A TRAGI-FARCICAL TRACT
BY ROSE MACAULAY
Author of 'What Not,' etc.
TO THE UNSENTIMENTAL PRECISIANS IN THOUGHT, WHO HAVE, ON THIS CONFUSED,
INACCURATE, AND EMOTIONAL PLANET, NO FIT HABITATION
'They contract a Habit of talking loosely and confusedly.'—J. CLARKE.
'My dear friend, clear your mind of cant…. Don't think foolishly.'
'On the whole we are
No, no, no, not intelligent.'—W.S. GILBERT.
'Truth may perhaps come to the price of a Pearle, that sheweth best by
day; But it will not rise to the price of a Diamond or Carbuncle, that
sheweth best in varied lights. A mixture of a Lie doth ever adde
Pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men's
mindes Vaine Opinions, Blattering Hopes, False Valuations, Imaginations
as one would, and the like, but it would leave the Mindes of a Number of
Men poore shrunken Things, full of Melancholy and Indisposition and
unpleasing to themselves?'—FRANCIS BACON.
'What is it that smears the windows of the senses? Thought, convention,
self-interest…. We see the narrow world our windows show us not in
itself, but in relation to our own needs, moods, and preferences … for
the universe of the natural man is strictly egocentric…. Unless we
happen to be artists—and then but rarely—we never know the "thing seen"
in its purity; never from birth to death, look at it with disinterested
eyes…. It is disinterestedness, the saint's and poet's love of things
for their own sakes … which is the condition of all real knowledge….
When … the verb "to have" is ejected from the centre of your
consciousness … your attitude to life will cease to be commercial and
become artistic. Then the guardian at the gate, scrutinising and sorting
the incoming impressions, will no longer ask, "What use is this to
me?"… You see things at last as the artist does, for their sake, not
for your own.'—EVELYN UNDERHILL.
PART I.—TOLD BY R.M.
IV. JANE AND CLARE
PART II.—TOLD BY GIDEON
II. DINING WITH THE HOBARTS
III. SEEING JANE
PART III.—TOLD BY LELIA YORKE
I. THE TERRIBLE TRAGEDY ON THE STAIRS
II. AN AWFUL SUSPICION
PART IV.—TOLD BY KATHERINE VARICK
A BRANCH OF STUDY
PART V.—TOLD BY JUKE
PART VI.—TOLD BY R.M.
I. THE END OF A POTTER MELODRAMA
II. ENGAGED TO BE MARRIED
III. THE PRECISIAN AT WAR WITH THE WORLD
IV. RUNNING AWAY
V. A PLACARD FOR THE PRESS
TOLD BY R.M.
Johnny and Jane Potter, being twins, went through Oxford together. Johnny
came up from Rugby and Jane from Roedean. Johnny was at Balliol and Jane
at Somerville. Both, having ambitions for literary careers, took the
Honours School of English Language and Literature. They were ordinary
enough young people; clever without being brilliant, nice-looking without
being handsome, active without being athletic, keen without being
earnest, popular without being leaders, open-handed without being
generous, as revolutionary, as selfish, and as intellectually snobbish as
was proper to their years, and inclined to be jealous one of the other,
but linked together by common tastes and by a deep and bitter distaste
for their father's newspapers, which were many, and for their mother's
novels, which were more. These were, indeed, not fit for perusal at
Somerville and Balliol. The danger had been that Somerville and Balliol,
till they knew you well, should not know you knew it.
In their first year, the mother of Johnny and Jane ('Leila Yorke,' with
'Mrs. Potter' in brackets after it), had, after spending Eights Week at
Oxford, announced her intention of writing an Oxford novel. Oh God, Jane
had cried within herself, not that; anything but that; and firmly she
and Johnny had told her mother that already there were Keddy, and
Sinister Street, and The Pearl, and The Girls of St. Ursula's (by
Annie S. Swan: 'After the races were over, the girls sculled their
college barge briskly down the river,'), and that, in short, the thing
had been done for good and all, and that was that.
Mrs. Potter still thought she would like to write an Oxford novel.
Because, after all, though there might be many already, none of them were
quite like the one she would write. She had tea with Jane in the
Somerville garden on Sunday, and though Jane did not ask any of her
friends to meet her (for they might have got put in) she saw them all
about, and thought what a nice novel they would make. Jane knew she was
thinking this, and said, 'They're very commonplace people,' in a
discouraging tone. 'Some of them,' Jane added, deserting her own
snobbishness, which was intellectual, for her mother's, which was social,
'are also common.'
'There must be very many,' said Mrs. Potter, looking through her
lorgnette at the garden of girls, 'who are neither.'
'Fewer,' said Jane, stubbornly, 'than you would think. Most people are
one or the other, I find. Many are both.'
'Try not to be cynical, my pet,' said Leila Yorke, who was never this.
That was in June, 1912. In June, 1914, Jane and Johnny went down.
Their University careers had been creditable, if not particularly
conspicuous. Johnny had been a fluent speaker at the Union, Jane at the
women's intercollegiate Debating Society, and also in the Somerville
parliament, where she had been the leader of the Labour Party. Johnny had
for a time edited the Isis, Jane the Fritillary. Johnny had done
respectably in Schools, Jane rather better. For Jane had always been just
a shade the cleverer; not enough to spoil competition, but enough to give
Johnny rather harder work to achieve the same results. They had probably
both got firsts, but Jane's would be a safe thing, and Johnny would be
likely to have a longish viva.
Anyhow, here they were, just returned to Potter's Bar, Herts (where Mr.
Percy Potter, liking the name of the village, had lately built a lordly
mansion). Excellent friends they were, but as jealous as two little dogs,
each for ever on the look-out to see that the other got no undue
advantage. Both saw every reason why they should make a success of life.
But Jane knew that, though she might be one up on Johnny as regards
Oxford, owing to slightly superior brain power, he was one up on her as
regards Life, owing to that awful business sex. Women were handicapped;
they had to fight much harder to achieve equal results. People didn't
give them jobs in the same way. Young men possessed the earth; young
women had to wrest what they wanted out of it piecemeal. Johnny might end
a cabinet minister, a notorious journalist, a Labour leader, anything….
Women's jobs were, as a rule, so dowdy and unimportant. Jane was bored to
death with this sex business; it wasn't fair. But Jane was determined to
live it down. She wouldn't be put off with second-rate jobs; she wouldn't
be dowdy and unimportant, like her mother and the other fools; she would
have the best that was going.
The family dined. At one end of the table was Mr. Potter; a small,
bird-like person, of no presence; you had not thought he was so great
a man as Potter of the Potter Press. For it was a great press; though
not so great as the Northcliffe Press, for it did not produce anything
so good as the Times or so bad as the Weekly Dispatch; it was more
of a piece.
Both commonplace and common was Mr. Percy Potter (according to some
standards), but clever, with immense patience, a saving sense of humour,
and that imaginative vision without which no newspaper owner, financier,
general, politician, poet, or criminal can be great. He was, in fact,
greater than the twins would ever be, because he was not at odds with his
material: he found such stuff as his dreams were made of ready to his
hand, in the great heart of the public—the last place where the twins
would have thought of looking.
So did his wife. She was pink-faced and not ill-looking, with the cold
blue eyes and rather set mouth possessed (inexplicably) by many writers
of fiction. If I have conveyed the impression that Leila Yorke was in
the lowest division of this class, I have done her less than justice;
quite a number of novelists were worse. This was not much satisfaction
to her children. Jane said, 'If you do that sort of thing at all, you
might as well make a job of it, and sell a million copies. I'd rather
be Mrs. Barclay or Ethel Dell or Charles Garvice or Gene Stratton
Porter or Ruby Ayres than mother. Mother's merely commonplace; she's
not even a by-word—quite. I admire dad more. Dad anyhow gets there.
His stuff sells.'
Mrs. Potter's novels, as a matter of fact, sold quite creditably. They
were pleasant to many, readable by more, and quite unmarred by any
spark of cleverness, flash of wit, or morbid taint of philosophy.
Gently and unsurprisingly she wrote of life and love as she believed
these two things to be, and found a home in the hearts of many
fellow-believers. She bored no one who read her, because she could be
relied on to give them what they hoped to find—and of how few of us,
alas, can this be said! And—she used to say it was because she was a
mother—her books were safe for the youngest jeune fille, and in
these days (even in those days it was so) of loose morality and frank
realism, how important this is.
'I hope I am as modern as any one,' Mrs. Potter would say, 'but I see no
call to be indecent.'
So many writers do see, or rather hear, this call, and obey it
faithfully, that many a parent was grateful to Leila Yorke. (It is only
fair to record here that in the year 1918 she heard it herself, and
became a psychoanalyst. But the time for this was not yet.)
On her right sat her eldest son, Frank, who was a curate in Pimlico. In
Frank's face, which was sharp and thin, like his father's, were the
marks of some conflict which his father's did not know. You somehow felt
that each of the other Potters had one aim, and that Frank had, or,
anyhow, felt that he ought to have, another besides, however feebly he
aimed at it.
Next him sat his young wife, who had, again, only the one. She was pretty
and jolly and brunette, and twisted Frank round her fingers.
Beyond her sat Clare, the eldest daughter, and the daughter at home. She
read her mother's novels, and her father's papers, and saw no harm in
either. She thought the twins perverse and conceited, which came from
being clever at school and college. Clare had never been clever at
anything but domestic jobs and needlework. She was a nice, pretty girl,
and expected to marry. She snubbed Jane, and Jane, in her irritating and
nonchalant way, was rude to her.
On the other side of the table sat the twins, stocky and square-built,
and looking very young, with broad jaws and foreheads and wide-set gray
eyes. Jane was, to look at, something like an attractive little plump
white pig. It is not necessary, at the moment, to say more about her
appearance than this, except that, when the time came to bob the hair,
she bobbed it.
Johnny was as sturdy but rather less chubby, and his chin stuck out
farther. They had the same kind of smile, and square white teeth, and
were greedy. When they had been little, they had watched each other's
plates with hostile eyes, to see that neither got too large a helping.
Those of us who are old enough will remember that in June and July 1914
the conversation turned largely and tediously on militant suffragists,
Irish rebels, and strikers. It was the beginning of the age of violent
enforcements of decision by physical action which has lasted ever since
and shows as yet no signs of passing. The Potter press, like so many
other presses, snubbed the militant suffragists, smiled half approvingly
on Carson's rebels, and frowned wholly disapprovingly on the strikers. It
was a curious age, so near and yet so far, when the ordered frame of
things was still unbroken, and violence a child's dream, and poetry and
art were taken with immense seriousness. Those of us who can remember it
should do so, for it will not return. It has given place to the age of
melodrama, when nothing is too strange to happen, and no one is ever
surprised. That, too, may pass, but probably will not, for it is
primeval. The other was artificial, a mere product of civilisation, and
could not last.
It was in the intervals of talking about the militants (a conversation
much like other conversations on the same topic, which were tedious even
at the time, and now will certainly not bear recording) that Mrs. Frank
said to the twins, 'What are you two going to play at now?'
So extensive a question, opening such vistas. It would have taken, if not
less time, anyhow less trouble, to have told Mrs. Frank what they were
not going to play at.
The devil of mischief looked out of Johnny's gray eyes, as he nearly
said, 'We are going to fight Leila Yorke fiction and the Potter press.'
Choking it back, he said, succinctly, 'Publishing, journalism, and
writing. At least, I am.'
'He means,' Mr. Potter interpolated, in his small, nasal voice, 'that
he has obtained a small and subordinate job with a firm of publishers,
and hopes also to contribute to an obscure weekly paper run by a
friend of his.'
'Oh,' said Mrs. Frank. 'Not one of your papers, pater? Can't be, if
it's obscure, can it?'
'No, not one of my papers. A periodical called, I believe, the Weekly
Comment, with which you may or may not be familiar.'
'Never heard of it, I'm afraid,' Mrs. Frank confessed, truly. 'Why don't
you go on to one of the family concerns, Johnny? You'd get on much
quicker there, with pater to shove you.'
'Probably,' Johnny agreed.
'My papers,' said Mr. Potter dryly, 'are not quite up to Johnny's
intellectual level. Nor Jane's. Neither do they accord with their
'Oh, I forgot you two were silly old Socialists. Never mind, that'll pass
when they grow up, won't it, Frank?'
Secretly, Mrs. Frank thought that the twins had the disease because the
Potter family, however respectable now, wasn't really 'top-drawer.'
Funny old pater had, every one knew, begun his career as a reporter on a
provincial paper. If funny old pater had been just a shade less clever or
enterprising, his family would have been educated at grammar schools and
gone into business in their teens. Of course, Mrs. Potter had pulled the
social level up a bit; but what, if you came to that, had Mrs. Potter
been? Only the daughter of a country doctor; only the underpaid secretary
of a lady novelist, for all she was so conceited now.
So naturally Socialism, that disease of the underbred, had taken hold of
the less careful of the Potter young.
'And are you going to write for this weekly what-d'you-call-it too,
Jane?' Mrs. Frank inquired.
'No. I've not got a job yet. I'm going to look round a little first.'
'Oh, that's sense. Have a good time at home for a bit. Well, it's time
you had a holiday, isn't it? I wish old Frank could. He's working like an
old horse. He may slave himself to death for those Pimlico pigs, for all
any of them care. It's never "thank you"; it's always "more, more, more,"
with them. That's your Socialism, Johnny.'
The twins got on very well with their sister-in-law, but thought her a
fool. When, as she was fond of doing, she mentioned Socialism, they,
rightly believing her grasp of that economic system to be even less
complete than that of most people, always changed the subject.
But on this occasion they did not have time to change it before Clare
said, 'Mother's writing a novel about Socialism. She shows it up like
Mrs. Potter smiled.
'I confess I am trying my hand at the burning subject. But as for
showing it up—well, I am being fair to both sides, I think. I don't
feel I can quite condemn it wholesale, as Peggy does. I find it very
difficult to treat anything like that—I can't help seeing all round a
thing. I'm told it's a weakness, and that I should get on better if I
saw everything in black and white, as so many people do, but it's no use
my trying to alter, at my time of life. One has to write in one's own
way or not at all.'
'Anyhow,' said Clare, 'it's going to be a ripping book, Socialist
Cecily; quite one of your best, mother.'
Clare had always been her mother's great stand-by in the matter of
literature. She was also useful as a touchstone, as what her mother did
not call a foolometer. If a book went with Clare, it went with Leila
Yorke's public beyond. Mr. Potter was a less satisfactory reader; he
regarded his wife's books as goods for sale, and his comments were, 'That
should go all right. That's done it,' which attitude, though commercially
helpful, was less really satisfying to the creator than Clare's
uncritical absorption in the characters and the story. Clare was, in
fact, the public, while Mr. Potter was more the salesman.
And the twins were neither, but more like the less agreeable type of
reviewer, when they deigned to read or comment on their mother's books at
all, which was not always. Johnny's attitude towards his mother suggested
that he might say politely, if she mentioned her books, 'Oh, do you
write? Why?' Mrs. Potter was rather sadly aware that she made no appeal
to the twins. But then, as Clare reminded her, the twins, since they had
gone to Oxford, never admitted that they cared for any books that normal
people cared for. They were like that; conceited and contrary.
To change the subject (so many subjects are the better for being changed,
as all those who know family life will agree) Jane said, 'Johnny and I
are going on a reading-party next month.'
'A little late in the day, isn't it?' commented Frank, the only one who
knew Oxford habits. 'Unless it's to look up all the howlers you've made.'
'Well,' Jane admitted, 'it won't be so much reading really as observing.
It's a party of investigation, as a matter of fact.'
'What do you investigate? Beetles, or social conditions?'
'People. Their tastes, habits, outlook, and mental diseases. What they
want, and why they want it, and what the cure is. We belong to a society
for inquiring into such things.'
'You would,' said Clare, who always rose when the twins meant her to.
'Aren't they cautions,' said Mrs. Frank, more good-humouredly.
Mrs. Potter said, 'That's a very interesting idea. I think I must join
this society. It would help me in my work. What is it called, children?'
'Oh,' said Jane, and had the grace to look ashamed, 'it really hardly
But as she said it she met the sharp and shrewd eyes of Mr. Potter, and
knew that he knew she was referring to the Anti-Potter League.
Mr. Potter would not, indeed, have been worthy of his reputation had he
not been aware, from its inception, of the existence of this League.
Journalists have to be aware of such things. He in no way resented the
League; he brushed it aside as of no account. And, indeed, it was not
aimed at him personally, nor at his wife personally, but at the great
mass of thought—or of incoherent, muddled emotion that passed for
thought—which the Anti-Potters had agreed, for brevity's sake, to call
'Potterism.' Potterism had very certainly not been created by the
Potters, and was indeed no better represented by the goods with which
they supplied the market than by those of many others; but it was a handy
name, and it had taken the public fancy that here you had two Potters
linked together, two souls nobly yoked, one supplying Potterism in
fictional, the other in newspaper, form. So the name caught, about the
The twins both heard it used at Oxford, in their second year. They
recognised its meaning without being told. And both felt that it was up
to them to take the opportunity of testifying, of severing any connection
that might yet exist in any one's mind between them and the other
products of their parents. They did so, with the uncompromising decision
proper to their years, and with, perhaps, the touch of indecency,
regardlessness of the proprieties, which was characteristic of them.
Their friends soon discovered that they need not guard their tongues in
speaking of Potterism before the Potter twins. The way the twins put it
was, 'Our family is responsible for more than its share of the beastly
thing; the least we can do is to help to do it in,' which sounded
chivalrous. And another way they put it was, 'We're not going to have any
one connecting us with it,' which sounded sensible.
So they joined the Anti-Potter League, not blind to the piquant humour of
their being found therein.
Mr. Potter said to the twins, in his thin little voice, 'Don't mind
mother and me, children. Tell us all about the A.P.L. It may do us good.'
But the twins knew it would not do their mother good. It would need too
much explanation; and then she would still not understand. She might even
be very angry, as she was (though she pretended she was only amused) with
some reviewers…. If your mother is Leila Yorke, and has hard blue eyes
and no sense of humour, but a most enormous sense of importance, you
cannot, or you had better not, even begin to explain to her things like
Potterism, or the Anti-Potter League, and still less how it is that you
belong to the latter.
The twins, who had got firsts in Schools, knew this much.
Johnny improvised hastily, with innocent gray eyes on his father's, 'It's
one of the rules that you mayn't talk about it outside. Anti-Propaganda
League, it is, you see … for letting other people alone….'
'Well,' said Mr. Potter, who was not spiteful to his children, and
preferred his wife unruffled, 'we'll let you off this time. But you can
take my word for it, it's a silly business. Mother and I will last a
great deal longer than it does. Because we take our stand on human
nature, and you won't destroy that with Leagues.'
Sometimes the twins were really almost afraid they wouldn't.
'You're all very cryptic to-night,' Frank said, and yawned.
Then Mrs. Potter and the girls left the dining-room, and Frank and his
father discussed the disestablishment of the Church in Wales, a measure
which Frank thought would be a pity, but which was advocated by the
Johnny cracked nuts in silence. He thought the Church insincere, a put-up
job, but that dissenters were worse. They should all be abolished, with
other shams. For a short time at Oxford he had given the Church a trial,
even felt real admiration for it, under the influence of his friend Juke,
and after hearing sermons from Father Waggett, Dr. Dearmer, and Canon
Adderley. But he had soon given it up, seen it wouldn't do; the
above-mentioned priests were not representative; the Church as a whole
canted, was hypocritical and Potterish, and must go.
The quest of Potterism, its causes and its cure, took the party of
investigation first to the Cornish coast. Partly because of bathing and
boating, and partly because Gideon, the organiser of the party, wanted to
find out if there was much Potterism in Cornwall, or if Celticism had
withstood it. For Potterism, they had decided, was mainly an Anglo-Saxon
disease. Worst of all in America, that great home of commerce, success,
and the booming of the second-rate. Less discernible in the Latin
countries, which they hoped later on to explore, and hardly existing in
the Slavs. In Russia, said Gideon, who loathed Russians, because he was
half a Jew, it practically did not exist. The Russians were without shame
and without cant, saw things as they were, and proceeded to make them a
good deal worse. That was barbarity, imbecility, and devilishness, but it
was not Potterism, said Gideon grimly. Gideon's grandparents had been
massacred in an Odessa pogrom; his father had been taken at the age of
five to England by an aunt, become naturalised, taken the name of Sidney,
married an Englishwoman, and achieved success and wealth as a banker. His
son Arthur was one of the most brilliant men of his year at Oxford,
regarded Russians, Jews, and British with cynical dislike, and had, on
turning twenty-one, reverted to his family name in its English form,
finding it a Potterish act on his father's part to have become Sidney.
Few of his friends remembered to call him by his new name, and his
parents ignored it, but to wear it gave him a grim satisfaction.
Such was Arthur Gideon, a lean-faced, black-eyed man, biting his nails
like Fagin when he got excited.
The other man, besides Johnny Potter, was the Honourable Laurence Juke, a
Radical of moderately aristocratic lineage, a clever writer and actor,
who had just taken deacon's orders. Juke had a look at once languid and
amused, a well-shaped, smooth brown head, blunt features, the
introspective, wide-set eyes of the mystic, and the sweet, flexible voice
of the actor (his mother had, in fact, been a well-known actress of the
The two women were Jane Potter and Katherine Varick. Katherine Varick had
frosty blue eyes, a pale, square-jawed, slightly cynical face, a first in
Natural Science, and a chemical research fellowship.
In those happy days it was easy to stay in places, even by the sea, and
they stayed first at the fishing village of Mevagissey. Gideon was the
only one who never forgot that they were to make observations and write a
book. He came of a more hard-working race than the others did. Often the
others merely fished, boated, bathed, and walked, and forgot the object
of their tour. But Gideon, though he too did these things, did them, so
to speak, notebook in hand. He was out to find and analyse Potterism, so
much of it as lay hid in the rocky Cornish coves and the grave Cornish
people. Katherine Varick was the only member of the party who knew that
he was also seeking and finding it in the hidden souls of his
They would meet in the evening with the various contributions to the
subject which they had gathered during the day. The Urban District
Council, said Johnny, wanted to pull down the village street and build an
esplanade to attract visitors; all the villagers seemed pleased. That was
Potterism, the welcoming of ugliness and prosperity; the antithesis of
the artist's spirit, which loved beauty for what it was, and did not want
to exploit it.
Their landlady, said Juke, on Sunday, had looked coldly on him when he
went out with his fishing rod in the morning. This would not have been
Potterism, but merely a respectable bigotry, had the lady had genuine
conscientious scruples as to this use of Sunday morning by the clergy,
but Juke had ascertained tactfully that she had no conscientious
scruples about anything at all. So it was merely propriety and cant, in
brief, Potterism. Later, he had landed at a village down the coast and
been to church.
'That church,' he said, 'is the most unpleasant piece of Potterism I have
seen for some time. Perpendicular, but restored fifty years ago,
according to the taste of the period. Vile windows; painted deal pews;
incredible braying of bad chants out of tune; a sermon from a pie-faced
fellow about going to church. Why should they go to church? He didn't
tell them; he just said if they didn't, some being he called God would be
angry with them. What did he mean by God? I'm hanged if he'd ever
thought it out. Some being, apparently, like a sublimated Potterite, who
rejoices in bad singing, bad art, bad praying, and bad preaching, and
sits aloft to deal out rewards to those who practise these and
punishments to those who don't. The Potter God will save you if you
please him; that means he'll save your body from danger and not let you
starve. Potterism has no notion of a God who doesn't care a twopenny damn
whether you starve or not, but does care whether you're following the
truth as you see it. In fact, Potterism has no room for Christianity; it
prefers the God of the Old Testament. Of course, with their abominable
cheek, the Potterites have taken Christianity and watered it down to suit
themselves, till they've produced a form of Potterism which they call by
its name; but they wouldn't know the real thing if they saw it…. The
Pharisees were Potterites….'
The others listened to Juke on religious Potterism tolerantly. None of
them (with the doubtful exception of Johnny, who had not entirely made up
his mind) believed in religion; they were quite prepared to agree that
most of its current forms were soaked in Potterism, but they could not be
expected to care, as Juke did.
Gideon said he had heard a dreadful band on the beach, and heard a
dreadful fellow proclaiming the Precious Blood. That was Potterism,
because it was an appeal to sentiment over the head, or under the head,
of reason. Neither the speaker nor any one else probably had the least
idea what he was talking about or what he meant.
'He had the kind of face which is always turned away from facts,' Gideon
said. 'Facts are too difficult, too complicated for him. Hard, jolly
facts, with clear sharp edges that you can't slur and talk away.
Potterism has no use for them. It appeals over their heads to prejudice
and sentiment…. It's the very opposite to the scientific temper. No
good scientist could conceivably be a Potterite, because he's concerned
with truth, and the kind of truth, too, that it's difficult to arrive at.
Potterism is all for short and easy cuts and showy results. Science has
to work its way step by step, and then hasn't much to show for it. It
isn't greedy. Potterism plays a game of grab all the time—snatches at
success in a hurry…. It's greedy,' repeated Gideon, thinking it out,
watching Jane's firm little sun-browned hand with its short square
fingers rooting in the sand for shells.
Jane had visited the stationer, who kept a circulating library, and seen
holiday visitors selecting books to read. They had nearly all chosen the
most Potterish they could see, and asked for some more Potterish still,
leaving Conrad and Hardy despised on the shelves. But these people were
not Cornish, but Saxon visitors.
And Katherine had seen the local paper, but it had been much less
Potterish than most of the London papers, which confirmed them in their
theory about Celts.
Thus they talked and discussed and played, and wrote their book in
patches, and travelled from place to place, and thought that they found
things out. And Gideon, because he was the cleverest, found out the most;
and Katherine, because she was the next cleverest, saw all that Gideon
found out; and Juke, because he was religious, was for ever getting on to
Potterism its cure, before they had analysed the disease; and the twins
enjoyed life in their usual serene way, and found it very entertaining to
be Potters inquiring into Potterism. The others were scrupulously fair
in not attributing to them, because they happened to be Potters by birth,
more Potterism than they actually possessed. A certain amount, said Juke,
is part of the make-up of very nearly every human being; it has to be
fought down, like the notorious ape and tiger. But he thought that Gideon
and Katherine Varick had less of it than any one else he knew; the
mediocre was repellent to them; cant and sentiment made them sick; they
made a fetish of hard truth, and so much despised most of their
neighbours that they would not experience the temptation to grab at
popularity. In fact, they would dislike it if it came.
Socialist Cecily came out while they were at Lyme Regis. Mrs. Potter
sent the twins a copy. In their detached way, the twins read it, and gave
it to the others to look at.
'Very typical stuff,' Gideon summed it up, after a glance. 'It will no
doubt have an excellent sale…. It must be interesting for you to watch
it being turned out. I wish you would ask me to stay with you some time.
Yours must be an even more instructive household than mine.'
Gideon was a Russian Jew on his father's side, and a Harrovian. He had no
decency and no manners. He made Juke, who was an Englishman and an
Etonian, and had more of both, uncomfortable sometimes. For, after all,
the rudiments of family loyalty might as well be kept, among the general
destruction which he, more sanguinely than Gideon, hoped for.
But the twins did not bother. Jane said, in her equable way, 'You'll be
bored to death; angry, too; but come if you like…. We've a sister, more
Potterish than the parents. She'll hate you.'
Gideon said, 'I expect so,' and they left his prospective visit at that,
with Jane chuckling quietly at her private vision of Gideon and Clare in
But Socialist Cecily did not have a good sale after all. It was
guillotined, with many of its betters, by the European war, which began
while the Anti-Potters were at Swanage, a place replete with Potterism.
Potterism, however, as a subject for investigation, had by this time
given place to international diplomacy, that still more intriguing study.
The Anti-Potters abused every government concerned, and Gideon said, on
August 1st, 'We shall be fools if we don't come in.'
Juke was still dubious. He was a good Radical, and good Radicals were
dubious on this point until the invasion of Belgium.
'To throw back the world a hundred years….'
Gideon shrugged his shoulders. He belonged to no political party, and had
the shrewd, far-seeing eyes of his father's race.
'It's going to be thrown back anyhow. Germany will see to that. And if we
keep out of it, Germany will grab Europe. We've got to come in, if we can
get a decent pretext.'
The decent pretext came in due course, and Gideon said, 'So that's that.'
He added to the Potters, 'For once I am in agreement with your father's
press. We should be lunatics to stand out of this damnable mess.'
Juke also was now, painful to him though it was to be so, in agreement
with the Potter press. To him the war had become a crusade, a fight for
decency against savagery.
'It's that,' said Gideon. 'But that's not all. This isn't a show any
country can afford to stand out of. It's Germany against Europe, and if
Europe doesn't look sharp, Germany's going to win. Germany. Nearly as
bad as Russia…. One would have to emigrate to another hemisphere….
No, we've got to win this racket…. But, oh, Lord, what a mess!' He fell
to biting his nails, savage and silent.
Jane thought all the time, beneath her other thoughts about it, 'To have
a war, just when life was beginning and going to be such fun.'
Beneath her public thoughts about the situation, she felt this deep
private disgust gnawing always, as of one defrauded.
They did not know then about people in general going to the war. They
thought it was just for the army and navy, not for ordinary people. That
idea came a little later, after the Anti-Potter party had broken up and
The young men began to enlist and get commissions. It was done; it was
the correct idea. Johnny Potter, who belonged to an O.T.C., got a
Jane said within herself, 'Johnny can go and I can't.' She knew she was
badly, incredibly left. Johnny was in the movement, doing the thing that
mattered. Further, Johnny might ultimately be killed in doing it; her
Johnny. Everything else shrank and was little. What were books? What was
anything? Jane wanted to fight in the war. The war was damnable, but it
was worse to be out of it. One was such an utter outsider. It wasn't
fair. She could fight as well as Johnny could. Jane went about white and
sullen, with her world tumbling into bits about her.
Mr. Potter said in the press, and Mrs. Potter in the home, 'The people of
England have a great opportunity before them. We must all try to rise to
it'—as if the people of England were fishes and the opportunity a fly.
Opportunity, thought Jane. Where is it? I see none. It was precisely
opportunity which the war had put an end to.
'The women of England must now prove that they are worthy of their men,'
said the Potter press.
'I dare say,' thought Jane. Knitting socks and packing stores and
learning first aid. Who wanted to do things like that, when their
brothers had a chance to go and fight in France? Men wouldn't stand it,
if it was the other way round. Why should women always get the dull jobs?
It was because they bore them cheerfully; because they didn't really, for
the most part, mind, Jane decided, watching the attitude of her mother
and Clare. The twins, profoundly selfish, but loving adventure and
placidly untroubled by nerves or the prospect of physical danger, saw no
hardship in active service. (This was before the first winter and the
development of trench warfare, and people pictured to themselves
skirmishes in the open, exposed to missiles, but at least keeping warm).
Every one one knew was going. Johnny said to Jane, 'War is beastly, but
one's got to be in it.' He took that line, as so many others did. 'Juke's
going,' he said. 'As a combatant, I mean, not a padre. He thinks the war
could have been prevented with a little intelligence; so it could, I dare
say; but as there wasn't a little intelligence and it wasn't prevented,
he's going in. He says it will be useful experience for him—help him in
his profession; he doesn't believe in parsons standing outside things and
only doing soft jobs. I agree with him. Every one ought to go.'
'Every one can't,' said Jane morosely.
But to Johnny every one meant all young men, and he took no heed.
Gideon went. It might, he said to Juke, be a capitalists' war or any one
else's; the important thing was not whose war it was but who was going
to win it.
He added, 'Great Britain is, on this occasion, on the right side.
There's no manner of doubt about it. But even if she wasn't, it's
important for all her inhabitants that she should be on the winning
side…. Oh, she will be, no doubt, we've the advantage in numbers and
wealth, if not in military organisation or talent…. If only the
Potterites wouldn't jabber so. It's a unique opportunity for them, and
they're taking it. What makes me angriest is the reasons they vamp up
why we're fighting. For the sake of democracy, they say. Democracy be
hanged. It's a rotten system, anyhow, and how this war is going to do
anything for it I don't know. If I thought it was, I wouldn't join. But
there's no fear. And other people say we're fighting "so that our
children won't have to." Rot again. Every war makes other wars more
likely. Why can't people say simply that the reason why we're fighting
is partly to uphold decent international principles, and mainly to win
the war—to be a conquering nation, not a conquered one, and to save
ourselves from having an ill-conditioned people like the Germans
strutting all over us. It's a very laudable object, and needs no
camouflage. Sheer Potterism, all this cant and posturing. I'd rather
say, like the Daily Mail, that we're fighting to capture the Hun's
trade; that's a lie, but at least it isn't cant.'
'Let them talk,' said Juke lazily. 'Let them jabber and cant. What does
it matter? We're in this thing up to the neck, and every one's got to
relieve themselves in their own way. As long as we get the job done
somehow, a little nonsense-talk more or less won't make much difference
to this mighty Empire, which has always indulged in plenty. It's the rash
coming out; good for the system.'
So, each individual in his own way, the nation entered into the worst
period of time of which Europe has so far had experience, and on which I
do not propose to dwell in these pages except in its aspect of a source
of profit to those who sought profit; its more cheerful aspect, in fact.
Mrs. Potter put away the writing of fiction, as unsuitable in these
dark days. (It may be remembered that there was a period at the
beginning of the war when it was erroneously supposed that fiction
would not sell until peace returned). Mrs. Potter, like many other
writers, took up Y.M.C.A. canteen work, and went for a time to France.
There she wrote Out There, an account of the work of herself and her
colleagues in Rouen, full of the inimitable wit and indomitable courage
of soldiers, the untiring activities of canteen workers, and the
affectionate good-fellowship which existed between these two classes.
The world was thus shown that Leila Yorke was no mere flâneuse of
letters, but an Englishwoman who rose to her country's call and was
worthy of her men-folk.
Clare became a V.A.D., and went up to town every day to work at an
officers' hospital. It was a hospital maintained partly by Mr. Potter,
and she got on very well there. She made many pleasant friends, and hoped
to get out to France later.
Frank tried for a chaplaincy.
'It isn't a bit that he wants excitement, or change of air, or a free
trip to France, or to feel grand, like some of them do,' explained Mrs.
Frank. 'Only, what's the good of keeping a man like him slaving away in a
rotten parish like ours, when they want good men out there? I tell Frank
all he's got to do to get round the C.G. is to grow a moustache and learn
up the correct answers to a few questions—like "What would you do if you
had to attend a dying soldier?" Answer—"Offer to write home for him." A
lot of parsons don't know that, and go telling the C.G. they'd give him
communion, or hear his confession or something, and that knocks them out
first round. Frank knows better. There are no flies on old Frank. All the
same, pater, you might do a little private wire-pulling for him, if it
comes in handy.'
But, unfortunately, owing to a recent though quite temporary coldness
between the Chaplain-General and the Potter press, Mr. Potter's
wire-pulling was ineffectual. The Chaplain-General did not entertain
Frank's offer favourably, and regretted that his appointment as chaplain
to His Majesty's forces was at present impracticable. So Frank went on in
Pimlico, and was cynical and bitter about those clergymen who succeeded
in passing the C.G.'s tests.
'Why don't you join up as a combatant?' Johnny asked him, seeing his
discontent. 'Some parsons do.'
'The bishops have forbidden it,' said Frank.
'Oh, well, I suppose so. Does it matter particularly?'
'My dear Johnny, there is discipline in the Church as well as in the
army, you know. You might as well ask would it matter if you were to
disobey your superior officers.'
'Well, you see, I'd have something happen to me if I did. Parsons don't.
You'd only be reprimanded, I suppose, and get into a berth all right when
you came back—if you did come back.'
'That's got nothing to do with it. The Church would never hold together
if her officers were to break the rules whenever they felt like it. That
friend of yours, Juke, hasn't a leg to stand on; he's merely in revolt.'
'Oh, old Juke always is, of course. Against every kind of authority, but
particularly against bishops. He's always got his knife into them, and I
dare say he's glad of the chance of flouting them. High Church parsons
are, aren't they? I expect if you were a bit higher you'd flout them too.
And if you were a bit lower, the C.G.'d take you as a padre. You're just
the wrong height, old thing, that's what's the matter.'
Thus Johnny, now a stocky lieutenant on leave from France, diagnosed
his brother's case. Wrongly, because High Church parsons weren't
actually enlisting any more than any other kind; they did not, mostly,
believe it to be their business; quite sincerely and honestly they
thought it would be wrong for them, though right for laymen, to
undertake combatant service.
Anyhow, as to height, Frank knew himself to be of a height acceptable in
benefices, and that was something. Besides, it was his own height.
'Sorry I can't change to oblige you, old man,' he said. 'Or desert my
post and pretend to be a layman. I am a man under authority, like you. I
wish the powers that be would send me out there, but it's for them to
judge, and if they think I should be of less use as a padre than all the
Toms, Dicks, and Harrys they are sending, it's not for me to protest.
They may be right. I may be absolutely useless as a chaplain. On the
other hand, I may not. They apparently don't intend to give themselves a
chance of finding out. Very well. It's nothing to me, either way.'
'Oh, that's all right then,' Johnny said.
No one could say that the Potter press did not rise to the great
opportunity. The press seldom fails to do this. The Potter press
surpassed itself; it nearly surpassed its great rival presses. With
energy and whole-heartedness it cheered, comforted, and stimulated the
people. It never failed to say how well the Allies were getting on, how
much ammunition they had, how many men, what indomitable tenacity and
cheerful spirits enlivened the trenches. The correspondents it employed
wrote home rejoicing; its leading articles were noble hymns of praise. In
times of darkness and travail one cannot but be glad of such a press as
this. So glad were the Government of it that Mr. Potter became, at the
end of 1916, Lord Pinkerton, and his press the Pinkerton press. Of
course, that was not the only reward he obtained for his services; he
figured every new year in the honours' list, and collected in succession
most of the letters of the alphabet after his name. With it all, he
remained the same alert, bird-like, inconspicuous person, with the same
unswerving belief in his own methods and his own destinies, a belief
which never passed from self-confidence to self-importance. Unless you
were so determined a hater of Potterism as to be blindly prejudiced, you
could not help liking Lord Pinkerton.
Jane, sulking because she could not fight, thought for a short time that
she would nurse, and get abroad that way. Then it became obvious that too
many fools were scrambling to get sent abroad, and anyhow, that, if Clare
was nursing, it must be a mug's game, and that there must be a better
field for her own energies elsewhere. With so many men going, there would
be empty places to fill…. That thought came, perhaps, as soon to Jane
as to any one in the country.
Her father's lady secretary went nursing, and Lord Pinkerton, well aware
of his younger daughter's clearheaded competence, offered Jane the job,
at a larger salary.
'Your shorthand would soon come back if you took it up,' he told her. For
he had had all his children taught shorthand at a young age; in his view
it was one of the essentials of education; he had learned it himself at
the age of thirteen, and insulted his superior young gentlemen private
secretaries by asking them if they knew it. Jane and Johnny, who had been
in early youth very proficient at it, had, since they were old enough to
know it was a sort of low commercial cunning, the accomplishment of the
slave, hidden their knowledge away like a vice. When concealed from
observation and pressed for time, they had furtively taken down lecture
notes in it at Oxford, but always with a consciousness of guilt.
Jane had declined the secretaryship. She did not mean to be that sort
of low secretary that takes down letters, she did not mean to work for
the Potter press, and she thought it would be needlessly dull to work
for her father. She said, 'No, thank you, dad. I'm thinking of the
That was early in 1915, when women had only just begun to think of, or
be thought of, by the Civil Service. Jane did not think of it with
enthusiasm; she wanted to be a journalist and to write; but it would do
for the time, and would probably be amusing. So, owing to the helpful
influence of Mr. Potter, and a good degree, Jane obtained a quite good
post at the Admiralty, which she had to swear never to mention, and went
into rooms in a square off Fleet Street with Katherine Varick, who had a
research fellowship in chemistry and worked in a laboratory in
The Admiralty was all right. It was interesting as such jobs go, and
Jane, who was clear-headed, did it well. She got to know a few men and
women who, she considered, were worth knowing, though, in technical
departments such as the Admiralty, the men were apt to be superior to the
women; the women Jane met there were mostly non-University lower-grade
clerks, and so forth, nice, cheery young things, but rather stupid, who
thought it jolly for Jane to be connected with Leila Yorke and the Potter
press, and were scarcely worth undeceiving. And naval officers, though
charming, were apt to be a little elementary, Jane discovered, in their
However, the job was all right; not a bad plum to have picked out of the
hash, on the whole. And the life was all right. The rooms were jolly
(only the new geyser exploded too often), and Katherine Varick, though
she made stinks in the evenings, not bad to live with, and money not too
scarce, as money goes, and theatres and dinners frequent. Doing one's
bit, putting one's shoulder to the wheel, proving the mettle of the women
of England, certainly had its agreeable side.
In intervals of office work and social life, Jane was writing odds and
ends, and planning the books she meant to write after the war. She
hadn't settled her line yet. Articles on social and industrial questions
for the papers, she hoped, for one thing; she had plenty to say on this
head. Short stories. Poems. Then, perhaps, a novel…. About the nature
of the novel Jane was undecided, except that it would be more unlike the
novels of Leila Yorke than any novels had ever been before. Perhaps a
sarcastic, rather cynical novel about human nature, of which Jane did
not think much. Perhaps a serious novel, dealing with social or
political conditions. Perhaps an impressionist novel, like Dorothy
Richardson's. Only they were getting common; they were too easy. One
could hardly help writing like that, unless one tried not to, if one had
lately read any of them.
Most contemporary novels Jane found very bad, not worth writing. Those
solemn and childish novels about public schools, for instance, written by
young men. Jane wondered what a novel about Roedean or Wycombe Abbey
would be like. The queer thing was that some young woman didn't write
one; it need be no duller than the young men's. Rather duller, perhaps,
because schoolgirls were more childish than schoolboys, the problems of
their upbringing less portentous. But there were many of the same
ingredients—the exaltation of games, hero-worship, rows, the clever new
literary mistress who made all the stick-in-the-mud other mistresses
angry…. Only were the other mistresses at girls' schools
stick-in-the-mud? No, Jane thought not; quite a decent modern set, on the
whole, for people of their age. Better than schoolmasters, they must be.
How dull it all was! Some woman ought to do it, but not Jane.
Jane was inclined, in her present phase, to think the Russians and the
French the only novelists. They had manner and method. But they were both
too limited in their field, too much concerned with sexual relations,
that most tedious of topics (in literature, not life), the very thought
of which made one yawn. Queer thing, how novelists couldn't leave it
alone. It was, surely, like eating and drinking, a natural element in
life, which few avoid; but the most exciting, jolly, interesting,
entertaining things were apart from it. Not that Jane was not quite
willing to accept with approval, as part of the game of living, such
episodes in this field as came her way; but she could not regard them as
important. As to marriage, it was merely dowdy. Domesticity; babies;
servants; the companionship of one man. The sort of thing Clare would go
in for, no doubt. Not for Jane, before whom the world lay, an oyster
asking to be opened.
She saw herself a journalist; a reporter, perhaps: (only the stories
women were sent out on were usually dull), a special correspondent, a
free-lance contributor, a leader writer, eventually an editor…. Then
she could initiate a policy, say what she thought, stand up against the
Or one might be a public speaker, and get into Parliament later on, when
women were admitted. One despised Parliament, but it might be fun.
Not a permanent Civil Servant; one could not work for this ludicrous
government more than temporarily, to tide over the Great Interruption.
So Jane looked with calm, weighing, critical eyes at life and its
chances, and saw that they were not bad, for such as her. Unless, of
course, the Allies were beaten…. This contingency seemed often
possible, even probable. Jane's faith in the ultimate winning power of
numbers and wealth was at times shaken, not by the blunders of
governments or the defection of valuable allies, but by the unwavering
optimism of her parent's press.
'But,' said Katherine Varick, 'it's usually right, your papa's press.
That's the queer thing about it. It sounds always wildly wrong, like an
absurd fairy story, and all the sane, intelligent people laugh at it, and
then it turns out to have been right. Look at the way it used to say that
Germany was planning war; it was mostly the stupid people who believed
it, and the intelligent people who didn't; but all the time Germany was.'
'Partly because people like daddy kept saying so, and planning to get
'Not much. Germany was really planning: we were only talking…. I
believe in the Pinkerton press, and the other absurd presses. They have
the unthinking rightness of the fool. Of course they have. Because the
happenings of the world are caused by people—the mass of people—and the
Pinkerton press knows them and represents them. Intellectual people are
always thinking above the heads of the people who make movements, so
they're nearly always out. The Pinkerton press is the people, so it
gets there every time. Potterism will outlive all the reformers and
idealists. If Potterism says we're going to have a war, we have it; if it
says we're going to win a war, we shall win it. "If you see it in John
Bull, it is so."'
It was not often that Katherine spoke of Potterism, but when she did it
was with conviction.
Gideon was home, wounded. He had nearly died, but not quite. He had lost
his right foot, and would have another when the time was ripe. He was
discharged, and became, later on, assistant editor of a new weekly paper
that was started.
He dined with Jane and Katherine at their flat, soon after he could get
about. He was leaner than ever, white and gaunt, and often ill-tempered
from pain. Johnny was there too, a major on leave, stuck over with
coloured ribbons. Jane called him a pot-hunter.
They laughed and talked and joked and dined. When Gideon and Johnny had
gone, and Katherine and Jane were left smoking last cigarettes and
finishing the chocolates, Jane said, lazily, and without chagrin, 'How
Arthur does hate us all, in these days.'
Katherine said, 'True. He finds us profiteers.'
'So we are,' said Jane. 'Not you, but most of us. I am…. You're one of
the few people he respects. Some day, perhaps, you'll have to marry him,
and cure him of biting his nails when he's cross…. He thinks Johnny's a
profiteer, too, because of the ribbons and things. Johnny is. It's in the
blood. We're grabbers. Can't be helped…. Do you want the last walnut
chocolate, old thing? If so, you're too late.'
JANE AND CLARE
In the autumn of 1918, Jane, when she went home for week-ends, frequently
found one Oliver Hobart there. Oliver Hobart was the new editor of Lord
Pinkerton's chief daily paper, and had been exempted from military
service as newspaper staff. He was a Canadian; he had been educated at
McGill University, admired Lord Pinkerton, his press, and the British
Empire, and despised (in this order) the Quebec French, the Roman
Catholic Church, newspapers which did not succeed, Little Englanders, and
'A really beautiful face,' said Lady Pinkerton, and so he had. Jane had
seen it, from time to time during the last year, when she had called to
see her father in the office of the Daily Haste.
One hot Saturday afternoon in August, 1918, she found him having tea with
her family, in the shadow of the biggest elm. Jane looked at them in her
detached way; Lord Pinkerton, neat and little, his white-spatted feet
crossed, his head cocked to one side, like an intelligent sparrow's; Lady
Pinkerton, tall and fair and powdered, in a lilac silk dress, her large
white hands all over rings, amethysts swinging from her ears; Clare (who
had given up nursing owing to the strain, and was having a rest), slim
and rather graceful, a little flushed from the heat, lying in a deck
chair and swinging a buckled shoe, saying something ordinary and
Clare-ish; Hobart sitting by her, a pale, Gibson young man, with his
smooth fair hair brushed back, and lavender socks with purple clocks, and
a clear, firm jaw. He was listening to Clare with a smile. You could not
help liking him; his was the sort of beauty which, when found in either
man or woman, makes so strong an appeal to the senses of the sex other
than that of the possessor that reason is all but swamped. Besides, as
Lord Pinkerton said, Hobart was a dear, nice fellow.
He was at Sherards for that week-end because Lord Pinkerton was just
making him editor of the Daily Haste. Before that, he had been on the
staff, a departmental editor, and a leader-writer. ('Mr. Hobart will go
far,' said Lady Pinkerton sometimes, when she read the leaders. 'I
hope, on the contrary,' said Lord Pinkerton, 'that he will stay where
he is. It is precisely the right spot. That was the trouble with
Carruthers; he went too far. So he had to go altogether.' He gave his
thin little snigger).
Anyhow, here was Hobart, this Saturday afternoon, having tea in the
garden. Jane saw him through the mellow golden sweetness of shadow
'Here is Jane,' said Lady Pinkerton.
Jane's dark hair fell in damp waves over her hot, square, white forehead;
her blue cotton dress was crumpled and limp. How neat, how cool, was this
Hobart! Could a man have a Gibson face like that, like a young man on the
cover of an illustrated magazine, and not be a ninny? Did he take the
Pinkerton press seriously, or did he laugh? Both, probably, like most
journalists. He wouldn't laugh to Lord Pinkerton, or to Lady Pinkerton,
or to Clare. But he might laugh to Jane, when she showed him he might.
Jane, eating jam sandwiches, looking like a chubby school child, with her
round face and wide eyes and bobbed hair and cotton frock, watched the
beautiful young man with her solemn unwinking stare that disconcerted
self-conscious people, while Lady Pinkerton talked to him about some
On Sunday, people came over to lunch, and they played tennis. Clare and
Hobart played together. 'Oh, well up, partner,' Jane could hear him say,
all the time. Or else it was 'Well tried. Too bad.' Clare's happy eyes
shone, brown and clear in her flushed face, like agates. Rather a pretty
thing, Clare, if dull.
The Franks were there, too.
'Old Clare having a good time,' said Mrs. Frank to Jane, during a set
they weren't playing in. Her merry dark eyes snapped. Instinctively, she
usually said something to disparage the good time of other girls. This
time it was, 'That Hobart thinks he's doing himself a good turn with
pater, making up to Clare like that. Oh, he's a cunning fellow. Isn't he
handsome, Jane? I hate these handsome fellows, they always know it so
well. Nothing in his face really, if you come to look, is there? I'd
rather have old Frank's, even if he does look like a half-starved bird.'
Jane was calmly rude to Hobart, showing him she despised his paper, and
him for editing it. She let him see it all, and he was imperturbably,
courteously amused, and, in turn, showed that he despised her for
belonging to the 1917 Club.
'You don't,' he said, turning to Clare.
'Gracious, no. I don't belong to a club at all. I go with mother to the
Writers' sometimes, though; that's not bad fun. Mother often speaks
there, you know, and I go and hear. Jolly good she is, too. She read a
ripping paper last week on the "Modern Heroine."'
Jane's considering eyes weighed Hobart, whose courtesy was still
impregnable. How far was he the complete Potterite, identified with his
absurd press? Did he even appreciate Leila Yorke? She would have liked to
know. But, it seemed, she was not to know from him.
The Armistice came.
Then the thing was to get to Paris somehow. Jane had, unusually, not
played her cards well. She had neglected the prospect of peace, which,
after all, must come. When she had, in May, at last taken thought for the
morrow, and applied at the Foreign Office for one of those secret jobs
which could not be mentioned because they prepared the doers to play
their parts after the great unmentionable event, she was too late. The
Foreign Office said they could not take over people from other government
So, when the unmentionable took place, Jane was badly left. The Foreign
Office Library Department people, many of them Jane's contemporaries at
Oxford and Cambridge, were hurried across the Channel into Life, for
which they had been prepared by a course of lectures on the Dangers of
Paris. There also went the confidential secretaries, the clerks and
shorthand typists, in their hundreds; degreeless, brainless beings, but
wise in their generation.
'I wish I was a shorthand typist,' Jane grumbled, brooding with Katherine
over their fire.
'Paris,' Katherine turned over the delightful word consideringly, finding
it wanting. 'The last place in the world I should choose to be in just
now. Fuss and foolishness. Greed and grabbing. The centre of the lunacies
and crimes of the next six months. Politicians assembled together….
It's infinitely common to go there. All the vulgarest people…. You'd be
more select at Southend or Blackpool.'
'History is being made there,' said Jane, quoting from her
'Thank you; I'd rather go to Birmingham and make something clean and
useful, like glass.'
But Jane wanted to make history in Paris. She felt out of it, left, as
she had felt when other people went to the war and she stayed at home.
On a yellow, foggy day just before Christmas, Lord Pinkerton, with whom
Jane was lunching at his club (Lord Pinkerton was quite good to lunch
with; you got a splendid feed for nothing), said, 'I shall be going
over to Paris next month, Babs.' (That was what he called her). 'D'you
want to come?'
'Well, I should say so. Don't rub it in, dad.'
Lord Pinkerton looked at her, with his whimsical, affectionate paternity.
'You can come if you like, Babs. I want another secretary. Must have one.
If you'll do some of the shorthand typing and filing, you can come
along. How about it?'
Jane thought for exactly thirty seconds, weighing the shorthand typing
against Paris and the Majestic and Life. Life had it, as usual.
'Right-o, daddy. I'll come along. When do we go over?'
That afternoon Jane gave notice to her department, and in the middle of
January Lord Pinkerton and his bodyguard of secretaries and assistants
went to Paris.
That was Life. Trousseaux, concerts, jazzing, dinners, marble bathrooms,
notorious persons as thick as thieves in corridors and on the stairs,
dangers of Paris surging outside, disappointed journalists besieging
proud politicians in vain, the Council of Four sitting in perfect harmony
behind thick curtains, Signor Orlando refusing to play, but finding they
went on playing without him and coming back, Jugo-Slavs walking about
under the aegis of Mr. Wickham Steed, smiling sweetly and triumphantly at
the Italians, going to the theatre and coming out because the jokes
seemed to them dubious, Sir George Riddell and Mr. G.H. Mair desperately
controlling the press, Lord Pinkerton flying to and fro, across the
Channel and back again, while his bodyguard remained in Paris. There also
flew to and fro Oliver Hobart, the editor of the Daily Haste. He would
drop in on Jane, sitting in her father's outer office, card-indexing,
opening and entering letters, and what not.
'Good-morning, Miss Potter. Lord Pinkerton in the office this morning?'
'He's in the building somewhere. Talking to Sir George, I think…. Did
you fly this time?'
Whether he had flown or whether he had come by train and boat, he always
looked the same, calm, unruffled, tidy, the exquisite nut.
'Pretty busy?' he would say, with his half-indulgent smile at the
round-faced, lazy, drawling child who was so self-possessed, sometimes so
impudent, often so sarcastic, always so amusingly different from her
slim, pretty and girlish elder sister.
'Pretty well,' Jane would reply. 'I don't overwork, though.'
'I don't believe you do,' Hobart said, looking down at her amusedly.
'Father does, though. That's why he's thin and I'm fat. What's the use?
It makes no difference.'
'You're getting reconciled, then,' said Hobart, 'to working for the
Jane secretly approved his discernment. But all she said was, with her
cool lack of stress, 'It's not so bad.'
Usually when Hobart was in Paris he would dine with them.
Lady Pinkerton and Clare came over for a week. They stayed in rooms, in
the Avenue de l'Opera. They visited shops, theatres, and friends, and
Lady Pinkerton began a novel about Paris life. Clare had been run down
and low-spirited, and the doctor had suggested a change of scene. Hobart
was in Paris for the week-end; he dined with the Pinkertons and went to
the theatre with them. But on Monday he had to go back to London.
On Monday morning Clare came to her father's office, and found Jane
taking down letters from Lord Pinkerton's private secretary, a young man
who had been exempted from military service through the war on the
grounds that he was Lord Pinkerton's right hand.
Clare sat and waited, and looked round the room for violets, while this
young gentleman dictated. His letters were better worded than Lord
Pinkerton's, because he was better at the English language. Lord
Pinkerton would fall into commercialisms; he would say 're' and 'same'
and 'to hand,' and even sometimes 'your favour of the 16th.' His
secretary knew that that was not the way in which a great newspaper chief
should write. Himself he dictated quite a good letter, but annoyed Jane
by putting in the punctuation, as if she was an imbecile. Thus he was
saying now, pacing up and down the room, plunged in thought:—
'Lord Pinkerton is not comma however comma averse to' (Jane wrote 'from')
'entertaining your suggestions comma and will be glad if you can make it
convenient to call to-morrow bracket Tuesday close the bracket afternoon
comma between three and five stop.'
He could not help it; one must make allowances for those who dictate. But
Clare saw Jane's teeth release her clenched tongue to permit it to form
silently the word 'Ninny.'
The private secretary retired into his chief's inner sanctum.
'Morning, old thing,' said Jane to Clare, uncovering her typewriter
without haste and yawning, because she had been up late last night.
'Morning,' Clare yawned too. She was warm and pretty, in a spring
costume, with a big bunch of sweet violets at her waist. She
'Aren't they top-hole. Mr. Hobart left them this morning before he went.
Jolly decent of him to think of it, getting off in a hurry like he
was…. He's not a bad young thing, do you think.'
'Not so bad.' Jane extracted carbons from a drawer and fitted them to her
paper. Then she stretched, like a cat.
'Oh, I'm sleepy…. Don't feel like work to-day. For two pins I'd cut it
and go out with you and mother. The sun's shining, isn't it?'
Clare stood by the window, and swung the blind-tassel. They had five days
of Paris before them, and Paris suddenly seemed empty….
'We're going to have a topping week,' she said.
Then Lord Pinkerton came in.
'Hobart gone?' he asked Jane.
'Majendie in my room?'
Lord Pinkerton patted Clare's shoulder as he passed her.
'Send Miss Hope in to me when she comes, Babs,' he said, and disappeared
through the farther door.
Jane began to type. It bored her, but she was fairly proficient at it.
Her childhood's training stood her in good stead.
'Mr. Hobart must have run his train pretty fine, if he came in here on
the way,' said Clare, twirling the blind-tassel.
'He wasn't going till twelve,' said Jane, typing.
'Oh, I see. I thought it was ten…. I suppose he found he couldn't get
that one, and had to see dad first. What a bore for him…. Well, I'm off
to meet mother. See you this evening, I suppose.'
Clare went out into Paris and the March sunshine, whistling softly.
That night she lay awake in her big bed, as she had lain last night.
She lay tense and still, and stared at the great gas globe that looked
in through the open window from the street. Her brain formed phrases
'That day on the river…. Those Sundays…. That lunch at the
Florence…. "What attractive shoes those are."… My gray suedes, I
had…. "I love these Sunday afternoons."… "You're one of the few
girls who are jolly to watch when they run."… "Just you and me;
wouldn't it be rather nice? I should like it, anyhow."… He kept
looking…. Whenever I looked up he was looking…. his eyes awfully
blue, with black edges to them…. Peggy said he blacked them…. Peggy
was jealous because he never looked at her…. I'm jealous now because
… No, I'm not, why should I be? He doesn't like fat girls, he said….
He watches her…. He looks at her when there's a joke…. He bought me
violets, but he went to see her…. He keeps coming over to Paris…. I
never see him…. I don't get a chance…. He cared, he did care….
He's forgetting because I don't get a chance…. She's stealing him….
She was always a selfish little cad, grabbing, and not really caring.
She can't care as I do, she's not made that way…. She cares for
nothing but herself…. She gets everything, just by sitting still and
not bothering…. College makes girls awful…. Peggy says men don't
like them, but they do. They seem not to care about men, but they care
just the same. They don't bother, but they get what they want….
Pig…. Oh, I can't bear it. Why should I?… I love him, I love him, I
love him…. Oh, I must go to sleep. I shall go mad if I have another
night like last night.'
Clare got out of bed, stumbled to the washstand, splashed her burning
head and face with cold water, then lay shivering.
It may or may not be true that the power to love is to be found in the
human being in inverse ratio to the power to think. Probably it is not;
these generalisations seldom are. Anyhow, Clare, like many others, could
not understand, but loved.
Lady Pinkerton said to her lord next day, 'How much longer will the peace
take being made, Percy?'
'My dear, I can't tell you. Even I don't know everything. There are many
little difficulties, which have to be smoothed down. Allies stand in a
curious and not altogether easy relation to one another.'
'Italy, of course….'
'And not only Italy, dearest.'
'Of course, China is being very tiresome.'
'Ah, if it were only China!'
Lady Pinkerton sighed.
'Well, it is all very sad. I do hope, Percy, that after this war we
English will never again forget that we hate all foreigners.'
'I hope not, my dear. I am afraid before the war I was
largely responsible for encouraging these fraternisations and
discriminations. A mistake, no doubt. But one which did credit to our
hearts. One must always remember about a great people like ourselves
that the heart leads.'
'Thank God for that,' said Leila Yorke, illogically. Then Lady Pinkerton
added, 'But this peace takes too long…. I suppose a lasting and
righteous peace must … Shall you have to be running to and fro like
this till it's signed, dear?'
'To and fro, yes. I must keep an office going here.'
'Jane is enjoying it,' said Lady Pinkerton. 'She sees a lot of Oliver
Hobart, I suppose, doesn't she?'
'He's in and out, of course. He and the child get on better than
they used to.'
'There is no doubt about that,' said Lady Pinkerton. 'If you don't know
it, Percy, I had better tell you. Men never see these things. He is
falling in love with her.'
Lord Pinkerton fidgeted about the room.
'Rilly. Rilly. Very amusing. You used to think it was Clare, dearest.'
He cocked his head at her accusingly, convicting her of being a woman
'Oh, you dear novelists!' he said, and shook a finger at her.
'Nonsense, Percy. It is perfectly obvious. He used to be attracted by
Clare, and now he is attracted by Jane. Very strange: such different
types. But life is strange, and particularly love. Oh, I don't say it's
love yet, but it's a strong attraction, and may easily lead to it. The
question is, are we to let it go on, or shall we head him back to Clare,
who has begun to care, I am afraid, poor child?'
'Certainly head him back if you like and can, darling. I don't suppose
Babs wants him, anyhow.'
'That is just it. If Jane did, I shouldn't interfere. Her happiness is
as dear to me as Clare's, naturally. But Jane is not susceptible; she
has a colder temperament; and she is often quite rude to Oliver Hobart.
Look how different their views about everything are. He and Clare agree
'Very well, mother. You're the doctor. I'll do my best not to throw them
together when next Hobart comes over. But we must leave the children to
settle their affairs for themselves. If he really wants fat little Babs
we can't stop him trying for her.'
'Life is difficult,' Lady Pinkerton sighed. 'My poor little Clare is
looking like a wilted flower.'
'Poor little girl. M'm yes. Poor little girl. Well, well, we'll see what
can be done…. I'll see if I can take Janet home for a bit, perhaps—get
her out of the way. She's very useful to me here, though. There are no
flies on Jane. She's got the Potter wits all right.'
But Lady Pinkerton loved better Clare, who was like a flower, Clare, whom
she had created, Clare, who might have come—if any girl could have
come—out of a Leila Yorke novel.
'I shall say a word to Jane,' Lady Pinkerton decided. 'Just to
But, after all, it was Jane who said the word. She said it that evening,
in her cool, leisurely way.
'Oliver Hobart asked me to marry him yesterday morning. I wrote to-day to
tell him I would.'
I append now the personal records of various people concerned in this
story. It seems the best way.
TOLD BY GIDEON
Nothing that I or anybody else did in the spring and summer of 1919 was
of the slightest importance. It ought to have been a time for great
enterprises and beginnings; but it emphatically wasn't. It was a queer,
inconclusive, lazy, muddled, reckless, unsatisfactory, rather ludicrous
time. It seemed as if the world was suffering from vertigo. I have seen
men who have been badly hit spinning round and round madly, like dancing
dervishes. That was, I think, what we were all doing for some time after
the war—spinning round and round, silly and dazed, without purpose or
power. At least the only purpose in evidence was the fierce quest of
enjoyment, and the only power that of successfully shirking facts. We
were like bankrupts, who cannot summon energy to begin life and work
again in earnest. And we were represented by the most comic parliament
that ever sat in Westminster, upon which it would be too painful here to
One didn't know what had happened, or what was happening, or what was
going to happen. We had won the war. But what was that going to mean?
What were we going to get out of it? What did we want the new world to
be? What did we want this country to be? Every one shouted a different
answer. The December elections seemed to give one answer. But I don't
think it was a true one. The public didn't really want the England of
John Bull and Pemberton Billing; they showed that later.
A good many people, of course, wanted and want revolution and the
International. I don't, and never did. I hate red-flaggery, and all other
flaggery. The sentimentalism of Bob Smillie is as bad as the
sentimentalism of the Pinkerton press; as untruthful, as greedy, as
muddle-headed. Smillie's lot are out to get, and the Potterites out to
keep. The under-dog is more excusable in its aims, but its methods aren't
any more attractive. Juke can swallow it all. But Jukie has let his
naturally clear head get muddled by a mediaeval form of religion.
Religion is like love; it plays the devil with clear thinking. Juke
pretended not to hate even Smillie's interview with the coal dukes. He
applauded when Smillie quoted texts at them. Though I know, of course,
that that sort of thing is mainly a pose on Juke's part, because it
amuses him. Besides, one of the dukes was a cousin of his, who bored him,
so of course he was pleased.
But those texts damned Smillie for ever in my eyes. He had those poor
imbeciles at his mercy—and he gave his whole case away by quoting
irrelevant remarks from ancient Hebrew writers. I wish I had had his
chance for ten minutes; I would have taken it. But the Labour people are
always giving themselves away with both hands to the enemy. I suppose
facts have hit them too hard, and so they shrink away from them—pad them
with sentiment, like uneducated women in villas. They all need—so do the
women—a legal training, to make their minds hard and clear and sharp.
So do journalists. Nearly the whole press is the same, dealing in
emotions and stunts, unable to face facts squarely, in a calm spirit.
It seemed to some of us that spring that there was a chance for
unsentimental journalism in a new paper, that should be unhampered by
tradition. That was why the Weekly Fact (unofficially called the
Anti-Potterite) was started. All the other papers had traditions; their
past principles dictated their future policy. The Fact (except that it
was up against Potterism) was untrammelled; it was to judge of each issue
as it turned up, on its own merits, in the light of fact. That, of
course, was in itself the very essence of anti-Potterism, which was
incapable of judging or considering anything whatever, and whose only
light was a feeble emotionalism The light of fact was to Potterites but a
The Fact wasn't to be labelled Liberal or Labour or Tory or Democratic
or anti-Democratic or anything at all. All these things were to vary
with the immediate occasions. I know it sounds like Lloyd George, but
there were at least two very important differences between the Fact
and the Prime Minister. One was that the Fact employed experts who
always made a very thorough and scientific investigation of every
subject it dealt with before it took up a line; it cared for the truth
and nothing but the truth. The other was that the Fact took in nearly
every case the less popular side, not, of course, because it was less
popular (for to do that would have been one of the general principles of
which we tried to steer clear), but it so happened that we came to the
conclusion nearly always that the majority were wrong. The fact is that
majorities nearly always are. The heart of the people may be usually in
the right place (though, personally, I doubt this, for the heart of man
is corrupt) but their head can, in most cases, be relied on to be in the
wrong one. This is an important thing for statesmen to remember;
forgetfulness of it has often led to disaster; ignorance of it has
created Potterism as an official faith.
Anyhow, the Fact (again unlike the Prime Minister) could afford to
ignore the charges of flightiness and irresponsibility which, of course,
were flung at it. It could afford to ignore them because of the good and
solid excellence of its contents, and the reputations of many of its
contributors. And that, of course, was due to the fact that it had plenty
of money behind it. A great many people know who backs the Fact, but,
all the same, I cannot, of course, give away this information to the
public. I will only say that it started with such a good financial
backing that it was able to afford the best work, able even to afford the
truth. Most of the good weeklies, certainly, speak the truth as they see
it; they are, in fact, a very creditable section of our press; but the
idea of the Fact was to be absolutely unbiased on each issue that
turned up by anything it had ever thought before. Of course, you may say
that a man will be likely, when a case comes before his eyes, to come to
the same conclusion about it that he came to about a similar case not
long before. But, as a matter of fact, it is surprising how some slight
difference in the circumstances of a case may, if a man keeps an open
mind, alter his whole judgment of it. The Fact was a scientific, not a
sentimental paper. If our investigations led us into autocracy, we were
to follow them there; if to a soviet state, still we were to follow
them. And we might support autocracy in one state and soviets in another,
if it seemed suitable. Again this sounds like some of our more notorious
politicians—Carson, for instance; but the likeness is superficial.
We began in March. Peacock and I were the editors. We didn't, and don't,
always agree. Peacock, for instance, believes in democracy. Peacock also
accepts poetry; poetry about the war, by people like Johnny Potter. Every
one knows that school of poetry by heart now; of course it was
particularly fashionable immediately after the war. Johnny Potter did it
much like other men. Any one can do it. One takes some dirty, horrible
incident or sight of the battle-front and describes it in loathsome
detail, and then, by way of contrast, describes some fat and incredibly
bloodthirsty woman or middle-aged clubman at home, gloating over the
glorious war. I always thought it a great bore, and sentimental at that.
But it was the thing for a time, and people seemed to be impressed by it,
and Peacock, who encouraged young men, often to their detriment, would
take it for the Fact, though that sort of cheap and popular appeal to
sentiment was the last thing the Fact was out for.
Johnny Potter, like other people, was merely exploiting his experiences.
Johnny would. He's a nice chap, and a cleverish chap, in the shrewd,
unimaginative Potter way—Jane's way, too—only she's a shade
cleverer—but chiefly he's determined to get there somehow. That's
Potter, again. And that's where Jane and Johnny amuse me. They're up
against what we agreed to call Potterism—the Potterism, that is, of
second-rate sentimentalism and cheap short-cuts and mediocrity; they
stand for brain and clear thinking against muddle and cant; but they're
fighting it with Potterite weapons—self-interest, following things for
what they bring them rather than for the things in themselves. John would
never write the particular kind of stuff he does for the love of writing
it; he'll only do it because it's the stunt of the moment. That's why
he'll never be more than cleverish and mediocre, never the real thing. In
his calm, unexcited way, he worships success, and he'll get it, like old
Pinkerton. Though of course he's met plenty of the bloodthirsty
non-combatants he writes about, he takes most of what he says about them
second-hand from other people. It's not first-hand observation. If it
was, he would have to include among his jingoes and Hun-haters some
fighting men too. I know it's entirely against popular convention to say
so, but some of the most bloodthirsty fire-eaters I met during the war
were among the fighting men. Of course there were plenty of them at home
too, and plenty of peaceable and civilised people at the front, but it's
the most absurd perversion of facts to make out that all our combatants
were full of sweet reasonableness (any one who knows anything about the
psychological effects of fighting will know that this is improbable), and
all our non-combatants bloody-minded savages. Though I don't say there's
nothing in the theory one heard that the natural war rage of
non-combatants, not having the physical outlet the fighters had for
theirs, became in some few of them a suppressed Freudian complex and
made them a little insane. I don't know. Anyhow to say this became the
stunt among a certain section, so it was probably as inaccurate as
popular sayings usually are; as inaccurate as the picture drawn by
another section—the Potter press section—of an army going rejoicing
into the fight for right.
What one specially resented was the way the men who had been killed, poor
devils, were exploited by the makers of speeches and the writers of
articles. First, they'd perhaps be called 'the fallen,' instead of 'the
killed' (it's a queer thing how 'fallen,' in the masculine means killed
in the war, and the feminine given over to a particular kind of vice),
and then the audience, or the readers, would be told that they died for
democracy, or a cleaner world, when very likely many of them hated the
first and never gave an hour's thought to the second. I could imagine
their indignant presences in the Albert Hall at Gray's big League of
Nations meeting in May, listening to Clynes's reasons why they died. I
can hear dear old Peter Clancy on why he died. 'Democracy? A cleaner
world? No. Why? I suppose I died because I inadvertently got in the way
of some flying missile; I know no other reason. And I suppose I was there
to get in its way because it's part of belonging to a nation to fight its
battles when required—like paying its taxes or keeping its laws. Why go
groping for far-fetched reason? Who wants democracy, any old way? And the
world was good enough for me as it was, thank you. No, of course it isn't
clean, and never will be; but no war is going to make it cleaner. It's
not a way wars have. These talkers make me sick.'
If Clancy—the thousands of Clancys—could have been there, I think that
is the sort of thing they would have been saying. Anyhow, personally, I
certainly didn't lose my foot for democracy or for a cleaner world. I
lost it in helping to win the war—a quite necessary thing in the
But every one seemed, during and after the war, to want to prove that
the fighters thought in the particular way they thought themselves;
they seemed to think it immeasurably strengthened their case. Heaven
only knows why, when the fighting men were just the men who hadn't time
or leisure to think at all. They were, as the Potterites put it so
truly, doing the job. The thinking, such as it was, was done by the
people at home—the politicians, the clergy, the writers, the women,
the men with 'A' certificates in Government offices; and precious poor
thinking it was, too.
We all settled down to life and work again, as best we could. Johnny
Potter went into a publisher's office, and also got odd jobs of reviewing
and journalism, besides writing war verse and poetry of passion (of which
confusing if attractive subject, he really knew little). Juke was
demobilised early too, commenced clergyman again, got a job as curate in
a central London parish, and lived in rooms in a slummy street. He and I
saw a good deal of each other.
One day in March, Juke and I were lunching together at the 1917 Club,
when Johnny came in and joined us. He looked rather queer, and amused
too. He didn't tell us anything till we were having coffee. Then Juke or
I said, 'How's Jane getting on in Paris? Not bored yet?'
Johnny said, 'I should say not. She's been and gone and done it. She's
got engaged to Hobart. I heard from the mater this morning.'
I don't think either of us spoke for a moment. Then Juke gave a long
whistle, and said, 'Good Lord!'
'Exactly,' said Johnny, and grinned.
'It's no laughing matter,' said Juke blandly. 'Jane is imperilling her
immortal soul. She is yoking together with an unbeliever; she is forming
an unholy alliance with mammon. We must stop it.'
'Stop Jane,' said Johnny. 'You might as well try and stop a young tank.'
He meditated for a moment.
'The funny thing is,' he added, 'that we all thought it was Clare he
'Now that,' Juke said judicially, 'would have been all right. Your elder
sister could have had Hobart and the Daily Haste without betraying her
principles. But Jane—Jane, the anti-Potterite … I say, why is she
Johnny drew a letter from his pocket and consulted it.
'The mater doesn't say. … I suppose the usual reasons. Why do people
do it? I don't; nor do you; nor does Gideon. So we can't explain. … I
didn't think Jane would do it either; it always seemed more in Clare's
line, somehow. Jane and I always thought Clare would marry, she's the
sort. Feminine and all that, you know. Upon my word, I thought Jane was
too much of a sportsman to go tying herself up with husbands and babies
and servants and things. What the devil will happen to all she meant to
do—writing, public speaking, and all the rest of it? I suppose a
girl can carry on to a certain extent, though, even if she is married,
'Jane will,' I said. 'Jane won't give up anything she wants to do for a
trifle like marriage.' I was sure of that.
'I believe you're right,' Johnny agreed. 'But it will be jolly awkward
being married to Hobart and writing in the anti-Potter press.'
'She'll write for the Daily Haste,' Juke said. 'She'll make Hobart give
her a job on it. Having begun to go down the steep descent, she won't
stop till she gets to the bottom. Jane's thorough.'
But that was precisely what I didn't think Jane was. She is, on the
other hand, given to making something good out of as many worlds as she
can simultaneously. Martyrs and Irishmen, fanatics and Juke, are
thorough; not Jane.
We couldn't stay gossiping over the engagement any longer, so we left it
at that. The man lunching at the next table might have concluded that
Johnny's sister had got engaged to a scoundrel, instead of to the
talented, promising, and highly virtuous young editor of a popular daily
paper. Being another member of the 1917, I dare say he understood.
But no one had tried to answer Juke's question, 'Why is she doing it?'
Johnny had supposed 'for the usual reasons.' That opens a probably
unanswerable question. What the devil are the usual reasons?
I met Lady Pinkerton and her elder daughter in the muzzle department of
the Army and Navy Stores the next week. That was one of the annoying
aspects of the muzzling order; one met in muzzle shops people with whom
neither temperament nor circumstances would otherwise have thrown one.
I have a particular dislike for Lady Pinkerton, and she for me. I hate
those cold, shallow eyes, and clothes drenched in scent, and basilisk
pink faces whitened with powder which such women have or develop. When I
look at her I think of all her frightful books, and the frightful serial
she has even now running in the Pink Pictorial, and I shudder
(unobtrusively, I hope), and look, away. When she looks at me, she thinks
'dirty Jew,' and she shudders (unobtrusively, too), and looks over my
head. She did so now, no doubt, as she bowed.
'Dreadfully tahsome, this muzzling order,' she said, originally. 'We have
two Pekingese, a King Charles, and a pug, and their poor little faces
don't fit any muzzle that's made.'
I answered with some inanity about my mother's Poltalloch, and we talked
for a moment. She said she hoped I was quite all right again, and I
suppose I said I was, with my leg shooting like a gathered tooth (it was
pretty bad all that spring).
Suddenly I felt her wanting badly to tell me the news about Jane. She
wanted to tell me because she thought she would be scoring off me,
knowing that what she would call my 'influence' over Jane had always been
used against all that Hobart stands for. I felt her longing to throw me
the triumphant morsel of news—'Jane has deserted you and all your
tiresome, conceited, disturbing clique, and is going to marry the
promising young editor of her father's chief paper.' But something
restrained her. I caught the advance and retreat of her intention, and
connected it with her daughter, who stood by her, silent, with an absurd
Pekingese in her arms.
Anyhow, Lady Pinkerton held in her news, and I left them. I dislike
Lady Pinkerton, as I have said; but on this occasion I disliked her a
little less than usual, for that maternal instinct which had robbed her
of her triumph.
I went to see Katherine Varick that evening. I often do when I have been
meeting women like Lady Pinkerton, because there is a danger that that
kind of woman, so common and in a sense so typical, may get to bulk too
large in one's view of women, and lead one into the sin of
generalisation. So many women are such very dreadful fools—men too, for
that matter, but more women—that one needs to keep in pretty frequent
touch with those who aren't, with the women whose brains, by nature and
training, grip and hold. Of these, Katherine Varick has as fine and keen
a mind and as good a head as any I know. She isn't touched anywhere with
Potterism; she has the scientific temperament. Katherine and I are great
friends. From the first she did a good deal of work for the
Fact—reviews of scientific books, mostly. I went to see her, to get
the taste of Lady Pinkerton out of my mouth.
I found her doing something with test-tubes and bottles—some experiment
with carbohydrates, I think it was. I watched her till she was through
with it, then we talked. That is the way one puts it, but as a matter of
fact Katherine seldom does much of the talking; one talks to her. She
listens, and puts in from time to time some critical comment that often
extraordinarily clears up any subject one is talking round. She
contributes as much as any one I know to the conversation, but in such
condensed tabloids that it doesn't take her long. Most things don't seem
to her to be worth saying. She'll let, for instance, a chatterbox like
Juke say a hundred words to her one, and still she'll get most said,
though Jukie's not a vapid talker either.
'Jane,' she told me, 'is coming back next week. The marriage is to be at
the end of April.'
'A rapidity worthy of the Hustling Press. Jukie will be sorry. He hopes
yet to wrest her as a brand from the burning.'
Katherine smiled at Juke's characteristic sanguineness.
'Jukie won't do that. If Jane means to do a thing she does it. Jane knows
what she wants.'
'And she wants Hobart?' I pondered it, turning it over, still puzzled.
'She wants Hobart,' Katherine agreed. 'And all that Hobart will let
her in to.'
'The Daily Haste? The society of the Pinkerton journalists?'
'And of a number of other people. Some of them fairly important people,
you know. The editor of the Daily Haste has to transact business with a
good many notorious persons, no doubt. That would amuse Jane. She's all
for life. I dare say the wife of the editor of the Haste has a pretty
good front window for the show. Jane likes playing about with people, as
you like playing with ideas, and I with chemicals…. Besides, beauty
counts with Jane. It does with every one. She's probably fallen in love.'
That was all we said about it. We talked for the rest of the evening
about the Fact.
But when I went to Jane's wedding, I understood about the 'number of
other people' that Hobart let Jane in to. They had been married that
afternoon by the Registrar, Jane having withstood the pressure of her
parents, who preferred weddings to be in churches. Hobart didn't much
care; he was, he said, a Presbyterian by upbringing, but sat loosely to
it, and didn't care for fussy weddings. Jane frankly disbelieved in what
she called 'all that sort of thing.' So they went before the Registrar,
and gave a party in the evening at the Carlton.
We all went, even Juke, who had failed to snatch Jane from the burning. I
don't know that it was a much queerer party than other wedding parties,
which are apt to be an ill-assorted mixture of the bridegroom's circle
and the bride's. And, except for Jane's own personal friends, these two
circles largely overlapped in this case. The room was full of
journalists, important and unimportant, business people, literary people,
and a few politicians of the same colour as the Pinkerton press. There
were a lot of dreadful women, who, I supposed, were Lady Pinkerton's
friends (probably literary women; one of them was introduced to Juke as
'the editress of Forget-me-not'), and a lot of vulgar men, many of whom
looked like profiteers. But, besides all these, there were undoubtedly
interesting people and people of importance. And I realised that the
editor of the Haste, like the other editors of important papers, must,
of necessity, as Katherine had said, have a lot to do with such people.
And there, in the middle of a group of journalists, was Jane; Jane, in a
square-cut, high-waisted, dead white frock, with her firm, round, young
shoulders and arms, and her firm, round, young face, and her dark hair
cut across her broad white forehead, parted a little like a child's, at
one side, and falling thick and straight round her neck like a mediaeval
page's. She wore a long string of big amber beads—Hobart's present—and
a golden girdle round her high, sturdy waist.
I saw Jane in a sense newly that evening, not having seen her for some
time. And I saw her again as I had often seen her in the past—a greedy,
lazy, spoilt child, determined to take and keep the best out of life,
and, if possible, pay nothing for it. A profiteer, as much as the fat
little match manufacturer, her uncle, who was talking to Hobart, and in
whom I saw a resemblance to the twins. And I saw too Jane's queer, lazy,
casual charm, that had caught and held Hobart and weaned him from the
feminine graces and obviousnesses of Clare.
Hobart stood near Jane, quiet and agreeable and good-looking. A
second-rate chap, running a third-rate paper. Jane had married him, for
all her clear-headed intellectual scorn of the second-rate, because she
was second-rate herself, and didn't really care.
And there was little Pinkerton chatting with Northcliffe, his rival and
friend, and Lady Pinkerton boring a high Foreign Office official very
nearly to yawns, and Clare Potter, flushed and gallantly gay, flitting
about from person to person (Clare was always restless; she had none of
Jane's phlegm and stolidity), and Johnny, putting in a fairly amusing
time with his own friends and acquaintances, and Frank Potter talking
to Juke about his new parish. Frank, discontented all the war because
he couldn't get out to France without paying the price that Juke had
paid, was satisfied with life for the moment, having just been given a
fashionable and rich London living, where many hundreds weekly sat
under him and heard him preach. Juke wasn't the member of that crowd I
should personally have selected to discuss fashionable and overpaid
livings with, had I just accepted one, but they were the only two
parsons in the room, so I suppose Potter thought it appropriate, I
overheard pleased fragments such as 'Twenty thousand communicants …
only standing-room at Sunday evensong,' which indicated that the new
parish was a great success.
'That poor chap,' Jukie said to me afterwards. 'He's in a wretched
position. He has to profess Christianity, and he doesn't want even to try
to live up to it. At least, whenever he has a flash of desire to, that
atheist wife of his puts it out. She's the worst sort of atheist—the
sort that says her prayers regularly. Why are parsons allowed to marry?
Or if they must, why can't their wives be chosen for them by a special
board? And what, in Heaven's name, came over a Potter that he should take
Orders? The fight between Potterism and Christianity—it's the funniest
spectacle—and the saddest….'
But Juke on Christianity always leaves me cold. The nation to which I (on
one side) belong can't be expected to look at Christianity
impartially—we have suffered too much at the hands of Christians. Juke
and the other hopeful and ardent members of his Church may be able to
separate Christianity from Christians, and not judge the one by the
other; but I can't. The fact that Christendom is what it is has always
disposed of Christianity as a working force, to my mind. Judaism is
detestable, but efficient; Christianity is well-meaning but a failure.
As, of course, parsons like Juke would be and are the first to admit.
They say it aims so high that it's bound to fail, which is probably true.
But that makes it pretty useless as a working human religion. Anyhow, I
quite agree with Juke that it is comic to see poor little nonentities
like Frank Potter caught in it, tangled up in it, and trying to get free
and carry on as though it wasn't there.
Of course, nearly all the rest of that crowd at Jane's wedding was
carrying on as if Christianity weren't there without the least trouble or
struggle. They were quite right; it wasn't there. Nothing was there, for
most of them, but self-interest and personal desire. We were, the lot of
us, out to make—to grab and keep and enjoy. Nothing else counted. What
could Christianity do, a frail, tilting, crusading St. George, up against
the monster dragon Grab, who held us all in his coils? It's no use,
Jukie; it never was and never will be any use.
I suddenly grew very tired of that party. It seemed a monster meeting of
Potterites at play—mediocrity, second-rateness, humbug, muddle, cant,
cheap stunts—the room was full of it all.
I went across to Jane to say good-bye. I had scarcely spoken to her yet.
I had never congratulated her on her engagement, but Jane wouldn't mind
about that or expect me to.
All I could say now was, 'I'm afraid I've got to get back. I've some
She said, 'Is it any use my sending you anything for the Fact?
'From the enemy's camp?' I smiled at her. She smiled too.
'I've not ratted, you know. I'm still an A.P. I shall come on the next
tour of investigation, whenever that is.'
'Shall you write for the Haste?' I asked her.
'Sometimes, I expect. Oliver says he can get me some of the reviewing.
And occasional non-controversial articles. But I don't want to be tied up
with it; I want to write for other papers too…. You take Johnny's
poetry, I observe.'
'Sometimes. That's Peacock's fault, not mine. … Send along anything
you think may suit, by all means, and we'll consider it. You'll most
likely get it back—if you remember to enclose a stamped envelope.
… Good-night, and thank you for asking me to your party.
I said good-bye to Lady Pinkerton, and went back to the Fact office,
for it was press night.
So Jane got married.
DINING WITH THE HOBARTS
That May was very hot. One sweltered in offices, streets, and underground
trains. You don't expect this kind of weather in early May, which is
usually a time of bitter frosts and biting winds, punctuated by
thunderstorms. It told on one's nerves. One got sick of work and people.
I quarrelled all round; with Peacock about the paper, with my typist
about her punctuation, with my family about my sister's engagement.
Rosalind (that was the good old English name they had given her) had been
brought up, like myself, in the odour of public school and Oxford
Anglicanism (she had been at Lady Margaret Hall). My father had grown up
from his early youth most resolutely English, and had married the
daughter of a rich Manchester cotton manufacturer. Their two children,
Sidneys from birth, were to ignore the unhappy Yiddish strain that was
branded like a deep disgrace into their father's earliest experience. It
was unlucky for my parents that both Rosalind and I reverted to type.
Rosalind was very lovely, very clever, and unmistakably a Jewess. At
Roedean she pretended she wasn't; who wouldn't? She was still there when
I came of age and became Gideon, so she didn't join me in that. But when
she left school and went up to Oxford, she began to develop and expand
mentally, and took her own line, and by the time she was twenty she was,
as I never was, a red-hot nationalist. We were neither of us ever
inclined to Judaism in religion; we shook off the misfit of Anglicanism
at an early age (we both refused at fifteen to be confirmed), but didn't
take to our national faith, which we both disliked extremely. Nor did we
like most of our fellow Jews; I think as a race we are narrow, cowardly,
avaricious, and mean-spirited, and Rosalind thinks we are oily. (She and
I aren't oily, by the way; we are both the lean kind, perhaps because,
after all, we are half English). I only reverted to our original name
because I was sickened of the Sidney humbug. But we learnt Yiddish, and
read Hebrew literature, and discussed repatriation, and maintained that
the Jews were the brains of the world. It was a cross to our parents. But
far more bitter to them than even my change of name was Rosalind's
engagement, this spring of 1919, to Boris Stefan. Boris had been living
and painting in London for some years; his home had been in Moscow; he
had barely escaped with his life from a pogrom in 1912, and had since
then lived in England. He had served in the war, belonged to several
secret societies of a harmless sort, painted pictures that had attracted
a good deal of critical notice, and professed Bolshevik sympathies, of a
purely academic nature (as so many of these sympathies are) on the
grounds that Bolshevism was a Jewish movement. He and I differed on the
subject of Bolshevism. I have never seen any signs either of constructive
ability or sound principles in any Bolshevik leader; nothing but
enterprise, driving-power, vindictiveness, Hebrew cunning, and a criminal
ruthlessness. They're not statesmen. And Bolshevism, as so far
manifested, isn't a statesmanlike system; it holds the reins too tight. I
don't condemn it for the cruelties committed in its name, because
whenever Russians get excited there'll be fiendish cruelties; Russians
are like that—the most cruel devils in earth or hell. Bolshevist
Russians are no worse in that way than Czarist Russians. Except when I am
listening to their music I loathe the whole race; great stupid, brutal,
immoral, sentimental savages…. When I think of them I feel a kind of
nausea, oddly touched with fear, that must be hereditary, I suppose.
After all, my father, as a child of five, saw his mother outraged and
murdered by Russian police. Anyhow, Bolshevism, in Russian hands, has
become a kind of stupid, crazy, devil's game, as everything always has.
But I don't want to discuss Bolshevism here. Boris Stefan hadn't really
anything to do with it. He wasn't a politician. He was a dreamy, simple,
untidy, rather childlike person, with a wonderful gift for painting.
Rosalind and I had got to know him at the Club. They were both beautiful,
and it hadn't taken them long to fall in love. One Russian-Jewish exile
marrying another—that was the bitterness of it to our very Gentile
mother and our Sidneyfied father, who had spent fifty years living down
So I was called in to assist in averting the catastrophe. I wouldn't say
anything except that it seemed very suitable, and that annoyed my mother.
I remember that she and I and Rosalind argued round and round it for an
hour one hot evening in the drawing-room at Queen's Gate. Finally my
mother said, 'Oh, very well. If Rosalind wants a lot of fat Yid babies
with hooked noses and oily hair, all lending money on usury instead of
getting into debt like Christians, let her have them. I wash my hands of
the lot of you. I don't know what I've done to deserve two Sheenies for
That made Rosalind giggle, and eased the acrimony of the discussion. My
mother was a little fair woman, sharp-tongued and quick-tempered, but
with a sense of fun.
My father had no sense of fun. I think it had been crushed out of him in
his cradle. He was a silent man (though he could, like all Jews, be
eloquent), with a thin face and melancholy dark eyes. I am supposed to
look like him, I believe. He, too, spoke to me that evening about
Rosalind's engagement. I remember how he walked up and down the
dining-room, with his hands behind him and his head bent forward, and his
quick, nervous, jerky movements.
'I don't like it, Arthur. I feel as if we had all climbed up out of a
very horrible pit into a place of safety and prosperity and honour, and
as if the child was preparing to leap down into the pit again. She
doesn't know what it's like to be a Jew. I do, and I've saved you both
from it, and you both seem bent on returning to the pit whence you were
digged. We're an outcast people, my dear; an outcast people….'
His black eyes were haunted by memories of old fears; the fears his
ancestors had had in them, listening behind frail locked doors for the
howl 'Down with the Jews!' The fears that had been branded by savages
into his own infant consciousness half a century ago; the fears seared
later into the soul of a boy by boyish savages at an English school; the
fears of the grown man, always hiding something, always pretending,
I discovered then—and this is why I am recording this family incident
here, why it connects with the rest of my life at this time—that
Potterism has, for one of its surest bases, fear. The other bases are
ignorance, vulgarity, mental laziness, sentimentality, and greed. The
ignorance which does not know facts; the vulgarity which cannot
appreciate values; the laziness which will not try to learn either of
these things; the sentimentality which, knowing neither, is stirred by
the valueless and the untrue; the greed which grabs and exploits. But
fear is worst; the fear of public opinion, the fear of scandal, the fear
of independent thought, of loss of position, of discomfort, of
consequences, of truth.
My poor parents were afraid of social damage to their child; afraid lest
she should be mixed up with something low, outcast, suspected. Not all my
father's intellectual brilliance, nor all my mother's native wit, could
save them from this pathetic, vulgar, ignorant piece of snobbery.
Pathetic, vulgar, and ignorant, because, if they had only known it,
Rosalind stood to lose nothing she cared for by allying herself with a
Jewish painter of revolutionary theories. Not a single person whose
friendship she cared for but would be as much her friend as before. She
had nothing to do with the bourgeoisie, bristling with prejudices and
social snobberies, who made, for instance, my mother's world. And that is
what one generation should always try to understand about another—how
little (probably) each cares for the other's world.
Of course, Rosalind married Boris Stefan. And, as I have said, the
whole incident is only mentioned to illustrate how Potterism lurks in
secret places, and flaunts in open places, pervading the whole fabric
of human society.
Peace with Germany was signed, as every one knows, on June 28th. Nearly
every one crabbed it, of course, the Fact with the rest. I have no
doubt that it did, as Garvin put it, sow dragon's teeth over Europe. It
certainly seemed a poor, unconstructive, expensive, brittle thing enough.
But I am inclined to think that nearly all peace treaties are pretty bad.
You have to have them, however, and you may as well make the best of
them. Anyhow, bad peace as it looked, at least it was peace, and that
was something new and unusual. And I confess frankly that it has, so far,
held together longer than I, for one, ever expected it would. (I am
writing this in January, 1920).
The Fact published a cheery series of articles, dealing with each
clause in turn, and explaining why it was bound to lead, immediately or
ultimately, to war with some one or other. I wrote some of them myself.
But I was out on some points, though most haven't had time yet to prove
'Now,' said Jane, the day after the signature, 'I suppose we can get on
with the things that matter.'
She meant housing, demobilisation, proportional representation, health
questions, and all the good objects which the Society for Equal
Citizenship had at heart. She had been writing some articles in the
Daily Haste on these. They were well-informed and intelligent, but not
expert enough for the Fact. And that, as I began to see, was partly
where Hobart came in. Jane wrote cleverly, clearly, and concisely—better
than Johnny did. But, in these days of overcrowded competent journalism
—well, it is not unwise to marry an editor of standing. It gives you a
better place in the queue.
I dined at the Hobarts' on June 29th, for the first time since their
marriage. We were a party of six. Katherine Varick was there, and a
distinguished member of the American Legation and his wife.
Jane handled her parties competently, as she did other things. A vivid,
jolly child she looked, in love with life and the fun and importance of
her new position. The bachelor girl or man just married is an amusing
study to me. Especially the girl, with her new responsibilities, her new
and more significant relation to life and society. Later she is sadly apt
to become dull, to have her individuality merged in the eternal type of
the matron and the mother; her intellect is apt to lose its edge, her
mind its grip. It is the sacrifice paid by the individual to the race.
But at first she is often a delightful combination of keen-witted, jolly
girl and responsible woman.
We talked, I remember, partly about the Government, and how soon
Northcliffe would succeed in turning it out. The Pinkerton press was
giving its support to the Government. The Weekly Fact was not. But we
didn't want them out at once; we wanted to keep them on until some one of
constructive ability, in any party, was ready to take the reins. The
trouble about the Labour people was that so far there was no one of
constructive ability; they were manifestly unready. They had no one good
enough. No party had. It was the old problem, never acuter, of 'Produce
the Man.' If Labour was to produce him, I suspected that it would take it
at least a generation of hard political training and education. If Labour
had got in then, it would have been a mob of uneducated and uninformed
sentimentalists, led and used by a few trained politicians who knew the
tricks of the trade. It would be far better for them to wait till the
present generation of honest mediocrities died out, and a new and
differently educated generation were ready to take hold.
University-trained Labour—that bugbear of Barnes'—if there is any hope
for the British Constitution, which probably there is not, I believe it
lies there. It is a very small one, at the best. Anyhow, it certainly did
not, at this period, lie in the parliamentary Labour Party, that body of
incompetents in an incompetent House.
It was in discussing this that I discovered that Hobart couldn't discuss.
He could talk; he could assert, produce opinions and information, but he
couldn't meet or answer arguments. And he was cautious, afraid of
committing himself, afraid, I fancied, of exposing gulfs in his equipment
of information, for, like other journalists of his type, his habit was to
write about things of which he knew little. Old Pinkerton remarked once,
at a dinner to American newspaper men, that his own idea of a good
journalist was a man who could sit down at any moment and write a column
on any subject. The American newspaper men cheered this; it was their
idea of a good journalist too. It is an amusing game, and one encouraged
by the Anti-Potterite League, to waylay leader-writers and tackle them
about their leaders, turn them inside out and show how empty they are.
I've written that sort of leader myself, of course, but not for the
Fact; we don't allow it. There, the man who writes is the man who
knows, and till some one knows no one writes. That is why some people
call us dry, heavy, lacking in ideas, and say we are like a Blue Book, or
a paper read to the British Association. We are proud of that
reputation. The Pinkerton papers and the others can supply the ideas; we
are out for facts.
Anyhow, Hobart I knew for an ignorant person. All he had was a flair
for the popular point of view. That was why Pinkerton who knew men, got
hold of him. He was a true Potterite. Possibly I always saw him at his
least eloquent and his most cautious, because he didn't like me and knew
I didn't like him. Even then there had already been one or two rather
acrimonious disputes between my paper and his on points of fact. The
Daily Haste hated being pinned down to and quarrelled with about facts;
facts didn't seem to the Pinkerton press things worth quarrelling over,
like policy, principles, or prejudices. The story goes that when any one
told old Pinkerton he was wrong about something, he would point to his
vast circulation, using it as an argument that he couldn't be mistaken.
If you still pressed and proved your point, he would again refer to his
circulation, but using it this time as an indication of how little it
mattered whether his facts were right or wrong. Some one once said to him
curiously, 'Don't you care that you are misleading so many millions?'
To which he replied, in his dry little voice, 'I don't lead, or mislead,
the millions. They lead me.' Little Pinkerton sometimes saw a long way
farther into what he was doing than you'd guess from his shoddy press. He
had queer flashes of genius.
But Hobart hadn't. Hobart didn't see anything, except what he was
officially paid to see. A shallow, solemn ass.
I looked suddenly at Jane, and caught her watching her husband silently,
with her considering, dispassionate look. He was talking to the American
Legation about the traffic strike (we were a round table, and the talk
Then I knew that, whether Jane had ever been in love with Hobart or not,
she was not so now. I knew further, or thought I knew, that she saw him
precisely as I did.
Of course she didn't. His beauty came in—it always does, between men and
women, confusing the issues—and her special relation to him, and a
hundred other things. The relation between husband and wife is too close
and too complex for clear thinking. It seems always to lead either to too
much regard or to an excess of irritation, and often to both.
Jane looked away from Hobart, and met my eyes watching her. Her
expression didn't alter, nor, probably, did mine. But something passed
between us; some unacknowledged mutual understanding held us together for
an instant. It was unconscious on Jane's part and involuntary on mine.
She hadn't meant to think over her husband with me; I hadn't meant to
push in. Jane wasn't loyal, and I wasn't well-bred, but we neither of us
I hardly talked to Jane that evening. She was talking after dinner to
Katherine and the American Legation. I had a three-cornered conversation
with Hobart and the Legation's wife, who was of an inquiring turn of
mind, like all of her race, and asked us exhausting questions. She got on
to the Jewish question, and asked us for our views on the reasons for
anti-Semitism in Europe.
'I've been reading the New Witness,' she said.
I told her she couldn't do better, if she was investigating
'But are they fair?' she asked ingenuously.
I replied that there were moments in which I had a horrible suspicion
that they were.
'Then the Jews are really a huge conspiracy plotting to get the finances
of Europe into their hands?' Her eyes, round and shocked, turned from me
He lightly waved her to me.
'You must ask Mr. Gideon. The children of Israel are his speciality.'
His dislike of me gleamed in his blue eyes and in his supercilious, cold
smile. The Legation's wife (no fool) must have seen it.
I went on talking rubbish to her about the Jews and the finances of
Europe. I don't remember what particular rubbish it was, for I was hardly
aware of it at the time. What I was vividly and intensely and quite
suddenly aware of was that I was on fire with the same anger, dislike,
and contempt that burned in Hobart towards me. I knew that evening that I
hated him, even though I was sitting in his house and smoking his
cigarettes. I wanted to be savagely rude to him. I think that once or
twice I came very near to being so.
Katherine and I went home by the same bus. I grumbled to her about
Hobart all the way. I couldn't help it; the fellow seemed suddenly to
have become a nervous disease to me; I was mentally wriggling and
quivering with him.
Katherine laughed presently, in that queer, silent way of hers.
'Why worry?' she said. 'You've not married him.'
'Well, what's marriage?' I returned. 'He's a public danger—he and
Katherine said truly, 'There are so many public dangers. There really
isn't time to get agitated about them all.' Her mind seemed still to be
running on marriage, for she added presently, 'I think he'll find that
he's bitten off rather more than he can chew, in Jane.'
'Jane can go to the devil in her own way,' I said, for I was angry with
Jane too. 'She's married a second-rate fellow for what she thinks he'll
bring her. I dare say she has her reward…. Katherine, I believe that's
the very essence of Potterism—going for things for what they'll bring
you, what they lead to, instead of for the thing-in-itself. Artists care
for the thing-in-itself; Potterites regard things as railway trains,
always going somewhere, getting somewhere. Artists, students, and the
religious—they have the single eye. It's the opposite to the commercial
outlook. Artists will look at a little fishing town or country village,
and find it a thing of beauty and a joy for ever, and leave it to
itself—unless they yield to the devil and paint it or write about it.
Potterites will exploit it, commercialise it, bring the railway to
it—and the thing is spoilt. Oh, the Potterites get there all right,
confound them. They're the progressives of the world. They—they have
(It's a queer thing how Jews can't help quoting the New Testament—even
Jews without religion.)
'We seem to have decided,' Katherine said, 'that Jane is a Potterite.'
'Morally she is. Not intellectually. You can be a Potterite in many ways.
Jane accepts the second-rate, though she recognises it as such…. The
plain fact is,' I was in a fit of savage truth-speaking, 'that Jane is
The gesture of Katherine's square shoulders may have meant several
things—'Aren't we all?' or 'Surely that's very obvious,' or 'I can't be
bothered to consider Jane any more,' or merely 'After all, we've just
Anyhow, Katherine got off the bus at this point.
I was left repeating to myself, as if it had been a new discovery, which
it wasn't, 'Jane is second-rate….'
Jane was taking the chair at a meeting of a section of the Society for
Equal Citizenship. The speakers were all girls under thirty who wanted
votes. They spoke rather well. They weren't old enough to have become
sentimental, and they were mostly past the conventional cliches of the
earlier twenties. In extreme youth one has to be second-hand; one doesn't
know enough, one hasn't lived or learnt enough, to be first-hand; and one
lacks self-confidence. But by five or six-and-twenty one should have left
that behind. One should know what one thinks and what one means, and be
able to state it in clear terms. That is what these girls—mostly
Jane left the chair and spoke too.
I hadn't known Jane spoke so well. She has a clever, coherent way of
making her points, and is concise in reply if questioned, quick at
repartee if heckled.
Lady Pinkerton was sitting in the row in front of Juke and me. Mother and
daughter. It was very queer to me. That wordy, willowy fool, and the
sturdy, hard-headed girl in the chair, with her crisp, gripping mind. Yet
there was something…. They both loved success. Perhaps that was it. The
vulgarian touch. I felt it the more clearly in them because of Juke at
my side. And yet Jukie too … Only he would always be awake to it—on
his guard, not capitulating.
Jane came round with me after the meeting to the Fact office, to go
through some stuff she was writing for us about the meeting. She had to
come then, though it was late, because next day was press day. We hadn't
been there ten minutes when Hobart's name was sent in, with the message
that he was just going home, and was Mrs. Hobart ready to come?
'Well, I'm not,' said Jane to me. 'I shall be quite ten minutes more.
I'll go and tell him.'
She went outside and called down, 'Go on, Oliver. I shall be some
'I'll wait,' he called up, and Jane came back into the room.
We went on for quite ten minutes.
When we went down, Hobart was standing by the front door, waiting.
'How did you track me?' Jane asked.
'Your mother told me where you'd gone. She called at the Haste on her
way home. Good-night, Gideon.'
They went out together, and I returned to the office, irritated a little
by being hurried. It was just like Lady Pinkerton, I thought, to have
gone round to Hobart inciting him to drag Jane from my office. There had
been coldness, if not annoyance, in Hobart's manner to me.
Well, confound him, it wasn't to be expected that he should much care
for his wife to write for the Fact. But he might mind his own business
and leave Jane to mind hers, I thought.
Peacock came in at this point, and we worked till midnight.
Peacock opened a parcel of review books from Hubert Wilkins—all tripe,
of course. He turned them over, impatiently.
'What fools the fellows are to go on sending us their rubbish. They
might have learnt by now that we never take any notice of them,' he
grumbled. He picked out one with a brilliant wrapper—'A Cabinet
Minister's Wife, by Leila Yorke…. That woman needs a lesson,
Gideon. She's a public nuisance. I've a good mind—a jolly good
mind—to review her, for once. What? Or do you think it would be
infra dig? Well, what about an article, then—we'd get Neilson to
do one—on the whole tribe of fiction-writing fools, taking Lady
Pinkerton for a peg to hang it on? … After all, we are the organ
of the Anti-Potter League. We ought to hammer at Potterite fiction as
well as at Potterite journalism and politics. For two pins I'd get
Johnny Potter to do it. He would, I believe.'
'I'm sure he would. But it would be a little too indecent. Neilson shall
do it. Besides, he'd do it better. Or do it yourself.'
'I will not. My acquaintance with the subject is inadequate, and I've no
intention of improving it.'
In the end Peacock did it himself. It was pretty good, and pretty
murderous. It came out in next week's number. I met Clare Potter in the
street the day after it came out, and she cut me dead. I expect she
thought I had written it. I am sure she never read the Fact, but no
doubt the family 'attention had been drawn to' the article, as people
always express it when writing to a paper to remonstrate about something
in it they haven't liked. I suppose they think it would be a score for
the paper if they admitted that they had come across it in the natural
course of things—anyhow, they want to imply that it is, of course, a
paper decent people don't see—like John Bull, or the People.
When I met Johnny Potter, he grinned, and said, 'Good for you, old bean.
Or was it Peacock? My mother's persuaded it was you, and she'll never
forgive you. Poor old mater, she thought her new book rather on the
intellectual side. Full of psycho-analysis, and all that…. I say, I
wish Peacock would send me Guthrie's new book to do.'
That was Johnny all over. He was always asking for what he wanted,
instead of waiting for what we thought fit to send him. I was sure that
when he published a book, he'd write round to the editors telling them
who was to review it.
I said, 'I think Neilson's going to do it,' and determined that it should
be so. Johnny's brand of grabbing bored me. Jane did the same. A greedy
pair, never seeing why they shouldn't have all they wanted.
It was at this time (July) that a long, drawn-out quarrel started between
the Weekly Fact and the Daily Haste about the miners' strike. The
Pinkerton press did its level best to muddle the issues of that strike,
by distorting some facts, passing over others, and inventing more. By the
time you'd read a leader in the Haste on the subject, you'd have got
the impression that the strikers were Bolshevists helped by German money
and aiming at a social revolution, instead of discontented, needy and
greedy British workmen, grabbing at more money and less work, in the
normal, greedy, human way we all have. Bonar Law, departing for once
rather unhappily from his 'the Government have given me no information'
attitude, announced that the miners were striking against conscription
and the war with Russia. Some Labour papers said they were striking
against the Government's shifty methods and broken pledges. I am sure
both parties credited them with too much idealism and too little plain
horse-sense. They were striking to get the pay and hours they wanted out
of the Government, and, of course, for nationalisation. They were not
idealists, and not Bolshevists, but frank grabbers, like most of us. But,
as every one will remember, 'Bolshevist' had become at this period a
vague term of abuse, like 'Hun' during the war. People who didn't like
Carson called him a Bolshevist; people who didn't like manual labourers
called them Bolshevists. What all these users of the mysterious and
elastic epithet lacked was a clear understanding and definition of
The Daily Haste, of course (and, to do it justice, many other
papers), used the word freely as meaning the desire for better
conditions and belief in the strike as a legitimate means of obtaining
them. I suppose it took a shorter time to say or write than this does;
anyhow, it bore a large, vague, Potterish meaning that was irresistible
to people in general.
The Haste made such a fool of itself over the miners that we came to
blows with them, and quarrelled all through July and August, mostly over
trivial and petty points. I may add that the Fact was not supporting
immediate nationalisation; we were against it, for reasons that it would
be too tedious to explain here. (As a matter of fact, I know that all I
record of this so recent history is too tedious; I do not seem to be
able to avoid most of it; but even I draw the line somewhere). The
controversy between the Fact and the Haste seemed after a time to
resolve itself largely into a personal quarrel between Hobart and
myself. He was annoyed that Jane occasionally wrote for us. I suppose it
was natural that he should be annoyed. And he didn't like her to
frequent the 1917 Club, to which a lot of us belonged. Jane often
lunched there, so did I. She said that you got a better lunch there than
at the Women's University Club. Not much better, but still, better. You
also met more people you wanted to meet, as well as more people you
didn't. We started a sort of informal lunch club, which met there and
lunched together on Thursdays. It consisted of Jane, Katherine Varick,
Juke, Peacock, Johnny Potter, and myself. Often other people joined us
by invitation; my sister Rosalind and her husband, any girl Johnny
Potter was for the moment in love with, and friends of Peacock's,
Juke's, or mine. Juke would sometimes bring a parson in; this was rather
widening for us, I think, and I dare say for the parson too. To Juke it
was part of the enterprise of un-Potterising the Church, which was on
his mind a good deal. He said it needed un-Potterising as much as the
State, or literature, or journalism, or even the drama, and that
Potterism in it was even more dangerous than in these. So, when he
could, he induced parsons to join the Anti-Potter League.
We weren't all tied up, I may say, with the political party principles
very commonly held by members of the 1917 Club. I certainly wasn't a
Socialist, nor, wholly, I think, a Radical; neither at that time was
Peacock, though he became more so as time went on; nor, certainly, was
Katherine. Juke was, because he believed that in these principles was the
only hope for the world. And the twins were, because the same principles
were the only wear for the young intellectual, at that moment. Johnny, in
all things the glass of fashion and the mould of form, wore them as he
wore his monocle, quite unconscious of his own reasons for both. But it
was the idea of the Anti-Potter League to keep clear of parties and
labels. You can belong to a recognised political party and be an
Anti-Potterite, for Potterism is a frame of mind, not a set of opinions
(Juke was, after Katherine, the best Anti-Potterite I have known, though
people did their best to spoil him), but it is easier, and more
compatible with your objects, to be free to think what you like about
everything. Once you are tied up with a party, you can only avoid
second-handedness, taking over views ready-made, if you are very
Thursday was a fairly free afternoon for me, and Jane and I somehow
got into a habit of going off somewhere together after lunch, or
staying on at the club and talking. Jane seemed to me to be
increasingly interesting; she was acquiring new subtleties,
complexities, and comprehensions, and shedding crudities. She wrote
better, too. We took her stuff sometimes for the Fact. At the same
time, she seemed to me to be morally deteriorating, as people who
grab and take things they oughtn't to have always do deteriorate. And
she was trying all the time to square Hobart with the rest of her
life, fitting him in, as it were, and he didn't fit in. I was
interested to see what she was making of it all.
One Thursday in early September, when Juke and Jane and I had lunched
alone together at the club, and Jane and I had gone off to some meeting
afterwards, Juke dropped in on me in the evening after dinner. He sat
down and lit a pipe, then got up and walked about the room, and I knew he
had something on his mind, but wasn't going to help him out. I felt hard
and rather sore that evening.
Soon he said, in his soft, indifferent voice, 'Of course you'll be angry
at what I'm going to say.'
'I think it probable,' I replied, 'from the look of you. But go on.'
'Well,' he said quietly, 'I don't think these Thursday lunches will do
'For you?' I asked.
'For any of us. Not with Jane Hobart there.' He wouldn't look at me, but
stood by the window looking out at Gray's Inn Road.
'And why not with Jane? Because she's married to the enemy?'
'It makes it awkward,' he murmured.
'Makes it awkward,' I repeated. 'How does it make it awkward? Whom does
it make awkward? It doesn't make Jane awkward. Nor me, nor any one else,
as far as I know. Does it make you awkward? I didn't know anything could
do that. But something obviously has, this evening. It's not Jane,
though; it's being afraid to say what you mean. You'd better spit it out,
Jukie. You're not enough of a Jesuit to handle these jobs competently,
you know. I know perfectly well what you've got on your mind. You think
Jane and I are getting too intimate with each other. You think we're
falling, or fallen, or about to fall, in love.'
'Well,' he wheeled round on me, relieved that I had said it, 'I do.
And you can't deny it…. Any fool could see it by now. Why, the way
you mooned about, depressed and sulky, this last month, when she's
been out of town, and woke up the moment she came back, was enough to
tell any one.'
'I dare say,' I said indifferently. 'People's minds are usually
offensively open to that particular information. If you'll define being
in love, I'll tell you whether I'm in love with Jane…. I'm interested
in Jane; I find her attractive, if you like, extraordinarily attractive,
though I don't admire her character, and she's not beautiful. I like to
be with her and to talk to her. On the other hand, I've not the least
intention of asking her to elope with me. Nor would she if I did. Well?'
'You're in love,' Juke repeated. 'You mayn't know it, but you are. And
you'll get deeper in every day, if you don't pull up. And then before you
know where you are, there'll be the most ghastly mess.'
'Don't trouble yourself, Jukie. There won't be a mess. Jane doesn't like
messes. And I'm not quite a fool. Don't imagine melodrama…. I claim the
right to be intimate with Jane—well, if you like, to be a little in love
with Jane—and yet to keep my head and not play the fool. Why should men
and women lose their attraction for each other just because they marry
and promise loyalty to some one person? They can keep that compact and
yet not shut themselves away from other men and other women. They must
have friends. Life can't be an eternal duet…. And here you come, using
that cant Potterish phrase, "in love," as if love was the sea, or
something definite that you must be in or out of and always know which.'
'The sea—yes,' Juke took me up. 'It's like the sea; it advances and
advances, and you can't stand there and stop it, say "Thus far and no
farther" to it. All you can do is to turn your back upon it and walk
away in time.'
'Well, I'm not going to walk away. There's nothing to walk away from.
I've no intention of behaving in a dishonourable way, and I claim the
right to be friends with Jane. So that's that.'
I was angry with Juke. He was taking the prudish, conventional point of
view. I had never yet been the victim of passion; love between men and
women had always rather bored me; it is such a hot, stupid, muddling
thing, ail emotion and no thought. Dull, I had always thought it; one of
those impulses arranged by nature for her own purposes, but not in the
least interesting to the civilised thinking being. Juke had no right to
speak as if I were an amorous fool, liable to be bowled over against my
'I've told you what I think,' said Juke bluntly. 'I can't do any more.
It's your own show.' He took out his watch. 'I've got a Men's Social,' he
said, and went. That is so like parsons. Their conversations nearly
always have these sudden ends. But I suppose that is not their fault.
And, after all, Juke was right. Juke was right. It was love, and I was in
it, and so was Jane. Five minutes after Juke left me that night I knew
that. I had been in love with Jane for years; perhaps since before the
war, only I had never known it. On that Anti-Potter investigation tour I
had observed and analysed her, and smiled cynically to myself at the
commercial instinct of the Potter twins, the lack of the fineness that
distinguished Katherine and Juke. I remembered that; but I remembered,
too, how white and round Jane's chin had looked as it pressed against the
thymy turf of the cliff where we lay above the sea. All through the war I
had seen her at intervals, enjoying life, finding the war a sort of lark,
and I had hated her because she didn't care for the death and torture of
men, for the possible defeat of her country, or the already achieved
economic, moral, and intellectual degradation of the whole of Europe. She
had merely profiteered out of it all, and had a good time. I remembered
now my anger and my scorn; but I remembered too the squareness and the
whiteness of her forehead under her newly-cut hair, that leave when I had
first seen it bobbed.
I had been moved by desire then without knowing it; I had let Hobart take
her, and still not known. The pang I had felt had been bitterness at
having lost Jane, not bitterness against Jane for having made a
But I knew now. Juke's words, in retrospect, were like fire to petrol; I
was suddenly all ablaze.
In that case Juke was right, and we mustn't go on meeting alone. There
might be, as he said, the most ghastly mess. Because I knew now that Jane
was in love with me too—a little.
We couldn't go on. It was too second-rate. It was anti-social, stupid,
uncivilised, all I most hated, to let emotion play the devil with one's
reasoned principles and theories. I wasn't going to. It would be
sentimental, sloppy—'the world well lost for love,' as in a schoolgirl's
favourite novel, a novel by Leila Yorke.
Now there are some loves that the world, important though it is, may be
well lost for—the love of an idea, a principle, a cause, a discovery, a
piece of knowledge or of beauty, perhaps a country; but very certainly
the love of lovers is not among these; it is too common and personal a
thing. I hate the whole tribe of sentimental men and women who, impelled
by the unimaginative fool nature, exalt sexual love above its proper
place in the scheme of things. I wasn't going to do it, or to let the
thing upset my life or Jane's.
I kept away from Jane all that week. She rang me up at the office once;
it may have been my fancy that her voice sounded strange, somehow less
assured than usual. It set me wondering about that last lunch and
afternoon together which had roused Juke. Had it roused Jane, too? What
had happened, exactly? How had I spoken and looked? I couldn't remember;
only that I had been glad—very glad—to have Jane back in town again.
I didn't go to the club next Thursday. As it happened, I was
lunching with some one else. So, by Thursday evening, I hadn't seen
Jane for a week.
Wanting company, I went to Katherine's flat after dinner. Katherine had
just finished dinner, and with her was Jane.
When I saw her, lying there smoking in the most comfortable arm-chair as
usual, serene and lazy and pale, Juke's words blazed up between us like a
fire, and I couldn't look at her.
I don't know what we talked about; I expect I was odd and absent. I knew
Katherine was looking at me, with those frosty, piercing, light blue eyes
of hers that saw through, and through, and beyond….
All the time I was saying to myself, 'This won't do. I must chuck it. We
I think Jane talked about Abraham Lincoln, which she disliked, and Lady
Pinkerton's experiments in spiritualism, which were rather funny. But I
couldn't have been there for more than half an hour before Jane got up to
go. She had to get home, she said.
I went with her. I didn't mean to, but I did. And here, if any one wants
to know why I regard 'being in love' as a disastrous kink in the mental
machinery, is the reason. It impels you to do things against all your
reasoned will and intentions. My madness drove me out with Jane, drove me
to see her home by the Hampstead tube, to walk across the Vale of Health
with her in the moonlight, to go in with her, and upstairs to the
All this time we had talked little, and of common, superficial things.
But now, as I stood in the long, dimly-lit room and watched Jane take off
her hat, drop it on a table, and stand for a moment with her back to me,
turning over the evening post, I knew that I must somehow have it out,
have things clear and straight between us. It seemed to me to be the only
way of striking any sort of a path through the intricate difficulties of
our future relations.
'Jane,' I said, and she turned and looked at me with questioning
At that I had no words for explanation or anything else: I could only
repeat, 'Jane. Jane. Jane,' like a fool.
She said, very low, 'Yes, Arthur,' as if she were assenting to some
statement I had made, as perhaps she was.
I somehow found that I had caught her hands in mine, and so we stood
together, but still I said nothing but 'Jane,' because that was all that,
for the moment, I knew.
Hobart stood in the open doorway, looking at us, white and quiet.
'Good-evening,' he said.
We fell apart, loosing each other's hands.
'You're early back, Oliver,' said Jane, composedly.
'Earlier, obviously,' he returned, 'than I was expected.'
My anger, my hatred, my contempt for him and my own shame blazed in me
together. I faced him, black and bitter, and he was not only to me
Jane's husband, the suspicious, narrow-minded ass to whom she was tied,
but, much more, the Potterite, the user of cant phrases, the ignorant
player to the gallery of the Pinkerton press, the fool who had so
little sense of his folly that he disputed on facts with the experts
who wrote for the Weekly Fact. In him, at that moment, I saw all the
Potterism of this dreadful world embodied, and should have liked to
have struck it dead.
'What exactly,' I asked him, 'do you mean by that?'
Jane yawned. 'I'm going to take my things off,' she said, and went out of
the room and up the next flight of stairs to her bedroom. It was her
contemptuous way of indicating that the situation was, in fact, no
situation at all, but merely a rather boring conversation.
As, though I appreciated her attitude, I couldn't agree with her, I
repeated my question.
Hobart added to his smile a shrug.
TOLD BY LEILA YORKE
THE TERRIBLE TRAGEDY ON THE STAIRS
Love and truth are the only things that count. I have often thought that
they are like two rafts on the stormy sea of life, which otherwise would
swamp and drown us struggling human beings. If we follow these two stars
patiently, they will guide us at last into port. Love—the love of our
kind—the undying love of a mother for her children—the love, so
gloriously exhibited lately, of a soldier for his country—the eternal
love between a man and a woman, which counts the world well lost—these
are the clues through the wilderness. And Truth, the Truth which cries
in the market-place with a loud voice and will not be hid, the Truth
which sacrifices comfort, joy, even life itself, for the sake of a clear
vision, the Truth which is far stranger than fiction—this is Love's
For Love's sake, then, and for Truth's, I am writing this account of a
very sad and very dreadful period in the lives of those close and dear to
me. I want to be very frank, and to hide nothing. I think, in my books, I
am almost too frank sometimes; I give offence, and hurt people's egotism
and vanity by speaking out; but it is the way I have to write; I cannot
soften down facts to please. Just as I cannot restrain my sense of the
ridiculous, even though it may offend those who take themselves
solemnly; I am afraid I am naughty about such people, and often give
offence; it is one of the penalties attached to the gift of humour. Percy
often tells me I should be more careful; but my dear Percy's wonderful
caution, that has helped to make him what he is, is a thing that no mere
reckless woman can hope to emulate.
I am diverging from the point. I must begin with that dreadful evening of
the 4th of September last. Clare was dining with a friend in town, and
stopping at Jane's house in Hampstead for the night. Percy and I were
spending a quiet evening at our house at Potter's Bar. We were both busy
after dinner; he was in his study, and I was in my den, as I call it,
writing another instalment of 'Rhoda's Gift' for the Evening Hustle, I
find I write my best after dinner; my brain gets almost feverishly
stimulated. My doctor tells me I ought not to work late, it is not fair
on my nerves, but I think every writer has to live more or less on his or
her nervous capital, it is the way of the reckless, squandering,
thriftless tribe we are.
Laying down my pen at 10.45 after completing my chapter, the telephone
bell suddenly rang. The maids had gone up to bed, so I went into the hall
to take the call, or to put it through to Percy's study, for the late
calls are usually, of course, for him, from one of the offices. But it
was not for him. It was Jane's voice speaking.
'Is that you, mother?' she said, quite quietly and steadily. 'There's
been an accident. Oliver fell downstairs. He fell backwards and broke his
neck. He died soon after the doctor came.'
The self-control, the quiet pluck of these modern girls! Her voice hardly
shook as she uttered the terrible words.
I sat down, trembling all over, and the tears rushed to my eyes. My
darling child, and her dear husband, cut off at the very outset of their
mutual happiness, and in this awful way! Those stairs—I always hated
them; they are so steep and narrow, and wind so sharply round a corner.
'Oh, my darling,' I said. 'And the last train gone, so that I can't be
with you till the morning! Is Clare there?'
'Yes,' said Jane. 'She's lying down…. She fainted.'
My poor darling Clare! So highly-strung, so delicate-fibred, far more
like me than Jane is! And I always had a suspicion that her feeling for
dear Oliver went very deep—deeper, possibly, than any of us ever
guessed. For, there is no doubt about it, poor Oliver did woo Clare; if
he wasn't in love with her he was very near it, before he went off at a
tangent after Jane, who was something new, and therefore attractive to
him, besides being thrown so much together in Paris when Jane was working
for her father. The dear child has put up a brave fight ever since the
engagement, and her self-control has been wonderful, but she has not been
her old self. If it had not been for the unfortunate European conditions,
I should have sent her abroad for a thorough change. It was terrible for
her to be on the spot when this awful accident happened.
'My dear, dear child,' I said, hardly able to speak, my voice shook so
with crying. 'I've no words…. Have you rung up Frank and Johnny? I
should like Frank to be with you to-night; I know he would wish it.'
'No,' said Jane. 'It's no use bothering them till to-morrow. They can't
do anything. Is daddy at home?… You'll tell him, then…. Good-night.'
'Oh, my darling, you mustn't ring off yet, indeed you mustn't. Hold on
while I tell daddy; he would hate not to speak to you at once about it.'
'No, he won't need to speak to me. He'll have to get on to the Haste at
once, and arrange a lot of things. I can keep till the morning.
She rang off. There is something terrible to me about telephone
conversations, when they deal with intimate or tragic subjects; they are
so remote, cold, impersonal, like typed letters; is it because one can't
watch the soul in the eyes of the person one is talking to?
I went straight to Percy. He was sitting at his writing table going
through papers. At his side was the black coffee that he always sipped
through the evenings, simmering over a spirit lamp. Percy will never go
up to bed until the small hours; I suppose it is his newspaper training.
If he isn't working, he will sit and read, or sometimes play patience,
and always sip strong coffee, though his doctor has told him he should
give it up. But he is like me; he lives on his nervous energy, reckless
of consequences. He spends himself, and is spent, in the service of his
great press. It was fortunate for him, though I suppose I ought not to
say it, that he married a woman who is also the slave of literature,
though of a more imaginative branch of literature, and who can understand
him. But then that was inevitable; he could never have cared for a
materialistic woman, or a merely domestic woman. He demanded ideas in the
woman to whom he gave himself.
I could hardly bear to tell him the dreadful news. I knew how overcome he
would be, because he was so fond of dear Oliver, who was one of his right
hands, as well as a dear son-in-law. And he had always loved Jane with a
peculiar pride and affection, devoted father as he was to all his
children, for he said she had the best brain of the lot. And Oliver had
been doing so well on the Daily Haste. Percy had often said he was an
editor after his own heart; he had so much flair. When Percy said some
one had flair, it was the highest praise he could give. He always told me
I had flair, and that was why he was so eager to put my stories in his
papers. I remember his remark when that dreadful man, Arthur Gideon, said
in some review or other (I dislike his reviews, they are so conceited and
cocksure, and show often such bad taste), 'Flair and genius are
incompatible.' Percy said simply, 'Flair is genius.' I thought it
extraordinarily true. But whether I have flair or not, I don't know. I
don't think I ever bother about what the public want, or what will sell.
I just write what comes natural to me; if people like it, so much the
better; if they don't, they must bear it! But I will say that they
usually do! No, I don't think I have flair; I think I have, instead, a
message; or many messages.
But I had to break it to Percy. I put my arms round him and told him,
quite simply. He was quite broken up by it. But, of course, the first
thing he had to do was to get on to the Haste and let them know. He
told them he would be up in the morning to make arrangements.
Then he sat and thought, and worked out plans in his head, in the
concentrated, abstracted way he has, telephoning sometimes, writing notes
sometimes, almost forgetting my presence. I love to be at the centre of
the brain of the Pinkerton press at the moments when it is working at top
speed like this. Cup after cup of strong black coffee he drank, hardly
noticing it, till I remonstrated, and then he said absently, 'Very well,
dear, very well,' and drank more. When I tried to persuade him to come up
to bed, he said, 'No, no; I have things to think out. I shall be late.
Leave me, my dear. Go to bed yourself, you need rest.' Then he turned
from the newspaper owner to the father, and sighed heavily, and said,
'Poor little Janie. Poor dear little Babs. Well, well, well.'
I left him and went upstairs, knowing I must get all the strength I could
My poor little girl a widow! I could hardly realise it. And yet, alas,
how many young widows we have among us in these days! Only they are
widowed for a noble cause, not by a horrid accident on the stairs. Poor
Oliver, of course, had exemption from military service; he never even had
to go before the tribunal for it, but had it direct from the War Office,
like nearly all Percy's staff, who were recognised by the Government as
doing more important work at home than they could have done at the front.
I have a horror of the men who evaded service during the war, but men
like Oliver Hobart, who would have preferred to be fighting but stayed to
do invaluable work for their country, one must respect. And it seemed
very bitter that Oliver, who hadn't fallen in the war, should have fallen
now down his own stairs. Poor, poor Oliver! As I lay in bed, unable to
sleep, I saw his beautiful face before me. He was quite the most
beautiful man I have ever known. I have given his personal appearance to
the hero of one of my novels, Sidney, a Man. It was terrible to me to
think of that beauty lost from the world. Whatever view one may take of
another world (and personally, far as I am from any orthodox view on the
subject, my spiritual investigations have convinced me that there is,
there must be, a life to come; I have had the most wonderful experiences,
that may not be denied) physical beauty, one must believe, is a
phenomenon of this physical universe, and must perish with the body.
Unless, as some thinkers have conceived, the immortal soul wraps itself
about in some aural vapour that takes the form it wore on earth. This is
a possibility, and I would gladly believe it. I must, I decided, try to
bring my poor Jane into touch with psychic interests; it would comfort
her to have the wonderful chance of getting into communication with
Oliver. At present she scouts the whole thing, like all other forms of
supernatural belief. Jane has always been a materialist. It is very
strange to me that my children have developed, intellectually and
spiritually, along such different lines from myself. I have never been
orthodox; I am not even now an orthodox theosophist; I am not of the
stuff which can fall into line and accept things from others; it seems as
if I must always think for myself, delve painfully, with blood and tears,
for Truth. But I have always been profoundly religious; the spiritual
side of life has always meant a very great deal to me; I think I feel
almost too intensely the vibration of Spirit in the world of things. I
probe, and wonder, and cannot let it alone, like most people, and be
content with surfaces. Of late years, and especially since I took up
theosophy, I have found great joy and comfort from my association with
the S.P.R. I am in touch with several very wonderful thought-readers,
crystal-gazers, mediums, and planchette writers, who have often strangely
illumined the dark places of life for me. To those who mock and doubt, I
merely say, 'try.' Or else I cite, not 'Raymond' nor Conan Doyle, but
that strange, interesting, scientific book by a Belfast professor, who
made experiments in weighing the tables before and after they levitated,
and weighing the mediums, and finding them all lighter. I think that was
it; anyhow it is all, to any open mind, entirely convincing that
something had occurred out of the normal, which is what Percy and the
twins never will believe. When I say 'try' to Percy, he only answers,
'I should fail, my dear. I may, as I have been called, be a superman,
but I am not a superwoman, and cannot call up spirits.' And the
children are hopeless about it, too. Frank says we are not intended to
'lift the curtain' (that is what he calls it). He is such a thorough
clergyman, and never had my imagination; he calls my explorations
'dabbling in the occult.' His wife jeers, and asks me if I've been
talking to many spooks lately. But then her family are hard-headed
business people, quite different from me. Clare says the whole thing
frightens her to death. For her part she is content with what the
Church allows of spiritual exploration, which is not much. Clare, since
what I am afraid I must call her trouble, has been getting much Higher
Church; incense and ritual seem to comfort her. I know the phase; I
went through it twenty years ago, when my baby Michael died and the
world seemed at an end. But I came out the other side; it couldn't last
for me, I had to have much more. Clare may remain content with it; she
has not got my perhaps too intense instinct for groping always after
further light. And I am thankful that she should find comfort and help
anywhere. Only I rather hope she will never join the Roman Church; its
banks are too narrow to hold the brimming river of the human
spirit—even my Clare's, which does not, perhaps, brim very high, dear,
simple child that she is.
As for the twins, they are merely cynical about all experiments with the
supernatural. I often feel that if my little Michael had lived…. But,
in a way, I am thankful to have him on the other side, reaching his baby
hands across to me in the way he so often does.
That night I determined I would make a great effort to bring Jane into
the circle of light, as I love to call it. She would find such comfort
there, if only it could be. But I knew it would be difficult; Jane is so
hard-headed, and, for all her cleverness in writing, has so little
imagination really. She said that Raymond made her sick. And she
wouldn't look at Rupert Lives! or Across the Stream, E.F. Benson's
latest novel about the other side. She quite frankly doesn't believe
there is another side. I remember her saying to me once, in her
school-girl slang, when she was seventeen or so, 'Well, I'd like to think
I went on, mother; I think it's simply rotten pipping out. I like being
alive, and I'd like to have tons more of it—but there it is, I can't
believe anything so weird and it's no use trying. And if I don't pip out
after all, it'll be such a jolly old surprise and lark that I shall be
glad I couldn't believe in it here.' Johnny, I remember, said to her
(those two were always ragging each other), 'Ah, you may be wishing you
only could pip out, then….' But I told him that I wished he wouldn't,
even in joke, allude to that bogey of the nurseries of my generation, a
place of punishment. That terrible old teaching! Thank God we are
outgrowing much of it. I must say that the descriptions They give, when
They give any, of Their place of being, do not sound very cheerful—but
it cannot at all resemble the old-fashioned place of torment, it sounds
so much less clear-cut and definite than that, more like London in a
I do not think I slept that night. I am bad at sleeping when I have had a
shock. My idiotic nerves again. Crane, in his book, Right and Wrong
Thinking, says one should drop discordant thoughts out of one's mind as
one drops a pebble out of one's hand. But my interior calm is not yet
sufficient for this exercise, and I confess I am all too easily shaken to
pieces by trouble, especially the troubles of those I love.
I felt a wreck when I met Percy at an early breakfast next morning. He,
too, looked jaded and strained, and ate hardly any breakfast, only a
little force and three cups of strong tea—an inadequate meal, as I told
him, upon which to face so trying a day. For we had to have strength not
only for ourselves but for our children. Giving out: it is so much harder
work than taking in, and it is the work for us older people always.
Percy passed me the Haste, pointing to a column on the front page. That
had been part of his business last night, to see that the Haste had a
good column about it. The news editor had turned out a column about a
Bolshevik advance on the Dvina to make room for it, and it was side by
side with the Rectory Oil Mystery, the German Invasion (dumped goods, of
course), the Glasgow Trades' Union Congress, the French Protest about
Syria, Woman's Mysterious Disappearance, and a Tarring and Feathering
Court Martial. The heading was 'Tragic Death of the Editor of the Daily
Haste,' and there followed not only a full report of the disaster, but
an account of Oliver's career, with one of those newspaper photographs
which do the original so little justice.
'Binney's been pretty sharp about it,' said Percy approvingly. 'Of
course, he had all the biographical facts stored.'
We went up by the 9.24, and went straight to Hampstead.
Quietly and sadly we entered that house of death. The maid, all
flustered and red-eyed with emotional unrest, told us that Jane was
upstairs, and Clare too. We went up the narrow stairs, now become so
tragic in their associations. On which step, I wondered, had he fallen,
and how far?
Jane came out of the drawing-room to meet us. She was pale, and looked as
if she hadn't slept, but composed, as she always is. I took her in my
arms and gave her a long kiss. Then her father kissed her, and smoothed
her hair, and patted her head as he used to do when she was a child, and
said, 'There, there, there, my poor little Babs. There, there, there.'
I led her into the drawing-room. I felt her calm was unnatural. 'Cry, my
darling,' I said. 'Have your cry out, and you will feel better.'
'Shall I?' she said. 'I don't think so, mother. Crying doesn't make me
feel better, ever. It makes my head ache.'
I thought of Tennyson's young war widow and the nurse of ninety years,
and only wished it could have been six months later, so that I could have
set Jane's child upon her knee.
'When you feel you can, my darling,' I said, wiping my eyes, 'you must
tell me all about it. But not before you want to.'
'There isn't much to tell,' she answered quietly, still without tears.
'He fell down the stairs backwards. That's all.'
'Did you … see him, darling?'
She hesitated a moment, then said 'Yes. I saw him. I was in here. He'd
just come in from the office…. He lost his balance.'
'Would you feel up, my dear,' said her father, 'to giving me an account
of it, that I could put in the papers?'
'You can put that in the papers, daddy. That's all there is to say about
it, I'm afraid…. I've had seventeen reporters round this morning
already, and I told Emily to tell them that. That's probably another,'
she added, as the bell rang.
But it was not. Emily came up a moment later and asked if Jane could see
It showed the over-wrought state of Jane's nerves that she started a
little. She never starts or shows surprise. Besides, what could be more
natural than that Mr. Gideon, who, disagreeable man though he is, is a
close friend of hers (far too close, I always thought, considering that
Oliver was on almost openly bad terms with him) should call to inquire,
on seeing the dreadful news? It would, all the same, I thought, have been
better taste on his part to have contented himself with leaving kind
inquiries at the door. However, of course, one would never expect him to
do the right-minded or well-bred thing on any occasion.
'I'll go down,' Jane said quietly. 'Will you wait there?' she added to
her father and me. 'You might,' she called from the stairs, 'go and see
Clare. She's in her room.'
I crossed the passage to the spare bedroom, and as I did so I caught a
glimpse of that man's tall, rather stooping figure in the hall, and heard
Jane say, rather low, 'Arthur!' and add quickly, 'Mother and dad are
upstairs. Come in here.'
Then they disappeared into the dining-room, which was on the ground
floor, and shut the door after them.
I went in to Clare. She was sitting in an armchair by the window. When
she turned her face to me, I recoiled in momentary shock. Her poor,
pretty little face was pinched and feverishly flushed; her brown eyes
stared at me as if she was seeing ghosts. Her hands were locked together
on her knees, and she was huddled and shivering, though it was a warm
morning. I had known she would feel the shock terribly, but I had hardly
been prepared for this. I was seriously afraid she was going to be ill.
I knelt down beside her and drew her into my arms, where she lay passive,
seeming hardly to realise me.
'My poor little girl,' I murmured. 'Cry, darling. Cry, and you will
Clare was always more obedient than Jane. She did cry. She broke suddenly
into the most terrible passion of tears. I tried to hold her, but she
pulled away from me and laid her head upon her arms and sobbed.
I stayed beside her and comforted her as best I could, and finally went
to Jane's medicine cupboard and mixed her a dose of sal volatile.
When she was a little quieter, I said, 'Tell me nothing more than you
feel inclined to, darling. But if it would make you happier to talk to me
about it, do.'
'I c-can't talk about it,' she sobbed.
'My poor pet!… Did it happen after you got here, or before?'
I felt her stiffen and grow tense, as at a dreadful memory.
'After…. But I was in my room; I wasn't there.'
'You heard the fall, I suppose….'
She shuddered, and nodded.
'And you came out….' I helped her gently, 'as Jane did, and
She burst out crying afresh. I almost wished I had not suggested this
outlet for her horror and grief.
'Don't, mother,' she sobbed. 'I can't talk about it—I can't.'
'My pet, of course you can't, and you shan't. It was thoughtless of me to
think that speech would be a relief. Lie down on your bed, dear, and have
a good rest, and you will feel better presently.'
But she opposed that too.
'I can't stay here. I want to go home at once. At once, mother.'
'My dearest child, you must wait for me. I can't let you go alone in
this state, and I can't, of course, go myself until Jane is ready to
come with me.'
'I'm going,' she repeated. 'I can go alone. I'm going now, at once.'
And she began feverishly cramming her things into her suit-case.
I was anxious about her, but I did not like to thwart her in her present
mood. Then I heard Frank's voice in the drawing-room, and I thought I
would get him to accompany her, at least to the station. Frank and Clare
have always been fond of one another, and she has a special reliance on
I went into the drawing-room, and found Frank and Johnny both there, with
Jane and Percy. So that dreadful Jew must have gone.
I told Frank that Clare was in a terrible state, and entrusted her
to his care. Frank is a good unselfish brother, and he went to look
Johnny, silent and troubled, and looking as if death was out of his line,
though, Heaven knows, he had seen enough of it during the last five
years, was fidgeting awkwardly about the room. His awkwardness was, no
doubt, partly due to the fact that he had never much cared for Oliver.
This does make things awkward, in the presence of the Great Silencer.
Percy had to leave us now, in order to go to the Haste and see about
things there. He said he would be back in the afternoon. He would, of
course, take over the business of making the last sad arrangements, which
Jane called, rather crudely, 'seeing about the funeral'; the twins would
always call spades 'spades.'
Presently I made the suggestion which I had for some time had in my mind.
'May I, dear?' I asked very softly, half rising.
Jane rose, too.
'See Oliver, you mean? Oh, yes. He's in his room.'
I motioned her back. 'Not you, darling. Johnny will take me.'
Johnny didn't want to much, I think; it is the sort of strain on the
emotions that he dislikes, but he came with me.
What had been Oliver lay on the bed, stretched straight out, the
beautiful face as white and delicate as if modelled in wax. One saw no
marks of injury; except for that waxy pallor he might have been sleeping.
In the presence of the Great White Silence I bowed my head and wept. He
was so beautiful, and had been so alive. I said so to Johnny.
'He was so alive,' I said, 'so short a time ago.'
'Yes,' Johnny muttered, staring down at the bed, his hands in his
pockets. 'Yesterday, of course. Rotten bad luck, poor old chap. Rotten
way to get pipped.'
For a minute longer I kept my vigil beside that inanimate form.
'Peace, peace, he is not dead,' I repeated to myself. 'He sleeps whom men
call dead…. The soul of Adonais, like a star, beckons from the abode
where the eternal are.'
Death is wonderful to me; not a horrible thing, but holy and high. Here
was the lovely mortal shell, for which 'arrangements' had to be made; but
the spirit which had informed it was—where? In what place, under what
conditions, would Oliver Hobart now fulfil himself, now carry on the work
so faithfully begun on earth? What word would he be able to send us from
that Place of Being? Time would (I hoped) show.
As we stood there in the shadow of the Great Mystery, I heard Frank
talking to Clare, whose room was next door.
'It is wrong to give way…. One must not grieve for the dead as if one
would recall them. We know—you and I know, don't we, Clare—that they
are happier where they are. And we know too, that it is God's will, and
that He decides everything for the best. We must not rebel against
it…. If you really want to catch the 12.4 to Potter's Bar, we ought to
Conventional phraseology! It would never have been adequate for me; I am
afraid I have an incurable habit of rebelling against the orthodox dogma
beloved of clergymen, but Clare is more docile, less 'tameless and swift
I touched Johnny's arm. 'Let us come away,' I murmured.
Clare, her face beneath her veil swollen with crying, went off with
Frank, who was going to see her into the train. I, of course, was going
to stop with Jane until the funeral, as she called it; I would not leave
her alone in the house. So I asked Frank if Peggy would go down to
Potter's Bar and be with Clare, who was certainly not fit for solitude,
poor child, until my return. Peggy is a dear, cheerful girl, if limited,
and she and Clare have always been great friends. Frank said he was sure
Peggy would do this, and I went back to Jane, who was writing necessary
letters in the drawing-room.
Johnny said to her, 'Well, if you're sure I can't be any use just now,
old thing, I suppose I ought to go to the office,' and Jane said, 'Yes,
don't stay. There's nothing,' and he went.
I offered to help Jane with the letters, but she said she could easily
manage them, and I thought the occupation might be the best thing for
her, so I left her to it and went down to speak to Emily, Jane's nice
little maid. Emily is a good little thing, and she was obviously
terribly, though not altogether unpleasantly, shocked and stirred (maids
are) by the tragedy.
She told me much more about the terrible evening than Jane or Clare had.
It was less effort, of course, for her to speak. Indeed, I think she
really enjoyed opening out to me. And I liked to hear. I always must get
a clear picture of events: I suppose it is the story-writer's instinct.
'I went up to bed, my lady,' she said, 'feeling a bit lonely now cook's
on her holiday, soon after Miss Clare came in. And I was just off to
sleep when I heard Mrs. Hobart come in, with Mr. Gideon; they were
talking as they came up to the drawing-room, and that woke me up.'
'Mr. Gideon!' I exclaimed in surprise. 'Was he there?'
'Yes, my lady. He came in with Mrs. Hobart. I knew it was him, by his
voice. And soon after the master came in, and they was all talking
together. And then I heard the mistress come upstairs to her bedroom. And
then I dozed off, and I was woke by the fall…. Oh, dear, my lady, how I
did scream when I came down and saw…. There was the poor master laying
on the bottom stair, stunned-like, as I thought, I'm sure I never knew he
was gone, and the mistress and Miss Clare bending over him, and the
mistress calling to me to telephone for the doctor. The poor mistress,
she was so white, I thought she'd go off, but she kept up wonderful; and
Miss Clare, she was worse, all scared and white, as if she'd seen a
ghost. I rang for Dr. Armes, and he came round at once, and I got
hot-water bottles and put them in the bed, but the doctor wouldn't move
him for a bit, he examined him where he lay, and he found the back was
broke. He told the mistress straight out. "His back's broke," he said.
"There's no hope," he said. "It may be a few hours, or less," he said.
Then he sent for a mattress and we laid the master on it, down in the
hall, and put hot-water bottles to his feet, and then the mistress said
I'd better go back to bed; but, oh, dear, I couldn't do that, so I just
waited in the kitchen and got a kettle boiling in case the mistress and
Miss Clare would like a cup of tea, and I had a cup myself, my lady, for
I was all of a didder, and nothing pulls you round like a drop of hot
tea. Then I took two cups out into the hall for the mistress and Miss
Clare, and when I got there the doctor was saying, "It's all over," and,
dear me, so it was, so I took the tea back to keep it hot against they
were ready for it, for I couldn't speak to them of tea just at first,
could I, my lady? Then the doctor called me, and there was Miss Clare
laying in a fit, and he was bringing her round. He told me to help her to
her room, and so I did, and she seemed half stunned-like, and didn't say
a word, but dropped on her bed like a stone. Then I had to help the
doctor and the mistress carry the poor master on the mattress up to his
room, and lay him on his bed; and the doctor saw to Miss Clare a little,
then he went away and said he'd send round a woman for the laying out….
Poor Miss Clare, I was sorry for her. Laid like a stone, she did, as
white as milk. She's such a one to feel, isn't she, my lady? And to hear
the fall and run out and find him like that! The poor master! Them
stairs, I always hated them. The back stairs are bad enough, when I have
to carry the hot water up and down, but they don't turn so sharp. The
poor master, he must have stumbled backwards, the light not being good,
and fallen clean over. And it isn't as if he was like some gentlemen,
that might have had a drop at dinner; no one ever saw the master the
worse, did they, my lady? I'm sure cook and me and every one always
thought him such a nice, good gentleman. I don't know what cook will say
when she hears, I'm sure I don't.'
'It is indeed all very terrible and sad, Emily,' I said to her. I left
her then, and went up to the drawing-room.
Jane was sitting at the writing table, her pen in one hand, her forehead
resting on the other.
'My dear,' I said to her, 'Emily has been giving me some account of last
night. She tells me that Mr. Gideon was here.'
'She's quite right,' said Jane listlessly. 'I met him at Katherine's, and
he saw me home and came in for a little.'
I was silent for a moment. It seemed to me rather sad that Jane should
have this memory of her husband's last evening on this earth, for she
knew that Oliver had not liked her to see much of Mr. Gideon. I
understood why she had been loath to mention it to me.
'And had he gone,' I asked her softly, 'when … It … happened?'
Jane frowned, in the way the twins always frown when people put things
less bluntly and crudely than they think fit. For some reason they call
this, the regard for the ordinary niceties of life, by the foolish name
'When Oliver fell?' she corrected me, still in that quiet, listless,
almost indifferent tone. 'Oh, yes. He wasn't here long.'
'Well, well,' I said very gently, 'we must let bygones be bygones, and
not grieve over much. Grief,' I added, wanting so much that the child
should rise to the opportunity and take her trial in a large spirit, 'is
such a big, strong, beautiful thing. If we let it, it will take us by
the hands and lead us gently along by the waters of comfort. We mustn't
rebel or fight; we must look straight ahead with welcoming eyes. For
whatever life brings us we can use.'
Jane still sat very still at the writing table, her head on her hand, her
fingers pushing back her hair from her forehead. I thought she sighed a
little, a long sigh of acquiescence which touched me.
This seemed to me to be the moment to speak to her of what was in my
'And, my dear,' I said, 'there is another thing. We mustn't think that
Oliver has gone down into silence. You must help him to speak to you, a
little later, when you are fit and when he has found his way to the
Door. You mustn't shut him out, my child.'
'Mother,' said Jane, 'you know I don't believe in any of that.'
'I only ask you to try,' I said earnestly. 'Don't bolt and bar the
Door…. I shall try, my dear, for you, if you will not, and he shall
communicate with you through me.'
'I shan't believe it,' said Jane, stating not a resolve but a fact, 'if
he does. Of course, do what you like about all that, mother, I don't
care. But, if you don't mind, I'd rather not hear about it.'
I decided to put off any further discussion of the question, particularly
as the child looked and must have been tired out.
I went down to the kitchen to talk to Emily about Jane's lunch. I felt
that she ought to have a beaten egg, and perhaps a little fish.
But I wished that she had told me frankly about that man Gideon's visit
last night. Jane was always so reserved.
AN AWFUL SUSPICION
It was rather a strange, sad life into which we settled down after the
inquest and funeral. Jane remained in her little Hampstead house; she
said she preferred it, though, particularly in view of the dear little
new life due in January or so, I wanted her to be at Potter's Bar with
us. I went up to see her very often; I was not altogether satisfied about
her, though outwardly she went on much as of old, going to see her
friends, writing, and not even wearing black. But I am no stickler for
that heathen custom.
It was, however, about Clare that I was chiefly troubled. The poor child
did not seem able to rally from her shock at all. She crept about looking
miserable and strained, and seemed to take an interest in nothing. I sent
her away to her aunt at Bournemouth for a change; Bournemouth has not
only sea air but ritualistic churches of the kind she likes; but I do not
think it did her much good. Her affection for poor Oliver had, indeed,
gone very deep, and she has a very faithful heart.
Percy appointed the Haste's assistant editor to the editorship; he had
not Oliver's flair, Percy said, but he did very well on the lines laid
out for him. There was a rumour in Fleet Street that the proprietors of
the Weekly Fact meant to start a daily, under the editorship of that
man Gideon, and that it would have for its special object a campaign
against our press. But they would have to wait for some time, till the
paper situation was easier. The rumour gave Percy no alarm, for he did
not anticipate a long life for such a venture. A paper under such
management would certainly never, he said, achieve more than a small
Meanwhile, times were very troubled. The Labour people, led astray by
that bad man, Smillie, were becoming more and more extreme in their
demands. Ireland was, as always, very disturbed. The Coalition
Government—not a good government, but, after all, better than any which
would be likely to succeed it—was shaking from one bye-election blow
after another. The French were being disagreeable about Syria, the
Italians about Fiume, and every one about the Russian invasion, or
evacuation, or whatever it was, which even Percy's press joined in
condemning. And coal was exorbitant, and food prices going up, and the
reviews of Audrey against the World most ignorant and unfair. I believe
that that spiteful article of Mr. Gideon's about me did a good deal of
harm among ignorant and careless reviewers, who took their opinions from
others, without troubling to read my books for themselves. So many
reviewers are like that—stupid and prejudiced people, who cannot think
for themselves, and often merely try to be funny about a book instead of
giving it fair criticism. Of course, that Fact article was merely
comic; I confess I laughed at it, though I believe it was meant to be
taken very solemnly. But I was always like that. I know it is shocking of
me, but I have to laugh when people are pompous and absurd; my sense of
the ridiculous is too strong for me.
After Oliver's death, I did not recognise Mr. Gideon when I met him, not
in the least on personal grounds, but because I definitely wished to
discourage his intimacy with my family. But we had one rather strange
I was going to see Jane one afternoon, soon after the tragedy, and as I
was emerging from the tube station I met Mr. Gideon. We were face to
face, so I had to bow, which I did very coldly, and I was surprised when
he stopped and said, in that morose way of his, 'You're going to see
Jane, aren't you, Lady Pinkerton?'
I inclined my head once more. The man stood at my side, staring at the
ground and fidgeting, and biting his finger-nail in that disagreeable way
he has. Then he said, 'Lady Pinkerton, Jane's unhappy.'
The impertinence of the man! Who was he to tell me that of my own
daughter, a widow of a few weeks?
'Naturally,' I replied very coolly. 'It would be strange indeed if she
'Oh, well—' he made a queer, jerking movement.
'You'll say it's not my business. But please don't … er … let
people worry her—get on her nerves. It does rather, you know. And—and
she's not fit.'
'I'm afraid,' I said, putting up my lorgnette, 'I do not altogether
understand you, Mr. Gideon. I am naturally acquainted with my daughter's
state better than any one else can be.'
'It gets on her nerves,' he muttered again. Then, after a moment of
silent hesitation, he half shrugged his shoulders, mumbled, 'Oh, well,'
and jerked away.
A strange person! Amazingly rude and ill-bred. To take upon himself to
warn me to take care of my own child! And what did he mean 'got on her
nerves?' I really began to think he must be a little mad. But one thing
was apparent; his feeling towards Jane was, as I had long suspected, much
warmer than was right in the circumstances. He had, I made no doubt, come
from her just now.
I found Jane silent and unresponsive. She was not writing when I came in,
but sitting doing nothing. She said nothing to me about Mr. Gideon's
call, till I mentioned him myself. Then she seemed to stiffen a little; I
saw her hands clench over the arms of her chair.
'His manner was very strange,' I said. 'I couldn't help wondering if he
had been having anything.'
'If he was drunk, you mean,' said Jane. 'I dare say.'
'Then he does!' I cried, a little surprised.
Jane said not that she knew of. But every one did sometimes. Which was
just the disagreeable, cynical way of talking that I regret in her and
Johnny. As if she did not know numbers of straight, clean-living, decent
men and women who never had too much in their lives. But, anyhow, it
convinced me that Mr. Gideon did drink too much, and that she knew it.
'He had been here, I suppose,' I said gently, because I didn't want to
'Yes,' said Jane, and that was all.
'My dear,' I said, after a moment, laying my hand on hers, 'is this man
worrying you … with attentions?'
Jane laughed, an odd, hard laugh that I didn't like.
'Oh, no,' she said. 'Oh, dear no, mother.'
She got up and began to walk about the room.
'Never mind Arthur,' she said. 'I wouldn't let him get on my mind if I
were you, mother…. Let's talk about something else—baby, if you like.'
I perceived from this that Jane was really anxious to avoid discussion of
this man, for she did not as a rule encourage me to talk to her about the
little life which was coming, as we hoped, next spring. So I turned from
the subject of Arthur Gideon. But it remained on my mind.
You know how, sometimes, one wakes suddenly in the night with an
extraordinary access of clearness of vision, so that a dozen small things
which have occurred during the day and passed without making much
apparent impression on one's mind stand out sharp and defined in a row,
like a troop of soldiers with fixed bayonets all pointing in one
direction. You look where they are pointing—and behold, you see some new
fact which you never saw before, and you cannot imagine how you came to
have missed it.
It was in this way that I woke in the middle of the night after I had met
Arthur Gideon in Hampstead. All in a row the facts stood, pointing.
Mr. Gideon had been in the house only a few minutes before Oliver
He and Oliver hated each other privately, and had been openly
quarrelling in the press for some time. He had an intimacy with Jane
which Oliver disliked.
Oliver must have been displeased at his coming home that evening
Gideon now had something on his mind which made him even more peculiar
Jane had been very strange and secretive about his visit there on the
He and Oliver had probably quarrelled.
Only Jane had seen Oliver fall.
* * * * *
* * * * *
HOW HAD THAT QUARREL ENDED?
This awful question shot into my mind like an arrow, and I sat straight
up in bed with a start.
I shuddered, but unflinchingly faced an awful possibility.
If it were indeed so, it was my duty to leave no stone unturned to
discover and expose the awful truth. Painful as it would be, I must
A second terrible question came to me. If my suspicion were correct, how
much did Jane know or guess? Jane had been most strange and reserved. I
remembered how she had run down to meet the wretched man that first
morning, when we were there; I remembered her voice, rather hurried,
saying, 'Arthur! Mother and dad are upstairs. Come in here,' and how
she took him into the dining-room alone.
Did Jane know all? Or did she only suspect? I could scarcely believe that
she would wish to shield her husband's murderer, if he were that. Yet….
why had she told me that she had seen the accident herself? If, indeed,
my terrible suspicion were justified, and if Jane was in the secret, it
seemed to point to a graver condition of things than I had supposed. No
girl would lie to shield her husband's murderer unless … unless she was
much fonder of him than a married woman has any right to be.
I resolved quickly, as I always do. First, I must save my child from this
Secondly, I must discover the truth as expeditiously as possible,
shrinking from no means.
Thirdly, if I discovered the worst, and it had to be exposed, I must see
that Jane's name was kept entirely out of it. The journalistic squabbles
and mutual antipathy of the two men would be all that would be necessary
to account for their quarrel, together with Gideon's probably intoxicated
state that evening.
I heard Percy moving downstairs still, and I nearly went down to him to
communicate my suspicions to him at once. But, on second thoughts, I
refrained. Percy was worried with a great many things just now. Besides,
he might only laugh at me. I would wait until I had thought it over and
had rather more to go on. Then I would tell him, and he should make what
use he liked of it in the papers. How interested he would be if the man
who was one of his bitterest journalistic foes, who fought so venomously
everything that he and his press stood for, and who was the
editor-designate of the possible new anti-Pinkerton daily, should be
proved to be the murderer of his son-in-law. What a scoop! The vulgar
journalese slang slid into my mind strangely, as light words will in
But I pulled myself together. I was going too far ahead. After all, I
was still merely in the realms of fancy and suspicion. It is true that I
have queer, almost uncanny intuitive powers, which have seldom failed me.
But still, I had as yet little to go on.
With an effort of will, I put the matter out of my mind and tried to
sleep. Counsel would, I felt sure, come in the morning.
It did. I woke with the words ringing in my head as if some one had
spoken them—'Why not consult Amy Ayres?'
Of course! That was the very thing. I would go that afternoon.
Amy Ayres had been a friend of mine from girlhood. We had always been in
the closest sympathy, although our paths had diverged greatly since we
were young. We had written our first stories together for Forget-me-not
and Hearth and Home, and together enjoyed the first sweets of success.
But, while I had pursued the literary path, Amy had not. Her interests
had turned more and more to the occult. She had fallen in with and
greatly admired Mrs. Besant. When her husband (a Swedenborgian minister)
left her at the call of his conscience to convert the inhabitants of Peru
to Swedenborgianism, and finally lost his life, under peculiarly painful
circumstances, in the vain attempt, Amy turned for relief to
spiritualism, which was just then at its zenith of popularity. At first
she practised it privately and unofficially, with a few chosen friends,
for it was something very sacred to her. But gradually, as she came to
discover in herself wonderful powers of divination and spiritual
receptivity, and being very poor at the time, she took it up as a
calling. She is the most wonderful palm-reader and crystal-gazer I have
come across. I have brought people to her of whom she has known nothing
at all, and she has, after close study and brief, earnest prayer, read in
their hands their whole temperament, present circumstances, past history,
and future destiny. I have often tried to persuade Percy to go to her,
for I think it would convince him of that vast world of spiritual
experience which lies about him, and to which he is so blind. If I have
to pass on before Percy, he will be left bereaved indeed, unless I can
convince him of Truth first.
I went to see Amy in her little Maid of Honour house in Kensington that
I found her reading Madame Blavatski (that strange woman) in her little
Amy has not worn, perhaps, quite so well as I have. She has to make up a
little too thickly. I sometimes wish she would put less black round her
eyes; it gives her a stagey look, which I think in her particular
profession it is most important not to have, as people are in any case so
inclined to doubt the genuineness of those who deal in the occult.
Besides, what an odd practice that painting the face black in patches is!
As unlike real life as a clown's red nose, though I suppose less
unbecoming. I myself only use a little powder, which is so necessary in
hot, or, indeed, cold weather.
However, this is a digression. I kissed Amy, and said, 'My dear, I am
here on business to-day. I am in great perplexity, and I want you to
discover something from the crystal. Are you in the mood this afternoon?'
For I have enough of the temperament myself to know that crystal-gazing,
even more than literary composition, must wait on mood. Fortunately, Amy
said she was in a most favourable condition for vision, and I told her as
briefly as possible that I wished to learn about the circumstances
attendant on the death of Oliver Hobart. I wished her to visualise Oliver
as he stood that evening at the top of those dreadful stairs, and to
watch the manner of his fall. I told her no more, for I wanted her to
approach the subject without prejudice.
Without more ado, we went into the room which Amy called her Temple of
Vision, and Amy got to work.
I was travelling by the 6.28 back to Potter's Bar. I lay back in my
corner with closed eyes, recalling the events of that wonderful afternoon
in the darkened, scented room. It had been a strange, almost overwhelming
experience. I had been keyed up to a point of tension which was almost
unendurable, while my friend gazed and murmured into the glass ball.
These glimpses into the occult are really too much for my system; they
wring my nerves. I could have screamed when Amy said, 'Wait—wait—the
darkness stirs. I see—I see—a fair man, with the face of a Greek god.'
'Is he alone?' I whispered.
'He is not alone. He is talking to a tall dark man.'
'Yes—yes?' I bent forward eagerly, as she paused and seemed to brood
over the clear depths where, as I knew, she saw shadows forming and
'They talk,' she murmured. 'They talk.'
(Knowing that she could not, unfortunately, hear what they said, I
did not ask.)
'They are excited…. They are quarrelling…. Oh, God!' She hid her eyes
for a moment, then looked again.
'The dark man strikes the fair man…. He is taken by surprise; he steps
backward and falls … falls backwards … down … out of my vision….
The dark man is left standing alone…. He is fading … he is gone…. I
can see him no more…. Leila, I have come to an end; I am overdone; I
She had fallen back with closed eyes.
A little later, when she had revived, we had had tea together, and I had
put a few questions to her. She had told me little more than what she had
revealed as she gazed into the crystal. But it was enough. She knew the
fair man for Oliver, for she had seen him at the wedding. She had not
seen the dark man's face, nor had she ever met Arthur Gideon, but her
description of him was enough for me.
I had left the house morally certain that Arthur Gideon had murdered (or
anyhow manslaughtered) Oliver Hobart.
I told Percy that evening, after Clare had gone to bed. I had confidence
in Percy: he would believe me. His journalistic instinct for the truth
could be counted on. He never waived things aside as improbable, for he
knew, as I knew, how much stranger truth may be than fiction. He heard
me out, nodding his head sharply from time to time to show that he
When I had done, he said, 'You were right to tell me. We must look into
it. It will, if proved true, make a most remarkable story. Most
sensational and remarkable.' He turned it over in that acute, quick
brain of his.
'We must go carefully,' he said. 'Remember we haven't much to go on yet.'
He didn't believe in the crystal-gazing, of course, so had less to go on
than I had. All he saw was the inherent possibility of the story
(knowing, as he did, the hatred that had existed between the two men) and
the damning fact of Gideon's presence at the house that evening.
'We must be careful,' he repeated. 'Careful, for one thing, not to
start talk about the fellow's friendship with Jane. We must keep Jane
out of it all.'
On that we were agreed.
'I think we must ask Clare a few questions,' said Percy.
He did so next day, without mentioning our suspicion. But Clare could
still scarcely bear to speak of that terrible evening, poor child, and
returned incoherent answers. She knew Mr. Gideon had been in the
house, but didn't know what time he had gone, nor the exact time of
I resolved to question Emily, Jane's little maid, more closely, and did
so when I went there that afternoon. She was certainly more
circumstantial than she had been when she had told me the story before,
in the first shock and confusion of the disaster. I gathered from her
that she had heard her master and Mr. Gideon talking immediately before
the fall; she had been surprised when her mistress had said that Mr.
Gideon had left the house before the fall. She thought, from the sounds,
that he must have left the house immediately afterwards.
'It is possible,' I said, 'that Mrs. Hobart did not know precisely when
Mr. Gideon left the house. It was all very confusing.'
'Oh, my lady, indeed it was,' Emily agreed. 'I'm sure I hope I shall
never have such a night again.'
I said nothing to Jane of my suspicion. If I was right in thinking that
the poor misguided child was shielding her husband's murderer, from
whatever motives of pity or friendship, the less said to disturb her the
better, till we were sure of our ground.
But I talked to a few other people about it, on whose discretion I could
rely. I tried to find out, and so did Percy, what was this man's record.
What transpired of it was not reassuring. His father was, as we knew
before, a naturalised Russian Jew, presumably of the lowest class in his
own land, though well educated from childhood in this country. He was, as
every one knew, a big banker, and mixed up, no doubt, with all sorts of
shady finance. Some people said he was probably helping to finance the
Bolsheviks. His daughter had married a Russian Jewish artist. Jane knew
this artist and his wife well, at that silly club of hers. Arthur Gideon,
on coming of age, had reverted to his patronymic name, enamoured, it
seemed, of his origin. He had, of course, to fight in the war, loath
though he no doubt was. But directly it was over, or rather directly he
was discharged wounded, he took to shady journalism.
Hardly a reassuring record! Add to it the ill-starred influence he had
always attempted to exert over Johnny and Jane (he had, even in Oxford
days, brought out their worst side) his quarrels with Oliver in the
press, his unconcealed hatred of what he was pleased to call 'Potterism'
(he was president of the foolish so-called 'Anti-Potter League'), his
determined intimacy with Jane against her husband's wishes, and Jane's
own implication that he at times drank too much—and you had a picture of
a man unlikely to inspire confidence in any impartial mind.
Anyhow, most of the people to whom I broached the unpleasant subject (and
I saw no reason why I should not speak freely of my suspicion) seemed to
think the man's guilt only too likely.
Some of my friends said to me, 'Why not bring a charge against him and
have him arrested and the matter thoroughly investigated?' But Percy told
me we had not enough to go on for that yet. All he would do was to put
the investigation into the hands of a detective, and entrust him with the
business of collecting evidence.
The only people we kept the matter from were our two daughters. Clare
would have been too dreadfully upset by this raking up of the tragedy,
and Jane could not, in her present state, be disturbed either.
About three weeks after my visit to Amy Ayres, I had rather a trying
meeting with that young clergyman, Mr. Juke, another of the children's
rather queer Oxford friends. He is the son of that bad old Lord
Aylesbury, who married some dreadful chorus girl a year or two ago, and
all his family are terribly fast. We met at a bazaar for starving clergy
at the dear Bishop of London's, to which I had gone with Frank. I think
the clergy very wrong about many things, but I quite agree that we cannot
let them starve. Besides, Peggy had a stall for home-made jam.
I was buying some Armenian doily, with Clare at my side, when a voice
said, 'Can I speak to you for a moment, Lady Pinkerton?' and, turning
round, Mr. Juke stood close to us.
I was surprised, for I knew him very little, but I said, 'How do you do,
Mr. Juke. By all means. We will go and sit over there, by the missionary
bookstall.' This was, as it sometimes is, the least frequented stall, so
it was suitable for quiet conversation.
We left Clare, and went to the bookstall. When we were seated in two
chairs near it, Mr. Juke leant forward, his elbows on his knees, and said
in a low voice, 'I came here to-day hoping to meet you, Lady Pinkerton. I
wanted to speak to you. It's about my friend, Gideon….'
'Yes,' I helped him out, my interest rising. Had he anything to
communicate to me on that subject?
The young man went on, staring at the ground between his knees, and it
occurred to me that his profile was very like Granville Barker's. 'I am
told,' he said, in grave, quick, low tones, 'that you are saying things
about him rather indiscriminately. Bringing, in fact, charges against
him—suspicions, rather…. I hardly think you can be aware of the
seriousness of such irresponsible gossip, such—I can't call it anything
but slander—when it is widely circulated. How it grows—spreads from
person to person—the damage, the irreparable damage it may do….'
He broke off incoherently, and was silent. I confess I was taken aback.
But I stood to my guns.
'And,' I said, 'if the irresponsible gossip, as you call it, happens to
be true, Mr. Juke? What then?'
'Then,' he said abruptly, and looked me in the face, 'then, Lady
Pinkerton, Gideon should be called on to answer to the charge in a court
of law, not libelled behind his back.'
'That,' I said, 'will, I hope, Mr. Juke, happen at the proper time.
Meanwhile, I must ask to be allowed to follow my own methods of
investigation in my own way. Perhaps you forget that the matter concerns
the tragic death of my very dear son-in-law. I cannot be expected to let
things rest where they are.'
'I suppose,' he said, rising as I rose, 'that you can't.'
'And,' I added, as a parting shot, 'it is always open to Mr. Gideon to
bring a libel action against any one who falsely and publicly accuses
him—if he likes.'
'Yes,' assented the young man.
I left him standing there, and turned away to speak to Mrs. Creighton,
who was passing.
I considered that Mr. Juke had been quite in his rights to speak to me as
he had done, and I was not offended. But I must say I think I had the
best of the interview. And it left me with the strong impression that he
knew as well as I did that 'his friend Gideon' would in no circumstances
venture to bring a libel action against any one in this matter.
I believed that the young clergyman suspected his friend himself, and was
trying in vain to avert from him the Nemesis that his crime deserved.
Clare said to me when I rejoined her. 'What did Mr. Juke want to speak to
you about, mother?'
'Nothing of any importance, dear,' I told her.
She looked at me in the rather strange, troubled, frowning way she has
'Oh, do let's go home, mother,' she said suddenly. 'I'm so tired. And I
don't believe they're really starving a bit, and I don't care if they
are. I do hate bazaars.'
Clare used once to be quite fond of them. But she seemed to hate so many
things now, poor child.
I took her home, and that evening I told Percy about my interview
with Mr. Juke.
'A libel action,' said Percy, 'would be excellent. The very thing. But if
he's guilty, he won't bring one.'
'Anyhow,' I said, 'I feel it is our duty not to let the affair drop. We
owe it to poor dear Oliver. Even now he may be looking down on us, unable
to rest in perfect peace till he is avenged.'
'He may, he may, my dear,' said Percy, nodding his head. 'Never know, do
you. Never know anything at all…. On the other hand, he may have lost
his own balance, as they decided at the inquest, and tumbled downstairs
on to his head. Nasty stairs; very nasty stairs. Anyhow, if Gideon didn't
shove him, he's nothing to be afraid of in our talk, and if he did he'll
have to face the music. Troublesome fellow, anyhow. That paper of his
gets worse every week. It ought to be muzzled.'
I couldn't help wondering how it would affect the Weekly Fact if its
editor were to be arrested on a charge of wilful murder.
TOLD BY KATHERINE VARICK
A BRANCH OF STUDY
People are very odd, unreliable, and irregular in their actions and
reactions. You can't count on them as you can on chemicals. I suppose
that merely means that one doesn't know them so well. They are far harder
to know; there is a queer element of muddle about them that baffles one.
You never know when greediness—the main element in most of us—will stop
working, checked by something else, some finer, quite different motive
force. And them checking that again, comes strong emotion, such as love
or hate, overthrowing everything and making chaos. Of course, you may say
these interacting forces are all elements that should be known and
reckoned with beforehand, and it is quite true. That is just the trouble:
one doesn't know enough.
Though I don't study human nature with the absorption of Laurence Juke
(after all, it's his trade), I find it interesting, like other curious
branches of study. And the more complex and unreliable it is, so much the
more interesting. I'm much more interested, for instance, in Arthur
Gideon, who is surprising and incalculable, than in Jane and Johnny
Potter, who are pushed along almost entirely by one motive—greed. I'm
even less interested in Jane and Johnny than in the rest of their family,
who are the usual British mixture of humbug, sentimentality,
commercialism, and genuine feeling. They represent Potterism, and
Potterism is a wonderful thing. The twins are far too clear-headed to be
Potterites in that sense. You really can, on almost any occasion, say how
they will act. So they are rather dull, as a study, though amusing enough
But Arthur Gideon is full of twists and turns and surprises. He is one of
those rare people who can really throw their whole selves into a
cause—lose themselves for it and not care. (Jukie says that's Christian:
I dare say it is: it is certainly seldom enough found in the world, and
that seems to be an essential quality of all the so-called Christian
virtues, as far as one can see.)
Anyhow, Arthur's passion for truth, his passion for the first-rate, and
his distaste for untruth and for the second-rate, seemed to be the
supreme motive forces in him, all the years I have known him, until
And then something else came in, apparently stronger than these forces.
Of course, I knew a long time ago—certainly since he left the army—that
he was in love with Jane. I knew it long before he did. It was a queer
feeling, for it went on, apparently, side by side with impatience and
scorn of her. And it grew and grew. Jane's marriage made it worse. She
worked for him, and they met constantly. And at last it got so that we
all saw it.
And all the time he didn't like her, because she was second-rate and
commercial, and he was first-rate and an artist—an artist in the sense
that he loved things for what they were, not for what he could get out of
them. Jane was always thinking, 'How can I use this? What can I get out
of it?' She thought it about the war. So did Johnny. She has always
thought it, about everything. It isn't in her not to. And Arthur knew
it, but didn't care; anyhow he loved her all the same. It was as if his
reason and judgment were bowled over by her charm and couldn't help him.
The evening after Oliver Hobart's death, Arthur came in to see me,
about nine o'clock. He looked extraordinarily ill and strained, and was
even more restless and jerky than usual. He looked as if he hadn't
slept at all.
I was testing some calculations, and he sat on the sofa and smoked. When
I had finished, he said, 'Katherine, what's your view of this business?'
Of course, I knew he meant Oliver Hobart's death, and how it would affect
Jane. One says exactly what one thinks, to Arthur. So I said, 'It's a
good thing, ultimately, for Jane. They didn't suit. I'm clear it's a good
thing in the end. Aren't you?'
He made a sharp movement, and pushed back his hair from his forehead.
'I? I'm clear of nothing.'
He added, after a moment, 'Is that the way she looks at it, do
'I do,' I said.
He half winced.
'Then why—why the devil did she marry the poor chap?'
There was an odd sort of appeal in his voice; appeal against the cruelty
of fate, perhaps, or the perverseness of Jane.
I told him what I thought, as clearly as I could.
'She got carried away by the excitement of her life in Paris, and he was
all mixed up with that. I think she felt she would, in a way, be carrying
on the excitement and the life if she married him. And she was knocked
over by his beauty. Then, when the haze and glamour had cleared away, and
she was left face to face with him as a life companion, she found she
couldn't do with him after all. He bored her and annoyed her more and
more. I don't know how long she could have gone on with it; she never
said anything, to me about it. But, now this has happened, what might
have become a great difficulty is solved.'
'Solved,' he repeated, in a curious, dead voice, staring at the floor. 'I
suppose it is.'
He was silent for quite five minutes, sitting quite still, with his black
eyes absent and vacant, as if he were very tired. I knew he was trying to
think out some problem, and I supposed I knew what it was. But I couldn't
account then for his extreme unhappiness.
At last he said, 'Katherine. This is a mess. I can't tell you about it,
but it is a mess. Jane and I are in a mess…. Oh, you've guessed,
haven't you, about Jane and me? Juke guessed.'
'Yes. I guessed that before Jukie did. Before you did, as a matter of
'You did?' But he wasn't much interested. 'Then you see …'
'Not altogether, Arthur. I can't see it's a mess, exactly. A shock, of
He looked at me for a moment, as if he were adjusting his point of
view to mine.
'Well, no. You wouldn't see it, of course. But there's more to this than
you know—much more. Anyhow, please take my word for it that it is a
mess. A ghastly mess.'
I took his word for it. As there didn't seem to be any comment to make, I
made none, but waited for him to go on. He went on.
'And what I wanted to ask you, Katherine, was, can you look after Jane a
little? She'll need it; she needs it. She's got to get through it
somehow…. And that family of hers always buzzing round…. If we could
keep Lady Pinkerton off her …'
'You want me to mix a poison for Lady P?' I suggested.
Arthur must have been very far through, for he actually started.
'Oh, Heaven forbid…. One sudden death in the family is enough at a
time,' he added feebly, trying to smile.
'Well,' I said, 'I'll do my best to see after Jane and to counteract the
family…. I've not gone there or written, or anything yet, because I
didn't want to butt in. But I will.'
'I wish she'd come back here and live with you,' he said.
To soothe him, I said I would ask her.
For nearly an hour longer he stayed, not talking much, but smoking hard,
and from time to time jerking out a disconnected remark. I think he
hardly knew what he was saying or doing that evening; he seemed dazed,
and I noticed that his hands were shaking, as if he was feverish, or
drunk, or something.
When at last he went, he held my hand and wrung it so that it hurt;
this was unusual, too, because we never do shake hands, we meet much
I thought it over and couldn't quite understand it all. It even occurred
to me that it was a little Potterish of Arthur to make a conventional
tragic situation out of what he couldn't really mind very much, and to
make out that Jane was overwhelmed by what, I believed, didn't really
overwhelm her. But that didn't do. Arthur was never Potterish. There
must, therefore, be more to this than I understood.
Unless, of course, it was merely that Arthur was afraid of the effects of
the shock and so on, on Jane's health, because she had a baby coming. But
somehow that didn't really meet the situation. I remembered Arthur's
voice when he said, 'There's more to it than you know…. It is a mess.
A ghastly mess.'
And another rather queer thing I remembered was that, all through the
evening, he hadn't once met my eyes. An odd thing in Arthur, for he has a
habit of looking at the people he is talking to very straight and hard,
as if to hold their minds to his by his eyes.
Well, I supposed that in about a year those two would marry, anyhow. And
then they would talk, and talk, and talk…. And Arthur would look at
Jane not only because he was talking to her, but because he liked to look
at her…. They would be all right then, so why should I bother?
I went to see Jane, but found Lady Pinkerton in possession. I saw Jane
for five minutes alone. She was much as I had expected, calm and rather
silent. I asked her to come round to the flat any evening she could. She
came next week, and after that got into the way of dropping in pretty
often, both in the evenings, when I was at home, and during the day, when
I was at the laboratory. She said, 'You see, old thing, mother has got it
into her head that I need company. The only way I can get out of it is to
say I shall be here…. Mother's rather much just now. She's got the
Other Side on the brain, and is trying to put me in touch with it. She
reads me books called Letters from the Other Side, and Hands Across
the Grave, and so on. And she talks …'
Jane pushed back her hair from her forehead and leant her head on her
'In what mother calls "my condition,"' she went on, 'I don't think I
ought to be worried, do you? I wish baby would come at once, so that I
shouldn't be in a condition any more…. I'm really awfully fond of baby,
but I shall get to hate it if I'm reminded of it much more…. What a
rotten system it is, K. Why haven't we evolved a better one, all these
I couldn't imagine why, except for the general principle that as the
mental equipment of the human race improves, its physical qualities
'And where will that land us in the end?' Jane speculated. 'Shall we be a
race of clever crocks, or shall we give up civilisation and education and
be robust imbeciles?'
'Either,' I said, 'will be an improvement on the present régime, of
We would talk like that, of things in general, in the old way. Jane,
indeed, would have moods in which she would talk continuously, and I
would suddenly think, watching her, 'You're trying to hide from
something—to talk it down.'
And then one evening Arthur and she met at my flat. Jane had been having
supper with me, and Arthur dropped in.
Jane said, 'Hallo, Arthur,' and Arthur said, 'Oh, hallo,' and I saw
plainly that the last person either had wanted to meet was the other.
Arthur didn't stay at all. He said he had come to speak to me about a
review he wanted me to do. It wasn't necessary that he should speak to me
about it at all; he had already sent me the book, and I hadn't yet read
it, and it was on a subject he knew nothing at all about, and there was
nothing whatever to say. However, he succeeded in saying something, then
Jane had hardly spoken to him or looked at him. She was reading an
She put it down when he had gone.
'Does Arthur come in often?' she asked me casually, lighting another
After a minute or two, Jane said, 'Look here, K, I'll tell you something.
I'm not particularly keen on meeting Arthur for the present. Nor he me.'
'That's not exactly news, my dear.'
'No; it fairly stuck out just now, didn't it? Well, the fact is, we both
want a little time to collect ourselves, to settle how we stand….
Sudden deaths are a bad jar, K. They break things up…. Arthur and I
were more friends than Oliver liked, you know. He didn't like Arthur, and
didn't like my going about with him…. Oh, well, you know all that as
well as I do, of course…. And now he's dead…. It seems to spoil
things a bit…. I hate meeting Arthur now.'
And then an extraordinary thing happened. Jane, whom I had never seen
cry, broke down quite suddenly and cried. Of course it would have seemed
quite natural in most people, but tears are as surprising in Jane as they
would be in me. They aren't part of her equipment. However, she was out
of health just now, of course, and had had a bad shock, and was
emotionally overwrought; and, anyhow, she cried.
I mixed her some sal volatile, which, I understand, is done in these
crises. She drank it, and stopped crying soon.
'Sorry to be such an ass,' she said, more in her normal tone. 'It's this
beastly baby, I suppose…. Well, look here, K, you see what I mean.
Arthur and I don't want to meet just now. If he's likely to come in much,
I must give up coming, that's all.'
'I'll tell him,' I said, 'that you're often here. If he doesn't want to
meet you either, that ought to settle it.'
'Thanks, old thing, will you?'
Jane was the perfect egotist. If it ever occurred to her that possibly
Arthur would like to see me sometimes, and I him, she would not think it
mattered. She wanted to come to my flat, and she didn't want to meet
Arthur; therefore Arthur mustn't come. Life's little difficulties are
very simply arranged by the Potter twins.
Then, for nine days, we none of us thought or talked much about anything
but the railway strike. The strike was rather like the war. The same old
cries began again—carrying on, doing one's bit, seeing it through,
fighting to a finish, enemy atrocities (only now they were called
sabotage), starving them out, gallant volunteers, the indomitable
Britisher, cheeriest always in disaster (what a hideous slander!),
innocent women and children. I never understood about these, at least
about the women. Why is it worse that women should suffer than men? As
to innocence, they have no more of that than men. I'm not innocent,
particularly, nor are the other women I know. But they are always
classed with children, as sort of helpless imbeciles who must be kept
from danger and discomfort. I got sick of it during the war. The people
who didn't like the blockade talked about starving women and children,
as if it was somehow worse that women should starve than men. Other
people (quite other) talked of our brave soldiers who were fighting to
defend the women and children of their country, or the dastardly air
raids that killed women and children. Why not have said
'non-combatants,' which makes sense? There were plenty of male
non-combatants, unfit or over age or indispensable, and it was quite as
bad that they should be killed—worse, I suppose, when they were
indispensable. Very few women or children are that.
So now the appeal to strikers which was published in the advertisement
columns of the papers at the expense of 'a few patriotic citizens'
said, 'Don't bring further hardship and suffering upon the innocent
women and children…. Save the women and children from the terror of
the strike.' Fools.
In another column was the N.U.R. advertisement, and that was worse. There
was a picture of a railwayman looking like a consumptive in the last
stages, and embracing one of his horrible children while his more
horrible wife and mother supported the feeble heads of others, and under
it was written, 'Is this man an anarchist? He wants a wage to keep his
family,' and it was awful to think that he and his family would perhaps
get the wage and be kept after all. The question about whether he was an
anarchist was obviously unanswerable without further data, as there was
nothing in the picture to show his political convictions; they might,
from anything that appeared, have been liberal, tory, labour, socialist,
anarchist, or coalition-unionist. And anyhow, supposing that he had been
an anarchist, he would still, presumably, have wanted a wage to keep his
family. Anarchists are people who disapprove of authority, not of wages.
The member of the N.U.R. who composed that picture must have had a
muddled mind. But so many people have, and so many people use words in an
odd sense, that you can't find in the dictionary. Bolshevist, for
instance. Lloyd George called the strikers Bolshevists, so did plenty of
other people. None of them seem to have any very clear conception of the
political convictions of the supporters of the Soviet government in
Russia. To have that you would need to think and read a little, whereas
to use the word as a vague term of abuse, you need only to feel, which
many people find much easier. Some people use the word capitalist in the
same way, as a term of abuse, meaning really only 'rich person.' If they
stopped to think of the meaning of the word, they would remember that it
means merely a person who uses what money he has productively, instead of
hoarding it in a stocking.
But 'capitalist' and 'Bolshevist' were both flung about freely during the
strike, by the different sides. Emotional unrest, I suppose. People get
excited, and directly they get excited they get sentimental and confused.
The daily press did, on both sides. I don't know which was worse. The
Pinkerton press blossomed into silly chit-chat about noblemen working on
under ground trains. As a matter of fact, most of the volunteer workers
were clerks and tradesmen and working men, but these weren't so
interesting to talk about, I suppose.
The Fact became more than ever precise and pedantic and clear-headed,
and what people call dull. It didn't take sides: it simply gave, in more
detail than any other paper, the issues, and the account of the
negotiations, and had expert articles on the different currents of
influence on both sides. It didn't distort or conceal the truth in either
I met Lady Pinkerton one evening at Jane's. She would, of course, come up
to town, though the amateur trains were too full without her. She said,
'Of course They hate us. They want a Class War.'
Jane said, 'Who are They, and who are Us?' and she said 'The working
classes, of course. They've always hated us. They're Bolshevists at
heart. They won't be satisfied till they've robbed us of all we have.
They hate us. That is why they are striking. We must crush them this
time, or it will be the beginning of the end.'
I said, 'Oh. I thought they were striking because they wanted the
principle of standardisation of rates of wages for men in the same grade
to be applied to other grades than drivers and firemen.'
Lady Pinkerton was bored. I imagine she understands about hate and love
and envy and greed and determination, and other emotions, but not much
about rates of wages. So she likes to talk about one but not about the
other. All, for instance, that she knows about Bolshevism is its
sentimental side—how it is against the rich, and wants to nationalise
women and murder the upper classes. She doesn't know about any of the
aspects of the Bolshevist constitution beyond those which she can take in
through her emotions. She would find the others dull, as she finds
technical wage questions. That's partly why she hates the Fact. If she
happened to be on the other side, she would talk the same tosh, only use
'capitalist' for 'Bolshevist.'
She said, 'Anyhow, whatever the issue, the blood of the country is up. We
must fight the thing through. It is splendid the way the upper classes
are stepping into the breach on the railways. I honour them. I only hope
they won't all be murdered by these despicable brutes.'
That was the way she talked. Plenty of people did, on both sides.
Especially, I am afraid, innocent women. I suppose they were too innocent
to talk about facts.
After all, the country didn't have to fight the thing through for very
long, and there were no murders, for the strike ended on October the 5th.
That same week, Jukie came in to see me. Jukie doesn't often come,
because his evenings are apt to be full. A parson's work seems to be like
a woman's, never done. From 8 to 11 p.m. seems to be one of the great
times for doing it. Probably Jukie had to cut some of it the evening he
came round to Gough Square.
I always like to see Jukie. He's entertaining, and knows about such queer
things, that none of the rest of us know, and believes such incredible
things, that none of the rest of us believe. Besides, like Arthur, he's
all out on his job. He's still touchingly full of faith, even after all
that has and hasn't happened, in a new heaven and a new earth. He
believed at that time that the League of Nations was going to kill war,
that the Labour Party were going to kill industrial inequity, that the
country was going to kill the Coalition Government, that the Christian
Church was going to kill selfishness, that some one was going to kill
Horatio Bottomley, and that we were all going to kill Potterism. A
perfect orgy of murders, as Arthur said, and all of them so improbable.
Jukie is curate in a slummy parish near Covent Garden. He succeeds,
apparently, in really being friends—equal and intimate friends—with a
lot of the men in his parish, which is queer for a person of his kind. I
suppose he learnt how while he was in the ranks. He deserved to; Arthur
told me that he had persistently refused promotion because he wanted to
go on living with the men; and that's not a soft job, from all accounts,
especially for a clean and over-fastidious person like Jukie. Of course
he's very popular, because he's very attractive. And, of course, it's
spoilt him a little. I never knew a very popular and attractive person
who wasn't a little spoilt by it; and in Jukie's case it's a pity,
because he's too good for that sort of thing, but it hasn't really
damaged him much.
He came in that evening saying, 'Katherine, I want to speak to you,' and
sat down looking rather worried and solemn. He plunged into it at once,
as he always does.
'Have you heard any talk lately about Gideon?' he asked me.
'Nothing more interesting than usual,' I said. 'But I seldom hear talk. I
don't mix enough. We don't gossip much in the lab, you know. I look to
you and my Fleet Street friends for spicy personal items. What's the
latest about Arthur?'
'Just this,' he said. 'People are going about saying that he pushed
I felt then as if I had known all along that of course people were
'Then why isn't he arrested?' I asked stupidly.
'He probably will be, before long,' said Jukie. 'There's no evidence yet
to arrest him on. At present it's merely talk, started by that Pinkerton
woman, and sneaking about from person to person in the devilish way such
talk does…. I was with Gideon yesterday, and saw two people cut him
dead…. You see, it's all so horribly plausible; every one knows they
hated each other and had just quarrelled; and it seems he was there that
night, just before it happened. He went home with Jane.'
I remembered that they had left my place together. But neither Arthur
nor Jane had told me that he had gone home with her.
'The inquest said it was accidental,' I said, protesting against
something, I didn't quite know what.
Jukie shrugged his shoulders.
'That's not very likely to stop people talking.'
He added after a moment, 'But it's got to be stopped somehow…. I went
to an awful bazaar this afternoon, on purpose to meet that woman. I met
her. I spoke to her. I told her to chuck it. She as good as told me she
wasn't going to. I mentioned the libel law—she practically dared Gideon
to use it against her. She means to go on. She's poisoning the air with
her horrible whispers and slanders. Why can't some one choke her? What
can we do about it, that's the question? Ought one of us to tell Gideon?
I'm inclined to think we ought.'
'Are you sure he doesn't know it already?'
'No, I'm not sure. Gideon knows most things. But the person concerned is
usually the last to hear such talk. And, in case he has no suspicion, I
think we should tell him.'
'And get him to issue, through the Fact, a semi-official declaration
that "the whole story is a tissue of lies."'
Then I wished I hadn't used that particular phrase. It was an unfortunate
one. It suggested a similarity between Lady Pinkerton's story and Mr.
Bullitt's, between Arthur Gideon's denial and Lloyd George's.
Jukie's eyes met mine swiftly, not dreamy and introspective as usual, but
keen and thoughtful.
'Katherine,' he said, 'we may as well have this out. It won't hurt Gideon
here. Is it a lie? I believe so, but, frankly, I don't feel certain. I
don't know what to think. Do you?'
I considered it, looking at it all ways. The recent past, Arthur's
attitude and Jane's, were all lit up by this horrible flare of light
which was turned upon them.
'No,' I said at last. 'I don't know, either…. We can't assume for
certain that it is a lie.'
Jukie let out a long breath, and leant forward in his chair, resting his
head on his hands.
'Poor old Gideon,' he said. 'It might have happened, without any
intention on his part. If Hobart found him there with Jane … and if
they quarrelled … Gideon's got a quick temper, and Hobart always made
him see red…. He might have hit him—pushed him down, without meaning
to injure him—and then it would be done. And then—if he did it—he must
have left the house at once … perhaps not knowing he'd killed him.
Perhaps he didn't know till afterwards. And then Jane might have asked
him not to say anything … I don't know. I don't know. Perhaps it's
nonsense; perhaps it is a tissue of lies. I hope to God it is…. I
only know one thing that makes me even suspect it may be true, and that
is that Gideon has been absolutely miserable, and gone about like a man
half stunned, ever since it happened. Why?'
He shot the question at me, hoping I had some answer. But I had none. I
shook my head.
'Well,' said Jukie sadly, 'it isn't, I suppose, our business whether he
did or didn't do it. That's between him and—himself. But it is our
business, whether he's innocent or guilty, to put him on his guard
against this talk. It's for you or me to do that, Katherine. Will you?'
'If you like.'
'I'd rather you did it, if you will … I think he's less likely to
think that you're trying to find things out…. You see, I warned him
once before, about another thing, and he might think I was linking it in
my mind with that.'
'With Jane,' I said, and he nodded.
'Yes. With Jane … I spoke to him about Jane a few days before it
happened. I thought it might be some use. But I think it only made things
worse…. I'd rather leave this to you, unless you hate it too much….
Oh, it's all pretty sickening, isn't it? Gideon—Gideon in this sort of
mess. Gideon, the best of the lot of us…. You see, even if it's all
moonshine about Hobart, as I'm quite prepared to believe it probably is,
he's gone and given plausibility to the yarn by falling in love with
Hobart's wife. Nothing can get round that. Why couldn't he have chucked
it—gone away—anything—when he felt it coming on? A strong, fine, keen
person like that, to be bowled over by his sloppy emotions and dragged
through the mud, like any beastly sensualist, or like one of my own
cheery relations…. I'd rather he'd done Hobart in. There'd have been
some sense about that, if he had. After all, it would have been striking
a blow against Potterism. Only, if he did do it, it would be more like
him to face the music and own to it. What I can't fit into the picture is
Gideon sneaking away in the dark, afraid … Oh well, it's not my
business … Good-night, Katherine. You'll do it at once, won't you? Ring
him up to-morrow and get him to dine with you or something. If there's
any way of stopping that poisonous woman's tongue, we'll find it….
Meanwhile, I shall tell our parish workers that Leila Yorke's works are
obscene, and that they're not to read them to mother's meetings as is
I sat up till midnight, wondering how on earth I was going to put it
I didn't dine with Arthur. I thought it would last too long, and that he
might want me to go, and that I should certainly want to go, after I had
said what I had to say. So I rang him up at the office and asked if he
could lunch. Not at the club; it's too full of people we know, who keep
interrupting, and who would be tremendously edified at catching murmurs
about libel and murder and Lady Pinkerton being poisoned. So I said the
Temple Bar restaurant in Fleet Street, a disagreeable place, but so noisy
and crowded that you can say what you like unheard—unheard very often by
the person you are addressing, and certainly by every one else.
We sat downstairs, at a table at the back, and there I told him, in what
hardly needed to be an undertone, of the rumours that were being
circulated about him. I felt like a horrid woman in a village who repeats
spiteful gossip and says, 'I'm telling you because I think you ought to
know what's being said.' As a matter of fact, this was the one and only
case I have ever come across in which I have thought the person concerned
ought to know what was being said. As a rule, it seems the last thing
they ought to know.
He listened, staring at the tablecloth and crumbling his bread.
'Thank you,' he said, 'for telling me. As a matter of fact, I knew.
Or, anyhow, guessed…. But I'm not sure that anything can be done
to stop it.'
'Unless,' I said, looking away from him, 'you could find grounds for a
libel action. You might ask a lawyer.'
'No,' he returned quickly. 'That's quite impossible. Out of the
question…. There are no grounds. And I wouldn't if there were. I'm not
going to have the thing made a show of in the courts. It's exactly what
the Pinkertons would enjoy—a first-class Pinkerton scoop. No, I shall
let it alone.'
'Is there no way of stopping it, then?' I asked.
'Only one,' he murmured, absently, beneath his breath, then caught
himself up. 'I don't know. I think not.'
I didn't make any further suggestions. What was the good of
advising him to remonstrate with the Pinkertons? If they were
lying, it was the obvious course. If they weren't, it was an
impossible one. I let it alone.
Arthur was frowning as he ate cold beef.
'There's one thing,' he said. 'Does Jane know what is being said? Do you
suppose her parents have talked about it to her?'
I said I didn't know, and he went on frowning. Then he murdered a wasp
with his knife—a horrible habit at meals, but one practised by many
returned soldiers, who kill all too readily. I suppose after killing all
those Germans, and possibly Oliver Hobart, a wasp seems nothing.
'Well,' he said absently, when he was through with the wasp, 'I don't
know. I don't know,' and he seemed, somehow, helpless and desperate, as
if he had come to the end of his tether.
'I must think it over,' he said. And then he suddenly began to talk about
Arthur's manner, troubled rather than indignant, had been against him. He
had dismissed the idea of a libel action, and not proposed to confront
his libellers in a personal interview. Every circumstance seemed against
him. I knew that, as I walked back to the laboratory after lunch.
And yet—and yet.
Well, perhaps, as Jukie would say, it wasn't my business. My business at
the moment was to carry on investigations into the action of
carbohydrates. Arthur Gideon had nothing to do with this, nor I with his
private slayings, if any.
I wrote to Jukie that evening and told him I had warned Arthur, who
apparently knew already what was being said, but didn't seem to be
contemplating taking any steps about it.
So that was that.
Or so I thought at the time. But it wasn't. Because, when I had posted my
letter to Jukie, and sat alone in my room, smoking and thinking, at last
with leisure to open my mind to all the impressions and implications of
the day (I haven't time for this in the laboratory), I began to fumble
for and find a new clue to Arthur's recent oddness. For twenty-four hours
I had believed that he had perhaps killed Oliver Hobart. Now, suddenly I
didn't. But I was clear that there was something about Oliver Hobart's
death which concerned him, touched him nearly, and after a moment it
occurred to me what it might be.
'He suspects that Jane did it,' I said, slowly and aloud. 'He's trying to
With that, everything that had seemed odd about the business became
suddenly clear—Arthur's troubled strangeness, Jane's dread of meeting
him, her determined avoidance of any reference to that night, her sudden
fit of crying, Arthur's shrinking from the idea of giving the talk
against him publicity by a libel action, his question, 'Does Jane know?'
his remark, to himself, that there was only one way of stopping it. That
one way, of course, would be to make Jane tell her parents the truth, so
that they would be silenced for ever. As it was, the talk might go on,
and at last official investigations might be started, which would lead
somehow to the exposure of the whole affair. The exposure would probably
take the form of a public admission by Jane; I didn't think she would
stand by and see Arthur accused without speaking out.
So I formed my theory. It was the merest speculation, of course. But it
was obvious that there was something in the manner of Oliver Hobart's
death which badly troubled and disturbed both Arthur and Jane. That being
so, and taking into account their estrangement from one another, it was
difficult not to be forced to the conclusion that one of them knew, or
anyhow guessed, the other to have caused the accident. And, knowing them
both as I did, I believed that if Arthur had done it he would have owned
to it. Wouldn't one own to it, if one had knocked a man downstairs in a
quarrel and killed him? To keep it dark would seem somehow cheap and
timid, not in Arthur's line.
Unless Jane had asked him to; unless it was for her sake.
It occurred to me that the thing to do was to go straight to Jane and
tell her what was being said. If she didn't choose to do anything about
it, that was her business, but I was determined she should know.
An hour later I was in Jane's drawing-room. Jane was sitting at her
writing-table, and the room was dim except for the light from the
reading-lamp that made a soft bright circle round her head and shoulders.
She turned round when I came in and said, 'Hallo, K. What an unusual
hour. You must have something very important to say, old thing.'
'I have rather,' I said, and sat down by her. 'It's this, Jane. Do you
know that people are saying—spreading it about—that Arthur killed
It was very quiet in the room. For a moment I heard nothing but the
ticking of a small silver clock on the writing-table. Jane sat quite
still, and stared at me, not surprised, not angry, not shocked, but with
a queer, dazed, blind look that reminded me of Arthur's own.
Then I started, because some one in the farther shadows of the room drew
a long, quivering breath and said 'Oh,' on a soft, long-drawn note.
Looking round, I saw Clare Potter. She had just got up from a chair, and
was standing clutching its back with one hand, looking pale and sick, as
if she was going to faint.
I hadn't, of course, known Clare was there, or I wouldn't have said
anything. But I was rather irritated; after all, it wasn't her business,
and I thought it rather absurd the way she kept up her attitude of not
being able to bear to hear Oliver Hobart's death mentioned.
I got up to go. After all, I had nothing more to say. I didn't want to
stop and pry, only to let Jane know.
But as I turned to go, I remembered that I had one more thing to say.
'It was Lady Pinkerton who started it and who is keeping it up,' I told
Jane. 'Can you—somehow—stop her?'
Jane still stared at me, stupidly. After a moment she half whispered,
I stood looking at her for a second, then I went, without any more words.
All the way home I saw those two white faces staring at me, and heard
Jane's whisper 'I—don't—know….'
I didn't know, either.
I only knew, that evening, one thing—that I hated Jane, who had got
Arthur into this mess, and 'didn't know' whether she could get him out of
it or not.
And I may as well end what I have got to tell by saying something which
may or may not have been apparent to other people, but which, anyhow, it
would be Potterish humbug on my part to try to hide. For the last five
years I had cared for Arthur Gideon more than for any one else in the
world. I saw no reason why I shouldn't, if I liked. It has never damaged
any one but myself. It has damaged me in two ways—it has made it
sometimes difficult to give my mind to my work, and it has made me,
often, rather degradingly jealous of Jane. However, you would hardly (I
hope) notice it, and anyhow it can't be helped.
TOLD BY JUKE (IN HIS PRIVATE JOURNAL)
It is always rather amusing dining at Aylesbury House, with my
stimulating family. Especially since Chloe, my present stepmother,
entered it, three years ago. Chloe is great fun; much more entertaining
than most variety artists. I know plenty of these, because Wycombe, my
eldest brother, introduces them to me. As a class they seem pleasant and
good-humoured, but a little crude, and lacking in the subtler forms of
wit or understanding. After an hour or so of their company I want to
yawn. But Chloe keeps me going. She is vulgar, but racy. She is also very
kind to me, and insists on coming down to help with theatrical
entertainments in the parish. It is so decent of her that I can't say no,
though she doesn't really fit in awfully well with the O.U.D.S. people,
and the Marlowe Society people, and the others whom I get down for
theatricals. In fact, Elizabethan drama isn't really her touch. However,
the parish prefers Chloe, I need hardly say.
I dined there on Chloe's birthday, October 15th, when we always have a
family gathering. Family and other. But the family is heterogeneous
enough to make quite a good party in itself. It was represented on that
particular evening by my father and Chloe, my young sister Diana, my
brothers Wycombe and Tony, Tony's wife, myself, my uncle Monsignor Juke,
my aunt the Marchesa Centurione and a daughter, and my Aunt Cynthia, who
had recently, on her own fiftieth birthday, come out of a convent in
which she had spent twenty-five years and was preparing to see Life.
Besides the family, there were two or three theatrical friends of
Chloe's, and two friends of my father's—a youngish literary man called
Bryan, and the cabinet minister to whom Tony was secretary, but whom I
will not name, because he might not care for it to be generally known
that he was an inmate of so fast a household.
My Aunt Cynthia, having renounced her vows, and having only a
comparatively short time in which to enjoy the world, the flesh and the
devil, is making the most of it. She has only been out of her convent a
year, but is already a spring of invaluable personal information about
men and manners. She knows everything that is being said of everybody
else, and quite a lot that hasn't even got as far as that. Her Church
interests (undiminished in keenness) provide a store of tales
inaccessible to most of my family and their set (except my Uncle
Ferdinand, of course, and his are mostly Roman not Anglican). Aunt
Cynthia has a string of wonderful stories about Cowley Fathers biting
Nestorian Bishops, and Athelstan Riley pinching Hensley Henson, and so
forth. She is as good as Ronnie Knox at producing or inventing them. I'm
not bad myself, when I like, but Aunt Cynthia leaves me out of sight.
This evening she was full of vim. She usually talks at the top of a very
high and strident voice (I don't know what they did with it at the
convent), and I suddenly heard her screaming to the cabinet minister,
'Haven't you heard that? Oh, everybody's quoting it in Fleet Street,
aren't they, Mr. Bryan? But I suppose you never go to Fleet Street, Mr.
Blank; it's so important, isn't it, for the government not to get mixed
up with the press. Well, I'll tell it you.
'There was a young journalist Yid,
Of his foes of the press he got rid
In ways brief and bright,
For, at dead of the night,
He threw them downstairs, so he did.
It's about the late editor of the Daily Haste and Mr. Gideon of the
Weekly Fact. No, I don't know who's responsible for it, but I believe
it's perfectly true. They're saying so everywhere now. I believe that
awful Pinkerton woman is going about saying she has conclusive evidence;
it's been revealed from the Beyond, I believe; I expect by poor Mr.
Hobart himself. No, I'm sure she didn't make the limerick; she's not a
poet, only a novelist. Perhaps it came from the Beyond, through
planchette. Anyhow, they say Mr. Gideon will be arrested on a murder
charge very shortly, and that there's no doubt he's guilty.'
I leant across the table.
'Who's saying so, Aunt Cynthia?' I asked her.
Aunt Cynthia hates being asked that about her stories. Of course. Every
one does. I do myself.
Aunt Cynthia looked at me with her childlike convent stare.
'My dear Laurie, how can I remember who says anything, with every one
saying everything all the time? Who? Why, all sorts of people…. Aren't
Chloe, who was showing a spoon and glass trick to the Monsignor, said,
'Aren't who what?'
'Isn't every one saying that Arthur Gideon threw Oliver Hobart downstairs
and killed him?'
'I expect so, dear. Never heard of either of the gentlemen myself.
And did he?'
'Of course he did. He's a Jew, and he hated Hobart and his paper like
poison. The Fact's so different, you know. Every one's clear he did
it. Mind you, I don't blame him. The Daily Haste is a vulgar
'The Jew's a dear friend of Laurie's,' put in Wycombe. 'You'd better be
careful, Aunt Cynthia.'
'Oh, Laurie dear,' my aunt cried, 'how tactless of me. But, my dear boy,
are you really friends with a Jew, and you a Christian priest?'
'I'm friends with Gideon. He's a Gentile by religion, by the way; an
ordinary agnostic. Aunt Cynthia, don't go on spreading that nonsense, if
you don't mind. You might contradict it if you hear it again.'
'Very well, dear. I'll say you have good reason to know it isn't true.
I'll say you've been told who did kill Mr. Hobart, only it was under the
seal, so you can't say. Shall I?'
'By all means, if you like.'
Then Aunt Cynthia chased off after another exciting subject, and that was
all about Gideon.
I came away early (about eleven, that is, which is very early for one of
Chloe's evenings, which don't end till summer dawn) feeling more worried
than ever about Gideon. If the gossip about him had penetrated from Lady
Pinkerton's circle to my aunt's, it must be pretty widespread. I was
angry with Aunt Cynthia, and a little with every one I had met that
evening. They were so cheerful, so content with things as they were,
finding all the world such a screaming farce…. I sometimes get my
family on my nerves, when I go there straight from Covent Garden and its
slum babies, and see them spending and squandering and being
irresponsible and dissolute and not caring twopence for the way
two-thirds of the world live. There was Wycombe to-night, with a long
story to tell me about his debts and his amours (he's going to be
co-respondent in a divorce case directly), and Chloe, as hard as nails
beneath her pretty ways, and simply out for a good time, and Aunt
Cynthia, with half the gossip of London spouting out of her like a
geyser, and Diana, who might turn out fine beyond description or
degenerate into a mere selfish rake (it won't be my father's and Chloe's
fault if she doesn't do the latter), and my Uncle Ferdinand in purple and
fine linen, a prince of the Church, and Tony already booked for a
political career, with his chief's shady secrets in his keeping to show
him the way it's done. And they bandied about among them the name of a
man who was worth the lot of them together, and repeated silly rhymes
which might hang him…. It was a little more than I could stand.
One is so queer about one's family. I'm inclined to think every one is.
Often I fit in with mine perfectly, and love to see them, and find them
immensely refreshing after Covent Garden and parish shop. And then
another time they'll be on my nerves and I feel glad I'm out of it all.
And another time again I'm jealous of them, and wish I had Wycombe's or
Tony's chances of doing something in the world other than what I am
doing. That, of course, is sheer vulgar covetousness and grab. It comes
on sometimes when I am tired, or bored, and the parish seems stale, and
the conferences and committees I attend unutterably profitless, and I
want more clever people to talk to, and bigger and more educated
audiences to preach to, and I want to have leisure to write more and to
make a name…. It is merely a vulgar disease—a form of Potterism. One
has to face it and fight it out.
But to-night I wasn't feeling that. I wasn't feeling anything very much,
except that Gideon, and all that Gideon stood for, was worth immeasurably
more than anything the Aylesbury lot had ever stood for.
And when I got back, I found a note from Katherine saying that she
had warned Gideon about the talk and that he wasn't proposing to take
Next morning I had to go to Church House for a meeting. I got the Daily
Haste (which I seldom see) to read in the underground. On the front
page, side by side with murders, suicides, divorces, allied notes, and
Sinn Fein outrages, was a paragraph headed 'The Hobart Mystery. Suspicion
of Foul Play.' It was about how Hobart's sudden death had never been
adequately investigated, and how curious and suspicious circumstances had
of late been discovered in connection with it, and inquiries were being
pursued, and the Haste, which was naturally specially interested,
hoped to give more news very soon.
So old Pinkerton was making a journalistic scoop of it. Of course; one
might have known he would.
At my meeting (Pulpit Exchange, it was about) I met Frank Potter. He is a
queer chap—commercial and grasping, like all his family, and dull too,
and used to talk one sick about how little scope he had in his parish,
and so on. Since he got to St. Agatha's he's cheered up a bit, and talks
to me now instead of his big congregations and their fat purses. He's a
dull-minded creature—rather stupid and entirely conventional. He's all
against pulpit exchange, of course; he thinks it would be out of order
and tradition. So it would. And he's a long way keener on order and
tradition than he is on spiritual progress. A born Pharisee, he is
really, and yet with Christianity struggling in him here and there; and
that's why he's rather interesting, in spite of his dullness.
After the meeting I went up to him and showed him the Haste.
'Can't this be stopped?' I asked him.
He blinked at it.
'That's what Johnny is up in arms against too,' he said. 'He swears by
this chap who is suspected, and won't hear a word against him.'
'Well,' I said, 'the question is, can Johnny or any one else do anything
to stop it?… I've tried. I spoke to Lady Pinkerton the other day. It
was no use. Can you do anything?'
'I'm afraid not,' he said, rather apathetically. 'You see, my people
believe Gideon killed Hobart, and are determined to press the matter. One
can't blame them, you know, if they really think that. My mother feels
perfectly sure of it, from various bits of evidence she's got hold of,
and won't be happy till the thing is thoroughly sifted. Of course, if
Gideon's innocent, it's best for him, too, to have the thing out, now
it's got so far. Don't you agree?'
'I don't. Why should a man have to waste his time appearing in a criminal
court to answer to a charge of manslaughter or murder which he never
committed? Gideon happens to have other things to do than to make a nine
days' wonder for the press and public.'
I suppose that annoyed Potter rather. He said sharply, 'It's up to the
chap to prove his innocence. Till he does, a great many people will
believe him guilty, I'm afraid.'
'Including yourself, obviously.'
He shrugged his shoulders.
'I've no prejudices either way,' he returned, his emphasis on the
personal pronoun indicating that I, in his opinion, had.
But there he was wrong. I hadn't. I was quite prepared to believe that
Gideon had knocked Hobart downstairs, or that he hadn't. You can't be a
parson, or, indeed, anything else, for long, without learning that decent
men and women will do, at times, quite indecent things, and that the
devil is quite strong enough to make a mess of any human being's life.
You hear of a man that he was in love with another man's wife and hated
her husband and at last killed him in a quarrel—and you think 'A bad
lot.' But he may not be a bad lot at all; he may be a decent chap, full
of ideals and generosity and fine thinking. Sometimes I'm inclined to
agree with the author of that gushing and hysterical book In Darkest
Christendom and a Way Out, that the only unforgiveable sin is
exploitation. Exploitation of human needs and human weaknesses and human
tragedies, for one's own profit…. And, as we very nearly all do it, in
one way or another, let us hope that even that isn't quite unforgiveable.
Yes, we nearly all do it. The press exploits for its benefit human
silliness and ignorance and vulgarity and sensationalism, and, in
exploiting it, feeds it. The war profiteers exploited the war…. We all
exploit other people—use their affection, their dependence on us, their
needs and their sins, for our own ends.
And that is deliberate. To knock a fellow human being downstairs in a
quarrel, so that he dies—that may be impulse and accident, and is not so
vile. Even to say nothing afterwards—even that is not so vile.
Still, I would rather, much rather, think that Gideon hadn't done it.
It was odd that, as I was thinking these things, walking up Surrey Street
from the Temple Embankment, I overtook Gideon, who was slouching along in
his usual abstracted way.
I touched his arm and spoke to him. He gave me his queer,
'Hallo, Jukie…. Where are you bound?… By the way, did you by chance
see the Haste this morning?'
'Not by chance. That doesn't happen with me and the Haste. But I saw
'They obviously mean business, don't they. The sleuth-hound touch. I
expect to be asked for my photograph soon, for the Pink Pictorial and
the Sunday Rag. I must get a nice one taken.'
I suppose I looked as I felt, for he said in a different tone, 'Don't
worry, old man. There's nothing to be done. We must just let this thing
take its course.'
I couldn't say anything, because there was nothing to say that wouldn't
seem like asking him questions, or trying to make him admit or deny the
thing to me. I wanted to ask him if he couldn't produce an alibi and blow
the ridiculous story to the four winds. But—suppose he couldn't…?
So I said nothing but, 'Well, let me know if ever I can be any use,' and
we parted at the top of Surrey Street.
We have evensong at five at St. Christopher's. No one conies much. The
people in the parish aren't the weekday church sort. Those among them who
come to church at all mostly confine their energies to evening service on
Sundays, though a few of them consent to turn up at choral mass at
eleven. And, by means of guilds and persuasion, we've induced a good many
of the lads and girls to come to early mass sometimes. The vicar gets
discouraged at times, but not so much as most vicars would, because he
more or less agrees with me in not thinking church-going a test of
Christianity. The vicar is one of the cleverest and most original parsons
in the Church, in my opinion. He has a keen, shrewd, practical insight
into the distinction between essentials and non-essentials. He is popular
in the parish, but I don't think the people understand, as a rule, what
he is getting at.
Anyhow, the only people who usually came to our week-day services were a
few church workers and an elderly lady or two who happened to be passing
and dropped in. The elderly ladies who lived in the parish were much too
busy for any such foolishness.
But this evening—the evening of the day I had met Gideon—there was a
girl in church. She was rather at the back, and I didn't see who it was
till I was going out. Then she stopped me at the door, and I saw that it
was Clare Potter. I knew Clare Potter very slightly, and had never found
her interesting. I had always believed her to be conventional and
commonplace, without the brains of the twins or even the mild
spirituality of Frank.
But I was startled by her face now; it was white and strained, and
emotion wavered pitifully over it.
'Please,' she said, 'will you hear my confession?'
'I'm very sorry,' I told her, 'but I can't. I'm still in deacon's
She seemed disappointed.
'Oh! Oh dear! I didn't know….'
I was puzzled. Why had she pitched on me? Hadn't she, I wondered, a
regular director, or was it her first confession she wanted to make? I
began something about the vicar being always glad … But she stopped me.
'No, please. It must be you. There's a reason…. Well, if you can't hear
my confession, may I tell you something in private, and get your advice?'
'Of course,' I said.
'Now, at once, if you've time…. It's very urgent.'
I had time, and we went into the vestry.
She sat down, and I waited for her to speak. She wasn't nervous, or
embarrassed, as most people are in these interviews. Two things occurred
to me about her; one was that she was, in a way, too far through, too
mentally agitated, to be embarrassed; the other was that she was, quite
unconsciously, posing a little, behaving as the heroine of one of her
mother's novels might have behaved. One knows the situation in
fiction—the desperate girl appealing out of her misery to the Christian
priest for help. So many women have this touch of melodrama, this sense
of a situation…. I believed that she was, as she sat there, in these
two conditions simultaneously, exactly as I was simultaneously analysing
her and wanting to be of what service I could.
She leant forward across the vestry table, locking and unlocking
'This is quite private, isn't it,' she said. 'As private as if…?'
'Quite,' I told her.
She drew a long, shivering breath, and leant her forehead on her
'You know,' she said, so low that I had to bend forward to catch it,
'what people are saying—what my people suspect about—about Oliver
'Yes, I know.'
'Well—it wasn't Mr. Gideon.'
'You know that?' I said quickly. And a great relief flooded me. I hadn't
known, until that moment, because I had driven it under, how large a part
of my brain believed that Gideon had perhaps done this thing.
'Yes,' she whispered. 'I know it … Because I know—I know—who did it.'
In that moment I felt that I knew too, and that Gideon knew, and that I
ought to have guessed all along.
I said nothing, but waited for the girl's next word, if she had a next
word to say. It wasn't for me to question her.
And then, quite suddenly, she gave a little moan of misery and broke into
I waited for a moment, then I got up and poured her out a glass of water.
It must have been pretty bad for her. It must have been pretty bad all
this time, I thought, knowing this thing about her sister.
She drank the water, and became quieter.
'Do you want to tell me any more?' I asked her, presently.
'Oh, I do, I do. But it's so difficult … I don't know how to tell
you…. Oh, God … It was I that killed him!'
'Yes?' I said, after a moment, gently, and without apparent surprise. One
learns in parish work not to start, however much one may be startled. I
merely added a legitimate inquiry. 'Why was that?'
She gulped. 'I want to tell you everything. I want to.'
I was sure she did. She had reached the familiar pouring-out stage. It
was obviously going to be a relief to her to spread herself on the
subject. I am pretty well used to being told everything, and at times a
good deal more, and have learnt to discount much of it. I looked away
from her and prepared to listen, and to give my mind to sifting, if I
could, the fact from the fancy in her story. This is a special art, and
one which all parsons do well to learn. I have heard my vicar on the
subject of women's confessions.
'Women—women. Some of them will invent any crime—give themselves away
with both hands—merely to make themselves interesting. Poor things, they
don't realise how tedious sin is. One has to be on one's guard the whole
time, with that kind.'
I deduced that Clare Potter might possibly be that kind. So I listened
carefully, at first neither believing nor disbelieving.
'It's difficult to tell you,' she began, in a pathetic, unsteady voice.
'It hurts, rather …'
'No, I think not,' I corrected her. 'It's a relief, isn't it?'
She stared at me for a moment, then went on, 'Yes, I want to tell. But
it hurts, all the same.'
I let her have it her own way; I couldn't press the point. She really
thought it did hurt. I perceived that she had, like so many people, a
'Go on,' I said.
'I must begin a long way back…. You see, before Oliver fell in love
with Jane, he … he cared a little for me. He really did, Mr. Juke. And
he made me care for him.' Her voice dropped to a whisper.
This was truth. I felt no doubt as to that.
'Then … then Jane came, and took him away from me. He fell in love with
her … I thought my heart would break.'
I didn't protest against the phrase, or ask her to explain it, because
she was unhappy. But I wish people wouldn't use it, because I don't know,
and they don't know, what they mean by it. 'I thought I should be very
unhappy,' is that the meaning? No, because they are already that. 'I
thought my heart—the physical organ—would be injuriously affected to
the point of rupture.' No; I do not believe that is what they mean.
Frankly, I do not know. There should be a dictionary of the phrases in
However, it would have been pedantic and unkind to ask Miss Potter, who
could probably explain no phrases, to explain this.
She went on, crying a little again.
'I couldn't stop caring for him all at once. How could I? I suppose
you'll despise me, Mr. Juke, but I just couldn't help going on loving
him. It's once and for ever with me. Oh, I expect you think it was
shameful of me!'
'Shameful? To love? No, why? It's human nature. You had bad luck,
'Oh, I did…. Well, there it was, you see. He was married to Jane, and I
cared for him so much that I could hardly bear to go to the house and see
them together…. Oh, it wasn't my fault; he made me care, indeed he
did. I'd never have begun for myself, I'm not that sort of girl, I never
was, I know some girls do it, but I never could have. I suppose I'm too
proud or something.'
She paused, but I made no comment. I never comment on the pride of which
I am so often informed by those who possess it.
She resumed, 'Well, it went on and on, and I didn't seem to get to
feel any better about it. And I hated Jane. Oh, I know that was
wicked, of course.'
As she knew it, I again made no comment.
'And sometimes I think I hated him, when he thought of nothing but her
and never at all of me…. Well, sometimes there was trouble between
them, because Jane would do things and go about with people he didn't
like. And especially Mr. Gideon. We none of us like Mr. Gideon at home,
you know; we think he's awful. He's so rude, and has such silly
opinions, and is so conceited and unkind. He's been awfully rude to
father's papers always. And that horrid article he had in his silly
paper about what he called 'Potterite Fiction,' mostly about mother's
books—did you read it?'
'Yes. But Gideon didn't write it, you know. It was some one else.'
'Oh, well, it was in his paper, anyhow. And he thought it…. And,
anyhow, what are books, to hurt people's feelings about?'
(A laudable sentiment, and one which should be illuminated as a text on
the writing table of every reviewer.)
'Oh, of course I know he's a friend of yours,' she added. 'That's really
why I came to you…. But we none of us like him at home. And Oliver
couldn't stick him. And he begged Jane not to have anything more to do
with him, but she would. She wrote in his paper, and she was always
seeing him. And Oliver got more and more disgusted about it, and I
couldn't bear to see him unhappy.'
'No?' I questioned.
She paused, checked by the interruption. Then, after a moment, she
said, 'I suppose you mean I was glad really, because it came between
them…. Well, I don't know…. Perhaps I was, then…. Well, wouldn't
any one be?'
'Most people,' I agreed. 'Yes?'
She went on a little less fluently, of which I was glad. Fluency and
accuracy are a bad pair. I would rather people stumbled and stammered out
their stories than poured them.
'And I think he thought—Oliver thought—he began to suspect—that Mr.
Gideon was—you know—in love with Jane. And I thought so too. And
he thought Jane was careless about not discouraging him, and seeing so
much of him and all. But I thought she was worse than that, and
encouraged him, and didn't care…. Jane was always dreadfully selfish,
'And … that evening?' I prompted her, as she paused.
'Well, that evening,' she shuddered a little, and went on quickly. 'I'd
been dining with a friend, and I was to sleep at Jane's. I got there soon
after ten, and no one was in, so I went to my room to take my things off.
Then I heard Jane come in, with Mr. Gideon. They went upstairs to the
drawing-room, and I heard them talking there. My door was a little open,
and I heard what they said. And he said …'
'Perhaps,' I suggested, 'you'd better not tell me what they said, since
they thought they were alone. What do you think?'
'Oh, very well. There's no harm. I thought I'd better tell you
everything. But as you like.' She was a little disappointed, but picked
herself up and continued.
'Well, then I heard Oliver coming upstairs, and he stopped at the
drawing-room door for a moment before they saw him, I think, because he
didn't speak quite at once. Then he said, "Good evening," and they said,
"Hallo," and they all began to be nasty—in their voices, you know. He
said he'd obviously come home before he was expected, and then Jane went
upstairs, pretending nothing was the matter—Jane never bothers about
anything—and I heard Mr. Gideon come up to Oliver and ask him what he
meant by that. And they talked just outside my door, and they were very
disagreeable, but I suppose you don't want me to tell you what they
said, so I won't. Anyhow it wasn't much, only Oliver gave Mr. Gideon to
understand he wasn't to come there any more, and Mr. Gideon said he
certainly had no intention of doing so. Oh, yes, and he said, "Damn you"
rather loud. And then he went downstairs and left the house. I heard the
door shut after him, then I came out of my room, and there was Oliver
standing at the top of the stairs, looking as if he didn't see anything.
He didn't seem to see me, even. I couldn't bear it, he was so white and
angry and thinking of nothing but Jane, who wasn't worth thinking about,
because she didn't care…. And then … I lost my head. I think I was
mad … I'd felt awfully queer for a long time…. I couldn't bear it any
more, his being unhappy about Jane and not even seeing me. I went up to
him and said, "Oliver, I'm glad you've got rid of that horrid man."
'He stared at me and still didn't seem to see me. That somehow made me
furious. I said, "Jane's much too fond of him…. She's always with him
now…. They spent this evening together, you know, and came home
'Then he seemed to wake up, and he looked at me with a look I hadn't ever
seen before, and it was as if the world was at an end, because I saw he
hated me for saying that. And he said, "Kindly let my affairs and Jane's
alone," in a horrible, sharp, cold voice. I couldn't bear it. It seemed
to kill something in me; my love for him, perhaps. I went first cold then
hot, and I was crazy with anger; I pushed him back out of the way to let
me pass—I pushed him suddenly, and so hard that he lost his balance….
Oh, you know the rest…. He was standing at the top of those awful
stairs—why are people allowed to make stairs like that?—and he reeled
and fell backwards…. Oh, dear, oh, dear, and you know the rest….'
She was sobbing bitterly now.
'Yes, yes,' I said, 'I know the rest,' and I said no more for a time.
I was puzzled. That she had truly repeated what had passed between her
and Hobart I believed. But whether she had pushed him, or whether he had
lost his own balance, seemed to me still an open question. I had to
consider two things—how best to help this girl, and how to get Gideon
out of the mess as quickly and as quietly as possible. For both these
things I had to get at the truth—if I could.
'Now, look here,' I said presently, 'is this story you've told me wholly
true? Did it actually happen precisely like that? Please think for a
moment and then tell me.'
But she didn't think, not even for a moment.
'Oh,' she sobbed, 'true! Why should I say it if it wasn't?'
Why indeed? I began to enumerate some possible reasons—an inaccurate
habit of mind, a sensational imagination (both these misfortunes being
hereditary), an egotistic craving for attention, even unfavourable
attention—it might be any of these things, or all. But I hadn't got far
before she broke in, 'Oh, God. I've not had a moment's peace since … I
loved him, and I killed him…. I let them think it was an accident….
It was as if I was gagged, I couldn't speak. And after a bit, when it
had all settled down, there didn't seem to be any reason why I should say
anything…. I never thought, truly I never thought, that they'd ever
suspect some one else…. And then, a little while ago, I heard mother
saying something, to some one about Mr. Gideon, and last night Katherine
Varick came and told Jane people were saying it everywhere. And this
morning there was that piece in the Haste. … Oh! what shall I do?'
'You don't really,' I said, 'feel any doubt about that. Do you?'
She lifted her wet, puckered face and stared at me, and I saw that, for
the moment at least, she was not thinking of herself at all, but only of
her tragedy and her problem.
'You mean,' she whispered, 'that I must tell …'
'It's rather obvious, isn't it,' I said gently, because I was horribly
sorry for her. 'You must tell the truth, whatever it is.'
'And be tried for murder—or manslaughter? Appear in the docks?' she
quavered, her frightened brown eyes large and round.
'I don't think it would come to that. All you have to do is to tell your
parents. Your father is responsible for the stuff in the papers, and your
mother, I gather, for the spreading of the story personally. Your
confession to them would stop that. They would withdraw, retract what
they have said, and say publicly that they were mistaken, that the
evidence they thought they had, had been proved false. Then it would be
generally assumed again that the thing was an accident, and the talk
would die down. No one need ever know but your parents and myself. I am
bound, and they would choose, not to repeat it to any one.'
'Not to Jane?' she questioned.
'Well, what does Jane think at present? Does she suspect?'
She shook her head. 'I don't know. Jane's been rather queer all day….
I've sometimes thought she suspected something. Only if she did, I
believe she'd have told me. Jane doesn't consider people's feelings, you
know; she'd say anything, however awful…. Only she's deep, too. Not
like me. I must have things out; she'll keep them dark, sometimes…. No,
I don't know what Jane thinks, really I don't.'
I didn't know either. Another thing I didn't know was what Gideon
thought. They might both suspect Clare, and this might have tied Gideon's
hands; he might have shrunk from defending himself at the expense of a
frightened, unhappy girl and Jane's sister.
But this wasn't my business.
'Well,' I said, 'you may find you have to tell Jane. Perhaps, in a way,
you owe it to Jane to tell her. But the essential thing is that you
should tell your parents. That's quite necessary, of course. And you
should do it at once—this evening, directly you get home. Every minute
lost makes the thing worse. I think you should catch the next train back
to Potter's Bar. You see, what you say may affect what is in to-morrow
morning's papers. This thing has to be stopped at once, before further
damage is done.'
She looked at me palely, her hands twisting convulsively in and out of
each other. I saw her, for all her seven or eight-and-twenty years, as a
weak, frightened child, ignorant, like a child, of the mischief she was
doing to others, concerned, like a child, with her own troubles and fears
and the burden on her own conscience. I was inclined now to believe in
'Oh,' she whimpered, 'I daren't…. All this time I've said
nothing…. How can I, now? It's too awful … too difficult …'
I looked at her in silence.
'What's your proposal, then?' I asked her. I may have sounded hard and
unkind, but I didn't feel so; I was immensely sorry for her. Only, I
believe a certain amount of hard practicality is the only wholesome
treatment to apply to emotional and wordy people. One has to make them
face facts, put everything in terms of action. If she had come to me for
advice, she should have it. If she had come to me merely to get relief by
unburdening her tortured conscience, she should find the burden doubled
unless she took the only possible way out.
She looked this way and that, with scared, hunted eyes.
'I thought perhaps … they might be made to think it was an
'Well, you see, I could tell them that he'd left the house—Mr. Gideon, I
mean—before Oliver … fell. That would be true. I could say I heard Mr.
Gideon go, and heard Oliver fall afterwards. That's what I thought I'd
say. Then he'd be cleared, wouldn't he?'
'Why haven't you,' I asked, 'said this already, directly you knew that
Gideon was suspected?'
'I—I didn't like,' she faltered. 'I wanted to ask some one's advice. I
wanted to know what you thought.'
'I've told you,' I answered her, 'what I think. It's more than thinking.
I know. You've got to tell them the exact truth whatever it is. There's
really no question about it. You couldn't go to them with a half true
story … could you?'
'I don't know,' she sighed, pinching her fingers together nervously.
'You do know. It would be impossible. You couldn't lie about a thing like
that. You've got to tell the truth…. Not all you've told me, if you
don't want to—but simply that you pushed him, in impatience, not meaning
to hurt him, and that he fell. It's quite simple really, if you do it at
once. It won't be if you leave it until the thing has gone further and
Gideon is perhaps arrested. You'd have to tell the public the story then.
Now it's easy…. No, I beg your pardon, it's not easy; I know that. It's
very hard. But there it is: it's got to be done, and done at once.'
She listened in silence, drooping and huddled together. I was reminded
pitifully of some soft little animal, caught in a trap and paralysed
'Oh,' she gasped, 'I must, I must, I know I must. But it's
I'm not going to repeat the things I said. They were the usual truisms,
and one has to say them. I had accepted her story now: it seemed simpler.
The complex part of the business was that at one moment I was simply
persuading a frightened and reluctant girl to do the straight and decent
and difficult thing, and at the next I was wasting words on an egotist
(we're all that, after all) who was subconsciously enjoying the situation
and wanting to prolong it. One feels the difference always, and it is
that duplicity of aim in seekers after advice that occasionally makes one
cruel and hard, because it seems the only profitable method.
It must have been ten minutes before I wrung out of her a faltering but
definite, 'I'll do it.'
Then I stood up. There was no more time to be wasted.
'What train can you get?' I asked her.
'I don't know…. The 7.30, perhaps.' She rose, too, her little wet
crumpled handkerchief still in her hand. I saw she had something
else to say.
'I've been so miserable …'
'Well, of course.'
'It's been on my mind so …'
What things people of this type give themselves the trouble of saying!
'Well, it will be off your mind now,' I suggested.
'Will it? But it will still be there—the awful thing I did. I ought to
confess it, oughtn't I, and get absolution? I do make my confession, you
know, but I've never told this, not properly. I know I ought to have
done, but I couldn't get it out ever—I put it so that the priest
couldn't understand. I suppose it was awfully mean and cowardly of me,
and I ought to confess it properly.'
But I couldn't go into that question, not being entirely sure even now
what she ought to confess. I merely said, 'Well, why make confessions
at all if you don't make them properly?'
She only gave her little soft quivering sigh. It was too difficult a
question for her to answer. And, after all, a foolish one to ask. Why do
we do all the hundreds of things that we don't do properly? Reasons are
many and motives mixed.
I walked with her to the King's Cross bus and saw her into it. We shook
hands as we parted, and hers was hot and clinging. I saw that she was all
tense and strung up.
'Good-bye,' she whispered. 'And thank you ever so much for being so good
to me. I'll do what you told me to-night. If it kills me, I will.'
'That's good,' I returned. 'But it won't kill you, you know.'
I smiled at her as she got on to the bus, and she smiled pitifully back.
I walked back to my rooms. I felt rather tired, and had a queer feeling
of having hammered away on something soft and yielding and yet
unbreakable, like putty. I felt sick at having been so hard, and sick too
that she was so soft. Sick of words, and phrases, and facile emotions,
and situations, and insincerities, and Potterisms—and yet with an odd
tide of hope surging through the sickness, because of human nature, which
is so mixed that natural cowards will sometimes take a steep and hard way
where they might take an easy one, and because we all, in the middle of
our egotism and vanity and self-seeking, are often sorry for what we have
done. Really sorry, beneath all the cheap penitence which leads nowhere.
So sorry that we sometimes cannot bear it any more, and will break up our
own lives to make amends….
And if, at the same time, we watch our sorrow and our amends, and see it
as drama and as interesting—well, after all, it is drama and it is
interesting, so why not? We can't all be clear and steely
unsentimentalists like Katherine Varick.
One has to learn to bear sentimentalism. In parishes (which are the
world) one has to endure it, accept it. It is part of the general
muddle and mess.
I got a Daily Haste next morning early, together with the Pink
Pictorial, the illustrated Pinkerton daily. I looked through them
quickly. There was no reference to the Hobart Mystery. I was relieved.
Clare Potter had kept her word, then—or anyhow had said enough to clear
Gideon (I wasn't going further than that about her; I had done my utmost
to make her do the straight thing in the straight way, and must leave the
rest to her), and the Pinkertons were withdrawing. They would have,
later, to withdraw more definitely than by mere abstaining from further
accusation (I intended to see to that, if no one else did), but this was
a beginning. It was, no doubt, all that Pinkerton had been able to
arrange last night over the telephone.
It would have interested me to have been present at that interview
between Clare and her parents. I should like to have seen Pinkerton
provided by his innocent little daughter with the sensation of his life,
and Leila Yorke, the author of Falsely Accused forced to realise her
own abominable mischief-making; forced also to realise that her messages
from the other side had been as lacking in accuracy as, unfortunately,
messages from this side, too, so often are. I hoped the affair Hobart
would be a lesson to both Pinkertons. But, like most of the lessons set
before us in this life, I feared it would be a lesson unlearnt.
Anyhow, Pinkerton was prompt and business like in his methods. His
evening paper contained a paragraph to this effect:—
'DEATH OF MR HOBART
'NOW CONSIDERED ACCIDENTAL
'FOUL PLAY NOT SUSPECTED
'The investigation into the circumstances surrounding the sudden death of
Mr. Oliver Hobart, the late editor of the Daily Haste, have resulted in
conclusive evidence that the tragedy was due to Mr. Hobart's accidental
stumbling and falling. His fall, which was audible to the other inmates
of the house, took place after the departure of Mr. Arthur Gideon, with
whom he had been talking. A statement to this effect has been made by
Miss Clare Potter, who was staying in the house at the time, and who was
at the time of the inquest too much prostrated by the shock to give
It was a retraction all right, and all that could be expected of the
Pinkerton Press. In its decision and emphasis I read scare.
I didn't give much more thought just then to the business. I was
pretty busy with meetings and committees, and with rehearsals of A
New Way to pay Old Debts, which we were playing to the parish in a
week. I had stage-managed it at Oxford once, and had got some of the
same people together, and it was going pretty well but needed a good
deal of attention. I had, too, to go away from town for a day or two,
on some business connected with the Church Congress. Church Congresses
keep an incredible number of people busy about them beforehand;
besides all the management of committees and programmes and
side-shows, there is the management of all the people of divergent
views who won't meet each other, such as Mr. George Lansbury and Mr.
Athelstan Riley. (Not that this delicate task fell to me; I was only
concerned with Life and Liberty.)
On the day after I came back I met Jane at the club, after lunch. She
came over and sat down by me.
'Hallo,' she said. 'Have you been seeing the Haste?'
'I have. It's been more interesting lately than my own paper.'
'Yes…. So Arthur's acquitted without a stain on his character. Poor
mother's rather sick about it. She thought she'd had a Message, you know.
That frightful Ayres woman had a vision in a glass ball of Arthur
knocking Oliver downstairs. I expect you heard. Every one did…. Mother
went round to see her about it the other day, but she still sticks to it.
Poor mother doesn't know what to make of it. Either the ball lied, or the
Ayres woman lied, or Clare is lying. She's forced to the conclusion that
it was the Ayres. So they've had words. I expect they'll make it up
before long. But at present there's rather a slump in Other Side
business…. And she wrote a letter of apology to Arthur. Father made
her, he was so afraid Arthur would bring a libel action.'
'Why didn't he?' I asked, wondering, first, how much of the truth
either Arthur or Jane had suspected all this time, and, secondly, how
much they now knew.
Jane looked at me with her guarded, considering glance.
'Well,' she said, 'I don't mind your knowing. You'd better not let on to
him that I told you, though; he mightn't like it. The fact is, Arthur
thought I'd done it. He thought it was because my manner was so queer, as
if I was trying to hush it up. I was. You see, I thought Arthur had done
it. It seemed so awfully likely. Because, I left them quarrelling. And
Arthur's got an awfully bad temper. And his manner was so queer. We
never talked it out, till two days ago; we avoided talking to each other
at all, almost, after the first. But on that first morning, when he came
round to see me, we somehow succeeded in diddling one another, because we
were each so anxious to shield the other and hush it all up…. Clare
might have saved us both quite a lot of worrying if she'd spoken out at
once and said it was … an accident.'
Jane's voice was so unemotional, her face and manner so calm, that she
is a very dark horse sometimes. I couldn't tell for certain whether she
had nearly instead of 'an accident' said 'her,' or whether she had
spoken in good faith. I couldn't tell how much she knew, or had been
told, or guessed.
I said, 'I suppose she didn't realise till lately that any one was likely
to be suspected,' and Jane acquiesced.
'Clare's funny,' she said, after a moment.
'People are,' I generalised.
'She has a muddled mind,' said Jane.
'People often have.'
'You never know,' said Jane thoughtfully, 'how much to believe of what
'No? I dare say she doesn't quite know herself.'
'She does not,' said Jane. 'Poor old Clare.'
We necessarily left it at that, since Jane didn't, of course, mean to
tell me what story Clare had told of that evening's happenings, and I
couldn't tell Jane the one Clare had told me. I didn't imagine I should
ever be wiser than I was now on the subject, and it certainly wasn't my
business any more.
When I met Clare Potter by chance, a week or two later, on the steps of
the National Gallery with another girl, she flushed, bowed, and passed me
quickly. That was natural enough, after our last interview.
Queer, that those two girls should be sisters. They were an interesting
study to me. Clare, shallow, credulous, weak in the intelligence,
conventional, emotional, sensitive, of the eternal type of orthodox and
timid woman, with profound powers of passion, and that touch of
melodrama, that sense of a situation, which might lead her along strange
paths…. And Jane, level-headed, clear-brained, hard, calm,
straight-thinking, cynical, an egotist to her finger-tips, knowing what
she wanted and going for it, tough in the conscience, and ignorant of
love except in its crudest form of desire for the people and things which
ministered to her personal happiness….
It struck me that the two represented two sides of Potterism—the
intellectual and moral. Clare, the ignorant, muddle-headed
sentimentalist; Jane, reacting against this, but on her part grabbing and
exploiting. Their attitude towards truth (that bugbear of Potterism) was
typical; Clare couldn't see it; Jane saw it perfectly clearly, and would
reject it without hesitation if it suited her book. Clare was like her
mother, only with better, simpler stuff in her; Jane was rather like her
father in her shrewd native wit, only, while he was vulgar in his mind,
she was only vulgar in her soul.
Of one thing I was sure: they would both be, on the whole, satisfied with
life, Jane because she would get what she wanted, Clare because she would
be content with little. Clare would inevitably marry; as inevitably, she
would love her husband and her children, and come to regard her passion
for Oliver Hobart and its tragic sequel as a romantic episode of
girlhood, a sort of sowing of wild oats before the real business of life
began. And Jane would, I presumed, ultimately marry Gideon, who was too
good for her, altogether too fine and too good. For Gideon was direct and
keen and passionate, and loved and hated cleanly, and thought finely and
acutely. Gideon wasn't greedy; he took life and its pleasures and
triumphs and amusements in his stride, as part of the day's work; he
didn't seek them out for their own sakes. Gideon lived for causes and
beliefs and ideals. He was temperamentally Christian, though he didn't
happen to believe Christian dogma. He had his alloy, like other people,
of ambition and selfishness, but so much less than, for instance, I have,
that it is absurd that he should be the agnostic and I the professing
The Christian Church. Sometimes one feels that it is a fantasy, the
flaming ideal one has for it. One thinks of it as a fire, a sword, an
army with banners marching against dragons; one doesn't see how such
power can be withstood, be the dragons never so strong. And then one
looks round and sees it instead as a frail organisation of the lame, the
halt, and the blind, a tepid organisation of the satisfied, the
bourgeois, the conventionally genteel, a helpless organisation of the
ignorant, the half-witted, the stupid; an organisation full to the brim
of cant, humbug, timid orthodoxy, unreality, self-content, and all kinds
of Potterism—and one doesn't see how it can overcome anything whatever.
What is the truth? Where, between these two poles, does the actual
church stand? Or does it, like most of us its members, swing to and from
between them, touching now one, now the other? A Potterite church—yes;
because we are most of us Potterites. An anti-Potterite church—yes,
again; because at its heart is something sharp and clean and fine and
direct, like a sword, which will not let us be contented Potterites, but
which is for ever goading us out of ourselves, pricking us out of our
trivial satisfactions and our egotistic discontents.
I suppose the fact is that the Church can only work on the material it
finds, and do a little here and a little there. It would be a sword in
the hands of such men as Gideon; on the other hand, it can't do much
with the Clare Potters. The real thing frightens them if ever they see
it; the sham thing they mould to their own liking, till it is no more
than a comfortable shelter from the storms of life. It is the world's
Potters who have taken the Church and spoilt it, degraded it to the
poor dull thing it is. It is the Potterism in all of us which at every
turn checks and drags it down. Personally, I can forgive Potterism
everything but that.
What is one to do about it?
TOLD BY R.M.
THE END OF A POTTER MELODRAMA
While Clare talked to Juke in the vestry, Jane talked to her parents at
Potter's Bar. She was trying to make them drop their campaign against
Gideon. But she had no success. Lady Pinkerton said, 'The claims of Truth
are inexorable. Truth is a hard god to follow, and often demands the
sacrifice of one's personal feelings.' Lord Pinkerton said, 'I think, now
the thing has gone so far, it had better be thoroughly sifted. If Gideon
is innocent, it is only due to him. If he is guilty, it is due to the
public. You must remember that he edits a paper which has a certain
circulation; small, no doubt, but still, a circulation. He is not
altogether like a private and irresponsible person.'
Lady Pinkerton remarked that we are none of us that, we all owe a duty to
society, and so forth.
Then Clare came in, just as they had finished dinner. She would not have
any. Her face was red and swollen with crying. She said she had something
to tell them at once, that would not keep a moment. Mr. Gideon mustn't be
suspected any more of having killed Oliver, for she had done it herself,
after Mr. Gideon had left the house.
They did not believe her at first. She was hysterical, and they all knew
Clare. But she grew more circumstantial about it, till they began to
believe it. After all, they reasoned, it explained her having been so
completely knocked over by the catastrophe.
Jane asked her why she had done it. She said she had only meant to push
him away from her, and he had fallen.
Lady Pinkerton said, 'Push him away, my dear! Then was he …'
Was he too close, she meant. Clare cried and did not answer. Lady
Pinkerton concluded that Oliver had been trying to kiss Clare, and that
Clare had repulsed him. Jane knew that Lady Pinkerton thought this, and
so did Clare. Jane thought 'Clare means us to think that. That doesn't
mean it's true. Clare hasn't got what Arthur calls a grip on facts.'
Lord Pinkerton said, 'This is very painful, my dears; very painful
indeed. Jane, my dear …'
He meant that Jane was to go away, because it was even more painful for
her than for the others. But Jane didn't go. It wasn't painful for Jane
really. She felt hard and cold, and as if nothing mattered. She was angry
with Clare for crying instead of explaining what had happened.
Lady Pinkerton said, passing her hand over her forehead in the tired way
she had and shutting her eyes, 'My dear, you are over-wrought. You don't
know what you are saying. You will be able to tell us more clearly in
But Clare said they must believe her now, and Lord Pinkerton must
telephone up to the Haste and have the stuff about the Hobart
'My poor child,' said Lady Pinkerton, 'what has made you suddenly, so
long after, tell us this terrible story?'
Clare sobbed that she hadn't been able to bear it on her mind any more,
and also that she hadn't known till lately that Gideon was suspected.
Lord and Lady Pinkerton looked at each other, wondering what to believe,
then at Jane, wishing she was gone, so that they could ask Clare more
about it. Jane said, 'Don't mind me. I don't mind hearing about it.' Jane
meant to stay. She thought that if she was gone they would persuade Clare
she had dreamed it all and that it had been really Gideon after all.
Jane asked Clare why she had pushed Oliver, thinking that she ought to
explain, and not cry. But still Clare only cried, and at last said she
couldn't ever tell any one. Lady Pinkerton turned pink, and Lord
Pinkerton walked up and down and said, 'Tut tut,' and it was more obvious
than ever what Clare meant.
She added, 'But I never meant, indeed I never meant, to hurt him. He just
fell back, and …'
'Was killed,' Jane finished for her. Jane thought Clare was like their
mother in trying to avoid plain words for disagreeable things.
Clare cried and cried. 'Oh,' she said, 'I've not had a happy moment
since,' which was as nearly true as these excessive statements ever are.
Lady Pinkerton tried to calm her, and said, 'My poor, dear child, you
don't know what you are saying. You must go to bed now, and tell us in
the morning, when you are more yourself.'
Clare didn't go to bed until Lord Pinkerton had promised to ring up the
Haste. Then she went, with Lady Pinkerton, who was crying too now,
because she was beginning to believe the story.
Jane didn't know what she believed. She didn't believe what Clare had
implied—that Oliver had tried to kiss her. Because Oliver hadn't been
like that; it wasn't the sort of thing he did. Jane thought it caddish of
Clare to have tried to make them think that of him. But she might, Jane
thought, have been angry with him about something else; she might have
pushed him…. Or she might not; she might be imagining or inventing the
whole thing. You never knew, with Clare.
If it was true, Jane thought, she had been a fool about Arthur. But, if
he hadn't done it, why had he been so queer? Why had he avoided her, and
been so odd and ashamed from the first morning on?
Perhaps, thought Jane, he had suspected Clare.
She would see him to-morrow morning, and ask him.
Jane saw Gideon next day. She rang him up, and he came over to Hampstead
It was the first time Jane had seen him alone for more than a month. He
looked thin and ill.
Jane loved him. She had loved him through everything. He might have
killed Oliver; it made no difference to her caring for him.
But she hoped he hadn't.
He came into the drawing-room. Jane remembered that other night, when
Oliver—poor Oliver—had been vexed to find him there. Poor Oliver. Poor
Oliver. But Jane couldn't really care. Not really, only gently, and in a
way that didn't hurt. Not as if Gideon were dead and shut away from
everything. Not as if she herself were.
Jane didn't pretend. As Lady Pinkerton would say, the claims of Truth
Gideon came in quickly, looking grave and worried, as if he had something
on his mind.
Jane said, 'Arthur, please tell me. Did you knock Oliver down
He stood and stared at her, looking astonished and startled.
Then he said, slowly, 'Oh, I see. You mean, am I going to admit that I
did, when I am accused…. If there's no other way out, I am…. It will
be all right, Jane,' he said very gently. 'You needn't be afraid.'
Jane didn't understand him.
'Then you did it,' she said, and sat down. She felt sick, and her
Gideon stood over her, tall and stooping, biting the nail of his
'You see,' Jane said, 'I'd begun to hope last night that you hadn't done
it after all.'
'What are you talking about?' he asked.
Jane said, 'Clare told us that it happened—that he fell—after you had
left the house. So I hoped she might be speaking the truth, and that
you hadn't done it after all. But if you did, we must go on thinking of
'If—I—did,' Gideon said after her slowly. 'You know I didn't, Jane.
Why are you talking like this? What's the use, when I know, and you know,
and you know that I know, the truth about it? It can do no good.'
He was, for the first time, stern and angry with her.
'The truth?' Jane said. 'I wish you'd tell it me, Arthur.'
The truth. If Gideon told her anything, it would be the truth, she knew.
He wasn't like Clare, who couldn't.
But he only looked at her oddly, and didn't speak. Jane looked back into
his eyes, trying to read his mind, and so for a moment he stared down at
her and she stared up at him.
Jane perceived that he had not done it. Had he, then, guessed all this
time that Clare had, and been trying to shield her?
Then, slowly, his face, which had been frowning and tense, changed
and broke up.
'Good God!' he said. 'Tell me the truth, Jane. It was you, wasn't it?'
Then Jane understood.
She said, 'You thought it was me…. And I thought it was you! Is it me
you've been so ashamed of all this time then, not yourself?'
'Yes,' he said, still staring at her. 'Of course…. It wasn't you,
then…. And you thought it was me?… But how could you think that,
Jane? I'd have told; I wouldn't have been such a silly fool as to sneak
away and say nothing. You might have known that. You must have had a
pretty poor opinion of me, to think I'd do that…. Good lord, how you
must have loathed me all this time!'
'No, I haven't. Have you loathed me, then?'
He said quickly, 'That's different,' but he didn't explain why.
After a moment he said, 'It was just an accident then, after all.'
'Yes … Clare was talking to him when he fell…. She's only just told
about it, because you were being suspected. But I never know whether to
believe Clare; she's such a gumph. I had to ask you…. What made you
suspect me, by the way?'
'Your manner, that first morning. You dragged me into the dining-room, do
you remember, and talked about how they all thought it was an accident,
and no one would guess if we were careful, and I wasn't to say anything.
What else was I to think? It was really your own fault.'
Jane said, 'Well, anyhow, we're quits. We've both spent six weeks
thinking each other murderers. Now we'll stop…. I don't wonder you
fought shy of me, Arthur.'
He looked at her curiously.
'Didn't you fight shy of me, then? You can hardly have wanted to see much
of me in the circumstances.'
'I didn't, of course. It was awful. Besides, you were so queer and
disagreeable. I thought it was a guilty conscience, but really I suppose
it was disgust.'
'Not disgust. No. Not that.' He seemed to be balancing the word 'disgust'
in his mind, considering it, then rejecting it. 'But,' he said, 'it would
have been difficult to pretend nothing had happened, wouldn't it…. I
didn't blame you, you know, for the thing itself. I knew it must have
been an accident—that you never meant … what happened…. Well,
anyhow, that's all over. It's been pretty ghastly. Let's forget it….
What Potterish minds you and I must have, Jane, to have built up such a
sensational melodrama out of an ordinary accident. I think Lord Pinkerton
would find me useful on one of his papers; I'm wasted on the Fact. You
and I; the two least likely people in the world for such fancies, you'd
think—except Katherine. By the way, Katherine half thought I'd done it,
you know. So did Jukie.'
'I'm inclined now to think that K thought I had, that evening she came to
see me. She was rather sick with me for letting you be accused.'
'A regular Potter melodrama,' said Gideon. 'It might be in one of your
mother's novels or your father's papers. That just shows, Jane, how
infectious a thing Potterism is. It invades the least likely homes, and
upsets the least likely lives. Horrible, catching disease.'
Gideon was walking up and down the room in his restless way, playing with
the things on the tables. He stopped suddenly, and looked at Jane.
'Jane,' he said, 'we won't, you and I, have any more secrets and
concealments between us. They're rotten things. Next time it occurs to
you that I've committed a crime, ask me if it is so. And I'll do the same
to you, at whatever risk of being offensive. We'll begin now by telling
each other what we feel…. You know I love you, my dear.'
Oh, yes, Jane knew that. She said, 'I suppose I do, Arthur.'
He said, 'Then what about it? Do you …' and she said, 'Rather, of
course I do.'
Then they kissed each other, and settled to get married next May or June.
The baby was coming in January.
'You'll have to put up with baby, you know, Arthur,' Jane said.
'Of course, poor little kid. I rather like them. It's rough luck on it
not having a father of its own. I'll try to be decent to it.'
That would be queer, thought Jane, Arthur being decent to Oliver's kid; a
boy, perhaps, with Oliver's face and Oliver's mind. Poor little kid: but
Jane would love it, and Arthur would be decent to it, and its
grandparents would spoil it; it would be their favourite, if any more
came. They wouldn't like the others, because they would be Gideon's. They
might look like little Yids. Perhaps there wouldn't be any others. Jane
wasn't keen. They were all right when they were there—jolly little
comics, all slippy in their baths, like eels—but they were an
unspeakable nuisance while on the way. A rotten system.
All next day Jane felt like stopping people in the streets and shouting
at them, 'Arthur didn't do it. Nor did I. It was only that silly ass,
Clare, or else it was an accident.' For even now Jane wasn't sure which
But the only person to whom she really said it was Katherine. One told
Katherine things, because she was as deep and as quiet as the grave.
Also, if Jane hadn't told her what Clare had said, she would have gone on
thinking it was Jane, and Jane didn't like that. Jane did not care to
give Katherine more reasons for making her feel cheap than necessary. She
would always think Jane cheap, anyhow, because Jane only cared about
having a good time, and Katherine thought one should care chiefly about
one's job. Jane supposed she was cheap, but didn't much care. She felt
she would rather be herself. She had a better time, and would have a
better time still before she had done; better than Johnny, with the
rubbishy books he was writing and making his firm bring out for him and
feeling so pleased with. Jane knew she could write better stuff than
Johnny could, any day. And her books would be in addition to Gideon, and
babies, and other amusing things.
Jane told Katherine Clare's story. Katherine said, 'H'm. Perhaps. I
wonder. It's as likely as not all bumkum that she pushed him. She was
probably talking to him when he fell, and got worked up about it later.
The Potter press and Leila Yorke touch. However, you never know. Quite a
light push might do it. Those stairs of yours are awful. I really advise
you to be careful, Jane.'
'You thought I'd done it, didn't you, old thing?'
'For a bit, I did. For a bit I thought it was Arthur. So did Jukie. You
never know. Any one might push any one else. Even Clare may have.'
'You must have thought I was a pretty mean little beast, to let Arthur be
suspected without owning up.'
'I did,' Katherine admitted. 'Selfish …'
She was looking at Jane in her considering way. Her bright blue eyes
seemed always to go straight through what she was looking at, like
X-rays. When she looked at Jane now, she seemed somehow to be seeing in
her not only the present but the past. It was as if she remembered, and
was making Jane remember, all kinds of old things Jane had done. Things
she had done at Oxford; things she had done since; things Katherine
neither blamed nor condemned, but just took into consideration when
thinking what sort of a person Jane was. You had the same feeling with
Katherine that you had sometimes with Juke, of being analysed and
understood all through. You couldn't diddle either of them into thinking
you any nicer than you were. Jane didn't want to. It was more restful
just to be taken for what one was. Oliver had been always idealising her.
Gideon didn't do that; he knew her too well. Only he didn't bother much
about what she was, not being either a priest or a scientific chemist,
but a man in love.
'By the way,' said Katherine, 'are you and Arthur going to get married?'
Jane told her in May or June.
Katherine, who was lighting a cigarette, looked at Jane without smiling.
The flame of the match shone into her face, and it was white and cold
'She doesn't think I'm good enough for Arthur,' Jane thought. And anyhow,
K didn't, Jane knew, think much of marriage at all. Most women, if you
said you were going to get married, assumed it was a good thing. They
caught hold of you and kissed you. If you were a man, other men slapped
you on the back, or shook hands or something. They all thought, or
pretended to think, it was a fine thing you were doing. They didn't
really think so always. Behind their eyes you could often see them
thinking other things about it—wondering if you would like it, or why
you chose that one, and if it was because you preferred him or her to any
one else or because you couldn't get any one else. Or they would be
pitying you for stopping being a bachelor or spinster and having to grow
up and settle down and support a wife or manage servants and babies. But
all that was behind; they didn't show it; they would say, 'Good for you,
old thing,' and kiss you or shake your hand.
Katherine did neither to Jane. She hadn't when it was Oliver Hobart,
because she hadn't thought it a suitable marriage. She didn't, now it was
Arthur Gideon, perhaps for the same reason. She didn't talk about it. She
talked about something else.
ENGAGED TO BE MARRIED
The fine weather ended. Early October had been warm, full of golden
light, with clear, still evenings. Later the wind blustered, and it was
cold. Sometimes Jane felt sick; that was the baby. But not often. She
went about all right, and she was writing—journalism and a novel. She
thought she would perhaps send it in for a prize novel competition in the
spring, only she felt no certainty of pleasing the three judges, all so
very dissimilar. Jane's work was a novel about a girl at school and
college and thereafter. Perhaps it would be the first of a trilogy;
perhaps it would not. The important thing was that it should be well
reviewed. How did one work that? You could never tell. Some things were
well reviewed, others weren't. Partly luck it was, thought Jane. Novels
were better treated usually than they deserved. Verse about as well as it
deserved, which, however, wasn't, as a rule, saying very much. Some kinds
of book were unkindly used—anthologies of contemporary verse, for
instance. Someone would unselfishly go to the trouble of collecting some
of the recent poetical output which he or she personally preferred and
binding it up in a pleasant portable volume, and you would think all that
readers had to do was to read what they liked in it, if anything, and
leave out the rest and be grateful. Instead, it would be slated by
reviewers, and compared to the Royal Academy, and to a literary signpost
pointing the wrong way, and other opprobrious things; as if an anthology
could point to anything but the taste of the compiler, which of course
could not be expected to agree with any one else's; tastes never do. The
thing was, thought Jane, to hit the public taste with the right thing at
the right moment. Another thing was to do better than Johnny. That should
be possible, because Jane was better than Johnny; had always been. Only
there was this baby, which made her feel ill before it came, and would
need care and attention afterwards. It wasn't fair. If Johnny married and
had a baby it wouldn't get in his way, only in its mamma's. It was a
handicap, like your frock (however short it was) when you were climbing.
You had got round that by taking it off and climbing in knickerbockers,
but you couldn't get round a baby. And Jane wanted the baby too.
'I suppose I want everything,' said Jane.
Johnny wanted everything too. He got a lot. He got love. He was
polygamous by nature, and usually had more than one girl on hand. That
autumn he had two. One was Nancy Sharpe, the violinist. They were always
about together. People who didn't know either of them well, thought they
would get engaged. But neither of them wanted that. The other girl was a
different kind: the lovely, painted, music-hall kind you don't meet. No
one thought Johnny would marry her, of course. They merely passed the
time for one another.
Jane wondered if the equivalent man would pass the time for her. She
didn't think so. She thought she would get bored with never talking about
anything interesting. And it must, she thought, be pretty beastly having
to kiss people who used cheap scent and painted their lips. One would be
afraid the red stuff would come off. In fact, it surely would. Didn't men
mind—clean men, like Johnny? Men are so different, thought Jane. Johnny
was the same at Oxford. He would flirt with girls in tea-shops. Jane had
never wanted to flirt with the waiters in restaurants. Men were perhaps
less critical; or perhaps they wanted different qualities in those with
whom they flirted; or perhaps it was that their amatory instinct, when
pronounced at all, was much stronger than women's, and flowed out on to
any object at hand when they were in the mood. Also, they certainly grew
up earlier. At Oxford and Cambridge girls weren't, for the most part,
grown-up enough to be thinking about that kind of thing at all. It came
on later, with most of them. But men of that age were, quite a lot of
them, mature enough to flirt with the girls in Buol's.
Jane discussed it with Gideon one evening. Gideon said, 'Men usually
have, as a rule, more sex feeling than women, that's all. Naturally. They
need more, to carry them through all the business of making marriage
proposals and keeping up homes, and so on. Women often have very little.
That's why they're often better at friendship than men are. A woman can
be a man's friend all their lives, but a man, in nine cases out of ten,
will either get tired of it or want more. Women have a tremendous gift
for friendship. Their friendships with other women are usually much more
devoted and more faithful than a man's with other men. Most men, though
of course not all, want sex in their lives at some time or other.
Hundreds of women are quite happy without it. They're quite often nearly
sexless. Very few men are that.'
Jane said, 'There are plenty of women like Clare, whom one can't think of
apart from sex. No friendship would ever satisfy her. If she isn't a wife
and mother she'll be starved. She'll marry, of course.'
'Yes,' Gideon agreed. 'There are plenty of women like that. And when a
woman is like that, she's much more dependent on love and marriage than
any man is, because she usually has fewer other things in her life. But
there are women also like Katherine.'
'Oh, Katherine. K isn't even dependent on friendship. She only wants her
work. K isn't typical.'
'No; she isn't typical. She isn't a channel for the life force, like most
of us. She's too independent; she won't let herself be used in that way.'
'Am I a channel for the life force?' thought Jane. 'I suppose so. Hence
Oliver and baby. Is Arthur? I suppose so. Hence his wanting to marry me.'
Jane told her family that she was going to marry Gideon. Lady Pinkerton
said, 'It's extraordinary to me that you can think of it, Jane, after all
that has happened. Surely, my child, the fact that it was the last thing
Oliver would wish should have some weight with you. Whatever plane he may
be on now, he must be disturbed by such news as this. Besides, dear
child, it is far too soon. You should wait at least a year before taking
such a step. And Arthur Gideon! Not only a Jew, Jane, and not only a man
of such very unfortunate political principles, but one who has never
attempted to conceal his spiteful hostility both to father's papers and
my books. But perhaps, as I believe you agree with him in despising both
of these, that may be an extra bond between you. Only you must see that
it will make family life extremely awkward.'
Of course it would. But family lives nearly always are awkward, Jane
thought; it is one of the things about them.
Lady Pinkerton added, having suddenly remembered it, 'Besides, my dear,
he drinks; you told me so yourself.'
Jane said, if she had, she had lied, doubtless for some good reason now
forgotten by her. He didn't drink, not in the excessive sense of that
word obviously intended by Lady Pinkerton. Lady Pinkerton was
unconvinced; she still was sure he drank in that sense.
She resumed, 'And Jewish babies! I wonder you can think of it, Jane. They
may be a throw-back to a most degraded Russian-Jewish type. What brothers
and sisters for the dear mite who is coming first! My dear, I do beg you
to think this over long and seriously before committing yourself. You may
live to repent it bitterly.'
Clare said, 'Jane! How can you—after …'
After Oliver, she meant. She would never say his name; perhaps one
doesn't like to when one has killed a man.
Jane thought, 'Why didn't I leave Oliver to Clare? She'd have suited him
much better. I was stupid; I thought I wanted him. I did want him. But
not in the way I want Arthur now. One wants so many things.'
Lord Pinkerton said, 'You're making a big mistake, Babs. That fellow
won't last. He's building on sand, as the Bible puts it—building on
sand. I hear on good authority that the Fact can't go on many months
longer, unless it changes its tone and methods considerably; it's got no
chance of fighting its way as it is now. People don't want that kind of
thing. They don't want anything the Gideon lot will give them. Gideon and
his sort haven't got the goods. They're building on the sand of their own
fancy, not on the rock of general human demand. I hear that that daily
they talked of starting can't come off yet, either…. The chap's a bad
investment, Babs…. And he despises me and my goods, you know. That'll
'Not you, daddy. The papers, he does. He rather likes you, though he
doesn't approve of you…. He doesn't like mother, and she doesn't like
him. But people often don't get on with their mothers-in-law.'
'It's an awkward alliance, my dear, a very awkward alliance. What will
people say? Besides, he's a Jew.'
Jewish babies; he was thinking of them too.
Jane thought, bother the babies. Perhaps there wouldn't be any, and if
there were, they'd only be a quarter Jew. Anyhow, it wasn't them she
wanted; it was Arthur.
Arthur opened doors and windows. You got to the edge of your own thought,
and then stepped out beyond into his thought. And his thought drove sharp
and hard into space.
But more than this, Jane loved the way his hair grew, and the black line
his eyebrows made across his forehead, and the way he stood, tall and
lean and slouching, and his keen thin face and his long thin hands, and
the way his mouth twisted up when he smiled, and his voice, and the whole
of him. She wondered if he loved her like that—if he turned hot and cold
when he saw her in the distance. She believed that he did love her like
that. He had loved her, as she had loved him, all that time he had
thought she was lying to every one about Oliver's death.
'It isn't what people do,' said Jane, 'that makes one love them or stop
'Is this,' she thought, 'what Clare felt for Oliver? I didn't know it was
like this, or I wouldn't have taken him from her. Poor old Clare.' Could
one love Oliver like that? Any one, Jane supposed, could be loved like
that, by the right person. And people like Clare loved more intensely
than people like her; they felt more, and had fewer other occupations.
Jane hadn't known that she could feel so much about anything as she was
feeling now about Gideon. It was interesting. She wondered how long it
would last, at this pitch.
THE PRECISIAN AT WAR WITH THE WORLD
Jane's baby was born in January. As far as babies can be like grown human
beings, it was like its grandfather—a little Potter.
Lord Pinkerton was pleased.
'He shall carry on the papers,' he said, dandling it on his arm.
'Tootooloo, grandson!' He dug it softly in the ribs. He understood this
baby. However many little Yids Jane might achieve in the future, there
would be this little Potter to carry on his own dreams.
Clare came to see it. She was glad it wasn't like Oliver; Jane saw her
being glad of that. She was beginning to fall in love with a young
naval officer, but still she couldn't have seen Oliver in Jane's child
Gideon came to see it. He laughed.
'Potter for ever,' he said.
He added. 'It's symbolic. Potters will be for ever, you know. They're so
The light from the foggy winter afternoon fell on his face as he sat by
the window. He looked tired and perplexed. Strength, perpetuity, seemed
things remote from him, belonging only to Potters. Anti-Potterism and the
Weekly Fact were frail things of a day, rooted in a dream. So Gideon
felt, on these days when the fog closed about him….
Jane looked at her son, the strange little animal, and thought not
'Potter for ever,' but 'me for ever,' as was natural, and as parents will
think of their young, who will carry them down the ages in an ever more
distant but never lost immortality, an atom of dust borne on the hurrying
stream. Jane, who believed in no other personal immortality, found it in
this little Potter in her arms. Holding him close, she loved him, in a
curious, new, physical way. So this was motherhood, this queer, sensuous,
cherishing love. It would have been a pity not to have known it; it was,
after all, an emotion, more profound than most.
When Jane was well enough, she gave a party for Charles, as if he had
been a new picture she had painted and wanted to show off. Her friends
came and looked at him, and thought how clever of her to have had him,
all complete and alive and jolly like that, a real baby. He was better
than the books and things they wrote, because he was more alive, and
would also last longer, with luck. Their books wouldn't have a run of
four score years and ten or whatever it was; they'd be lucky if any one
thought of them again in five years.
But partly Jane gave the party to show people that Charles didn't
monopolise her, that she was well and active again, and ready for work
and life. If she wasn't careful, she might come to be regarded as the
mere mother, and dropped out.
Johnny said, grinning amiably at her and Charles, 'Ah, you're
thinking that your masterpiece quite puts mine in the shade, aren't
you, old thing.'
He had a novel just out. It was as good as most young men's first novels.
'I'm not sure,' said Jane, 'that Charles is my masterpiece. Wait till the
other works appear, and I'll tell you.'
Johnny grinned more, supposing that she meant the little Yids.
'My books, I mean,' Jane added quickly.
'Oh, your books.'
'They're going to be better than yours, my dear,' said Jane. 'Wait and
see…. But I dare say they won't be as good as this.' She appraised
Charles with her eyes.
'But, oh, so much less trouble,' she added, swinging him up and down.
'I could have one as good as that,' said Johnny thoughtfully, 'with no
trouble at all.'
'You'd have to work for it and keep it. And its mother. You wouldn't like
that, you know…. Of course you ought to. It's your duty. Every young
man who survives…. Daddy says so. You'd better do it, John. You're
getting on, you know.'
Young men hate getting on. They hate it, really, more than young women
do. Youth is of such immense value, in almost any career, but
particularly to the young writer.
But Johnny only said, with apparent nonchalance, 'Twenty-seven is not
very old.' He added, however, 'Anyhow, you're five minutes older, and
I've published a book, if you have produced that thing.'
Johnny was frankly greedy about his book. He hung on reviews; he asked
for it in bookshops, and expressed astonishment and contempt when they
had not got it. And it was, after all, nothing to make a song about, Jane
thought. It wasn't positively discreditable to its writer, like most
novels, but it was a very normal book, by a very normal cleverish young
man. Johnny wasn't sure that his publishers advertised it as much as was
Gideon came up to Jane and Charles. He had just arrived. He had three
evening papers in his hand. His fellow passengers had left them in the
train, and he had collected them. Jews often get their news that way.
Johnny saw his friend Miss Nancy Sharpe disengaged and looking lovely,
and went to speak to her. He was really in love with her a little, though
he didn't go as far as wanting to work for her and keep her. He was quite
right; that is to go too far, when so much happiness is attainable short
of it. Johnny wisely shunned desperate measures. So, to do her justice,
did Miss Sharpe.
'Johnny's very elated,' said Jane to Gideon, looking after him. 'What do
you think of his book, Arthur?'
Gideon said, 'I don't think of it. I've had no reason to, particularly.
I've not had to review it…. I'm afraid I'm hopeless about novels just
now, that's the fact. I'm sick of the form—slices of life served up cold
in three hundred pages. Oh, it's very nice; it makes nice reading for
people. But what's the use? Except, of course, to kill time for those who
prefer it dead. But as things in themselves, as art, they've been ruined
by excess. My critical sense is blunted just now. I can hardly feel the
difference, though I see it, between a good novel and a bad one. I
couldn't write one, good or bad, to save my life, I know that. And I've
got to the stage when I wish other people wouldn't. I wish every one
would shut up, so that we could hear ourselves think—like in the
Armistice Day pause, when all the noise stopped.'
Jane shook her head.
'You may be sure we shan't do that. Not likely. We all want to hear
ourselves talk. And quite right too. We've got things to say.'
'Nothing of importance. Few things that wouldn't be better unsaid. Life
'A journalist's is,' Jane pointed out, and he nodded.
'Quite true. Horribly true. It's chiefly myself I'm hitting at. But at
least we journalists don't take ourselves solemnly; we know our stuff is
babble to fill a moment. Novelists and poets don't always know that;
they're apt to think it matters. And, of course, so far as any of them
can make and hold beauty, even a fragment of it here and there, it does
matter. The trouble is that they mostly can't do anything of the sort.
They don't mostly even know how to try. All but a few verse-makers are
shallow, muddled, or sentimental, and most novelists are commercial as
well. They haven't the means; they aren't adequately equipped; they've
nothing in them worth the saying. Why say it, then? A little cleverness
isn't worth while.'
'You're morbid, Arthur.'
'Morbid? Diseased? I dare say. We most of us are. What's health, after
all? No one knows.'
'I've done eighty thousand words of my novel, anyhow.'
'I'm sorry. Nearly all novels are too long. All you've got to say would
go into forty thousand.'
'I don't write because I've got things to say. I haven't a message, like
mother. I write because it amuses me. And because I like to be a
novelist. It's done. And I like to be well spoken of—reasonably well,
that is. It's all fun. Why not?'
'Oh, don't ask me why not. I can't preach sermons all the evening.'
He smiled down on her out of his long sad black eyes, glad of her because
she saw straight and never canted, impatient of her because her ideals
were commercial, loving her because she was gray-eyed and white-skinned
and desirable, seeing her much as Nancy Sharpe, who lived for music, saw
Johnny Potter, only with ardour instead of nonchalance; such ardour,
indeed, that his thoughts of her only intermittently achieved exactitude.
Two girls came up to admire Charles. Jane said it was time she took him
to bed, and they went up with her.
Gideon turned away. He hated parties, and seldom went even to Jane's. He
stood drinking coffee and watching people. You met most of them at the
club and elsewhere continually; why meet them all again in a
drawing-room? There was his sister Rosalind and her husband Boris Stefan
with their handsome faces and masses of black hair. Rosalind had a baby
too (at home); a delicate, pretty, fair-haired thing, like Rosalind's
Manchester mother. And Charles was like Jane's Birmingham father. It was
Manchester and Birmingham that persisted, not Palestine or Russia.
And there was Juke, with his white, amused face and heavy-lidded eyes
that seemed always to see a long way, and Katherine Varick talking to a
naval officer about periscopes (Jane kept in with some of the Admiralty),
and Peacock, with whom Gideon had quarrelled two hours ago at the Fact
office, and who was now in the middle of a group of writing young men, as
usual. Gideon looked at him cynically. Peacock was letting himself be got
at by a clique. Gideon would rather have seen him talking to the
practical looking sailor about periscopes. Peacock would have to be
watched. He had shown signs lately of colouring the Fact with
prejudices. He was getting in with a push; he was dangerously in the
movement. He was also leaning romancewards, and departing from the realm
of pure truth. He had given credence to some strange travellers' tales of
Foreign Office iniquities. As if that unfortunate and misguided body had
not enough sins to its account without having melodramatic and
uncharacteristic kidnappings and deeds of violence attributed to it. But
Peacock had got in with those unhappy journalists and others who had been
viewing Russia, and, barely escaping with their lives, had come back with
nothing else, and least of all with that accurate habit of mind which
would have qualified them as contributors to the Weekly Fact. It was
not their fault (except for going to Russia), but Peacock should have had
nothing to do with them.
Katherine Varick crossed the room to Gideon, with a faint smile.
'Hallo. Enjoying life?'
'I say, what are you doing with the Fact?'
Gideon looked at her sourly.
'Oh, you've noticed it too. It's becoming quite pretty reading, isn't it.
Less like a Blue Book.'
'Much less. I should say it was beginning to appeal to a wider circle.
Is that the idea?'
'Don't ask me. Ask Peacock. Whatever the idea is, it's his, not mine….
But it's not a considered idea at all. It's merely a yielding to the
(apparently) irresistible pressure of atmosphere.'
'I see. A truce with the Potter armies.'
'No. There's no such thing as a truce with them. It's the first steps of
He said it sharply and suddenly, in the way of a man who is, at the
moment, making a discovery. He turned and looked across the room at
Peacock, who was talking and talking, in his clever, keen, pleasant way,
not in the least like a Blue Book.
'We're not like Blue Books,' Gideon muttered sadly. 'Hardly any one is.
Unfortunate. Very unfortunate. What's one to do about it?'
'Lord Pinkerton would say, learn human nature as it is and build on it.
Exploit its weaknesses, instead of tilting against them. Accept
sentimentality and prejudice, and use them.'
'I am aware that he would…. What do you say, Katherine?'
'Nothing. What's the use? I'm one of the Blue Books—not a fair judge,
'No. You'd make no terms, ever.'
'I've never been tempted. One may have to make terms, sometimes.'
'I think not,' said Gideon. 'I think one never is obliged to make terms.'
'If the enemy is too strong?'
'Then one goes under. Gets out of it. That's not making terms….
Good-night; I'm going home. I hate parties, you know. So do you. Why do
either of us go to them?'
'They take one's thoughts off,' said Katherine in her own mind. Her blue
eyes contracted as she looked after him.
'He's failing; he's being hurt. He'll go under. He should have been a
scientist or a scholar or a chemist, like me; something in which
knowledge matters and people don't. People will break his heart.'
Gideon walked all the way back from Hampstead to his own rooms. It was a
soft, damp night, full of little winds that blew into the city from
February fields and muddy roads far off. There would be lambs in the
fields…. Gideon suddenly wanted to get out of the town into that damp,
dark country that circled it. There would be fewer people there; fewer
minds crowded together, making a dense atmosphere that was impervious to
the piercing, however sharp, of truth. All this dense mass of stupid,
muddled, huddled minds…. What was to be done with it? Greedy minds,
ignorant minds, sentimental, truthless minds….
He saw, as he passed a newspaper stand, placards in big black
letters—'Bride's Suicide.' 'Divorce of Baronet.' Then, small and
inconspicuous, hardly hoping for attention, 'Italy and the Adriatic.' For
one person who would care about Italy and the Adriatic, there would,
presumably, be a hundred who would care about the bride and the baronet.
Presumably; else why the placards? Gideon honestly tried to bend his
impersonal and political mind to understand it. He knew no such people,
yet one had to believe they existed; people who really cared that a bride
with whom they had no acquaintance (why a bride? Did that make her more
interesting?) had taken her life; and that a baronet (also a perfect
stranger) had had his marriage dissolved in a court of law. What quality
did it indicate, this curious and inexplicable interest in these topics
so tedious to himself and to most of his personal acquaintances? Was it a
love of romance? But what romance was to be found in suicide or divorce?
Romance Gideon knew; knew how it girdled the world, heard the beat of its
steps in far forests, the whisper of its wings on dark seas…. It is
there, not in divorces and suicides. Were people perhaps moved by desire
to hear about the misfortunes of others? No, because they also welcomed
with eagerness the more cheerful domestic episodes reported. Was it,
then, some fundamental, elemental interest in fundamental things, such as
love, hate, birth, death? That was possibly it. The relation of states
one with another are the product of civilisation, and need an at least
rudimentarily political brain to grasp them. The relations of human
beings are natural, and only need the human heart for their
understanding. That part of man's mind which has been, for some obscure
reason, inaccurately called the heart, was enormously and
disproportionately stronger than the rest of the mind, the thinking part.
'Light Caught Bending,' another placard remarked. That was more cheerful,
though it was an idiotic way of putting a theory as to the curvature of
space, but it was refreshing that, apparently, people were expected to be
excited by that too. And, Gideon knew it, they were. Einstein's theory
as to space and light would be discussed, with varying degrees of
intelligence, most of them low, in many a cottage, many a club, many a
train. There would be columns about it in the Sunday papers, with little
Sunday remarks to the effect that the finiteness of space did not limit
the infinity of God. Scientists have naïf minds where God is concerned;
they see him, if at all, in terms of space.
Anyhow, there it was. People were interested not only in divorce,
suicide, and murder, but in light and space, undulations and gravitation.
That was rather jolly, for that was true romance. It gave one more hope.
Even though people might like their science in cheap and absurd tabloid
form, they did like it. The Potter press exulted in scientific
discoveries made easy, but it was better than not exulting in them at
all. For these were things as they were, and therefore the things that
mattered. This was the satisfying world of hard, difficult facts, without
slush and without sentiment. This was the world where truth was sought
for its own sake.
'When I see truth, do I seek truth
Only that I may things denote,
And, rich by striving, deck my youth
As with a vain, unusual coat?'
Nearly every one in the ordinary world did that, if indeed they ever
concerned themselves with truth at all. And some scientists too, perhaps,
but not most. Scientists and scholars and explorers—they were the
people. They were the world's students, the learners, the discoverers.
They didn't talk till they knew….
Rain had begun to drizzle. At the corner of Marylebone Road and Baker
Street there was a lit coffee-stall. A group clustered about it; a
policeman drinking oxo, his waterproof cape shining with wet; two
taxi-cab drivers having coffee and buns; a girl in an evening cloak, with
a despatch case, eating biscuits.
Gideon passed by without stopping. A hand touched him on the arm, and a
painted face looked up into his, murmuring something. Gideon, who had a
particular dislike for paint on the human face, and, in general, for
persons who looked and behaved like this person, looked away from her
'I only wanted,' she explained, 'a cup of coffee …' and he gave her
sixpence, though he didn't believe her.
Horrible, these women were; ugly; dirty; loathsome; so that one wondered
why on earth any one liked them (some people obviously did like them, or
they wouldn't be there), and yet, detestable as they were, they were the
outcome of facts. Possibly in them, and in the world's other ugly facts,
Potterism and all truth-shirking found whatever justification it had.
Sentimentalism spread a rosy veil over the ugliness, draping it decently.
Making it, thought Gideon, how much worse; but making it such as
Potterites could face unwincing.
The rain beat down. At its soft, chill touch Gideon's brain cooled and
cooled, till he seemed to see everything in a cold, hard, crystal
clarity. Life and death—how little they mattered. Life was paltry, and
death its end. Yet when the world, the Potterish world, dealt with death
it became something other than a mere end; it became a sensation, a
problem, an episode in a melodrama. The question, when a man died, was
always how and why. So, when Hobart had died, they were all dragged into
a net of suspicion and melodrama—they all became for a time absurd
actors in an absurd serial in the Potter press. You could not escape from
sensationalism in a sensational world. There was no room for the pedant,
with his greed for unadorned and unemotional precision.
Gideon sighed sharply as he turned into Oxford Street, Oxford Street was
and is horrible. Everything a street should not be, even when it was
down, and now it was up, which was far worse. If Gideon had not been
unnerved by the painted person at the corner of Baker Street he would
never have gone home this way, he would have gone along Marylebone and
Euston Road. As it was, he got into a bus and rode unhappily to Gray's
Inn Road, where he lived.
He sat up till three in the morning working out statistics for an
article. Statistics, figures, were delightful. They were a rest.
Two days later, at the Fact office, Peacock, turning over galley slips,
said, 'This thing of yours on Esthonian food conditions looks like a
government schedule. Couldn't you make it more attractive?'
'To whom?' asked Gideon.
'Well—the ordinary reader.'
'Oh, the ordinary reader. I meant it to be attractive to people who want
'Well, but a little jam with the powder…. For instance, you draw no
inference from your facts. It's dull. Why not round the thing off into a
'I can't round things. I don't like them round, either. I've given the
facts, unearthed with considerable trouble and pains. No one else has.
Isn't it enough?'
'Oh, it'll do.' Peacock's eyes glanced over the other proofs on his desk.
'We've got some good stuff this number.'
'Nice round articles—yes.' Gideon turned the slips over with his lean
brown fingers carelessly. He picked one up.
'Hallo. I didn't know that chap was reviewing Coal and Wages.'
'Yes. He asked if he could.'
'Do you think he knows enough?'
'It's quite a good review. Read it.'
Gideon read it carefully, then laid it down and said, 'I don't agree with
you that it's a good review. He's made at least two mistakes. And the
whole thing's biased by his personal political theories.'
'Only enough to give it colour.'
'You don't want colour in a review of a book of that sort. You only want
intelligence and exact knowledge.'
'Oh, Clitherton's all right. His head's screwed on the right way. He
knows his subject.'
'Not well enough. He's a political theorist, not a good economist. That's
hopeless. Why didn't you get Hinkson to do it?'
'Hinkson can't write for nuts.'
'Doesn't matter. Hinkson wouldn't have slipped up over his figures
'My dear old chap, writing does matter. You're going crazy on that
subject. Of course it matters that a thing should be decently put
'It matters much more that it should be well informed. It is, of course,
quite possible to be both.'
'Oh, quite. That's the idea of the Fact, after all.'
'Peacock, I hate all these slipshod fellows you get now. I wish you'd
chuck the lot. They're well enough for most journalism, but they don't
know enough for us.'
Peacock said, 'Oh, we'll thrash it out another time, if you don't mind.
I've got to get through some letters now,' and rang for his secretary.
Gideon went to his own room and searched old files for the verification
and correction of Clitherton's mistakes. He found them, and made a note
of them. Unfortunately they weakened Clitherton's argument a little.
Clitherton would have to modify it. Clitherton, a sweeping and wholesale
person, would not like that.
Gideon was feeling annoyed with Clitherton, and annoyed with several
others among that week's contributors, and especially annoyed with
Peacock, who permitted and encouraged them. If they went on like this,
the Fact would soon be popular; it would find its way into the great
soft silly heart of the public and there be damned.
He was a pathetic figure, Arthur Gideon, the intolerant precisian,
fighting savagely against the tide of loose thinking that he saw surging
in upon him, swamping the world and drowning facts. He did not see
himself as a pathetic figure, or as anything else. He did not see himself
at all, but worked away at his desk in the foggy room, checking the
unconsidered or inaccurate or oversimplified statements of others,
writing his own section of the Notes of the Week, with his careful,
patient, fined brilliance, stopping to gnaw his pen or his thumb-nail or
to draw diagrams, triangle within triangle, or circle intersecting
circle, on his blotting paper.
A week later Gideon resigned his assistant editorship of the Fact.
Peacock was, on the whole, relieved. Gideon had been getting too
difficult of late. After some casting about among eager, outwardly
indifferent possible successors, Peacock offered the job to Johnny
Potter, who was swimming on the tide of his first novel, which had been
what is called 'well spoken of' by the press, but who, at the same time,
had the popular touch, was quite a competent journalist, was looking out
for a job, and was young enough to do what he was told; that is to say,
he was four or five years younger than Peacock. He had also a fervent
enthusiasm for democratic principles and for Peacock's prose style
(Gideon had been temperate in his admiration of both), and Peacock
thought they would get on very well.
Jane was sulky, jealous, and contemptuous.
'Johnny. Why Johnny? He's not so good as lots of other people who would
have liked the job. He's swanking so already that it makes me tired to be
in the room with him, and now he'll be worse than ever. Oh, Arthur, it is
rot, your chucking it. I've a jolly good mind not to marry you. I thought
I was marrying the assistant editor of an important paper, not just a
lazy old Jew without a job.'
She ruffled up his black, untidy hair with her hand as she sat on the
arm of his chair; but she was really annoyed with him, as she had
explained a week ago when he had told her.
He had walked in one evening and found her in Charles's bedroom, bathing
him. Clare was there too, helping.
'Why do girls like washing babies?' Gideon speculated aloud. 'They nearly
all do, don't they?'
'Well, I should just hope so,' Clare said. She was kneeling by the tin
bath with her sleeves rolled up, holding a warmed towel. Her face was
flushed from the fire, and her hair was loosened where Charles had caught
his toe in it. She looked pretty and maternal, and looked up at Gideon
with the kind of conventional, good-humoured scorn that girls and women
put on when men talk of babies. They do it (one believes) partly because
they feel it is a subject they know about, and partly to pander to men's
desire that they should do it. It is part of the pretty play between the
sexes. Jane never did it; she wasn't feminine enough. And Gideon did not
want her to do it; he thought it silly.
'Why do you hope so?' asked Gideon. 'And why do girls like it?'
The first question was to Clare, the second to Jane, because he knew that
Clare would not be able to answer it.
'The mites!' said Clare. 'Who wouldn't like it?'
Gideon sighed a little, Clare tried him. She had an amorphous mind. But
Jane threw up at him, as she enveloped Charles in the towel, 'I'll try
and think it out some time, Arthur. I haven't time now…. There's a
reason all right…. The powder, Clare.'
Gideon watched the absurd drying and powdering process with gravity and
interest, as if trying to discover its charm.
'Even Katherine enjoys it,' he said, still pondering. It was true.
Katherine, who liked experimenting with chemicals, liked also washing
babies. Possibly Katherine knew why, in both cases.
After Charles was in bed, his mother, his aunt, and his prospective
stepfather had dinner. Clare, who was uncomfortable with Gideon, not
liking him as a brother-in-law or indeed as anything else (besides not
being sure how much Jane had told him about 'that awful night'),
chattered to Jane about things of which she thought Gideon knew
nothing—dances, plays, friends, family and Potters Bar gossip. Gideon
became very silent. He and Clare touched nowhere. Clare flaunted the
family papers in his face and Jane's. Lord Pinkerton was starting a new
one, a weekly, and it promised to sell better than any other weekly on
the market, but far better.
'Dad says the orders have been simply stunning. It's going to be a big
thing. Simple, you know, and yet clever—like all dad's papers. David
says' (David was the naval officer to whom Clare was now betrothed)
'there's no one with such a sense of what people want as dad has. Far
more of it than Northcliffe, David says he has. Because, you know,
Northcliffe sometimes annoys people—look at the line he took about us
helping the Russians to fight each other. And making out in leaders,
David says, that the Government is always wrong just because he doesn't
like it. And drawing attention to the mistakes it makes, which no one
would notice if they weren't rubbed in. David gets quite sick with him
sometimes. He says the Pinkerton press never does that sort of thing,
it's got too much tact, and lets well alone.'
'I'll, you mean, don't you, darling?' Jane interpolated.
Clare, who did, but did not know it, only said, 'David's got a tremendous
admiration for it. He says it will last.'
'Oh, bother the paternal press,' Jane said. 'Give it a rest, old thing.
It may be new to David, but it's stale to us. It's Arthur's turn to talk
about his father's bank or something.'
But Arthur didn't talk. He only made bread pills, and the girls got on to
the newest dance.
Clare went away after dinner. She never stayed long when Gideon was
there. David didn't like Gideon, rightly thinking him a Sheeney.
'Sheeneys are at the bottom of Bolshevism, you know,' he told Clare. 'At
the top too, for that matter. Dreadful fellows; quite dreadful. Why the
dickens do you let Jane marry him?'
Clare shrugged her shoulders.
'Jane does what she likes. Dad and mother have begged and prayed her not
to…. Besides, of course, even if he was all right, it's too soon….'
'Too soon? Ah, yes, of course. Poor Hobart, you mean. Quite. Much too
soon…. A dreadful business, that. I don't blame her for trying to put
it behind her, out of sight. But with a Sheeney. Well, chacun a son
goût.' For David was tolerant, a live and let live man.
When Clare was gone, Jane said, 'Wake up, old man. You can talk now….
You and Clare are stupid about each other, by the way. You'll have to get
over it some time. You're ill-mannered and she's a silly fool; but
ill-mannered people and silly fools can rub along together, all right, if
'I don't mind Clare,' said Gideon, rousing himself. 'I wasn't thinking
about her, to say the truth. I was thinking about something else…. I'm
chucking the Fact, Jane.'
'How d'you mean, chucking the Fact' Jane lit a cigarette.
'What I say. I've resigned my job on it. I'm sick of it.'
'Oh, sick…. Every one's sick of work, naturally. It's what work is
for…. Well, what are you doing next? Have you been offered a
'I've not been offered a job of any sort. And I shouldn't take it if I
were—not at present. I'm sick of journalism.'
Jane took it calmly, lying back among the sofa cushions and smoking.
'I was afraid you were working up to this…. Of course, if you chuck the
Fact you take away its last chance. It'll do a nose-dive now.'
'It's doing it anyhow. I can't stop it. But I'm jolly well not going to
nose-dive with it. I'm clearing out.'
'You're giving up the fight, then. Caving in. Putting your hands up to
She was taunting him, in her cool, unmoved, leisurely tones.
'I'm clearing out,' he repeated, emphasising the phrase, and his black
eyes seemed to look into distances. 'Running away, if you like. This
thing's too strong for me to fight. I can't do it. Clare's quite right.
It's tremendous. It will last. And the Pinkerton press only represents
one tiny part of it. If the Pinkerton press were all, it would be
fightable. But look at the Fact—a sworn enemy of everything the
Pinkerton press stands for, politically, but fighting it with its own
weapons—muddled thinking, sentimentality, prejudice, loose cant phrases.
I tell you there'll hardly be a halfpenny to choose between the Pinkerton
press and the Fact, by the time Peacock's done with it…. It's not
Peacock's fault—except that he's weak. It's not the Syndicate's
fault—except that they don't want to go on losing money for ever. It's
the pressure of public demand and atmosphere. Atmosphere even more than
demand. Human minds are delicate machines. How can they go on working
truly and precisely and scientifically, with all this poisonous gas
floating round them? Oh, well, I suppose there are a few minds still
which do; even some journalists and politicians keep their heads; but
what's the use against the pressure? To go in for journalism or for
public life is to put oneself deliberately into the thick of the mess
without being able to clean it up.'
'After all,' said Jane, more moderately, 'it's all a joke. Everything is.
The world is.'
'A rotten bad joke.'
'You think things matter. You take anti-Potterism seriously, as some
people take Potterism.'
'Things are serious. Things do matter,' said the Russian Jew.
Jane looked at him kindly. She was a year younger than he was, but felt
five years older to-night.
'Well, what's the remedy then?'
He said, wearily, 'Oh, education, I suppose. Education. There's nothing
else. Learning.' He said the word with affection, lingering on it,
striking his hand on the sofa-back to emphasise it.
'Learning, learning, learning. There's nothing else…. We should drop
all this talking and writing. All this confused, uneducated mass of
self-expression. Self-expression, with no self worth expressing. That's
just what we shouldn't do with our selves—express them. We should train
them, educate them, teach them to think, see that they know
something—know it exactly, with no blurred edges, no fogs. Be sure of
our facts, and keep theories out of the system like poison. And when we
say anything we should say it concisely and baldly, without eloquence and
frills. Lord, how I loathe eloquence!'
'But you can't get away from it, darling. All right, don't mind me, I
like it…. Well now, what are you going to do about it? Teach in a
'No,' he said, seriously. 'No. Though one might do worse. But I've got to
get right away for a time—right out of it all. I've got to find things
out before I do anything else.'
'Well, there are plenty of, things to find out here. No need to go away
He shook his head.
'Western Europe's so hopeless just now. So given over to muddle and lies.
Besides, I can't trust myself, I shall talk if I stay. I'm not a strong
silent man. I should find myself writing articles, or standing for
Parliament, or something.'
'And very nice too. I've always said you ought to stand for Labour.'
'And I've sometimes agreed with you. But now I know I oughtn't. That's
not the way. I'm not going to join in that mess. I'm not good enough to
make it worth while. I should either get swamped by it, or I should get
so angry that I should murder some one. No, I'm going right out of it all
for a bit. I want to find out a little, if I can, about how things are in
other countries. Central Europe. Russia. I shall go to Russia.'
'Russia! You'll come back and write about it. People do.'
'I shall not. No, I think I can avoid that—it's too obvious a temptation
to tumble into with one's eyes shut.'
'"He travelled in Russia and never wrote of it." It would be a good
epitaph…. But Arthur darling, is it wise, is it necessary, is it safe?
Won't the Reds get you, or the Whites? Which would be worse, I wonder?'
'What should they want with me?'
'They'll think you're going to write about them, of course. That's why
the Reds kidnapped Keeling, and the Whites W.T. Goode. They were quite
right, too—except that they didn't go far enough and make a job of them.
Suppose they've learnt wisdom by now, and make a job of you?'
'Well then, I shall be made a job of. Also a placard for our sensational
press, which would be worse. One must take a few risks…. It will be
interesting, you know, to be there. I shall visit my father's old home
near Odessa. Possibly some of his people may be left round there. I shall
find things out—what the conditions are, why things are happening as
they are, how the people live. I think I shall be better able after that
to find out what the state of things is here. One's too provincial, too
much taken up with one's own corner. Political science is too universal a
thing to learn in that way.'
'And when you've found out? What next?'
'There's no next. It will take me all my life even to begin to find out.
I don't know where I shall be—in London, no doubt, mostly.'
'Do you mean, Arthur, that you're going to chuck work for good? Writing,
I mean, or public work?'
'I hope so. I mean to. Oh, if ever, later on, I feel I have anything I
want to say, I'll say it. But that won't be for years. First I'm going to
learn…. You see, Jane, we can live all right. Thank goodness, I don't
depend on what I earn…. You and I together—we'll learn a lot.'
'Oh, I'm going in for confused self-expression. I'm not taking any vows
of silence. I'm going to write.'
'As you like. Every one's got to decide for themselves. It amuses you,
'Of course, it does. Why not? I love it. Not only writing, but being in
the swim, making a kind of a name, doing what other people do. I'm not
mother, who does but write because she must, and pipes but as the
'No, thank goodness. You're as intellectually honest as any one I know,
and as greedy for the wrong things.'
'I want a good time. Why not?'
'Why not? Only that, as long as we're all out for a good time, those of
us who can afford to will get it, and nothing more, and those of us who
can't will get nothing at all. You see, I think it's taking hold of
things by the wrong end. As long as we go on not thinking, not finding
out, but greedily wanting good things—well, we shall be as we are,
'You mean I'm Potterish,' observed Jane, without rancour.
'Oh Lord, we all are,' said Gideon in disgust. 'Every profiteer, every
sentimentalist, ever muddler. Every artist directly he thinks of his art
as something marketable, something to bring him fame; every scientist or
scholar (if there are any) who fakes a fact in the interest of his
theory; every fool who talks through his hat without knowing; every
sentimentalist who plays up to the sentimentalism in himself and other
people; every second-hand ignoramus who takes over a view or a prejudice
wholesale, without investigating the facts it's based on for himself. You
find it everywhere, the taint; you can't get away from it. Except by
keeping quiet and learning, and wanting truth more than anything else.'
'It sounds a dull life, Arthur. Rather like K's, in her old laboratory.'
'Yes, rather like K's. Not dull; no. Finding things out can't be dull.'
'Well, old thing, go and find things out. But come back in time for the
wedding, and then we'll see what next.'
Jane was not seriously alarmed. She believed that this of Arthur's, was a
short attack; when they were married she would see that he got cured of
it. She wasn't going to let him drop out of things and disappear, her
brilliant Arthur, who had his world in his hand to play with. Journalism,
politics, public life of some sort—it was these that he was so eminently
fitted for and must go in for.
'You mustn't waste yourself, Arthur,' she said. 'It's all right to lie
low for a bit, but when you come back you must do something worth
while…. I'm sorry about the Fact; I think you might have stayed on
and saved it. But it's your show. Go and explore Central Europe, then,
and learn all about it. Then come back and write a book on political
science which will be repulsive to all but learned minds. But remember
we're getting married in June; don't be late, will you. And write to me
from Russia. Letters that will do for me to send to the newspapers,
telling me not to spend my money on hats and theatres but on
distributing anti-Bolshevist and anti-Czarist tracts. I'll have the
letters published in leaflets at threepence a hundred, and drop them
about in public places.'
'I'll write to you, no fear,' said Gideon. 'And I'll be in time for the
wedding…. Jane, we'll have a great time, you and I, learning things
together. We'll have adventures. We'll go exploring, shall we?'
'Rather. We'll lend Charles to mother and dad often, and go off…. I'd
come with you now for two pins. Only I can't.'
'No. Charles needs you at present.' 'There's my book, too. And all sorts
of things.' 'Oh, your book—that's nothing. Books aren't worth losing
anything for. Don't you ever get tied up with books and work, Jane. It's
not worth it. One's got to sit loose. Only one can't, to kids; they're
too important. We'll have our good times before we get our kids—and
after they've grown old enough to be left to themselves a bit.'
Jane smiled enigmatically, only obscurely realising that she meant, 'Our
ideas of a good time aren't the same, and never will be.'
Gideon too only obscurely knew it. Anyhow, for both, the contemplation of
that difference could be deferred. Each could hope to break the other in
when the time came. Gideon, as befitted his sex, realised the eternity of
the difference less sharply than Jane did. It was just, he thought, a
question of showing Jane, making her understand…. Jane did not think
that it was just a question of making Gideon understand. But he loved
her, and she was persuaded that he would yield to her in the end, and not
spoil her jolly, delightful life, which was to advance, hand in hand with
his, to notoriety or glory or both.
For a moment both heard, remotely, the faint clash of swords. Then they
shut a door upon the sound, and the man, shaken with sudden passion, drew
the woman into his arms.
'I've been talking, talking all the evening,' said Gideon presently. 'I
can't get away from it, can I. Preaching, theorising, holding forth. It's
more than time I went away somewhere where no one will listen to me.'
'There's plenty of talking in Russia. You'll come back worse than ever,
my dear…. I don't care. As long as you do come back. You must come back
to me, Arthur.'
She clung to him, in one of her rare moments of demonstrated passion. She
was usually cool, and left demonstration to him.
'I shall come back all right,' he told her. 'No fear. I want to get
married, you see. I want it, really, much more than I want to get
information or anything else. Wanting a person—that's what we all want
most, when we want it at all. Queer, isn't it? And hopelessly personal
and selfish. But there it is. Ideals simply don't count in comparison.
They'd go under every time, if there was a choice.'
Jane, with his arms round her and his face bent down to hers, knew it.
She was not afraid, either for his career or her own. They would have
their good time all right.
A PLACARD FOR THE PRESS
March wore through, and April came, and warm winds healed winter's scars,
and the 1920 budget shocked every one, and the industrial revolution
predicted as usual didn't come off, and Mr. Wells's History of the
World completed its tenth part, and blossom by blossom the spring began.
It was the second Easter after the war, and people were getting more used
to peace. They murdered one another rather less frequently, were rather
less emotional and divorced, and understood with more precision which
profiteers it was worth while to prosecute and which not, and why the
second class was so much larger than the first; and, in general, had
learnt to manage rather better this unmanageable peace.
The outlook, domestic and international, was still what those who think
in terms of colour call black. The Irish question, the Russian question,
the Italian-Adriatic question, and all the Asiatic questions, remained
what those who think in terms of angles call acute. Economic ruin,
political bankruptcy, European chaos, international hostilities had
become accepted as the normal state of being by the inhabitants of this
restless and unfortunate planet.
Such was the state of things in the world at large. In literary London,
publishers produced their spring lists. They contained the usual hardy
annuals and bi-annuals among novelists, several new ventures, including
John Potter's Giles in Bloomsbury (second impression); Jane Hobart's
Children of Peace (A Satire by a New Writer); and Leila Yorke's The
Price of Honour. ('In her new novel, Leila Yorke reveals to the full the
Glittering psychology combined with profound depths which have made this
well-known writer famous. The tale will be read, from first page to
last, with breathless interest. The end is unexpected and out of the
common, and leaves one wondering.' So said the publisher; the reviewers,
more briefly, 'Another Leila Yorke.')
There were also many memoirs of great persons by themselves, many
histories of the recent war, several thousand books of verse, a monograph
by K.D. Varick on Catalysers and Catalysis and the Generation of
Hydrogen, and New Wine by the Reverend Laurence Juke.
The journalistic world also flourished. The Weekly Fact had become, as
people said, quite an interesting and readable paper, brighter than the
Nation, more emotional than the New Statesman, gentler than the New
Witness, spicier than the Spectator, more chatty than the Athenaeum,
so that one bought it on bookstalls and read it in trains.
There was also the new Pinkerton fourpenny, the Wednesday Chat,
brighter, more emotional, gentler, spicier, and chattier than them
all, and vulgar as well, nearly as vulgar as John Bull, and quite
as sentimental, but less vicious, so that it sold in its millions
from the outset, and soon had a poem up on the walls of the tube
'No other weeklies sell
Anything like so well.'
which was as near the truth as these statements usually are. Lord
Pinkerton had, in fact, with his usual acumen, sensed the existence of a
great Fourpenny Weekly Public, and given it, as was his wont, more than
it desired or deserved. The sixpenny weekly public already had its needs
met; so had the penny, the twopenny, the threepenny, and the shilling
public. Now the fourpenny public, a shy and modest section of the
community, largely clerical (in the lay sense of the word) looked up and
was fed. Those brains which could only with effort rise to the solid
political and economic information and cultured literary judgments meted
out by the sixpennies, but which yet shrank from the crudities of our
cheapest journals, here found something they could read, mark, learn, and
The Potterite press (not only Lord Pinkerton's) advanced, like an army
terrible with banners, on all sections of the line.
Juke's book on modern thought in the Church was a success. It was
brilliantly written, and reviewed in lay as well as in church papers.
Juke, to his own detriment, became popular. Canon Streeter and others
asked him to collaborate in joint books on the Church. Modernist
liberal-catholic vicars asked him to preach. When he preached, people
came in hundreds to hear him, because he was an attractive, stimulating,
and entertaining preacher. (I have never had this experience, but I
assume that it is morally unwholesome.) He had to take missions, and
retreats, and quiet days, and give lectures on the Church to cultivated
audiences. Then he was offered the living of St. Anne's, Piccadilly,
which is one of those incumbencies with what is known as scope, which
meant that there were no poor in the parish, and the incumbent's gifts as
preacher, lecturer, writer, and social success could be used to the best
advantage. He was given three weeks to decide.
Gideon wrote long letters to Jane from the Russian towns and villages in
which he sojourned. But none of them were suitable for propaganda
purposes; they were critical but dispassionate. He had found some cousins
of his father's, fur merchants living in a small town on the edge of a
forest. 'Clever, cringing, nerve-ridden people,' he said. The older
generation remembered his grandparents, and his father as a bright-eyed
infant. They remembered that pogrom fifty years ago, and described it.
'They'll describe anything,' wrote Gideon. 'The more horrible it is, the
more they'll talk. That's Russian, not Jewish specially. Or is it just
human?'… Gideon didn't repeat to Jane the details he heard of his
grandparents' murder by Russian police—details which his father, in
whose memory they burned like a disease, had never told him.
'Things as bad as that massacre are happening all the time in this
pleasant country,' he wrote. 'It doesn't matter what the political
convictions, if any, of a Russian are—he's a barbarian whether he's on
a soviet or in the anti-Bolshevik armies. Not always, of course; there
are a few who have escaped the prevalent lust of cruelty—but only a
few. Love of pain (as experienced by others) for its own sake—as one
loves good food, or beautiful women—it's a queer disease. It goes
along, often, with other strong sensual desires. The Russians, for
instance, are the worst gluttons and profligates of Europe. With it
all, they have, often, an extraordinary generous good-heartedness; with
one hand they will give away what they can't spare to some one in need,
while with the other they torture an animal or a human being to death.
The women seldomer do either; like women everywhere, they are less
given both to sensual desire and to generous open-handedness…. That's
a curious thing, how seldom you find physical cruelty in a woman of any
nationality. Even the most spiteful and morally unkindest little girl
will shudder away while her brother tears the wings off a fly or the
legs off a frog, or impales a worm on a hook. Weak nerves, partly, and
partly the sort of high-strung fastidiousness women have. When you come
across cruelty in a woman—physical cruelty, of course—you think of
her as a monster; just as when you come on a stingy man, you think of
him (but probably inaccurately) as a Jew. Russians are very male,
except in their inchoate, confused thinking. Their special brand of
humour and of sentimentality are male; their exuberant strength and
aliveness, their sensuality, and their savage cruelty…. If ever women
come to count in Russia as a force, not merely as mates for the men,
queer things will happen…. Here in this town things are, for the
moment, tidy and ordered, as if seven Germans with seven mops had swept
it for half a year. The local soviet is a gang of ruffians, but they do
keep things more or less ship-shape. And they make people work. And
they torture dogs….'
Later he wrote, 'You were right as to one thing; every one I meet,
including my relations, is persuaded that I am either a newspaper
correspondent or writing a book, or, more probably, both. These taints
cling so. I feel like a reformed drunkard, who has taken the pledge but
still carries about with him a red nose and shaky hands, so that he gets
no credit for his new sobriety. What's the good of my telling people here
that I don't write, when I suppose I've the mark of the beast stamped all
over me? And they play up; they talk for me to record it….
'I find all kinds of odd things here. Among others, an English doctor, in
the local lunatic asylum. Mad as a hatter, poor devil—now—whatever he
was when they shut him up. I dare say he'd been through enough even then
to turn his brain. I can't find out who his friends in England are….'
Gideon stopped writing, and took Jane's last letter out of his pocket. It
occurred to him that he was in no sense answering it. Not that Jane
would mind; that wasn't the sort of thing she did mind. But it struck him
suddenly how difficult it had grown to him to answer Jane's letters—or,
indeed, any one else's. He could not flatter himself that he was already
contracting the inarticulate habit, because he could pour forth fluently
enough about his own experiences; but to Jane's news of London he had
nothing to say. A new paper had been started; another paper had died;
some one they knew had deserted from one literary côterie to another;
some one else had turned from a dowdy into a nut; Jane had been seeing a
lot of bad plays; her novel—'my confused mass of self-expression,' she
called it to him—was coming out next week. All the familiar personal,
literary, political, and social gossip, which he too had dealt in once;
Jane was in the thick of it still, and he was turning stupid, like a man
living in the country; he could not answer her. Or, perhaps, would not;
because the thing that absorbed him at present was how people lived and
thought, and what could be made of them—not the conscious, intellectual,
writing, discussing, semi-civilised people (semi-civilised—what an
absurd word! What is complete civilisation, that we should bisect it and
say we have half, or any other exact fraction? Partly civilised, Gideon
amended it to), but the great unconscious masses, hardly civilised at
all, who shape things, for good or evil, in the long run.
Gideon folded up Jane's letter and put it away, and to his own added
nothing but his love.
Jane got that letter in Easter week. It was a fine warm day, and she,
walking across Green Park, met Juke, who had been lunching with a bishop
to meet an elderly princess who had read his book.
'She said, "I'm afraid you're sadly satirical, Mr. Juke,'" he told Jane.
'She did really. And I'm to preach at Sandringham one Sunday. Yes, to the
Family. Tell Gideon that, will you. He'll be so disgusted. But what a
chance! Life at St. Anne's is going to be full of chances of slanging the
rich, that's one thing about it.'
'Oh, you're going to take it, then?'
'Probably. I've not written to accept yet, so don't pass it on.'
'I'm glad. It's much more amusing to accept things, even livings. It'll
be lovely: you'll be all among the clubs and theatres and the idle rich;
much gayer than Covent Garden.'
'Oh, gayer,' said Juke.
They came out into Birdcage Walk, and there was a man selling the
Evening Hustle, Lord Pinkerton's evening paper.
'Bloody massacres,' he was observing with a kind of absent-minded
happiness. 'Bloody massacres in Russia, Ireland, Armenia, and the
Punjab…. British journalist assassinated near Odessa.'
And there it was, too, in big black letters on the Evening Hustle
'DIVORCE OF A PEERESS.
'MURDER OF BRITISH JOURNALIST IN RUSSIA-LATE WIRE FROM GATWICK.'
They bought the paper, to see who the British journalist was. His murder
was in a little paragraph on the front page.
'Mr. Arthur Gideon, a well-known British journalist' … first beaten
nearly to death by White soldiery, because he was, entirely in vain,
defending some poor Jewish family from their wrath … then found by
Bolshevists and disposed of … somehow … because he was an
A placard for the press. A placard for the Potter press. Had he thought
of that at the last, and died in the bitterness of that paradox? Murdered
by both sides, being of neither, but merely a seeker after fact. Killed
in the quest for truth and the war against verbiage and cant, and, in the
end, a placard for the press which hated the one and lived by the other.
Had he thought of that as he broke under the last strain of pain? Or,
merely, 'These damned brutes. White or Red, there's nothing to choose …
nothing to choose …'
Anyhow, it was over, that quest of his, and nothing remained but the
placard which coupled his defeat with the peeress's divorce.
Arthur Gideon had gone under, but the Potter press, the flaunting banner
of the great sentimental public, remained. It would always remain, so
long as the great sentimental public were what they were.
Little remains to add. Little of Gideon, for they never learnt much more
of his death than was telegraphed in that first message. His father,
going out to the scene of his death, may have heard more; if he did, he
never revealed it to any one. Not only Arthur had perished, but the
Jewish family he was trying to defend; he had failed as well as died.
Failed utterly, every way; gone under and finished, he and his pedantry
and his exactitude, his preaching, his hard clarity, and his bewildered
bitterness against a world vulgar and soft-headed beyond his
Juke refused St. Anne's, with its chances, its congregations, and its
scope. Neither did he preach at Sandringham. Gideon's fate pilloried
on that placard had stabbed through him and cut him, sick and angry,
from his moorings. He spoke no more and wrote no more to admiring
audiences who hung on his words and took his quick points as he made
them. To be one with other men, he learnt a manual trade, and made
shoes in Bermondsey, and preached in the streets to men who did not,
as a rule, listen.
Jane would, no doubt, fulfil herself in the course of time, make an
adequate figure in the world she loved, and suck therefrom no small
advantage. She had loved Arthur Gideon; but what Lady Pinkerton and
Clare would call her 'heart' was not of the kind which would, as these
two would doubtless put it in their strange phraseology, 'break.'
Somehow, after all, Jane would have her good time; if not in one way,
then in another.
Lord and Lady Pinkerton flourish exceedingly, and will be long in the
land. Leila Yorke sells better than ever. Of the Pinkerton press I need
not speak, since it is so well qualified to speak for itself. Enough to
say that no fears are at present entertained for its demise. And little
Charles Hobart grows in stature, under his grandfather's watching and
approving eye. When the time comes, he will carry on worthily.