Part 3 out of 6
grin. She had imposed her helplessness on him this once. But if she failed
him she would not have, professionally, a second chance.
"I insist on your having talent," said Andrew.
The walk home to her dingy lodgings repeated itself. She felt very humble
yet triumphant. More than ever did she regard him as a god who had raised
her, by a touch, from despair and starvation to hope and plenty, and in her
revulsion of gratitude she could have taken both his hands and passionately
kissed them. And yet she was proudly conscious of something within her,
unconquerably feminine, which had touched his godship and wrought the
They halted in the narrow, squalid street, before the dark entry of the
house where she lodged. Andrew eyed the poverty-stricken hole in disgust.
Obviously she had touched the depths.
"To-morrow you must move," said he. "I shall arrange a room for you at the
hotel. We shall have much business to discuss. Can you be there at ten
"Whatever you say shall be done," she replied humbly.
He put out his hand.
"Good-night, Elodie. Have courage and all will be well."
She murmured some thanks with a sob in her voice and, turning swiftly,
disappeared up the evil-smelling stone stairs. The idea of kissing her did
not occur to him until he found himself alone and remembered the pretty
idyll of their leave-taking long ago. He laughed, none too gaily. Between
boy and girl and man and woman there was a vast difference.
That was the beginning of the combination known a little while afterwards
as _Les Petit Patou_. Elodie, receptive, imitative, histrionic, showed
herself from the start an apt pupil. To natural talent she added the
desire, born of infinite gratitude, to please her benefactor. She possessed
the rare faculty of perfect surrender. Andrew marvelled. Had he hypnotized
her she could not have more completely executed his will. And yet she was
no automaton. She was artist enough to divine when her personality should
be effaced and when it should count. She spoke her patter with intelligent
point. She learned, thanks to Andrew's professional patience, and her own
vehement will, a few elementary juggling tricks. Andrew repeated the famous
Prepimpin cigar-act. Open-mouthed, Elodie followed his manipulations. When
he threw away the cigar it seemed to enter her mouth quite naturally,
against her will. She removed it with an expression of disgust and hurled
it at Andrew, who caught it between his lips, smoked it for a second or two
and grinned his thanks. With a polite gesture he threw it, as the audience
thought, back to her; but by a sleight-of-hand trick the cigar vanished and
she caught, to her delighted astonishment, a pearl necklace, which, as she
clasped it round her neck, vanished likewise. After which he overwhelmed
her with disappearing jewels. At once it became a popular item in their
In the course of a few months he swore she was worth a hundred Prepimpins.
He could teach her anything. By the end of the year he evolved the
grotesque performance that made Les Petit Patou famous in provincial
France, brought them for a season to Paris at the Cirque Medrano, to London
(for a week) at the Hippodrome, to the principal cities of Italy, and
doubled and trebled the salary which he enjoyed as Petit Patou all alone
with the dog.
Meanwhile it is important to note a very swift physical change in Elodie.
When a young woman, born to plumpness, is reduced by misery to skin and
bone, a short term of succulent nourishment and absence of worry, will
suffice to restore her to a natural condition. She had no beauty, save that
of her dark and luminous eyes and splendid teeth. Her features were coarse
and irregular. Her uncared for skin gave signs of future puffiness. But
still--after two or three happy months, she more or less regained the
common attractiveness and the audacious self-confidence of the Marseilles
_gamine_ who had asked him to kiss her long ago.
Thus, imperceptibly, she became less an assistant than a partner, less a
paid servant on the stage than a helpmeet in his daily life. Looking at
the traditions of their environment and at the enforced intimacy of their
vagabondage, one sees the inevitability of this linking of their fortunes.
That there was any furious love about the affair I have very grave doubts.
Andrew in his secret soul still hankered after the Far-away Princess, and
Elodie had spent most of her passionate illusions on the unspeakable
Raoul. But they had a very fair basis of mutual affection to build upon.
Philosophers will tell you that such is the basis of most happy marriages.
You can believe them or not, as you please. I am in no position to
dogmatise.... At any rate Les Petit Patou started off happily. If Elodie
was not the perfect housewife, you must remember her upbringing and her
devil-may-care kind of theatrical existence. Andrew knew that hers were
not the habits of the Far-away One, who like himself would be a tidy soul,
bringing into commonplace tidiness an exquisitely harmonious sense of
order; but the Far-away One was a mythical being endowed with qualities
which it would be absurd to look for in Elodie. Besides, their year
being mainly spent in hotels, she had little opportunity of cultivating
housewifely qualities. If she neglected the nice conduct of his underlinen
after the first few months of their partnership, he could not find it in
his heart to blame her. Professional work was tiring. Her own clothes
needed her attention. But still, the transient comfort had been very
agreeable.... In Paris, too, at first she had played at house-keeping in
the apartment of the Faubourg Saint-Denis. But Elodie did not understand
the _bonne_, and the _bonne_ refused to understand Elodie in the
matter of catering, and they emphasized their mutual misunderstanding with
the unrestrained speech of children of the people. Once or twice Andrew
went hungry. In his sober and dignified way he drew Elodie's attention to
his unusual condition. It led to their first quarrel. After that they ate,
very comfortably, at a little restaurant round the corner.
It was not the home life of which Andrew had dreamed--not even the
reincarnation of Madame Flint sitting by the round table darning socks by
the light of the shaded lamp. Elodie loathed domestic ideals.
"_Mon vieux_," she would declare, "I had enough sewing in my young
days. My idea of happiness would be a world without needles and thread."
He noted in her, too, a curious want of house-pride. Dust gave her no great
concern. She rather loved a litter of periodicals, chiffons, broken packets
of cigarettes, tobacco and half-eaten fruit on the tables. A picture askew
never attracted her attention. To remain in the house, dressed in her
out-of-door clothes, seemed to her vain extravagance and discomfort. A
wrapper and slippers, the more soiled and shapeless the better, were the
only indoor wear. Andrew deplored her lack of literary interest. She would
read the feuilletons of the _Petit Journal_ and the _Matin_ in a
desultory fashion; but she could not concentrate her mind on the continuous
perusal of a novel. She spent hours over a pack of greasy cards, telling
her fortune by intricate methods. The same with music; though in this case
she had a love for it in the open air when a band was playing, and was
possessed of a natural ear, and could read easy pieces and accompaniments
at sight with some facility. But she would never try to learn anything
difficult; would never do more than strum a popular air or two until swift
boredom paralysed her nerves.
Yet, for all her domestic slatternness, the moment she emerged from private
into professional life, her phlegmatic indolence was transformed into quick
energy. No rehearsal wearied her. Into every performance she concentrated
the whole of her being. If it were a question of mastering a grotesque
accompaniment to a new air on Andrew's one-string fiddle, she would slave
for hours until it was perfect. She kept her stage costume in scrupulous
repair. Her make-up box was a model of tidiness. She would be late for
lunch, late for dinner, late for any social engagement, but never once was
she late for a professional appointment. On the stage her loyalty to Andrew
never wavered. No man could have a more ideal co-worker. She never lost her
head, demanded a more prominent position, or grudged him the lion's share
of the applause. In her praiseworthy lack of theatrical vanity, writes
Lackaday, by way of encomium, she was unique among women. A pearl of great
Also, when they walked abroad, she dressed with neatness. Her hair, a
stringy bush at home, appeared a miracle of coiffure. Lips and eyes
received punctilious attention. The perfection of her high-heeled shoes was
a matter of grave concern. Whatever may have been underneath, the outside
of her toilette received anxious care. She thought much of externals.
Andrew came within her purview. She did her best to remodel his outer man
more in accordance with his prosperity; but what woman can have sartorial
success with the man who is the tailor's despair?
Lackaday is pathetically insistent on her manifold virtues. She retains
all through the years her street-child's swift intelligence. She has
_flair_. She predicts instinctively the tastes of varying audiences.
She has a vivid imagination curiously controlled by the most prosaic common
sense. He rarely errs in taking her advice.... To her further credit
balance, she is more saving than extravagant. Bits of jewellery please her,
but she does not crave inordinate adornment. When he buys a touring-car for
the greater comfort of their vagrant life, she is appalled by the cost and
upbraids him with more than a touch of shrewishness. Her tastes do not rise
with her position. She would sooner have a _chou-croute garnie_ than
a fore-quarter of Paris lamb or a duck _a la presse_. She could never
understand why Andrew should pay four or five francs for a bottle of wine,
when they could buy a good black or grey for three sous a litre. On tour
gaieties were things unthought of. But during periods of rest, in Paris,
she cared little for excitement. With an income relieving her from the
necessity of work, she would have been content to lounge slipshod about the
house till the day of her death.
Once Andrew, having to entertain, for politic reasons, the director of
a Paris music-hall, took her to the Cafe de Paris. The guest, in a
millionaire way, had suggested that resort of half-hungry wealth. Modest
Andrew had never entered such a place in his life; nor, naturally, had
Elodie. Knowing, however, that one went there in full dress, he disinterred
a dress-suit which he had bought three years before in order to attend
the funeral of a distinguished brother artist, and sent Elodie with a
thousand-franc note to array herself in an adequate manner, at the Galeries
La Fayette. Elodie's economical soul shrank in horror from the expenditure,
at one fell swoop, of a thousand francs. She bought God knows what for less
than half the money.
Proud of her finery, secretly exulting also that she had a matter of twenty
pounds or so put away in her private stocking, she flaunted down the
crowded restaurant, followed by the little fat director, only remarkable
for a diamond flash-light in his shirt-front, and by Andrew, inordinately
long and gawky, in his ill-fitting, short-sleeved evening suit, his ready
made white tie already wandering in grievance towards a sympathetic ear.
Women in dreams of diaphanous and exiguous raiment stared derisively at
the trio as they passed their tables. Elodie stared back at them. Now,
Lackaday, honest soul, had, not the remotest notion of what was wrong with
her attire. In his eyes she was dressed like a queen. She wore, says he, a
beautiful emerald green dress, and a devil of a hat with a lot of dark blue
feathers in it. But, as she was surrendering her cloak to the white-capped
lady of the vestiare, there came from a merry adjoining table the clear-cut
remark of a young woman, all bare arms, back and bosom, but otherwise
"They oughtn't to allow it, in a place like this--_des grues des
Unsuccessful ladies of easy virtue from Whitechapel, perhaps, is the
nearest rendering of the phrase.
Elodie had quick ears. She also had the quick temper and tongue of
Marseilles. She hung behind the two men, who proceeded to their table
unconscious of drama.
"In these places," she spat, "they pay naked women like you to come to
attract men. You fear the competition of the modest, _ma fille_."
The indiscreet young woman had no retort. She flushed crimson over neck and
shoulders, while Elodie, triumphant, swept away. But the ensuing dinner
was not an exhilarating meal. She burned with the insult, dilated upon it,
repeated over and over again her repartee, offered her costume to the frank
criticism of Andrew and their guest. Did she look like a _grue?_
Did her toilette in any way suggest the Batignolles? In vain did the fat
director proclaim her ravishing. Andrew, at first indignant, assured her
that the insulter had been properly set down. If it had been a man, he
would have lifted the puppy from his chair and beaten him before the whole
restaurant. But a woman! She had met her match in Elodie. In vain he
confirmed the director's opinion. Elodie could not eat. Food stuck in her
throat; she could only talk interminably of the outrage. The little fat
director made his escape as soon as he had eaten the last mouthful of
"_Eh bien_," said Elodie, as they were driving home to the Faubourg
Saint-Denis, "and is it all fixed up, the Paris contract?"
"My dear," replied Andrew gently, "you gave us little chance to discuss
"I prevented you?" cried Elodie. "I? _Bon Dieu!_ Oh no. It is too
much. You first take me to a place where I am insulted, and then reproach
me for being an obstacle between you and your professional success. No
doubt the naked woman would be a better partner for you. She could wheedle
and coax that little horror of a manager. I, who am an honest woman, am a
drag on you--"
And so on, with a whirling unreason, with which Andrew had grown familiar.
But the episode of the Cafe de Paris marks the beginning and the end of
Elodie's acquaintance with the smart world. She hates it with a fierce
jealousy, knowing that it is a sphere beyond her ken. Herein lay a
fundamental principle of her character. The courtesan, with her easy
adaptability to the glittering environment which she craves, and Elodie,
essentially child of the people, proud, and virtuous according to her
lights, were worlds apart. A bit of a socialist, Elodie, she stuck fiercely
to her class. People she was. People she would remain. A daw of the people,
she had tried to peacock it among the gentry. She had been detected in her
borrowed plumes. At the stupid reference to her supposed morals she snapped
her fingers. It was idiotic. It was the detection of the plumage that
rankled in her soul. From that moment she hated society and every woman in
it with an elaborate ostentation. The very next day she sold the emerald
green dress and the devil of a hat and, with a certain grim satisfaction,
stuffed the proceeds into the stocking of economy. In spite of the
disastrous dinner, Andrew obtained the Paris engagement. He was not,
however, greatly surprised--so far had his education advanced--when Elodie
claimed the credit.
"At that dinner--what did you do? You sat silent as the obelisk in the
Place de la Concorde. It was I who made all the conversation. Monsieur
Wolff was very enchanted."
"I don't know what I should do without you, Elodie," said he.
Now, in sketching the life of Andrew Lackaday and Elodie, I again labour
under the difficulty of having to compress into a few impressionistic
strokes the history of years. The task is in one way made easier, in
that these years of work and wandering scarcely show the development of
anything. What was true at the end of the first year of their partnership
seems to be true at the end of the second, third, fourth and fifth. After a
time when their grotesque performance was a fixed and settled thing, there
was little need for the invention of novelty or for rehearsal. Week after
week, month after month, year after year, they reproduced their almost
stereotyped entertainment. Here and there, according to the idiosyncrasy
of the audience, they introduced some variety. But the very variations, in
course of time, became stereotyped. Too violent a change proved disastrous.
The public demanded the particular antics with which the name of Les
Petit Patou was identified. Thus life was reduced to terms of beautiful
Yet, perhaps, after all, their sentimental relations did undergo an
imperceptible development, as subtle as that which led in the first place
to their union. This union had its original promptings in a not unromantic
chain of circumstances. Of vulgarity or sordidness it had nothing. Had
Elodie been free it would never have entered Andrew's head not to marry
her, and she would have married him offhand. Lackaday insists on our
remembering this vital fact. Sincere affection drew them together. Then the
first couple of years or so were devoted to mutual discoveries. There was
no question on either part of erring after strange fancies. Elodie carried
her air of propriety in the happy-go-lucky music-hall world almost to the
point of the absurd. As for Andrew, he had ever shown himself the most
lagging Lothario of his profession. Indeed, for a period during which she
suffered an exaggeration of her own sentiments, she upbraided him for not
being the perfect lover of her half-forgotten dreams....
"Why don't you love me any longer, Andre?"
"But I love you, surely. That goes without saying."
"Then why do you go on reading, reading all the time instead of telling me
She would be lying on a couch, dressed in her soiled wrapper and old
bedroom slippers, occupied with nothing but boredom, while Andrew devoted
himself to the unguided pursuit of knowledge, the precious pleasure of
his life. He would put the book face downwards on his knee and pucker his
"_Mon Dieu, ma cherie_, what do you want me to say?"
"That you love me."
"I've just said it."
"Say it again."
"_Je l'aime bien. Voila!_"
"And that's all?"
"Of course it's all. What remains to be said?"
The honest fellow was mystified. He could not keep on repeating the formula
for the two or three hours of their repose. It would be the monotonous
reiteration of the idiot. And he could no more have knelt by her side and
poured out his adoration in the terms, let us say, of Chastelard, than he
could have lectured her on Hittite inscriptions. What did she want?
She sighed. He cared for his old book much more than for her.
"My dear," said he, "if you would only read a bit you would find it a great
comfort and delight."
You see, at this rather critical period, each had their grievance--Elodie
only, of course, as far as their private lives were concerned. Elodie,
somewhat romantically inclined, wanted she knew not what. Perhaps a
recrudescence of the fine frenzy of the early days of her marriage with
Raoul. Sober Andrew craved some kind of intellectual companionship. If
Elodie grudged him the joy of books and he yielded to her resentment, he
was a lost mountebank. And the very devil of it was that, just at this
time, he had discovered the most fascinating branch of literature
imaginable. Creasy's _Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World_, picked
up in a cheap edition, had put him on the track. He procured Kinglake's
_Crimea_. He was now deep in the study of Napier's _Peninsular
War_. He studied it, pencil in hand and notebook by his side, filled
with diagrams and contours of country and little parallelograms all askew
denoting Army Corps or divisions. Of course, he did not expect Elodie to
interest herself in military history, but he deplored her unconcealed
hatred of his devotion to a darling pursuit. Why could not she find
pleasure in some intelligent occupation? To spend one's leisure in untidy
sloth did not consort with the dignity of a human being. Why didn't she do
this or that? She rejected all suggestions. Retorted: Why couldn't he spend
a few hours in relaxation like everybody else? If only he would go and play
billiards at the cafe. That he should amuse himself outside among men was
only natural. Sitting at home, in her company, over a book, got on her
Horatio Bakkus encouraged her maliciously. In Paris he made the flat in the
Faubourg Saint-Denis his habitual resting-place, and ate his meals in their
company at the cafe round the corner.
"If there is one thing, my dear Elodie, more futile than fighting battles,
it is reading about them," he declared at one of their symposia.
"_Voila!_ You hear what Horace says! An educated man who knows what he
is talking about."
"It's a kind of disease, like chess or the study of the Railway Guide. And
when he prefers it to the conversation of a beautiful and talented woman,
it's worse than a disease, it's a crime. My dear fellow," he cried with an
ironical gleam in his dark eyes, "you're blind to the treasure the gods
have given you. Any ass can write a text-book, but the art of conversation
is a gift bestowed by Heaven upon the very few."
Elodie, preening herself, asked:
"Is it true that I have that gift?"
"You have the flow of words. You have wit. You talk like a running brook.
You talk like no book that ever was written. I would sooner, my dear,
listen to the ripple of your speech than read all the manuals of military
science the world has produced."
Andrew saw her flattered to fluttering point.
"Don't you know that he is the greatest _blagueur_ an existence?" he
But Elodie had fallen under the spell of Bakkus. like him she loved talk,
although her education allowed her only the lightest kind. She loved its
give-and-take, its opportunities for the flash of wit or jest. Bakkus could
talk about an old boot. She too. He could analyse sentiment in his mordant
way. She could analyse it in her own unsophisticated fashion. Now Andrew,
though death on facts and serious argument, remained dumb and bewildered
in a passage-at-arms about apparently nothing at all; and while Bakkus and
Elodie enjoyed themselves prodigiously, he gaped at them, wondering what
the deuce they found to laugh at. He was for ever warning Elodie not to put
a too literal interpretation on Bakkus's sayings.
The singer had gone grey, and that touch of venerability gave him an air
of greater distinction, as a broken down tragedian, than he possessed when
Andrew had first met him ten years or so before. Elodie could bandy jests
with him, but when he spoke with authority she listened overawed.
"My dear Andre," she replied to his remark. "I am not a fool. I know when
Horace is talking nonsense and when he means what he says."
"And I maintain," said Bakkus, "that this most adorable woman is being
sacrificed on the altar of Caesar's Commentaries and the latest French
handbook on scientific slaughter."
"I think," said Andrew, who had imprudently sketched his course of reading
to the cynic, "that _The Art of War_ by Colonel Foch is the most
masterly thing ever written on the subject of warfare."
"But who is going to war, these days, my good fellow?"
"They're at it now," said Andrew.
"The Balkans--Turkey--Bulgaria? Barbarians. What's that got to do with
civilized England and France?"
"What about Germany?"
"Germany's never going to sacrifice her commercial position by going to
war. Among great powers war is a lunatic anachronism."
"Oh, _mon Dieu_," cried Elodie, "now you're talking politics."
Bakkus took her hand which held a fork on which was prodded a gherkin--they
were at lunch--and raised it to his lips.
"_Pardon, chere madame_. It was this maniac of an Andre. He is mad or
worse. Years ago I told him he ought to be a sergeant in a barrack square."
"Just so!" cried Elodie. "Look at him now. Here he is as soft as two
pennyworth of butter. But in the theatre, if things do not go quite as he
wants them--oh la la! It is Right turn--Quick march! Brr! And I who speak
have to do just the same as the others."
"I know," said Bakkus. "A Prussian without bowels. Ah, my poor Elodie! My
heart bleeds for you."
"Where do you keep it--that organ?" asked Andrew.
"He keeps it," retorted Elodie, "where you haven't got it. Horace
understands me. You don't. Horace and I are going to talk. You smoke your
cigar and think of battles and don't interfere."
It was said laughingly, so that Andrew had no cause for protest; but
beneath the remark ran a streak of significance. She resented the serious
tone at which Andrew had led the conversation. He and his military studies
and his war of the future! They bored her to extinction. She glanced at him
obliquely. A young man of thirty, he behaved himself like the senior of
this youthful, flashing, elderly man who had the gift of laughter and could
pluck out for her all that she had of spontaneity in life.
This conversation was typical of many which filled Elodie's head with
an illusion of the brilliant genius of Horatio Bakkus. In spite of her
peevishness she had a wholesome respect for Andrew--for his honesty, his
singleness of purpose, his gentle masterfulness. But, all the same, their
common detection of the drill-sergeant in his nature formed a sympathetic
bond between Bakkus and herself. In the back of her mind, she set Andrew
down as a dull dog. For all his poring over books, Bakkus could defeat him
any day in argument. The agreeable villain's mastery of phrase fascinated
her. And what he didn't know about the subtle delicacies of women's
temperament was not worth knowing. She could tell him any thing and count
on sympathy; whereas Andrew knew less about women than about his poodle
There was, I say, this mid-period of their union when they grew almost
estranged. Andrew, in spite of his loyalty, began to regret. He remembered
the young girl who had rushed to him so tearfully as he was bending over
the body of Prepimpin--the flashing vision of the women of another world.
In such a one would he find the divine companionship. She would stand with
him, their souls melting together in awe before the majesty of Chartres,
in worship before the dreaming spires of Rheims, in joy before the smiling
beauty of Azay-le-Rideau. They would find a world of things to say of the
rugged fairyland of Auvergne or the swooning loveliness of the Cote d'Azur.
They would hear each other's heart beating as they viewed great pictures,
their pulses would throb together as they listened to great opera. He would
lie at her feet as she read the poets that she loved. She would also take
an affectionate interest in military strategy. She would be different, oh,
so different from Elodie. To Elodie, save for the comfort of inns, the
accommodation of dressing-rooms and the appreciation of audiences, one town
was exactly the same as another. She found amusement in sitting at a cafe
with a glass of syrup and water in front of her, and listening to a band;
otherwise she had no aesthetic sense. She used terms regarding cathedrals
and pictures for which boredom is the mildly polite euphemism. A busy
street gay with shop windows attracted her far more than any grandeur of
natural scenery. She loved displays of cheap millinery and underwear.
Andrew could not imagine the Other One requiring his responsive ecstasy
over a fifteen-franc purple hat with a green feather, or a pile of silk
stockings at four francs fifty a pair ... The Other One, in a moment of
delicious weakness, might stand enraptured before a dream of old lace or
exquisite tissue or what not, and it would be his joy to take her by the
hand, enter the shop and say "It is yours." But Elodie had no such moments.
Her economical habits gave him no chance of divine extravagance. Even when
he took her in to buy the fifteen-franc hat, she put him to shame by trying
So they lost touch with each other until a bird or two brought them
together again. Figuratively it is the history of most unions. In theirs,
the birds were corporeal. It was at Montpellier. An old man had a turn with
a set of performing birds, canaries, perroquets, love-birds, beauregards.
Elodie came across him rehearsing on the stage. She watched the rehearsal
fascinated. Then she approached the cages.
_"Faites attention, Madame,"_ cried the old man in alarm. "You will
scare them. They know no one but me."
_"Mais non, mais non,"_ said Elodie. _"Voyons, ca me connait."_
She spoke from idle braggadocio. But when she put her hands on the cages,
the birds came to her. They hopped about her fearlessly. She fished in
her pockets for chocolate--her only extravagant vice--and bird after bird
pecked at the sweet from her mouth. The old man said:
"Truly the birds know you, Madame. It is a gift. No one can tell whence
it comes--and it comes to very few. There are also human beings for whom
snakes have a natural affinity."
Elodie shuddered. "Snakes! I prefer birds. Ah, _le petit amour. Viens
She had them all about her, on head and shoulders and arms, all unafraid,
all content; then all fluttering with their clipped wings, about her lips,
except a grey parrot who rubbed his beak against her ear.
Andrew, emerging suddenly from the wings, stood wonder-stricken.
"But you are a bird-woman," said he. "I have heard of such, but never seen
From that moment, the town-bred, town-compelled woman who had thought of
bird-life only in terms of sparrows, set about to test her unsuspected
powers. And what the old man and Andrew had said was true.... They wandered
to the Peyrou, the beautiful Louis XIV terraced head of the great aqueduct,
and sat in the garden--she alone, Andrew some yards apart--and once a few
crumbs attracted a bird, it would hop nearer and nearer, and if she was
very still it would light on her finger and eat out of the palm of her
hand, and if she were very gentle, she could stroke the wild thing's head
A new and wonderful interest came into her life. To find birds, Elodie, who
by this time hated walking from hotel to music-hall, so had her indolence
grown accustomed to the luxurious car, tramped for miles through the woods
accompanied by Andrew almost as excited as herself at the new discovery.
And he bought her books on birds, from which she could learn their names,
their distinguishing colours and marks, their habits and their cries.
It must be remarked that the enthusiastic search for knowledge, involving,
as it did, much physical exertion, lasted only a summer. But it sufficed
to re-establish friendly relations between the drifting pair. She found an
interest in life apart from the professional routine. During the autumn and
winter she devoted herself to the training of birds, and Andrew gave her
the benefit of his life's experience in the science. They travelled about
with an aviary. And while Andrew, now unreproached, frowned, pencil in hand
and notebook by his side, over the strategics of the Franco-Prussian War,
Elodie, always in her slatternly wrapper, spent enraptured hours in putting
her feathered troupe through their pretty tricks or in playing with them
foolishly as one plays with a dog.
Thus their midway mutual grievances imperceptibly vanished. The positive
was eliminated from their relations. They had been beginning to hate each
other. Hatred ceased. Perhaps Elodie dreamed now and then of the Perfect
Lover. Andrew had ever at the back of his soul the Far-away Princess, the
Other One, the Being who would enable him to formulate a mode of nebulous
existence and spiritual chaos, and then to live the wondrous life recalled
by the magical formula. I must insist on this, so that you can recognize
that the young and successful mountebank, although dead set on the
perfection of his mountebankery, and, in serious fact, never dreaming of
a work-a-day existence outside the walls of a Variety Theatre yet had the
tentacles of his being spread gropingly, blindly, octopus-like, to the
major potentialities of life. Even when looking back upon himself, as he
does in the crude manuscript, he cannot account for these unconscious, or
subconscious, feelings. He has no idea of the cause of the fascination
wrought on him by military technicalities. It might have been chess, it
might have been conchology, it might have been heraldry. Hobbies are more
or less unaccountable. In view of his later career it seems to me that he
found in the unalluring textbooks of Clausewitz and Foch and those bound in
red covers for the use of the staff of the British Army, some expressions
of a man's work--which was absent from the sphere into which fate had set
him clad in green silk tights. The subject was instinct with the commanding
brain. If his lot had been cast in the theatre proper, instead of in the
music-hall, he might have become a great manager. However, all that is by
the way. The important thing, for the time we are dealing with, is his
relations with Elodie for the remainder half of their union before the war.
These, I have said, ceased to be positive. They accepted their united life
as they accepted the rain and the sunshine and the long motor journeys from
town to town. Spiritually they went each their respective ways, unmolested
by the other. But they each formed an integral part of the other's
existence. They were bound by the indissoluble ties of habit. And as
Elodie, now that she had got her birds to amuse her, made no demands on
Andrew, and as Andrew, who had schooled his tidy soul to toleration of her
slovenliness, made no demands on Elodie, they were about as happy as any
pair in France.
When she passed thirty, her face coarsened and her uncared-for figure began
And then the war broke out.
The outbreak of war knocked the Petit Patou variety combination silly, as
it knocked many thousands of other combinations in France. One day it was a
going concern worth a pretty sum of money; the next day it was gone.
They happened to be in Paris, putting in a fortnight's rest after an
exhausting four months on the road, and waiting for the beginning of a
beautiful tour booked for Aix-les-Bains, for the race-weeks at Dieppe and
Deauville, for Biarritz--the cream of August and September resorts of the
wealthy.... Then, in a dazzling flash, mobilization. No more actors,
no more stage hands, no more croupiers, no more punters, no more
theatre-goers. No more anything but all sorts and conditions of men getting
into uniform and all sorts and conditions of women trying to smile but
weeping inward blood. Contracts, such as Andrew's, were blown away like
Peremptory authorities required Andrew's papers. They had done so years
before when he reached the age of military service. But now, as then, they
proved Andrew indisputably to be a British subject--he had to thank Ben
Flint for that--and the authorities went their growling way.
"What luck!" cried Elodie, when she heard the result of the perquisition.
"Otherwise you would have been taken and sent off to this _sale
"I'm not so sure," replied Andrew, with a grim set of his ugly jaw, "that
I'm not going off to the _sale guerre,_ without being sent."
"But it is idiotic, what you say!" cried Elodie, in consternation. "What do
you think, Horace?"
Bakkus threw a pair of Elodie's corsets which encumbered the other end of
the sofa on which he was lounging on to the floor and put up his feet and
sucked at his cigar, one of Andrew's best--the box, by the way, Elodie,
who kept the key of a treasure cupboard, seldom brought out except for
"Andrew isn't a very intellectual being. He bases his actions on formulas.
Such people in times of stress even forget the process of thought that led
to the establishment of the formulas. They shrink into a kind of trained
animal. Andrew here is just like a little dog ready to do his tricks. Some
voice which he can't resist will soon say, 'Bingo, die for your country.'
And our good friend, without changing a muscle of his ugly face, will
stretch himself out dead on the floor."
"Truth," said Andrew, with a hard glint in his eyes, "does sometimes issue
from the lips of a fool."
Bakkus laughed, passing his hand over his silvering locks; but Elodie
looked very serious. Absent-mindedly she picked up her corsets, and, the
weather being sultry, she fanned herself with them.
"You are going to enlist in the Legion?"
"I am an Englishman, and my duty is towards my own country."
"Bingo is an English dog," said Bakkus.
Reaction from gladness made Elodie's heart grow cold, filled it with sudden
dread. It was hard. Most of the women of France were losing their men of
vile necessity. She, one of the few privileged by law to retain her man,
now saw him swept away in the stream. Protest could be of no avail. When
the mild Andrew set his mug of a face like that--his long smiling lips
merged into each other like two slugs, and his eyes narrowed to little pin
points, she knew that neither she nor any woman nor any man nor the _bon
Dieu_ Himself could move him from his purpose. She could only smile
"Isn't it a little bit mad, your idea?"
"Mad? Of course he is," said Bakkus. "Much reading in military text-books
has made him mad. A considerably less interesting fellow than Andrew, who,
after all, has a modicum of brains, one Don Quixote, achieved immortality
by proceeding along the same lunatic lines."
Then Elodie flashed out. She understood nothing of the allusion, but she
suspected a sneer.
"If I were a man I should fight for France. If Andre thinks it is his
duty to fight for England, it may be mad, but it is fine, all the same.
Yesterday, in the street, I sang the Marseillaise with the rest. _'Amour
sacre de la Patrie.' Eh bien!_ There are other countries besides France.
Do you deny that the _amour sacre_ exists for the Englishman?"
Andrew rose and gravely took Elodie's face in his delicate hands and kissed
"I never did you the wrong, my dear, of thinking you would feel otherwise."
"Neither did I, my good Elodie," said Bakkus, hurriedly opportunist. "If
I have had one ambition in my life it is to sun myself in the vicarious
glamour of a hero."
The corsets rolled off Elodie's lap as she turned swiftly.
"You really think Andre if he enlists in the English Army will be a hero?"
"Without doubt," replied Bakkus.
"I am glad," said Elodie. "You have such a habit of mocking all the world
that when you are talking of serious things one doesn't know what you
So peace was made. In the agitated days that followed she saw that a
profound patriotism underlay Bakkus's cynicism, and she relied much on his
counsel. Every man that England could put into the field was a soldier
fighting for France. She glowed at the patriotic idea. Andrew, to his great
gladness, noted that no hint of the cry "What is to become of me?" passed
her lips. She counted on his loyalty as he had counted on hers. When he
informed her of the arrangement he had made with her lawyer for her support
during his absence, all she said was:
_"Mon cher,_ it is far too much! I can live on half. And as for the
will--let us not talk of it. It makes me shiver."
Here came out all that was good in Elodie. She took the war and its
obligations, as she had taken her professional work. Through all her
flabbiness ran the rod of steel. She suffered, looking forward with terror
to the unthinkable future. Already one of her friends, Jeanne Duval,
comedienne, was a widow ... What would life be without Andre? She trembled
before the illimitable blankness. The habit of him was the habit of her
life, like eating and drinking; his direction her guiding principle. Yet
she dominated her fears and showed a brave face.
Often a neighbour, meeting her in the quarter, would say:
"You are fortunate, Madame. You will not lose your husband." To the
quarter, as indeed to all the world, they were Monsieur and Madame Patou.
"He is an Englishman and won't be called up."
She would flash with proud retort:--
"In England men are not called up. They go voluntarily. Monsieur Patou goes
to join the English army."
She was not going to make her sacrifice for nothing.
To Bakkus Andrew confided the general charge of Elodie.
"My dear fellow," said the cynic, "isn't it rather overdoing your saintly
simplicity? Do you remember the farce 'Occupe-toi d'Amelie?' Do I appeal to
you as a squire of deserted dames, grass-widows endowed with plenty? I--a
man of such indefinite morals that so long as I have mutton cutlets I
don't in the least care who pays for them? Aren't you paying for this very
"You are welcome," replied Andrew with a grin, "to all the mutton that
Elodie will give you."
Elodie's only proclaimed grievance against Bakkus, whom otherwise she
vastly admired, was his undisguised passion for free repasts.
When it came to parting, Elodie wept and sobbed. He marvelled at her
"You love me so much, my little Elodie?"
_"Mais tu es ma vie toute entiere._ Haven't you understood it?"
In that sense--no. He had not understood. They had arranged their lives so
much as business partners, friends, fate-linked humans dependent on each
other for the daily amenities of a joint existence. He had never suspected;
never had cause to suspect, this hidden flood of sentiment. The simple
man's heart responded. For such love she must be repaid. In the packed
train which sped him towards England he carried with him no small remorse
for past indifference.
Now, what next happened to Andrew, is, as I have said before, omitted from
his manuscript. Nor has he vouchsafed to me, in conversation, anything
but the rudest sketch. All we know is that he enlisted straight into the
regular Army, the Grenadier Guards. Millions of Tommies have passed through
his earlier experiences. His gymnastic training, his professional habits
of accuracy and his serious yet alert mind bore him swiftly through
preliminary stages to high efficiency. In November, 1914, he found himself
in Flanders. Wounded, a few months afterwards, he was sent home, patched
up, sent back again. Late in 1915, a sergeant, he had his first leave,
which he spent in Paris.
Elodie received him with open arms. She was impressed by the martial
bearing of her ramrod of a man, and she proudly fingered the three stripes
on his sleeve and the D.C.M. ribbon on his breast. She took him for
walks, she who, in her later supineness, hated to put one foot before the
other--by the Grands Boulevards, the Rue Royale, the Place de la Concorde,
the Champs Elysees, hanging on his arm, with a recrudescence of the defiant
air of the Marseilles _gamine._ She made valiant efforts to please
her hero who had bled in great battles and had returned to fight in great
battles again. She had a thousand things to tell him of her life in Paris,
to which the man, weary of the mud and blood of war, listened as though
they were revelations of Paradise. Yet, she had but existed idly day in and
day out, in the eternal wrapper and slippers, with her cage of birds. The
little beasts kept her alive--it was true. One was dull in Paris without
men. And the women of her acquaintance, mostly professional, were in
poverty. They had the same cry, "My dear, lend me ten francs." "My little
Elodie, I am on the rocks, my man is killed." _"Ma bien aimee,_ I am
starving. You who are at ease, let me come and eat with you"--and so on and
so on. Her heart grieved for them; but _que veux-tu?_--one was not a
charitable institution. So it was all very sad and heartrending. To say
nothing of her hourly anxiety. If only the _sale guerre_ would cease
and they could go on tour again! Ah, those happy days!
"Were they, after all, so very happy?" asked Andrew.
"One was contented, free from care."
"May they not come to tell me at any minute that you are killed?"
"That's true," said Andrew gravely.
"I love you more now," replied Elodie.
Which gave Andrew food for thought, whenever he had time at the front to
consider the appetite.
When next he had a short leave it was as a Lieutenant; but Elodie had gone
to Marseilles, braving the tedious third-class journey, to attend her
mother's funeral. There Madame Figasso having died intestate, she battled
with authorities and lawyers and the _huissier_ Boudin who professed
heartbreak at her unfilial insistence on claiming her little inheritance.
With the energy which she always displayed in the serious things of life
she routed them all. She sold the furniture, the dressmaking business,
wrested the greasy bag of savings from the hands of a felonious and
discomfited Boudin, and returned to Paris with some few thousand francs in
her pocket. Horatio Bakkus, meanwhile, had moved into the Saint-Denis flat
to take care of the birds. Nobody in France craving the services of a light
tenor, he would have starved, had not his detested brother the Archdeacon,
a rich man, made him a small allowance. It was a sad day for him when,
after a couple of months' snug lying, he had to betake himself to his attic
under the roof, where he shivered in the coalless city.
"I die of convention," said he. "Behold, you have a spare room centrally
heated. You are virtue itself. I not only occupy the sacred position of
your guardian, but am humiliatingly aware of my supreme lack of attraction.
_"Fich'-moi le camp,"_ laughed Elodie.
And Bakkus took up his old green valise and returned to his eyrie. There
should be no scandal in the Faubourg Saint-Denis if Elodie could help it.
But a few days later--
"_Ah, je m'ennuie, je m'ennuie_," she cried in an accent of boredom.
Then Bakkus elaborated a Machiavellian idea. Why shouldn't she work? At
what? Why, hadn't she a troupe of trained birds? Madame Patou was not
the first comer in the variety world. She could get engagements in the
provinces. How did she know that the war would not last longer than
"_Mon Dieu_, it is true," she said.
Forthwith she went to the agent Moignon. After a few weeks she started
on the road with her aviary, and Bakkus once more left his eyrie to take
charge of the flat in the Faubourg St. Denis.
It came to pass that the next time Andrew and Elodie met in their Paris
house, he wore a Major's crown and the ribbons of the Distinguished Service
Order, the Military Cross and the Legion of Honour. From his letters she
had grasped but little of his career and growing distinction; but the sight
of him drove her mad with pride. If she had loved to parade the Paris
streets with him as a Sergeant, now she could scarcely bear to exist with
him otherwise than in public places. Not only an officer, but almost a
Colonel. And decorated--he, an English officer, with the Legion of Honour!
The British decorations she scarcely understood--but they made a fine
display. The salutes from uniformed men of every nation almost turned her
head. The little restaurant round the corner, where they had eaten for
so many years, suddenly appeared to her an inappropriate setting for his
exalted rank. She railed against its meanness.
"Let us eat then," laughed Andrew, who had not given the matter a thought,
"on the Place de la Madeleine."
But if the Restaurant Mangin in the Faubourg Saint-Denis was too lowly,
the Restaurant Weber frightened her by its extravagance. She hit upon the
middle course of engaging a cook for the wonderful fortnight of his leave
and busying herself with collaborating in the preparation of succulent
"My dear child," said Andrew, sitting at his own table in the tiny and
seldom-used _salle a manger_ for the first time since their early
disastrous experience of housekeeping, "why in the world haven't we had
this cosiness before?"
He seemed to have entered a new world of sacred domesticity. The outward
material sign of the inward grace drew him nearer to her than all
protestations of affection.
"Why have you waited all these years?" he asked.
Elodie, expansive, rejoicing in the success of the well-cooked dinner,
reproached herself generously. It was all her fault. Before the war she had
been ignorant, idle. But the war had taught her many things. Above all it
had taught her to value her _petit homme_.
"Because you now see him in his true colours," observed Bakkus, who took
for granted a seat at the table as the payment for his guardianship. "The
drill sergeant I always talked to you about."
"Sergeant!" Elodie flung up her head in disdain. "He is _Commandant_.
And see to it that you are not wanting in respect."
"From which outburst of conjugal ferocity, my dear fellow," said Bakkus,
"you can gauge the conscientiousness of my guidance of Elodie during your
Andrew grinned happily. He was full of faith in both of them--loving woman,
"It is true," said he, "that I have found my vocation."
"What are you going to do when the war is over and Othello's occupation is
"I don't think the war will ever be over," he laughed. "It's no good
looking ahead. For the present one has to regard soldiering as a permanent
"I thought so," said Bakkus. "He'll cry when it's over and he can't move
his pretty soldiers about."
"That is true?" asked Elodie, in the tone of one possessed of insight.
Andrew shrugged his shoulders, a French trick out of harmony with his
"Perhaps," said he with a sigh.
"I too," said Elodie, "will be sorry when you become _Petit Patou_
He touched her cheek caressingly with the back of his hand, and smiled.
Strange how the war had brought her the gift of understanding. Never had he
felt so close to her.
"All the same," added Elodie, "it is very dangerous _la-bas, mon
cheri_--and I don't want you to get killed."
"All the glory and none of the death," said Bakkus. "Conducted on those
principles, warfare would be ideal employment for the young. But you would
be going back to the Middle Ages, when, if a knight were killed, he was
vastly surprised and annoyed. Personally I hate the war. It prevents me
from earning a living, and insults me with the sense of my age, physical
decay and incapacity. I haven't a good word to say for it."
"If you only went among the wounded in the Paris hospitals," replied
Andrew, with some asperity, "and sang to them--"
"My good fool," said Bakkus, "I've been doing that for about four or five
hours a day since the war began, till I've no voice left."
"Didn't you know?" cried Elodie. "Horace has never worked so hard in his
life. And for nothing. In his way he is a hero like you."
"Why the devil didn't you tell me?" cried Andrew.
Bakkus flung a hand. "If you hadn't to dress the part what should I have
known of your rank and orders? Would you go about saying 'I'm a dam fine
"I'm sorry," said Andrew, filling his guest's glass. "I ought to have taken
it for granted."
"We give entertainments together," said Elodie. "He sings and I take the
birds. Ah! the poilus. They are like children. When Riquiqui takes off
Paulette's cap they twist themselves up with laughing. _Il faut voir
This was all news to Andrew, and it delighted him beyond measure. He could
take away now to the trenches the picture of Elodie as ministering angel
surrounded by her birds--an exquisite, romantic, soul-satisfying picture.
"But why," he asked again, "didn't you tell me?"
_"Ah, tu sais_--letters--I am not very good at letters. _Fante
d'education._ I want so much to tell you what I feel that I forget to
tell you what I do."
Bakkus smiled sardonically as he sipped his liqueur brandy. She had given
her bird performance on only two occasions. She had exaggerated it into
the gracious habit of months or years. Just like a woman! Anyhow, the
disillusionment of Andrew was none of his business. The dear old chap was
eating lotus in his Fool's Paradise, thinking it genuine pre-war lotus and
not war _ersatz._ It would be a crime to disabuse him.
For Andrew the days of leave sped quickly. Not a domestic cloud darkened
his relations with Elodie. Through indolent and careless living she had
grown gross and coarse, too unshapely and unseemly for her age. When the
news of his speedy arrival in Paris reached her, she caught sight of
herself in her mirror and with a sudden pang realized her lack of
attraction. In a fever she corseted herself, creamed her face, set
a coiffeur to work his will on her hair. But what retrieval of lost
comeliness could be effected in a day or two? The utmost thing of practical
value she could do was to buy a new, gay dressing-gown and a pair of
high-heeled slippers. And Andrew, conscious of waning beauty, overlooked it
in the light of her new and unsuspected coquetry. Where once the slattern
lolled about the little salon, now moved an attractively garbed and tidy
woman. Instead of the sloven, he found a housewife who made up in zeal for
lack of experience. The patriotic soldier's mate replaced the indifferent
and oft-times querulous partner of Les Petit Patou. It is true that, when,
in answer to the question, "A battle--what is that like?" he tried to
interest her in a scientific exposition, she would interrupt him, a
love-bird on her finger and its beak at her lips, with: "Look, isn't he
sweet?" thereby throwing him out of gear; it is true that she yawned and
frankly confessed her boredom, as she had done for many years when the talk
of Andrew and Bakkus went beyond her intellectual horizon; but--_que
voulez-vous?_--even a great war cannot, in a few months, supply
the deficiencies of thirty uneducated years. The heart, the generous
instinct--these were the things that the war had awakened in Elodie--and
these were the things that mattered and made him so gracious a homecoming.
And she had grasped the inner truth of the war. She had accepted it in the
grand manner, like a daughter of France.
So at least it seemed to Andrew. The depth of her feelings he did not try
to gauge. Into the part in her demonstrativeness played by vanity or by
momentary reaction from the dread of losing him, her means of support, it
never entered his head to enquire. That she should sun herself in reflected
splendour for the benefit of the quarter and of such friends as she had,
and that she should punctiliously exact from them the respect due to his
military rank, afforded him gentle amusement. He knew that, as soon as his
back was turned, she would relapse into slipshod ways. But her efforts
delighted him, proved her love and her loyalty. For the third time he
parted from her to go off to the wars, more impressed than ever by the
sense of his inappreciation of her virtues. He wrote her a long letter of
self-upbraiding for the past, and the contrast between the slimy dug-out
where he was writing by the light of one guttering candle, and the cosy
salon he had just quitted being productive of nostalgia, he expressed
himself, for once in his life, in the terms of an ardent lover.
Elodie, who found his handwriting difficult to read at the best of times,
and undecipherable in hard pencil on thin paper, handed the letter over to
the faithful Bakkus, who read it aloud with a running commentary of ironic
humour. This Andrew did not know till long afterwards.
In a few weeks he got the command of his battalion.
"How you'll be able to put up with us now I know not. Elodie can scarcely
put up with herself. She gives orders in writing to tradesmen now and
subscribes herself 'Madame La Colonelle Patou.' She has turned down a bird
engagement offered by Moignon, as beneath her present dignity. You had
better come home as soon as you can."
Andrew laughed and threw the letter away. He had far more serious things to
attend to than Elodie's pretty foibles. And when you are commanding a crack
regiment in a famous division in the line you no more think of leave than
of running away from the enemy. Months passed--of fierce fighting and
incessant strain, and he covered himself with glory and completed the
rainbow row of ribbons on his breast, until Petit Patou and Elodie and
Bakkus and the apartment in the Faubourg Saint-Denis became things of a
And before he saw Elodie again, he had met Lady Auriol Dayne.
That was the devil of it. He had met Lady Auriol Dayne. He had found in
that frank and capable young woman--or thought he had found, which comes to
the same thing--the Princesse Lointaine of his dreams. If she differed from
that nebulous and characterless paragon, were less ethereal, more human
nature's daily food, so much the better. She possessed that which he had
yearned for--_quality._ She had style--like the prose of Theophile
Gautier, the Venus of Milo, the Petit Trainon. She suggested Diana, who
more than all goddesses displayed this gift of distinction; yet was she not
too Diana-ish to be unapproachable. On the contrary, she blew about him as
free as the wind.... That, in a muddle-headed way, was his impression of
her: a subtle mingling of nature and artistry. On every side of her he
beheld perfection. Physically, she was as elemental as the primitive woman
superbly developed by daily conditions of hardship and danger; spiritually,
as elemental as the elves and fairies; and over her mind played the wisdom
of the world.
Thus, in trying to account for her to himself, did the honest Lackaday
flounder from trope to metaphor. "To love her," he quotes from Steele, "is
a liberal education."
The last time he met her in England, was after my departure for Paris. You
will remember that just before then he had confided to me his identity
as Petit Patou and had kept me up half the night. It was a dismal April
afternoon, rain and mud outside, a hopeless negation of the spring. They
had the drawing-room to themselves--to no one, the order had gone forth,
was her ladyship at home--that drawing-room of Lady Auriol which Lackaday
regarded as the most exquisite room in the world. It had comfort of soft
chairs and bright fire and the smell of tea and cigarettes; but it also had
the style, to him so precious, with which his fancy invested her. The
note of the room was red lacquer partly inherited, partly collected, the
hangings of a harmonious tone, and the only pictures on the distempered
walls the colour-prints of the late eighteenth century. It had the glow of
smiling austerity, the unseizable, paradoxical quality of herself. An old
Sevres tea-service rested on a Georgian silver tray, which gleamed in the
firelight. Wherever he looked, he beheld perfection. And pouring out the
tea stood the divinity, a splendid contrast to the shrine, yet again
paradoxically harmonious; full-bosomed, warm and olive, wearing blue serge
coat and skirt, her blouse open at her smooth throat, her cheeks flushed
with walking through the rain, her eyes kind.
For a while, like a Knight in the Venusberg, he gave himself up to the
delight of her. Then suddenly he pulled himself together, and, putting down
his teacup, he said what he had come to say:--
"This is the last time that I shall ever see you."
"What on earth do you mean? Are you going off to the other end of the
"I'm going back to France."
She twisted round in her chair, her elbow on the arm and her chin in her
hand and looked at him.
"That's sudden, isn't it?"
He smiled rather sadly. "When once you've made up your mind, it's best to
act, instead of hanging on."
"You're sure there's no hope in this country?"
"I know I'm as useful as a professional wine-taster will soon be in the
They laughed, resumed the discussion of many previous meetings. Had he
tried this, that or the other opening? He had tried everything. No one
"So," said he, "I'm making a clean cut and returning to France."
"I'm sorry." She sighed. "Very sorry. You know I am. I hoped you would
remain in England and find some occupation worthy of you--but, after
all--France isn't Central China. We shall still be next-door neighbours.
The Channel can be easily crossed by one of us. You used the word 'ever,'
you know," she added with an air of challenge,
"That would take a lot of telling," said Andrew grimly.
"We've got hours, if you choose, in front of us."
"It's not a question of time," said he.
"Then, my good Andrew, what are you talking about?"
"Only that I must return to the place I came from, my dear friend. Let it
rest at that."
She lit a cigarette. "Rather fatalistic, isn't it?"
"Four years of fighting make one so."
"You speak," said she, after a little reflection occasioning knitting of
the brows, "you speak like the Mysterious Unknown of the old legends--the
being sent from Hell or Heaven or any other old place to the earth to
accomplish a mission. You know what I mean. He lives the life of the world
into which he is thrown and finds it very much to his liking. But when
the mission is fulfilled--the Powers that sent him say: 'Your time is up.
Return whence you came.' And the poor Make-believe of a human has got to
"You surely aren't jesting?" he asked.
"No," she said. "God forbid! I've too deep a regard for you. Besides, I
believe the parable is applicable. Otherwise how can I understand your 'for
"I'm glad you understand without my blundering into an explanation," he
replied. "It's something, as you say. Only the legendary fellow goes back
to cool his heels--or the reverse--in Shadow Land, whereas I'll still
continue to inhabit the comfortable earth. I'm as Earth-bound as can be."
He paused for a moment, and continued:--
"Fate or what you will dragged me from obscurity into the limelight of
the war to play my little part. It's over. I've nothing more to do on the
stage. Fate rings down the curtain. I must go back into obscurity. _La
commedia e finita_."
"It's more like a tragedy," said she.
Andrew made a gesture with his delicate hands.
"A comedy's not a farce. Let us stick to the comedy."
"Less heroically--let us play the game," she suggested.
"If you like to put it that way."
She regarded him searchingly out of frank eyes; her face had grown pale.
"If you gave me the key to your material Shadow Land, it would not be
playing the game?"
"You are right, my dear," said he. "It wouldn't."
"I thought as much," said Lady Auriol.
He rose, mechanically adjusted his jacket, which always went awry on his
gaunt frame. "I want to say something," he declared abruptly. "You're the
only lady--highly-bred woman--with whom I've been on terms of friendship in
my life. It has been an experience far more wonderful than you can possibly
realize. I'll keep it as an imperishable memory"--he spoke bolt upright as
though he were addressing troops on parade before a battle--"it's right
that you should know I'm not ungrateful for all you have done for me. I've
only one ambition left--that you should remember me as a soldier--and--in
my own way--a gentleman."
"A very gallant gentleman," she said with quivering lips.
He held out his hand, took hers, kissed it French fashion.
"Good-bye and God bless you," said he, and marched out of the room.
She stood for a while, with her hand on her heart--suffering a pain that
was almost physical. Then she rushed to the door and cried in a loud voice
over the balustrade of the landing:
"Andrew, come back."
But the slam of the front door drowned her call. She returned to the
drawing-room and threw up the window. Andrew was already far away, tearing
down the rainswept street.
Now, if Andrew had heard the cry, he would have heard that in it which no
man can hear unmoved. He would have leaped up the stairs and there would
have been as pretty a little scene of mutual avowals as you could wish for.
Auriol knew it. She has frankly told me so. Not until this last interview
was she certain of his love. But then, although he said nothing, any fool
of a woman could have seen it as clear as daylight. And she had been
planted there like a stuck pig all the time--her _ipsissima verba_ (O
Diana distinction of lover's fancy!) and when common sense came to her aid,
she just missed him by the fraction of a second.... Yet, after all, my
modern Diana--or Andrew's, if you prefer it--had her own modern mode
of telling an elderly outsider about her love affairs--the mode of the
subaltern from whom is dragged the story of his Victoria Cross. Andrew
Lackaday's quaintly formulated idealizations had their foundations in fact.
This is by the way. What happened next was Lady Auriol's recovery of real
common sense when she withdrew her head and her rained-upon hat from the
window and drew down the sash. She flew to her bedroom, stamped about with
clenched fists until she had dried up at their source the un-Auriol like
tears that threatened to burst forth. Her fury at her weakness spent, she
felt better and strangled the temptation to write him then and there a
summons to return that evening for a full explanation. My God! Hadn't they
had their explanation? If he could in honour have said, "I am a free live
man as you are a free live woman, and I love you as you love me"--wouldn't
he have said it? He was the last man in the world to make a mystery about
nothing. Into the mystery she was too proud to enquire. Enough for her to
know in her heart that he was a gallant gentleman. She should have stopped
at her parable....
Meanwhile she let Andrew return to France unaware of the tumult he had
raised. That he had won her interest, her respect, her friendship--even her
affectionate friendship--he was perfectly aware. But that his divinity was
just foolishly and humanly in love with him he had no notion. He consoled
himself with reflections on her impeccability, her wondrous intuition, her
Far-away Princess-like delicacy. Who but she could have summed up in a
parable the whole dismal situation?
Well, the poor Make-believe had to vanish.
The last time he travelled to Boulogne it was in a military train. He had
a batman who looked after his luggage. He wore a baton and sword on his
shoulder-straps. Only now, a civilian in a packed mass of civilians, did he
recognize what a mighty personage he then was--a cock of the walk,
saluted, "sired," treated with deference. None of the old-fashioned
pit-of-the-theatre scrum for passport inspection, on the smoking-room deck.
And there, on the quay, were staff officers and R.T.O.'s awaiting him with
a great car--no worry about Customs or luggage or anything--everything done
for him by eager young men without his bidding--and he had thought nothing
of it. Indeed, if there had been a hitch in the machinery which conveyed
him to his brigade, he would have made it hot for the defaulter. And
now--with a third share in a porter he struggled through the Customs in the
midst of the perspiring civilian crowd, and, emerging on to the platform,
found a comfortless middle seat in an old German first-class carriage
built for four. There were still many men in uniform, English, French and
American, doing Heaven knows what about the busy station. But none took
notice of him, and he lounged disconsolately by the carriage door waiting
for the train to start. He scarcely knew which of his experiences, then or
now, was an illusion.
In spite of the civilian horde, women, young girls, mufti-clad men, the
station still preserved a military aspect. A company of blue-clad poilus
sat some way off, in the middle of their packs, eating a scratch meal. Here
and there were bunches of British Tommies, with a sergeant and a desultory
officer, obviously under discipline. It seemed impossible that the war
should be ended--that he, General Lackaday, should have finished with it
At last, a young subaltern passed him by, recognized him after a second,
saluted and paused undecided. A few months ago, Andrew would have returned
his salute with brass-hatted majesty, but now he smiled his broad
ear-to-ear smile, thrust out his long arm and gripped the young man's hand.
It was Smithson, one of his brigade staff--a youth of mediocre efficiency,
on whom, as the youth remembered, he was wont most austerely to frown. But
all this Andrew forgot.
"My dear boy," he cried. "How glad I am to see you."
It was as if a survivor from a real world had appeared before him in a land
of dreams. He questioned him animatedly on his doings. The boy responded
wonderingly. At last:--
"When are you going to be demobilized?"
The subaltern smiled. "I hope never, sir. I'm a regular."
"Lucky devil," said Andrew. "Oh, you lucky devil! I'd give anything to
change places with you."
"I'm on, sir," laughed Smithson. "I'm all for being a Brigadier-General."
"Not on the retired list--out of the service," said Andrew.
The train began to move. Andrew jumped hastily into his compartment and,
leaning out of the window before the stout Frenchman, waved a hand to the
insignificant young man in the King's uniform. With all his soul he
envied him the privilege of wearing it. He cursed his stiff-neckedness
in declining the Major's commission offered by the War Office. A line of
Tennyson reminiscent of the days when Bakkus had guided his reading came
into his head. Something about a man's own angry pride being cap and bells
for a fool. He tried to find repose against the edge of the sharp double
curve that divided the carriage side into two portions. The trivial
discomfort irritated him. The German compartment might be a symbol of
victory, but it was also a symbol of the end of the war, the end of the
only intense life full of meaning which he had ever known.
As the train went on, he caught sight from the window of immense stores of
war--German waggons with their military destinations still marked in chalk,
painted guns of all calibres, drums of barbed wire, higgledy-piggledy
truck-loads of scrap, all sorts of flotsam and jetsam of the great
conflict. All useless, done with, never to be thought of again, so the
world hoped, in the millennium that was to be brought about by the League
of Nations. Yet it seemed impossible. In wayside camps, at railway
stations, he saw troops of the three great countries. Now and then
train-loads of them passed. It was impossible that the mighty hosts they
represented should soon melt away into the dull flood of civil life. The
war had been such a mighty, such a gallant thing. Of course the genius of
mankind must now be bent to the reconstruction of a shattered world. He
knew that. He knew that regret at the ending of the universal slaughter
would be the sentiment of a homicidal lunatic. Yet deep down in his heart
there was some such regret, a gnawing nostalgia.
After Amiens they passed by the battle-fields. A young American officer
sitting by the eastern window pointed them out to him. He explained to
Andrew what places had been British gun emplacements, pointed to the white
chalk lines that had been British trenches. Told him what a trench looked
like. Andrew listened grimly. The youth had pointed out of window again.
Did he know what those were? Those were shell-holes. German shells....
Presently the conductor came through to examine tickets. Andrew drew from
his pocket his worn campaigning note-case and accidently dropped a letter.
The young American politely picked it up, but the typewritten address on
the War Office envelope caught his eye. "Brigadier-General Lackaday, C.B."
He handed it to Andrew, flushing scarlet.
"Is that your name, sir?"
"It is," said Andrew.
"Then I reckon, sir, I've been making a fool of myself."
"Every man," said Andrew, with his disarming smile, "is bound to do that
once in his life. It's best to get it over as soon as possible. That's the
way one learns. Especially in the army."
But the young man's talk had rubbed in his complete civiliandom.
As the train neared Paris, his heart sank lower and lower. The old pre-war
life claimed him mercilessly, and he was frozen with a dread which he had
never felt on the fire-step in the cold dawn awaiting the lagging hour of
zero. On the entrance to the Gare du Nord he went into the corridor and
looked through the window. He saw Elodie afar off. Elodie, in a hat over
her eyes, a fur round her neck, her skirt cut nearly up to her knees
showing fat, white-stockinged calves. She had put on much flesh. The great
train stopped and vomited forth its horde of scurrying humans.
Elodie caught sight of him and rushed and threw herself into his arms, and
embraced him rapturously.
"Oh, my Andre, it is good to have you back. _O mon petit homme_--how
I have been longing for this moment. Now the war is finished, you will not
leave me again ever. _Et te voila General_. You must be proud, eh? But
your uniform? I who had made certain I should see you in uniform."
He smiled at her characteristic pounce on externals.
"I no longer belong to the Army, my little Elodie," he replied, walking
with her, his porter in front, to the barrier.
"_Mais tu es toujours General?_" she asked anxiously.
"I keep the rank," said Andrew.
"And the uniform? You can wear it? You will put it on sometimes to please
They drove home through twilight Paris, her arm passed through his, while
she chattered gaily. Was it not good to smell Paris again after London with
its fogs and ugliness and raw beefsteaks? To-night she would give him such
a dinner as he had never eaten in England--and not for two years. Did he
realize that it was two years since he had seen her?
"_Mon Dieu_," said he, "so it is."
"And you are pleased to have me again?"
"Can you doubt it?" he smiled.
"Ah, one never knows. What can't a man do in two years? Especially when he
becomes a high personage, a great General full of honours and decorations."
"The gods of peace have arrived, my little Elodie," said he with a touch of
bitterness, "and the little half-gods of war are eclipsed. If we go to a
restaurant there's no reason why the waiter with his napkin under his arm
shouldn't be an ex-colonel of Zouaves. All the glory of the war has ended,
my dear. A breath. Phew! Out goes the candle."
But Elodie would have none of this pessimistic philosophy.
"You are a General to the end of your days."
They mounted to the flat in the Faubourg Saint-Denis. To Andrew, accustomed
of late months to the greater spaciousness of English homes, it seemed
small and confined and close. It smelt of birds--several cages of which
occupied a side of the salon. Instinctively he threw open a window.
Instinctively also: "The _courant d'air!_" cried Elodie.
"Just for a minute," said Andrew--and added diplomatically, "I want to see
what changes there are in the street."
"It's always the same," said Elodie. "I will go and see about dinner."
So till she returned he kept the window open and looked about the room. It
was neat as a new pin, redded-up against his arrival. His books had been
taken from their cases and dusted; the wild displacement of volumes that
should have gone in series betrayed the hand of the zealous though inexpert
librarian. The old curtains had been cleaned, the antimacassars over the
backs of chairs and sofa had been freshly washed, the floor polished. Not a
greasy novel or a straggling garment defiled the spotlessness of the room,
which, but for the row of birds and the books, looked as if it subserved
no human purpose. A crazy whatnot, imitation lacquer and bamboo, the only
piece of decorative furniture, was stacked with photographs of variety
artists, male and female, in all kinds of stage costumes, with sprawling
signatures across, the collection of years of touring,--all scrupulously
dusted and accurately set out. The few cheap prints in maple frames that
adorned the walls (always askew, he remembered) had been adjusted to the
horizontal. On the chenille-covered table in the middle of the room stood
a vase with artificial flowers. The straight-backed chairs upholstered
in yellow and brown silk stood close sentry under the prints, in their
antimacassar uniforms. Two yellow and brown arm-chairs guarded the white
faience stove. The sofa against the wall frowned sternly at the whatnot on
the opposite side. Andrew's orderly soul felt aghast at this mathematical
tidiness. Even the old slovenly chaos was better. At least it expressed
something human. And then the picture of that other room, so exquisite,
so impregnated with the Far-away Princess spirit of its creator, rose up
before him, and he sighed and rubbed his fingers through his red stubbly
hair, and made a whimsical grimace, and said, "Oh Damn!" And Elodie then
bursting in, with a proud "Isn't it pretty, _ton petit chez-toi!_"
What could he do but smile, and assure her that no soldier home from the
wars could have a more beautifully regulated home?
"And you have looked enough at the street?"
Andrew shut the window.
Through one of the little ironies of fate, my mission at the Peace
Conference ended a day or two after Andrew's arrival in Paris, so that when
he called at my hotel I had already returned to London. A brief note from
him a day or two later informed me of his visit and his great regret at
missing me. Of his plans he said nothing. He gave as his address "c/o Cox's
Bank." You will remark that this was late April, and I did not receive his
famous manuscript till June. Of his private history I knew nothing, save
his beginnings in the Cirque Rocambeau and his identity with a professional
mountebank known as Petit Patou.
Soon afterwards I spent a week-end with the Verity-Stewarts. Before I could
have a private word with Lady Auriol, whom I found as my fellow-guest,
Evadne, as soon as she had finished an impatient though not unsubstantial
tea, hurried me out into the garden. There were two litters of Sealyhams.
Lady Verity-Stewart protested mildly.
"Uncle Anthony doesn't want to see puppies."
"It's the only thing he's interested in and the only thing he knows
anything about," cried Evadne. "And he's the only one that's able to pick
out the duds. Come on."
So I went. Crossing the lawn, she took my arm.
"We're all as sick as dogs," she remarked confidentially.
"We asked----" Note the modern child. Not "Papa" or "Mamma," as a
well-conducted little girl of the Victorian epoch would have said, but
"we," _ego et parentes_--"we asked," replied Evadne, "General Lackaday
down. And crossing our letter came one from Paris telling us he had left
England for good. Isn't it rotten?"
"The General's a very good fellow," said I, "but I didn't know he was a
flame of yours."
"Oh, you stupid!" cried Evadne, with a protesting tug at my arm "It's
nothing to do with me. It s Aunt Auriol."
"Oh?" said I.
She shook her fair bobbed head. "As if you didn't know!"
"I'm not so senile," said I, "as not to grasp your insinuation, my dear.
But I fail to see what business it is of ours."
"It's a family affair--oh, I forgot, you're not real family--only adopted."
I felt humiliated. "Anyhow you're as near as doesn't matter." I brightened
up again. "I've heard 'em talking it over--when they thought I wasn't
listening. Father and mother and Charles. They're all potty over General
Lackaday. And so's Aunt Auriol. I told you they had clicked ages ago."
"Yes. Don't you know English?"
"To my sorrow, I do. They clicked. And father and mother and Charles and
Aunt Auriol are all potty."
"And so am I," she declared, "for he's a dear. And they all say it's time
for Aunt Auriol to settle down. So they wanted to get him here and fix him.
Charles says he's a shy bird----"
"But," I interrupted, "you're talking of the family. Your Aunt Auriol has a
father, Lord Mountshire."
"He's an old ass," said Evadne.
"He's a peer of the realm," said I rebukingly, though I cordially agreed
"He's not fit to be General Lackaday's ancient butler," she retorted.
"Is that your own?"
"No. It's Charles's. But I can repeat it if I like."
"And all this goes to prove----" said I.
"Well, don't you see? You are dense. The news that the General had gone to
France knocked them all silly. Aunt Auriol's looking rotten. Charles says
she's off her feed. You should have seen her last night at dinner, when
they were talking about him."
"Again, my dear Evadne," said I, opening the gate of the kitchen garden for
her to pass through, "this is none of my business."
She took my arm again. "It doesn't matter. But oh, darling Uncle Tony,
couldn't we fix it up?"
"Fix up what?" I asked aghast.
"The wedding," replied this amazing young person, looking up at me so that
I had only a vision of earnest grey eyes, and a foreshortened snub nose and
chin. "He's only shy. You could bring him up to the scratch at once."
She went on in a whirl of words of which I preserve but a confused memory.
Of course it was her own idea. She had heard her mother hint that Anthony
Hylton might be a useful man to have about--but all the same she had her
plan. Why shouldn't I go off to Paris and bring him back? I gasped. I
fought for air. But Evadne hurried me on, talking all the time. She was
dying for a wedding. She had never seen one in her life. She would be a
bridesmaid. She described her costume. And she had set her heart on a
wedding present--the best of the bunch of Sealyham puppies. Why, certainly
they were all hers. Tit and Tat, from whom the rather extensive kennels had
originally sprung, were her own private property. They had been given to
her when she was six years old. Tat had died. But Tit. I knew Tit? Did
I not? No one could spend an hour in Mansfield Court without making the
acquaintance of the ancient thing on the hearthrug, with the shape of a
woolly lamb and the eye of a hawk and the smile of a Court jester. Besides,
I had known him since he was a puppy. I, _moi qui parle_, had been
the donor of Tit and Tat. I reminded her. I was a stupid. As if she didn't
know. But I was to confirm her right to dispose of the pups. I confirmed
it solemnly. So we hastened to the stable yard and inspected the kennels,
where the two mothers lay with their slithery tail-wagging broods. We
discussed the points of each little beast and eventually decided on the
one which should be Evadne's wedding present to General Lackaday and Lady
"Thanks ever so much, darling," said Evadne. "You are _so_ helpful."
I returned to the drawing-room fairly well primed with the family
preoccupations, so that when Lady Verity-Stewart carried me off to her own
little den on the pretext of showing me some new Bristol glass, and Sir
Julius came smoking casually in her wake, I knew what to expect. They
led up to the subject, of course, very diplomatically--not rushing at it
brutally like Evadne, but nothing that the child said did they omit--with
the natural exception of the bridesmaid's dress and the wedding present.
And they added little more. They were greatly concerned, dear elderly folk,
about Auriol. She and General Lackaday had been hand in glove for months.
He evidently more than admired her. Auriol, said Sir Julius, in her
don't-care-a-dam-for-anybody sort of way made no pretence of disguising her
sentiments. Any fool could see she was in love with the man. And they had
_affiched_ themselves together all over the place. Other women could
do it with impunity--if they didn't have an infatuated man in tow at
a restaurant, they'd be stared at, people would ask whether they were
qualifying for a nunnery--but Auriol was different. Aphrodite could do what
she chose and no one worried; but an indiscretion of Artemis set tongues
wagging. It was high time for something definite to happen. And now the
only thing definite was Lackaday's final exodus from the scene, and
Auriol's inclination to go off and bury herself in some savage land. Lady
Verity-Stewart thought Borneo. They were puzzled. General Lackaday was the
best of fellows---so simple, so sincere--such a damned fine soldier--such
a gentle, kindly creature--so scurvily treated by a disgraceful War
Office--just the husband for Auriol--etcetera, etcetera in strophe and
antistrophe of eulogy.
All this was by way of beginning. Then came the point of the conclave.
It was obvious that General Lackaday couldn't have trifled with Auriol's
affections and thrown her off. I smiled at the conception of the lank and
earnest Lackaday in the part of Don Juan. Besides, they added sagely,
Auriol had been known to make short work of philanderers. It could only be
a question of some misunderstanding that might easily be arranged by an
intelligent person in the confidence of both parties. That, it appeared,
was where I came in. I, as Evadne had said, was a useful man to have about.
"Now, my dear Anthony," said Sir Julius, "can't you do something?"
What the deuce was I to do? But first I asked:
"What does Auriol say about it?"
They hadn't broached the subject. They were afraid. I knew what Auriol
was. As likely as not she would tell them to go to the devil for their
"And she wouldn't be far wrong," said I.
"Of course it seems meddlesome," said Sir Julius, tugging at his white
moustache, "but we're fond of Auriol. I've been much more of a father to
her than that damned old ass Mountshire"--Evadne, again; though for once in
her life she had exercised restraint--"and I hate to see her unhappy. She's
a woman who ought to marry, hang it all, and bring fine children into the
world. And her twenties won't last for ever--to put it mildly. And here she
is in love with a fine fellow who's in love with her or I'll eat my hat,
and--well--don't you see what I mean?"
Oh yes. I saw perfectly. To soothe them, I promised to play the high-class
Pandarus to the best of my ability. At any rate, Lady Auriol, having taken
me into her confidence months ago, couldn't very well tell me to go to the
devil, and, if she did, couldn't maintain the mandate with much show of
I did not meet her till dinner. She came down in a sort of low cut red
and bronze frock without any sleeves--I had never seen so much of her
before--and what I saw was exceedingly beautiful. A magnificent creature,
with muscular, shapely arms and deep bosom and back like a Greek statue
become dark and warm. Her auburn hair crowned her strong pleasant face. As
far as appearances went I could trace no sign of the love-lorn maiden. Only
from her talk did I diagnose a more than customary unrest. The war was
over. Hospitals were closed. Her occupation (like Lackaday's) was gone.
England was no place for her. It was divided into two social kingdoms
separated by a vast gulf--one jazzing and feasting and otherwise
Sodom-and-Gomorrah-izing its life away, and the other growling, envious,
sinister, with the Bolshevic devil in its heart. What could a woman with
brains and energy do? The Society life of the moment made her sick. A dance
to Perdition. The middle classes were dancing, too, in ape-like imitation,
while the tradesman class were clinging for dear life on to their short
skirts, with legs dangling in the gulf. On the other side, seething masses
howling worship of the Goddess of Unreason. Cross the gulf--one would
metaphorically be torn to pieces. Remain--no outlet for energy but playing
the wild Cassandra. Her pessimism was Tartarean.
"General Lackaday, the last time I saw him, agreed with me that the war was
a damned sight better than this."
It was the first time she had mentioned him. Lady Verity-Stewart and I
She went on. Not a monologue. We all made our comments, protests and what
not. But in the theatre phrase we merely fed her, instinctively feeling for
the personal note. On ordinary occasions very subtly aware of such tactics,
she seemed now to ignore them. She rose to every fly. Public life for
women? Parliament? The next election would result in a Labour Government.
Women would stand no chance. Labour counted on cajoling the woman's vote.
But it would have no truck with women as legislators. If there was one
social class which had the profoundest contempt for woman as an intelligent
being it was the labouring population.
For Heaven's sake remember, I am only giving you Lady Auriol's views, as
expressed over the dinner table. What mine are, I won't say. Anyhow they
don't amount to a row of pins.
Lady Auriol continued her Jeremiad. Suppose she did stand for Parliament,
and got in for a safe Conservative constituency. What would happen? She
would be swept in to the muddiest and most soul-destroying game on God's
earth. No, my dear friends, no. No politics for her. Well, what then? we
"Didn't you say something about--what was it, dear--Borneo?" asked Lady
"I don't care where it is, Aunt Selina," cried Lady Auriol. "Anywhere out
of this melting-pot of civilization. But you can't get anywhere. There
aren't any ships to take you. And there's nowhere worth going to. The whole
of this miserable little earth has been exploited."
"Thibet has its lonely spots."
"And it's polyandrous--so a woman ought to have a good time--" she laughed.
"Thanks for the hint. But I'm not taking any. Seriously, however, as you
all seem to take such an interest in me, what s a woman like me to do in
this welter? Oh, give me the good old war again!"
Lady Verity-Stewart lifted horrified hands. Sir Julius rebuked her
unhumorously. Lady Auriol laughed again and the Jeremiad petered out.
"She's got it rather badly," Charles murmured to me when the ladies had
left the dining-room.
But I was not going to discuss Lady Auriol with Charles. I grunted and
sipped my port and told a gratified host that I recognized the '81
Sir Julius and Lady Verity-Stewart went to bed early after the sacramental
game of bridge. Charles, obeying orders, followed soon afterwards. Lady
Auriol and I had the field to ourselves.
"Well?" said she.
"Well?" said I.
"You don't suppose these subtle diplomatists have left us alone to discuss
Bolshevism or Infant Welfare?"
There was the ironical gleam in her eyes and twist in her lips that had
attracted me since her childhood. I have always liked intelligent women.
"Have they been badgering you?"
"Good Lord, no. But a female baby in a pink sash would see what they're
driving at. Haven't they been discussing me and Andrew Lackaday?"
"They have," said I, "and they're perfect dears. They've built up a
fairy-tale around you and have taken long leases in it and are terribly
anxious that the estate shan't be put into liquidation."
"That's rather neat," she said.
"I thought so, myself," said I.
Stretched in an arm-chair she looked for some minutes into the glow of the
wood fire. Then she turned her head quickly.
"You haven't given me away?"
"My good girl!" I protested, "what do you take me for?"
She laughed. "That's all right. I opened out to you last year about Andrew.
You remember? You were very sympathetic. I was in an unholy sort of fog
about myself then. I'm in clear weather now. I know my own mind. He's the
only man in the world for me. I suppose I've made it obvious. Hence the
solicitude of these pet lambs--and your appointment as Investigator. Well,
my dear Tony, what do they want to know?"
"They're straining their dear simple ears to catch the strain of wedding
bells and they can't do it. So they're worried."
"Well, you can tell them not to worry any longer. There aren't going to be
any wedding bells. They've made sentimental idiots of themselves. General
Lackaday and I aren't marrying folks. The question hasn't arisen. We're
good intimate friends, nothing more. He's no more in love with me than I am
with him. Savvy?"
I savvied. But--
"That's for the pet lambs," said I. "What for me?"
"I've already told you."
"And that's the end of it?"
"As far as you are concerned--yes."
"As you will," I said.
I put a log on the fire and took up a book. All this was none of my
business, as I had explained to Evadne.
"I'm sorry you're not interested in my conversation," she remarked after a
"You gave me to understand that it was over--as far as I was concerned."
"Never mind. I want to tell you something."
I laid down my book and lit a cigar.
"Go ahead," said I.
It was then that she told me of her last interview with Lackaday. Remember
I had not yet read his version.
"It's all pretty hopeless," she concluded.
For myself I knew nothing of the reasons that bade him adopt the attitude
of the Mysterious Unknown--except his sensitiveness on the point of his
profession. He would rather die than appear before her imagination in the
green silk tights of Petit Patou. I asked tentatively whether he had spoken
much of his civilian life.
"Very little. Except of his knowledge of Europe. He has travelled a great
deal. But of his occupation, family and the rest, I know nothing. Oh yes,
he did once say that his father and mother died when he was a baby and that
he had no kith or kin in the world. If he had thought fit to tell me more
he would have done so. I, of course, asked no questions."
"But all the same," said I, "you're dying to know the word of the enigma."
She laughed scornfully. "I know it, my friend."
"The deuce you do!" said I, thinking of Petit Patou and wondering how she
had guessed. "What is it?"
"A woman of course."
"Did he tell you?" I asked, startled, for that shed a new light on the
"No." She boomed the word at me. "What on earth do you suppose was the
meaning of our talk about playing the game?"
"Well, my dear," said I, "if it comes to that, do you think it was playing
the game for him, a married man with possibly a string of children, to come
down here and make love to you?"
She flared up. "He never made love to me. You've no right to say such a
thing. If there was any love-making, it was I that made it. Ninety per cent
of the love-making in the world is the work of women. And you know it,
although you pretend to be shocked. And I'm not ashamed of myself in the
least. As soon as I set my eyes on him I said 'That's the man I want,' and
I soon saw that I could give him what he never had before--and I kept him
to me, so that I could give it him. And I gloried in it. I don't care
whether he has ten wives or twenty children. I'm telling you because"--she
started up and looked me full in the face--"upon my word I don't know
why--except that you're a comfortable sort of creature, and if you know
everything you'll be able to deal with the pet lambs." She rose, held out
her hand. "You must be bored stiff."
"On the contrary," said I, "I'm vastly interested--and honoured, my dear
Auriol. But tell me. As all this sad, mad, glad affair seems to have come
to a sudden stop, what do you propose to do?"
"I don't know," she replied with a half laugh. "What I feel like doing is
to set out for Hell by the most adventurous route."
She laughed again, shook hands. "Good night, Tony." And she passed out
through the door I held open for her.
I finished my cigar before the fire. It was the most unsatisfactory romance
I had come across in a not inexperienced career. Was it the green silk
tights or the possible woman in the background that restrained the gallant
General? Suppose it was only the former? Would my Lady Auriol jib at
them? She was a young woman with a majestic scorn for externals. In her
unexpectedness she might cry "Motley's the only wear" and raise him ever
higher in his mountebankic path.... I was sorry for both of them. They were
two such out-of-the-way human beings--so vivid, so real. They seemed to
have a preordained right to each other. He, dry, stern, simple stick of
a man needed the flame-like quality that ran through her physical
magnificence. She, piercing beneath the glamour of his soldierly
achievements, found in him the primitive virility she could fear combined
with the spiritual helplessness to which she could come in her full womanly
and maternal aid. To her he was as a rock, but a living rock, vitalized by
a myriad veins of sensitiveness. To him--well, I knew my Auriol--and could
quite understand what Auriol in love could be to any man. Auriol out of
love (and in her right mind) had always been good enough for me.
So I mused for a considerable time. Then, becoming conscious of the
flatness, staleness and unprofitableness of it all, as far as my elderly
selfishness was concerned, I threw my extinct cigar end into the fire, and
thanking God that I had come to an age when all this storm and fuss over
a creature of the opposite sex was a thing of the past, and yet with an
unregenerate pang of regret for manifold what-might-have-beens, I put out
the lights and went to bed.
The next day I succeeded by hook or by crook in guiding the pet lambs,
Evadne included, in the way they should go. I reported progress to Lady
"Good dog," she said.
I returned to London on Monday morning. When next I heard of her, she
was, I am thankful to say, not on the adventurous path to the brimstone
objective of her predilection, but was fooling about, all by herself, in
a five-ton yacht, somewhere around the Outer Hebrides, in the foulest of
In the days of my youth I was the victim of a hopeless passion and
meditated suicide. A seafaring friend of mine suggested my accompanying him
on his cargo steamer from the Port of London to Bordeaux. It was blazing
summer. But I was appallingly sea-sick all the way, and when I set foot on
land I was cleansed of all human emotion save that of utter thankfulness
that I existed as an entity with an un-queasy stomach. I was cured for good
But a five-ton yacht off the Outer Hebrides in bleak tempests--No, it was
too heroic. Even my dear old friend Burton for all his wit and imagination
had never devised such a _remedia amoris_, such a remedy for Love
And then came June and with it the manuscript and all the flood of
information about the Agence Moignon and Bakkus and Petit Patou and
Prepimpin and Elodie and various other things that I have yet to set down.
While Lady Auriol Dayne was rocking about the Outer Hebrides, we find
Andrew Lackaday in Paris confronted with the grim necessity of earning a
livelihood. His pre-war savings had amounted to no fortune, and in spite
of Elodie's economy and occasional earnings with her birds, they were
well-nigh spent. The dearness of everything! Elodie wrung her hands. Where
once you had change out of a franc, now you had none out of a five-franc
note. He could still carry on comfortably for a year, but that would be the
end of it.
When he propounded the financial situation, Elodie did not understand.
"I must work," said he.
"But Generals don't work," she protested incredulously.
Even the war had developed little of the Marseilles _gamine's_
conceptions of life. A General--she knew no grades--a modest Brigadier
ranking second only to a Field Marshal--was a General. He commanded an
army. A military demigod invested with a glamour and glory which, _ipso
facto_, of its own essence, provided him with ample wealth. And once a
General, always a General. The mere fact of no longer being employed in the
command of armies did not matter. The rank remained and with the rank the
golden stream to maintain it. According to popular legend the Oriental
ascetic who concentrates his gaze on the centre of his body and his
thoughts on the syllable "Om" arrives at a peculiar mental condition. So
the magic word on which she had so long meditated, had its hypnotic effect
And when he had patiently explained--
"They give you nothing at all for being a General?" she almost screamed.
"Nothing at all," said Andrew.
"Then what's the good of being a General?"
"None that I can see," he replied with his grim smile.
Elodie's illusions fell clattering round about her ears. Not her illusions