said. ‘Go away. And send up that ambulance . . . There’s your sister getting out of your car . . . ’
The General began:
‘I’ve an awful lot to get explained . . . ’ But, at a thin scream of: ‘General! General!’ he pressed on his sword hilt to keep it from between his long, black, scarlet-striped legs, and running to the car pushed back into its door a befeathered, black bolster. He waved his hand to Tietjens:
‘I’ll send the ambulance,’ he called.
The horse, its upper leg swathed with criss-crosses of white through which a purple stain was slowly penetrating, stood motionless, its head hanging down, mule-like, under the blinding sun. To ease it Tietjens began to undo the trace. The girl hopped over the hedge and, scrambling down, began to help him.
‘Well. My reputation’s gone,’ she said cheerfully. ‘I know what Lady Claudine is . . . Why did you try to quarrel with the General? . . .
‘Oh, you’d better,’ Tietjens said wretchedly, ‘have a lawsuit with him. It’ll account for . . . for your not going to Mountby . . . ’
‘You think of everything,’ she said.
They wheeled the cart backwards off the motionless horse. Tietjens moved it two yards forward — to get it out of sight of its own blood. Then they sat down side by side on the slope of the bank.
‘Tell me about Groby,’ the girl said at last.
Tietjens began to tell her about his home . . . There was, in front of it, an avenue that turned into the road at right angles. Just like the one at Mountby.
‘My great-great-grandfather made it,’ Tietjens said. ‘He liked privacy and didn’t want the house visible to vulgar people on the road . . . just like the fellow who planned Mountby, no doubt . . . But it’s beastly dangerous with motors. We shall have to alter it . . . just at the bottom of a dip. We can’t have horses hurt . . . You’ll see . . . ’ It came suddenly into his head that he wasn’t perhaps the father of the child who was actually the heir to that beloved place over which generation after generation had brooded. Ever since Dutch William! A damn Nonconformist swine!
On the bank his knees were almost level with his chin. He felt himself slipping down.
‘If I ever take you there . . . ’ he began.
‘Oh, but you never will,’ she said.
The child wasn’t his. The heir to Groby! All his brothers were childless . . . There was a deep well in the stable yard. He had meant to teach the child how, if you dropped a pebble in, you waited to count sixty-three. And there came up a whispering roar . . . But not his child! Perhaps he hadn’t even the power to beget children. His married brothers hadn’t . . . Clumsy sobs shook him. It was the dreadful injury to the horse which had finished him. He felt as if the responsibility were his. The poor beast had trusted him and he had smashed it up. Miss Wannop had her arm over his shoulder.
‘My dear!’ she said, ‘you won’t ever take me to Groby . . . It’s perhaps . . . oh . . . short acquaintance; but I feel you’re the splendidest . . .
He thought: ‘It is rather short acquaintance.’
He felt a great deal of pain, over which there presided the tall, eel-skin, blonde figure of his wife . . .
The girl said:
‘There’s a fly coming!’ and removed her arm.
A fly drew up before them with a blear-eyed driver. He said General Campion had kicked him out of bed, from beside his old woman. He wanted a pound to take them to Mrs Wannop’s, waked out of his beauty sleep and all. The knacker’s cart was following.
‘You’ll take Miss Wannop home at once,’ Tietjens said, ‘she’s got her mother’s breakfast to see to . . . I shan’t leave the horse till the knacker’s van comes.’
The fly-driver touched his age-green hat with his whip.
‘Aye,’ he said thickly, putting a sovereign into his waistcoat pocket. ‘Always the gentleman . . . a merciful man is merciful also to his beast . . . But I wouldn’t leave my little wooden ‘ut, nor miss my breakfast, for no beast . . . Some do and some . . . do not.’
He drove off with the girl in the interior of his antique conveyance.
Tietjens remained on the slope of the bank, in the strong sunlight, beside the drooping horse. It had done nearly forty miles and lost, at last, a lot of blood.
‘I suppose I could get the governor to pay fifty quid for it. They want the money . . . ’
‘But it wouldn’t be playing the game!’
A long time afterwards he said:
‘Damn all principles!’ And then:
‘But one has to keep on going . . . Principles are like a skeleton map of a country — you know whether you’re going east or north.’
The knacker’s cart lumbered round the corner.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50