Part 3 out of 4
'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 regime, 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 ...'