Mark Tietjens’ announcement that his father had after all carried out his long-standing promise to provide for Mrs Wannop in such a way as to allow her to write for the rest of her life only the more lasting kind of work, delivered Valentine Wannop of all her problems except one. That one loomed, naturally and immediately, immensely large.
She had passed a queer, unnatural week, the feeling dominating its numbness having been, oddly, that she would have nothing to do on Friday! The feeling recurred to her whilst she was casting her eyes over a hundred girls all in their cloth jumpers and men’s black ties, aligned upon asphalt; whilst she was jumping on trams; whilst she was purchasing the tinned or dried fish that formed the staple diet of herself and her mother; whilst she was washing-up the dinner-things; upbraiding the house agent for the state of the bath, or bending closely over the large but merciless handwriting of the novel of her mother’s that she was typing. It came, half as a joy, half mournfully across her familiar businesses; she felt as a man might feel who, luxuriating in the anticipation of leisure, knew that it was obtained by being compulsorily retired from some laborious but engrossing job. There would be nothing to do on Fridays!
It was, too, as if a novel had been snatched out of her hand so that she would never know the end. Of the fairytale she knew the end: the fortunate and adventurous tailor had married his beautiful and be-princessed goose girl, and was well on the way to burial in Westminster Abbey — or at any rate to a memorial service, the squire being actually buried amongst his faithful villagers. But she would never know whether they, in the end, got together all the blue Dutch tiles they wanted to line their bathroom . . . She would never know. Yet witnessing similar ambitions had made up a great deal of her life.
And, she said to herself, there was another tale ended. On the surface the story of her love for Tietjens had been static enough. It had begun in nothing and in nothing it had ended. But, deep down in her being — ah! it had progressed enough. Through the agency of two women! Before the scene with Mrs Duchemin there could, she thought, have been few young women less preoccupied than she with the sexual substrata, either of passion or of life. Her months as a domestic servant had accounted for that, sex, as she had seen it from a back kitchen, having been a repulsive affair, whilst the knowledge of its manifestations that she had thus attained had robbed it of the mystery which caused most of the young women whom she knew to brood upon these subjects.
Her convictions as to the moral incidence of sex were, she knew, quite opportunist. Brought up amongst rather ‘advanced’ young people, had she been publicly challenged to pronounce her views she would probably, out of loyalty to her comrades, have declared that neither morality nor any ethical aspects were concerned in the matter. Like most of her young friends, influenced by the advanced teachers and tendential novelists of the day, she would have stated herself to advocate an — of course, enlightened! — promiscuity. That, before the revelations of Mrs Duchemin! Actually she had thought very little about the matter.
Nevertheless, even before that date, had her deeper feelings been questioned, she would have reacted with the idea that sexual incontinence was extremely ugly and chastity to be prized in the egg and spoon race that life was. She had been brought up by her father — who, perhaps, was wiser than appeared on the surface — to admire athleticism, and she was aware that proficiency of the body calls for chastity, sobriety, cleanliness and the various qualities that group themselves under the heading of abnegation. She couldn’t have lived amongst the Ealing servant-class — the eldest son of the house in which she had been employed had been the defendant in a peculiarly scabrous breach of promise case, and the comments of the drunken cook on this and similar affairs had run the whole gamut from the sentimentally reticent to the extreme of coarseness according to the state of her alcoholic barometer — she couldn’t then have lived among the Ealing servant-class and come to any other subliminal conclusion. So that, dividing the world into bright beings on the one hand and, on the other, into the mere stuff to fill graveyards whose actions during life couldn’t matter, she had considered that the bright beings must be people whose public advocating of enlightened promiscuity went along with an absolute continence. She was aware that enlightened beings occasionally fell away from these standards in order to become portentous Egerias; but the Mary Wollstonecrafts, the Mrs Taylors, and the George Eliots of the last century she had regarded humorously as rather priggish nuisances. Indeed, being very healthy and very hard-worked, she had been in the habit of regarding the whole matter, if not humorously, then at least good-humouredly, as a nuisance.
But being brought right up against the sexual necessities of a first-class Egeria had been for her a horrible affair. For Mrs Duchemin had revealed the fact that her circumspect, continent and suavely aesthetic personality was doubled by another at least as coarse as, and infinitely more incisive in expression than, that of the drunken cook. The language that she had used about her lover — calling him always ‘that oaf’ or ‘that beast’! — had seemed literally to pain the girl internally, as if it had caused so many fallings away of internal supports at each two or three words. She had hardly been able to walk home through the darkness from the rectory.
And she had never heard what had become of Mrs Duchemin’s baby. Next day Mrs Duchemin had been as suave, as circumspect, and as collected as ever. Never a word more had passed between them on the subject. This left in Valentine Wannop’s mind a dark patch — as it were of murder — at which she must never look. And across the darkened world of her sexual tumult there flitted continually the quick suspicion that Tietjens might have been the lover of her friend. It was a matter of the simplest analogy. Mrs Duchemin had appeared a bright being: so had Tietjens. But Mrs Duchemin was a foul whore . . .
How much more then must Tietjens, who was a man, with the larger sexual necessities of the male . . . Her mind always refused to complete the thought.
Its suggestion wasn’t to be combated by the idea of Vincent Macmaster himself: he was, she felt, the sort of man that it was almost a necessity for either mistress or comrade to betray. He seemed to ask for it. Because, she once put it to herself, how could any woman, given the choice and the opportunity — and God knows there was opportunity enough — choose that shadowy, dried leaf, if there were the splendid masculinity of Tietjens in whose arms to lie. She so regarded these two men. And that shadowy conviction was at once fortified and appeased when, a little later, Mrs Duchemin herself began to apply to Tietjens the epithets of ‘oaf’ and ‘beast’— the very ones that she had used to designate the father of her putative child!
But then Tietjens must have abandoned Mrs Duchemin; and, if he had abandoned Mrs Duchemin, he must be available for her, Valentine Wannop! The feeling, she considered, made her ignoble; but it came from depths of her being that she could not control and, existing, it soothed her. Then, with the coming of the war, the whole problem died out, and between the opening of hostilities and what she had known to be the inevitable departure of her lover, she had surrendered herself to what she thought to be the pure physical desire for him. Amongst the terrible, crashing anguishes of that time, there had been nothing for it but surrender! With the unceasing — the never ceasing — thought of suffering; with the never ceasing idea that her lover, too, must soon be so suffering, there was in the world no other refuge. No other!
She surrendered. She waited for him to speak the word, or look the look that should unite them. She was finished. Chastity: napoo finny! Like everything else!
Of the physical side of love she had neither image nor conception. In the old days when she had been with him, if he had come into the room in which she was, or if he had merely been known to be coming down to the village, she had hummed all day under her breath and had felt warmer, little currents passing along her skin. She had read somewhere that to take alcohol was to send the blood into the surface vessels of the body, thus engendering a feeling of warmth. She had never taken alcohol, or not enough to produce recognisably that effect; but she imagined that it was thus love worked upon the body — and that it would stop for ever at that!
But, in these later days, much greater convulsions had overwhelmed her. It sufficed for Tietjens to approach her to make her feel as if her whole body was drawn towards him as, being near a terrible height, you are drawn towards it. Great waves of blood rushed across her being as if physical forces as yet undiscovered or invented attracted the very fluid itself. The moon so draws the tides.
Once before, for a fraction of a second, after the long, warm night of their drive, she had felt that impulsion. Now, years after, she was to know it all the time, waking or half waking; and it would drive her from her bed. She would stand all night at the open window till the stars paled above a world turned grey. It could convulse her with joy; it could shake her with sobs and cut through her breast like a knife.
The day of her long interview with Tietjens, amongst the amassed beauties of Macmaster furnishings, she marked in the calendar of her mind as her great love scene. That had been two years ago: he had been going into the army. Now he was going out again. From that she knew what a love scene was. It passed without any mention of the word ‘love’; it passed in impulses; warmths; rigors of the skin. Yet with every word they had said to each other they had confessed their love: in that way, when you listen to the nightingale you hear the expressed craving of your lover beating upon your heart.
Every word that he had spoken amongst the amassed beauties of Macmaster furnishings had been a link in a love-speech. It was not merely that he had confessed to her as he would have to no other soul in the world — To no other soul in the world,’ he had said! — his doubts, his misgivings and his fears: it was that every word he uttered and that came to her, during the lasting of that magic, had sung of passion. If he had uttered the word ‘Come’ she would have followed him to the bitter ends of the earth; if he had said, ‘There is no hope,’ she would have known the finality of despair. Having said neither, he said she knew: ‘This is our condition; so we must continue!’ And she knew, too, that he was telling her that he, like her, was . . . oh, say on the side of the angels. She was then, she knew, so nicely balanced that, had he said, ‘Will you to-night be my mistress?’ she would have said ‘Yes’; for it was as if they had been, really, at the end of the world.
But his abstention not only strengthened her in her predilection for chastity; it restored to her her image of the world as a place of virtues and endeavours. For a time at least she again hummed beneath her breath upon occasion, for it seemed as if her heart sang within her. And there was restored to her her image of her lover as a beautiful spirit. She had been able to look at him across the tea-table of their dog-kennel in Bedford Park, during the last months, almost as she had looked across the more shining table of the cottage near the rectory. The deterioration that she knew Mrs Duchemin to have worked in her mind was assuaged. It could even occur to her that Mrs Duchemin’s madness had been no more than a scare to be followed by no necessary crime. Valentine Wannop had re-become her confident self in a world of at least straight problems.
But Mrs Duchemin’s outbreak of a week ago had driven the old phantoms across her mind. For Mrs Duchemin she had still had a great respect. She could not regard her Edith Ethel as merely a hypocrite; or, indeed, as a hypocrite at all. There was her great achievement of making something like a man of that miserable little creature — as there had been her other great achievement of keeping her unfortunate husband for so long out of a lunatic asylum. That had been no mean feat; neither feat had been mean. And Valentine knew that Edith Ethel really loved beauty, circumspection, urbanity. It was no hypocrisy that made her advocate the Atalanta race of chastity. But, also, as Valentine Wannop saw it, humanity has these doublings of strong natures; just as the urbane and grave Spanish nation must find its outlet in the shrieking lusts of the bullring or the circumspect, laborious and admirable city typist must find her derivative in the cruder lusts of certain novelists, so Edith Ethel must break down into physical sexualities — and into shrieked coarseness of fishwives. How else, indeed, do we have saints? Surely, alone, by the ultimate victory of the one tendency over the other!
But now after her farewell scene with Edith Ethel a simple rearrangement of the pattern had brought many of the old doubts at least temporarily back. Valentine said to herself that, just because of the very strength of her character, Edith Ethel couldn’t have been brought down to uttering her fantastic denunciation of Tietjens, the merely mad charges of debauchery and excesses and finally the sexually lunatic charge against herself, except under the sting of some such passion as jealousy. She, Valentine, couldn’t arrive at any other conclusion. And, viewing the matter as she believed she now did, more composedly, she considered with seriousness that, men being what they are, her lover respecting, or despairing of, herself had relieved the grosser necessities of his being — at the expense of Mrs Duchemin, who had, no doubt, been only too ready.
And in certain moods during the past week she had accepted this suspicion; in certain other moods she had put it from her. Towards the Thursday it had no longer seemed to matter. Her lover was going from her; the long pull of the war was on; the hard necessities of life stretched out; what could an infidelity more or less matter in the long, hard thing that life is? And on the Thursday two minor, or major, worries came to disturb her level. Her brother announced himself as coming home for several days’ leave, and she had the trouble of thinking that she would have forced upon her a companionship and a point of view that would be coarsely and uproariously opposed to anything that Tietjens stood for — or for which he was ready to sacrifice himself. Moreover she would have to accompany her brother to a number of riotous festivities whilst all the time she would have to think of Tietjens as getting hour by hour nearer to the horrible circumstances of troops in contact with enemy forces. In addition her mother had received an enviably paid for commission from one of the more excitable Sunday papers to write a series of articles on extravagant matters connected with the hostilities. They had wanted the money so dreadfully — more particularly as Edward was corning home — that Valentine Wannop had conquered her natural aversion from the waste of time of her mother . . . It would have meant very little waste of time, and the £60 that it would have brought in would have made all the difference to them for months and months.
But Tietjens, whom Mrs Wannop had come to rely on as her right-hand man in these matters, had, it appeared, shown an unexpected recalcitrancy. He had, Mrs Wannop said, hardly seemed himself and had gibed at the two first subjects proposed — that of ‘war babies’ and the fact that the Germans were reduced to eating their own corpses — as being below the treatment of any decent pen. The illegitimacy rate, he had said, had shown very little increase; the French-derived German word ’Kadaver‘ meant bodies of horses or cattle; Leichnam being the German for the word ‘corpse.’ He had practically refused to have anything to do with the affair.
As to the Kadaver business, Valentine agreed with him, as to the ‘war babies’ she kept a more open mind. If there weren’t any war babies it couldn’t, as far as she could see, matter whether one wrote about them; it couldn’t certainly matter as much as to write about them, supposing the poor little things to exist. She was aware that this was immoral, but her mother needed the money desperately and her mother came first.
There was nothing for it, therefore, but to plead with Tietjens; for Valentine knew that without so much of moral support from him as would be implied by a good-natured or an enforced sanction of the article, Mrs Wannop would drop the matter and so would lose her connection with the excitable paper which paid well. It happened that on the Friday morning Mrs Wannop received a request that she would write for a Swiss review a propaganda article about some historical matter connected with the peace after Waterloo. The pay would be practically nothing, but the employment was at least relatively dignified, and Mrs Wannop — which was quite in the ordinary course of things! — told Valentine to ring Tietjens up and ask him for some details about the Congress of Vienna at which, before and after Waterloo, the peace terms had been wrangled out.
Valentine rang up — as she had done hundreds of times; it was to her a great satisfaction that she was going to hear Tietjens speak once more at least. The telephone was answered from the other end, and Valentine gave her two messages, the one as to the Congress of Vienna, the other as to war babies. The appalling speech came back:
‘Young woman! You’d better keep off the grass. Mrs Duchemin is already my husband’s mistress. You keep off.’ There was about the voice no human quality; it was as if from an immense darkness the immense machine had spoken words that dealt blows. She answered; and it was as if a substratum of her mind of which she knew nothing must have been prepared for that very speech; so that it was not her own ‘she’ that answered levelly and coolly:
‘You have probably mistaken the person you are speaking to. Perhaps you will ask Mr Tietjens to ring up Mrs Wannop when he is at liberty.’
The voice said:
‘My husband will be at the War Office at 4.15. He will speak to you there — about your war babies. But I’d keep off the grass if I were you!’ The receiver at the other end was hung up.
She went about her daily duties. She had heard of a kind of pine kernel that was very cheap and very nourishing, or at least very filling. They had come to it that it was a matter of pennies balanced against the feeling of satiety, and she visited several shops in search of this food. When she had found it she returned to the dog-kennel; her brother Edward had arrived. He was rather subdued. He brought with him a piece of meat which was part of his leave ration. He occupied himself with polishing up his sailor’s uniform for a rag-time party to which they were to go that evening. They were to meet plenty of conchies, he said. Valentine put the meat — it was a godsend, though very stringy! — on to stew with a number of chopped vegetables. She went up to her room to do some typing for her mother.
The nature of Tietjens’ wife occupied her mind. Before, she had barely thought about her: she had seemed unreal; so mysterious as to be a myth! Radiant and high-stepping: like a great stag! But she must be cruel! She must be vindictively cruel to Tietjens himself, or she could not have revealed his private affairs! Just broadcast; for she could not, bluff it how she might, have been certain of to whom she was speaking! A thing that wasn’t done! But she had delivered her cheek to Mrs Wannop; a thing, too, that wasn’t done! Yet so kindly! The telephone bell rang several times during the morning. She let her mother answer it.
She had to get the dinner, which took three-quarters of an hour. It was a pleasure to see her mother eat so well; a good stew, rich and heavy with haricot beans. She herself couldn’t eat, but no one noticed, which was a good thing. Her mother said that Tietjens had not yet telephoned, which was very inconsiderate. Edward said: ‘What The Huns haven’t killed old Feather Bolster yet? But of course he’s been found a safe job.’ The telephone on the sideboard became a terror to Valentine; at any moment his voice might . . . Edward went on telling anecdotes of how they bamboozled petty officers on mine-sweepers. Mrs Wannop listened to him with the courteous, distant interest of the great listening to commercial travellers. Edward desired draught ale and produced a two-shilling piece. He seemed very much coarsened; it was, no doubt, only on the surface. In these days everyone was very much coarsened on the surface.
She went with a quart jug to the jug and bottle department of the nearest public-house — a thing she had never done before. Even at Ealing the mistress hadn’t allowed her to be sent to a public-house; the cook had had to fetch her dinner beer herself or have it sent in. Perhaps the Ealing mistress had exercised more surveillance than Valentine had believed; a kind woman, but an invalid. Nearly all day in bed. Blind passion overcame Valentine at the thought of Edith Ethel in Tietjens’ arms. Hadn’t she got her own eunuch? Mrs Tietjens had said: ‘Mrs Duchemin is his mistress!’ Is! Then she might be there now!
In the contemplation of that image, she missed the thrills of buying beer in a bottle and jug department. Apparently it was like buying anything else, except for the smell of beer on the sawdust. You said: ‘A quart of the best bitter!’ and a fat, quite polite man, with an oily head and a white apron, took your money and filled your jug . . . But Edith Ethel had abused Tietjens so foully! The more foully the more certain it made it! . . . Draught beer in a jug had little marblings of burst foam on its brown surface. It mustn’t be spilt at the kerbs of crossings! — the more certain it made it! Some women did so abuse their lovers after sleeping with them, and the more violent the transports the more frantic the abuse. It was the ’post-dash-triste‘ of the Rev. Mr Duchemin! Poor devil! Triste! Triste!
Terra tribus scopulis vastum . . . Not longum!
Brother Edward began communing with himself, long and unintelligibly, as to where he should meet his sister at 19.30 and give her a blow-out! The names of restaurants fell from his lips into her panic. He decided hilariously and not quite steadily — a quart is a lot to a fellow from a mine-sweeper carrying no booze at all! — on meeting her at 7.20 at High Street and going to a pub, he knew; they would go on to the dance afterwards. In a studio. ‘Oh, God!’ her heart said, ‘if Tietjens should want her then!’ To be his; on his last night. He might! Everybody was coarsened then; on the surface. Her brother rolled out of the house, slamming the door so that every tile on the jerry-built dog-kennel rose and sat down again.
She went upstairs and began to look over her frocks. She couldn’t tell what frocks she looked over; they lay like aligned rags on the bed, the telephone bell ringing madly. She heard her mother’s voice, suddenly assuaged: ‘Oh! oh! . . . It’s you!’ She shut her door and began to pull open and to close drawer after drawer. As soon as she ceased that exercise her mother’s voice became half audible; quite audible when she raised it to ask a question. She heard her say: ‘Not get her into trouble . . . Of course!’ then it died away into mere high sounds.
She heard her mother calling:
‘Valentine! Valentine! Come down . . . Don’t you want to speak to Christopher? . . . Valentine! Valentine! . . . ’ And then another burst: ‘Valentine . . . Valentine . . . Valentine . . . ’ As if she had been a puppy dog! Mrs Wannop, thank God, was on the lowest step of the creaky stairs. She had left the telephone. She called up:
‘Come down. I want to tell you! The dear boy has saved me! He always saves me! What shall I do now he’s gone?’
‘He saved others: himself he could not save!’ Valentine quoted bitterly. She caught up her wideawake. She wasn’t going to prink herself for him. He must take her as she was . . . Himself he could not save! But he did himself proud! With women! . . . Coarsened! But perhaps only on the surface! She herself! . . . She was running downstairs!
Her mother had retreated into the little parlour: nine feet by nine; in consequence, at ten feet it was too tall for its size. But there was in it a sofa with cushions . . . With her head upon those cushions, perhaps . . . If he came home with her! Late! . . .
Her mother was saying: He’s a splendid fellow . . . A root idea for a war baby article . . . If a Tommy was a decent fellow he abstained because he didn’t want to leave his girl in trouble . . . If he wasn’t he chanced it because it might be his last chance . . .
‘A message to me!’ Valentine said to herself. ‘But which sentence . . . ’ She moved, absently, all the cushions to one end of the sofa. Her mother exclaimed:
‘He sent his love! His mother was lucky to have such a son!’ and turned into her tiny hole of a study.
Valentine ran down over the broken tiles of the garden path, pulling her wideawake firmly on. She had looked at her wrist-watch: it was two and twelve: 14.45. If she was to walk to the War Office by 4.15 — 16.15 — a sensible innovation! — she must step out. Five miles to Whitehall. God knows what, then! Five miles back! Two and a half diagonally, to High Street Station by half-past 19! Twelve and a half miles in five hours or less. And three hours dancing on the top of it. And to dress! . . . She needed to be fit . . . And, with violent bitterness, she said:
‘Well! I’m fit . . . ’ She had an image of the aligned hundreds of girls in blue jumpers and men’s ties keeping whom fit had kept her super-fit. She wondered how many of them would be men’s mistresses before the year was out. It was August then. But perhaps none! Because she had kept them fit . . .
‘Ah!’ she said, ‘if I had been a loose woman, with flaccid breasts and a soft body. All perfumed!’ . . . But neither Sylvia Tietjens nor Ethel Duchemin were soft. They might be scented on occasion! But they would not contemplate with equanimity doing a twelve-mile walk to save a few pence and dancing all night on top of it! She could! And perhaps the price she paid was just that; she was in such hard condition she hadn’t moved him to . . . She perhaps exhaled such an aura of sobriety, chastity and abstinence as to suggest to him that . . . that a decent fellow didn’t get his girl into trouble before going to be killed . . . Yet if he were such a town bull! . . . She wondered how she knew such phrases . . .
The sordid and aligned houses seemed to rush past her in the mean August sunshine. That was because if you thought hard time went quicker; or because after you noticed the paper shop at this corner you would be up to the boxes of onions outside the shop of the next corner before you noticed anything else.
She was in Kensington Gardens, on the north side; she had left the poor shops behind . . . In sham country, with sham lawns, sham avenues, sham streams. Sham people pursuing their ways across the sham grass. Or no! Not sham! in a vacuum! No! ‘Pasteurised’ was the word! Like dead milk. Robbed of their vitamins . . .
If she saved a few coppers by walking it would make a large pile to put into the leering — or compassionate — taxicabman’s hand after he had helped her support her brother into the dog-kennel door. Edward would be dead drunk. She had fifteen shillings for the taxi . . . If she gave a few coppers more it seemed generous . . . What a day to look forward to still! Some days were lifetimes!
She would rather die than let Tietjens pay for the cab!
Why? Once a taximan had refused payment for driving her and Edward all the way to Chiswick, and she hadn’t felt insulted. She had paid him; but she hadn’t felt insulted! A sentimental fellow; touched at the heart by the pretty sister — or perhaps he didn’t really believe it was a sister — and her incapable bluejacket brother! Tietjens was a sentimental fellow too . . . What was the difference! . . . And then! The mother a dead, heavy sleeper; the brother dead drunk. One in the morning! He couldn’t refuse her! Blackness: cushions! She had arranged the cushions, she remembered. Arranged them subconsciously! Blackness! Heavy sleep; dead drunkenness! . . . Horrible! . . . A disgusting affair! An affair of Ealing . . . It shall make her one with all the stuff to fill graveyards . . . Well, what else was she, Valentine Wannop: daughter of her father? And of her mother? Yes! But she herself . . . Just a little nobody!
They were no doubt wirelessing from the Admiralty . . . But her brother was at home, or getting a little more intoxicated and talking treason. At any rate the flickering intermittences over the bitter seas couldn’t for the moment concern him . . . That bus touched her skirt as she ran for the island . . . It might have been better . . . But one hadn’t the courage!
She was looking at patterned deaths under a little green roof, such as they put over bird shelters. Her heart stopped! Before, she had been breathless! She was going mad. She was dying . . . All these deaths! And not merely the deaths . . . The waiting for the approach of death; the contemplation of the parting from life! This minute you were; that, and you weren’t! What was it like? Oh heaven, she knew . . . She stood there contemplating parting from . . . One minute you were; the next . . . Her breath fluttered in her chest . . . Perhaps he wouldn’t come . . .
He was immediately framed by the sordid stones. She ran upon him and said something; with a mad hatred. All these deaths and he and his like responsible! . . . He had apparently a brother, a responsible one too! Browner complexioned! . . . But he! He! He! He! completely calm; with direct eyes . . . It wasn’t possible. ’Holde Lippen: klaare Augen: heller Sinn . . . Oh, a little bit wilted, the clear intellect! And the lips? No doubt too. But he couldn’t look at you so, unless . . .
She caught him fiercely by the arm; for the moment he belonged — more than to any browner, mere civilian, brother! — to her! She was going to ask him! If he answered: ‘Yes, I am such a man!’ she was going to say: ‘Then you must take me too! If them, why not me? I must have a child. I too!’ She desired a child. She would overwhelm those hateful lodestones with a flood of argument; she imagined — she felt — the words going between her lips . . . She imagined her fainting mind; her consenting limbs . . .
His looks were wandering round the cornice of these stone buildings. Immediately she was Valentine Wannop again; it needed no word from him. Words passed, but words could no more prove an established innocence than words can enhance a love that exists. He might as well have recited the names of railway stations. His eyes, his unconcerned face, his tranquil shoulders; they were what acquitted him. The greatest love speech he had ever made and could ever make her was when, harshly and angrily, he said something like:
‘Certainly not. I imagined you knew me better’— brushing her aside as if she had been a midge. And, thank God, he had hardly listened to her!
She was Valentine Wannop again; in the sunlight the chaffinches said ‘Pink! pink!’ The seed-heads of the tall grasses were brushing against her skirt. She was clean-limbed, clear-headed . . . It was just a problem whether Sylvia Tietjens was good to him . . . Good for him was, perhaps, the more exact way of putting it. Her mind cleared, like water that goes off the boil . . . ‘Waters stilled at even.’ Nonsense. It was sunlight, and he had an adorable brother! He could save his brother . . . Transport! There was another meaning to the word. A warm feeling settled down upon her; this was her brother; the next to the best ever! It was as if you had matched a piece of stuff so nearly with another piece of stuff as to make no odds. Yet just not the real stuff! She must be grateful to this relative for all he did for her; yet, ah, never so grateful as to the other — who had done nothing!
Providence is kind in great batches! She heard mounting the steps the blessed word Transport! ‘They,’ so Mark said: he and she — the family feeling again — were going to get Christopher into the Transport . . . By the kindness of God the First Line Transport was the only branch of the Services of which Valentine knew anything. Their charwoman, who could not read and write, had a son, a sergeant in a line regiment. ‘Hooray!’ he had written to his mother, ‘I’ve been off my feed; recommended for the D.C.M. too. So they’re putting me senior N.C.O. of First Line Transport for a rest; the safest soft job of the whole bally front line caboodle!’ Valentine had had to read this letter in the scullery amongst black-beetles. Aloud! She had hated reading it as she had hated reading anything that gave details of the front line. But charity begins surely with the char! She had had to. Now she could thank God. The sergeant, in direct, perfectly sincere language, to comfort his mother, had described his daily work, detailing horses and G.S. limber wagons for jobs and superintending the horse-standings. ‘Why,’ one sentence ran, ‘our O.C. Transport is one of those fishing lunatics. Wherever we go he has a space of grass cleared out and pegged and b —— y hell to the man who walks across it!’ There the O.C. practised casting with trout and salmon rods by the hour together. ‘That’ll show you what a soft job it is!’ the sergeant had finished triumphantly . . .
So that there she, Valentine Wannop, sat on a hard bench against a wall; downright, healthy middle-class — or perhaps upper middle-class — for the Wannops were, if impoverished, yet of ancient family! Over her sensible, moccasined shoes the tide of humanity flowed before her hard bench. There were two commissionaires, the one always benevolent, the other perpetually querulous, in a pulpit on one side of her; on the other, a brown-visaged sort of brother-in-law with bulging eyes, who in his shy efforts to conciliate her was continually trying to thrust into his mouth the crook of his umbrella. As if it had been a knob. She could not, at the moment, imagine why he should want to conciliate her; but she knew she would know in a minute.
For just then she was occupied with a curious pattern; almost mathematically symmetrical. Now she was an English middle-class girl — whose mother had a sufficient income — in blue cloth, a wideawake hat, a black silk tie; without a thought in her head that she shouldn’t have. And with a man who loved her: of crystal purity. Not ten, not five minutes ago, she had been . . . She could not even remember what she had been! And he had been, he had assuredly appeared a town . . . No, she could not think the words . . . A raging stallion then! If now he should approach her, by the mere movement of a hand along the sable, she would retreat.
It was a godsend; yet it was absurd. Like the weather machine of the old man and the old woman on opposite ends of the stick . . . When the old man came out the old woman went in and it would rain; when the old woman came out . . . It was exactly like that! She hadn’t time to work out the analogy. But it was like that . . . In rainy weather the whole world altered. Darkened! . . . The cat-gut that turned them slackened . . . slackened . . . But, always, they remained at opposite ends of the stick!
Mark was saying, the umbrella crook hindering his utterance:
‘We buy then an annuity of five hundred for your mother . . . ’
It was astonishing, though it spread tranquillity through her, how little this astonished her. It was the merely retarded expected. Mr. Tietjens senior, an honourable man, had promised as much years ago. Her mother, an august genius, was to wear herself out putting, Mr Tietjens alive, his political views in his paper. He was to make it up to her. He was making it up. In no princely fashion, but adequately, as a gentleman.
Mark Tietjens, bending over, held a piece of paper. A bell-boy came up to him and said: ‘Mr Riccardo?’ Mark Tietjens said: ‘No! He’s gone!’ He continued:
‘Your brother . . . Shelved for the moment. But enough to buy a practice, a good practice! When he’s a full-fledged sawbones.’ He stopped, he directed upon her his atrabilarian eyes, biting his umbrella handle; he was extremely nervous.
‘Now you!’ he said. ‘Two or three hundred. A year of course! The capital absolutely your own . . . ’ He paused: ‘But I warn you! Christopher won’t like it. He’s got his knife into me. I wouldn’t grudge you . . . oh, any sum!’ . . . He waved his hand to indicate an amount boundless in its figures. ‘I know you keep Christopher straight,’ he said. The only person that could!’ He added: ‘Poor devil!’
‘He’s got his knife into you? Why?’
He answered vaguely:
‘Oh, there’s been all this talk . . . Untrue, of course.’ She said:
‘People have been saying things against you? To him? Perhaps because there’s been delay in settling the estate.’
‘Oh, no! The other way round, in fact!’
‘Then they have been saying,’ she exclaimed, ‘things against . . . against me. And him!’
He exclaimed in anguish:
‘Oh, but I ask you to believe . . . I beg you to believe that I believe . . . you! Miss Wannop!’ He added grotesquely: ‘As pure as dew that lies within Aurora’s sun-tipped . . . 2 His eyes stuck out like those of a suffocating fish. He said: ‘I beg you not on that account to hand the giddy mitten to . . . ’ He writhed in his tight double collar. ‘His wife!’ he said . . . ‘She’s no good to . . . for him! . . . She’s soppily in love with him. But no good . . . ’ He very nearly sobbed. ‘You’re the only . . . ’ he said, ‘I know . . . ’
It came into her head that she was losing too much time in this Salle des Pas Perdus! She would have to take the train home! Fivepence! But what did it matter. Her mother had five hundred a year . . . Two hundred and forty times five . . .
Mark said brightly:
‘If now we bought your mother an annuity of five hundred . . . You say that’s ample to give Christopher his chop . . . And settled on her three . . . four . . . I like to be exact . . . hundred a year . . . The capital of it: with remainder to you . . . ’ His interrogative face beamed.
She saw now the whole situation with perfect plainness. She understood Mrs Duchemin’s:
‘You couldn’t expect us, with our official position . . . to connive . . . ’ Edith Ethel had been perfectly right. She couldn’t be expected . . . She had worked too hard to appear circumspect and right! You can’t ask people to lay down their whole lives for their friends! . . . It was only of Tietjens you could ask that! She said — to Mark:
‘It’s as if the whole world had conspired . . . like a carpenter’s vice — to force us . . . ’ she was going to say ‘together.’ But he burst in, astonishingly:
‘He must have his buttered toast . . . and his mutton chop . . . and Rhum St James!’ He said: ‘Damn it all . . . You were made for him . . . You can’t blame people for coupling you . . . They’re forced to it . . . If you hadn’t existed they’d have had to invent you . . . Like Dante for . . . who was it? . . . Beatrice? There are couples like that.’
‘Like a carpenter’s vice . . . Pushed together. Irresistibly. Haven’t we resisted?’
His face became panic-stricken; his bulging eyes pushed away towards the pulpit of the two commissionaires. He whispered:
‘You won’t . . . because of my ox’s hoof . . . desert . . . ’
She said:— she heard Macmaster whispering it hoarsely. ‘I ask you to believe that I will never . . . abandon . . . ’
It was what Macmaster had said. He must have got it from Mrs. Micawber!
Christopher Tietjens — in his shabby khaki, for his wife had spoilt his best uniform — said suddenly from behind her back, since he had approached her from beyond the pulpit of the two commissionaires and she had been turned towards Mark on his bench:
‘Come along! Let’s get out of this!’ He was, she asked herself, getting out of this! Towards what?
Like mutes from a funeral — or as if she had been, between the brothers, a prisoner under escort — they walked down steps; half righted towards the exit arch; one and a half righted to face Whitehall. The brothers grunted inaudible but satisfied sounds over her head. They crossed, by the islands, Whitehall, where the bus had brushed her skirt. Under an archway —
In a stony, gravelled majestic space the brothers faced each other. Mark said:
‘I suppose you won’t shake hands!’
‘No! Why should I?’ She herself had cried out to Christopher:
‘Oh, do!‘ (The wireless squares overhead no longer concerned her. Her brother was, no doubt, getting drunk in a bar in Piccadilly . . . A surface coarseness!)
‘Hadn’t you better? You might get killed! A fellow just getting killed would not like to think he had refused to shake his brother by the hand!’
Christopher had said: ‘Oh . . . well!’
During her happiness over this hyperborean sentimentality he had gripped her thin upper arm. He had led her past swans — or possibly huts; she never remembered which — to a seat that had over it, or near it, a weeping willow. He had said, gasping too, like a fish:
‘Will you be my mistress to-night? I am going out tomorrow at 8.3o from Waterloo.’
She had answered:
‘Yes! Be at such and such a studio just before twelve . . . I have to see my brother home . . . He will be drunk . . . ’ She meant to say: ‘Oh, my darling, I have wanted you so much . . . ’
She said instead:
‘I have arranged the cushions . . .
She said to herself:
‘Now whatever made me say that? It’s as if I had said: “You’ll find the ham in the larder under a plate . . . ” No tenderness about it . . .
She went away, up a cockle-shelled path, between ankle-high railings, crying bitterly. An old tramp, with red weeping eyes and a thin white beard, regarded her curiously from where he lay on the grass. He imagined himself the monarch of that landscape.
‘That’s women!’ he said with the apparently imbecile enigmaticality of the old and the hardened. ‘Some do!’ He spat into the grass; said ‘Ah!’ then added: ‘Some do not!’
He let himself in at the heavy door; when he closed it behind him, in the darkness, the heaviness of the door sent long surreptitious whisperings up the great stone stairs. These sounds irritated him. If you shut a heavy door on an enclosed space it will push air in front of it and there will be whisperings; the atmosphere of mystery was absurd. He was just a man, returning after a night out . . . Two-thirds, say, of a night out! It must be half-past three. But what the night had lacked in length it had made up in fantastic aspects . . .
He laid his cane down on the invisible oak chest and, through the tangible and velvety darkness that had always in it the chill of the stone of walls and stairs, he felt for the handle of the breakfast-room door.
Three long parallelograms existed: pale glimmerings above, cut two-thirds of the way down by the serrations of chimney-pot and roof-shadows! Nine full paces across the heavy piled carpet; then he ought to reach his round-backed chair, by the left-hand window. He sank into it; it fitted exactly his back. He imagined that no man had ever been so tired and that no man had ever been so alone! A small, alive sound existed at the other end of the room; in front of him existed one and a half pale parallelograms. They were the reflection of the windows in the mirror; the sound was no doubt Calton, the cat. Something alive, at any rate! Possibly Sylvia at the other end of the room, waiting for him, to see what he looked like. Most likely! It didn’t matter!
His mind stopped! Sheer weariness!
When it went on again it was saying:
‘Naked shingles and surges drear . . . ’ and, ‘On these debatable borders of the world!’ He said sharply: ‘Nonsense!’ The one was either Calais beach or Dover sands of the whiskered man: Arnold . . . He would be seeing them both within the twenty-four hours . . . But no! He was going from Waterloo. Southampton, Havre, therefore! . . . The other was by that detestable fellow: ‘the subject of our little monograph!’ . . . What a long time ago! . . . He saw a pile of shining despatch cases: the inscription ’This rack is reserved for . . . ’: a coloured — pink and blue! — photograph of Boulogne sands and the held up squares, the proofs of ‘our little . . . ’ What a long time ago! He heard his own voice saying in the new railway carriage, proudly, clearly and with male hardness:
‘I stand for monogamy and chastity. And for no talking about it. Of course if a man who’s a man wants to have a woman he has her. And again no talking about it . . .! His voice — his own voice — came to him as if from the other end of a long-distance telephone. A damn long-distance one! Ten years . . .
If then a man who’s a man wants to have a woman . . . Damn it, he doesn’t! In ten years he had learnt that a Tommie who’s a decent fellow . . . His mind said at one and the same moment, the two lines running one over the other like the two subjects of a fugue:
‘Some beguiling virgins with the broken seals of perjury,’ and:
‘Since when we stand side by side, only hands may meet
‘But damn it; damn it again! The beastly fellow was wrong! Our hands didn’t meet . . . I don’t believe I’ve shaken hands . . . I don’t believe I’ve touched the girl . . . in my life . . . Never once! . . . Not the hand-shaking sort . . . A nod! . . . A meeting and parting! . . . English, you know . . . But yes! she put her arm over my shoulders . . . On the bank! . . . On such short acquaintance! I said to myself then . . . Well, we’ve made up for it since then. Or no! Not made up! . . . Atoned . . . As Sylvia so aptly put it; at that moment mother was dying . . .
He, his conscious self, said:
‘But it was probably the drunken brother . . . You don’t beguile virgins with the broken seals of perjury in Kensington High Street at two at night supporting, one on each side, a drunken bluejacket with intermittent legs . . . ’
‘Intermittent!’ was the word. ‘Intermittently functioning!’
At one point the boy had broken from them and run with astonishing velocity along the dull wood paving of an immense empty street. When they had caught him up he had been haranguing under black trees, with an Oxford voice, an immobile policeman:
‘You’re the fellows!’ he’d been exclaiming, ‘who make old England what she is! You keep the peace in our homes! You save us from the vile excesses . . .
Tietjens himself he had always addressed with the voice and accent of a common seaman; with his coarsened surface voice!
He had the two personalities. Two or three times he had said:
‘Why don’t you kiss the girl? She’s a nice girl, isn’t she? You’re a poor b —— y Tommie, ain’t cher? Well, the poor b —— y Tommies ought to have all the nice girls they want! That’s straight, isn’t it? . . . ’
And, even at that time they hadn’t known what was going to happen . . . There are certain cruelties . . . They had got a four-wheel cab at last. The drunken boy had sat beside the driver; he had insisted . . . Her little, pale, shrunken face had gazed straight before her . . . It hadn’t been possible to speak; the cab, rattling all over the road, had been pulled up with frightful jerks when the boy had grabbed the reins . . . The old driver hadn’t seemed to mind; but they had had to subscribe all the money in their pockets to pay him after they had carried the boy into the black house . . .
Tietjens’ mind said to him:
‘Now when they came to her father’s house so nimbly she slipped in, and said: “There is a fool without and there is a maid within . . . "’
He answered dully:
‘Perhaps that’s what it really amounts to . . . ’ He had stood at the hall door, she looking out at him with a pitiful face. Then from the sofa within the brother had begun to snore; enormous, grotesque sounds, like the laughter of unknown races from darkness. He had turned and walked down the path, she following him. He had exclaimed:
‘It’s perhaps too . . . untidy . . . ’
She had said:
‘Yes Yes . . . Ugly . . . Too . . . oh . . . private!‘
He said, he remembered:
‘But . . . for ever . . . ’
She said, in a great hurry:
‘But when you come back . . . Permanently. And . . . oh, as if it were in public . . . I don’t know,’ she had added. ’Ought we? . . . I’d be ready . . . ’ She added: ‘I will be ready for anything you ask.’
He had said at some time: ‘But obviously . . . Not under this roof . . . ’ And he had added: ‘We’re the sort that . . . do not!’
She had answered, quickly too:
‘Yes — that’s it. We’re that sort!’ And then she had asked: ‘And Ethel’s party? Was it a great success?’ It hadn’t, she knew, been an inconsequence. He had answered:
‘Ah . . . That’s permanent . . . That’s public . . . There was Rugeley: The Duke . . . Sylvia brought him. She’ll be a great friend! . . . And the President of the . . . Local Government Board, I think . . . And a Belgian . . . equivalent to Lord Chief Justice . . . and, of course, Claudine Sandbach . . . Two hundred and seventy; all of the best, the modestly elated Guggumses said as I left! And Mr Ruggles . . . Yes! . . . They’re established . . . No place for me!’
‘Nor for me!‘ she had answered. She added: ‘But I’m glad!’
Patches of silence ran between them: they hadn’t yet got out of the habit of thinking they had to hold up the drunken brother. That had seemed to last for a thousand painful months . . . Long enough to acquire a habit. The brother seemed to roar: ‘Haw-Haw — Kuryasch. 2 And after two minutes: Haw — Haw — Kuryasch. 2 Hungarian, no doubt!
‘It was splendid to see Vincent standing beside the Duke. Showing him a first edition! Not of course quite the thing for a, after all, wedding party! But how was Rugeley to know that? . . . And Vincent not in the least servile! He even corrected cousin Rugeley over the meaning of the word colophon! The first time he ever corrected a superior! Established, you see! . . . And practically cousin Rugeley . . . Dear Sylvia Tietjens’ cousin, so the next to nearest thing! Wife of Lady Macmaster’s oldest friend . . . Sylvia going to them in their — quite modest! — little place in Surrey . . . As for us,’ he had concluded, ‘they also serve who only stand and wait . . . ’
‘I suppose the rooms looked lovely.’
He had answered:
‘Lovely . . . They’d got all the pictures by that beastly fellow up from the rectory study in the dining-room on dark oak panelling . . . A fair blaze of bosoms and nipples and lips and pomegranates . . . The tallest silver candlesticks of course . . . You remember, silver candlesticks and dark oak . . . ’
‘Oh, my dear . . . Don’t . . . Don’t!‘.
He had just touched the rim of his helmet with his folded gloves.
‘So we just wash out!’ he had said.
‘Would you take this bit of parchment . . . I got a little Jew girl to write on it in Hebrew: It’s “God bless you and keep you: God watch over you at your goings out and at . . . "’
He tucked it into his breast pocket.
The talismanic passage,’ he said. ‘Of course I’ll wear it . . . ’
‘If we could wash out this afternoon . . . It would make it easier to bear . . . Your poor mother, you know, she was dying when we last . . . ’
‘You remember that . . . Even then you . . . And if I hadn’t gone to Lobscheid . . . ’
‘From the first moment I set eyes on you . . .
‘And I I . . . from the first moment . . . I’ll tell you . . . If I looked out of a door . . . It was all like sand . . . But to the half left a little bubbling up of water. That could be trusted. To keep on for ever . . . You, perhaps, won’t understand.’
‘Yes! I know!’
They were seeing landscapes . . . Sand dunes; close-cropped . . . Some negligible shipping; a stump-masted brig from Archangel . . .
‘From the first moment,’ he repeated.
‘If we could wash out . . . ’
He said, and for the first moment felt grand, tender, protective:
‘Yes, you can,’ he said. ‘You cut out from this afternoon, just before 4.58 it was when I said that to you and you consented . . . I heard the Horse Guards clock . . . To now . . . Cut it out; and join time up . . . It can be done . . . You know they do it surgically; for some illness; cut out a great length of the bowel and join the tube up . . . For colitis, I think . . .
‘But I wouldn’t cut it out . . . It was the first spoken sign.’
‘No it wasn’t . . . From the very beginning . . . with every word . . . ’
‘You felt that . . . Too! . . . We’ve been pushed, as in a carpenter’s vice . . . We couldn’t have got away . . . He said: ‘By God! That’s it . . . ’
He suddenly saw a weeping willow in St James’s Park; 4.59! He had just said: ‘Will you be my mistress to-night?’ She had gone away, half left, her hands to her face . . . A small fountain; half left. That could be trusted to keep on for ever . . .
Along the lake side, sauntering, swinging his crooked stick, his incredibly shiny top-hat perched sideways, his claw-hammer coat tails, very long, flapping out behind, in dusty sunlight, his magpie pince-nez gleaming, had come, naturally, Mr Ruggles. He had looked at the girl; then down at Tietjens, sprawled on his bench. He had just touched the brim of his shiny hat. He said:
‘Dining at the club to-night? . . . ’
Tietjens said: ‘No; I’ve resigned.’
With the aspect of a long-billed bird chewing a bit of putridity, Ruggles said:
‘Oh, but we’ve had an emergency meeting of the committee . . . the committee was sitting . . . and sent you a letter asking you to reconsider . . .
‘I know . . . I shall withdraw my resignation to-night . . . And resign again to-morrow morning.’
Ruggles’ muscles had relaxed for a quick second, then they stiffened.
‘Oh, I say!’ he had said. ‘Not that . . . You couldn’t do that . . . Not to the club! . . . It’s never been done . . . It’s an insult . . .
‘It’s meant to be,’ Tietjens said. ‘Gentlemen shouldn’t be expected to belong to a club that has certain members on its committee.’
Ruggles’ deepish voice suddenly grew very high. ‘Eh, I say, you know!’ he squeaked.
Tietjens hid said:
‘I’m not vindictive . . . But I am deadly tired: of all old women and their chatter.’
Ruggles had said:
‘I don’t . . . ’ His face had become suddenly dark brown, scarlet and then brownish purple. He stood droopingly looking at Tietjens’ boots.
‘Oh! Ah! Well!’ he said at last. ‘See you at Macmaster’s to-night . . . A great thing, his knighthood. First-class man.’
That had been the first Tietjens had heard of Macmaster’s knighthood; he had missed looking at the honours list of that morning. Afterwards, dining alone with Sir Vincent and Lady Macmaster, he had seen, pinned up, a back view of the Sovereign doing something to Vincent; a photo for next morning’s papers. From Macmaster’s embarrassed hushings of Edith Ethel’s explanation that the honour was for special services of a specific kind Tietjens guessed both the nature of Macmaster’s service and the fact that the little man hadn’t told Edith Ethel who, originally, had done the work. And — just like his girl — Tietjens had let it go at that. He didn’t see why poor Vincent shouldn’t have that little bit of prestige at home — under all the monuments! But he hadn’t — though through all the evening Macmaster, with the solicitude and affection of a cringing Italian greyhound, had hastened from celebrity to celebrity to hang over Tietjens, and although Tietjens knew that his friend was grieved and appalled, like any woman, at his, Tietjens’, going out again to France — Tietjens hadn’t been able to look Macmaster again in the face . . . He had felt ashamed. He had felt, for the first time in his life, ashamed!
Even when he, Tietjens, had slipped away from the party — to go to his good fortune! — Macmaster had come panting down the stairs, running after him, through guests coming up. He had said:
‘Wait . . . You’re not going . . . I want to . . . ’ With a miserable and appalled glance he had looked up the stairs; Lady Macmaster might have come out too. With his black, short beard quivering and his wretched eyes turned down, he had said:
‘I wanted to explain . . . This miserable knighthood . . . ’
Tietjens patted him on the shoulder, Macmaster being on the stairs above him.
‘It’s all right, old man,’ he had said — and with real affection: ‘We’ve powlered up and down enough for a little thing like that not to . . . I’m very glad . . . ’
Macmaster had whispered:
‘And Valentine . . . She’s not here to-night . . . ’
He had exclaimed:
‘By God! . . . If I thought..’ Tietjens had said: ‘It’s all right. It’s all right. She’s at another party . . . I’m going on . . . ’
Macmaster had looked at him doubtingly and with misery, leaning over and clutching the clammy banisters.
‘Tell her . . . ’ he said . . . ‘Good God! You may be killed . . . I beg you . . . I beg you to believe . . . I will . . . Like the apple of my eye . . . In the swift glance that Tietjens took of his face he could see that Macmaster’s eyes were full of tears.
They both stood looking down at the stone stairs for a long time.
Then Macmaster had said: ‘Well . . . ’
Tietjens had said: ‘Well . . . 2 But he hadn’t been able to look at Macmaster’s eyes, though he had felt his friend’s eyes pitiably exploring his own face . . . ‘A backstairs way out of it,’ he had thought; a queer thing that you couldn’t look in the face of a man you were never going to see again!
‘But by God,’ he said to himself fiercely, when his mind came back again to the girl in front of him, ‘this isn’t going to be another backstairs exit . . . I must tell her . . . I’m damned if I don’t make an effort . . .
She had her handkerchief to her face.
‘I’m always crying,’ she said . . . ‘A little bubbling spring that can be trusted to keep on . . .
He looked to the right and to the left. Ruggles or General Someone with false teeth that didn’t fit must be coming along. The street with its sooty boskage was clean, empty and silent. She was looking at him. He didn’t know how long he had been silent, he didn’t know where he had been; intolerable waves urged him towards her.
After a long time he said:
‘Well . . . ’
She moved back. She said:
‘I won’t watch you out of sight . . . It is unlucky to watch anyone out of sight . . . But I will never . . . I will never cut what you said then out of my memory . . . ’ She was gone; the door shut. He had wondered what she would never cut out of her memory. That he had asked her that afternoon to be his mistress? . . .
He had caught, outside the gates of his old office, a transport lorry that had given him a lift to Holborn . . .
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Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08