Happily Ever After by Aldous Huxley

Chapter I
AT the best of times it is a long way from Chicago to Blaybury in Wiltshire, but war has fixed between them a great gulf. In the circumstances, therefore, it seemed an act of singular devotion on the part of Peter Jacobsen to have come all the way from the Middle West, in the fourth year of war, on a visit to his old friend Petherton, when the project entailed a single-handed struggle with two Great Powers over the question of passports and the risk, when they had been obtained, of perishing miserably by the way, a victim of frightfulness.

At the expense of much time and more trouble Jacobsen had at last arrived; the gulf between Chicago and Blaybury was spanned. In the hall of Petherton’s house a scene of welcome was being enacted under the dim gaze of six or seven brown family portraits by unknown masters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Old Alfred Petherton, a grey shawl over his shoulders—for he had to be careful, even in June, of draughts and colds—was shaking his guest’s hand with interminable cordiality.

“My dear boy,” he kept repeating, “it is a pleasure to see you. My dear boy . . .”

Jacobsen limply abandoned his forearm and waited in patience.

“I can never be grateful enough,” Mr. Petherton went on—“never grateful enough to you for having taken all this endless trouble to come and see an old decrepit man—for that’s what I am now, that’s what I am, believe me.”

“Oh, I assure you . . .” said Jacobsen, with vague deprecation. “Le vieux crétin qui pleurniche,” he said to himself. French was a wonderfully expressive language, to be sure.

“My digestion and my heart have got much worse since I saw you last. But I think I must have told you about that in my letters.”

“You did indeed, and I was most grieved to hear it.”

“Grieved”—what a curious flavour that word had! Like somebody’s tea which used to recall the most delicious blends of forty years ago. But it was decidedly the mot juste. It had the right obituary note about it.

“Yes,” Mr. Petherton continued, “my palpitations are very bad now. Aren’t they, Marjorie?” He appealed to his daughter who was standing beside him.

“Father’s palpitations are very bad,” she replied dutifully.

It was as though they were talking about some precious heirloom long and lovingly cherished.

“And my digestion. . . . This physical infirmity makes all mental activity so difficult. All the same, I manage to do a little useful work. We’ll discuss that later, though. You must be feeling tired and dusty after your journey down. I’ll guide you to your room. Marjorie, will you get someone to take up his luggage?”

“I can take it myself,” said Jacobsen, and he picked up a small gladstone-bag that had been deposited by the door.

“Is that all?” Mr. Petherton asked.

“Yes, that’s all.”

As one living the life of reason, Jacobsen objected to owning things. One so easily became the slave of things and not their master. He liked to be free; he checked his possessive instincts and limited his possessions to the strictly essential. He was as much or as little at home at Blaybury or Pekin. He could have explained all this if he liked. But in the present case it wasn’t worth taking the trouble.

“This is your humble chamber,” said Mr. Petherton, throwing open the door of what was, indeed, a very handsome spare-room, bright with chintzes and cut flowers and silver candlesticks. “A poor thing, but your own.”

Courtly grace! Dear old man! Apt quotation! Jacobsen unpacked his bag and arranged its contents neatly and methodically in the various drawers and shelves of the wardrobe.

It was a good many years now since Jacobsen had come in the course of his grand educational tour to Oxford. He spent a couple of years there, for he liked the place, and its inhabitants were a source of unfailing amusement to him.

A Norwegian, born in the Argentine, educated in the United States, in France, and in Germany; a man with no nationality and no prejudices, enormously old in experience, he found something very new and fresh and entertaining about his fellow-students with their comic public-school traditions and fabulous ignorance of the world. He had quietly watched them doing their little antics, feeling all the time that a row of bars separated them from himself, and that he ought, after each particularly amusing trick, to offer them a bun or a handful of pea-nuts. In the intervals of sight-seeing in this strange and delightful Jardin des Plantes he read Greats, and it was through Aristotle that he had come into contact with Alfred Petherton, fellow and tutor of his college.

The name of Petherton is a respectable one in the academic world. You will find it on the title-page of such meritorious, if not exactly brilliant, books as Plato’s Predecessors, Three Scottish Metaphysicians, Introduction to the Study of Ethics, Essays in Neo-Idealism. Some of his works are published in cheap editions as text-books.

One of those curious inexplicable friendships that often link the most unlikely people had sprung up between tutor and pupil, and had lasted unbroken for upwards of twenty years. Petherton felt a fatherly affection for the younger man, together with a father’s pride, now that Jacobsen was a man of world-wide reputation, in having, as he supposed, spiritually begotten him. And now Jacobsen had travelled three or four thousand miles across a world at war just to see the old man. Petherton was profoundly touched.

“Did you see any submarines on the way over?” Marjorie asked, as she and Jacobsen were strolling together in the garden after breakfast the next day.

“I didn’t notice any; but then I am very unobservant about these things.”

There was a pause. At last, “I suppose there is a great deal of war-work being done in America now?” said Marjorie.

Jacobsen supposed so; and there floated across his mind a vision of massed bands, of orators with megaphones, of patriotic sky-signs, of streets made perilous by the organized highway robbery of Red Cross collectors. He was too lazy to describe it all; besides, she wouldn’t see the point of it.

“I should like to be able to do some war-work,” Marjorie explained apologetically. “But I have to look after father, and there’s the housekeeping, so I really haven’t the time.”

Jacobsen thought he detected a formula for the benefit of strangers. She evidently wanted to make things right about herself in people’s minds. Her remark about the housekeeping made Jacobsen think of the late Mrs. Petherton, her mother; she had been a good-looking, painfully sprightly woman with a hankering to shine in University society at Oxford. One quickly learned that she was related to bishops and country families; a hunter of ecclesiastical lions and a snob. He felt glad she was dead.

“Won’t it be awful when there’s no war-work,” he said. “People will have nothing to do or think about when peace comes.”

“I shall be glad. Housekeeping will be so much easier.”

“True. There are consolations.”

Marjorie looked at him suspiciously; she didn’t like being laughed at. What an undistinguished-looking little man he was! Short, stoutish, with waxed brown moustaches and a forehead that incipient baldness had made interminably high. He looked like the sort of man to whom one says: “Thank you, I’ll take it in notes with a pound’s worth of silver.” There were pouches under his eyes and pouches under his chin, and you could never guess from his expression what he was thinking about. She was glad that she was taller than he and could look down on him.

Mr. Petherton appeared from the house, his grey shawl over his shoulders and the crackling expanse of the Times between his hands.

“Good morrow,” he cried.

To the Shakespearian heartiness of this greeting Marjorie returned her most icily modern “Morning.” Her father always said “Good morrow” instead of “Good morning,” and the fact irritated her with unfailing regularity every day of her life.

“There’s a most interesting account,” said Mr. Petherton, “by a young pilot of an air fight in to-day’s paper,” and as they walked up and down the gravel path he read the article, which was a column and a half in length.

Marjorie made no attempt to disguise her boredom, and occupied herself by reading something on the other side of the page, craning her neck round to see.

“Very interesting,” said Jacobsen when it was finished.

Mr. Petherton had turned over and was now looking at the Court Circular page.

“I see,” he said, “there’s someone called Beryl Camberley-Belcher going to be married. Do you know if that’s any relation of the Howard Camberley-Belchers, Marjorie?”

“I’ve no idea who the Howard Camberley-Belchers are,” Marjorie answered rather sharply.

“Oh, I thought you did. Let me see. Howard Camberley-Belcher was at college with me. And he had a brother called James—or was it William?—and a sister who married one of the Riders, or at any rate some relation of the Riders; for I know the Camberley-Belchers and the Riders used to fit in somewhere. Dear me, I’m afraid my memory for names is going.”

Marjorie went indoors to prepare the day’s domestic campaign with the cook. When that was over she retired to her sitting-room and unlocked her very private desk. She must write to Guy this morning. Marjorie had known Guy Lambourne for years and years, almost as long as she could remember. The Lambournes were old family friends of the Pethertons: indeed they were, distantly, connections; they “fitted in somewhere,” as Mr. Petherton would say—somewhere, about a couple of generations back. Marjorie was two years younger than Guy; they were both only children; circumstances had naturally thrown them a great deal together. Then Guy’s father had died, and not long afterwards his mother, and at the age of seventeen Guy had actually come to live with the Pethertons, for the old man was his guardian. And now they were engaged; had been, more or less, from the first year of the war.

Marjorie took pen, ink, and paper. “DEAR GUY,” she began—(“We aren’t sentimental,” she had once remarked, with a mixture of contempt and secret envy, to a friend who had confided that she and her fiancé never began with anything less than Darling.)—“I am longing for another of your letters. . . .” She went through the usual litany of longing. “It was father’s birthday yesterday; he is sixty-five. I cannot bear to think that some day you and I will be as old as that. Aunt Ellen sent him a Stilton cheese—a useful war-time present. How boring housekeeping is. By dint of thinking about cheeses my mind is rapidly turning into one—a Gruyère; where there isn’t cheese there are just holes, full of vacuum . . .”

She didn’t really mind housekeeping so much. She took it for granted, and did it just because it was there to be done. Guy, on the contrary, never took anything for granted; she made these demonstrations for his benefit.

“I read Keats’s letters, as you suggested, and thought them too beautiful . . .”

At the end of a page of rapture she paused and bit her pen. What was there to say next? It seemed absurd one should have to write letters about the books one had been reading. But there was nothing else to write about; nothing ever happened. After all, what had happened in her life? Her mother dying when she was sixteen; then the excitement of Guy coming to live with them; then the war, but that hadn’t meant much to her; then Guy falling in love, and their getting engaged. That was really all. She wished she could write about her feelings in an accurate, complicated way, like people in novels; but when she came to think about it, she didn’t seem to have any feelings to describe.

She looked at Guy’s last letter from France. ”Sometimes,” he had written, “I am tortured by an intense physical desire for you. I can think of nothing but your beauty, your young, strong body. I hate that; I have to struggle to repress it. Do you forgive me?” It rather thrilled her that he should feel like that about her: he had always been so cold, so reserved, so much opposed to sentimentality—to the kisses and endearments she would, perhaps, secretly have liked. But he had seemed so right when he said, “We must love like rational beings, with our minds, not with our hands and lips.” All the same . . .

She dipped her pen in the ink and began to write again. “I know the feelings you spoke of in your letter. Sometimes I long for you in the same way. I dreamt the other night I was holding you in my arms, and woke up hugging the pillow.” She looked at what she had written. It was too awful, too vulgar! She would have to scratch it out. But no, she would leave it in spite of everything, just to see what he would think about it. She finished the letter quickly, sealed and stamped it, and rang for the maid to take it to the post. When the servant had gone, she shut up her desk with a bang. Bang—the letter had gone, irrevocably.

She picked up a large book lying on the table and began to read. It was the first volume of the Decline and Fall. Guy had said she must read Gibbon; she wouldn’t be educated till she had read Gibbon. And so yesterday she had gone to her father in his library to get the book.

“Gibbon,” Mr. Petherton had said, “certainly, my dear. How delightful it is to look at these grand old books again. One always finds something new every time.”

Marjorie gave him to understand that she had never read it. She felt rather proud of her ignorance.

Mr. Petherton handed the first of eleven volumes to her. “A great book,” he murmured—“an essential book. It fills the gap between your classical history and your mediæval stuff.”

“Your” classical history, Marjorie repeated to herself, “your” classical history indeed! Her father had an irritating way of taking it for granted that she knew everything, that classical history was as much hers as his. Only a day or two before he had turned to her at luncheon with, “Do you remember, dear child, whether it was Pomponazzi who denied the personal immortality of the soul, or else that queer fellow, Laurentius Valla? It’s gone out of my head for the moment.” Marjorie had quite lost her temper at the question—much to the innocent bewilderment of her poor father.

She had set to work with energy on the Gibbon; her bookmarker registered the fact that she had got through one hundred and twenty-three pages yesterday. Marjorie started reading. After two pages she stopped. She looked at the number of pages still remaining to be read—and this was only the first volume. She felt like a wasp sitting down to eat a vegetable marrow. Gibbon’s bulk was not perceptibly diminished by her first bite. It was too long. She shut the book and went out for a walk. Passing the Whites’ house, she saw her friend, Beatrice White that was, sitting on the lawn with her two babies. Beatrice hailed her, and she turned in.

“Pat a cake, pat a cake,” she said. At the age of ten months, baby John had already learnt the art of patting cakes. He slapped the outstretched hand offered him, and his face, round and smooth and pink like an enormous peach, beamed with pleasure.

“Isn’t he a darling!” Marjorie exclaimed. “You know, I’m sure he’s grown since last I saw him, which was on Tuesday.”

“He put on eleven ounces last week,” Beatrice affirmed.

“How wonderful! His hair’s coming on splendidly . . .”

It was Sunday the next day. Jacobsen appeared at breakfast in the neatest of black suits. He looked, Marjorie thought, more than ever like a cashier. She longed to tell him to hurry up or he’d miss the 8.53 for the second time this week and the manager would be annoyed. Marjorie herself was, rather consciously, not in Sunday best.

“What is the name of the Vicar?” Jacobsen inquired, as he helped himself to bacon.

“Trubshaw. Luke Trubshaw, I believe.”

“Does he preach well?”

“He didn’t when I used to hear him. But I don’t often go to church now, so I don’t know what he’s like these days.”

“Why don’t you go to church?” Jacobsen inquired, with a silkiness of tone which veiled the crude outlines of his leading question.

Marjorie was painfully conscious of blushing. She was filled with rage against Jacobsen. “Because,” she said firmly, “I don’t think it necessary to give expression to my religious feelings by making a lot of”—she hesitated a moment—“a lot of meaningless gestures with a crowd of other people.”

“You used to go,” said Jacobsen.

“When I was a child and hadn’t thought about these things.”

Jacobsen was silent, and concealed a smile in his coffee-cup. Really, he said to himself, there ought to be religious conscription for women—and for most men, too. It was grotesque the way these people thought they could stand by themselves—the fools, when there was the infinite authority of organized religion to support their ridiculous feebleness.

“Does Lambourne go to church?” he asked maliciously, and with an air of perfect naïveté and good faith.

Marjorie coloured again, and a fresh wave of hatred surged up within her. Even as she had said the words she had wondered whether Jacobsen would notice that the phrase “meaningless gestures” didn’t ring very much like one of her own coinages. “Gesture”—that was one of Guy’s words, like “incredible,” “exacerbate,” “impinge,” “sinister.” Of course all her present views about religion had come from Guy. She looked Jacobsen straight in the face and replied:

“Yes, I think he goes to church pretty regularly. But I really don’t know: his religion has nothing to do with me.”

Jacobsen was lost in delight and admiration.

Punctually at twenty minutes to eleven he set out for church. From where she was sitting in the summer-house Marjorie watched him as he crossed the garden, incredibly absurd and incongruous in his black clothes among the blazing flowers and the young emerald of the trees. Now he was hidden behind the sweet-briar hedge, all except the hard black melon of his bowler hat, which she could see bobbing along between the topmost sprays.

She went on with her letter to Guy. “. . . What a strange man Mr. Jacobsen is. I suppose he is very clever, but I can’t get very much out of him. We had an argument about religion at breakfast this morning; I rather scored off him. He has now gone off to church all by himself;—I really couldn’t face the prospect of going with him—I hope he’ll enjoy old Mr. Trubshaw’s preaching!”

Jacobsen did enjoy Mr. Trubshaw’s preaching enormously. He always made a point, in whatever part of Christendom he happened to be, of attending divine service. He had the greatest admiration of churches as institutions. In their solidity and unchangeableness he saw one of the few hopes for humanity. Further, he derived great pleasure from comparing the Church as an institution—splendid, powerful, eternal—with the childish imbecility of its representatives. How delightful it was to sit in the herded congregation and listen to the sincere outpourings of an intellect only a little less limited than that of an Australian aboriginal! How restful to feel oneself a member of a flock, guided by a good shepherd—himself a sheep! Then there was the scientific interest (he went to church as student of anthropology, as a Freudian psychologist) and the philosophic amusement of counting the undistributed middles and tabulating historically the exploded fallacies in the parson’s discourse.

To-day Mr. Trubshaw preached a topical sermon about the Irish situation. His was the gospel of the Morning Post, slightly tempered by Christianity. It was our duty, he said, to pray for the Irish first of all, and if that had no effect upon recruiting, why, then, we must conscribe them as zealously as we had prayed before.

Jacobsen leaned back in his pew with a sigh of contentment. A connoisseur, he recognized that this was the right stuff.

“Well,” said Mr. Petherton over the Sunday beef at lunch, “how did you like our dear Vicar?”

“He was splendid,” said Jacobsen, with grave enthusiasm. “One of the best sermons I’ve ever heard.”

“Indeed? I shall really have to go and hear him again. It must be nearly ten years since I listened to him.”

“He’s inimitable.”

Marjorie looked at Jacobsen carefully. He seemed to be perfectly serious. She was more than ever puzzled by the man.

The days went slipping by, hot blue days that passed like a flash almost without one’s noticing them, cold grey days, seeming interminable and without number, and about which one spoke with a sense of justified grievance, for the season was supposed to be summer. There was fighting going on in France—terrific battles, to judge from the headlines in the Times; but, after all, one day’s paper was very much like another’s. Marjorie read them dutifully, but didn’t honestly take in very much; at least she forgot about things very soon. She couldn’t keep count with the battles of Ypres, and when somebody told her that she ought to go and see the photographs of the Vindictive, she smiled vaguely and said Yes, without remembering precisely what the Vindictive was—a ship, she supposed.

Guy was in France, to be sure, but he was an Intelligence Officer now, so thatshe was hardly anxious about him at all. Clergymen used to say that the war was bringing us all back to a sense of the fundamental realities of life. She supposed it was true: Guy’s enforced absences were a pain to her, and the difficulties of housekeeping continually increased and multiplied.

Mr. Petherton took a more intelligent interest in the war than did his daughter. He prided himself on being able to see the thing as a whole, on taking an historical, God’s-eye view of it all. He talked about it at meal-times, insisting that the world must be made safe for democracy. Between meals he sat in the library working at his monumental History of Morals. To his dinner-table disquisitions Marjorie would listen more or less attentively, Jacobsen with an unfailing, bright, intelligent politeness. Jacobsen himself rarely volunteered a remark about the war; it was taken for granted that he thought about it in the same way as all other right-thinking folk. Between meals he worked in his room or discussed the morals of the Italian Renaissance with his host. Marjorie could write to Guy that nothing was happening, and that but for his absence and the weather interfering so much with tennis, she would be perfectly happy.

Into the midst of this placidity there fell, delightful bolt from the blue, the announcement that Guy was getting leave at the end of July. “DARLING,” Marjorie wrote, “I am so excited to think that you will be with me in such a little—such a long, long time.” Indeed, she was so excited and delighted that she realized with a touch of remorse how comparatively little she had thought of him when there seemed no chance of seeing him, how dim a figure in absence he was. A week later she heard that George White had arranged to get leave at the same time so as to see Guy. She was glad; George was a charming boy, and Guy was so fond of him. The Whites were their nearest neighbours, and ever since Guy had come to live at Blaybury he had seen a great deal of young George.

“We shall be a most festive party,” said Mr. Petherton. “Roger will be coming to us just at the same time as Guy.”

“I’d quite forgotten Uncle Roger,” said Marjorie. “Of course, his holidays begin then, don’t they?”

The Reverend Roger was Alfred Petherton’s brother and a master at one of our most glorious public schools. Marjorie hardly agreed with her father in thinking that his presence would add anything to the “festiveness” of the party. It was a pity he should be coming at this particular moment. However, we all have our little cross to bear.

Mr. Petherton was feeling playful. “We must bring down,” he said, “the choicest Falernian, bottled when Gladstone was consul, for the occasion. We must prepare wreaths and unguents and hire a flute player and a couple of dancing girls . . .”

He spent the rest of the meal in quoting Horace, Catullus, the Greek Anthology, Petronius, and Sidonius Apollinarius. Marjorie’s knowledge of the dead languages was decidedly limited. Her thoughts were elsewhere, and it was only dimly and as it were through a mist that she heard her father murmuring—whether merely to himself or with the hope of eliciting an answer from somebody, she hardly knew—“Let me see: how does that epigram go?—that one about the different kinds of fish and the garlands of roses, by Meleager, or is it Poseidippus? . . .”

Chapter II

GUY and Jacobsen were walking in the Dutch garden, an incongruous couple. On Guy military servitude had left no outwardly visible mark; out of uniform, he still looked like a tall, untidy undergraduate; he stooped and drooped as much as ever; his hair was still bushy and, to judge by the dim expression of his face, he had not yet learnt to think imperially. His khaki always looked like a disguise, like the most absurd fancy dress. Jacobsen trotted beside him, short, fattish, very sleek, and correct. They talked in a desultory way about things indifferent. Guy, anxious for a little intellectual exercise after so many months of discipline, had been trying to inveigle his companion into a philosophical discussion. Jacobsen consistently eluded his efforts; he was too lazy to talk seriously; there was no profit that he could see to be got out of this young man’s opinions, and he had not the faintest desire to make a disciple. He preferred, therefore, to discuss the war and the weather. It irritated him that people should want to trespass on the domain of thought—people who had no right to live anywhere but on the vegetative plane of mere existence. He wished they would simply be content to be or do, not try, so hopelessly, to think, when only one in a million can think with the least profit to himself or anyone else.

Out of the corner of his eye he looked at the dark, sensitive face of his companion; he ought to have gone into business at eighteen, was Jacobsen’s verdict. It was bad for him to think; he wasn’t strong enough.

A great sound of barking broke upon the calm of the garden. Looking up, the two strollers saw George White running across the green turf of the croquet lawn with a huge fawn-coloured dog bounding along at his side.

“Morning,” he shouted. He was hatless and out of breath. “I was taking Bella for a run, and thought I’d look in and see how you all were.”

“What a lovely dog!” Jacobsen exclaimed.

“An old English mastiff our—one aboriginal dog. She has a pedigree going straight back to Edward the Confessor.”

Jacobsen began a lively conversation with George on the virtues and shortcomings of dogs. Bella smelt his calves and then lifted up her gentle black eyes to look at him. She seemed satisfied.

He looked at them for a little; they were too much absorbed in their doggy conversation to pay attention to him. He made a gesture as though he had suddenly remembered something, gave a little grunt, and with a very preoccupied expression on his face turned to go towards the house. His elaborate piece of by-play escaped the notice of the intended spectators; Guy saw that it had, and felt more miserable and angry and jealous than ever. They would think he had slunk off because he wasn’t wanted—which was quite true—instead of believing that he had something very important to do, which was what he had intended they should believe.

A cloud of self-doubt settled upon him. Was his mind, after all, worthless, and the little things he had written—rubbish, not potential genius as he had hoped? Jacobsen was right in preferring George’s company. George was perfect, physically, a splendid creature; what could he himself claim?

“I’m second-rate,” he thought—“second-rate, physically, morally, mentally. Jacobsen is quite right.”

The best he could hope to be was a pedestrian literary man with quiet tastes.

NO, no, no! He clenched his hands and, as though to register his resolve before the universe, he said, aloud:

“I will do it; I will be first-rate, I will.”

He was covered with confusion on seeing a gardener pop up, surprised from behind a bank of rose-bushes. Talking to himself—the man must have thought him mad!

He hurried on across the lawn, entered the house, and ran upstairs to his room. There was not a second to lose; he must begin at once. He would write something—something that would last, solid, hard, shining. . . .

“Damn them all! I will do it, I can . . .”

There were writing materials and a table in his room. He selected a pen—with a Relief nib he would be able to go on for hours without getting tired—and a large square sheet of writing-paper.




Station: Cogham, 3 miles; Nobes Monacorum, 4½ miles.”

Stupid of people to have their stationery printed in red, when black or blue is so much nicer! He inked over the letters.

He held up the paper to the light; there was a watermark, “Pimlico Bond.” What an admirable name for the hero of a novel! Pimlico Bond. . . .

“There’s be-eef in the la-arder

And du-ucks in the pond;

Crying dilly dilly, dilly dilly . . .”

He bit the end of his pen. “What I want to get,” he said to himself, “is something very hard, very external. Intense emotion, but one will somehow have got outside it.” He made a movement of hands, arms, and shoulders, tightening his muscles in an effort to express to himself physically that hardness and tightness and firmness of style after which he was struggling!

He began to draw on his virgin paper. A woman, naked, one arm lifted over her head, so that it pulled up her breast by that wonderful curving muscle that comes down from the shoulder. The inner surface of the thighs, remember, is slightly concave. The feet, seen from the front, are always a difficulty.

It would never do to leave that about. What would the servants think? He turned the nipples into eyes, drew heavy lines for nose, mouth, and chin, slopped on the ink thick; it made a passable face now—though an acute observer might have detected the original nudity. He tore it up into very small pieces.

A crescendo booming filled the house. It was the gong. He looked at his watch. Lunch-time, and he had done nothing. O God! . . .

Chapter III

IT was dinner-time on the last evening of Guy’s leave. The uncovered mahogany table was like a pool of brown unruffled water within whose depths flowers and the glinting shapes of glass and silver hung dimly reflected. Mr. Petherton sat at the head of the board, flanked by his brother Roger and Jacobsen. Youth, in the persons of Marjorie, Guy, and George White, had collected at the other end. They had reached the stage of dessert.

“This is excellent port,” said Roger, sleek and glossy like a well-fed black cob under his silken clerical waistcoat. He was a strong, thick-set man of about fifty, with a red neck as thick as his head. His hair was cropped with military closeness; he liked to set a good example to the boys, some of whom showed distressing “æsthetic” tendencies and wore their hair long.

“I’m glad you like it. I mayn’t touch it myself, of course. Have another glass.” Alfred Petherton’s face wore an expression of dyspeptic melancholy. He was wishing he hadn’t taken quite so much of that duck.

“Thank you, I will.” Roger took the decanter with a smile of satisfaction. “The tired schoolmaster is worthy of his second glass. White, you look rather pale; I think you must have another.” Roger had a hearty, jocular manner, calculated to prove to his pupils that he was not one of the slimy sort of parsons, not a Creeping Jesus.

There was an absorbing conversation going on at the youthful end of the table. Secretly irritated at having been thus interrupted in the middle of it, White turned round and smiled vaguely at Roger.

“Oh, thank you, sir,” he said, and pushed his glass forward to be filled. The “sir” slipped out unawares; it was, after all, such a little while since he had been a schoolboy under Roger’s dominion.

“One is lucky,” Roger went on seriously, “to get any port wine at all now. I’m thankful to say I bought ten dozen from my old college some years ago to lay down; otherwise I don’t know what I should do. My wine merchant tells me he couldn’t let me have a single bottle. Indeed, he offered to buy some off me, if I’d sell. But I wasn’t having any. A bottle in the cellar is worth ten shillings in the pocket these days. I always say that port has become a necessity now one gets so little meat. Lambourne! you are another of our brave defenders; you deserve a second glass.”

“No, thanks,” said Guy, hardly looking up. “I’ve had enough.” He went on talking to Marjorie—about the different views of life held by the French and the Russians.

Roger helped himself to cherries. “One has to select them carefully,” he remarked for the benefit of the unwillingly listening George. “There is nothing that gives you such stomach-aches as unripe cherries.”

“I expect you’re glad, Mr. Petherton, that holidays have begun at last?” said Jacobsen.

“Glad? I should think so. One is utterly dead beat at the end of the summer term. Isn’t one, White?”

White had taken the opportunity to turn back again and listen to Guy’s conversation; recalled, like a dog who has started off on a forbidden scent, he obediently assented that one did get tired at the end of the summer term.

“I suppose,” said Jacobsen, “you still teach the same old things—Cæsar, Latin verses, Greek grammar, and the rest? We Americans can hardly believe that all that still goes on.”

“Thank goodness,” said Roger, “we still hammer a little solid stuff into them. But there’s been a great deal of fuss lately about new curriculums and so forth. They do a lot of science now and things of that kind, but I don’t believe the children learn anything at all. It’s pure waste of time.”

“So is all education, I dare say,” said Jacobsen lightly.

“Not if you teach them discipline. That’s what’s wanted—discipline. Most of these little boys need plenty of beating, and they don’t get enough now. Besides, if you can’t hammer knowledge in at their heads, you can at least beat a little in at their tails.”

“You’re very ferocious, Roger,” said Mr. Petherton, smiling. He was feeling better; the duck was settling down.

“No, it’s the vital thing. The best thing the war has brought us is discipline. The country had got slack and wanted tightening up.” Roger’s face glowed with zeal.

From the other end of the table Guy’s voice could be heard saying, “Do you know César Franck’s ‘Dieu s’avance à travers la lande’? It’s one of the finest bits of religious music I know.”

Mr. Petherton’s face lighted up; he leaned forward. “No,” he said, throwing his answer unexpectedly into the midst of the young people’s conversation. “I don’t know it; but do you know this? Wait a minute.” He knitted his brows, and his lips moved as though he were trying to recapture a formula. “Ah, I’ve got it. Now, can you tell me this? The name of what famous piece of religious music do I utter when I order an old carpenter, once a Liberal but now a renegade to Conservatism, to make a hive for bees?”

Guy gave it up; his guardian beamed delightedly.

“Hoary Tory, oh, Judas! Make a bee-house,” he said. “Do you see? Oratorio Judas Maccabeus.”

Guy could have wished that this bit of flotsam from Mr. Petherton’s sportive youth had not been thus washed up at his feet. He felt that he had been peeping indecently close into the dark backward and abysm of time.

“That was a good one,” Mr. Petherton chuckled. “I must see if I can think of some more.”

Roger, who was not easily to be turned away from his favourite topic, waited till this irrelevant spark of levity had quite expired, and continued: “It’s a remarkable and noticeable fact that you never seem to get discipline combined with the teaching of science or modern languages. Who ever heard of a science master having a good house at a school? Scientists’ houses are always bad.”

“How very strange!” said Jacobsen.

“Strange, but a fact. It seems to me a great mistake to give them houses at all if they can’t keep discipline. And then there’s the question of religion. Some of these men never come to chapel except when they’re on duty. And then, I ask you, what happens when they prepare their boys for Confirmation? Why, I’ve known boys come to me who were supposed to have been prepared by one or other of these men, and, on asking them, I’ve found that they know nothing whatever about the most solemn facts of the Eucharist.—May I have some more of those excellent cherries please, White?—Of course, I do my best in such cases to tell the boys what I feel personally about these solemn things. But there generally isn’t the time; one’s life is so crowded; and so they go into Confirmation with only the very haziest knowledge of what it’s all about. You see how absurd it is to let anyone but the classical men have anything to do with the boys’ lives.”

“Shake it well, dear,” Mr. Petherton was saying to his daughter, who had come with his medicine.

“What is that stuff?” asked Roger.

“Oh, it’s merely my peptones. I can hardly digest at all without it, you know.”

“You have all my sympathies. My poor colleague, Flexner, suffers from chronic colitis. I can’t imagine how he goes on with his work.”

“No, indeed. I find I can do nothing strenuous.”

Roger turned and seized once more on the unhappy George. “White,” he said, “let this be a lesson to you. Take care of your inside; it’s the secret of a happy old age.”

Guy looked up quickly. “Don’t worry about his old age,” he said in a strange harsh voice, very different from the gentle, elaborately modulated tone in which he generally spoke. “He won’t have an old age. His chances against surviving are about fourteen to three if the war goes on another year.”

“Come,” said Roger, “don’t let’s be pessimistic.”

“But I’m not. I assure you, I’m giving you a most rosy view of George’s chance of reaching old age.”

It was felt that Guy’s remarks had been in poor taste. There was a silence; eyes floated vaguely and uneasily, trying not to encounter one another. Roger cracked a nut loudly. When he had sufficiently relished the situation, Jacobsen changed the subject by remarking:

“That was a fine bit of work by our destroyers this morning, wasn’t it?”

“It did one good to read about it,” said Mr. Petherton. “Quite the Nelson touch.”

Roger raised his glass. “Nelson!” he said, and emptied it at a gulp. “What a man! I am trying to persuade the Headmaster to make Trafalgar Day a holiday. It is the best way of reminding boys of things of that sort.”

“A curiously untypical Englishman to be a national hero, isn’t he?” said Jacobsen. “So emotional and lacking in Britannic phlegm.”

The Reverend Roger looked grave. “There’s one thing I’ve never been able to understand about Nelson, and that is, how a man who was so much the soul of honour and of patriotism could have been—er—immoral with Lady Hamilton. I know people say that it was the custom of the age, that these things meant nothing then, and so forth; but all the same, I repeat, I cannot understand how a man who was so intensely a patriotic Englishman could have done such a thing.”

“I fail to see what patriotism has got to do with it,” said Guy.

Roger fixed him with his most pedagogic look and said slowly and gravely, “Then I am sorry for you. I shouldn’t have thought it was necessary to tell an Englishman that purity of morals is a national tradition: you especially, a public-school man.”

“Let us go and have a hundred up at billiards,” said Mr. Petherton. “Roger, will you come? And you, George, and Guy?”

“I’m so incredibly bad,” Guy insisted, “I’d really rather not.”

“So am I,” said Jacobsen.

“Then, Marjorie, you must make the fourth.”

The billiard players trooped out; Guy and Jacobsen were left alone, brooding over the wreckage of dinner. There was a long silence. The two men sat smoking, Guy sitting in a sagging, crumpled attitude, like a half-empty sack abandoned on a chair, Jacobsen very upright and serene.

“Do you find you can suffer fools gladly?” asked Guy abruptly.

“Perfectly gladly.”

“I wish I could. The Reverend Roger has a tendency to make my blood boil.”

“But such a good soul,” Jacobsen insisted.

“I dare say, but a monster all the same.”

“You should take him more calmly. I make a point of never letting myself be moved by external things. I stick to my writing and thinking. Truth is beauty, beauty is truth, and so forth: after all, they’re the only things of solid value.” Jacobsen looked at the young man with a smile as he said these words. There is no doubt, he said to himself, that that boy ought to have gone into business; what a mistake this higher education is, to be sure.

“Of course, they’re the only things,” Guy burst out passionately. “You can afford to say so because you had the luck to be born twenty years before I was, and with five thousand miles of good deep water between you and Europe. Here am I, called upon to devote my life, in a very different way from which you devote yours to truth and beauty—to devote my life to—well, what? I’m not quite sure, but I preserve a touching faith that it is good. And you tell me to ignore external circumstances. Come and live in Flanders a little and try . . .” He launched forth into a tirade about agony and death and blood and putrefaction.

“What is one to do?” he concluded despairingly. “What the devil is right? I had meant to spend my life writing and thinking, trying to create something beautiful or discover something true. But oughtn’t one, after all, if one survives, to give up everything else and try to make this hideous den of a world a little more habitable?”

“I think you can take it that a world which has let itself be dragooned into this criminal folly is pretty hopeless. Follow your inclinations; or, better, go into a bank and make a lot of money.”

Guy burst out laughing, rather too loudly. “Admirable, admirable!” he said. “To return to our old topic of fools: frankly, Jacobsen, I cannot imagine why you should elect to pass your time with my dear old guardian. He’s a charming old man, but one must admit——” He waved his hand.

“One must live somewhere,” said Jacobsen. “I find your guardian a most interesting man to be with.—Oh, do look at that dog!” On the hearth-rug Marjorie’s little Pekingese, Confucius, was preparing to lie down and go to sleep. He went assiduously through the solemn farce of scratching the floor, under the impression, no doubt, that he was making a comfortable nest to lie in. He turned round and round, scratching earnestly and methodically. Then he lay down, curled himself up in a ball, and was asleep in the twinkling of an eye.

“Isn’t that too wonderfully human!” exclaimed Jacobsen delightedly. Guy thought he could see now why Jacobsen enjoyed living with Mr. Petherton. The old man was so wonderfully human.

Later in the evening, when the billiards was over and Mr. Petherton had duly commented on the anachronism of introducing the game into Anthony and Cleopatra, Guy and Marjorie went for a stroll in the garden. The moon had risen above the trees and lit up the front of the house with its bright pale light that could not wake the sleeping colours of the world.

“Moonlight is the proper architectural light,” said Guy, as they stood looking at the house. The white light and the hard black shadows brought out all the elegance of its Georgian symmetry.

“Look, here’s the ghost of a rose.” Marjorie touched a big cool flower, which one guessed rather than saw to be red, a faint equivocal lunar crimson. “And, oh, smell the tobacco-plant flowers. Aren’t they delicious!”

“I always think there’s something very mysterious about perfume drifting through the dark like this. It seems to come from some perfectly different immaterial world, peopled by unembodied sensations, phantom passions. Think of the spiritual effect of incense in a dark church. One isn’t surprised that people have believed in the existence of the soul.”

They walked on in silence. Sometimes, accidentally, his hand would brush against hers in the movement of their march. Guy felt an intolerable emotion of expectancy, akin to fear. It made him feel almost physically sick.

“Do you remember,” he said abruptly, “that summer holiday our families spent together in Wales? It must have been nineteen four or five. I was ten and you were eight or thereabouts.”

“Of course I remember,” cried Marjorie. “Everything. There was that funny little toy railway from the slate quarries.”

“And do you remember our gold-mine? All those tons of yellow ironstone we collected and hoarded in a cave, fully believing they were nuggets. How incredibly remote it seems!”

“And you had a wonderful process by which you tested whether the stuff was real gold or not. It all passed triumphantly as genuine, I remember!”

“Having that secret together first made us friends, I believe.”

“I dare say,” said Marjorie. “Fourteen years ago—what a time! And you began educating me even then: all that stuff you told me about gold-mining, for instance.”

“Fourteen years,” Guy repeated reflectively, “and I shall be going out again to-morrow . . .”

“Don’t speak about it. I am so miserable when you’re away.” She genuinely forgot what a delightful summer she had had, except for the shortage of tennis.

“We must make this the happiest hour of our lives. Perhaps it may be the last we shall be together.” Guy looked up at the moon, and he perceived, with a sudden start, that it was a sphere islanded in an endless night, not a flat disk stuck on a wall not so very far away. It filled him with an infinite dreariness; he felt too insignificant to live at all.

“Guy, you mustn’t talk like that,” said Marjorie appealingly.

“We’ve got twelve hours,” said Guy in a meditative voice, “but that’s only clock-work time. You can give an hour the quality of everlastingness, and spend years which are as though they had never been. We get our immortality here and now; it’s a question of quality, not of quantity. I don’t look forward to golden harps or anything of that sort. I know that when I am dead, I shall be dead; there isn’t any afterwards. If I’m killed, my immortality will be in your memory. Perhaps, too, somebody will read the things I’ve written, and in his mind I shall survive, feebly and partially. But in your mind I shall survive intact and whole.”

“But I’m sure we shall go on living after death. It can’t be the end.” Marjorie was conscious that she had heard those words before. Where? Oh yes, it was earnest Evangeline who had spoken them at the school debating society.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Guy replied, with a little laugh. “You may get such a disappointment when you die.” Then in an altered voice, “I don’t want to die. I hate and fear death. But probably I shan’t be killed after all. All the same . . .” His voice faded out. They stepped into a tunnel of impenetrable darkness between two tall hornbeam hedges. He had become nothing but a voice, and now that had ceased; he had disappeared. The voice began again, low, quick, monotonous, a little breathless. “I remember once reading a poem by one of the old Provençal troubadours, telling how God had once granted him supreme happiness; for the night before he was to set out for the Crusade, it had been granted him to hold his lady in his arms—all the short eternal night through. Ains que j’aille oltre mer: when I was going beyond sea.” The voice stopped again. They were standing at the very mouth of the hornbeam alley, looking out from that close-pent river of shadow upon an ocean of pale moonlight.

“How still it is.” They did not speak; they hardly breathed. They became saturated with the quiet.

Marjorie broke the silence. “Do you want me as much as all that, Guy?” All through that long, speechless minute she had been trying to say the words, repeating them over to herself, longing to say them aloud, but paralysed, unable to. And at last she had spoken them, impersonally, as though through the mouth of someone else. She heard them very distinctly, and was amazed at the matter-of-factness of the tone.

Guy’s answer took the form of a question. “Well, suppose I were killed now,” he said, “should I ever have really lived?”

They had stepped out of the cavernous alley into the moonlight. She could see him clearly now, and there was something so drooping and dejected and pathetic about him, he seemed so much of a great, overgrown child that a wave of passionate pitifulness rushed through her, reinforcing other emotions less maternal. She longed to take him in her arms, stroke his hair, lullaby him, baby-fashion, to sleep upon her breast. And Guy, on his side, desired nothing better than to give his fatigues and sensibilities to her maternal care, to have his eyes kissed fast, and sleep to her soothing. In his relations with women—but his experience in this direction was deplorably small—he had, unconsciously at first but afterwards with a realization of what he was doing, played this child part. In moments of self-analysis he laughed at himself for acting the “child stunt,” as he called it. Here he was—he hadn’t noticed it yet—doing it again, drooping, dejected, wholly pathetic, feeble . . .

Marjorie was carried away by her emotion. She would give herself to her lover, would take possession of her helpless, pitiable child. She put her arms round his neck, lifted her face to his kisses, whispered something tender and inaudible.

Guy drew her towards him and began kissing the soft, warm mouth. He touched the bare arm that encircled his neck; the flesh was resilient under his fingers; he felt a desire to pinch it and tear it.

It had been just like this with that little slut Minnie. Just the same—all horrible lust. He remembered a curious physiological fact out of Havelock Ellis. He shuddered as though he had touched something disgusting, and pushed her away.

“No, no, no. It’s horrible; it’s odious. Drunk with moonlight and sentimentalizing about death. . . . Why not just say with Biblical frankness, Lie with me—Lie with me?”

That this love, which was to have been so marvellous and new and beautiful, should end libidinously and bestially like the affair, never remembered without a shiver of shame, with Minnie (the vulgarity of her!)—filled him with horror.

Marjorie burst into tears and ran away, wounded and trembling, into the solitude of the hornbeam shadow. “Go away, go away,” she sobbed, with such intensity of command that Guy, moved by an immediate remorse and the sight of tears to stop her and ask forgiveness, was constrained to let her go her ways.

A cool, impersonal calm had succeeded almost immediately to his outburst. Critically, he examined what he had done, and judged it, not without a certain feeling of satisfaction, to be the greatest “floater” of his life. But at least the thing was done and couldn’t be undone. He took the weak-willed man’s delight in the irrevocability of action. He walked up and down the lawn smoking a cigarette and thinking, clearly and quietly—remembering the past, questioning the future. When the cigarette was finished he went into the house.

He entered the smoking-room to hear Roger saying, “. . . It’s the poor who are having the good time now. Plenty to eat, plenty of money, and no taxes to pay. No taxes—that’s the sickening thing. Look at Alfred’s gardener, for instance. He gets twenty-five or thirty bob a week and an uncommon good house. He’s married, but only has one child. A man like that is uncommonly well off. He ought to be paying income-tax; he can perfectly well afford it.”

Mr. Petherton was listening somnolently, Jacobsen with his usual keen, intelligent politeness; George was playing with the blue Persian kitten.

It had been arranged that George should stay the night, because it was such a bore having to walk that mile and a bit home again in the dark. Guy took him up to his room and sat down on the bed for a final cigarette, while George was undressing. It was the hour of confidence—that rather perilous moment when fatigue has relaxed the fibres of the mind, making it ready and ripe for sentiment.

“It depresses me so much,” said Guy, “to think that you’re only twenty and that I’m just on twenty-four. You will be young and sprightly when the war ends; I shall be an old antique man.”

“Not so old as all that,” George answered, pulling off his shirt. His skin was very white, face, neck, and hands seeming dark brown by comparison; there was a sharply demarcated high-water mark of sunburn at throat and wrist.

“It horrifies me to think of the time one is wasting in this bloody war, growing stupider and grosser every day, achieving nothing at all. It will be five, six—God knows how many—years cut clean out of one’s life. You’ll have the world before you when it’s all over, but I shall have spent my best time.”

“Of course, it doesn’t make so much difference to me,” said George through a foam of tooth-brushing; “I’m not capable of doing anything of any particular value. It’s really all the same whether I lead a blameless life broking stocks or spend my time getting killed. But for you, I agree, it’s too bloody. . . .”

Guy smoked on in silence, his mind filled with a languid resentment against circumstance. George put on his pyjamas and crept under the sheet; he had to curl himself up into a ball, because Guy was lying across the end of the bed, and he couldn’t put his feet down.

“I suppose,” said Guy at last, meditatively—“I suppose the only consolations are, after all, women and wine. I shall really have to resort to them. Only women are mostly so fearfully boring and wine is so expensive now.”

“But not all women!” George, it was evident, was waiting to get a confidence off his chest.

“I gather you’ve found the exceptions.”

George poured forth. He had just spent six months at Chelsea—six dreary months on the barrack square; but there had been lucid intervals between the drills and the special courses, which he had filled with many notable voyages of discovery among unknown worlds. And chiefly, Columbus to his own soul, he had discovered all those psychological intricacies and potentialities, which only the passions bring to light. Nosce teipsum, it has been commanded; and a judicious cultivation of the passions is one of the surest roads to self-knowledge. To George, at barely twenty, it was all so amazingly new and exciting, and Guy listened to the story of his adventures with admiration and a touch of envy. He regretted the dismal and cloistered chastity—broken only once, and how sordidly! Wouldn’t he have learnt much more, he wondered—have been a more real and better human being if he had had George’s experiences? He would have profited by them more than George could ever hope to do. There was the risk of George’s getting involved in a mere foolish expense of spirit in a waste of shame. He might not be sufficiently an individual to remain himself in spite of his surroundings; his hand would be coloured by the dye he worked in. Guy felt sure that he himself would have run no risk; he would have come, seen, conquered, and returned intact and still himself, but enriched by the spoils of a new knowledge. Had he been wrong after all? Had life in the cloister of his own philosophy been wholly unprofitable?

He looked at George. It was not surprising that the ladies favoured him, glorious ephebus that he was.

“With a face and figure like mine,” he reflected, “I shouldn’t have been able to lead his life, even if I’d wanted to.” He laughed inwardly.

“You really must meet her,” George was saying enthusiastically.

Guy smiled. “No, I really mustn’t. Let me give you a bit of perfectly good advice. Never attempt to share your joys with anyone else. People will sympathize with pain, but not with pleasure. Good night, George.”

He bent over the pillow and kissed the smiling face that was as smooth as a child’s to his lips.

Guy lay awake for a long time, and his eyes were dry and aching before sleep finally came upon him. He spent those dark interminable hours thinking—thinking hard, intensely, painfully. No sooner had he left George’s room than a feeling of intense unhappiness took hold of him. “Distorted with misery,” that was how he described himself; he loved to coin such phrases, for he felt the artist’s need to express as well as to feel and think. Distorted with misery, he went to bed; distorted with misery, he lay and thought and thought. He had, positively, a sense of physical distortion: his guts were twisted, he had a hunched back, his legs were withered. . . .

He had the right to be miserable. He was going back to France to-morrow, he had trampled on his mistress’s love, and he was beginning to doubt himself, to wonder whether his whole life hadn’t been one ludicrous folly.

He reviewed his life, like a man about to die. Born in another age, he would, he supposed, have been religious. He had got over religion early, like the measles—at nine a Low Churchman, at twelve a Broad Churchman, and at fourteen an Agnostic—but he still retained the temperament of a religious man. Intellectually he was a Voltairian, emotionally a Bunyanite. To have arrived at this formula was, he felt, a distinct advance in self-knowledge. And what a fool he had been with Marjorie! The priggishness of his attitude—making her read Wordsworth when she didn’t want to. Intellectual love—his phrases weren’t always a blessing; how hopelessly he had deceived himself with words! And now this evening the crowning outrage, when he had behaved to her like a hysterical anchorite dealing with a temptation. His body tingled, at the recollection, with shame.

An idea occurred to him; he would go and see her, tiptoe downstairs to her room, kneel by her bed, ask for her forgiveness. He lay quite still imagining the whole scene. He even went so far as to get out of bed, open the door, which made a noise in the process like a peacock’s scream, quite unnerving him, and creep to the head of the stairs. He stood there a long time, his feet growing colder and colder, and then decided that the adventure was really too sordidly like the episode at the beginning of Tolstoy’s Resurrection. The door screamed again as he returned; he lay in bed, trying to persuade himself that his self-control had been admirable and at the same time cursing his absence of courage in not carrying out what he had intended.

He remembered a lecture he had given Marjorie once on the subject of Sacred and Profane Love. Poor girl, how had she listened in patience? He could see her attending with such a serious expression on her face that she looked quite ugly. She looked so beautiful when she was laughing or happy; at the Whites’, for instance, three nights ago, when George and she had danced after dinner and he had sat, secretly envious, reading a book in the corner of the room and looking superior. He wouldn’t learn to dance, but always wished he could. It was a barbarous, aphrodisiacal occupation, he said, and he preferred to spend his time and energies in reading. Salvationist again! What a much wiser person George had proved himself than he. He had no prejudices, no theoretical views about the conduct of life; he just lived, admirably, naturally, as the spirit or the flesh moved him. If only he could live his life again, if only he could abolish this evening’s monstrous stupidity. . . .

Marjorie also lay awake. She too felt herself distorted with misery. How odiously cruel he had been, and how much she longed to forgive him! Perhaps he would come in the dark, when all the house was asleep, tiptoeing into the room very quietly to kneel by her bed and ask to be forgiven. Would he come, she wondered? She stared into the blackness above her and about her, willing him to come, commanding him—angry and wretched because he was so slow in coming, because he didn’t come at all. They were both of them asleep before two.

Seven hours of sleep make a surprising difference to the state of mind. Guy, who thought he was distorted for life, woke to find himself healthily normal. Marjorie’s angers and despairs had subsided. The hour they had together between breakfast and Guy’s departure was filled with almost trivial conversation. Guy was determined to say something about last’s night incident. But it was only at the very last moment, when the dog-cart was actually at the door, that he managed to bring out some stammered repentance for what had happened last night.

“Don’t think about it,” Marjorie had told him. So they had kissed and parted, and their relations were precisely the same as they had been before Guy came on leave.

George was sent out a week or two later, and a month after that they heard at Blaybury that he had lost a leg—fortunately below the knee.

“Poor boy!” said Mr. Petherton. “I must really write a line to his mother at once.”

Jacobsen made no comment, but it was a surprise to him to find how much he had been moved by the news. George White had lost a leg; he couldn’t get the thought out of his head. But only below the knee; he might be called lucky. Lucky—things are deplorably relative, he reflected. One thanks God because He has thought fit to deprive one of His creatures of a limb.

“Neither delighteth He in any man’s legs,” eh? Nous avons changé tout cela.

George had lost a leg. There would be no more of that Olympian speed and strength and beauty. Jacobsen conjured up before his memory a vision of the boy running with his great fawn-coloured dog across green expanses of grass. How glorious he had looked, his fine brown hair blowing like fire in the wind of his own speed, his cheeks flushed, his eyes very bright. And how easily he ran, with long, bounding strides, looking down at the dog that jumped and barked at his side!

He had had a perfection, and now it was spoilt. Instead of a leg he had a stump. Moignon, the French called it; there was the right repulsive sound about moignon which was lacking in “stump.” Soignons le moignon en l’oignant d’oignons.

Often, at night before he went to sleep, he couldn’t help thinking of George and the war and all the millions of moignons there must be in the world. He had a dream one night of slimy red knobbles, large polyp-like things, growing as he looked at them, swelling between his hands—moignons, in fact.

George was well enough in the late autumn to come home. He had learnt to hop along on his crutches very skilfully, and his preposterous donkey-drawn bath-chair soon became a familiar object in the lanes of the neighbourhood. It was a grand sight to behold when George rattled past at the trot, leaning forward like a young Phœbus in his chariot and urging his unwilling beast with voice and crutch. He drove over to Blaybury almost every day; Marjorie and he had endless talks about life and love and Guy and other absorbing topics. With Jacobsen he played piquet and discussed a thousand subjects. He was always gay and happy—that was what especially lacerated Jacobsen’s heart with pity.

Chapter IV

THE Christmas holidays had begun, and the Reverend Roger was back again at Blaybury. He was sitting at the writing-table in the drawing-room, engaged, at the moment, in biting the end of his pen and scratching his head. His face wore an expression of perplexity; one would have said that he was in the throes of literary composition. Which indeed he was: “Beloved ward of Alfred Petherton . . .” he said aloud. “Beloved ward . . .” He shook his head doubtfully.

The door opened and Jacobsen came into the room. Roger turned round at once.

“Have you heard the grievous news?” he said.

“No. What?”

“Poor Guy is dead. We got the telegram half an hour ago.”

“Good God!” said Jacobsen in an agonized voice which seemed to show that he had been startled out of the calm belonging to one who leads the life of reason. He had been conscious ever since George’s mutilation that his defences were growing weaker; external circumstance was steadily encroaching upon him. Now it had broken in and, for the moment, he was at its mercy. Guy dead. . . . He pulled himself together sufficiently to say, after a pause, “Well, I suppose it was only to be expected sooner or later. Poor boy.”

“Yes, it’s terrible, isn’t it?” said Roger, shaking his head. “I am just writing out an announcement to send to the Times. One can hardly say ‘the beloved ward of Alfred Petherton,’ can one? It doesn’t sound quite right; and yet one would like somehow to give public expression to the deep affection Alfred felt for him. ‘Beloved ward’—no, decidedly it won’t do.”

“You’ll have to get round it somehow,” said Jacobsen. Roger’s presence somehow made a return to the life of reason easier.

“Poor Alfred,” the other went on. “You’ve no idea how hardly he takes it. He feels as though he had given a son.”

“What a waste it is!” Jacobsen exclaimed. He was altogether too deeply moved.

“I have done my best to console Alfred. One must always bear in mind for what Cause he died.”

“All those potentialities destroyed. He was an able fellow, was Guy.” Jacobsen was speaking more to himself than to his companion, but Roger took up the suggestion.

“Yes, he certainly was that. Alfred thought he was very promising. It is for his sake I am particularly sorry. I never got on very well with the boy myself. He was too eccentric for my taste. There’s such a thing as being too clever, isn’t there? It’s rather inhuman. He used to do most remarkable Greek iambics for me when he was a boy. I dare say he was a very good fellow under all that cleverness and queerness. It’s all very distressing, very grievous.”

“How was he killed?”

“Died of wounds yesterday morning. Do you think it would be a good thing to put in some quotation at the end of the announcement in the paper? Something like, ‘Dulce et Decorum,’ or ‘Sed Miles, sed Pro Patria,’ or ‘Per Ardua ad Astra’?”

“It hardly seems essential,” said Jacobsen.

“Perhaps not.” Roger’s lips moved silently; he was counting. “Forty-two words. I suppose that counts as eight lines. Poor Marjorie! I hope she won’t feel it too bitterly. Alfred told me they were unofficially engaged.”

“So I gathered.”

“I am afraid I shall have to break the news to her. Alfred is too much upset to be able to do anything himself. It will be a most painful task. Poor girl! I suppose as a matter of fact they would not have been able to marry for some time, as Guy had next to no money. These early marriages are very rash. Let me see: eight times three shillings is one pound four, isn’t it? I suppose they take cheques all right?”

“How old was he?” asked Jacobsen.

“Twenty-four and a few months.”

Jacobsen was walking restlessly up and down the room. “Just reaching maturity! One is thankful these days to have one’s own work and thoughts to take the mind off these horrors.”

“It’s terrible, isn’t it?—terrible. So many of my pupils have been killed now that I can hardly keep count of the number.”

There was a tapping at the French window; it was Marjorie asking to be let in. She had been cutting holly and ivy for the Christmas decorations, and carried a basket full of dark, shining leaves.

Jacobsen unbolted the big window and Marjorie came in, flushed with the cold and smiling. Jacobsen had never seen her looking so handsome: she was superb, radiant, like Iphigenia coming in her wedding garments to the sacrifice.

“The holly is very poor this year,” she remarked. “I am afraid we shan’t make much of a show with our Christmas decorations.”

Jacobsen took the opportunity of slipping out through the French window. Although it was unpleasantly cold, he walked up and down the flagged paths of the Dutch garden, hatless and overcoatless, for quite a long time.

Marjorie moved about the drawing-room fixing sprigs of holly round the picture frames. Her uncle watched her, hesitating to speak; he was feeling enormously uncomfortable.

“I am afraid,” he said at last, “that your father’s very upset this morning.” His voice was husky; he made an explosive noise to clear his throat.

“Is it his palpitations?” Marjorie asked coolly; her father’s infirmities did not cause her much anxiety.

“No, no.” Roger realized that his opening gambit had been a mistake. “No. It is—er—a more mental affliction, and one which, I fear, will touch you closely too. Marjorie, you must be strong and courageous; we have just heard that Guy is dead.”

“Guy dead?” She couldn’t believe it; she had hardly envisaged the possibility; besides, he was on the Staff. “Oh, Uncle Roger, it isn’t true.”

“I am afraid there is no doubt. The War Office telegram came just after you had gone out for the holly.”

Marjorie sat down on the sofa and hid her face in her hands. Guy dead; she would never see him again, never see him again, never; she began to cry.

Roger approached and stood, with his hand on her shoulder, in the attitude of a thought-reader. To those overwhelmed by sorrow the touch of a friendly hand is often comforting. They have fallen into an abyss, and the touching hand serves to remind them that life and God and human sympathy still exist, however bottomless the gulf of grief may seem. On Marjorie’s shoulder her uncle’s hand rested with a damp, heavy warmth that was peculiarly unpleasant.

“Dear child, it is very grievous, I know; but you must try and be strong and bear it bravely. We all have our cross to bear. We shall be celebrating the Birth of Christ in two days’ time; remember with what patience He received the cup of agony. And then remember for what Cause Guy has given his life. He has died a hero’s death, a martyr’s death, witnessing to Heaven against the powers of evil.” Roger was unconsciously slipping into the words of his last sermon in the school chapel. “You should feel pride in his death as well as sorrow. There, there, poor child.” He patted her shoulder two or three times. “Perhaps it would be kinder to leave you now.”

For some time after her uncle’s departure Marjorie sat motionless in the same position, her body bent forward, her face in her hands. She kept on repeating the words, “Never again,” and the sound of them filled her with despair and made her cry. They seemed to open up such a dreary grey infinite vista—“never again.” They were as a spell evoking tears.

She got up at last and began walking aimlessly about the room. She paused in front of a little old black-framed mirror that hung near the window and looked at her reflection in the glass. She had expected somehow to look different, to have changed. She was surprised to find her face entirely unaltered: grave, melancholy perhaps, but still the same face she had looked at when she was doing her hair this morning. A curious idea entered her head; she wondered whether she would be able to smile now, at this dreadful moment. She moved the muscles of her face and was overwhelmed with shame at the sight of the mirthless grin that mocked her from the glass. What a beast she was! She burst into tears and threw herself again on the sofa, burying her face in a cushion. The door opened, and by the noise of shuffling and tapping Marjorie recognized the approach of George White on his crutches. She did not look up. At the sight of the abject figure on the sofa, George halted, uncertain what he should do. Should he quietly go away again, or should he stay and try to say something comforting? The sight of her lying there gave him almost physical pain. He decided to stay.

He approached the sofa and stood over her, suspended on his crutches. Still she did not lift her head, but pressed her face deeper into the smothering blindness of the cushion, as though to shut out from her consciousness all the external world. George looked down at her in silence. The little delicate tendrils of hair on the nape of her neck were exquisitely beautiful.

“I was told about it,” he said at last, “just now, as I came in. It’s too awful. I think I cared for Guy more than for almost anyone in the world. We both did, didn’t we?”

She began sobbing again. George was overcome with remorse, feeling that he had somehow hurt her, somehow added to her pain by what he had said. “Poor child, poor child,” he said, almost aloud. She was a year older than he, but she seemed so helplessly and pathetically young now that she was crying.

Standing up for long tired him, and he lowered himself, slowly and painfully, into the sofa beside her. She looked up at last and began drying her eyes.

“I’m so wretched, George, so specially wretched because I feel I didn’t act rightly towards darling Guy. There were times, you know, when I wondered whether it wasn’t all a great mistake, our being engaged. Sometimes I felt I almost hated him. I’d been feeling so odious about him these last weeks. And now comes this, and it makes me realize how awful I’ve been towards him.” She found it a relief to confide and confess; George was so sympathetic, he would understand. “I’ve been a beast.”

Her voice broke, and it was as though something had broken in George’s head. He was overwhelmed with pity; he couldn’t bear it that she should suffer.

“You mustn’t distress yourself unnecessarily, Marjorie dear,” he begged her, stroking the back of her hand with his large hard palm. “Don’t.”

Marjorie went on remorselessly. “When Uncle Roger told me just now, do you know what I did? I said to myself, Do I really care? I couldn’t make out. I looked in the glass to see if I could tell from my face. Then I suddenly thought I’d see whether I could laugh, and I did. And that made me feel how detestable I was, and I started crying again. Oh, I have been a beast, George, haven’t I?”

She burst into a passion of tears and hid her face once more in the friendly cushion. George couldn’t bear it at all. He laid his hand on her shoulder and bent forward, close to her, till his face almost touched her hair. “Don’t,” he cried. “Don’t, Marjorie. You mustn’t torment yourself like this. I know you loved Guy; we both loved him. He would have wanted us to be happy and brave and to go on with life—not make his death a source of hopeless despair.” There was a silence, broken only by the agonizing sound of sobbing. “Marjorie, darling, you mustn’t cry.”

“There, I’m not,” said Marjorie through her tears. “I’ll try to stop. Guy wouldn’t have wanted us to cry for him. You’re right; he would have wanted us to live for him—worthily, in his splendid way.”

“We who knew him and loved him must make our lives a memorial of him.” In ordinary circumstances George would have died rather than make a remark like that. But in speaking of the dead, people forget themselves and conform to the peculiar obituary convention of thought and language. Spontaneously, unconsciously, George had conformed.

Marjorie wiped her eyes. “Thank you, George. You know so well what darling Guy would have liked. You’ve made me feel stronger to bear it. But, all the same, I do feel odious for what I thought about him sometimes. I didn’t love him enough. And now it’s too late. I shall never see him again.” The spell of that “never” worked again: Marjorie sobbed despairingly.

George’s distress knew no bounds. He put his arm round Marjorie’s shoulders and kissed her hair. “Don’t cry, Marjorie. Everybody feels like that sometimes, even towards the people they love most. You really mustn’t make yourself miserable.”

Once more she lifted her face and looked at him with a heart-breaking, tearful smile. “You have been too sweet to me, George. I don’t know what I should have done without you.”

“Poor darling!” said George. “I can’t bear to see you unhappy.” Their faces were close to one another, and it seemed natural that at this point their lips should meet in a long kiss. “We’ll remember only the splendid, glorious things about Guy,” he went on—“what a wonderful person he was, and how much we loved him.” He kissed her again.

“Perhaps our darling Guy is with us here even now,” said Marjorie, with a look of ecstasy on her face.

“Perhaps he is,” George echoed.

It was at this point that a heavy footstep was heard and a hand rattled at the door. Marjorie and George moved a little farther apart. The intruder was Roger, who bustled in, rubbing his hands with an air of conscious heartiness, studiously pretending that nothing untoward had occurred. It is our English tradition that we should conceal our emotions. “Well, well,” he said. “I think we had better be going in to luncheon. The bell has gone.”


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