Part 3 out of 5
well up to the net and repeating the alternate smashing and sliding
strokes that kept Ralph and Barbara bounding from one end of the court
to the other. Mrs. Levitt was trying to reconcile the proficiency of
Toby's play with his immunity from conscription in the late war. The war
led straight to Major Markham's battery, and Major Markham's battery to
the battery once commanded by Toby's father, which led to Poona and the
"You don't mean Frank Levitt, captain in the gunners?"
"Was he by any chance stationed at Poona in nineteen-ten, eleven?"
"But, bless my soul--_he_ was my brother-in-law Dick--Dick Benham's
The Major's slightly ironical homage had given place to a serious
excitement, a respectful interest.
"Oh--Dicky Benham--is _he_--?"
"Rather. I've heard him talk about Frank Levitt scores of times. Do you
hear that, Waddington? Mrs. Levitt knows all my sister's people. Why on
earth haven't we met before?"
Mr. Waddington writhed, while between them they reeled off a long series
of names, people and places, each a link joining up Major Markham and
Mrs. Levitt. The Major was so excited about it that he went round the
garden telling Thurston and Hawtrey and Corbett, so that presently all
these gentlemen formed round Mrs. Levitt an interested and animated
group. Mr. Waddington hovered miserably on the edge of it; short of
thrusting Markham aside with his elbow (Markham for choice) he couldn't
have broken through. He would give it up and go away, and be drawn back
again and again; but though Mrs. Levitt could see him plainly, no
summons from her beautiful eyes invited his approach.
His behaviour became noticeable. It was observed chiefly by his son
Horry took Barbara apart. "I say, have you seen my guv'nor?"
"No. What? Where?"
She could see by his face that he was drawing her into some iniquitous,
secret by-path of diversion.
"There, just behind you. Turn round--this way--but don't look as if
you'd spotted him.... Did you ever see anything like him? He's like a
Newfoundland dog trying to look over a gate. It wouldn't be half so
funny if he wasn't so dignified all the time."
She didn't approve of Horry. He wasn't decent. But the dignity--it _was_
Horry went on. "What on earth did the mater ask that woman for? She
might have known he'd make a fool of himself."
"Oh, Horry, you mustn't. It's awful of you. You really _are_ a little
"I'm not. Fancy doing it at his own garden party. He never thinks of
_us_. Look at the dear little mater, there, pretending she doesn't see
him. _That's_ what makes me mad, Barbara."
"Well, you ought to pretend you don't see it, too."
"I've been pretending the whole blessed afternoon. But it's no good
pretending with _you_. You jolly well see everything."
"I don't go and draw other people's attention to it."
"Oh, come, how about Ralph? You know you wouldn't let him miss him."
"Ralph? Oh, Ralph's different. I shouldn't point him out to Lady
"No more should I. _You_'re different, too. You and Ralph and me are the
only people capable of appreciating him. Though I wouldn't swear that
the mater doesn't, sometimes."
"Yes. But you go too far, Horry. You're cruel to him, and we're not."
"It's all very well for you. He isn't your father.... Oh, Lord, he's
craning his neck over Markham's shoulder now. What his face must look
like from the other side--"
"If you found your father drunk under a lilac bush I believe you'd go
and fetch me to look at him."
"I would, if he was as funny as he is now.... But I say, you know, I
can't have him going on like that. I've got to stop it, somehow. What
would you do if you were me?"
"Do? I think I should ask him to go and take Lady Corbett in to tea."
Horry strode up to his father. "I say, pater, aren't you going to take
Lady Corbett in to tea?"
At the sheer sound of his son's voice Mr. Waddington's dignity stood
firm. But he went off to find Lady Corbett all the same.
When it was all over the garden party was pronounced a great success,
and Mr. Waddington was very agreeably rallied on his discovery, taxed
with trying to keep it to himself, and warned that, he wasn't going to
have it all his own way.
"It's our turn now," said Major Markham, "to have a look in."
And their turn was constantly coming round again; they were always
looking in at the White House. First, Major Markham called. Then Sir
John Corbett of Underwoods, Mr. Thurston of The Elms, and Mr. Hawtrey of
Medlicott called and brought their wives. These ladies, however, didn't
like Mrs. Levitt, and they were not at home when she returned their
calls. Mrs. Levitt's visiting card had its place in three collections
and there the matter ended. But Mr. Thurston and Mr. Hawtrey continued
to call with a delightful sense of doing something that their wives
considered improper. Major Markham--as a bachelor his movements were
more untrammelled--declared it his ambition to "cut Waddy out." _He_ was
everlastingly calling at the White House. His fastidious correctness,
the correctness that hadn't "liked the look of her," excused this
intensive culture of Mrs. Levitt on the grounds that she was "well
connected"; she knew all his sister's people.
And Mrs. Levitt took good care to let Mr. Waddington know of these
visits, and of her little bridge parties in the evening. "Just Mr.
Thurston and Mr. Hawtrey and Major Markham and me." He was teased and
worried by his visions of Elise perpetually surrounded by Thurston and
Hawtrey and the Major. Supposing--only supposing that--driven by
despair, of course--she married that fellow Markham? For the first time
in his life Mr. Waddington experienced jealousy. Elise had ceased to be
the subject of dreamy, doubtful speculation and had become the object of
an uneasy passion. He could give her passion, if it was passion that she
wanted; but, because of Fanny, he could not give her a position in the
county, and it was just possible that Elise might prefer a position.
And Elise was happy, happy in her communion with Mr. Thurston and Mr.
Hawtrey and in the thought that their wives detested her; happy in her
increasing intimacy with Major Markham and in her consciousness of being
well connected; above all, happy in Mr. Waddington's uneasiness.
Meanwhile Fanny Waddington kept on calling. "If I don't," she said,
"the poor woman will be done for."
She couldn't see any harm in Mrs. Levitt.
Barbara and Ralph Bevan had been for one of their long walks. They were
coming back down the Park when they met, first, Henry, the gardener's
boy, carrying a basket of fat, golden pears.
"Where are you going with those lovely pears, Henry?"
"Mrs. Levitt's, miss." The boy grinned and twinkled; you could almost
have fancied that he knew.
Farther on, near the white gate, they could see Mr. Waddington and two
ladies. He had evidently gone out to open the gate, and was walking on
with them, unable to tear himself away. The ladies were Mrs. Rickards
and Mrs. Levitt.
They stopped. You could see the flutter of their hands and faces,
suggesting a final triangular exchange of playfulness.
Then Mr. Waddington, executing a complicated movement of farewell, a bow
and a half turn, a gambolling skip, the gesture of his ungovernable
Then, as he went from them, the abandonment of Mrs. Rickards and Mrs.
Levitt to disgraceful laughter.
Mrs. Levitt clutched her sister's arm and clung to it, almost
perceptibly reeling, as if she said: "Hold me up or I shall collapse.
It's too much. Too--too--too--too much." They came on with a peculiar
rolling, helpless walk, rocked by the intolerable explosions of their
mirth, dabbing their mouths and eyes with their pocket-handkerchiefs in
a tortured struggle for control.
They recovered sufficiently to pass Ralph and Barbara with serious,
sidelong bows. And then there was a sound, a thin, wheezing, soaring yet
stifled sound, the cry of a conquered hysteria.
"Did you see that, Ralph?"
"I did. I heard it."
"_He_ couldn't, could he?"
"Oh, Lord, no.... They appreciate him, too, Barbara."
"That isn't the way," she said. "We don't want him appreciated that way.
That rich, gross way."
"No. It isn't nearly subtle enough. Any fool could see that his
caracoling was funny. They don't know him as we know him. They don't
know what he really is."
"It was an outrage. It's like taking a fine thing and vulgarizing it.
They'd no _business_. And it was cruel, too, to laugh at him like that
before his back was turned. When they're going to eat his pears, too."
"The fact is, Barbara, nobody _does_ appreciate him as you and I do."
"No. Not Horry. He goes too far. Horry's indecent. Fanny, perhaps,
"Fanny doesn't see one half of him. She doesn't see his Mrs. Levitt
"Have _you_ seen it, Barbara?"
"Of course I have."
"You never told me. It isn't fair to go discovering things on your own
and not telling me. We must make a compact. To tell each other the very
instant we see a thing. We might keep count and give points to which of
us sees most. Mrs. Levitt ought to have been a hundred to your score."
"I'm afraid I can't score with Mrs. Levitt. You saw that, too."
"It'll be a game for gods, Barbara."
"But, Ralph, there might be things we _couldn't_ tell each other. It
mightn't be fair to him."
"Telling each other isn't like telling other people. Hang it all, if
we're making a study of him we're making a study. Science is science.
We've no right to suppress anything. At any moment one of us might see
something absolutely vital."
"Whatever we do we musn't be unfair to him."
"But he's ours, isn't he? We can't be unfair to him. And we've got to
be fair to each other. Think of the frightful advantage you might have
over me. You're bound to see more things than I do."
"I might see more, but you'll understand more."
"Well, then, you can't do without me. It's a compact, isn't it, that we
don't keep things back?"
As for Mrs. Levitt's handling of their theme they resented it as an
"Do you think he's in love with her?" Barbara said.
"What _he_ would call being in love and we shouldn't."
"Do you think he's like that--he's always been like that?"
"I think he was probably 'like that' when he was young."
"Before he married Fanny?"
"Before he married Fanny."
"After, I should imagine he went pretty straight. It was only the way he
had when he was young. Now he's middle-aged he's gone back to it, just
to prove to himself that he's young still. I take it the poor old thing
got scared when he found himself past fifty, and he _had_ to start a
proof. It's his egoism all over again. I don't suppose he really cares a
rap for Mrs. Levitt."
"You don't think his heart beats faster when he sees her coming?"
"I don't. Horatio's heart beats faster when he sees himself making love
"I see. It's just middle age."
"Just middle age."
"Don't you think, perhaps, Fanny does see it?"
"No. Not that. Not that. At least I hope not."
Mr. Waddington's _Ramblings Through the Cotswolds_ were to be profusely
illustrated. The question was: photographs or original drawings? And he
had decided, after much consideration, on photographs taken by
Pyecraft's man. For a book of such capital importance the work of an
inferior or obscure illustrator was not to be thought of for an instant.
But there were grave disadvantages in employing a distinguished artist.
It would entail not only heavy expenses, but a disastrous rivalry. The
illustrations, so far from drawing attention to the text and fixing it
firmly there, would inevitably distract it. And the artist's celebrated
name would have to figure conspicuously, in exact proportion to his
celebrity, on the title page and in all the reviews and advertisements
where, properly speaking, Horatio Bysshe Waddington should stand alone.
It was even possible, as Fanny very intelligently pointed out, that a
sufficiently distinguished illustrator might succeed in capturing the
enthusiasm of the critics to the utter extinction of the author, who
might consider himself lucky if he was mentioned at all.
But Fanny had shown rather less intelligence in using this argument to
support her suggestion that Barbara Madden should illustrate the book.
She had more than once come upon the child, sitting on a camp-stool
above Mrs. Levitt's house, making a sketch of the steep street, all
cream white and pink and grey, opening out on to the many-coloured
fields and the blue eastern air. And she had conceived a preposterous
admiration for Barbara Madden's work.
"It'll be an enchanting book if she illustrates it, Horatio."
"_If_ she illustrates it!"
But when he tried to show Fanny the absurdity of the idea--Horatio
Bysshe Waddington illustrated by Barbara Madden--she laughed in his face
and told him he was a conceited old thing. To which he replied, with
dignified self-restraint, that he was writing a serious and important
book. It would be foolish to pretend that it was not serious and
important. He hoped he had no overweening opinion of its merits, but one
must preserve some sense of proportion and propriety--some sanity.
"Poor little Barbara!"
"It isn't poor little Barbara's book, my dear."
"No," said Fanny. "It isn't."
Meanwhile, if the book was to be ready for publication in the spring,
the photographs would have to be taken at once, before the light and the
leaves were gone.
So Pyecraft and Pyecraft's man came with their best camera, and
photographed and photographed, as long as the fine weather lasted. They
photographed the Market Square, Wyck-on-the-Hill; they photographed the
church; they photographed Lower Wyck village and the Manor House, the
residence--corrected to seat--of Mr. Horatio Bysshe Waddington, the
author. They photographed the Tudor porch, showing the figures of the
author and of Mrs. Waddington, his wife, and Miss Barbara Madden, his
secretary. They photographed the author sitting in his garden; they
photographed him in his park, mounted on his mare, Speedwell; and they
photographed him in his motor-car. Then they came in and looked at the
library and photographed that, with Mr. Waddington sitting in it at his
"I suppose, sir," Mr. Pyecraft said, "you'd wish it taken from one end
to show the proportions?"
"Certainly," said Mr. Waddington.
And when Pyecraft came the next day with the proofs he said, "I think,
sir, we've got the proportions very well."
Mr. Waddington stared at the proofs, holding them in a hand that
trembled slightly with emotion. With a just annoyance. For though
Pyecraft had certainly got the proportions of the library, Mr.
Waddington's head was reduced to a mere black spot in the far corner.
If _that_ was what Pyecraft meant by proportion--
"I think," he said, "the--er--the figure is not quite satisfactory."
"The--? I see, sir. I did not understand, sir, that you wished the
"We-ell--" Mr. Waddington didn't like to appear as having wished the
figure so ardently as he did indeed wish it. "If I'm to be there at
"Quite so, sir. But if you wish the size of the library to be shown, I
am afraid the figure must be sacrificed. We can't do you it both ways.
But how would you think, sir, of being photographed yourself, somewhat
larger, seated at your writing-table? We could do you that."
"I hadn't thought of it, Pyecraft."
As a matter of fact, he had thought of nothing else. He had the title of
the picture in his mind: "The Author at Work in the Library, Lower Wyck
Pyecraft waited in deference to Mr. Waddington's hesitation. His man,
less delicate but more discerning, was already preparing to adjust the
Mr. Waddington turned, like a man torn between personal distaste and
public duty, to Barbara.
"What do _you_ think, Miss Madden?"
"I think the book would hardly be complete without you."
"Very well. You hear, Pyecraft, Miss Madden says I am to be
"Very good, sir."
He wheeled sportively. "Now how am I to sit?"
"If you would set yourself so, sir. With your papers before you, spread
careless, so. And your pen in your hand, so.... A little nearer,
Bateman. The figure is important this time.... _Now_, sir, if you would
be so good as to look up."
Mr. Waddington looked up with a face of such extraordinary solemnity
that Mr. Pyecraft smiled in spite of his deference.
"A leetle brighter expression. As if you had just got an idea."
Mr. Waddington imagined himself getting an idea and tried to look like
"Perfect--perfect." Mr. Pyecraft almost danced with excitement. "Keep
that look on your face, sir, half a moment.... Now, Bateman."
"_That's_ over, thank goodness," said Mr. Waddington, reluctant victim
of Pyecraft's and Barbara's importunity.
After that Mr. Pyecraft and his man were driven about the country taking
photographs. In one of them Mr. Waddington appeared standing outside the
mediaeval Market Hall of Chipping Kingdon. In another, wearing fishing
boots, and holding a fishing-rod in his hand, he waded knee deep in the
trout stream between Upper and Lower Speed.
And after that he said firmly, "I will not be photographed any more.
They've got enough of me."
In November, when the photographing was done, Fanny went away to London
for a fortnight, leaving Barbara, as she said, to take care of Horatio,
and Ralph Bevan to take care of Barbara.
It was then, in consequence of letters he received from Mrs. Levitt,
that Mr. Waddington's visits in Sheep Street became noticeably frequent.
Barbara, sitting on her camp-stool above the White House, noticed them.
She noticed, too, the singular abstraction of Mr. Waddington's manner in
these days. There were even moments when he ceased to take any interest
in his Ramblings, and left Barbara to continue them, as Ralph had
continued them, alone, reserving to himself the authority of
supervision. She had long stretches of time to herself, when she had
reason to suspect that Mr. Waddington was driving Mrs. Leavitt to
Cheltenham or Stratford-on-Avon in his car, while Ralph Bevan obeyed
Fanny's parting charge to look after Barbara.
Every time Barbara did a piece of the Ramblings she showed it to Ralph
Bevan. They would ride off together into the open country, and Barbara
would read aloud to Ralph, sitting by the roadside where they lunched,
or in some inn parlour where they had tea. They had decided that, though
it would be dishonourable of Barbara to show him the bits that Mr.
Waddington had written, there could be no earthly harm in trusting him
with the bits she had done herself.
Not that you could tell the difference. Barbara had worked hard, knowing
that the sooner Mr. Waddington's book was finished the sooner Ralph's
book would come out; and under this agreeable stimulus she had developed
into the perfect parodist of Waddington. She had wallowed in
Waddington's style till she was saturated with it and wrote
automatically about "bold escarpments" and "the rosy flush on the high
forehead of Cleeve Cloud"; about "ivy-mantled houses resting in the
shade of immemorial elms"; about the vale of the Windlode, "awash with
the golden light of even," and "grey villages nestling in the beech-clad
hollows of the hills."
"'Come with me,'" said Barbara, "'into the little sheltered valley of
the Speed; let us follow the brown trout stream that goes purling--'"
"Barbara, it's priceless. What made you think of purling?"
"_He'd_ have thought of it. 'Purling through the lush green grass of the
Or, "'Let us away along the great high road that runs across the uplands
that divide the valleys of the Windlode and the Thames. Let us rest a
moment halfway and drink--no, quaff--a mug of good Gloucestershire ale
with mine host of the Merry Mouth.'"
Not that Mr. Waddington had ever done such a thing in his life. But all
the other ramblers through the Cotswolds did it, or said they did it;
and he was saturated with their spirit, as Barbara was saturated with
his. He could see them, robust and genial young men in tweed
knickerbocker suits, tramping their thirty miles a day and quaffing mugs
of ale in every tavern; and he desired to present himself, like those
young men, as genial and robust. He couldn't get away from them and
their books any more than he had got away from Sir Maurice Gedge and his
And Barbara had invented all sorts of robust and genial things for him
to do. She dressed him in pink, and mounted him on his mare Speedwell,
and sent him flying over the stone walls and five-barred gates to the
baying of "Ranter and Ranger and Bellman and True." He fished and he
tramped and he quaffed and he tramped again. He did his thirty miles a
day easily. She set down long conversations between Mr. Waddington and
old Billy, the Cotswold shepherd, all about the good old Cotswold ways,
in the good old days when the good old Squire, Mr. Waddington's
father--no, his grandfather--was alive.
"'I do call to mind, zur, what old Squire did use to zay to me: "Billy,"
'e zays, "your grandchildren won't be fed, nor they won't 'ave the
cottages, nor yet the clothes as you 'ave and your children. As zure as
God's in Gloucester" 'e zays. They was rare old times, zur, and they be
"_What_ made you think of it, Barbara? I don't suppose he ever said two
words to old Billy in his life."
"Of course he didn't. 'But it's the sort of thing he'd like to think he
"Has he passed it?"
"Rather. He's as pleased as Punch. He thinks he's forming my style."
Mr. Waddington was rapidly acquiring the habit of going round to Sheep
Street after dinner. But in those evenings that he did not devote to
Mrs. Levitt he applied himself to his task of supervision.
On the whole he was delighted with his secretary. There could be no
doubt that the little thing was deeply attached to him. You could tell
that by the way she worked, by her ardour and eagerness to please him.
There could be only one explanation of the ease with which she had
received the stamp of his personality.
Therefore he used tact. He used tact.
"I'm giving you a great deal of work, Barbara," he would say. "But you
must look on it as part of your training. You're learning to write good
English. There's nothing like clear, easy, flowing sentences. You can't
have literature without 'em. I might have written those passages myself.
In fact, I can hardly distinguish--" His face shook over it; she
noticed the tremor of imminent revision. "Still, I _think_ I should
prefer 'babbling streams' here to 'purling streams.' Shakespearean."
"I _had_ 'babbling' first," said Barbara, "but I thought 'purling' would
be nearer to what you'd have written yourself. I forgot about
Shakespeare. And babbling isn't exactly purling, is it?"
"True--true. Babbling is _not_ purling. We want the exact word. Purling
let it be....
"And 'lush.' Good girl. You remembered that 'lush' was one of my words?"
"I thought it _would_ be."
"Good. You see," said Mr. Waddington, "how you learn. You're getting the
sense, the _flair_ for style. I shall always be glad to think I trained
you, Barbara.... And you may be very thankful it _is_ I and not Ralph
Bevan. Of all the jerky--eccentric--incoherent--"
It was Monday, the twenty-fourth day of November, in the last week of
Fanny's fortnight in London.
Barbara had been busy all morning with Mr. Waddington's correspondence
and accounts. And now, for the first time, she found herself definitely
on the track of Mrs. Levitt. In checking Palmer and Hoskins's, the
Cheltenham builders, bill for the White House she had come across two
substantial items not included in their original estimate: no less than
fifteen by eight feet of trellis for the garden and a hot water pipe
rail for the bathroom. It turned out that Mrs. Levitt, desiring the
comfort of hot towels, and objecting to the view of the kitchen yard as
seen from the lawn, had incontinently ordered the hot water rail and the
There was that letter from Messrs. Jackson and Cleaver, Mr. Waddington's
agents, informing him that his tenant, Mrs. Levitt, of the White House,
Wyck-on-the-Hill, had not yet paid her rent due on the twenty-fifth of
September. Did Mr. Waddington wish them to apply again?
And there were other letters of which Barbara was requested to make
copies from his dictation. Thus:
"My Dear Mrs. Levitt" (only he had written "My dear Elise"),--"With
reference to your investments I do not recommend the purchase, at the
present moment, of Government Housing Bonds.
"I shall be very glad to loan you the fifty pounds you require to make
up the five hundred for the purchase of Parson's Provincial and London
Bank Shares. But I am afraid I cannot definitely promise an advance of
five hundred on the securities you name. That promise was conditional,
and you must give me a little time to consider the matter. Meanwhile I
will make inquiries; but, speaking off-hand, I should say that, owing to
the present general depreciation of stock, it would be highly
unadvisable for you to sell out, and my advice to you would be: Hold on
to everything you've got.
"I am very glad you are pleased with your little house. We will let the
matter of the rent stand over till your affairs are rather more in order
than they are at present.--With kindest regards, very sincerely yours,
"HORATIO BYSSHE WADDINGTON.
"P.S.--I have settled with Palmer and Hoskins for the trellis and hot
"_To_ Messrs. Lawson & Rutherford, Solicitors,
"9, Bedford Row, London, W.C.
"Dear Sirs,--Will you kindly advise me as to the current value of the
"Fifty £5 5 per cent. New South American Rubber Syndicate;
"Fifty £10 10 per cent. B Preference Addison Railway, Nicaragua;
"One hundred £1 4 per cent. Welbeck Mutual Assurance Society.
"Would you recommend the holder to sell out at present prices? And
should I be justified in accepting these shares as security for an
immediate loan of five hundred?--Faithfully yours,
"HORATIO BYSSHE WADDINGTON."
He was expecting Elise for tea at four o'clock on Wednesday, and Messrs.
Lawson and Rutherford's reply reached him very opportunely that
"Dear Sir,--_Re_ your inquiry in your letter of the twenty-fifth instant,
as to the current value of 5 per cent. New South American Rubber
Syndicate Shares, 10 per cent. B Preference Addison Railway, and 4 per
cent. Welbeck Mutual Assurance Society, respectively, we beg to inform
you that these stocks are seriously depreciated, and we doubt whether
at the present moment the holder would find a purchaser. We certainly
cannot advise you to accept them as security for the sum you name.--We
"Lawson & Rutherford."
It was clear that poor Elise--who could never have had any head for
business--was deceived as to the value of her securities. It might even
be that with regard to all three of them she might have to cut her
losses and estimate her income minus the dividends accruing from this
source. But that only made it the more imperative that she should have
at least a thousand pounds tucked snugly away in some safe investment.
Nothing short of the addition of fifty pounds to her yearly income would
enable Elise to pay her way. The dear woman's affairs ought to stand on
a sound financial basis; and Mr. Waddington asked himself this question:
Was he prepared to put them there? All that Elise could offer him,
failing her depreciated securities, was the reversion of a legacy of
five hundred pounds promised to her in her aunt's will. She had spoken
very hopefully of this legacy. Was he prepared to fork out a whole five
hundred pounds on the offchance of Elise's aunt dying within a
reasonable time and making no alteration in her will? In a certain
contingency he _was_ prepared. He was prepared to do all that and more
for Elise. But it was not possible, it was not decent to state his
conditions to Elise beforehand, and in any case Mr. Waddington did not
state them openly as conditions to himself. He allowed his mind to be
muzzy on this point. He had no doubt whatever about his passion, but he
preferred to contemplate the possibility of its satisfaction through a
decent veil of muzziness. When he said to himself that he would like to
know where he stood before committing himself, it was as near as he
could get to clarity and candour.
And when he wrote to Elise that his promise was conditional he really
did mean that the loan would depend on the value of the securities
offered; a condition that his integrity could face, a condition that, as
things stood, he had a perfect right to make. While, all the time, deep
inside him was the knowledge that, if Elise gave herself to him, he
would not ask for security--he would not make any conditions at all. He
saw Elise, tender and yielding, in his arms; he saw himself, tender and
powerful, stooping over her, and he thought, with a qualm of disgust: "I
wouldn't touch her poor little legacy."
Meanwhile he judged it well to let the correspondence pass, like any
other business correspondence, through his secretary's hands. It was
well to let Barbara see that his relations with Mrs. Levitt were on a
strictly business footing, that he had nothing to hide. It was well to
have copies of the letters. It was well--Mr. Waddington's instinct, not
his reason, told him it WA well--to have a trustworthy witness to all
these transactions. A witness who understood the precise nature of his
conditions, in the event, the highly unlikely event, of trouble with
Elise later on. (It was almost as if, secretly, he had a premonition.)
Also, when his conscience reproached him, as it did, with making
conditions, with asking the dear woman for security, he was able to
persuade himself that he didn't really mean it, that all this was clever
camouflage designed to turn Barbara's suspicions, if she ever had any,
off the scent. And at the same time he was not sorry that Barbara should
see him in his rôle of generous benefactor and shrewd adviser.
"I needn't tell you, Barbara, that all this business is strictly
private. As my confidential secretary, you have to know a great many
things it wouldn't do to have talked about. You understand?"
She understood, too, that it was an end of the compact with Ralph Bevan.
She must have foreseen this affair when she said to him there would be
things she simply couldn't tell. Only she had supposed they would be
things she would see, reward of clear eyesight, not things she would be
regularly let in for knowing.
And her clear eyes saw through the camouflage. She had a suspicion.
"I don't see," she said, "why you should have to go without your rent
just because Mrs. Levitt doesn't want to pay it."
She was sorry for Waddy. He might be ever so wise about Mrs. Levitt's
affairs; but he was a perfect goose about his own. No wonder Fanny had
asked her to take care of him.
"I've no doubt," he said, "she _wants_ to pay it; but she's a war widow,
Barbara, and she's hard up. I can't rush her for the rent."
"She's no business to rush you for trellis work and water pipes you
"Well--well," he couldn't be angry with the child. She was so loyal, so
careful of his interests. And he couldn't expect her to take kindly to
Elise. There would be a natural jealousy. "That's Palmer and Hoskins's
mistake. I can't haggle with a lady, Barbara. _Noblesse oblige_." But he
winced under her clear eyes.
She thought: "How about the fifty and the five hundred? At this rate
_noblesse_ might _oblige_ him to do anything."
She could see through Mrs. Levitt.
Mr. Waddington kept on looking at the clock.
It was now ten minutes to four, and at any moment Elise might be there.
His one idea was to get Barbara Madden out of the way. Those clear eyes
were not the eyes he wanted to be looking at Elise, to be looking at him
when _their_ eyes met. And he understood that that fellow Bevan was
going to call for her at four. He didn't want _him_ about. "Where are
you going for your walk?" he said.
"Oh, anywhere. Why?"
"Well, if you happen to be in Wyck, would you mind taking these
photographs back to Pyecraft and showing him the ones I've chosen? Just
see that he doesn't make any stupid mistake."
The photographs were staring her in the face on the writing-table, so
that there was really no excuse for her forgetting them, as she did. But
Mr. Waddington's experience was that if you wanted anything done you had
to do it yourself.
Elise would be taken into the drawing-room. He went to wait for her
And as he walked up and down, restless, listening for the sound of her
feet on the gravel drive and the ringing of the bell, at each turn of
his steps he was arrested by his own portrait. It stared at him from
its place above Fanny's writing-table; handsome, with its brilliant
black and carmine, it gave him an uneasy sense of rivalry, as if he felt
the disagreeable presence of a younger man in the room. He stared back
at it; he stared at himself in the great looking-glass over the
chimneypiece beside it.
He remembered Fanny saying that she liked the iron-grey of his moustache
and hair; it was more becoming than all that hard, shiny black. Fanny
was right. It _was_ more becoming. And his skin--the worn bloom of it,
like a delicate sprinkling of powder. Better, more refined than that
rich, high red of the younger man in the gilt frame. To be sure his
eyes, blurred onyx, bulged out of creased pouches; but his nose--the
Postlethwaite nose, a very handsome feature--lifted itself firmly above
the fleshy sagging of the face. His lips pouted in pride. He could still
console himself with the thought that mirrors were unfaithful; Elise
would see him as he really was; not that discoloured and distorted
image. He pushed out his great chest and drew a deep, robust breath. At
the thought of Elise the pride, the rich, voluptuous, youthful pride of
life mounted. And as he turned again he saw Fanny looking at him.
The twenty-year-old Fanny in her girl's white frock and blue sash; her
tilted, Gainsborough face, mischievous and mocking, smiled as if she
were making fun of him. His breath caught in his chest. Fanny--Fanny.
His wife. Why hadn't his wife the loyalty and intelligence of Barbara,
the enthusiasm, the seriousness of Elise? He needn't have any
conscientious scruples on Fanny's account; she had driven him to Elise
with her frivolity, her eternal smiling. Of course he knew that she
cared for him, that he had power over her, that there had never been and
never would be any other man for Fanny; but he couldn't go on with
Fanny's levity for ever. He wanted something more; something sound and
solid; something that Elise gave him and no other woman. Any man would
And yet Fanny's image made him uneasy, watching him there, smiling, as
if she knew all about Elise and smiled, pretending not to care. He
didn't want Fanny to watch him with Elise. He didn't want Elise to see
Fanny. When he looked at Fanny's portrait he felt again his old
repugnance to their meeting. He didn't want Elise to sit in the same
room with Fanny, to sit in Fanny's chair. The drawing-room was Fanny's
room. The red dahlia and powder-blue parrot chintz was Fanny's choice;
every table, cabinet and chair was in the place that Fanny had chosen
for it. The book, the frivolous book she had been reading before she
went away, lay on her little table. Fanny was Fanny and Elise was
He rang the bell and told Partridge to show Mrs. Levitt into the library
and to bring tea there. The library was _his_ room. He could do what he
liked in it. The girl Fanny laughed at him out of the corners of her
eyes as he went. Suddenly he felt tender and gentle to her, because of
When Elise came she found him seated in his armchair absorbed in a book.
He rose in a dreamy attitude, as if he were still dazed and abstracted
with his reading.
Thus, at the very start, he gave himself the advantage; he showed
himself superior to Elise. Intellectually and morally superior.
"You're deep in it? I'm interrupting?" she said.
He came down from his height instantly. He was all hers.
"No. I was only trying to pass the time till you came."
"I'm late then?"
"Ten minutes." He smiled, indulgent
Elise was looking handsomer than ever. The light November chill had
whipped a thin flush into her face. He watched her as she took off her
dark skunk furs and her coat.
How delightful to watch a woman taking off her things, the pretty
gestures of abandonment; the form emerging, slimmer. That was one of the
things you thought and couldn't say. Supposing he had said it to Elise?
Would she have minded?
"What are you thinking of?" she said.
"How did you know I was thinking of anything?"
"Your face. It tells tales."
"Only nice ones to you, my dear lady."
"Ah, but you _didn't_ tell--"
"Would you like me to?"
"Not if it's naughty. Your face looks naughty."
He wheeled, delighted. "Now, how does my face look when it's naughty?"
"Oh, that _would_ be telling. It's just as well you shouldn't know."
"Was it as naughty as all that then?"
"Yes. Or as nice."
They kept it up, lightly, till Partridge and Annie Trinder came,
tinkling and rattling with the tea-things outside the door. As if, Mr.
Waddington thought, they meant to warn them.
"Partridge," he called, as the butler was going, "Partridge, if Sir John
Corbett calls you can show him in here; but I'm not at home to anybody
(Clever idea, that.)
"He isn't coming, is he, the tiresome old thing?"
"No. He isn't. If I thought he was for one minute I wouldn't be at
"Why did I say I would be? Because I wanted to make it safe for you,
Thus tactfully he let it dawn on her that he might be dangerous.
"We don't want to be interrupted, do we?" he said.
"Not by Sir John Corbett."
He drew up the big, padded sofa square before the fire for Elise. All
his movements were unconscious, innocent of deliberation and design. He
seated himself top-heavily behind the diminutive gate-legged tea-table;
the teapot and cups were like dolls' things in his great hands. She
looked at him, at his slow fingers fumbling with the sugar tongs.
"Would you like me to pour out tea for you?" she said.
He started visibly. He wouldn't like it at all. He wasn't going to allow
Elise to put herself into Fanny's place, pouring out tea for him as if
she was his wife. She wouldn't have suggested it if she had had any tact
or any delicacy.
"No," he said. The "No" sounded hard and ungracious. "You must really
let me have the pleasure of waiting on you."
The sugar dropped from the tongs; he fumbled again, madly, and Elise
smiled. "Damn the tongs," he thought; "damn the sugar."
"Take it in your fingers, goose," she said.
Goose! An endearment, a caress. It softened him. His tenderness for
Elise came back.
"My fingers are all thumbs," he said.
"Your thumbs, then. You don't suppose I mind?"
There was meaning in her voice, and Mr. Waddington conceived himself to
be on the verge of the first exquisite intimacies of love. He left off
thinking about Fanny. He poured out tea and handed bread and butter in a
happy dream. He ate and drank without knowing what he ate and drank. His
whole consciousness was one muzzy, heavy sense of the fullness and
nearness of Elise. He could feel his ears go "vroom-vroom" and his voice
thicken as if he were slightly, very slightly drunk. He wondered how
Elise could go on eating bread and butter.
He heard himself sigh when at last he put her cup down.
He considered the position of the tea-table in relation to the sofa. It
hemmed in that part of it where he was going to sit. Very cramping. He
moved it well back and considered it again. It now stood in his direct
line of retreat from the sofa to the armchair. An obstruction. If
anybody were to come in. He moved it to one side.
"That's better," He said. "Now we can get a clear view of the fire. It
isn't too much for you, Elise?"
He had persuaded himself that he had really moved the tea-table because
of the fire. As yet he had no purpose and no plan. He didn't know what
on earth he was going to say to Elise.
He sat down beside her and there was a sudden hushed pause. Elise had
turned round in her seat and was looking at him; her eyes were steady
behind the light tremor of their lashes, brilliant and profound. He
reflected that her one weak point, the shortness of her legs, was not
noticeable when she was sitting down. He also wondered how he could ever
have thought her mouth hard. It moved with a little tender, sensitive
twitch, like the flutter of her eyelids, and he conceived that she was
drawn to him and held trembling by his fascination.
She spoke first.
"Mr. Waddington, I don't know how to thank you for your kindness about
the rent. But you know it's safe, don't you?"
"Of course I know it. Don't talk about rent. Don't think about it."
"I can't help it. I can't think of anything else until it's paid."
"I'd rather you never paid any rent at all than that you should worry
about it like this. I didn't ask you to come here to talk business,
"I'm afraid I must talk it. Just a little."
"Not now," he said firmly. "I won't listen."
It sounded exactly as if he said he wouldn't listen to any more talk
about rent; but he thought: "I don't know what I shall do if she begins
about that five hundred. But she hardly can, after that. Anyhow, I shall
decline to discuss it."
"Tell me what you've been doing with yourself?"
"You can't _do_ much with yourself in Wyck. I trot about my house--my
dear little house that you've made so nice for me. I do my marketing,
and I go out to tea with the parson's wife, or the doctor's wife, or
Mrs. Bostock, or Mrs. Grainger."
"I didn't know you went to the Graingers."
He thought that was not very loyal of Elise.
"You must go somewhere."
"And in the evenings we play bridge."
"Who plays bridge?"
"Mr. Hawtrey, or Mr. Thurston, or young Hawtrey, and Toby, and Major
Markham and me."
"Always Major Markham?"
"Well, he comes a good deal. He likes coming."
"Do you mind?"
"I should mind very much if I thought it would make any difference."
"Any difference?" She frowned and blinked, as though she were trying
hard to see what he meant, what he possibly _could_ mean by that.
"Difference?" she said. "To what?"
"To you and me."
"Of course it doesn't. Not a scrap. How could it?"
"No. How could it? I don't really believe it could."
"But why should it?" she persisted.
"Why, indeed. Ours is a wonderful relation. A unique relation. And I
think you want as much as I do to--to keep it intact."
"Of course I want to keep it intact. I wouldn't for worlds let anything
come between us, certainly not bridge." She meditated. "I suppose I do
play rather a lot. There's nothing else to do, you see, and you get
"I hope, my dear, you don't play for money."
"Oh, well, it isn't much fun for the others if we don't."
"You don't play high, I hope?"
"What do you call high?"
"Well, breaking into pound notes."
"Pound notes! Penny points--well, ten shillings is the very highest
stake when we're reckless and going it. Besides, I always play against
Markham and Hawtrey, because I know _they_ won't be hard on me if I
"Now, _that's_ what I don't like. I'd a thousand times rather pay your
gambling debts than have you putting yourself under an obligation to
He couldn't bear it. He couldn't bear to think that Elise could bear it.
"You should have come to me," he said.
"I have come to you, haven't I?" She thought of the five hundred pounds.
He thought of them too. "Ah, that's different. Now, about these debts to
Markham and Hawtrey. How much do they come to--about?"
"Oh, a five-pound note would cover all of it. But I shall only be in
debt to you."
"We'll say nothing about that. If I pay it, Elise, will you promise me
you'll never play higher than penny points again?"
"It's too angelic of you, really."
He smiled. He liked paying her gambling debts. He liked the power it
gave him over her. He liked to think that he could make her promise. He
liked to be told he was angelic. It was all very cheap at five pounds,
and it would enable him to refuse the five hundred with a better grace.
"Come, on your word of honour, only penny points."
"On my word of honour.... But, oh, I don't think I can take it."
She thought of the five hundred. When you wanted five hundred it was
pretty rotten to be put off with a fiver.
"If you can take it from Hawtrey and Markham--"
"That's it. I _can't_ take it from Markham. I haven't done that. I can't
"Well, Hawtrey then."
"Why is he different?"
A faint suspicion, relating to Markham, troubled him, and not for the
"Well, you see, he's a middle-aged married man. He might be my uncle."
He thought: "And Markham--_he_ might be--"
But Elise was not in love with the fellow. No, no. He was sure of Elise;
he knew the symptoms; you couldn't mistake them. But she might marry
Markham, all the same. Out of boredom, out of uncertainty, out of
desperation. He was not going to let that happen; he would make it
impossible; he would give Elise the certainty she wanted now.
"You said _I_ was different."
Playful reproach. But she would understand.
"So you are. You're a married man, too, aren't you?"
"I thought we'd agreed to forget it."
"Forget it? Forget Mrs. Waddington?"
"Yes, forget her. You knew me long before you knew Fanny. What has she
got to do with you and me?"
"Just this, that she's the only woman in the county who'll know _me_."
"Because you're my friend, Elise."
"You needn't remind me. I'm not likely to forget that any good thing
that's come to me here has come through you."
"I don't want anything but good to come to you through me"
He leaned forward.
"You're not very happy in Wyck, are you?"
"Happy? Oh, yes. But it's not what you'd call wildly exciting. And
Toby's worrying me. He says he can't stand it, and he wants to
"Well, why not?"
Mr. Waddington's heart gave a great thump of hope. He saw it all
clearly. Toby was the great obstruction. Elise might have held out for
ever as long as Toby lived with her. But if Toby went--She saw it
too; that was why she consented to his going.
"It isn't much of a job for him, Bostock's Bank."
"N-no," she assented, "n-no. I've told him he can go if he can get
He played, stroking the long tails of her fur. It lay between them like
a soft, supine animal.
"Would you like to live in Cheltenham, Elise?"
"If I took a little house for you?"
(He had calculated that he might just as well lose his rent in
Cheltenham as in Wyck. Better. Besides, he needn't lose it. He could let
the White House. It would partly pay for Cheltenham.)
"One of those little houses in Montpelier Place?"
"It's too sweet of you to think of it." She began playing too, stroking
the fur animal; their hands played together over the sleek softness,
consciously, shyly, without touching.
"Cheltenham isn't Wyck."
"No. But it's just as dull and stuffy. Stuffier."
"Beautiful little town, Elise."
"What's the good of that when it's crammed full of school children and
school teachers, and decayed army people and old maids? I don't _know_
anybody in Cheltenham."
"Can't you see that that would be the advantage?"
"No. I can't see it. There's only one place I _want_ to live in."
"And that is--?"
"London. And I can't."
"Why not?" After all, London was not such a bad idea. He had thought of
it before now himself.
"Well--I don't know whether I told you that I'm not on very good terms
with my husband's people. They haven't been at all nice to me since poor
"They live in London and they want to keep me out of it. My
father-in-law gives me a small allowance on condition I don't live
there. They hate me," she said, smiling, "as much as all that."
"Is it a large allowance?"
"No. It's a very small one. But they know I can't get on without it."
"You ought not to be dependent on such people.... Perhaps in a flat--or
one of those little houses in St. John's Wood--"
"It would be too heavenly. But what's the good of talking about it?"
"You must know what I want to do for you, Elise. I want to make you
happy, to put you safe above all these wretched worries, to take care of
you, dear. You _will_ let me, won't you?"
"My dear Mr. Waddington--my dear friend--" The dark eyes brightened.
She saw a clear prospect of the five hundred. Compared with what old
Waddy was proposing, such a sum, and a mere loan too, represented
moderation. The moment had come, very happily, for reopening this
question. "I can't let you do anything so--so extensive. Really and
truly, all I want is just a temporary loan. If you really could lend me
that five hundred. You said--"
"I didn't say I would. And I didn't say I wouldn't. I said it would
"I know. But you never said on what. If the securities I offered you
aren't good enough, there's the legacy."
He was silent. He knew now that his condition had had nothing to do with
the securities. He must know, he would know, where he stood.
"My aunt," said Elise gently, "is very old."
"I wouldn't dream of touching your poor little legacy." He said it with
passion. "Won't you drop all this sordid talk about business and trust
"I do trust you."
The little white hand left off stroking the dark fur and reached out to
him. He took it and held it tight. It struggled to withdraw itself.
"You aren't afraid of me?" he said.
"No, but I'm afraid of Partridge coming in and seeing us. He might think
it rather odd."
"He won't come in. It doesn't matter what Partridge thinks."
"Oh, _doesn't_ it!"
"He won't come in."
He drew a little closer to her.
"He will. He _will_. He'll come and clear away the things. I hear him
He got up and went to the door of the smoke-room, to the further door,
and looked out.
"There's no one there," he said. "They don't come 'till six and it isn't
five yet.... Elise--abstract your mind one moment from Partridge. If I
get that little house in London, will you live in it?"
"I can't let you. You make me ashamed, after all you've done for me.
It's too much."
"It isn't. If I take it, will you let me come and see you?"
"Oh, yes. But--" She shrank, so far as Elise could be said to shrink,
a little further back into her corner.
"It's rather far from Wyck," he said. "Still, I could run up once
in"--he became pensive--"in three weeks or so."
"For the day--I should be delighted."
"No. _Not_ for the day." He was irritated with this artificial
obtuseness. "For the week-end. For the week, sometimes, when I can
manage it. I shall say it's business."
She drew back and back, as if from his advance, her head tilted, her
eyes glinting at him under lowered lids, taking it all in yet pretending
a paralysis of ignorance. She wanted to see--to see how far he would go,
before she--She wanted him to think she didn't understand him even
It was this half-fascinated, backward gesture that excited him. He drew
himself close, close.
"Elise, it's no use pretending. You know what I mean. You know I want
He stooped over her, covering her with his great chest. He put his arms
"In my arms. You _know_ you want _me_--"
She felt his mouth pushed out to her mouth as it retreated, trying to
cover it, to press down. She gave a cry: "Oh--oh, you--" and struggled,
beating him off with one hand while the other fumbled madly for her
pocket-handkerchief. His grip slackened. He rose to his feet. But he
still stooped over her, penning her in with his outstretched arms, his
weight propped by his hands laid on the back of the sofa.
"You--old--imbecile--" she spurted.
She could afford it. In one rapid flash of intelligence she had seen
that, whatever happened, she could never get that five hundred pounds
_down_. And to surrender to old Waddy without it, to surrender to old
Waddy at all, when she could marry Freddy Markham, would be too
preposterous. Even if there hadn't been any Freddy Markham, it would
have been preposterous.
At that moment as she said it, while he still held her prisoned and they
stared into each other's faces, she spurting and he panting, Barbara
He started; jerked himself upright. Mrs. Levitt recovered herself.
"You silly cuckoo," she said. "You don't know how ridiculous you look."
She had found her pocket-handkerchief and was dabbing her eyes and mouth
with it, rubbing off the uncleanness of his impact. "How
ridic--Te-hee--Te-hee--te-hee!" She shook with laughter.
Barbara pretended not to see them. To have gone back at once, closing
the door on them, would have been to admit that she had seen them.
Instead she moved, quickly yet abstractedly, to the writing-table, took
up the photographs and went out again.
Mr. Waddington had turned away and stood leaning against the
chimneypiece, hiding his head ("Poor old ostrich!") in his hands. His
attitude expressed a dignified sorrow and a wronged integrity. Barbara
stood for a collected instant at the door and spoke:
"I'm sorry I forgot the photographs." As if she said: "Cheer up, old
thing. I didn't really see you."
Through the closed door she heard Mrs. Levitt's laughter let loose,
malignant, shrill, hysterical, a horrid sound.
"I'm sorry, Elise. But I thought you cared for me."
"You'd no business to think. And it wasn't likely I'd tell you."
"Oh, you didn't tell me, my dear. How could you? But you made me believe
you wanted me."
"Wanted? Do you suppose I wanted to be made ridiculous?"
"Love isn't ridiculous," said Mr. Waddington.
"It is. It's _the_ most ridiculous thing there is. And when _you_'re
making it.... If you could have seen your face--Oh, dear!"
"If you wouldn't laugh quite so loud. The servants will hear you."
"I mean them to hear me."
"Confound you, Elise!"
"That's right, swear at me. Swear at me."
"I'm sorry I swore. But, hang it all, it's every bit as bad for me as it
is for you."
"Worse, I fancy. You needn't think Miss Madden didn't see you, because
"It's a pity Miss Madden didn't come in a little sooner."
"Sooner? I think she chose her moment very well."
"If she had heard the whole of our conversation I think she'd have
realized there was something to be said for me."
"There isn't anything to be said for you. And until you've apologized
for insulting me--"
"You've heard me apologize. As for insulting you, no decent woman, in
the circumstances, ever tells a man his love insults her, even if she
can't return it."
"And even if he's another woman's husband?"
"Even if he's another woman's husband, if she's ever given him the
"Right? Do you think you bought the right to make love to me?" She rose,
"No. I thought you'd given it me.... I was mistaken."
He helped her to put on the coat that she wriggled into with clumsy,
irritated movements. Clumsy. The woman _was_ clumsy. He wondered how he
had never seen it. And vulgar. Noisy and vulgar. You never knew what a
woman was like till you'd seen her angry. He had answered her
appropriately and with admirable tact. He had scored every point; he was
scoring now with his cool, imperturbable politeness. He tried not to
think about Barbara.
He rang the bell. Partridge appeared.
"Tell Kimber to bring the car round and drive Mrs. Levitt home."
"Thank you, Mr. Waddington, I'd rather walk."
She held out her hand. Mr. Waddington bowed abruptly, not taking it. He
strode behind her to the door, through the smoke-room, to the further
door. In the hall Partridge hovered. He left her to him.
And, as she followed Partridge across the wide lamp-lighted space, he
noticed for the first time that Elise, in her agitation, waddled. Like a
duck--a greedy duck. Like that horrible sister of hers, Bertha
Then he thought of Barbara Madden.
When Ralph called for Barbara he told her, first thing, that he had
heard from Mackintyres, the publishers, about his book. He had sent it
them two-thirds finished, and Grevill Burton--"Grevill _Burton_,
Barbara!"--had read it and reported very favourably. Mackintyres had
agreed to publish it if the end was equal to the beginning and the
It was this exciting news, thrown at her before she could get her hat
on, that had caused Barbara to forget all about Mr. Waddington's
photographs and Mr. Waddington's book and Mr. Waddington, until she and
Ralph were half way between Wyck-on-the-Hill and Lower Speed. There was
nothing for it then but to go on, taking care to get back in time to
take the photographs to Pyecraft's before the shop closed. There hadn't
been very much time, but Barbara said she could just do it if she made a
dash, and it was the dash she made that precipitated her into the scene
of Mr. Waddington's affair.
Ralph waited for her at the white gate.
"We must sprint," she said, "if we're to be in time."
As they walked slowly back, Barbara became thoughtful.
As long as she lived she would remember Waddington: the stretched-out
arms, the top-heavy body bowed to the caress; the inflamed and startled
face staring at her, like some strange fish, over Mrs. Levitt's
shoulder, the mouth dropping open as if it called out to her "Go back!"
What depths of fatuity he must have sunk to before he could have come to
that! And the sad figure leaning on the chimneypiece, whipped, beaten by
Mrs. Levitt's laughter--the high, coarse, malignant laughter that had
made her run to the smoke-room door to shield him, to shut it off.
What wouldn't Ralph have given to have seen him!
It was all very well for Ralph to talk about making a "study" of him; he
hadn't got further than the merest outside fringe of his great subject.
He didn't know the bare rudiments of Waddington. He had had brilliant
flashes of his own, but no sure sight of the reality. And it had been
given to her, Barbara, to see it, all at once. She had penetrated at one
bound into the thick of him. They had wondered how far he would go; and
he had gone so far, so incredibly far above and beyond himself that all
their estimates were falsified.
And she saw that her seeing was the end--the end of their game, hers
and Ralph's, the end of their compact, the end of the tie that bound
them. She found herself shut in with Waddington; the secret that she
shared with him shut Ralph out. It was intolerable that all this rich,
exciting material should be left on her hands, lodged with her useless,
when she thought of what she and Ralph could have made of it together.
If only she could have given it him. But of course she couldn't. She had
always known there would be things she couldn't give him. She would go
on seeing more and more of them.
Odd that she didn't feel any moral indignation. It had been too funny,
like catching a child in some amusing naughtiness; and, as poor Waddy's
eyes and open mouth had intimated, she had had no business to catch him,
to know anything about it, no business to be there.
"Ralph," she said, "you must let me off the compact."
He turned, laughing. "Why, have you seen something?"
"It doesn't matter whether I have or haven't."
"It was a sacred compact."
"But if I can only keep it by being a perfect pig--"
He looked down at her face, her troubled, unnaturally earnest face.
"Of course, if you feel like that about it--"
"You'd feel like that if you were his confidential secretary and had
all his correspondence."
"Yes, yes. I see, Barbara, it won't work. I'll let you off the compact.
We can go on with him just the same."
"What? Not make a study of him?"
"No. We don't know what we're doing. It isn't safe. We may come on
things any day."
"Like the thing you came on just now."
"I didn't say I'd come on anything."
"All right, you didn't. He shall be our unfinished book, Barbara."
"He'll be _your_ unfinished book. I've finished mine all right. Anything
else will be simply appendix."
"You think you've got him complete?"
"Don't tempt me, Ralph."
"After all," he said, "we were only playing with him."
"Well, we mustn't do it again."
"Never any more?"
"Never any more. I know it's a game for gods; but it's a cruel game. We
must give it up."
"You mean we must give him up?"
"Yes, we've hunted and hounded him enough. We must let him go."
"That's the compact, is it?"
"We shall break it, Barbara; see if we don't. We can't keep off him."
Mr. Waddington judged that, after all, owing to his consummate tact, he
had scored in the disagreeable parting with Mrs. Levitt. But when he
thought of Barbara, little Barbara, a flush mounted to his face, his
ears, his forehead; he could feel it--wave after wave of hot, unpleasant
He went slowly back to the library and shut himself in with the
tea-table, and the sofa, and the cushions crushed, deeply hollowed with
the large pressure of Elise. He wondered how much Barbara had taken in,
at what precise moment she had appeared. He tried to reconstruct the
scene. He had been leaning over Elise; he could see himself leaning over
her, enclosing her, and Elise's head, stiffened, drawing back from his
kiss. Worse than the sting of her repugnance was the thought that
Barbara had seen it and his attitude, his really very compromising
attitude. Had she? Had she? The door now, it was at right angles to the
sofa; perhaps Barbara hadn't caught him fair. He went to the door and
came in from it to make certain. Yes. Yes. From that point it was no
good pretending that he couldn't be seen.
But Barbara had rushed in like a little whirlwind, and she had gone
straight to the writing-table, turning her back. She wouldn't have had
time to take it in. He was at the chimneypiece before she had turned
again, before she could have seen him. He must have recovered himself
when he heard her coming. She couldn't charge in like that without being
heard. He must have been standing up, well apart from Elise, not leaning
over her by the time Barbara came in.
He tried to remember what Barbara had said when she went out. She had
said something. He couldn't remember what it was, but it had sounded
reassuring. Now, surely if Barbara had seen anything she wouldn't have
stopped at the door to say things. She would have gone straight out
without a word. In fact, she wouldn't have come in at all. She would
have drawn back the very instant that she saw. She would simply never
have penetrated as far as the writing-table. He remembered how coolly
she had taken up the photographs and gone out again as if nothing had
Probably, then, as far as Barbara was concerned, nothing had happened.
Then he remembered the horrible laughing of Elise. Barbara must have
heard that; she must have wondered. She might just have caught him with
the tail of her eye, not enough to swear by, but enough to wonder; and
afterwards she would have put that and that together.
And he would have to dine with her alone that evening, to face her
young, clear, candid eyes.
He didn't know how he was going to get through with it, and yet he did
To begin with, Barbara was very late for dinner.
She had thought of being late as a way of letting Mr. Waddington down
easily. She would come in, smiling and apologetic, palpably in the
wrong, having kept him waiting, and he would be gracious and forgive
her, and his graciousnees and forgiveness would help to reinstate him.
He would need, she reflected, a lot of reinstating. Barbara considered
that, in the matter of punishment, he had had enough. Mrs. Levitt, with
her "You old imbecile!" had done to him all, and more than all, that
justice could require; there was a point of humiliation beyond which no
human creature should be asked to suffer. To be caught making love to
Mrs. Levitt and being called an old imbecile! And then to be pelted with
indecent laughter. And, in any case, it was not her, Barbara's, place to
punish him or judge him. She had had no business to catch him, no
business, in the first instance, to forget the photographs.
Therefore, as she really wanted him not to know that she had caught him,
she went on behaving as if nothing had happened. All through dinner she
turned the conversation on to topics that would put him in a favourable
or interesting light. She avoided the subject of Fanny. She asked him
all sorts of questions about his war work.
"Tell me," she said, "some of the things you did when you were a special
And he told her his great story. To be sure, she knew the best part of
it already, because Ralph had told it--it had been one of his scores
over her--but she wanted him to remember it. She judged that it was
precisely the sort of memory that would reinstate him faster than
anything. For really he had played a considerable part.
"Well"--you could see by his face that he was gratified--"one of
the things we had to do was to drive about the villages and farms
after dark to see that there weren't any lights showing. It was
nineteen--yes--nineteen-sixteen, in the winter. Must have been winter,
because I was wearing my British warm with the fur collar. And there was
a regular scare on."
"No. Tramps. We'd been fairly terrorized by a nasty, dangerous sort of
tramp. The police were looking for two of these fellows--discharged
soldiers. We'd a warrant out for their arrest. Robbery and assault."
"Well, you may call it violence. One of 'em had thrown a pint pot at the
landlord of the King's Head and hurt him. And they'd bolted with two
bottles of beer and a tin of Player's Navy Cut. They'd made off,
goodness knows where. We couldn't find 'em.
"I was driving to Daunton on a very nasty, pitch-black night. You know
how beastly dark it is between the woods at Byford Park? Well, I'd just
got there when I passed two fellows skulking along under the wall. They
stood back--it was rather a near shave with no proper lights on--and I
flashed my electric torch full on them. Blest if they weren't the very
chaps we were looking for. And I'd got to run 'em in somehow, all by
myself. And two to one. It wasn't any joke, I can tell you. Goodness
knows what nasty knives and things they might have had on 'em."
"What _did_ you do?"
"Do? I drove on fifty yards ahead, and pulled up the car outside the
porter's lodge at Byford. Then I got out and came on and met 'em. They
were trying to bolt into the wood when I turned my torch on them again
and shouted 'Halt!' in a parade voice.
"They halted, hands up to the salute. I thought the habit would be too
much for 'em when they heard the word of command. I said, 'You've got to
come along with me.' I didn't know how on earth I was going to take them
if they wouldn't go. And they'd started dodging. So I tried it on again:
'Halt!' Regular parade stunt. And they halted again all right. Then I
harangued them. I said, 'Shun, you blighters! I'm a special constable,
and I've got a warrant here for your arrest.'
"I hadn't. I'd nothing but an Inland Revenue Income Tax form. But I
whipped it out of my breast pocket and trained my light on the royal
arms at the top. That was enough for 'em. Then I shouted again in my
parade voice, 'Right about face! Quick march!'
"And I got them marching. I marched them the two miles from Byford,
through Lower Speed, and up the hill to Wyck and into the police
station. And we ran 'em in for robbery and assault."
"It was clever of you."
"No; nothing but presence of mind and bluff, and showing that you
weren't going to stand any nonsense. But I don't suppose Corbett or
Hawtrey or any of those chaps would have thought of it."
Barbara wondered: "Supposing I were to turn on him and say, 'You old
humbug, you know I don't believe a word of it. You know you didn't march
them a hundred yards.' Or '_I_ saw you this afternoon.' What would he
look like?" It was inconceivable that she should say these things. If
she was to go on with her study of him alone she would go on in the
spirit they had begun in, she and Ralph. That spirit admitted nothing
but boundless amusement, boundless joy in him. Moral indignation would
have been a false note; it would have been downright irreverence towards
the God who made him.
What if he did omit to mention that the nasty, dangerous fellows turned
out to be two feeble youths, half imbecile with shell-shock and half
drunk, and that it was Mr. Hawtrey, arriving opportunely in his car, who
took them over the last mile to the police station? As it happened Mr.
Waddington had frankly forgotten these details as inessential to his
story. (He _had_ marched them a mile.)
After telling it he was so far re-established in his own esteem as to
propose their working together on the Ramblings after dinner. He even
ordered coffee to be served in the library, as if nothing had happened
there. Unfortunately, by some culpable oversight of Annie Trinder's, the
cushions still bore the imprint of Elise. Awful realization came to him
when Barbara, with a glance at the sofa, declined to sit on it. He had
turned just in time to catch the flick of what in a bantering mood he
had once called her "Barbaric smile." After all, she might have seen
something. Not Mrs. Levitt's laughter but the thought of what Barbara
might have seen was his punishment--that and being alone with her,
knowing that she knew.
All this happened on a Wednesday, and Fanny wouldn't be back before
Saturday. He had three whole days to be alone with Barbara.
He had thought that no punishment could be worse than that, but as the
three days passed and Barbara continued to behave as though nothing had
happened, he got used to it. It was on a Friday night, as he lay awake,
reviewing for the hundredth time the situation, that his conscience
pointed out to him how he really stood. There was a worse punishment
than Barbara's knowing.
If Fanny knew--
There were all sorts of ways in which she might get to know. Barbara
might tell her. The two were as thick as thieves. And if the child
turned jealous and hysterical--She had never liked Elise. Or she might
tell Ralph Bevan and he might tell Fanny, or he might tell somebody who
would tell her. There were always plenty of people about who considered
it their duty to report these things.
Of course, if he threw himself on Barbara's mercy, and exacted a promise
from her not to tell, he knew she would keep it. But supposing all the
time she hadn't seen or suspected anything? Supposing her calm manner
came from a mind innocent of all seeing and suspecting? Then he would
have given himself away for nothing.
Besides, even if Barbara never said anything, there was Elise. No
knowing what Elise might do or say in her vulgar fury. She might tell
Toby or Markham, and the two might make themselves damnably unpleasant.
The story would be all over the county in no time.
And there were the servants. Supposing one of the women took it into her
head to give notice on account of "goings on?"
He couldn't live in peace so long as all or any of these things were
The only thing was to be beforehand with Barbara and Bevan and Elise and
Toby and Markham and the servants; to tell Fanny himself before any of
them could get in first. The more he thought about it the more he was
persuaded that this was the only right, the only straightforward and
manly thing to do; at the same time it occurred to him that by
suppressing a few unimportant details he could really give a very
satisfactory account of the whole affair. It would not be necessary, for
instance, to tell Fanny what his intentions had been, if indeed he had
ever had any. For, as he went again and again over the whole stupid
business, his intentions--those that related to the little house in
Cheltenham or St. John's Wood--tended to sink back into the dream state
from which they had arisen, clearing his conscience more and more from
any actual offence. He had, in fact, nothing to account for but his
attitude, the rather compromising attitude in which Barbara had found
him. And that could be very easily explained away. Fanny was not one of
those exacting, jealous women; she would be ready to accept a reasonable
explanation of anything. And you could always appease her by a little
So on Friday afternoon Mr. Waddington himself drove the car down to Wyck
Station and met Fanny on the platform. He made tea for her himself and
waited on her, moving assiduously, and smiling an affectionate yet
rather conscious smile. He was impelled to these acts spontaneously,
because of that gentleness and tenderness towards Fanny which the bare
thought of Elise was always enough to inspire him with.
Thus, by sticking close to Fanny all the evening he contrived that
Barbara should have no opportunity of saying anything to her. And in the
last hour before bed-time, when they were alone together in the
drawing-room, he began.
He closed the door carefully behind Barbara and came back to his place,
scowling like one overpowered by anxious thought. He exaggerated this
expression on purpose, so that Fanny should notice it and give him his
opening, which she did.
"Well, old thing, what are _you_ looking so glum about?"
"Do I look glum?"
"Dismal. What is it?"
He stood upright before the chinmeypiece, his conscience sustained by
this posture of rectitude.
"I'm not quite easy about Barbara," he said.
"Barbara? What on earth has _she_ been doing?"
"She's been doing nothing. It's--it's rather what she may do if you
don't stop her."
"I don't want to stop her," said Fanny, "if you're thinking of Ralph
"Ralph Bevan? I certainly am not thinking of him. Neither is she."
"Well then, what?"
"I was thinking of myself."
"My dear, you surely don't imagine that Barbara's thinking of you?"
"Not--not in the way you imply. The fact is, I was let in for a--a
rather unpleasant scene the other day with Mrs. Levitt."
"I always thought," said Fanny, "that woman would let you in for
"Well, I hardly know how to tell you about it, my dear."
"Why, was it as bad as all that? Perhaps I'd better not know."
"I want you to know. I'm trying to tell you--because of Barbara."
"I can't see where Barbara comes in."
"She came into the library while it was happening--"
Fanny laughed and it disconcerted him.
"While what was happening?" she said. "You'd better tell me straight
out. I don't suppose it was anything like as bad as you think it was."
"I'm only afraid of what Barbara might think."
"Oh, you can trust Barbara not to think things. She never does."
Dear Fanny. He would have found his job of explaining atrociously
difficult with any other woman. Any other woman would have entangled him
tighter and tighter; but he could see that Fanny was trying to get it
straight, to help him out with all his honour and self-respect and
dignity intact. Every turn she gave to the conversation favoured him.
"My dear, I'm afraid she saw something that I must say was open to
misinterpretation. It wasn't my fault, but--"
No. The better he remembered it the more clearly he saw it was Elise's
fault, not his. And he could see that Fanny thought it was Elise's
fault. This suggested the next step in the course that was only not
perjury because it was so purely instinctive, the subterfuge of
terrified vanity. It seemed to him that he had no plan; that he followed
"Upon my word I'd tell you straight out, Fanny, only I don't like to
give the poor woman away."
"Mrs. Levitt?" said Fanny. "You needn't mind. You may be quite sure that
she'll give _you_ away if you don't."
She was giving him a clear lead.
When he began he had really had some thoughts of owning, somewhere about
this point, that he had lost his head; but when it came to the point he
saw that this admission was unnecessarily quixotic, and that he would
be far safer if he suggested that Elise had lost hers. In fact, it was
Fanny who had suggested it in the first place. It might not be
altogether a fair imputation, but, hang it all, it was the only one that
would really appease Fanny, and he had Fanny to think of and not Elise.
He owed it her. For her sake he must give up the personal luxury of
truthtelling. The thing would go no further with Fanny, and it was only
what Fanny had believed herself in any case and always would believe.
Elise would be no worse off as far as Fanny was concerned. So he fairly
let himself go.
"There's no knowing what she may do," he said. "She was in a thoroughly
hysterical state. She'd come to me with her usual troubles--not able to
pay her rent, and so on--and in talking she became very much upset and
er--er--lost her head and took me completely by surprise."
"That," he thought, "she certainly did."
"You mean you lost yours too?" said Fanny mildly.
"I did nothing of the sort. But I was rather alarmed. Before you could
say 'knife' she'd gone off into a violent fit of hysterics, and I was
just trying to bring her round when Barbara came in." His explanation
was so much more plausible than the reality that he almost believed it
himself. "I think," he said, pensively, "she _must_ have seen me
bending over her."
"And she didn't offer to help?"
"No; she rushed in and she rushed out again. She may not have seen
anything; but in case she did, I wish, my dear, you'd explain."
"I think I'd better not," said Fanny, "in case she didn't."
"No. But it worries me every time I think of it. She came right into the
room. Besides," he said, "we've got to think of Mrs. Levitt."
"Yes. Put yourself in her place. She wouldn't like it supposed that I
was making love to her. She might consider the whole thing made her look
as ridiculous as it made me."
"I'd forgotten Mrs. Levitt's point of view. You rather gave me to
understand that was what she wanted."
"I never said anything of the sort." Seeing that the explanation was
going so well he could afford to be magnanimous.
"I must have imagined it," said Fanny. "She recovered, I suppose, and
you got rid of her?"
"Yes, I got rid of her all right."
"Well," said Fanny, gathering herself up to go to bed, "I shouldn't
worry any more about it. I'll make it straight with Barbara."
She went up to Barbara's bedroom, where Barbara, still dressed, sat
reading over the fire.
"Come in, you darling," Barbara said. She got up and crouched on the
hearthrug, leaving her chair for Fanny.
Fanny came in and sat down.
"Barbara," she said, "what's all this about Horatio and Mrs. Levitt?"
"I don't know," said Barbara flatly, with sudden presence of mind.
"I said you didn't. But the poor old thing goes on and on about it. He
thinks you saw something the other day. Something you didn't understand.
Barbara said nothing. She stared away from Fanny.
"Of course I didn't."
"Of course you did. He says you must have seen. And it's worrying him no
"I saw something. But he needn't worry. I understood all right"
"What did you see?"
"Nothing. Nothing that mattered."
"It matters most awfully to me."
"I don't think it need," said Barbara.
"But it _does_. In a sense I don't mind what he does, and in a sense I
do. I still care enough for that."
"I don't think there was anything you need mind so awfully."
"Yes, but there _was_ something. He said there was. He was afraid you'd
misunderstand it. He said he was bending over her when you came in."
"Well, he _was_ bending a bit."
"What was _she_ doing?"
"She was laughing."
She saw it all.
"I suppose you might call it hysterics. They weren't nice hysterics,
though. She isn't a nice woman."
"No. But he was making love to her, and she was laughing at him. She was
nice enough for that."
"If that's nice."
"Why, what else could the poor woman do if she's honest?"
"Oh, she's honest enough in _that_ way," said Barbara.
"And he couldn't see it. He's so intent on his own beautiful
Postlethwaite nose, he can't see anything that goes on under it....
Still, honest or not honest, she's a beast, Barbara. When they'd been
such pals and he'd helped her, to have gone and rounded on the poor
thing like that. She might just as well have pulled his Postlethwaite
nose. It couldn't have hurt more."