The two brothers walked twenty steps from the door along the empty Inn pavements without speaking. Each was completely expressionless. To Christopher it seemed like Yorkshire. He had a vision of Mark, standing on the lawn at Groby, in his bowler hat and with his umbrella, whilst the shooters walked over the lawn, and up the hill to the butts. Mark probably never had done that; but it was so that his image always presented itself to his brother. Mark was considering that one of the folds of his umbrella was disarranged. He seriously debated with himself whether he should unfold it at once and refold it — which was a great deal of trouble to take! — or whether he should leave it till he got to his club, where he would tell the porter to have it done at once. That would mean that he would have to walk for a mile and a quarter through London with a disarranged umbrella, which was disagreeable.
‘If I were you I wouldn’t let that banker fellow go about giving you testimonials of that sort.’
He considered that, with a third of his brain in action, he was over a match for Mark, but he was tired of discussions. He supposed that some unpleasant construction would be put by his brother’s friend, Ruggles, on the friendship of Port Scatho for himself. But he had no curiosity. Mark felt a vague discomfort. He said:
‘You had a cheque dishonoured at the club this morning?’
Mark waited for explanations. Christopher was pleased at the speed with which the news had travelled: it confirmed what he had said to Port Scatho. He viewed his case from outside. It was like looking at the smooth working of a mechanical model.
Mark was more troubled. Used as he had been for thirty years to the vociferous south, he had forgotten that there were taciturnities still. If at his Ministry he laconically accused a transport clerk of remissness, or if he accused his French mistress — just as laconically — of putting too many condiments on his nightly mutton chop, or too much salt in the water in which she boiled his potatoes, he was used to hearing a great many excuses or negations, uttered with energy and continued for long. So he had got into the habit of considering himself the only laconic being in the world. He suddenly remembered with discomfort — but also with satisfaction — that his brother was his brother.
He knew nothing about Christopher, for himself. He had seemed to look at his little brother down avenues from a distance, the child misbehaving himself. Not a true Tietjens: born very late: a mother’s child, therefore, rather than a father’s . The mother an admirable woman, but from the South Riding. Soft, therefore, and ample. The elder Tietjens’ children, when they had experienced failures, had been wont to blame their father for not marrying a woman of their own Riding. So, for himself, he knew nothing of this boy. He was said to be brilliant: an un-Tietjens-like quality. Akin to talkativeness! . . . Well, he wasn’t talkative. Mark said:
‘What have you done with all the brass our mother left you? Twenty thousand, wasn’t it?’
They were just passing through a narrow way between Georgian houses. In the next quadrangle Tietjens stopped and looked at his brother. Mark stood still to be looked at. Christopher said to himself:
‘This man has the right to ask these questions!’
It was as if a queer slip had taken place in a moving-picture. This fellow had become the head of the house: he, Christopher, was the heir. At that moment, their father, in the grave four months now, was for the first time dead.
Christopher remembered a queer incident. After the funeral, when they had come back from the churchyard and had lunched, Mark — and Tietjens could now see the wooden gesture — had taken out his cigar-case and, selecting one cigar for himself, had passed the rest round the table. It was as if people’s hearts had stopped beating. Groby had never, till that day, been smoked in: the father had his twelve pipes filled and put in the rose-bushes in the drive . . .
It had been regarded merely as a disagreeable incident: a piece of bad taste . . . Christopher, himself, only just back from France, would not even have known it as such, his mind was so blank, only the parson had whispered to him: ‘And Groby never smoked in till this day.’
But now! It appeared a symbol, and an absolutely right symbol. Whether they liked it or not, here were the head of the house and the heir. The head of the house must make his arrangements, the heir agree or disagree; but the elder brother had the right to have his enquiries answered.
‘Half the money was settled at once on my child. I lost seven thousand in Russian securities. The rest I spent . . . Mark said:
They had just passed under the arch that leads into Holborn. Mark, in turn, stopped and looked at his brother, and Christopher stood still to be inspected, looking into his brother’s eyes. Mark said to himself:
‘The fellow isn’t, at least, afraid to look at you!’ He had been convinced that Christopher would be. He said:
‘You spent it on women? Or where do you get the money that you spend on women?’
‘I never spent a penny on a woman in my life.’
They crossed Holborn and went by the backways towards Fleet Street.
‘When I say “woman” I’m using the word in the ordinary sense. Of course I’ve given women of our own class tea or lunch and paid for their cabs. Perhaps I’d better put it that I’ve never — either before or after marriage — had connection with any woman other than my wife.’
He said to himself:
‘Then Ruggles must be a liar.’ This neither distressed nor astonished him. For twenty years he and Ruggles had shared a floor of a large and rather gloomy building in Mayfair. They were accustomed to converse whilst shaving in a joint toilet-room, otherwise they did not often meet except at the club. Ruggles was attached to the Royal Court in some capacity, possibly as sub-deputy gold-stickin-waiting. Or he might have been promoted in the twenty years. Mark Tietjens had never taken the trouble to enquire. Enormously proud and shut in on himself, he was without curiosity of any sort. He lived in London because it was immense, solitary, administrative and apparently without curiosity as to its own citizens. If he could have found, in the north, a city as vast and as distinguished by the other characteristics, he would have preferred it.
Of Ruggles he thought little or nothing. He had once heard a phrase ‘agreeable rattle,’ and he regarded Ruggles as an agreeable rattle, though he did not know what the phrase meant. Whilst they shaved Ruggles gave out the scandal of the day. He never, that is to say, mentioned a woman whose virtue was not purchasable, or a man who would not sell his wife for advancement. This matched with Mark’s ideas of the south. When Ruggles aspersed the fame of a man of family from the north, Mark would stop him with:
‘Oh, no. That’s not true. He’s a Craister of Wantley Fells,’ or another name, as the case might be. Half Scotch-man, half Jew, Ruggles was very tall and resembled a magpie, having his head almost always on one side. Had he been English Mark would never have shared his rooms with him: he knew indeed few Englishmen of sufficient birth and position to have that privilege, and, on the other hand, few Englishmen of birth and position would have consented to share rooms so grim and uncomfortable, so furnished with horse-hair-seated mahogany, or so lit with ground-glass skylights. Coming up to town at the age of twenty-five, Mark had taken these rooms with a man called Peebles, long since dead, and he had never troubled to make any change, though Ruggles had taken the place of Peebles. The remote similarity of the names had been less disturbing to Mark Tietjens than would have been the case had the names been more different. It would have been very disagreeable, Mark often thought, to share with a man called, say, Granger. As it was, he still often called Ruggles Peebles, and no harm was done. Mark knew nothing of Ruggles’ origins, then — so that, in a remote way, their union resembled that of Christopher with Macmaster. But whereas Christopher would have given his satellite the shirt off his back, Mark would not have lent Ruggles more than a five-pound note, and would have turned him out of their rooms if it had not been returned by the end of the quarter. But, since Ruggles never had asked to borrow anything at all, Mark considered him an entirely honourable man. Occasionally Ruggles would talk of his determination to marry some widow or other with money, or of his influence with people in exalted stations, but, when he talked like that, Mark would not listen to him and he soon returned to stories of purchasable women and venial men.
About five months ago Mark had said one morning to Ruggles:
‘You might pick up what you can about my youngest brother Christopher and let me know.’
The evening before that Mark’s father had called Mark to him from over the other side of the smoking-room and had said:
‘You might find out what you can about Christopher. He may be in want of money. Has it occurred to you that he’s the heir to the estate! After you, of course.’ Mr Tietjens had aged a good deal after the deaths of his children. He said: ‘I suppose you won’t marry?’ and Mark had answered:
‘No; I shan’t marry. But I suppose I’m a better life than Christopher. He appears to have been a good deal knocked about out there.’
Armed then with this commission, Mr Ruggles appears to have displayed extraordinary activity in preparing a Christopher Tietjens dossier. It is not often that an inveterate gossip gets a chance at a man whilst being at the same time practically shielded against the law of libel. And Ruggles disliked Christopher Tietjens with the inveterate dislike of a man who revels in gossip for the man who never gossips. And Christopher Tietjens had displayed more than his usual insolence to Ruggles. So Ruggles’ coattails flashed round an unusual number of doors and his top-hat gleamed before an unusual number of tall portals during the next week.
Amongst others he had visited the lady known as Glorvina.
There is said to be a book, kept in a holy of holies, in which bad marks are set down against men of family and position in England. In this book Mark Tietjens and his father — in common with a great number of hard-headed Englishmen of county rank — implicitly believed. Christopher Tietjens didn’t: he imagined that the activities of gentlemen like Ruggles were sufficient to stop the careers of people whom they disliked. On the other hand, Mark and his father looked abroad upon English society and saw fellows, apparently with every qualification for successful careers in one service or the other; and these fellows got no advancements, orders, tithes or preferments of any kind. Just, rather mysteriously, they didn’t make their marks. This they put down to the workings of the book.
Ruggles, too, not only believed in the existence of that compilation of the suspect and doomed, but believed that his hand had a considerable influence over the inscriptions in its pages. He believed that if, with more moderation and with more grounds than usual, he uttered denigrations of certain men before certain personages, it would at least do those men a great deal of harm, And, quite steadily and with, indeed, real belief in much of what he said, Ruggles had denigrated Tietjens before these personages. Ruggles could not see why Christopher had taken Sylvia back after her elopement with Perowne: he could not see why Christopher had, indeed, married Sylvia at all when she was with child by a man called Drake — just as he wasn’t going to believe that Christopher could get a testimonial out of Lord Port Scatho except by the sale of Sylvia to the banker. He couldn’t see anything but money or jobs at the bottom of these things: he couldn’t see how Tietjens otherwise got the money to support Mrs Wannop, Miss Wannop and her child, and to maintain Mrs Duchemin and Macmaster in the style they affected, Mrs Duchemin being the mistress of Christopher. He simply could see no other solution. It is, in fact, asking for trouble if you are more altruist than the society that surrounds you.
Ruggles, however, hadn’t any pointers as to whether or no or to what degree he had really damaged his roommate’s brother. He had talked in what he considered to be the right quarters, but he hadn’t any evidence that what he had said had got through. It was to ascertain that he had called on the great lady, for if anybody knew, she would.
He hadn’t definitely ascertained anything, for the great lady was — and he knew it — a great deal cleverer than himself. The great lady, he was allowed to discover, had a real affection for Sylvia, her daughter’s close friend, and she expressed real concern to hear that Christopher Tietjens wasn’t getting on. Ruggles had gone to visit her quite openly to ask whether something better couldn’t be done for the brother of the man with whom he lived. Christopher had, it was admitted, great liabilities; yet neither in his office — in which he would surely have remained had he been satisfied with his prospects — nor in the army did he occupy anything but a very subordinate position. Couldn’t, he asked, Glorvina do anything for him? And he added: ‘It’s almost as if he had a bad mark against him . . . ’
The great lady had said, with a great deal of energy, that she could not do anything at all. The energy was meant to show how absolutely her party had been downed, outed and jumped on by the party in power, so that she had no influence of any sort anywhere. That was an exaggeration; but it did Christopher Tietjens no good, since Ruggles chose to take it to mean that Glorvina said she could do nothing because there was a black mark against Tietjens in the book of the inner circle to which — if anyone had — the great lady must have had access.
Glorvina, on the other hand, had been awakened to concern for Tietjens. In the existence of a book she didn’t believe: she had never seen it. But that a black mark of a metaphorical nature might have been scored against him she was perfectly ready to believe and, when occasion served, during the next five months, she made enquiries about Tietjens. She came upon a Major Drake, an intelligence officer, who had access to the central depôt of confidential reports upon officers, and Major Drake showed her, with a great deal of readiness, as a specimen, the report on Tietjens. It was of a most discouraging sort and peppered over with hieroglyphics, the main point being Tietjens’ impecuniosity and his predilection for the French; and apparently for the French Royalists. There being at that date and with that Government a great deal of friction with our Allies, this characteristic which earlier had earned him a certain number of soft jobs had latterly done him a good deal of harm. Glorvina carried away the definite information that Tietjens had been seconded to the French artillery as a liaison officer and had remained with them for some time, but, having been shell-shocked, had been sent back. After that a mark had been added against him: Not to be employed as liaison officer again.’
On the other hand, Sylvia’s visits to Austrian officer-prisoners had also been noted to Tietjens’ account and a final note added: Not to be entrusted with any confidential work.’
To what extent Major Drake himself compiled these records the great lady didn’t know and didn’t want to know. She was acquainted with the relationships of the parties and was aware that in certain dark, full-blooded men the passion for sexual revenge is very lasting, and she let it go at that. She discovered, however, from Mr Waterhouse — now also in retreat — that he had a very high opinion of Tietjens’ character and abilities, and that just before Waterhouse’s retirement he had especially recommended Tietjens for very high promotion. That alone, in the then state of Ministerial friendships and enmities, Glorvina knew to be sufficient to ruin any man within range of Governmental influence.
She had, therefore, sent for Sylvia and had put all these matters before her, for she had too much wisdom to believe that, even supposing there should be differences between the young people of which she had no evidence at all, Sylvia could wish to do anything but promote her husband’s material interests. Moreover, sincerely benevolent as the great lady was towards this couple, she also saw that here was a possibility of damaging, at least, individuals of the party in power. A person in a relatively unimportant official position can sometimes make a very nasty stink if he is unjustly used, has determination and a small amount of powerful backing. This Sylvia, at least, certainly had.
And Sylvia had received the great lady’s news with so much emotion that no one could have doubted that she was utterly devoted to her husband and would tell him all about it. This Sylvia had not as yet managed to do.
Ruggles in the meantime had collected a very full budget of news and inferences to present to Mark Tietjens whilst shaving. Mark had been neither surprised nor indignant. He had been accustomed to call all his father’s children, except the brother immediately next him, ‘the whelps,’ and their concerns had been no concerns of his. They would marry, beget unimportant children who would form collateral lines of Tietjens and disappear as is the fate of sons of younger sons. And the deaths of the intermediate brothers had been so recent that Mark was not yet used to thinking of Christopher as anything but a whelp, a person whose actions might be disagreeable but couldn’t matter. He said to Ruggles:
‘You had better talk to my father about this. I don’t know that I could keep all these particulars accurately in my head.’
Ruggles had been only too pleased to, and — with to give him weight, his intimacy with the eldest son, who certified to his reliability in money matters and his qualifications for amassing details as to personalities, acts, and promotions — that day, at tea at the club, in a tranquil corner, Ruggles had told Mr. Tietjens senior that Christopher’s wife had been with child when he had married her; he had hushed up her elopement with Perowne and connived at other love affairs of hers to his own dishonour, and was suspected in high places of being a French agent, thus being marked down as suspect in the great book . . . All this in order to obtain money for the support of Miss Wannop, by whom he had had a child, and to maintain Macmaster and Mrs Duchemin on a scale unsuited to their means, Mrs Duchemin being his mistress. The story that Tietjens had had a child by Miss Wannop was first suggested, and then supported, by the fact that in Yorkshire he certainly had a son who never appeared in Gray’s Inn.
Mr Tietjens was a reasonable man: not reasonable enough to doubt Ruggles’ circumstantial history. He believed implicitly in the great book — which has been believed in by several generations of country gentlemen: he perceived that his brilliant son had made no advancement commensurate with either his brilliance or his influence: he suspected that brilliance was synonymous with reprehensible tendencies. Moreover, his old friend, General ffolliott, had definitely told him some days before that he ought to enquire into the goings on of Christopher. On being pressed ffolliott had, also definitely, stated that Christopher was suspected of very dishonourable dealings, both in money and women. Ruggles’ allegations came, therefore, as a definite confirmation of suspicions that appeared only too well backed up.
He bitterly regretted that, knowing Christopher to be brilliant, he had turned the boy — as is the usual portion of younger sons — adrift, with what of a competence could be got together, to sink or swim. He had, he said to himself, always wished to keep at home and under his own eyes this boy for whom he had had especial promptings of tenderness. His wife, to whom he had been absolutely attached by a passionate devotion, had been unusually wrapped up in Christopher, because Christopher had been her youngest son, born very late. And, since his wife’s death, Christopher had been especially dear to him, as if he had carried about his presence some of the radiance and illumination that had seemed to attach to his mother. Indeed, after his wife’s death, Mr Tietjens had very nearly asked Christopher and his wife to come and keep house for him at Groby, making, of course, special testamentary provision for Christopher in order to atone for his giving up his career at the Department of Statistics. His sense of justice to his other children had prevented him doing this.
What broke his heart was that Christopher should not only have seduced but should have had a child by Valentine Wannop. Very grand seigneur in his habits, Mr Tietjens had always believed in his duty to patronise the arts and, if he had actually done little in this direction beyond purchasing some chocolate-coloured pictures of the French historic school, he had for long prided himself on what he had done for the widow and children of his old friend, Professor Wannop. He considered, and with justice, that he had made Mrs Wannop a novelist, and he considered her to be a very great novelist. And his conviction of the guilt of Christopher was strengthened by a slight tinge of jealousy of his son: a feeling that he would not have acknowledged to himself. For, since Christopher, he didn’t know how, for he had given his son no introduction, had become an intimate of the Wannop household, Mrs Wannop had completely given up asking him, Mr Tietjens, clamorously and constantly for advice. In return she had sung the praises of Christopher in almost extravagant terms. She had, indeed, said that if Christopher had not been almost daily in the house or at any rate at the end of the phone she would hardly have been able to keep on working at full pressure. This had not overpleased Mr Tietjens. Mr Tietjens entertained for Valentine Wannop an affection of the very deepest, the same qualities appealing to the father as appealed to the son. He had even, in spite of his sixty odd years, seriously entertained the idea of marrying the girl. She was a lady: she would have managed Groby very well; and, although the entail on the property was very strict indeed, he would, at least, have been able to put her beyond the reach of want after his death. He had thus no doubt of his son’s guilt, and he had to undergo the additional humiliation of thinking that not only had his son betrayed this radiant personality, but he had done it so clumsily as to give the girl a child and let it be known. That was unpardonable want of management in the son of a gentleman. And now this boy was his heir with a misbegotten brat to follow. Irrevocably!
All his four tall sons, then, were down. His eldest tied for good to — a quite admirable! — trollop: his two next dead: his youngest worse than dead: his wife dead of a broken heart.
A soberly but deeply religious man, Mr Tietjens’ very religion made him believe in Christopher’s guilt. He knew that it is as difficult for a rich man to go to heaven as it is for a camel to go through the gate in Jerusalem called the Needle’s Eye. He humbly hoped that his Maker would receive him amongst the pardoned. Then, since he was a rich — an enormously rich — man, his sufferings on this earth must be very great . . .
From tea-time that day until it was time to catch the midnight train for Bishop Auckland, he had been occupied with his son Mark in the writing-room of the club. They had made many notes. He had seen his son Christopher, in uniform, looking broken and rather bloated, the result, no doubt, of debauch. Christopher had passed through the other end of the room and Mr Tietjens had avoided his eye. He had caught the train and reached Groby, travelling alone. Towards dusk he had taken out a gun. He was found dead next morning, a couple of rabbits beside his body, just over the hedge from the little churchyard. He appeared to have crawled through the hedge, dragging his loaded gun, muzzle forward, after him. Hundreds of men, mostly farmers, die from that cause every year in England . . .
With these things in his mind — or as much of them as he could keep at once — Mark was now investigating his brother’s affairs. He would have let things go on longer, for his father’s estate was by no means wound up, but that morning Ruggles had told him that the club had had a cheque of his brother’s returned and that his brother was going out to France next day. It was five months exactly since the death of their father. That had happened in March, it was now August: a bright, untidy day in narrow, high courts.
Mark arranged his thoughts.
‘How much of an income,’ he said, ‘do you need to live in comfort? If a thousand isn’t enough, how much? Two?’
Christopher said that he needed no money and didn’t intend to live in comfort. Mark said:
‘I am to let you have three thousand, if you’ll live abroad. I’m only carrying out our father’s instructions. You could cut a hell of a splash on three thousand in France.’
Christopher did not answer.
Mark began again:
The remaining three thousand then: that was over from our mother’s money. Did you settle it on your girl, or just spend it on her?’
Christopher repeated with patience that he hadn’t got a girl.
‘The girl who had a child by you. I’m instructed, if you haven’t settled anything already — but father took it that you would have — I was to let her have enough to live on in comfort. How much do you suppose she’ll need to live in comfort? I allow Charlotte four hundred. Would four hundred be enough? I suppose you want to go on keeping her? Three thousand isn’t a great lot for her to live on with a child.’
‘Hadn’t you better mention names?’
‘No! I never mention names. I mean a woman writer and her daughter. I suppose the girl is father’s daughter, isn’t she?’
‘No. She couldn’t be. I’ve thought of it. She’s twenty-seven. We were all in Dijon for the two years before she was born. Father didn’t come into the estate till next year. The Wannops were also in Canada at the time. Professor Wannop was principal of a university there. I forget the name.’
‘So we were. In Dijon! For my French!’ He added: ‘Then she can’t be father’s daughter. It’s a good thing. I thought, as he wanted to settle money on them, they were very likely his children. There’s a son, too. He’s to have a thousand. What’s he doing?’
‘The son,’ Tietjens said, ‘is a conscientious objector. He’s on a mine-sweeper. A bluejacket. His idea is that picking up mines is saving life, not taking it.’
‘Then he won’t want the brass yet,’ Mark said, ‘it’s to start him in any business. What’s the full name and address of your girl? Where do you keep her?’
They were in an open space, dusty, with half-timber buildings whose demolition had been interrupted. Christopher halted close to a post that had once been a cannon; up against this he felt that his brother could lean in order to assimilate ideas. He said slowly and patiently:
‘If you’re consulting with me as to how to carry out our father’s intentions, and as there’s money in it, you had better make an attempt to get hold of the facts. I wouldn’t bother you if it wasn’t a matter of money. In the first place, no money is wanted at this end. I can live on my pay. My wife is a rich woman, relatively. Her mother is a very rich woman . . . ’
‘She’s Rugeley’s mistress, isn’t she?’ Mark asked. Christopher said:
‘No, she isn’t. I should certainly say she wasn’t. Why should she be? She’s his cousin.’
‘Then it’s your wife who was Rugeley’s mistress?’ Mark asked. ‘Or why should she have the loan of his box?’
‘Sylvia also is Rugeley’s cousin, of course, a degree further removed,’ Tietjens said. ‘She isn’t anyone’s mistress. You can be certain of that.’
‘They say she is,’ Mark answered. ‘They say she’s a regular tart . . . I suppose you think I’ve insulted you.’ Christopher said:
‘No, you haven’t . . . It’s better to get all this out. We’re practically strangers, but you’ve a right to ask.’
‘Then you haven’t got a girl and don’t need money to keep her . . . You could have what you liked. There’s no reason why a man shouldn’t have a girl, and if he has he ought to keep her decently . . . ’
Christopher did not answer. Mark leaned against the half-buried cannon and swung his umbrella by its crook.
‘But,’ he said, ‘if you don’t keep a girl, what do you do for . . . ’ He was going to say ‘for the comforts of home,’ but a new idea had come into his mind. ‘Of course,’ he said, ‘one can see that your wife’s soppily in love with you.’ He added: ‘Soppily . . . one can see that with half an eye . . .
Christopher felt his jaw drop. Not a second before — that very second! — he had made up his mind to ask Valentine Wannop to become his mistress that night. It was no good, any more, he said to himself. She loved him, he knew, with a deep, an unshakable passion, just as his passion for her was a devouring element that covered his whole mind as the atmosphere envelops the earth. Were they, then, to go down to death separated by years, with no word ever spoken? To what end? For whose benefit? The whole world conspired to force them together! To resist became a weariness!
His brother Mark was talking on. ‘I know all about women,’ he had announced. Perhaps he did. He had lived with exemplary fidelity to a quite unpresentable woman, for a number of years. Perhaps the complete study of one woman gave you a map of all the rest!
‘Look here, Mark. You had better go through all my pass-books for the last ten years. Or ever since I had an account. This discussion is no good if you don’t believe what I say.’
‘I don’t want to see your pass-books. I believe you.’ He added, a second later:
‘Why the devil shouldn’t I believe you? It’s either believing you’re a gentleman or Ruggles a liar. It’s only common sense to believe Ruggles a liar, in that case. I didn’t before because I had no grounds to.’
‘I doubt if liar is the right word. He picked up things that were said against me. No doubt he reported them faithfully enough. Things are said against me. I don’t know why.’
‘Because,’ Mark said with emphasis, ‘you treat these south country swine with the contempt that they deserve. They’re incapable of understanding the motives of a gentleman. If you live among dogs they’ll think you’ve the motives of a dog. What other motives can they give you?’ He added: ‘I thought you’d been buried so long under their muck that you were as mucky as they!’
Tietjens looked at his brother with the respect one has to give to a man ignorant but shrewd. It was a discovery: that his brother was shrewd.
But, of course, he would be shrewd. He was the indispensable head of a great department. He had to have some qualities . . . Not cultivated, not even instructed. A savage! But penetrating!
‘We must move on,’ he said, ‘or I shall have to take a cab.’ Mark detached himself from his half-buried cannon.
‘What did you do with the other three thousand?’ he asked. ‘Three thousand is a hell of a big sum to chuck away. For a younger son.’
‘Except for some furniture I bought for my wife’s rooms,’ Christopher said, ‘it went mostly in loans.’ ‘Loans!’ Mark exclaimed. ‘To that fellow Macmaster?’
‘Mostly to him,’ Christopher answered. ‘But about seven hundred to Dicky Swipes, of Cullercoats.’
‘Good God! Why to him?’ Mark ejaculated.
‘Oh, because he was Swipes, of Cullercoats,’ Christopher said, ‘and asked for it. He’d have had more, only that was enough for him to drink himself to death on.’
‘I suppose you don’t give money to every fellow that asks for it?’
‘I do. It’s a matter of principle.’
‘It’s lucky,’ Mark said, ‘that a lot of fellows don’t know that. You wouldn’t have much brass left for long.’ ‘I didn’t have it for long,’ Christopher said.
‘You know,’ Mark said, ‘you couldn’t expect to do the princely patron on a youngest son’s portion. It’s a matter of taste. I never gave a ha’penny to a beggar myself. But a lot of the Tietjens were princely. One generation to addle brass: one to keep: one to spend. That’s all right . . . I suppose Macmaster’s wife is your mistress? That’ll account for it not being the girl. They keep an arm-chair for you.’
‘No. I just backed Macmaster for the sake of backing him. Father lent him money to begin with.’
‘So he did,’ Mark exclaimed.
‘His wife,’ Christopher said, ‘was the widow of Breakfast Duchemin. You knew Breakfast Duchemin?’
‘Oh, I knew Breakfast Duchemin,’ Mark said. ‘I suppose Macmaster’s a pretty warm man now. Done himself proud with Duchemin’s money.’
‘Pretty proud!’ Christopher said. ‘They won’t be knowing me long now.’
‘But damn it all!’ Mark said, ‘You’ve Groby to all intents and purposes. I’m not going to marry and beget children to hinder you.’
‘Thanks. I don’t want it.’
‘Got your knife into me?’ Mark asked.
‘Yes. I’ve got my knife into you,’ Christopher answered. ‘Into the whole bloody lot of you, and Ruggles and ffolliot and our father!’
Mark said: ‘Ah!’
‘You don’t suppose I wouldn’t have?’ Christopher asked.
‘Oh, I don’t suppose you wouldn’t have,’ Mark answered. ‘I thought you were a soft sort of bloke. I see you aren’t.’
‘I’m as North Riding as yourself!’ Christopher answered.
They were in the tide of Fleet Street, pushed apart by foot passengers and separated by traffic. With some of the imperiousness of the officer of those days, Christopher barged across through motor-buses and paper lorries. With the imperiousness of the head of a department, Mark said:
‘Here, policeman, stop these damn things and let me get over.’ But Christopher was over much the sooner and waited for his brother in the gateway of the Middle Temple. His mind was completely swallowed up in the endeavour to imagine the embraces of Valentine Wannop. He said to himself that he had burnt his boats.
Mark, coming alongside him, said:
‘You’d better know what our father wanted.’
‘Be quick then. I must get on.’ He had to rush through his War Office interview to get to Valentine Wannop. They would have only a few hours in which to recount the loves of two lifetimes. He saw her golden head and her enraptured face. He wondered how her face would look, enraptured. He had seen on it humour, dismay, tenderness, in the eyes — and fierce anger and contempt for his, Christopher’s, political opinions. His militarism!
Nevertheless they halted by the Temple fountain. That respect was due to their dead father. Mark had been explaining. Christopher had caught some of his words and divined the links. Mr Tietjens had left no will, confident that his desires as to the disposal of his immense fortune would be carried out meticulously by his eldest son. He would have left a will, but there was the vague case of Christopher to be considered. Whilst Christopher had been a youngest son you arranged that he had a good lump sum and went, with it, to the devil how he liked. He was no longer a youngest son: by the will of God.
‘Our father’s idea,’ Mark said by the fountain, ‘was that no settled sum could keep you straight. His idea was that if you were a bloody pimp living on women . . . You don’t mind?’
‘I don’t mind your putting it straightforwardly,’ Christopher said. He considered the base of the fountain that was half full of leaves. This civilization had contrived a state of things in which leaves rotted by August. Well, it was doomed!
‘If you were a pimp living on women,’ Mark repeated, ‘it was no good making a will. You might need uncounted thousands to keep you straight. You were to have ’em. You were to be as debauched as you wanted, but on clean money. I was to see how much in all probability that would be and arrange the other legacies to scale . . . Father had crowds of pensioners . . . ’
‘How much did father cut up for?’ Christopher asked. Mark said:
‘God knows . . . You saw we proved the estate at a million and a quarter as far as ascertained. But it might be twice that. Or five times! . . . With steel prices what they have been for the last three years it’s impossible to say what the Middlesbrough district property won’t produce . . . The death duties even can’t catch it up. And there are all the ways of getting round them.’
Christopher inspected his brother with curiosity. This brown-complexioned fellow with bulging eyes, shabby on the whole, tightly buttoned into a rather old pepper-and-salt suit, with a badly rolled umbrella, old race-glasses, and his bowler hat the only neat thing about him, was, indeed, a prince. With a rigid outline! All real princes must look like that. He said:
‘Well! You won’t be a penny the poorer by me.’ Mark was beginning to believe this. He said:
‘You won’t forgive father?’
‘I won’t forgive father for not making a will. I won’t forgive him for calling in Ruggles. I saw him and you in the writing-room the night before he died. He never spoke to me. He could have. It was clumsy stupidity. That’s unforgiveable.’
‘The fellow shot himself,’ Mark said. ‘You usually forgive a fellow who shoots himself.’
‘I don’t,’ Christopher said. ‘Besides, he’s probably in heaven and don’t need my forgiveness. Ten to one he’s in heaven. He was a good man.’
‘One of the best,’ Mark said. ‘It was I that called in Ruggles though.’
‘I don’t forgive you either,’ Christopher said.
‘But you must,’ Mark said — and it was a tremendous concession to sentimentality —‘take enough to make you comfortable.’
‘By God!’ Christopher exclaimed. ‘I loathe your whole beastly buttered toast, mutton-chopped, carpet-slippered, rum-negused comfort as much as I loathe your beastly Riviera-palaced, chauffeured, hydraulic-lifted, hot-house aired beastliness of fornication . . . ’ He was carried away, as he seldom let himself be, by the idea of his amours with Valentine Wannop, which should take place on the empty boards of a cottage, without draperies, fat meats, gummy aphrodisiacs . . . ‘You won’t,’ he repeated, ‘be a penny the poorer by me.’
‘Well, you needn’t get shiny about it. If you won’t you won’t. We’d better move on. You’ve only just time. We’ll say that settles it . . . Are you, or aren’t you, overdrawn at your bank? I’ll make that up, whatever you damn well do to stop it.’
‘I’m not overdrawn,’ Christopher said. ‘I’m over thirty pounds in credit, and I’ve an immense overdraft guaranteed by Sylvia. It was a mistake of the bank’s .’
Mark hesitated for a moment. It was to him almost unbelievable that a bank could make a mistake. One of the great banks. The props of England.
They were walking down towards the Embankment. With his precious umbrella Mark aimed a violent blow at the railings above the tennis lawns, where whitish figures, bedrabbled by the dim atmosphere, moved like marionettes practising crucifixions.
‘By God!’ he said, ‘this is the last of England . . . There’s only my department where they never make mistakes. I tell you, if there were any mistakes made there there would be some backs broken!’ He added: ‘But don’t you think that I’m going to give up comfort, I’m not. My Charlotte makes better buttered toast than they can at the club. And she’s got a tap of French rum that’s saved my life over and over again after a beastly wet day’s racing. And she does it all on the five hundred I give her and keeps herself clean and tidy on top of it. Nothing like a Frenchwoman for managing . . . By God, I’d marry the doxy if she wasn’t a Papist. It would please her and it wouldn’t hurt me. But I couldn’t stomach marrying a Papist. They’re not to be trusted.’
‘You’ll have to stomach a Papist coming into Groby,’ Christopher said. ‘My son’s to be brought up as a Papist.’
Mark stopped and dug his umbrella into the ground.
‘Eh, but that’s a bitter one,’ he said. ‘Whatever made ye do that? . . . I suppose the mother made you do it. She tricked you into it before you married her.’ He added: ‘I’d not like to sleep with that wife of yours. She’s too athletic. It’d be like sleeping with a bundle of faggots. I suppose, though, you’re a pair of turtle doves . . . Eh, but I’d not have thought ye would have been so weak.’
‘I only decided this morning,’ Christopher said, ‘when my cheque was returned from the bank. You won’t have read Spelden on sacrilege, about Groby.’
‘I can’t say I have,’ Mark answered.
‘It’s no good trying to explain that side of it then,’ Christopher said, ‘there isn’t time. But you’re wrong in thinking Sylvia made it a condition of our marriage. Nothing would have made me consent then. It has made her a happy woman that I have. The poor thing thought our house was under a curse for want of a Papist heir.’
‘What made ye consent now?’ Mark asked.
‘I’ve told you,’ Christopher said, ‘it was getting my cheque returned to the club; that on the top of the rest of it. A fellow who can’t do better than that had better let the mother bring up the child . . . Besides, it won’t hurt a Papist boy to have a father with dishonoured cheques as much as it would a Protestant. They’re not quite English.’ ‘That’s true too,’ Mark said.
He stood still by the railings of the public garden near the Temple station.
‘Then,’ he said, ‘if I’d let the lawyers write and tell you the guarantee for your overdraft from the estate was stopped as they wanted to, the boy wouldn’t be a Papist? You wouldn’t have overdrawn.’
‘I didn’t overdraw,’ Christopher said. ‘But if you had warned me I should have made enquiries at the bank and the mistake wouldn’t have occurred. Why didn’t you?’
‘I meant to,’ Mark said. ‘I meant to do it myself. But I hate writing letters. I put it off. I didn’t much like having dealings with the fellow I thought you were. I suppose that’s another thing you won’t forgive me for?’
‘No. I shan’t forgive you for not writing to me,’ Christopher said. ‘You ought to write business letters.’
‘I hate writing ’em,’ Mark said. Christopher was moving on. ‘There’s one thing more,’ Mark said. ‘I suppose the boy is your son?’
‘Yes, he’s my son,’ Christopher said.
‘Then that’s all,’ Mark said. ‘I suppose if you’re killed you won’t mind my keeping an eye on the youngster?’ ‘I’ll be glad,’ Christopher said.
They strolled along the Embankment side by side, walking rather slowly, their backs erected and their shoulders squared because of their satisfaction of walking together, desiring to lengthen the walk by going slow. Once or twice they stopped to look at the dirty silver of the river, for both liked grim effects of landscape. They felt very strong, as if they owned the land!
Once Mark chuckled and said:
Us too damn funny. To think of our both being . . . what is it? . . . monogamists? Well, it’s a good thing to stick to one woman . . . you can’t say it isn’t. It saves trouble. And you know where you are.’
Under the lugubrious arch that leads into the War Office quadrangle Christopher halted.
‘No. I’m coming in,’ Mark said. ‘I want to speak to Hogarth. I haven’t spoken to Hogarth for some time. About the transport waggon parks in Regent’s Park. I manage all those beastly things and a lot more.’
‘They say you do it damn well,’ Christopher said. ‘They say you’re indispensable.’ He was aware that his brother desired to stay with him as long as possible. He desired it himself.
‘I damn well am!’ Mark said. He added: ‘I suppose you couldn’t do that sort of job in France? Look after transport and horses.’
‘I could,’ Christopher said, ‘but I suppose I shall go back to liaison work.’
‘I don’t think you will,’ Mark said. ‘I could put in a word for you with the transport people.’
‘I wish you would,’ Christopher said. ‘I’m not fit to go back into the front line. Besides, I’m no beastly hero! And I’m a rotten infantry officer. No Tietjens was ever a soldier worth talking of.’
They turned the corner of the arch. Like something fitting in, exact and expected, Valentine Wannop stood looking at the lists of casualties that hung beneath a cheaply green-stained deal shelter against the wall, a tribute at once to the weaker art movements of the day and the desire to save the ratepayers’ money.
With the same air of finding Christopher Tietjens fit in exactly to an expected landscape she turned on him. Her face was blue-white and distorted. She ran upon him and exclaimed:
‘Look at this horror! And you in that foul uniform can support it!’
The sheets of paper beneath the green roof were laterally striped with little serrated lines: each line meant the death of a man, for the day.
Tietjens had fallen back a step off the kerb of the pavement that ran round the quadrangle. He said:
‘I support it because I have to. Just as you decry it because you have to. They’re two different patterns that we see.’ He added: ‘This is my brother Mark.’
She turned her head stiffly upon Mark: her face was perfectly waxen. It was as if the head of a shopkeeper’s lay-figure had been turned. She said to Mark:
‘I didn’t know Mr Tietjens had a brother. Or hardly. I’ve never heard him speak of you.’
Mark grinned feebly, exhibiting to the lady the brilliant lining of his hat.
‘I don’t suppose anyone has ever heard me speak of him,’ he said, ‘but he’s my brother all right!’
She stepped on to the asphalt carriage-way and caught between her fingers and thumb a fold of Christopher’s khaki sleeve.
‘I must speak to you,’ she said; ‘I’m going then.’
She drew Christopher into the centre of the enclosed, hard and ungracious space, holding him still by the stuff of his tunic. She pushed him round until he was facing her. She swallowed hard; it was as if the motion of her throat took an immense time. Christopher looked round the skyline of the buildings of sordid and besmirched stone. He had often wondered what would happen if an air-bomb of some size dropped into the mean, grey stoniness of that cold heart of an embattled world.
The girl was devouring his face with her eyes: to see him flinch. Her voice was hard between her little teeth. She said:
‘Were you the father of the child Ethel was going to have? Your wife says you were.’
Christopher considered the dimensions of the quadrangle. He said vaguely:
‘Ethel! Who’s she?’ In pursuance of the habits of the painter-poet Mr and Mrs Macmaster called each other always ‘Gug Gums!’ Christopher had in all probability never heard Mrs Duchemin’s Christian names. Certainly he had never heard them since his disaster had swept all names out of his head.
He came to the conclusion that the quadrangle was not a space sufficiently confined to afford much bursting resistance to a bomb.
The girl said:
‘Edith Ethel Duchemin! Mrs Macmaster that is!’ She was obviously waiting intensely. Christopher said with vagueness:
‘No! Certainly not! . . . What was said?’
Mark Tietjens was leaning forward over the kerb in front of the green-stained shelter, like a child over a brook-side. He was obviously waiting, quite patient, swinging his umbrella by the hook. He appeared to have no other means of self-expression. The girl was saying that when she had rung up Christopher that morning a voice had said, without any preparation at all: the girl repeated, without any preparation at all:
‘You’d better keep off the grass if you’re the Wannop girl. Mrs Duchemin is my husband’s mistress already. You keep off!’
‘She said that, did she?’ He was wondering how Mark kept his balance, really. The girl said nothing more. She was waiting. With an insistence that seemed to draw him: a sort of sucking in of his personality. It was unbearable. He made his last effort of that afternoon.
‘Damn it all. How could you ask such a tomfool question?
You! I took you to be an intelligent person. The only intelligent person I know. Don’t you know me?’
She made an effort to retain her stiffening.
‘Isn’t Mrs Tietjens a truthful person?’ she asked. ‘I thought she looked truthful when I saw her at Vincent and Ethel’s .’
‘What she says she believes. But she only believes what she wants to, for the moment. If you call that truthful, she’s truthful. I’ve nothing against her.’ He said to himself: ‘I’m not going to appeal to her by damning my wife.’
She seemed to go all of a piece, as the hard outline goes suddenly out of a piece of lump sugar upon which you drop water.
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘it isn’t true. I knew it wasn’t true.’ She began to cry.
‘Come along. I’ve been answering tomfool questions all day. I’ve got another tomfool to see here, then I’m through.’
‘I can’t come with you, crying like this.’
‘Oh, yes you can. This is the place where women cry.’ He added: ‘Besides, there’s Mark. He’s a comforting ass.’ He delivered her over to Mark.
‘Here, look after Miss Wannop,’ he said. ‘You want to talk to her anyhow, don’t you?’ and he hurried ahead of them like a fussy shopwalker into the lugubrious hall. He felt that, if he didn’t come soon to an unemotional ass in red, green, blue, or pink tabs, who would have fish-like eyes and would ask the sort of questions that fishes ask in tanks, he, too, must break down and cry. With relief! However, that was a place where men cried, too!
He got through at once by sheer weight of personality, down miles of corridors, into the presence of a quite intelligent, thin, dark person with scarlet tabs. That meant a superior staff affair: not dustbins.
The dark man said to him at once:
‘Look here! What’s the matter with the Command Depots? You’ve been lecturing a lot of them. In economy. What are all these damn mutinies about? Is it rotten old colonels in command?’
Tietjens said amiably:
‘Look here! I’m not a beastly spy, you know! I’ve had hospitality from the rotten old colonels.’
The dark man said:
‘I daresay you have. But that’s what you were sent round for. General Campion said you were the brainiest chap in his command. He’s gone out now, worse luck . . . What’s the matter with the Command Depots? Is it the men? Or is it the officers! You needn’t mention names.’
‘Kind of Campion. It isn’t the officers and it isn’t the men. It’s the foul system. You get men who think they’ve deserved well of their country — and they damn well have! — and you crop their heads . . . ’
‘That’s the M.O.s,’ the dark man said. ‘They don’t want lice.’
‘If they prefer mutinies . . . ’ Tietjens said. ‘A man wants to walk with his girl and have a properly oiled quiff. They don’t like being regarded as convicts. That’s how they are regarded.’
The dark man said:
‘All right. Go on. Why don’t you sit down?’
‘I’m a little in a hurry,’ Tietjens said. ‘I’m going out tomorrow and I’ve got a brother and people waiting below.’ The dark man said:
‘Oh, I’m sorry . . . But damn. You’re the sort of man we want at home. Do you want to go? We can, no doubt, get you stopped if you don’t.’
Tietjens hesitated for a moment.
‘Yes!’ he said eventually. ‘Yes, I want to go.’
For the moment he had felt temptation to stay. But it came into his discouraged mind that Mark had said that Sylvia was in love with him. It had been underneath his thoughts all the while: it had struck him at the time like a kick from the hind leg of a mule in his subliminal consciousness. It was the impossible complication. It might not be true; but whether or no the best thing for him was to go and get wiped out as soon as possible. He meant, nevertheless, fiercely, to have his night with the girl who was crying downstairs . . .
He heard in his ear, perfectly distinctly, the lines:
‘The voice that never yet
Made answer to my word . . . ’
He said to himself:
‘That was what Sylvia wanted! I’ve got that much!’ The dark man had said something. Tietjens repeated: ‘I’d take it very unkindly if you stopped my going . . . ’
‘I want to go.’
The dark man said:
‘Some do. Some do not. I’ll make a note of your name in case you come back . . . You won’t mind going on with your cinder-sifting, if you do? . . . Get on with your story as quick as you can. And get what fun you can before you go. They say it’s rotten out there. Damn awful! There’s a hell of a strafe on. That’s why they want all of you.’
For a moment Tietjens saw the grey dawn at rail-head with the distant sound of a ceaselessly boiling pot from miles away. The army feeling re-descended upon him. He began to talk about Command Depots, at great length and with enthusiasm. He snorted with rage at the way men were treated in these gloomy places. With ingenious stupidity!
Every now and then the dark man interrupted him with:
‘Don’t forget that a Command Depôt is a place where sick and wounded go to get made fit. We’ve got to get ’em back as soon as we can.’
‘And do you?’ Tietjens would ask.
‘No, we don’t,’ the other would answer. ‘That’s what this enquiry is about.’
‘You’ve got,’ Tietjens would continue, ‘on the north side of a beastly clay hill nine miles from Southampton three thousand men from the Highlands, North Wales, Cumberland . . . God knows where, as long as it’s three hundred miles from home to make them rather mad with nostalgia . . . You allow ’em out for an hour a day during the pub’s closing time; you shave their heads to prevent ’em appealing to local young women who don’t exist, and you don’t let ’em carry the swagger-canes! God knows why! To prevent their poking their eyes out if they fall down, I suppose. Nine miles from anywhere, with chalk down roads to walk on and not a bush for shelter or shade . . . And, damn it, if you get two men, chums, from the Seaforths or the Argylls you don’t let them sleep in the same hut, but shove ’em in with a lot of fat Buffs or Welshmen, who stink of leeks and can’t speak English . . .
‘That’s the infernal medicals’ orders to stop ’em talking all night.’
‘To make ’em conspire all night not to turn out for parade,’ Tietjens said. ‘And there’s a beastly mutiny begun . . . And, damn it, they’re fine men. They’re first-class fellows. Why don’t you — as this is a Christian land — let ’em go home to convalesce with their girls and pubs and friends and a little bit of swank, for heroes? Why in God’s name don’t you? Isn’t there suffering enough?’
‘I wish you wouldn’t say “you,"’ the dark man said. ‘It isn’t me. The only A.C.I. I’ve drafted was to give every Command Depot a cinema and a theatre. But the beastly medicals got it stopped . . . for fear of infection. And, of course, the parsons and Nonconformist magistrates . . . ’
‘Well, you’ll have to change it all,’ Tietjens said, ‘or you’ll just have to say: thank God we’ve got a navy. You won’t have an army. The other day three fellows — Warwicks — asked me at question time, after a lecture, why they were shut up there in Wiltshire whilst Belgian refugees were getting bastards on their wives in Birmingham. And when I asked how many men made that complaint over fifty stood up. All from Birmingham . . . ’
The dark man said:
‘I’ll make a note of that . . . Go on.’
Tietjens went on; for as long as he stayed there he felt himself a man, doing work that befitted a man, with the bitter contempt for fools that a man should have and express. It was a letting up: a real last leave.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50