Part 4 out of 4
Was he too close, she meant. Clare cried and did not answer. Lady
Pinkerton concluded that Oliver had been trying to kiss Clare, and that
Clare had repulsed him. Jane knew that Lady Pinkerton thought this, and
so did Clare. Jane thought 'Clare means us to think that. That doesn't
mean it's true. Clare hasn't got what Arthur calls a grip on facts.'
Lord Pinkerton said, 'This is very painful, my dears; very painful
indeed. Jane, my dear ...'
He meant that Jane was to go away, because it was even more painful for
her than for the others. But Jane didn't go. It wasn't painful for Jane
really. She felt hard and cold, and as if nothing mattered. She was angry
with Clare for crying instead of explaining what had happened.
Lady Pinkerton said, passing her hand over her forehead in the tired way
she had and shutting her eyes, 'My dear, you are over-wrought. You don't
know what you are saying. You will be able to tell us more clearly in
But Clare said they must believe her now, and Lord Pinkerton must
telephone up to the _Haste_ and have the stuff about the Hobart
'My poor child,' said Lady Pinkerton, 'what has made you suddenly, so
long after, tell us this terrible story?'
Clare sobbed that she hadn't been able to bear it on her mind any more,
and also that she hadn't known till lately that Gideon was suspected.
Lord and Lady Pinkerton looked at each other, wondering what to believe,
then at Jane, wishing she was gone, so that they could ask Clare more
about it. Jane said, 'Don't mind me. I don't mind hearing about it.' Jane
meant to stay. She thought that if she was gone they would persuade Clare
she had dreamed it all and that it had been really Gideon after all.
Jane asked Clare why she had pushed Oliver, thinking that she ought to
explain, and not cry. But still Clare only cried, and at last said she
couldn't ever tell any one. Lady Pinkerton turned pink, and Lord
Pinkerton walked up and down and said, 'Tut tut,' and it was more obvious
than ever what Clare meant.
She added, 'But I never meant, indeed I never meant, to hurt him. He just
fell back, and ...'
'Was killed,' Jane finished for her. Jane thought Clare was like their
mother in trying to avoid plain words for disagreeable things.
Clare cried and cried. 'Oh,' she said, 'I've not had a happy moment
since,' which was as nearly true as these excessive statements ever are.
Lady Pinkerton tried to calm her, and said, 'My poor, dear child, you
don't know what you are saying. You must go to bed now, and tell us in
the morning, when you are more yourself.'
Clare didn't go to bed until Lord Pinkerton had promised to ring up the
_Haste_. Then she went, with Lady Pinkerton, who was crying too now,
because she was beginning to believe the story.
Jane didn't know what she believed. She didn't believe what Clare had
implied--that Oliver had tried to kiss her. Because Oliver hadn't been
like that; it wasn't the sort of thing he did. Jane thought it caddish of
Clare to have tried to make them think that of him. But she might, Jane
thought, have been angry with him about something else; she might have
pushed him.... Or she might not; she might be imagining or inventing the
whole thing. You never knew, with Clare.
If it was true, Jane thought, she had been a fool about Arthur. But, if
he hadn't done it, why had he been so queer? Why had he avoided her, and
been so odd and ashamed from the first morning on?
Perhaps, thought Jane, he had suspected Clare.
She would see him to-morrow morning, and ask him.
Jane saw Gideon next day. She rang him up, and he came over to Hampstead
It was the first time Jane had seen him alone for more than a month. He
looked thin and ill.
Jane loved him. She had loved him through everything. He might have
killed Oliver; it made no difference to her caring for him.
But she hoped he hadn't.
He came into the drawing-room. Jane remembered that other night, when
Oliver--poor Oliver--had been vexed to find him there. Poor Oliver. Poor
Oliver. But Jane couldn't really care. Not really, only gently, and in a
way that didn't hurt. Not as if Gideon were dead and shut away from
everything. Not as if she herself were.
Jane didn't pretend. As Lady Pinkerton would say, the claims of Truth
Gideon came in quickly, looking grave and worried, as if he had something
on his mind.
Jane said, 'Arthur, please tell me. _Did_ you knock Oliver down
He stood and stared at her, looking astonished and startled.
Then he said, slowly, 'Oh, I see. You mean, am I going to admit that I
did, when I am accused.... If there's no other way out, I am.... It will
be all right, Jane,' he said very gently. 'You needn't be afraid.'
Jane didn't understand him.
'Then you did it,' she said, and sat down. She felt sick, and her
Gideon stood over her, tall and stooping, biting the nail of his
'You see,' Jane said, 'I'd begun to hope last night that you hadn't done
it after all.'
'What are you talking about?' he asked.
Jane said, 'Clare told us that it happened--that he fell--after you had
left the house. So I hoped she might be speaking the truth, and that
you hadn't done it after all. But if you did, we must go on thinking of
'If--I--did,' Gideon said after her slowly. 'You know I didn't, Jane.
Why are you talking like this? What's the use, when I know, and you know,
and you know that I know, the truth about it? It can do no good.'
He was, for the first time, stern and angry with her.
'The truth?' Jane said. 'I wish you'd tell it me, Arthur.'
The truth. If Gideon told her anything, it would be the truth, she knew.
He wasn't like Clare, who couldn't.
But he only looked at her oddly, and didn't speak. Jane looked back into
his eyes, trying to read his mind, and so for a moment he stared down at
her and she stared up at him.
Jane perceived that he had not done it. Had he, then, guessed all this
time that Clare had, and been trying to shield her?
Then, slowly, his face, which had been frowning and tense, changed
and broke up.
'Good God!' he said. 'Tell me the truth, Jane. It _was_ you, wasn't it?'
Then Jane understood.
She said, 'You thought it was _me_.... And I thought it was you! Is it me
you've been so ashamed of all this time then, not yourself?'
'Yes,' he said, still staring at her. 'Of course.... It _wasn't_ you,
then.... And you thought it was me?... But how could you think that,
Jane? I'd have told; I wouldn't have been such a silly fool as to sneak
away and say nothing. You might have known that. You must have had a
pretty poor opinion of me, to think I'd do that.... Good lord, how you
must have loathed me all this time!'
'No, I haven't. Have you loathed me, then?'
He said quickly, 'That's different,' but he didn't explain why.
After a moment he said, 'It was just an accident then, after all.'
'Yes ... Clare was talking to him when he fell.... She's only just told
about it, because you were being suspected. But I never know whether to
believe Clare; she's such a gumph. I had to ask you.... What made you
suspect _me_, by the way?'
'Your manner, that first morning. You dragged me into the dining-room, do
you remember, and talked about how they all thought it was an accident,
and no one would guess if we were careful, and I wasn't to say anything.
What else was I to think? It was really your own fault.'
Jane said, 'Well, anyhow, we're quits. We've both spent six weeks
thinking each other murderers. Now we'll stop.... I don't wonder you
fought shy of me, Arthur.'
He looked at her curiously.
'Didn't you fight shy of me, then? You can hardly have wanted to see much
of me in the circumstances.'
'I didn't, of course. It was awful. Besides, you were so queer and
disagreeable. I thought it was a guilty conscience, but really I suppose
it was disgust.'
'Not disgust. No. Not that.' He seemed to be balancing the word 'disgust'
in his mind, considering it, then rejecting it. 'But,' he said, 'it would
have been difficult to pretend nothing had happened, wouldn't it.... I
didn't blame you, you know, for the thing itself. I knew it must have
been an accident--that you never meant ... what happened.... Well,
anyhow, that's all over. It's been pretty ghastly. Let's forget it....
What Potterish minds you and I must have, Jane, to have built up such a
sensational melodrama out of an ordinary accident. I think Lord Pinkerton
would find me useful on one of his papers; I'm wasted on the _Fact_. You
and I; the two least likely people in the world for such fancies, you'd
think--except Katherine. By the way, Katherine half thought I'd done it,
you know. So did Jukie.'
'I'm inclined now to think that K thought I had, that evening she came to
see me. She was rather sick with me for letting you be accused.'
'A regular Potter melodrama,' said Gideon. 'It might be in one of your
mother's novels or your father's papers. That just shows, Jane, how
infectious a thing Potterism is. It invades the least likely homes, and
upsets the least likely lives. Horrible, catching disease.'
Gideon was walking up and down the room in his restless way, playing with
the things on the tables. He stopped suddenly, and looked at Jane.
'Jane,' he said, 'we won't, you and I, have any more secrets and
concealments between us. They're rotten things. Next time it occurs to
you that I've committed a crime, ask me if it is so. And I'll do the same
to you, at whatever risk of being offensive. We'll begin now by telling
each other what we feel.... You know I love you, my dear.'
Oh, yes, Jane knew that. She said, 'I suppose I do, Arthur.'
He said, 'Then what about it? Do you ...' and she said, 'Rather, of
course I do.'
Then they kissed each other, and settled to get married next May or June.
The baby was coming in January.
'You'll have to put up with baby, you know, Arthur,' Jane said.
'Of course, poor little kid. I rather like them. It's rough luck on it
not having a father of its own. I'll try to be decent to it.'
That would be queer, thought Jane, Arthur being decent to Oliver's kid; a
boy, perhaps, with Oliver's face and Oliver's mind. Poor little kid: but
Jane would love it, and Arthur would be decent to it, and its
grandparents would spoil it; it would be their favourite, if any more
came. They wouldn't like the others, because they would be Gideon's. They
might look like little Yids. Perhaps there wouldn't be any others. Jane
wasn't keen. They were all right when they were there--jolly little
comics, all slippy in their baths, like eels--but they were an
unspeakable nuisance while on the way. A rotten system.
All next day Jane felt like stopping people in the streets and shouting
at them, 'Arthur didn't do it. Nor did I. It was only that silly ass,
Clare, or else it was an accident.' For even now Jane wasn't sure which
But the only person to whom she really said it was Katherine. One told
Katherine things, because she was as deep and as quiet as the grave.
Also, if Jane hadn't told her what Clare had said, she would have gone on
thinking it was Jane, and Jane didn't like that. Jane did not care to
give Katherine more reasons for making her feel cheap than necessary. She
would always think Jane cheap, anyhow, because Jane only cared about
having a good time, and Katherine thought one should care chiefly about
one's job. Jane supposed she was cheap, but didn't much care. She felt
she would rather be herself. She had a better time, and would have a
better time still before she had done; better than Johnny, with the
rubbishy books he was writing and making his firm bring out for him and
feeling so pleased with. Jane knew she could write better stuff than
Johnny could, any day. And her books would be in addition to Gideon, and
babies, and other amusing things.
Jane told Katherine Clare's story. Katherine said, 'H'm. Perhaps. I
wonder. It's as likely as not all bumkum that she pushed him. She was
probably talking to him when he fell, and got worked up about it later.
The Potter press and Leila Yorke touch. However, you never know. Quite a
light push might do it. Those stairs of yours are awful. I really advise
you to be careful, Jane.'
'You thought I'd done it, didn't you, old thing?'
'For a bit, I did. For a bit I thought it was Arthur. So did Jukie. You
never know. Any one might push any one else. Even Clare may have.'
'You must have thought I was a pretty mean little beast, to let Arthur be
suspected without owning up.'
'I did,' Katherine admitted. 'Selfish ...'
She was looking at Jane in her considering way. Her bright blue eyes
seemed always to go straight through what she was looking at, like
X-rays. When she looked at Jane now, she seemed somehow to be seeing in
her not only the present but the past. It was as if she remembered, and
was making Jane remember, all kinds of old things Jane had done. Things
she had done at Oxford; things she had done since; things Katherine
neither blamed nor condemned, but just took into consideration when
thinking what sort of a person Jane was. You had the same feeling with
Katherine that you had sometimes with Juke, of being analysed and
understood all through. You couldn't diddle either of them into thinking
you any nicer than you were. Jane didn't want to. It was more restful
just to be taken for what one was. Oliver had been always idealising her.
Gideon didn't do that; he knew her too well. Only he didn't bother much
about what she was, not being either a priest or a scientific chemist,
but a man in love.
'By the way,' said Katherine, 'are you and Arthur going to get married?'
Jane told her in May or June.
Katherine, who was lighting a cigarette, looked at Jane without smiling.
The flame of the match shone into her face, and it was white and cold
'She doesn't think I'm good enough for Arthur,' Jane thought. And anyhow,
K didn't, Jane knew, think much of marriage at all. Most women, if you
said you were going to get married, assumed it was a good thing. They
caught hold of you and kissed you. If you were a man, other men slapped
you on the back, or shook hands or something. They all thought, or
pretended to think, it was a fine thing you were doing. They didn't
really think so always. Behind their eyes you could often see them
thinking other things about it--wondering if you would like it, or why
you chose that one, and if it was because you preferred him or her to any
one else or because you couldn't get any one else. Or they would be
pitying you for stopping being a bachelor or spinster and having to grow
up and settle down and support a wife or manage servants and babies. But
all that was behind; they didn't show it; they would say, 'Good for you,
old thing,' and kiss you or shake your hand.
Katherine did neither to Jane. She hadn't when it was Oliver Hobart,
because she hadn't thought it a suitable marriage. She didn't, now it was
Arthur Gideon, perhaps for the same reason. She didn't talk about it. She
talked about something else.
ENGAGED TO BE MARRIED
The fine weather ended. Early October had been warm, full of golden
light, with clear, still evenings. Later the wind blustered, and it was
cold. Sometimes Jane felt sick; that was the baby. But not often. She
went about all right, and she was writing--journalism and a novel. She
thought she would perhaps send it in for a prize novel competition in the
spring, only she felt no certainty of pleasing the three judges, all so
very dissimilar. Jane's work was a novel about a girl at school and
college and thereafter. Perhaps it would be the first of a trilogy;
perhaps it would not. The important thing was that it should be well
reviewed. How did one work that? You could never tell. Some things were
well reviewed, others weren't. Partly luck it was, thought Jane. Novels
were better treated usually than they deserved. Verse about as well as it
deserved, which, however, wasn't, as a rule, saying very much. Some kinds
of book were unkindly used--anthologies of contemporary verse, for
instance. Someone would unselfishly go to the trouble of collecting some
of the recent poetical output which he or she personally preferred and
binding it up in a pleasant portable volume, and you would think all that
readers had to do was to read what they liked in it, if anything, and
leave out the rest and be grateful. Instead, it would be slated by
reviewers, and compared to the Royal Academy, and to a literary signpost
pointing the wrong way, and other opprobrious things; as if an anthology
could point to anything but the taste of the compiler, which of course
could not be expected to agree with any one else's; tastes never do. The
thing was, thought Jane, to hit the public taste with the right thing at
the right moment. Another thing was to do better than Johnny. That should
be possible, because Jane _was_ better than Johnny; had always been. Only
there was this baby, which made her feel ill before it came, and would
need care and attention afterwards. It wasn't fair. If Johnny married and
had a baby it wouldn't get in his way, only in its mamma's. It was a
handicap, like your frock (however short it was) when you were climbing.
You had got round that by taking it off and climbing in knickerbockers,
but you couldn't get round a baby. And Jane wanted the baby too.
'I suppose I want everything,' said Jane.
Johnny wanted everything too. He got a lot. He got love. He was
polygamous by nature, and usually had more than one girl on hand. That
autumn he had two. One was Nancy Sharpe, the violinist. They were always
about together. People who didn't know either of them well, thought they
would get engaged. But neither of them wanted that. The other girl was a
different kind: the lovely, painted, music-hall kind you don't meet. No
one thought Johnny would marry her, of course. They merely passed the
time for one another.
Jane wondered if the equivalent man would pass the time for her. She
didn't think so. She thought she would get bored with never talking about
anything interesting. And it must, she thought, be pretty beastly having
to kiss people who used cheap scent and painted their lips. One would be
afraid the red stuff would come off. In fact, it surely would. Didn't men
mind--clean men, like Johnny? Men are so different, thought Jane. Johnny
was the same at Oxford. He would flirt with girls in tea-shops. Jane had
never wanted to flirt with the waiters in restaurants. Men were perhaps
less critical; or perhaps they wanted different qualities in those with
whom they flirted; or perhaps it was that their amatory instinct, when
pronounced at all, was much stronger than women's, and flowed out on to
any object at hand when they were in the mood. Also, they certainly grew
up earlier. At Oxford and Cambridge girls weren't, for the most part,
grown-up enough to be thinking about that kind of thing at all. It came
on later, with most of them. But men of that age were, quite a lot of
them, mature enough to flirt with the girls in Buol's.
Jane discussed it with Gideon one evening. Gideon said, 'Men usually
have, as a rule, more sex feeling than women, that's all. Naturally. They
need more, to carry them through all the business of making marriage
proposals and keeping up homes, and so on. Women often have very little.
That's why they're often better at friendship than men are. A woman can
be a man's friend all their lives, but a man, in nine cases out of ten,
will either get tired of it or want more. Women have a tremendous gift
for friendship. Their friendships with other women are usually much more
devoted and more faithful than a man's with other men. Most men, though
of course not all, want sex in their lives at some time or other.
Hundreds of women are quite happy without it. They're quite often nearly
sexless. Very few men are that.'
Jane said, 'There are plenty of women like Clare, whom one can't think of
apart from sex. No friendship would ever satisfy her. If she isn't a wife
and mother she'll be starved. She'll marry, of course.'
'Yes,' Gideon agreed. 'There are plenty of women like that. And when a
woman is like that, she's much more dependent on love and marriage than
any man is, because she usually has fewer other things in her life. But
there are women also like Katherine.'
'Oh, Katherine. K isn't even dependent on friendship. She only wants her
work. K isn't typical.'
'No; she isn't typical. She isn't a channel for the life force, like most
of us. She's too independent; she won't let herself be used in that way.'
'Am I a channel for the life force?' thought Jane. 'I suppose so. Hence
Oliver and baby. Is Arthur? I suppose so. Hence his wanting to marry me.'
Jane told her family that she was going to marry Gideon. Lady Pinkerton
said, 'It's extraordinary to me that you can think of it, Jane, after all
that has happened. Surely, my child, the fact that it was the last thing
Oliver would wish should have some weight with you. Whatever plane he may
be on now, he must be disturbed by such news as this. Besides, dear
child, it is far too soon. You should wait at least a year before taking
such a step. And Arthur Gideon! Not only a Jew, Jane, and not only a man
of such very unfortunate political principles, but one who has never
attempted to conceal his spiteful hostility both to father's papers and
my books. But perhaps, as I believe you agree with him in despising both
of these, that may be an extra bond between you. Only you must _see_ that
it will make family life extremely awkward.'
Of course it would. But family lives nearly always are awkward, Jane
thought; it is one of the things about them.
Lady Pinkerton added, having suddenly remembered it, 'Besides, my dear,
he _drinks_; you told me so yourself.'
Jane said, if she had, she had lied, doubtless for some good reason now
forgotten by her. He didn't drink, not in the excessive sense of that
word obviously intended by Lady Pinkerton. Lady Pinkerton was
unconvinced; she still was sure he drank in that sense.
She resumed, 'And Jewish babies! I wonder you can think of it, Jane. They
may be a throw-back to a most degraded Russian-Jewish type. What brothers
and sisters for the dear mite who is coming first! My dear, I do beg you
to think this over long and seriously before committing yourself. You may
live to repent it bitterly.'
Clare said, '_Jane_! How _can_ you--after ...'
After Oliver, she meant. She would never say his name; perhaps one
doesn't like to when one has killed a man.
Jane thought, 'Why didn't I leave Oliver to Clare? She'd have suited him
much better. I was stupid; I thought I wanted him. I did want him. But
not in the way I want Arthur now. One wants so many things.'
Lord Pinkerton said, 'You're making a big mistake, Babs. That fellow
won't last. He's building on sand, as the Bible puts it--building on
sand. I hear on good authority that the _Fact_ can't go on many months
longer, unless it changes its tone and methods considerably; it's got no
chance of fighting its way as it is now. People don't want that kind of
thing. They don't want anything the Gideon lot will give them. Gideon and
his sort haven't got the goods. They're building on the sand of their own
fancy, not on the rock of general human demand. I hear that that daily
they talked of starting can't come off yet, either.... The chap's a bad
investment, Babs.... And he despises me and my goods, you know. That'll
'Not you, daddy. The papers, he does. He rather likes you, though he
doesn't approve of you.... He doesn't like mother, and she doesn't like
him. But people often don't get on with their mothers-in-law.'
'It's an awkward alliance, my dear, a very awkward alliance. What will
people say? Besides, he's a Jew.'
Jewish babies; he was thinking of them too.
Jane thought, bother the babies. Perhaps there wouldn't be any, and if
there were, they'd only be a quarter Jew. Anyhow, it wasn't them she
wanted; it was Arthur.
Arthur opened doors and windows. You got to the edge of your own thought,
and then stepped out beyond into his thought. And his thought drove sharp
and hard into space.
But more than this, Jane loved the way his hair grew, and the black line
his eyebrows made across his forehead, and the way he stood, tall and
lean and slouching, and his keen thin face and his long thin hands, and
the way his mouth twisted up when he smiled, and his voice, and the whole
of him. She wondered if he loved her like that--if he turned hot and cold
when he saw her in the distance. She believed that he did love her like
that. He had loved her, as she had loved him, all that time he had
thought she was lying to every one about Oliver's death.
'It isn't what people do,' said Jane, 'that makes one love them or stop
'Is this,' she thought, 'what Clare felt for Oliver? I didn't know it was
like this, or I wouldn't have taken him from her. Poor old Clare.' Could
one love Oliver like that? Any one, Jane supposed, could be loved like
that, by the right person. And people like Clare loved more intensely
than people like her; they felt more, and had fewer other occupations.
Jane hadn't known that she could feel so much about anything as she was
feeling now about Gideon. It was interesting. She wondered how long it
would last, at this pitch.
THE PRECISIAN AT WAR WITH THE WORLD
Jane's baby was born in January. As far as babies can be like grown human
beings, it was like its grandfather--a little Potter.
Lord Pinkerton was pleased.
'He shall carry on the papers,' he said, dandling it on his arm.
'Tootooloo, grandson!' He dug it softly in the ribs. He understood this
baby. However many little Yids Jane might achieve in the future, there
would be this little Potter to carry on his own dreams.
Clare came to see it. She was glad it wasn't like Oliver; Jane saw her
being glad of that. She was beginning to fall in love with a young
naval officer, but still she couldn't have seen Oliver in Jane's child
Gideon came to see it. He laughed.
'Potter for ever,' he said.
He added. 'It's symbolic. Potters will be for ever, you know. They're so
The light from the foggy winter afternoon fell on his face as he sat by
the window. He looked tired and perplexed. Strength, perpetuity, seemed
things remote from him, belonging only to Potters. Anti-Potterism and the
_Weekly Fact_ were frail things of a day, rooted in a dream. So Gideon
felt, on these days when the fog closed about him....
Jane looked at her son, the strange little animal, and thought not
'Potter for ever,' but 'me for ever,' as was natural, and as parents will
think of their young, who will carry them down the ages in an ever more
distant but never lost immortality, an atom of dust borne on the hurrying
stream. Jane, who believed in no other personal immortality, found it in
this little Potter in her arms. Holding him close, she loved him, in a
curious, new, physical way. So this was motherhood, this queer, sensuous,
cherishing love. It would have been a pity not to have known it; it was,
after all, an emotion, more profound than most.
When Jane was well enough, she gave a party for Charles, as if he had
been a new picture she had painted and wanted to show off. Her friends
came and looked at him, and thought how clever of her to have had him,
all complete and alive and jolly like that, a real baby. He was better
than the books and things they wrote, because he was more alive, and
would also last longer, with luck. Their books wouldn't have a run of
four score years and ten or whatever it was; they'd be lucky if any one
thought of them again in five years.
But partly Jane gave the party to show people that Charles didn't
monopolise her, that she was well and active again, and ready for work
and life. If she wasn't careful, she might come to be regarded as the
mere mother, and dropped out.
Johnny said, grinning amiably at her and Charles, 'Ah, you're
thinking that your masterpiece quite puts mine in the shade, aren't
you, old thing.'
He had a novel just out. It was as good as most young men's first novels.
'I'm not sure,' said Jane, 'that Charles is my masterpiece. Wait till the
other works appear, and I'll tell you.'
Johnny grinned more, supposing that she meant the little Yids.
'My books, I mean,' Jane added quickly.
'Oh, your books.'
'They're going to be better than yours, my dear,' said Jane. 'Wait and
see.... But I dare say they won't be as good as this.' She appraised
Charles with her eyes.
'But, oh, so much less trouble,' she added, swinging him up and down.
'I could have one as good as that,' said Johnny thoughtfully, 'with no
trouble at all.'
'You'd have to work for it and keep it. And its mother. You wouldn't like
that, you know.... Of course you ought to. It's your duty. Every young
man who survives.... Daddy says so. You'd better do it, John. You're
getting on, you know.'
Young men hate getting on. They hate it, really, more than young women
do. Youth is of such immense value, in almost any career, but
particularly to the young writer.
But Johnny only said, with apparent nonchalance, 'Twenty-seven is not
very old.' He added, however, 'Anyhow, you're five minutes older, and
I've published a book, if you have produced that thing.'
Johnny was frankly greedy about his book. He hung on reviews; he asked
for it in bookshops, and expressed astonishment and contempt when they
had not got it. And it was, after all, nothing to make a song about, Jane
thought. It wasn't positively discreditable to its writer, like most
novels, but it was a very normal book, by a very normal cleverish young
man. Johnny wasn't sure that his publishers advertised it as much as was
Gideon came up to Jane and Charles. He had just arrived. He had three
evening papers in his hand. His fellow passengers had left them in the
train, and he had collected them. Jews often get their news that way.
Johnny saw his friend Miss Nancy Sharpe disengaged and looking lovely,
and went to speak to her. He was really in love with her a little, though
he didn't go as far as wanting to work for her and keep her. He was quite
right; that is to go too far, when so much happiness is attainable short
of it. Johnny wisely shunned desperate measures. So, to do her justice,
did Miss Sharpe.
'Johnny's very elated,' said Jane to Gideon, looking after him. 'What do
_you_ think of his book, Arthur?'
Gideon said, 'I don't think of it. I've had no reason to, particularly.
I've not had to review it.... I'm afraid I'm hopeless about novels just
now, that's the fact. I'm sick of the form--slices of life served up cold
in three hundred pages. Oh, it's very nice; it makes nice reading for
people. But what's the use? Except, of course, to kill time for those who
prefer it dead. But as things in themselves, as art, they've been ruined
by excess. My critical sense is blunted just now. I can hardly feel the
difference, though I see it, between a good novel and a bad one. I
couldn't write one, good or bad, to save my life, I know that. And I've
got to the stage when I wish other people wouldn't. I wish every one
would shut up, so that we could hear ourselves think--like in the
Armistice Day pause, when all the noise stopped.'
Jane shook her head.
'You may be sure we shan't do that. Not likely. We all want to hear
ourselves talk. And quite right too. We've got things to say.'
'Nothing of importance. Few things that wouldn't be better unsaid. Life
'A journalist's is,' Jane pointed out, and he nodded.
'Quite true. Horribly true. It's chiefly myself I'm hitting at. But at
least we journalists don't take ourselves solemnly; we know our stuff is
babble to fill a moment. Novelists and poets don't always know that;
they're apt to think it matters. And, of course, so far as any of them
can make and hold beauty, even a fragment of it here and there, it does
matter. The trouble is that they mostly can't do anything of the sort.
They don't mostly even know how to try. All but a few verse-makers are
shallow, muddled, or sentimental, and most novelists are commercial as
well. They haven't the means; they aren't adequately equipped; they've
nothing in them worth the saying. Why say it, then? A little cleverness
isn't worth while.'
'You're morbid, Arthur.'
'Morbid? Diseased? I dare say. We most of us are. What's health, after
all? No one knows.'
'I've done eighty thousand words of my novel, anyhow.'
'I'm sorry. Nearly all novels are too long. All you've got to say would
go into forty thousand.'
'I don't write because I've got things to say. I haven't a message, like
mother. I write because it amuses me. And because I like to be a
novelist. It's done. And I like to be well spoken of--reasonably well,
that is. It's all fun. Why not?'
'Oh, don't ask _me_ why not. I can't preach sermons all the evening.'
He smiled down on her out of his long sad black eyes, glad of her because
she saw straight and never canted, impatient of her because her ideals
were commercial, loving her because she was gray-eyed and white-skinned
and desirable, seeing her much as Nancy Sharpe, who lived for music, saw
Johnny Potter, only with ardour instead of nonchalance; such ardour,
indeed, that his thoughts of her only intermittently achieved exactitude.
Two girls came up to admire Charles. Jane said it was time she took him
to bed, and they went up with her.
Gideon turned away. He hated parties, and seldom went even to Jane's. He
stood drinking coffee and watching people. You met most of them at the
club and elsewhere continually; why meet them all again in a
drawing-room? There was his sister Rosalind and her husband Boris Stefan
with their handsome faces and masses of black hair. Rosalind had a baby
too (at home); a delicate, pretty, fair-haired thing, like Rosalind's
Manchester mother. And Charles was like Jane's Birmingham father. It was
Manchester and Birmingham that persisted, not Palestine or Russia.
And there was Juke, with his white, amused face and heavy-lidded eyes
that seemed always to see a long way, and Katherine Varick talking to a
naval officer about periscopes (Jane kept in with some of the Admiralty),
and Peacock, with whom Gideon had quarrelled two hours ago at the _Fact_
office, and who was now in the middle of a group of writing young men, as
usual. Gideon looked at him cynically. Peacock was letting himself be got
at by a clique. Gideon would rather have seen him talking to the
practical looking sailor about periscopes. Peacock would have to be
watched. He had shown signs lately of colouring the _Fact_ with
prejudices. He was getting in with a push; he was dangerously in the
movement. He was also leaning romancewards, and departing from the realm
of pure truth. He had given credence to some strange travellers' tales of
Foreign Office iniquities. As if that unfortunate and misguided body had
not enough sins to its account without having melodramatic and
uncharacteristic kidnappings and deeds of violence attributed to it. But
Peacock had got in with those unhappy journalists and others who had been
viewing Russia, and, barely escaping with their lives, had come back with
nothing else, and least of all with that accurate habit of mind which
would have qualified them as contributors to the _Weekly Fact_. It was
not their fault (except for going to Russia), but Peacock should have had
nothing to do with them.
Katherine Varick crossed the room to Gideon, with a faint smile.
'Hallo. Enjoying life?'
'I say, what are you doing with the _Fact_?'
Gideon looked at her sourly.
'Oh, you've noticed it too. It's becoming quite pretty reading, isn't it.
Less like a Blue Book.'
'Much less. I should say it was beginning to appeal to a wider circle.
Is that the idea?'
'Don't ask me. Ask Peacock. Whatever the idea is, it's his, not mine....
But it's not a considered idea at all. It's merely a yielding to the
(apparently) irresistible pressure of atmosphere.'
'I see. A truce with the Potter armies.'
'No. There's no such thing as a truce with them. It's the first steps of
He said it sharply and suddenly, in the way of a man who is, at the
moment, making a discovery. He turned and looked across the room at
Peacock, who was talking and talking, in his clever, keen, pleasant way,
not in the least like a Blue Book.
'We're _not_ like Blue Books,' Gideon muttered sadly. 'Hardly any one is.
Unfortunate. Very unfortunate. What's one to do about it?'
'Lord Pinkerton would say, learn human nature as it is and build on it.
Exploit its weaknesses, instead of tilting against them. Accept
sentimentality and prejudice, and use them.'
'I am aware that he would.... What do _you_ say, Katherine?'
'Nothing. What's the use? I'm one of the Blue Books--not a fair judge,
'No. You'd make no terms, ever.'
'I've never been tempted. One may have to make terms, sometimes.'
'I think not,' said Gideon. 'I think one never is obliged to make terms.'
'If the enemy is too strong?'
'Then one goes under. Gets out of it. That's not making terms....
Good-night; I'm going home. I hate parties, you know. So do you. Why do
either of us go to them?'
'They take one's thoughts off,' said Katherine in her own mind. Her blue
eyes contracted as she looked after him.
'He's failing; he's being hurt. He'll go under. He should have been a
scientist or a scholar or a chemist, like me; something in which
knowledge matters and people don't. People will break his heart.'
Gideon walked all the way back from Hampstead to his own rooms. It was a
soft, damp night, full of little winds that blew into the city from
February fields and muddy roads far off. There would be lambs in the
fields.... Gideon suddenly wanted to get out of the town into that damp,
dark country that circled it. There would be fewer people there; fewer
minds crowded together, making a dense atmosphere that was impervious to
the piercing, however sharp, of truth. All this dense mass of stupid,
muddled, huddled minds.... What was to be done with it? Greedy minds,
ignorant minds, sentimental, truthless minds....
He saw, as he passed a newspaper stand, placards in big black
letters--'Bride's Suicide.' 'Divorce of Baronet.' Then, small and
inconspicuous, hardly hoping for attention, 'Italy and the Adriatic.' For
one person who would care about Italy and the Adriatic, there would,
presumably, be a hundred who would care about the bride and the baronet.
Presumably; else why the placards? Gideon honestly tried to bend his
impersonal and political mind to understand it. He knew no such people,
yet one had to believe they existed; people who really cared that a bride
with whom they had no acquaintance (why a bride? Did that make her more
interesting?) had taken her life; and that a baronet (also a perfect
stranger) had had his marriage dissolved in a court of law. What quality
did it indicate, this curious and inexplicable interest in these topics
so tedious to himself and to most of his personal acquaintances? Was it a
love of romance? But what romance was to be found in suicide or divorce?
Romance Gideon knew; knew how it girdled the world, heard the beat of its
steps in far forests, the whisper of its wings on dark seas.... It is
there, not in divorces and suicides. Were people perhaps moved by desire
to hear about the misfortunes of others? No, because they also welcomed
with eagerness the more cheerful domestic episodes reported. Was it,
then, some fundamental, elemental interest in fundamental things, such as
love, hate, birth, death? That was possibly it. The relation of states
one with another are the product of civilisation, and need an at least
rudimentarily political brain to grasp them. The relations of human
beings are natural, and only need the human heart for their
understanding. That part of man's mind which has been, for some obscure
reason, inaccurately called the heart, was enormously and
disproportionately stronger than the rest of the mind, the thinking part.
'Light Caught Bending,' another placard remarked. That was more cheerful,
though it was an idiotic way of putting a theory as to the curvature of
space, but it was refreshing that, apparently, people were expected to be
excited by that too. And, Gideon knew it, they were. Einstein's theory
as to space and light would be discussed, with varying degrees of
intelligence, most of them low, in many a cottage, many a club, many a
train. There would be columns about it in the Sunday papers, with little
Sunday remarks to the effect that the finiteness of space did not limit
the infinity of God. Scientists have naif minds where God is concerned;
they see him, if at all, in terms of space.
Anyhow, there it was. People were interested not only in divorce,
suicide, and murder, but in light and space, undulations and gravitation.
That was rather jolly, for that was true romance. It gave one more hope.
Even though people might like their science in cheap and absurd tabloid
form, they did like it. The Potter press exulted in scientific
discoveries made easy, but it was better than not exulting in them at
all. For these were things as they were, and therefore the things that
mattered. This was the satisfying world of hard, difficult facts, without
slush and without sentiment. This was the world where truth was sought
for its own sake.
'When I see truth, do I seek truth
Only that I may things denote,
And, rich by striving, deck my youth
As with a vain, unusual coat?'
Nearly every one in the ordinary world did that, if indeed they ever
concerned themselves with truth at all. And some scientists too, perhaps,
but not most. Scientists and scholars and explorers--they were the
people. They were the world's students, the learners, the discoverers.
They didn't talk till they knew....
Rain had begun to drizzle. At the corner of Marylebone Road and Baker
Street there was a lit coffee-stall. A group clustered about it; a
policeman drinking oxo, his waterproof cape shining with wet; two
taxi-cab drivers having coffee and buns; a girl in an evening cloak, with
a despatch case, eating biscuits.
Gideon passed by without stopping. A hand touched him on the arm, and a
painted face looked up into his, murmuring something. Gideon, who had a
particular dislike for paint on the human face, and, in general, for
persons who looked and behaved like this person, looked away from her
'I only wanted,' she explained, 'a cup of coffee ...' and he gave her
sixpence, though he didn't believe her.
Horrible, these women were; ugly; dirty; loathsome; so that one wondered
why on earth any one liked them (some people obviously did like them, or
they wouldn't be there), and yet, detestable as they were, they were the
outcome of facts. Possibly in them, and in the world's other ugly facts,
Potterism and all truth-shirking found whatever justification it had.
Sentimentalism spread a rosy veil over the ugliness, draping it decently.
Making it, thought Gideon, how much worse; but making it such as
Potterites could face unwincing.
The rain beat down. At its soft, chill touch Gideon's brain cooled and
cooled, till he seemed to see everything in a cold, hard, crystal
clarity. Life and death--how little they mattered. Life was paltry, and
death its end. Yet when the world, the Potterish world, dealt with death
it became something other than a mere end; it became a sensation, a
problem, an episode in a melodrama. The question, when a man died, was
always how and why. So, when Hobart had died, they were all dragged into
a net of suspicion and melodrama--they all became for a time absurd
actors in an absurd serial in the Potter press. You could not escape from
sensationalism in a sensational world. There was no room for the pedant,
with his greed for unadorned and unemotional precision.
Gideon sighed sharply as he turned into Oxford Street, Oxford Street was
and is horrible. Everything a street should not be, even when it was
down, and now it was up, which was far worse. If Gideon had not been
unnerved by the painted person at the corner of Baker Street he would
never have gone home this way, he would have gone along Marylebone and
Euston Road. As it was, he got into a bus and rode unhappily to Gray's
Inn Road, where he lived.
He sat up till three in the morning working out statistics for an
article. Statistics, figures, were delightful. They were a rest.
Two days later, at the _Fact_ office, Peacock, turning over galley slips,
said, 'This thing of yours on Esthonian food conditions looks like a
government schedule. Couldn't you make it more attractive?'
'To whom?' asked Gideon.
'Well--the ordinary reader.'
'Oh, the ordinary reader. I meant it to be attractive to people who want
'Well, but a little jam with the powder.... For instance, you draw no
inference from your facts. It's dull. Why not round the thing off into a
'I can't round things. I don't like them round, either. I've given the
facts, unearthed with considerable trouble and pains. No one else has.
Isn't it enough?'
'Oh, it'll do.' Peacock's eyes glanced over the other proofs on his desk.
'We've got some good stuff this number.'
'Nice round articles--yes.' Gideon turned the slips over with his lean
brown fingers carelessly. He picked one up.
'Hallo. I didn't know that chap was reviewing _Coal and Wages_.'
'Yes. He asked if he could.'
'Do you think he knows enough?'
'It's quite a good review. Read it.'
Gideon read it carefully, then laid it down and said, 'I don't agree with
you that it's a good review. He's made at least two mistakes. And the
whole thing's biased by his personal political theories.'
'Only enough to give it colour.'
'You don't want colour in a review of a book of that sort. You only want
intelligence and exact knowledge.'
'Oh, Clitherton's all right. His head's screwed on the right way. He
knows his subject.'
'Not well enough. He's a political theorist, not a good economist. That's
hopeless. Why didn't you get Hinkson to do it?'
'Hinkson can't write for nuts.'
'Doesn't matter. Hinkson wouldn't have slipped up over his figures
'My dear old chap, writing does matter. You're going crazy on that
subject. Of course it matters that a thing should be decently put
'It matters much more that it should be well informed. It is, of course,
quite possible to be both.'
'Oh, quite. That's the idea of the _Fact_, after all.'
'Peacock, I hate all these slipshod fellows you get now. I wish you'd
chuck the lot. They're well enough for most journalism, but they don't
know enough for us.'
Peacock said, 'Oh, we'll thrash it out another time, if you don't mind.
I've got to get through some letters now,' and rang for his secretary.
Gideon went to his own room and searched old files for the verification
and correction of Clitherton's mistakes. He found them, and made a note
of them. Unfortunately they weakened Clitherton's argument a little.
Clitherton would have to modify it. Clitherton, a sweeping and wholesale
person, would not like that.
Gideon was feeling annoyed with Clitherton, and annoyed with several
others among that week's contributors, and especially annoyed with
Peacock, who permitted and encouraged them. If they went on like this,
the _Fact_ would soon be popular; it would find its way into the great
soft silly heart of the public and there be damned.
He was a pathetic figure, Arthur Gideon, the intolerant precisian,
fighting savagely against the tide of loose thinking that he saw surging
in upon him, swamping the world and drowning facts. He did not see
himself as a pathetic figure, or as anything else. He did not see himself
at all, but worked away at his desk in the foggy room, checking the
unconsidered or inaccurate or oversimplified statements of others,
writing his own section of the Notes of the Week, with his careful,
patient, fined brilliance, stopping to gnaw his pen or his thumb-nail or
to draw diagrams, triangle within triangle, or circle intersecting
circle, on his blotting paper.
A week later Gideon resigned his assistant editorship of the _Fact_.
Peacock was, on the whole, relieved. Gideon had been getting too
difficult of late. After some casting about among eager, outwardly
indifferent possible successors, Peacock offered the job to Johnny
Potter, who was swimming on the tide of his first novel, which had been
what is called 'well spoken of' by the press, but who, at the same time,
had the popular touch, was quite a competent journalist, was looking out
for a job, and was young enough to do what he was told; that is to say,
he was four or five years younger than Peacock. He had also a fervent
enthusiasm for democratic principles and for Peacock's prose style
(Gideon had been temperate in his admiration of both), and Peacock
thought they would get on very well.
Jane was sulky, jealous, and contemptuous.
'Johnny. Why Johnny? He's not so good as lots of other people who would
have liked the job. He's swanking so already that it makes me tired to be
in the room with him, and now he'll be worse than ever. Oh, Arthur, it is
rot, your chucking it. I've a jolly good mind not to marry you. I thought
I was marrying the assistant editor of an important paper, not just a
lazy old Jew without a job.'
She ruffled up his black, untidy hair with her hand as she sat on the
arm of his chair; but she was really annoyed with him, as she had
explained a week ago when he had told her.
He had walked in one evening and found her in Charles's bedroom, bathing
him. Clare was there too, helping.
'Why do girls like washing babies?' Gideon speculated aloud. 'They nearly
all do, don't they?'
'Well, I should just _hope_ so,' Clare said. She was kneeling by the tin
bath with her sleeves rolled up, holding a warmed towel. Her face was
flushed from the fire, and her hair was loosened where Charles had caught
his toe in it. She looked pretty and maternal, and looked up at Gideon
with the kind of conventional, good-humoured scorn that girls and women
put on when men talk of babies. They do it (one believes) partly because
they feel it is a subject they know about, and partly to pander to men's
desire that they should do it. It is part of the pretty play between the
sexes. Jane never did it; she wasn't feminine enough. And Gideon did not
want her to do it; he thought it silly.
'Why do you hope so?' asked Gideon. 'And why do girls like it?'
The first question was to Clare, the second to Jane, because he knew that
Clare would not be able to answer it.
'The mites!' said Clare. 'Who _wouldn't_ like it?'
Gideon sighed a little, Clare tried him. She had an amorphous mind. But
Jane threw up at him, as she enveloped Charles in the towel, 'I'll try
and think it out some time, Arthur. I haven't time now.... There's a
reason all right.... The powder, Clare.'
Gideon watched the absurd drying and powdering process with gravity and
interest, as if trying to discover its charm.
'Even Katherine enjoys it,' he said, still pondering. It was true.
Katherine, who liked experimenting with chemicals, liked also washing
babies. Possibly Katherine knew why, in both cases.
After Charles was in bed, his mother, his aunt, and his prospective
stepfather had dinner. Clare, who was uncomfortable with Gideon, not
liking him as a brother-in-law or indeed as anything else (besides not
being sure how much Jane had told him about 'that awful night'),
chattered to Jane about things of which she thought Gideon knew
nothing--dances, plays, friends, family and Potters Bar gossip. Gideon
became very silent. He and Clare touched nowhere. Clare flaunted the
family papers in his face and Jane's. Lord Pinkerton was starting a new
one, a weekly, and it promised to sell better than any other weekly on
the market, but far better.
'Dad says the orders have been simply stunning. It's going to be a big
thing. Simple, you know, and yet clever--like all dad's papers. David
says' (David was the naval officer to whom Clare was now betrothed)
'there's _no one_ with such a sense of what people want as dad has. Far
more of it than Northcliffe, David says he has. Because, you know,
Northcliffe sometimes annoys people--look at the line he took about us
helping the Russians to fight each other. And making out in leaders,
David says, that the Government is always wrong just because he doesn't
like it. And drawing attention to the mistakes it makes, which no one
would notice if they weren't rubbed in. David gets quite sick with him
sometimes. He says the Pinkerton press never does that sort of thing,
it's got too much tact, and lets well alone.'
'I'll, you mean, don't you, darling?' Jane interpolated.
Clare, who did, but did not know it, only said, 'David's got a tremendous
admiration for it. He says it will _last_.'
'Oh, bother the paternal press,' Jane said. 'Give it a rest, old thing.
It may be new to David, but it's stale to us. It's Arthur's turn to talk
about his father's bank or something.'
But Arthur didn't talk. He only made bread pills, and the girls got on to
the newest dance.
Clare went away after dinner. She never stayed long when Gideon was
there. David didn't like Gideon, rightly thinking him a Sheeney.
'Sheeneys are at the bottom of Bolshevism, you know,' he told Clare. 'At
the top too, for that matter. Dreadful fellows; quite dreadful. Why the
dickens do you let Jane marry him?'
Clare shrugged her shoulders.
'Jane does what she likes. Dad and mother have begged and prayed her not
to.... Besides, of course, even if he was all right, it's too _soon_....'
'Too soon? Ah, yes, of course. Poor Hobart, you mean. Quite. Much too
soon.... A dreadful business, that. I don't blame her for trying to put
it behind her, out of sight. But with a _Sheeney_. Well, _chacun a son
gout.'_ For David was tolerant, a live and let live man.
When Clare was gone, Jane said, 'Wake up, old man. You can talk now....
You and Clare are stupid about each other, by the way. You'll have to get
over it some time. You're ill-mannered and she's a silly fool; but
ill-mannered people and silly fools can rub along together, all right, if
'I don't mind Clare,' said Gideon, rousing himself. 'I wasn't thinking
about her, to say the truth. I was thinking about something else.... I'm
chucking the _Fact_, Jane.'
'How d'you mean, chucking the _Fact_' Jane lit a cigarette.
'What I say. I've resigned my job on it. I'm sick of it.'
'Oh, sick.... Every one's sick of work, naturally. It's what work is
for.... Well, what are you doing next? Have you been offered a
'I've not been offered a job of any sort. And I shouldn't take it if I
were--not at present. I'm sick of journalism.'
Jane took it calmly, lying back among the sofa cushions and smoking.
'I was afraid you were working up to this.... Of course, if you chuck the
_Fact_ you take away its last chance. It'll do a nose-dive now.'
'It's doing it anyhow. I can't stop it. But I'm jolly well not going to
nose-dive with it. I'm clearing out.'
'You're giving up the fight, then. Caving in. Putting your hands up to
She was taunting him, in her cool, unmoved, leisurely tones.
'I'm clearing out,' he repeated, emphasising the phrase, and his black
eyes seemed to look into distances. 'Running away, if you like. This
thing's too strong for me to fight. I can't do it. Clare's quite right.
It's tremendous. It will last. And the Pinkerton press only represents
one tiny part of it. If the Pinkerton press were all, it would be
fightable. But look at the _Fact_--a sworn enemy of everything the
Pinkerton press stands for, politically, but fighting it with its own
weapons--muddled thinking, sentimentality, prejudice, loose cant phrases.
I tell you there'll hardly be a halfpenny to choose between the Pinkerton
press and the _Fact_, by the time Peacock's done with it.... It's not
Peacock's fault--except that he's weak. It's not the Syndicate's
fault--except that they don't want to go on losing money for ever. It's
the pressure of public demand and atmosphere. Atmosphere even more than
demand. Human minds are delicate machines. How can they go on working
truly and precisely and scientifically, with all this poisonous gas
floating round them? Oh, well, I suppose there are a few minds still
which do; even some journalists and politicians keep their heads; but
what's the use against the pressure? To go in for journalism or for
public life is to put oneself deliberately into the thick of the mess
without being able to clean it up.'
'After all,' said Jane, more moderately, 'it's all a joke. Everything is.
The world is.'
'A rotten bad joke.'
'You think things matter. You take anti-Potterism seriously, as some
people take Potterism.'
'Things are serious. Things do matter,' said the Russian Jew.
Jane looked at him kindly. She was a year younger than he was, but felt
five years older to-night.
'Well, what's the remedy then?'
He said, wearily, 'Oh, education, I suppose. Education. There's nothing
else. _Learning_.' He said the word with affection, lingering on it,
striking his hand on the sofa-back to emphasise it.
'Learning, learning, learning. There's nothing else.... We should drop
all this talking and writing. All this confused, uneducated mass of
self-expression. Self-expression, with no self worth expressing. That's
just what we shouldn't do with our selves--express them. We should train
them, educate them, teach them to think, see that they _know_
something--know it exactly, with no blurred edges, no fogs. Be sure of
our facts, and keep theories out of the system like poison. And when we
say anything we should say it concisely and baldly, without eloquence and
frills. Lord, how I loathe eloquence!'
'But you can't get away from it, darling. All right, don't mind me, I
like it.... Well now, what are you going to _do_ about it? Teach in a
'No,' he said, seriously. 'No. Though one might do worse. But I've got to
get right away for a time--right out of it all. I've got to find things
out before I do anything else.'
'Well, there are plenty of, things to find out here. No need to go away
He shook his head.
'Western Europe's so hopeless just now. So given over to muddle and lies.
Besides, I can't trust myself, I shall talk if I stay. I'm not a strong
silent man. I should find myself writing articles, or standing for
Parliament, or something.'
'And very nice too. I've always said you ought to stand for Labour.'
'And I've sometimes agreed with you. But now I know I oughtn't. That's
not the way. I'm not going to join in that mess. I'm not good enough to
make it worth while. I should either get swamped by it, or I should get
so angry that I should murder some one. No, I'm going right out of it all
for a bit. I want to find out a little, if I can, about how things are in
other countries. Central Europe. Russia. I shall go to Russia.'
'Russia! You'll come back and write about it. People do.'
'I shall not. No, I think I can avoid that--it's too obvious a temptation
to tumble into with one's eyes shut.'
'"He travelled in Russia and never wrote of it." It would be a good
epitaph.... But Arthur darling, is it wise, is it necessary, is it safe?
Won't the Reds get you, or the Whites? Which would be worse, I wonder?'
'What should they want with me?'
'They'll think you're going to write about them, of course. That's why
the Reds kidnapped Keeling, and the Whites W.T. Goode. They were quite
right, too--except that they didn't go far enough and make a job of them.
Suppose they've learnt wisdom by now, and make a job of you?'
'Well then, I shall be made a job of. Also a placard for our sensational
press, which would be worse. One must take a few risks.... It will be
interesting, you know, to be there. I shall visit my father's old home
near Odessa. Possibly some of his people may be left round there. I shall
find things out--what the conditions are, why things are happening as
they are, how the people live. I think I shall be better able after that
to find out what the state of things is here. One's too provincial, too
much taken up with one's own corner. Political science is too universal a
thing to learn in that way.'
'And when you've found out? What next?'
'There's no next. It will take me all my life even to begin to find out.
I don't know where I shall be--in London, no doubt, mostly.'
'Do you mean, Arthur, that you're going to chuck work for good? Writing,
I mean, or public work?'
'I hope so. I mean to. Oh, if ever, later on, I feel I have anything I
want to say, I'll say it. But that won't be for years. First I'm going to
learn.... You see, Jane, we can live all right. Thank goodness, I don't
depend on what I earn.... You and I together--we'll learn a lot.'
'Oh, I'm going in for confused self-expression. I'm not taking any vows
of silence. I'm going to write.'
'As you like. Every one's got to decide for themselves. It amuses you,
'Of course, it does. Why not? I love it. Not only writing, but being in
the swim, making a kind of a name, doing what other people do. I'm not
mother, who does but write because she must, and pipes but as the
'No, thank goodness. You're as intellectually honest as any one I know,
and as greedy for the wrong things.'
'I want a good time. Why not?'
'Why not? Only that, as long as we're all out for a good time, those of
us who can afford to will get it, and nothing more, and those of us who
can't will get nothing at all. You see, I think it's taking hold of
things by the wrong end. As long as we go on not thinking, not finding
out, but greedily wanting good things--well, we shall be as we are,
'You mean I'm Potterish,' observed Jane, without rancour.
'Oh Lord, we all are,' said Gideon in disgust. 'Every profiteer, every
sentimentalist, ever muddler. Every artist directly he thinks of his art
as something marketable, something to bring him fame; every scientist or
scholar (if there are any) who fakes a fact in the interest of his
theory; every fool who talks through his hat without knowing; every
sentimentalist who plays up to the sentimentalism in himself and other
people; every second-hand ignoramus who takes over a view or a prejudice
wholesale, without investigating the facts it's based on for himself. You
find it everywhere, the taint; you can't get away from it. Except by
keeping quiet and learning, and wanting truth more than anything else.'
'It sounds a dull life, Arthur. Rather like K's, in her old laboratory.'
'Yes, rather like K's. Not dull; no. Finding things out can't be dull.'
'Well, old thing, go and find things out. But come back in time for the
wedding, and then we'll see what next.'
Jane was not seriously alarmed. She believed that this of Arthur's, was a
short attack; when they were married she would see that he got cured of
it. She wasn't going to let him drop out of things and disappear, her
brilliant Arthur, who had his world in his hand to play with. Journalism,
politics, public life of some sort--it was these that he was so eminently
fitted for and must go in for.
'You mustn't waste yourself, Arthur,' she said. 'It's all right to lie
low for a bit, but when you come back you must do something worth
while.... I'm sorry about the _Fact_; I think you might have stayed on
and saved it. But it's your show. Go and explore Central Europe, then,
and learn all about it. Then come back and write a book on political
science which will be repulsive to all but learned minds. But remember
we're getting married in June; don't be late, will you. And write to me
from Russia. Letters that will do for me to send to the newspapers,
telling me not to spend my money on hats and theatres but on
distributing anti-Bolshevist and anti-Czarist tracts. I'll have the
letters published in leaflets at threepence a hundred, and drop them
about in public places.'
'I'll write to you, no fear,' said Gideon. 'And I'll be in time for the
wedding.... Jane, we'll have a great time, you and I, learning things
together. We'll have adventures. We'll go exploring, shall we?'
'Rather. We'll lend Charles to mother and dad often, and go off.... I'd
come with you now for two pins. Only I can't.'
'No. Charles needs you at present.' 'There's my book, too. And all sorts
of things.' 'Oh, your book--that's nothing. Books aren't worth losing
anything for. Don't you ever get tied up with books and work, Jane. It's
not worth it. One's got to sit loose. Only one can't, to kids; they're
too important. We'll have our good times before we get our kids--and
after they've grown old enough to be left to themselves a bit.'
Jane smiled enigmatically, only obscurely realising that she meant, 'Our
ideas of a good time aren't the same, and never will be.'
Gideon too only obscurely knew it. Anyhow, for both, the contemplation of
that difference could be deferred. Each could hope to break the other in
when the time came. Gideon, as befitted his sex, realised the eternity of
the difference less sharply than Jane did. It was just, he thought, a
question of showing Jane, making her understand.... Jane did not think
that it was just a question of making Gideon understand. But he loved
her, and she was persuaded that he would yield to her in the end, and not
spoil her jolly, delightful life, which was to advance, hand in hand with
his, to notoriety or glory or both.
For a moment both heard, remotely, the faint clash of swords. Then they
shut a door upon the sound, and the man, shaken with sudden passion, drew
the woman into his arms.
'I've been talking, talking all the evening,' said Gideon presently. 'I
can't get away from it, can I. Preaching, theorising, holding forth. It's
more than time I went away somewhere where no one will listen to me.'
'There's plenty of talking in Russia. You'll come back worse than ever,
my dear.... I don't care. As long as you do come back. You must come back
to me, Arthur.'
She clung to him, in one of her rare moments of demonstrated passion. She
was usually cool, and left demonstration to him.
'I shall come back all right,' he told her. 'No fear. I want to get
married, you see. I want it, really, much more than I want to get
information or anything else. Wanting a person--that's what we all want
most, when we want it at all. Queer, isn't it? And hopelessly personal
and selfish. But there it is. Ideals simply don't count in comparison.
They'd go under every time, if there was a choice.'
Jane, with his arms round her and his face bent down to hers, knew it.
She was not afraid, either for his career or her own. They would have
their good time all right.
A PLACARD FOR THE PRESS
March wore through, and April came, and warm winds healed winter's scars,
and the 1920 budget shocked every one, and the industrial revolution
predicted as usual didn't come off, and Mr. Wells's _History of the
World_ completed its tenth part, and blossom by blossom the spring began.
It was the second Easter after the war, and people were getting more used
to peace. They murdered one another rather less frequently, were rather
less emotional and divorced, and understood with more precision which
profiteers it was worth while to prosecute and which not, and why the
second class was so much larger than the first; and, in general, had
learnt to manage rather better this unmanageable peace.
The outlook, domestic and international, was still what those who think
in terms of colour call black. The Irish question, the Russian question,
the Italian-Adriatic question, and all the Asiatic questions, remained
what those who think in terms of angles call acute. Economic ruin,
political bankruptcy, European chaos, international hostilities had
become accepted as the normal state of being by the inhabitants of this
restless and unfortunate planet.
Such was the state of things in the world at large. In literary London,
publishers produced their spring lists. They contained the usual hardy
annuals and bi-annuals among novelists, several new ventures, including
John Potter's _Giles in Bloomsbury_ (second impression); Jane Hobart's
_Children of Peace_ (A Satire by a New Writer); and Leila Yorke's _The
Price of Honour_. ('In her new novel, Leila Yorke reveals to the full the
Glittering psychology combined with profound depths which have made this
well-known writer famous. The tale will be read, from first page to
last, with breathless interest. The end is unexpected and out of the
common, and leaves one wondering.' So said the publisher; the reviewers,
more briefly, 'Another Leila Yorke.')
There were also many memoirs of great persons by themselves, many
histories of the recent war, several thousand books of verse, a monograph
by K.D. Varick on Catalysers and Catalysis and the Generation of
Hydrogen, and _New Wine_ by the Reverend Laurence Juke.
The journalistic world also flourished. The _Weekly Fact_ had become, as
people said, quite an interesting and readable paper, brighter than the
_Nation_, more emotional than the _New Statesman_, gentler than the _New
Witness_, spicier than the _Spectator_, more chatty than the _Athenaeum_,
so that one bought it on bookstalls and read it in trains.
There was also the new Pinkerton fourpenny, the _Wednesday Chat_,
brighter, more emotional, gentler, spicier, and chattier than them
all, and vulgar as well, nearly as vulgar as _John Bull_, and quite
as sentimental, but less vicious, so that it sold in its millions
from the outset, and soon had a poem up on the walls of the tube
'No other weeklies sell
Anything like so well.'
which was as near the truth as these statements usually are. Lord
Pinkerton had, in fact, with his usual acumen, sensed the existence of a
great Fourpenny Weekly Public, and given it, as was his wont, more than
it desired or deserved. The sixpenny weekly public already had its needs
met; so had the penny, the twopenny, the threepenny, and the shilling
public. Now the fourpenny public, a shy and modest section of the
community, largely clerical (in the lay sense of the word) looked up and
was fed. Those brains which could only with effort rise to the solid
political and economic information and cultured literary judgments meted
out by the sixpennies, but which yet shrank from the crudities of our
cheapest journals, here found something they could read, mark, learn, and
The Potterite press (not only Lord Pinkerton's) advanced, like an army
terrible with banners, on all sections of the line.
Juke's book on modern thought in the Church was a success. It was
brilliantly written, and reviewed in lay as well as in church papers.
Juke, to his own detriment, became popular. Canon Streeter and others
asked him to collaborate in joint books on the Church. Modernist
liberal-catholic vicars asked him to preach. When he preached, people
came in hundreds to hear him, because he was an attractive, stimulating,
and entertaining preacher. (I have never had this experience, but I
assume that it is morally unwholesome.) He had to take missions, and
retreats, and quiet days, and give lectures on the Church to cultivated
audiences. Then he was offered the living of St. Anne's, Piccadilly,
which is one of those incumbencies with what is known as scope, which
meant that there were no poor in the parish, and the incumbent's gifts as
preacher, lecturer, writer, and social success could be used to the best
advantage. He was given three weeks to decide.
Gideon wrote long letters to Jane from the Russian towns and villages in
which he sojourned. But none of them were suitable for propaganda
purposes; they were critical but dispassionate. He had found some cousins
of his father's, fur merchants living in a small town on the edge of a
forest. 'Clever, cringing, nerve-ridden people,' he said. The older
generation remembered his grandparents, and his father as a bright-eyed
infant. They remembered that pogrom fifty years ago, and described it.
'They'll describe anything,' wrote Gideon. 'The more horrible it is, the
more they'll talk. That's Russian, not Jewish specially. Or is it just
human?'... Gideon didn't repeat to Jane the details he heard of his
grandparents' murder by Russian police--details which his father, in
whose memory they burned like a disease, had never told him.
'Things as bad as that massacre are happening all the time in this
pleasant country,' he wrote. 'It doesn't matter what the political
convictions, if any, of a Russian are--he's a barbarian whether he's on
a soviet or in the anti-Bolshevik armies. Not always, of course; there
are a few who have escaped the prevalent lust of cruelty--but only a
few. Love of pain (as experienced by others) for its own sake--as one
loves good food, or beautiful women--it's a queer disease. It goes
along, often, with other strong sensual desires. The Russians, for
instance, are the worst gluttons and profligates of Europe. With it
all, they have, often, an extraordinary generous good-heartedness; with
one hand they will give away what they can't spare to some one in need,
while with the other they torture an animal or a human being to death.
The women seldomer do either; like women everywhere, they are less
given both to sensual desire and to generous open-handedness.... That's
a curious thing, how seldom you find physical cruelty in a woman of any
nationality. Even the most spiteful and morally unkindest little girl
will shudder away while her brother tears the wings off a fly or the
legs off a frog, or impales a worm on a hook. Weak nerves, partly, and
partly the sort of high-strung fastidiousness women have. When you come
across cruelty in a woman--physical cruelty, of course--you think of
her as a monster; just as when you come on a stingy man, you think of
him (but probably inaccurately) as a Jew. Russians are very male,
except in their inchoate, confused thinking. Their special brand of
humour and of sentimentality are male; their exuberant strength and
aliveness, their sensuality, and their savage cruelty.... If ever women
come to count in Russia as a force, not merely as mates for the men,
queer things will happen.... Here in this town things are, for the
moment, tidy and ordered, as if seven Germans with seven mops had swept
it for half a year. The local soviet is a gang of ruffians, but they do
keep things more or less ship-shape. And they make people work. And
they torture dogs....'
Later he wrote, 'You were right as to one thing; every one I meet,
including my relations, is persuaded that I am either a newspaper
correspondent or writing a book, or, more probably, both. These taints
cling so. I feel like a reformed drunkard, who has taken the pledge but
still carries about with him a red nose and shaky hands, so that he gets
no credit for his new sobriety. What's the good of my telling people here
that I don't write, when I suppose I've the mark of the beast stamped all
over me? And they play up; they talk for me to record it....
'I find all kinds of odd things here. Among others, an English doctor, in
the local lunatic asylum. Mad as a hatter, poor devil--now--whatever he
was when they shut him up. I dare say he'd been through enough even then
to turn his brain. I can't find out who his friends in England are....'
Gideon stopped writing, and took Jane's last letter out of his pocket. It
occurred to him that he was in no sense answering it. Not that Jane
would mind; that wasn't the sort of thing she did mind. But it struck him
suddenly how difficult it had grown to him to answer Jane's letters--or,
indeed, any one else's. He could not flatter himself that he was already
contracting the inarticulate habit, because he could pour forth fluently
enough about his own experiences; but to Jane's news of London he had
nothing to say. A new paper had been started; another paper had died;
some one they knew had deserted from one literary coterie to another;
some one else had turned from a dowdy into a nut; Jane had been seeing a
lot of bad plays; her novel--'my confused mass of self-expression,' she
called it to him--was coming out next week. All the familiar personal,
literary, political, and social gossip, which he too had dealt in once;
Jane was in the thick of it still, and he was turning stupid, like a man
living in the country; he could not answer her. Or, perhaps, would not;
because the thing that absorbed him at present was how people lived and
thought, and what could be made of them--not the conscious, intellectual,
writing, discussing, semi-civilised people (semi-civilised--what an
absurd word! What is complete civilisation, that we should bisect it and
say we have half, or any other exact fraction? Partly civilised, Gideon
amended it to), but the great unconscious masses, hardly civilised at
all, who shape things, for good or evil, in the long run.
Gideon folded up Jane's letter and put it away, and to his own added
nothing but his love.
Jane got that letter in Easter week. It was a fine warm day, and she,
walking across Green Park, met Juke, who had been lunching with a bishop
to meet an elderly princess who had read his book.
'She said, "I'm afraid you're sadly satirical, Mr. Juke,'" he told Jane.
'She did really. And I'm to preach at Sandringham one Sunday. Yes, to the
Family. Tell Gideon that, will you. He'll be so disgusted. But what a
chance! Life at St. Anne's is going to be full of chances of slanging the
rich, that's one thing about it.'
'Oh, you're going to take it, then?'
'Probably. I've not written to accept yet, so don't pass it on.'
'I'm glad. It's much more amusing to accept things, even livings. It'll
be lovely: you'll be all among the clubs and theatres and the idle rich;
much gayer than Covent Garden.'
'Oh, gayer,' said Juke.
They came out into Birdcage Walk, and there was a man selling the
_Evening Hustle_, Lord Pinkerton's evening paper.
'Bloody massacres,' he was observing with a kind of absent-minded
happiness. 'Bloody massacres in Russia, Ireland, Armenia, and the
Punjab.... British journalist assassinated near Odessa.'
And there it was, too, in big black letters on the _Evening Hustle_
'DIVORCE OF A PEERESS.
'MURDER OF BRITISH JOURNALIST IN RUSSIA-LATE WIRE FROM GATWICK.'
They bought the paper, to see who the British journalist was. His murder
was in a little paragraph on the front page.
'Mr. Arthur Gideon, a well-known British journalist' ... first beaten
nearly to death by White soldiery, because he was, entirely in vain,
defending some poor Jewish family from their wrath ... then found by
Bolshevists and disposed of ... somehow ... because he was an
A placard for the press. A placard for the Potter press. Had he thought
of that at the last, and died in the bitterness of that paradox? Murdered
by both sides, being of neither, but merely a seeker after fact. Killed
in the quest for truth and the war against verbiage and cant, and, in the
end, a placard for the press which hated the one and lived by the other.
_Had_ he thought of that as he broke under the last strain of pain? Or,
merely, 'These damned brutes. White or Red, there's nothing to choose ...
nothing to choose ...'
Anyhow, it was over, that quest of his, and nothing remained but the
placard which coupled his defeat with the peeress's divorce.
Arthur Gideon had gone under, but the Potter press, the flaunting banner
of the great sentimental public, remained. It would always remain, so
long as the great sentimental public were what they were.
Little remains to add. Little of Gideon, for they never learnt much more
of his death than was telegraphed in that first message. His father,
going out to the scene of his death, may have heard more; if he did, he
never revealed it to any one. Not only Arthur had perished, but the
Jewish family he was trying to defend; he had failed as well as died.
Failed utterly, every way; gone under and finished, he and his pedantry
and his exactitude, his preaching, his hard clarity, and his bewildered
bitterness against a world vulgar and soft-headed beyond his
Juke refused St. Anne's, with its chances, its congregations, and its
scope. Neither did he preach at Sandringham. Gideon's fate pilloried
on that placard had stabbed through him and cut him, sick and angry,
from his moorings. He spoke no more and wrote no more to admiring
audiences who hung on his words and took his quick points as he made
them. To be one with other men, he learnt a manual trade, and made
shoes in Bermondsey, and preached in the streets to men who did not,
as a rule, listen.
Jane would, no doubt, fulfil herself in the course of time, make an
adequate figure in the world she loved, and suck therefrom no small
advantage. She had loved Arthur Gideon; but what Lady Pinkerton and
Clare would call her 'heart' was not of the kind which would, as these
two would doubtless put it in their strange phraseology, 'break.'
Somehow, after all, Jane would have her good time; if not in one way,
then in another.
Lord and Lady Pinkerton flourish exceedingly, and will be long in the
land. Leila Yorke sells better than ever. Of the Pinkerton press I need
not speak, since it is so well qualified to speak for itself. Enough to
say that no fears are at present entertained for its demise. And little
Charles Hobart grows in stature, under his grandfather's watching and
approving eye. When the time comes, he will carry on worthily.