You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 20


MR PHILIP CHASER elicited Edward Albert’s ideas about the business in hand. He drew them out one by one, offering very little comment. He had just become a member of the Junior Conservative Club in Whitehall Place, and thither with a certain worldly pride he had conducted Edward Albert. It seemed to both of them a far more suitable place for discussing the grave problem before them than Millie Chaser’s home. They sat in a quiet corner of the huge smoking-room and Mr Philip asked his questions like a solicitor preparing a case.

Finally he summed up. He neighed with unusual force and duration so that distant plotters in the smoking-room suspended their machinations and looked round apprehensively. “All this,” he said, “is going to cost you a lot of money. You think you are going to get damages, heavy damages, you say, but who is going to pay you damages and — hey — what are they going to pay damages for? All she’s done is to pack up and go. That’s no grounds for a divorce. You might get a legal separation, and so far as I know, that’s no comfort to anybody. I’ve never — hey — in the course of my life met a separated man or a separated woman. I absolutely don’t know, abso-lutely, where they go and what they do with themselves and each other. Yes, you think you can put detectives on to her to watch her and catch her out. As you don’t know where she’s gone. . . . Oh, I’m not going to tell you. I— hey — promised not to. You’ll have to find out where she is and where she goes, and you’ll have to have her caught in — what’s the word? flagrante delicto. Tedious and annoying. And meanwhile the law insists that you must lead a blameless life, absolutely blameless. You’re not rich enough to go abroad and live in a state of — hey — inaccessible sin, and there’s an excellent functionary called the King’s Proctor who has a small fund available for — hey — watching you to see you are blameless. For the better part of a year, Mr Teddy. In the interests of Justice, Religion and order, I understand. She can kick up her heels as much she likes, but you will just have to listen to your Private Enquiry Agent’s reports. You’ll find them — infuriating — absolutely infuriating. . . . You aren’t going to stand that! No? And what are you going to do about it?”

He laid a restraining hand upon Edward Albert’s arm

“Listen,” he said. “The only person who can make all this business reasonably cheap and easy is your wife. Suppose she has another man, if you go on dreaming of getting those damages out of him she’ll fight like the devil to see he doesn’t pay them. That’s only natural. Particularly as I suspect he’s a married man. But if she goes to some little country pub somewhere and sends you a confession and the bill, and tells you she hasn’t the remotest intention of giving you the man’s real name, there’s your evidence. Your Private Enquiry Agent will see to the evidence. And there you are.”

“But there’s eight or ten months I got to wait?”

“Ask the law. Ask the church. Ask the Divorce Law Association. Write to your Member of Parliament about it. The — hey — Apostle Paul said somewhere that it’s better to marry than to burn, but this way you can marry and burn at the same time. Not my fault, Teddy. I’m not responsible for fast — hey — arrangements.”

“You’d have arranged it better.”

“Hey — I can’t arrange everything. It’s a pity.”

“Gaw,” said Edward Albert. “I been a fool. I frown away my life.”

“I wouldn’t even say that. Suppose — hey — suppose it’s the world we live in, is the fool and not us, eh? Suppose it throws away our lives for us — however we dodge or however we behave?”

“I don’t understand that.”

“Come to think of it — hey — I don’t understand it myself Think it all over, Teddy. Millie and I will have a little heart — to-heart talk with the other side. Eh?”

Edward Albert nodded gloomily. “And I got to hold out for — from first to last for a year. While she — I can’t do it, Pip.”

“Well, don’t get caught. Let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth,”

“I shall go mad one day and shoot her.”

“You won’t even get to buying a pistol.”

“I’ll kill myself,”

“You’ll live — for donkeys years.”

“Well, what do you advise?”

“The-e-e —” He prolonged the word into a neigh —“prostitute is the safety-valve of the respectable Christian life. That is all I can tell you. Be anonymous, be dark and discreet. The King’s Proctor will probably send his man to ask your wife to tell her anything she knows about you. If you keep on good terms with her —”

“Damn her!”

“Exactly. If you keep on good terms with her, damn her, she will send him empty away. And there you are!”

“And she has the laugh of me!”

“She’s much more likely to get sentimental about it, after it’s all over and she’s got what she wants, whatever it is she wants. Don’t — hey — rankle, Teddy. These uncontested divorces, they’re like something done in an office. They’re about as interesting as the births, marriages and deaths in a country newspaper. There’s nothing spicy to get into the papers. It’s when the evidence of misconduct warms up, what the maid saw through the keyhole and all that, or there’s a fighting cross-examination, that there’s a fuss. I— hey — don’t think either of you will have to go into court. I don’t think it’s necessary, but I may be wrong there. The case won’t last ten minutes. . . . ”

That omniscient young undertaker was right. The King’s Proctor gave no sign. The decree nisi was made absolute in due course. But by that time Edward Albert was already embarked upon a new and happier way of life.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02