Part 3 out of 9
vindicate the woman he had loved and never married. Now in the
retrospect and with a mind full of bitter enlightenment, I can do
Meredith justice, and admit the conflict was not only essential but
cardinal in his picture, that the terrible inflexibility of the rich
aunts and the still more terrible claim of Mrs. Burman Radnor, the
"infernal punctilio," and Dudley Sowerby's limitations, were the
central substance of that inalertness the book set itself to assail.
So many things have been brought together in my mind that were once
remotely separated. A people that will not valiantly face and
understand and admit love and passion can understand nothing
whatever. But in those days what is now just obvious truth to me
was altogether outside my range of comprehension. . . .
As I seek to recapitulate the interlacing growth of my apprehension
of the world, as I flounder among the half-remembered developments
that found me a crude schoolboy and left me a man, there comes out,
as if it stood for all the rest, my first holiday abroad. That did
not happen until I was twenty-two. I was a fellow of Trinity, and
the Peace of Vereeniging had just been signed.
I went with a man named Willersley, a man some years senior to
myself, who had just missed a fellowship and the higher division of
the Civil Service, and who had become an enthusiastic member of the
London School Board, upon which the cumulative vote and the support
of the "advanced" people had placed him. He had, like myself, a
small independent income that relieved him of any necessity to earn
a living, and he had a kindred craving for social theorising and
some form of social service. He had sought my acquaintance after
reading a paper of mine (begotten by the visit of Chris Robinson) on
the limits of pure democracy. It had marched with some thoughts of
We went by train to Spiez on the Lake of Thun, then up the Gemmi,
and thence with one or two halts and digressions and a little modest
climbing we crossed over by the Antrona pass (on which we were
benighted) into Italy, and by way of Domo D'ossola and the Santa
Maria Maggiore valley to Cannobio, and thence up the lake to Locarno
(where, as I shall tell, we stayed some eventful days) and so up the
Val Maggia and over to Airolo and home.
As I write of that long tramp of ours, something of its freshness
and enlargement returns to me. I feel again the faint pleasant
excitement of the boat train, the trampling procession of people
with hand baggage and laden porters along the platform of the
Folkestone pier, the scarcely perceptible swaying of the moored boat
beneath our feet. Then, very obvious and simple, the little emotion
of standing out from the homeland and seeing the long white Kentish
cliffs recede. One walked about the boat doing one's best not to
feel absurdly adventurous, and presently a movement of people
directed one's attention to a white lighthouse on a cliff to the
east of us, coming up suddenly; and then one turned to scan the
little different French coast villages, and then, sliding by in a
pale sunshine came a long wooden pier with oddly dressed children
upon it, and the clustering town of Boulogne.
One took it all with the outward calm that became a young man of
nearly three and twenty, but one was alive to one's finger-tips with
pleasing little stimulations. The custom house examination excited
one, the strangeness of a babble in a foreign tongue; one found the
French of City Merchants' and Cambridge a shy and viscous flow, and
then one was standing in the train as it went slowly through the
rail-laid street to Boulogne Ville, and one looked out at the world
in French, porters in blouses, workmen in enormous purple trousers,
police officers in peaked caps instead of helmets and romantically
cloaked, big carts, all on two wheels instead of four, green
shuttered casements instead of sash windows, and great numbers of
neatly dressed women in economical mourning.
"Oh! there's a priest!" one said, and was betrayed into suchlike
It was a real other world, with different government and different
methods, and in the night one was roused from uneasy slumbers and
sat blinking and surly, wrapped up in one's couverture and with
one's oreiller all awry, to encounter a new social phenomenon, the
German official, so different in manner from the British; and when
one woke again after that one had come to Bale, and out one tumbled
to get coffee in Switzerland. . . .
I have been over that route dozens of times since, but it still
revives a certain lingering youthfulness, a certain sense of
cheerful release in me.
I remember that I and Willersley became very sociological as we ran
on to Spiez, and made all sorts of generalisations from the steeply
sloping fields on the hillsides, and from the people we saw on
platforms and from little differences in the way things were done.
The clean prosperity of Bale and Switzerland, the big clean
stations, filled me with patriotic misgivings, as I thought of the
vast dirtiness of London, the mean dirtiness of Cambridgeshire. It
came to me that perhaps my scheme of international values was all
wrong, that quite stupendous possibilities and challenges for us and
our empire might be developing here--and I recalled Meredith's
Skepsey in France with a new understanding.
Willersley had dressed himself in a world-worn Norfolk suit of
greenish grey tweeds that ended unfamiliarly at his rather
impending, spectacled, intellectual visage. I didn't, I remember,
like the contrast of him with the drilled Swiss and Germans about
us. Convict coloured stockings and vast hobnail boots finished him
below, and all his luggage was a borrowed rucksac that he had tied
askew. He did not want to shave in the train, but I made him at one
of the Swiss stations--I dislike these Oxford slovenlinesses--and
then confound him! he cut himself and bled. . . .
Next morning we were breathing a thin exhilarating air that seemed
to have washed our very veins to an incredible cleanliness, and
eating hard-boiled eggs in a vast clear space of rime-edged rocks,
snow-mottled, above a blue-gashed glacier. All about us the
monstrous rock surfaces rose towards the shining peaks above, and
there were winding moraines from which the ice had receded, and then
dark clustering fir trees far below.
I had an extraordinary feeling of having come out of things, of
"But this is the round world!" I said, with a sense of never having
perceived it before; "this is the round world!"
That holiday was full of big comprehensive effects; the first view
of the Rhone valley and the distant Valaisian Alps, for example,
which we saw from the shoulder of the mountain above the Gemmi, and
the early summer dawn breaking over Italy as we moved from our
night's crouching and munched bread and chocolate and stretched our
stiff limbs among the tumbled and precipitous rocks that hung over
Lake Cingolo, and surveyed the winding tiring rocky track going down
and down to Antronapiano.
And our thoughts were as comprehensive as our impressions.
Willersley's mind abounded in historical matter; he had an
inaccurate abundant habit of topographical reference; he made me see
and trace and see again the Roman Empire sweep up these winding
valleys, and the coming of the first great Peace among the warring
tribes of men. . . .
In the retrospect each of us seems to have been talking about our
outlook almost continually. Each of us, you see, was full of the
same question, very near and altogether predominant to us, the
question: "What am I going to do with my life?" He saw it almost as
importantly as I, but from a different angle, because his choice was
largely made and mine still hung in the balance.
"I feel we might do so many things," I said, "and everything that
calls one, calls one away from something else."
Willersley agreed without any modest disavowals.
"We have got to think out," he said, "just what we are and what we
are up to. We've got to do that now. And then--it's one of those
questions it is inadvisable to reopen subsequently."
He beamed at me through his glasses. The sententious use of long
words was a playful habit with him, that and a slight deliberate
humour, habits occasional Extension Lecturing was doing very much to
"You've made your decision?"
He nodded with a peculiar forward movement of his head.
"How would you put it?"
"Social Service--education. Whatever else matters or doesn't
matter, it seems to me there is one thing we MUST have and increase,
and that is the number of people who can think a little--and have"--
he beamed again--"an adequate sense of causation."
"You're sure it's worth while."
"For me--certainly. I don't discuss that any more."
"I don't limit myself too narrowly," he added. "After all, the work
is all one. We who know, we who feel, are building the great modern
state, joining wall to wall and way to way, the new great England
rising out of the decaying old . . . we are the real statesmen--I
like that use of 'statesmen.'. . ."
"Yes," I said with many doubts. "Yes, of course. . . ."
Willersley is middle-aged now, with silver in his hair and a
deepening benevolence in his always amiable face, and he has very
fairly kept his word. He has lived for social service and to do
vast masses of useful, undistinguished, fertilising work. Think of
the days of arid administrative plodding and of contention still
more arid and unrewarded, that he must have spent! His little
affectations of gesture and manner, imitative affectations for the
most part, have increased, and the humorous beam and the humorous
intonations have become a thing he puts on every morning like an old
coat. His devotion is mingled with a considerable whimsicality, and
they say he is easily flattered by subordinates and easily offended
into opposition by colleagues; he has made mistakes at times and
followed wrong courses, still there he is, a flat contradiction to
all the ordinary doctrine of motives, a man who has foregone any
chances of wealth and profit, foregone any easier paths to
distinction, foregone marriage and parentage, in order to serve the
community. He does it without any fee or reward except his personal
self-satisfaction in doing this work, and he does it without any
hope of future joys and punishments, for he is an implacable
Rationalist. No doubt he idealises himself a little, and dreams of
recognition. No doubt he gets his pleasure from a sense of power,
from the spending and husbanding of large sums of public money, and
from the inevitable proprietorship he must feel in the fair, fine,
well-ordered schools he has done so much to develop. "But for me,"
he can say, "there would have been a Job about those diagrams, and
that subject or this would have been less ably taught." . . .
The fact remains that for him the rewards have been adequate, if not
to content at any rate to keep him working. Of course he covets the
notice of the world he has served, as a lover covets the notice of
his mistress. Of course he thinks somewhere, somewhen, he will get
credit. Only last year I heard some men talking of him, and they
were noting, with little mean smiles, how he had shown himself self-
conscious while there was talk of some honorary degree-giving or
other; it would, I have no doubt, please him greatly if his work
were to flower into a crimson gown in some Academic parterre. Why
shouldn't it? But that is incidental vanity at the worst; he goes
on anyhow. Most men don't.
But we had our walk twenty years and more ago now. He was oldish
even then as a young man, just as he is oldish still in middle age.
Long may his industrious elderliness flourish for the good of the
world! He lectured a little in conversation then; he lectures more
now and listens less, toilsomely disentangling what you already
understand, giving you in detail the data you know; these are things
like callosities that come from a man's work.
Our long three weeks' talk comes back to me as a memory of ideas and
determinations slowly growing, all mixed up with a smell of wood
smoke and pine woods and huge precipices and remote gleams of snow-
fields and the sound of cascading torrents rushing through deep
gorges far below. It is mixed, too, with gossips with waitresses
and fellow travellers, with my first essays in colloquial German and
Italian, with disputes about the way to take, and other things that
I will tell of in another section. But the white passion of human
service was our dominant theme. Not simply perhaps nor altogether
unselfishly, but quite honestly, and with at least a frequent self-
forgetfulness, did we want to do fine and noble things, to help in
their developing, to lessen misery, to broaden and exalt life. It
is very hard--perhaps it is impossible--to present in a page or two
the substance and quality of nearly a month's conversation,
conversation that is casual and discursive in form, that ranges
carelessly from triviality to immensity, and yet is constantly
resuming a constructive process, as workmen on a wall loiter and
jest and go and come back, and all the while build.
We got it more and more definite that the core of our purpose
beneath all its varied aspects must needs be order and discipline.
"Muddle," said I, "is the enemy." That remains my belief to this
day. Clearness and order, light and foresight, these things I know
for Good. It was muddle had just given us all the still freshly
painful disasters and humiliations of the war, muddle that gives us
the visibly sprawling disorder of our cities and industrial country-
side, muddle that gives us the waste of life, the limitations,
wretchedness and unemployment of the poor. Muddle! I remember
myself quoting Kipling--
"All along o' dirtiness, all along o' mess,
All along o' doin' things rather-more-or-less."
"We build the state," we said over and over again. "That is what we
are for--servants of the new reorganisation!"
We planned half in earnest and half Utopianising, a League of Social
We talked of the splendid world of men that might grow out of such
unpaid and ill-paid work as we were setting our faces to do. We
spoke of the intricate difficulties, the monstrous passive
resistances, the hostilities to such a development as we conceived
our work subserved, and we spoke with that underlying confidence in
the invincibility of the causes we adopted that is natural to young
and scarcely tried men.
We talked much of the detailed life of politics so far as it was
known to us, and there Willersley was more experienced and far
better informed than I; we discussed possible combinations and
possible developments, and the chances of some great constructive
movement coming from the heart-searchings the Boer war had
occasioned. We would sink to gossip--even at the Suetonius level.
Willersley would decline towards illuminating anecdotes that I
capped more or less loosely from my private reading. We were
particularly wise, I remember, upon the management of newspapers,
because about that we knew nothing whatever. We perceived that
great things were to be done through newspapers. We talked of
swaying opinion and moving great classes to massive action.
Men are egotistical even in devotion. All our splendid projects
were thickset with the first personal pronoun. We both could write,
and all that we said in general terms was reflected in the
particular in our minds; it was ourselves we saw, and no others,
writing and speaking that moving word. We had already produced
manuscript and passed the initiations of proof reading; I had been a
frequent speaker in the Union, and Willersley was an active man on
the School Board. Our feet were already on the lower rungs that led
up and up. He was six and twenty, and I twenty-two. We intimated
our individual careers in terms of bold expectation. I had
prophetic glimpses of walls and hoardings clamorous with "Vote for
Remington," and Willersley no doubt saw himself chairman of this
committee and that, saying a few slightly ironical words after the
declaration of the poll, and then sitting friendly beside me on the
government benches. There was nothing impossible in such dreams.
Why not the Board of Education for him? My preference at that time
wavered between the Local Government Board--I had great ideas about
town-planning, about revisions of municipal areas and re-organised
internal transit--and the War Office. I swayed strongly towards the
latter as the journey progressed. My educational bias came later.
The swelling ambitions that have tramped over Alpine passes! How
many of them, like mine, have come almost within sight of
realisation before they failed?
There were times when we posed like young gods (of unassuming
exterior), and times when we were full of the absurdest little
solicitudes about our prospects. There were times when one surveyed
the whole world of men as if it was a little thing at one's feet,
and by way of contrast I remember once lying in bed--it must have
been during this holiday, though I cannot for the life of me fix
where--and speculating whether perhaps some day I might not be a
K. C. B., Sir Richard Remington, K. C. B., M. P.
But the big style prevailed. . . .
We could not tell from minute to minute whether we were planning for
a world of solid reality, or telling ourselves fairy tales about
this prospect of life. So much seemed possible, and everything we
could think of so improbable. There were lapses when it seemed to
me I could never be anything but just the entirely unimportant and
undistinguished young man I was for ever and ever. I couldn't even
think of myself as five and thirty.
Once I remember Willersley going over a list of failures, and why
they had failed--but young men in the twenties do not know much
Willersley and I professed ourselves Socialists, but by this time I
knew my Rodbertus as well as my Marx, and there was much in our
socialism that would have shocked Chris Robinson as much as anything
in life could have shocked him. Socialism as a simple democratic
cry we had done with for ever. We were socialists because
Individualism for us meant muddle, meant a crowd of separated,
undisciplined little people all obstinately and ignorantly doing
things jarringly, each one in his own way. "Each," I said quoting
words of my father's that rose apt in my memory, "snarling from his
own little bit of property, like a dog tied to a cart's tail."
"Essentially," said Willersley, "essentially we're for conscription,
in peace and war alike. The man who owns property is a public
official and has to behave as such. That's the gist of socialism as
I understand it."
"Or be dismissed from his post," I said, "and replaced by some
better sort of official. A man's none the less an official because
he's irresponsible. What he does with his property affects people
just the same. Private! No one is really private but an outlaw. . . ."
Order and devotion were the very essence of our socialism, and a
splendid collective vigour and happiness its end. We projected an
ideal state, an organised state as confident and powerful as modern
science, as balanced and beautiful as a body, as beneficent as
sunshine, the organised state that should end muddle for ever; it
ruled all our ideals and gave form to all our ambitions.
Every man was to be definitely related to that, to have his
predominant duty to that. Such was the England renewed we had in
mind, and how to serve that end, to subdue undisciplined worker and
undisciplined wealth to it, and make the Scientific Commonweal,
King, was the continuing substance of our intercourse.
Every day the wine of the mountains was stronger in our blood, and
the flush of our youth deeper. We would go in the morning sunlight
along some narrow Alpine mule-path shouting large suggestions for
national reorganisation, and weighing considerations as lightly as
though the world was wax in our hands. "Great England," we said in
effect, over and over again, "and we will be among the makers!
England renewed! The country has been warned; it has learnt its
lesson. The disasters and anxieties of the war have sunk in.
England has become serious. . . . Oh! there are big things before
us to do; big enduring things!"
One evening we walked up to the loggia of a little pilgrimage
church, I forget its name, that stands out on a conical hill at the
head of a winding stair above the town of Locarno. Down below the
houses clustered amidst a confusion of heat-bitten greenery. I had
been sitting silently on the parapet, looking across to the purple
mountain masses where Switzerland passes into Italy, and the drift
of our talk seemed suddenly to gather to a head.
I broke into speech, giving form to the thoughts that had been
accumulating. My words have long since passed out of my memory, the
phrases of familiar expression have altered for me, but the
substance remains as clear as ever. I said how we were in our
measure emperors and kings, men undriven, free to do as we pleased
with life; we classed among the happy ones, our bread and common
necessities were given us for nothing, we had abilities,--it wasn't
modesty but cowardice to behave as if we hadn't--and Fortune watched
us to see what we might do with opportunity and the world.
"There are so many things to do, you see," began Willersley, in his
judicial lecturer's voice.
"So many things we may do," I interrupted, "with all these years
before us. . . . We're exceptional men. It's our place, our duty,
to do things."
"Here anyhow," I said, answering the faint amusement of his face;
"I've got no modesty. Everything conspires to set me up. Why
should I run about like all those grubby little beasts down there,
seeking nothing but mean little vanities and indulgencies--and then
take credit for modesty? I KNOW I am capable. I KNOW I have
imagination. Modesty! I know if I don't attempt the very biggest
things in life I am a damned shirk. The very biggest! Somebody has
to attempt them. I feel like a loaded gun that is only a little
perplexed because it has to find out just where to aim itself. . . ."
The lake and the frontier villages, a white puff of steam on the
distant railway to Luino, the busy boats and steamers trailing
triangular wakes of foam, the long vista eastward towards
battlemented Bellinzona, the vast mountain distances, now tinged
with sunset light, behind this nearer landscape, and the southward
waters with remote coast towns shining dimly, waters that merged at
last in a luminous golden haze, made a broad panoramic spectacle.
It was as if one surveyed the world,--and it was like the games I
used to set out upon my nursery floor. I was exalted by it; I felt
larger than men. So kings should feel.
That sense of largeness came to me then, and it has come to me since,
again and again, a splendid intimation or a splendid vanity. Once,
I remember, when I looked at Genoa from the mountain crest behind
the town and saw that multitudinous place in all its beauty of width
and abundance and clustering human effort, and once as I was
steaming past the brown low hills of Staten Island towards the
towering vigour and clamorous vitality of New York City, that mood
rose to its quintessence. And once it came to me, as I shall tell,
on Dover cliffs. And a hundred times when I have thought of England
as our country might be, with no wretched poor, no wretched rich, a
nation armed and ordered, trained and purposeful amidst its vales
and rivers, that emotion of collective ends and collective purposes
has returned to me. I felt as great as humanity. For a brief
moment I was humanity, looking at the world I had made and had still
to make. . . .
And mingled with these dreams of power and patriotic service there
was another series of a different quality and a different colour,
like the antagonistic colour of a shot silk. The white life and the
red life, contrasted and interchanged, passing swiftly at a turn
from one to another, and refusing ever to mingle peacefully one with
the other. I was asking myself openly and distinctly: what are you
going to do for the world? What are you going to do with yourself?
and with an increasing strength and persistence Nature in spite of
my averted attention was asking me in penetrating undertones: what
are you going to do about this other fundamental matter, the beauty
of girls and women and your desire for them?
I have told of my sisterless youth and the narrow circumstances of
my upbringing. It made all women-kind mysterious to me. If it had
not been for my Staffordshire cousins I do not think I should have
known any girls at all until I was twenty. Of Staffordshire I will
tell a little later. But I can remember still how through all those
ripening years, the thought of women's beauty, their magic presence
in the world beside me and the unknown, untried reactions of their
intercourse, grew upon me and grew, as a strange presence grows in a
room when one is occupied by other things. I busied myself and
pretended to be wholly occupied, and there the woman stood, full
half of life neglected, and it seemed to my averted mind sometimes
that she was there clad and dignified and divine, and sometimes
Aphrodite shining and commanding, and sometimes that Venus who
stoops and allures.
This travel abroad seemed to have released a multitude of things in
my mind; the clear air, the beauty of the sunshine, the very blue of
the glaciers made me feel my body and quickened all those
disregarded dreams. I saw the sheathed beauty of women's forms all
about me, in the cheerful waitresses at the inns, in the pedestrians
one encountered in the tracks, in the chance fellow travellers at
the hotel tables. "Confound it!" said I, and talked all the more
zealously of that greater England that was calling us.
I remember that we passed two Germans, an old man and a tall fair
girl, father and daughter, who were walking down from Saas. She
came swinging and shining towards us, easy and strong. I worshipped
her as she approached.
"Gut Tag!" said Willersley, removing his hat.
"Morgen!" said the old man, saluting.
I stared stockishly at the girl, who passed with an indifferent
That sticks in my mind as a picture remains in a room, it has kept
there bright and fresh as a thing seen yesterday, for twenty
years. . . .
I flirted hesitatingly once or twice with comely serving girls, and
was a little ashamed lest Willersley should detect the keen interest
I took in them, and then as we came over the pass from Santa Maria
Maggiore to Cannobio, my secret preoccupation took me by surprise
and flooded me and broke down my pretences.
The women in that valley are very beautiful--women vary from valley
to valley in the Alps and are plain and squat here and divinities
five miles away--and as we came down we passed a group of five or
six of them resting by the wayside. Their burthens were beside
them, and one like Ceres held a reaping hook in her brown hand. She
watched us approaching and smiled faintly, her eyes at mine.
There was some greeting, and two of them laughed together.
"Glorious girls they were," said Willersley, and suddenly an immense
sense of boredom enveloped me. I saw myself striding on down that
winding road, talking of politics and parties and bills of
parliament and all sorts of dessicated things. That road seemed to
me to wind on for ever down to dust and infinite dreariness. I knew
it for a way of death. Reality was behind us.
Willersley set himself to draw a sociological moral. "I'm not so
sure," he said in a voice of intense discriminations, "after all,
that agricultural work isn't good for women."
"Damn agricultural work!" I said, and broke out into a vigorous
cursing of all I held dear. "Fettered things we are!" I cried. "I
wonder why I stand it!"
"Why don't I go back and make love to those girls and let the world
and you and everything go hang? Deep breasts and rounded limbs--and
we poor emasculated devils go tramping by with the blood of youth in
us! . . ."
"I'm not quite sure, Remington," said Willersley, looking at me with
a deliberately quaint expression over his glasses, "that picturesque
scenery is altogether good for your morals."
That fever was still in my blood when we came to Locarno.
Along the hot and dusty lower road between the Orrido of Traffiume
and Cannobio Willersley had developed his first blister. And partly
because of that and partly because there was a bag at the station
that gave us the refreshment of clean linen and partly because of
the lazy lower air into which we had come, we decided upon three or
four days' sojourn in the Empress Hotel.
We dined that night at a table-d'hote, and I found myself next to an
Englishwoman who began a conversation that was resumed presently in
the hotel lounge. She was a woman of perhaps thirty-three or
thirty-four, slenderly built, with a warm reddish skin and very
abundant fair golden hair, the wife of a petulant-looking heavy-
faced man of perhaps fifty-three, who smoked a cigar and dozed over
his coffee and presently went to bed. "He always goes to bed like
that," she confided startlingly. "He sleeps after all his meals. I
never knew such a man to sleep."
Then she returned to our talk, whatever it was.
We had begun at the dinner table with itineraries and the usual
topographical talk, and she had envied our pedestrian travel. "My
husband doesn't walk," she said. "His heart is weak and he cannot
manage the hills."
There was something friendly and adventurous in her manner; she
conveyed she liked me, and when presently Willersley drifted off to
write letters our talk sank at once to easy confidential undertones.
I felt enterprising, and indeed it is easy to be daring with people
one has never seen before and may never see again. I said I loved
beautiful scenery and all beautiful things, and the pointing note in
my voice made her laugh. She told me I had bold eyes, and so far as
I can remember I said she made them bold. "Blue they are," she
remarked, smiling archly. "I like blue eyes." Then I think we
compared ages, and she said she was the Woman of Thirty, "George
Moore's Woman of Thirty."
I had not read George Moore at the time, but I pretended to
That, I think, was our limit that evening. She went to bed, smiling
good-night quite prettily down the big staircase, and I and
Willersley went out to smoke in the garden. My head was full of
her, and I found it necessary to talk about her. So I made her a
problem in sociology. "Who the deuce are these people?" I said, "and
how do they get a living? They seem to have plenty of money. He
strikes me as being--Willersley, what is a drysalter? I think he's
a retired drysalter."
Willersley theorised while I thought of the woman and that
provocative quality of dash she had displayed. The next day at
lunch she and I met like old friends. A huge mass of private
thinking during the interval had been added to our effect upon one
another. We talked for a time of insignificant things.
"What do you do," she asked rather quickly, "after lunch? Take a
"Sometimes," I said, and hung for a moment eye to eye.
We hadn't a doubt of each other, but my heart was beating like a
steamer propeller when it lifts out of the water.
"Do you get a view from your room?" she asked after a pause.
"It's on the third floor, Number seventeen, near the staircase. My
friend's next door."
She began to talk of books. She was interested in Christian
Science, she said, and spoke of a book. I forget altogether what
that book was called, though I remember to this day with the utmost
exactness the purplish magenta of its cover. She said she would
lend it to me and hesitated.
Willersley wanted to go for an expedition across the lake that
afternoon, but I refused. He made some other proposals that I
rejected abruptly. "I shall write in my room," I said.
"Why not write down here?"
"I shall write in my room," I snarled like a thwarted animal, and he
looked at me curiously. "Very well," he said; "then I'll make some
notes and think about that order of ours out under the magnolias."
I hovered about the lounge for a time buying postcards and
feverishly restless, watching the movements of the other people.
Finally I went up to my room and sat down by the windows, staring
out. There came a little tap at the unlocked door and in an
instant, like the go of a taut bowstring, I was up and had it open.
"Here is that book," she said, and we hesitated.
"COME IN!" I whispered, trembling from head to foot.
"You're just a boy," she said in a low tone.
I did not feel a bit like a lover, I felt like a burglar with the
safe-door nearly opened. "Come in," I said almost impatiently, for
anyone might be in the passage, and I gripped her wrist and drew her
"What do you mean?" she answered with a faint smile on her lips, and
awkward and yielding.
I shut the door behind her, still holding her with one hand, then
turned upon her--she was laughing nervously--and without a word drew
her to me and kissed her. And I remember that as I kissed her she
made a little noise almost like the purring miaow with which a cat
will greet one and her face, close to mine, became solemn and
She was suddenly a different being from the discontented wife who
had tapped a moment since on my door, a woman transfigured. . . .
That evening I came down to dinner a monster of pride, for behold! I
was a man. I felt myself the most wonderful and unprecedented of
adventurers. It was hard to believe that any one in the world
before had done as much. My mistress and I met smiling, we carried
things off admirably, and it seemed to me that Willersley was the
dullest old dog in the world. I wanted to give him advice. I
wanted to give him derisive pokes. After dinner and coffee in the
lounge I was too excited and hilarious to go to bed, I made him come
with me down to the cafe under the arches by the pier, and there
drank beer and talked extravagant nonsense about everything under
the sun, in order not to talk about the happenings of the afternoon.
All the time something shouted within me: "I am a man! I am a
man!" . . .
"What shall we do to-morrow?" said he.
"I'm for loafing," I said. "Let's row in the morning and spend to-
morrow afternoon just as we did to-day."
"They say the church behind the town is worth seeing."
"We'll go up about sunset; that's the best time for it. We can
start about five."
We heard music, and went further along the arcade to discover a
place where girls in operatic Swiss peasant costume were singing and
dancing on a creaking, protesting little stage. I eyed their
generous display of pink neck and arm with the seasoned eye of a man
who has lived in the world. Life was perfectly simple and easy, I
felt, if one took it the right way.
Next day Willersley wanted to go on, but I delayed. Altogether I
kept him back four days. Then abruptly my mood changed, and we
decided to start early the following morning. I remember, though a
little indistinctly, the feeling of my last talk with that woman
whose surname, odd as it may seem, either I never learnt or I have
forgotten. (Her christian name was Milly.) She was tired and
rather low-spirited, and disposed to be sentimental, and for the
first time in our intercourse I found myself liking her for the sake
of her own personality. There was something kindly and generous
appearing behind the veil of naive and uncontrolled sensuality she
had worn. There was a curious quality of motherliness in her
attitude to me that something in my nature answered and approved.
She didn't pretend to keep it up that she had yielded to my
initiative. "I've done you no harm," she said a little doubtfully,
an odd note for a man's victim! And, "we've had a good time. You
have liked me, haven't you?"
She interested me in her lonely dissatisfied life; she was childless
and had no hope of children, and her husband was the only son of a
rich meat salesman, very mean, a mighty smoker--"he reeks of it,"
she said, "always"--and interested in nothing but golf, billiards
(which he played very badly), pigeon shooting, convivial Free
Masonry and Stock Exchange punting. Mostly they drifted about the
Riviera. Her mother had contrived her marriage when she was
eighteen. They were the first samples I ever encountered of the
great multitude of functionless property owners which encumbers
modern civilisation--but at the time I didn't think much of that
aspect of them. . . .
I tell all this business as it happened without comment, because I
have no comment to make. It was all strange to me, strange rather
than wonderful, and, it may be, some dream of beauty died for ever
in those furtive meetings; it happened to me, and I could scarcely
have been more irresponsible in the matter or controlled events less
if I had been suddenly pushed over a cliff into water. I swam, of
course--finding myself in it. Things tested me, and I reacted, as I
have told. The bloom of my innocence, if ever there had been such a
thing, was gone. And here is the remarkable thing about it; at the
time and for some days I was over-weeningly proud; I have never been
so proud before or since; I felt I had been promoted to virility; I
was unable to conceal my exultation from Willersley. It was a mood
of shining shameless ungracious self-approval. As he and I went
along in the cool morning sunshine by the rice fields in the throat
of the Val Maggia a silence fell between us.
"You know?" I said abruptly,--"about that woman?"
Willersley did not answer for a moment. He looked at me over the
corner of his spectacles.
"Things went pretty far?" he asked.
"Oh! all the way!" and I had a twinge of fatuous pride in my
"She came to your room?"
"I heard her. I heard her whispering. . . . The whispering and
rustling and so on. I was in my room yesterday. . . . Any one
might have heard you."
I went on with my head in the air.
"You might have been caught, and that would have meant endless
trouble. You might have incurred all sorts of consequences. What
did you know about her? . . . We have wasted four days in that hot
close place. When we found that League of Social Service we were
talking about," he said with a determined eye upon me, "chastity
will be first among the virtues prescribed."
"I shall form a rival league," I said a little damped. "I'm hanged
if I give up a single desire in me until I know why."
He lifted his chin and stared before him through his glasses at
nothing. "There are some things," he said, "that a man who means to
work--to do great public services--MUST turn his back upon. I'm not
discussing the rights or wrongs of this sort of thing. It happens
to be the conditions we work under. It will probably always be so.
If you want to experiment in that way, if you want even to discuss
it,--out you go from political life. You must know that's so. . . .
You're a strange man, Remington, with a kind of kink in you. You've
a sort of force. You might happen to do immense things. . . .
He stopped. He had said all that he had forced himself to say.
"I mean to take myself as I am," I said. "I'm going to get
experience for humanity out of all my talents--and bury nothing."
Willersley twisted his face to its humorous expression. "I doubt if
sexual proclivities," he said drily, "come within the scope of the
I let that go for a little while. Then I broke out. "Sex!" said I,
"is a fundamental thing in life. We went through all this at
Trinity. I'm going to look at it, experience it, think about it--
and get it square with the rest of life. Career and Politics must
take their chances of that. It's part of the general English
slackness that they won't look this in the face. Gods! what a
muffled time we're coming out of! Sex means breeding, and breeding
is a necessary function in a nation. The Romans broke up upon that.
The Americans fade out amidst their successes. Eugenics--"
"THAT wasn't Eugenics," said Willersley.
"It was a woman," I said after a little interval, feeling oddly that
I had failed altogether to answer him, and yet had a strong dumb
case against him.
BOOK THE SECOND
CHAPTER THE FIRST
MARGARET IN STAFFORDSHIRE
I must go back a little way with my story. In the previous book I
have described the kind of education that happens to a man of my
class nowadays, and it has been convenient to leap a phase in my
experience that I must now set out at length. I want to tell in
this second hook how I came to marry, and to do that I must give
something of the atmosphere in which I first met my wife and some
intimations of the forces that went to her making. I met her in
Staffordshire while I was staying with that uncle of whom I have
already spoken, the uncle who sold my father's houses and settled my
mother in Penge. Margaret was twenty then and I was twenty-two.
It was just before the walking tour in Switzerland that opened up so
much of the world to me. I saw her once, for an afternoon, and
circumstances so threw her up in relief that I formed a very vivid
memory of her. She was in the sharpest contrast with the industrial
world about her; she impressed me as a dainty blue flower might do,
come upon suddenly on a clinker heap. She remained in my mind at
once a perplexing interrogation and a symbol. . . .
But first I must tell of my Staffordshire cousins and the world that
served as a foil for her.
I first went to stay with my cousins when I was an awkward youth of
sixteen, wearing deep mourning for my mother. My uncle wanted to
talk things over with me, he said, and if he could, to persuade me
to go into business instead of going up to Cambridge.
I remember that visit on account of all sorts of novel things, but
chiefly, I think, because it was the first time I encountered
anything that deserves to be spoken of as wealth. For the first
time in my life I had to do with people who seemed to have endless
supplies of money, unlimited good clothes, numerous servants; whose
daily life was made up of things that I had hitherto considered to
be treats or exceptional extravagances. My cousins of eighteen and
nineteen took cabs, for instance, with the utmost freedom, and
travelled first-class in the local trains that run up and down the
district of the Five Towns with an entire unconsciousness of the
magnificence, as it seemed to me, of such a proceeding.
The family occupied a large villa in Newcastle, with big lawns
before it and behind, a shrubbery with quite a lot of shrubs, a
coach house and stable, and subordinate dwelling-places for the
gardener and the coachman. Every bedroom contained a gas heater and
a canopied brass bedstead, and had a little bathroom attached
equipped with the porcelain baths and fittings my uncle
manufactured, bright and sanitary and stamped with his name, and the
house was furnished throughout with chairs and tables in bright
shining wood, soft and prevalently red Turkish carpets, cosy
corners, curtained archways, gold-framed landscapes, overmantels, a
dining-room sideboard like a palace with a large Tantalus, and
electric light fittings of a gay and expensive quality. There was a
fine billiard-room on the ground floor with three comfortable sofas
and a rotating bookcase containing an excellent collection of the
English and American humorists from THREE MEN IN A BOAT to the
penultimate Mark Twain. There was also a conservatory opening out
of the dining-room, to which the gardener brought potted flowers in
their season. . . .
My aunt was a little woman with a scared look and a cap that would
get over one eye, not very like my mother, and nearly eight years
her junior; she was very much concerned with keeping everything
nice, and unmercifully bullied by my two cousins, who took after
their father and followed the imaginations of their own hearts.
They were tall, dark, warmly flushed girls handsome rather than
pretty. Gertrude, the eldest and tallest, had eyes that were almost
black; Sibyl was of a stouter build, and her eyes, of which she was
shamelessly proud, were dark blue. Sibyl's hair waved, and
Gertrude's was severely straight. They treated me on my first visit
with all the contempt of the adolescent girl for a boy a little
younger and infinitely less expert in the business of life than
herself. They were very busy with the writings of notes and certain
mysterious goings and comings of their own, and left me very much to
my own devices. Their speech in my presence was full of
unfathomable allusions. They were the sort of girls who will talk
over and through an uninitiated stranger with the pleasantest sense
I met them at breakfast and at lunch and at the half-past six
o'clock high tea that formed the third chief meal of the day. I
heard them rattling off the compositions of Chaminade and Moskowski,
with great decision and effect, and hovered on the edge of tennis
foursomes where it was manifest to the dullest intelligence that my
presence was unnecessary. Then I went off to find some readable
book in the place, but apart from miscellaneous popular novels, some
veterinary works, a number of comic books, old bound volumes of THE
ILLUSTRATED LONDON NEWS and a large, popular illustrated History of
England, there was very little to be found. My aunt talked to me in
a casual feeble way, chiefly about my mother's last illness. The
two had seen very little of each other for many years; she made no
secret of it that the ineligible qualities of my father were the
cause of the estrangement. The only other society in the house
during the day was an old and rather decayed Skye terrier in
constant conflict with what were no doubt imaginary fleas. I took
myself off for a series of walks, and acquired a considerable
knowledge of the scenery and topography of the Potteries.
It puzzled my aunt that I did not go westward, where it was country-
side and often quite pretty, with hedgerows and fields and copses
and flowers. But always I went eastward, where in a long valley
industrialism smokes and sprawls. That was the stuff to which I
turned by nature, to the human effort, and the accumulation and jar
of men's activities. And in such a country as that valley social
and economic relations were simple and manifest. Instead of the
limitless confusion of London's population, in which no man can
trace any but the most slender correlation between rich and poor, in
which everyone seems disconnected and adrift from everyone, you can
see here the works, the potbank or the ironworks or what not, and
here close at hand the congested, meanly-housed workers, and at a
little distance a small middle-class quarter, and again remoter, the
big house of the employer. It was like a very simplified diagram--
after the untraceable confusion of London.
I prowled alone, curious and interested, through shabby back streets
of mean little homes; I followed canals, sometimes canals of
mysteriously heated waters with ghostly wisps of steam rising
against blackened walls or a distant prospect of dustbin-fed
vegetable gardens, I saw the women pouring out from the potbanks,
heard the hooters summoning the toilers to work, lost my way upon
slag heaps as big as the hills of the south country, dodged trains
at manifestly dangerous level crossings, and surveyed across dark
intervening spaces, the flaming uproar, the gnome-like activities of
iron foundries. I heard talk of strikes and rumours of strikes, and
learnt from the columns of some obscure labour paper I bought one
day, of the horrors of the lead poisoning that was in those days one
of the normal risks of certain sorts of pottery workers. Then back
I came, by the ugly groaning and clanging steam train of that period,
to my uncle's house and lavish abundance of money and more or less
furtive flirtations and the tinkle of Moskowski and Chaminade. It
was, I say, diagrammatic. One saw the expropriator and the
expropriated--as if Marx had arranged the picture. It was as
jumbled and far more dingy and disastrous than any of the confusions
of building and development that had surrounded my youth at
Bromstead and Penge, but it had a novel quality of being explicable.
I found great virtue in the word "exploitation."
There stuck in my mind as if it was symbolical of the whole thing
the twisted figure of a man, whose face had been horribly scalded--I
can't describe how, except that one eye was just expressionless
white--and he ground at an organ bearing a card which told in weak
and bitterly satirical phrasing that he had been scalded by the hot
water from the tuyeres of the blast furnace of Lord Pandram's works.
He had been scalded and quite inadequately compensated and
dismissed. And Lord Pandram was worth half a million.
That upturned sightless white eye of his took possession of my
imagination. I don't think that even then I was swayed by any crude
melodramatic conception of injustice. I was quite prepared to
believe the card wasn't a punctiliously accurate statement of fact,
and that a case could be made out for Lord Pandram. Still there in
the muddy gutter, painfully and dreadfully, was the man, and he was
smashed and scalded and wretched, and he ground his dismal
hurdygurdy with a weary arm, calling upon Heaven and the passer-by
for help, for help and some sort of righting--one could not imagine
quite what. There he was as a fact, as a by-product of the system
that heaped my cousins with trinkets and provided the comic novels
and the abundant cigars and spacious billiard-room of my uncle's
house. I couldn't disconnect him and them.
My uncle on his part did nothing to conceal the state of war that
existed between himself and his workers, and the mingled contempt
and animosity he felt from them.
Prosperity had overtaken my uncle. So quite naturally he believed
that every man who was not as prosperous as he was had only himself
to blame. He was rich and he had left school and gone into his
father's business at fifteen, and that seemed to him the proper age
at which everyone's education should terminate. He was very anxious
to dissuade me from going up to Cambridge, and we argued
intermittently through all my visit.
I had remembered him as a big and buoyant man, striding
destructively about the nursery floor of my childhood, and saluting
my existence by slaps, loud laughter, and questions about half
herrings and half eggs subtly framed to puzzle and confuse my mind.
I didn't see him for some years until my father's death, and then he
seemed rather smaller, though still a fair size, yellow instead of
red and much less radiantly aggressive. This altered effect was due
not so much to my own changed perspectives, I fancy, as to the facts
that he was suffering for continuous cigar smoking, and being taken
in hand by his adolescent daughters who had just returned from
During my first visit there was a perpetual series of--the only word
is rows, between them and him. Up to the age of fifteen or
thereabouts, he had maintained his ascendancy over them by simple
old-fashioned physical chastisement. Then after an interlude of a
year it had dawned upon them that power had mysteriously departed
from him. He had tried stopping their pocket money, but they found
their mother financially amenable; besides which it was fundamental
to my uncle's attitude that he should give them money freely. Not
to do so would seem like admitting a difficulty in making it. So
that after he had stopped their allowances for the fourth time Sybil
and Gertrude were prepared to face beggary without a qualm. It had
been his pride to give them the largest allowance of any girls at
the school, not even excepting the granddaughter of Fladden the
Borax King, and his soul recoiled from this discipline as it had
never recoiled from the ruder method of the earlier phase. Both
girls had developed to a high pitch in their mutual recriminations a
gift for damaging retort, and he found it an altogether deadlier
thing than the power of the raised voice that had always cowed my
aunt. Whenever he became heated with them, they frowned as if
involuntarily, drew in their breath sharply, said: "Daddy, you
really must not say--" and corrected his pronunciation. Then, at a
great advantage, they resumed the discussion. . . .
My uncle's views about Cambridge, however, were perfectly clear and
definite. It was waste of time and money. It was all damned
foolery. Did they make a man a better business man? Not a bit of
it. He gave instances. It spoilt a man for business by giving him
"false ideas." Some men said that at college a man formed useful
friendships. What use were friendships to a business man? He might
get to know lords, but, as my uncle pointed out, a lord's
requirements in his line of faience were little greater than a
common man's. If college introduced him to hotel proprietors there
might be something in it. Perhaps it helped a man into Parliament,
Parliament still being a confused retrogressive corner in the world
where lawyers and suchlike sheltered themselves from the onslaughts
of common-sense behind a fog of Latin and Greek and twaddle and
tosh; but I wasn't the sort to go into Parliament, unless I meant to
be a lawyer. Did I mean to be a lawyer? It cost no end of money,
and was full of uncertainties, and there were no judges nor great
solicitors among my relations. "Young chaps think they get on by
themselves," said my uncle. "It isn't so. Not unless they take
their coats off. I took mine off before I was your age by nigh a
We were at cross purposes from the outset, because I did not think
men lived to make money; and I was obtuse to the hints he was
throwing out at the possibilities of his own potbank, not willfully
obtuse, but just failing to penetrate his meaning. Whatever City
Merchants had or had not done for me, Flack, Topham and old Gates
had certainly barred my mistaking the profitable production and sale
of lavatory basins and bathroom fittings for the highest good. It
was only upon reflection that it dawned upon me that the splendid
chance for a young fellow with my uncle, "me, having no son of my
own," was anything but an illustration for comparison with my own
I still remember very distinctly my uncle's talk,--he loved to speak
"reet Staffordshire"--his rather flabby face with the mottled
complexion that told of crude ill-regulated appetites, his clumsy
gestures--he kept emphasising his points by prodding at me with his
finger--the ill-worn, costly, grey tweed clothes, the watch chain of
plain solid gold, and soft felt hat thrust back from his head. He
tackled me first in the garden after lunch, and then tried to raise
me to enthusiasm by taking me to his potbank and showing me its
organisation, from the dusty grinding mills in which whitened men
worked and coughed, through the highly ventilated glazing room in
which strangely masked girls looked ashamed of themselves,--"They'll
risk death, the fools, to show their faces to a man," said my uncle,
quite audibly--to the firing kilns and the glazing kilns, and so
round the whole place to the railway siding and the gratifying
spectacle of three trucks laden with executed orders.
Then we went up a creaking outside staircase to his little office,
and he showed off before me for a while, with one or two
subordinates and the telephone.
"None of your Gas," he said, "all this. It's Real every bit of it.
Hard cash and hard glaze."
"Yes," I said, with memories of a carelessly read pamphlet in my
mind, and without any satirical intention, "I suppose you MUST use
lead in your glazes?"
Whereupon I found I had tapped the ruling grievance of my uncle's
life. He hated leadless glazes more than he hated anything, except
the benevolent people who had organised the agitation for their use.
"Leadless glazes ain't only fit for buns," he said. "Let me tell
you, my boy--"
He began in a voice of bland persuasiveness that presently warmed to
anger, to explain the whole matter. I hadn't the rights of the
matter at all. Firstly, there was practically no such thing as lead
poisoning. Secondly, not everyone was liable to lead poisoning, and
it would be quite easy to pick out the susceptible types--as soon as
they had it--and put them to other work. Thirdly, the evil effects
of lead poisoning were much exaggerated. Fourthly, and this was in
a particularly confidential undertone, many of the people liked to
get lead poisoning, especially the women, because it caused
abortion. I might not believe it, but he knew it for a fact.
Fifthly, the work-people simply would not learn the gravity of the
danger, and would eat with unwashed hands, and incur all sorts of
risks, so that as my uncle put it: "the fools deserve what they
get." Sixthly, he and several associated firms had organised a
simple and generous insurance scheme against lead-poisoning risks.
Seventhly, he never wearied in rational (as distinguished from
excessive, futile and expensive) precautions against the disease.
Eighthly, in the ill-equipped shops of his minor competitors lead
poisoning was a frequent and virulent evil, and people had
generalised from these exceptional cases. The small shops, he
hazarded, looking out of the cracked and dirty window at distant
chimneys, might be advantageously closed. . . .
"But what's the good of talking?" said my uncle, getting off the
table on which he had been sitting. "Seems to me there'll come a
time when a master will get fined if he don't run round the works
blowing his girls noses for them. That's about what it'll come to."
He walked to the black mantelpiece and stood on the threadbare rug,
and urged me not to be misled by the stories of prejudiced and
interested enemies of our national industries.
"They'll get a strike one of these days, of employers, and then
we'll see a bit," he said. "They'll drive Capital abroad and then
they'll whistle to get it back again." . . .
He led the way down the shaky wooden steps and cheered up to tell me
of his way of checking his coal consumption. He exchanged a
ferocious greeting with one or two workpeople, and so we came out of
the factory gates into the ugly narrow streets, paved with a
peculiarly hard diapered brick of an unpleasing inky-blue colour,
and bordered with the mean and squalid homes of his workers. Doors
stood open and showed grimy interiors, and dirty ill-clad children
played in the kennel.
We passed a sickly-looking girl with a sallow face, who dragged her
limbs and peered at us dimly with painful eyes. She stood back, as
partly blinded people will do, to allow us to pass, although there
was plenty of room for us.
I glanced back at her.
"THAT'S ploombism," said my uncle casually.
"What?" said I.
"Ploombism. And the other day I saw a fool of a girl, and what
d'you think? She'd got a basin that hadn't been fired, a cracked
piece of biscuit it was, up on the shelf over her head, just all
over glaze, killing glaze, man, and she was putting up her hand if
you please, and eating her dinner out of it. Got her dinner in it!
"Eating her dinner out of it," he repeated in loud and bitter tones,
and punched me hard in the ribs.
"And then they comes to THAT--and grumbles. And the fools up in
Westminster want you to put in fans here and fans there--the Longton
fools have. . . . And then eating their dinners out of it all the
time!" . . .
At high tea that night--my uncle was still holding out against
evening dinner--Sibyl and Gertrude made what was evidently a
concerted demand for a motor-car.
"You've got your mother's brougham," he said, "that's good enough for
you." But he seemed shaken by the fact that some Burslem rival was
launching out with the new invention. "He spoils his girls," he
remarked. "He's a fool," and became thoughtful.
Afterwards he asked me to come to him into his study; it was a room
with a writing-desk and full of pieces of earthenware and suchlike
litter, and we had our great row about Cambridge.
"Have you thought things over, Dick?" he said.
"I think I'll go to Trinity, Uncle," I said firmly. "I want to go
to Trinity. It is a great college."
He was manifestly chagrined. "You're a fool," he said.
I made no answer.
"You're a damned fool," he said. "But I suppose you've got to do
it. You could have come here--That don't matter, though, now. . .
You'll have your time and spend your money, and be a poor half-
starved clergyman, mucking about with the women all the day and
afraid to have one of your own ever, or you'll be a schoolmaster or
some such fool for the rest of your life. Or some newspaper chap.
That's what you'll get from Cambridge. I'm half a mind not to let
you. Eh? More than half a mind. . . ."
"You've got to do the thing you can," he said, after a pause, "and
likely it's what you're fitted for."
I paid several short visits to Staffordshire during my Cambridge
days, and always these relations of mine produced the same effect of
hardness. My uncle's thoughts had neither atmosphere nor mystery.
He lived in a different universe from the dreams of scientific
construction that filled my mind. He could as easily have
understood Chinese poetry. His motives were made up of intense
rivalries with other men of his class and kind, a few vindictive
hates springing from real and fancied slights, a habit of
acquisition that had become a second nature, a keen love both of
efficiency and display in his own affairs. He seemed to me to have
no sense of the state, no sense and much less any love of beauty, no
charity and no sort of religious feeling whatever. He had strong
bodily appetites, he ate and drank freely, smoked a great deal, and
occasionally was carried off by his passions for a "bit of a spree"
to Birmingham or Liverpool or Manchester. The indulgences of these
occasions were usually followed by a period of reaction, when he was
urgent for the suppression of nudity in the local Art Gallery and a
harsh and forcible elevation of the superficial morals of the
valley. And he spoke of the ladies who ministered to the delights
of his jolly-dog period, when he spoke of them at all, by the
unprintable feminine equivalent. My aunt he treated with a kindly
contempt and considerable financial generosity, but his daughters
tore his heart; he was so proud of them, so glad to find them money
to spend, so resolved to own them, so instinctively jealous of every
man who came near them.
My uncle has been the clue to a great number of men for me. He was
an illuminating extreme. I have learnt what not to expect from them
through him, and to comprehend resentments and dangerous sudden
antagonisms I should have found incomprehensible in their more
complex forms, if I had not first seen them in him in their feral
With his soft felt hat at the back of his head, his rather heavy,
rather mottled face, his rationally thick boots and slouching tweed-
clad form, a little round-shouldered and very obstinate looking, he
strolls through all my speculations sucking his teeth audibly, and
occasionally throwing out a shrewd aphorism, the intractable
unavoidable ore of the new civilisation.
Essentially he was simple. Generally speaking, he hated and
despised in equal measure whatever seemed to suggest that he
personally was not the most perfect human being conceivable. He
hated all education after fifteen because he had had no education
after fifteen, he hated all people who did not have high tea until
he himself under duress gave up high tea, he hated every game except
football, which he had played and could judge, he hated all people
who spoke foreign languages because he knew no language but
Staffordshire, he hated all foreigners because he was English, and
all foreign ways because they were not his ways. Also he hated
particularly, and in this order, Londoner's, Yorkshiremen, Scotch,
Welch and Irish, because they were not "reet Staffordshire," and he
hated all other Staffordshire men as insufficiently "reet." He
wanted to have all his own women inviolate, and to fancy he had a
call upon every other woman in the world. He wanted to have the
best cigars and the best brandy in the world to consume or give away
magnificently, and every one else to have inferior ones. (His
billiard table was an extra large size, specially made and very
inconvenient.) And he hated Trade Unions because they interfered
with his autocratic direction of his works, and his workpeople
because they were not obedient and untiring mechanisms to do his
bidding. He was, in fact, a very naive, vigorous human being. He
was about as much civilised, about as much tamed to the ideas of
collective action and mutual consideration as a Central African
There are hordes of such men as he throughout all the modern
industrial world. You will find the same type with the slightest
modifications in the Pas de Calais or Rhenish Prussia or New Jersey
or North Italy. No doubt you would find it in New Japan. These men
have raised themselves up from the general mass of untrained,
uncultured, poorish people in a hard industrious selfish struggle.
To drive others they have had first to drive themselves. They have
never yet had occasion nor leisure to think of the state or social
life as a whole, and as for dreams or beauty, it was a condition of
survival that they should ignore such cravings. All the distinctive
qualities of my uncle can be thought of as dictated by his
conditions; his success and harshness, the extravagances that
expressed his pride in making money, the uncongenial luxury that
sprang from rivalry, and his self-reliance, his contempt for broad
views, his contempt for everything that he could not understand.
His daughters were the inevitable children of his life. Queer girls
they were! Curiously "spirited" as people phrase it, and curiously
limited. During my Cambridge days I went down to Staffordshire
several times. My uncle, though he still resented my refusal to go
into his business, was also in his odd way proud of me. I was his
nephew and poor relation, and yet there I was, a young gentleman
learning all sorts of unremunerative things in the grandest manner,
"Latin and mook," while the sons of his neighhours, not nephews
merely, but sons, stayed unpolished in their native town. Every
time I went down I found extensive changes and altered relations,
and before I had settled down to them off I went again. I don't
think I was one person to them; I was a series of visitors. There
is a gulf of ages between a gaunt schoolboy of sixteen in unbecoming
mourning and two vividly self-conscious girls of eighteen and
nineteen, but a Cambridge "man" of two and twenty with a first and
good tennis and a growing social experience, is a fair contemporary
for two girls of twenty-three and twenty-four.
A motor-car appeared, I think in my second visit, a bottle-green
affair that opened behind, had dark purple cushions, and was
controlled mysteriously by a man in shiny black costume and a flat
cap. The high tea had been shifted to seven and rechristened
dinner, but my uncle would not dress nor consent to have wine; and
after one painful experiment, I gathered, and a scene, he put his
foot down and prohibited any but high-necked dresses.
"Daddy's perfectly impossible," Sybil told me.
The foot had descended vehemently! "My own daughters!" he had said,
"dressed up like--"--and had arrested himself and fumbled and
decided to say--"actresses, and showin' their fat arms for every
fool to stare at!" Nor would he have any people invited to dinner.
He didn't, he had explained, want strangers poking about in his
house when he came home tired. So such calling as occurred went on
during his absence in the afternoon.
One of the peculiarities of the life of these ascendant families of
the industrial class to which wealth has come, is its tremendous
insulations. There were no customs of intercourse in the Five
Towns. All the isolated prosperities of the district sprang from
economising, hard driven homes, in which there was neither time nor
means for hospitality. Social intercourse centred very largely upon
the church or chapel, and the chapels were better at bringing people
together than the Establishment to which my cousins belonged. Their
chief outlet to the wider world lay therefore through the
acquaintances they had formed at school, and through two much less
prosperous families of relations who lived at Longton and Hanley. A
number of gossiping friendships with old school mates were "kept
up," and my cousins would "spend the afternoon" or even spend the
day with these; such occasions led to other encounters and
interlaced with the furtive correspondences and snatched meetings
that formed the emotional thread of their lives. When the billiard
table had been new, my uncle had taken to asking in a few approved
friends for an occasional game, but mostly the billiard-room was for
glory and the girls. Both of them played very well. They never, so
far as I know, dined out, and when at last after bitter domestic
conflicts they began to go to dances, they went with the quavering
connivance of my aunt, and changed into ball frocks at friends'
houses on the way. There was a tennis club that formed a convenient
afternoon rendezvous, and I recall that in the period of my earlier
visits the young bloods of the district found much satisfaction in
taking girls for drives in dog-carts and suchlike high-wheeled
vehicles, a disposition that died in tangled tandems at the
apparition of motor-car's.
My aunt and uncle had conceived no plans in life for their daughters
at all. In the undifferentiated industrial community from which
they had sprung, girls got married somehow, and it did not occur to
them that the concentration of property that had made them wealthy,
had cut their children off from the general social sea in which
their own awkward meeting had occurred, without necessarily opening
any other world in exchange. My uncle was too much occupied with
the works and his business affairs and his private vices to
philosophise about his girls; he wanted them just to keep girls,
preferably about sixteen, and to be a sort of animated flowers and
make home bright and be given things. He was irritated that they
would not remain at this, and still more irritated that they failed
to suppress altogether their natural interest in young men. The
tandems would be steered by weird and devious routes to evade the
bare chance of his bloodshot eye. My aunt seemed to have no ideas
whatever about what was likely to happen to her children. She had
indeed no ideas about anything; she took her husband and the days as
I can see now the pathetic difficulty of my cousins' position in
life; the absence of any guidance or instruction or provision for
their development. They supplemented the silences of home by the
conversation of schoolfellows and the suggestions of popular
fiction. They had to make what they could out of life with such
hints as these. The church was far too modest to offer them any
advice. It was obtruded upon my mind upon my first visit that they
were both carrying on correspondences and having little furtive
passings and seeings and meetings with the mysterious owners of
certain initials, S. and L. K., and, if I remember rightly, "the R.
N." brothers and cousins, I suppose, of their friends. The same
thing was going on, with a certain intensification, at my next
visit, excepting only that the initials were different. But when I
came again their methods were maturer or I was no longer a
negligible quantity, and the notes and the initials were no longer
flaunted quite so openly in my face.
My cousins had worked it out from the indications of their universe
that the end of life is to have a "good time." They used the
phrase. That and the drives in dog-carts were only the first of
endless points of resemblance between them and the commoner sort of
American girl. When some years ago I paid my first and only visit
to America I seemed to recover my cousins' atmosphere as soon as I
entered the train at Euston. There were three girls in my
compartment supplied with huge decorated cases of sweets, and being
seen off by a company of friends, noisily arch and eager about the
"steamer letters" they would get at Liverpool; they were the very
soul-sisters of my cousins. The chief elements of a good time, as
my cousins judged it, as these countless thousands of rich young
women judge it, are a petty eventfulness, laughter, and to feel that
you are looking well and attracting attention. Shopping is one of
its leading joys. You buy things, clothes and trinkets for yourself
and presents for your friends. Presents always seemed to be flying
about in that circle; flowers and boxes of sweets were common
currency. My cousins were always getting and giving, my uncle
caressed them with parcels and cheques. They kissed him and he
exuded sovereigns as a stroked APHIS exudes honey. It was like the
new language of the Academy of Lagado to me, and I never learnt how
to express myself in it, for nature and training make me feel
encumbered to receive presents and embarrassed in giving them. But
then, like my father, I hate and distrust possessions.
Of the quality of their private imagination I never learnt anything;
I suppose it followed the lines of the fiction they read and was
romantic and sentimental. So far as marriage went, the married
state seemed at once very attractive and dreadfully serious to them,
composed in equal measure of becoming important and becoming old. I
don't know what they thought about children. I doubt if they
thought about them at all. It was very secret if they did.
As for the poor and dingy people all about them, my cousins were
always ready to take part in a Charitable Bazaar. They were unaware
of any economic correlation of their own prosperity and that
circumambient poverty, and they knew of Trade Unions simply as
disagreeable external things that upset my uncle's temper. They
knew of nothing wrong in social life at all except that there were
"Agitators." It surprised them a little, I think, that Agitators
were not more drastically put down. But they had a sort of
instinctive dread of social discussion as of something that might
breach the happiness of their ignorance. . . .
My cousins did more than illustrate Marx for me; they also undertook
a stage of my emotional education. Their method in that as in
everything else was extremely simple, but it took my inexperience by
It must have been on my third visit that Sybil took me in hand.
Hitherto I seemed to have seen her only in profile, but now she
became almost completely full face, manifestly regarded me with
those violet eyes of hers. She passed me things I needed at
breakfast--it was the first morning of my visit--before I asked for
When young men are looked at by pretty cousins, they become
intensely aware of those cousins. It seemed to me that I had
always admired Sybil's eyes very greatly, and that there was
something in her temperament congenial to mine. It was odd I had
not noted it on my previous visits.
We walked round the garden somewhen that morning, and talked about
Cambridge. She asked quite a lot of questions about my work and my
ambitions. She said she had always felt sure I was clever.
The conversation languished a little, and we picked some flowers for
the house. Then she asked if I could run. I conceded her various
starts and we raced up and down the middle garden path. Then, a
little breathless, we went into the new twenty-five guinea summer-
house at the end of the herbaceous border.
We sat side by side, pleasantly hidden from the house, and she
became anxious about her hair, which was slightly and prettily
disarranged, and asked me to help her with the adjustment of a
hairpin. I had never in my life been so near the soft curly hair
and the dainty eyebrow and eyelid and warm soft cheek of a girl, and
I was stirred--
It stirs me now to recall it.
I became a battleground of impulses and inhibitions.
"Thank you," said my cousin, and moved a little away from me.
She began to talk about friendship, and lost her thread and forgot
the little electric stress between us in a rather meandering
analysis of her principal girl friends.
But afterwards she resumed her purpose.
I went to bed that night with one proposition overshadowing
everything else in my mind, namely, that kissing my cousin Sybil was
a difficult, but not impossible, achievement. I do not recall any
shadow of a doubt whether on the whole it was worth doing. The
thing had come into my existence, disturbing and interrupting its
flow exactly as a fever does. Sybil had infected me with herself.
The next day matters came to a crisis in the little upstairs
sitting-room which had been assigned me as a study during my visit.
I was working up there, or rather trying to work in spite of the
outrageous capering of some very primitive elements in my brain,
when she came up to me, under a transparent pretext of looking for a
I turned round and then got up at the sight of her. I quite forget
what our conversation was about, but I know she led me to believe I
might kiss her. Then when I attempted to do so she averted her
"How COULD you?" she said; "I didn't mean that!"
That remained the state of our relations for two days. I developed
a growing irritation with and resentment against cousin Sybil,
combined with an intense desire to get that kiss for which I
hungered and thirsted. Cousin Sybil went about in the happy
persuasion that I was madly in love with her, and her game, so far
as she was concerned, was played and won. It wasn't until I had
fretted for two days that I realised that I was being used for the
commonest form of excitement possible to a commonplace girl; that
dozens perhaps of young men had played the part of Tantalus at
cousin Sybil's lips. I walked about my room at nights, damning her
and calling her by terms which on the whole she rather deserved,
while Sybil went to sleep pitying "poor old Dick!"
"Damn it!" I said, "I WILL be equal with you."
But I never did equalise the disadvantage, and perhaps it's as well,
for I fancy that sort of revenge cuts both people too much for a
rational man to seek it. . . .
"Why are men so silly?" said cousin Sybil next morning, wriggling
back with down-bent head to release herself from what should have
been a compelling embrace.
"Confound it!" I said with a flash of clear vision. "You STARTED
She stood back against a hedge of roses, a little flushed and
excited and interested, and ready for the delightful defensive if I
should renew my attack.
"Beastly hot for scuffling," I said, white with anger. "I don't
know whether I'm so keen on kissing you, Sybil, after all. I just
thought you wanted me to."
I could have whipped her, and my voice stung more than my words.
Our eyes met; a real hatred in hers leaping up to meet mine.
"Let's play tennis," I said, after a moment's pause.
"No," she answered shortly, "I'm going indoors."
And that ended the affair with Sybil.
I was still in the full glare of this disillusionment when Gertrude
awoke from some preoccupation to an interest in my existence. She
developed a disposition to touch my hand by accident, and let her
fingers rest in contact with it for a moment,--she had pleasant soft
hands;--she began to drift into summer houses with me, to let her
arm rest trustfully against mine, to ask questions about Cambridge.
They were much the same questions that Sybil had asked. But I
controlled myself and maintained a profile of intelligent and
entirely civil indifference to her blandishments.
What Gertrude made of it came out one evening in some talk--I forget
about what--with Sybil.
"Oh, Dick!" said Gertrude a little impatiently, "Dick's Pi."
And I never disillusioned her by any subsequent levity from this
theory of my innate and virginal piety.
It was against this harsh and crude Staffordshire background that I
think I must have seen Margaret for the first time. I say I think
because it is quite possible that we had passed each other in the
streets of Cambridge, no doubt with that affectation of mutual
disregard which was once customary between undergraduates and
Newnham girls. But if that was so I had noted nothing of the
slender graciousness that shone out so pleasingly against the
bleaker midland surroundings.
She was a younger schoolfellow of my cousins', and the step-daughter
of Seddon, a prominent solicitor of Burslem. She was not only not
in my cousins' generation but not in their set, she was one of a
small hardworking group who kept immaculate note-books, and did as
much as is humanly possible of that insensate pile of written work
that the Girls' Public School movement has inflicted upon school-
girls. She really learnt French and German admirably and
thoroughly, she got as far in mathematics as an unflinching industry
can carry any one with no great natural aptitude, and she went up to
Bennett Hall, Newnham, after the usual conflict with her family, to
work for the History Tripos.
There in her third year she made herself thoroughly ill through
overwork, so ill that she had to give up Newnham altogether and go
abroad with her stepmother. She made herself ill, as so many girls
do in those university colleges, through the badness of her home and
school training. She thought study must needs be a hard straining
of the mind. She worried her work, she gave herself no leisure to
see it as a whole, she felt herself not making headway and she cut
her games and exercise in order to increase her hours of toil, and
worked into the night. She carried a knack of laborious
thoroughness into the blind alleys and inessentials of her subject.
It didn't need the badness of the food for which Bennett Hall is
celebrated and the remarkable dietary of nocturnal cocoa, cakes and
soft biscuits with which the girls have supplemented it, to ensure
her collapse. Her mother brought her home, fretting and distressed,
and then finding her hopelessly unhappy at home, took her and her
half-brother, a rather ailing youngster of ten who died three years
later, for a journey to Italy.
Italy did much to assuage Margaret's chagrin. I think all three of
them had a very good time there. At home Mr. Seddon, her step-
father, played the part of a well-meaning blight by reason of the
moods that arose from nervous dyspepsia. They went to Florence,
equipped with various introductions and much sound advice from
sympathetic Cambridge friends, and having acquired an ease in Italy
there, went on to Siena, Orvieto, and at last Rome. They returned,
if I remember rightly, by Pisa, Genoa, Milan and Paris. Six months
or more they had had abroad, and now Margaret was back in Burslem,
in health again and consciously a very civilised person.
New ideas were abroad, it was Maytime and a spring of abundant
flowers--daffodils were particularly good that year--and Mrs. Seddon
celebrated her return by giving an afternoon reception at short
notice, with the clear intention of letting every one out into the
garden if the weather held.
The Seddons had a big old farmhouse modified to modern ideas of
comfort on the road out towards Misterton, with an orchard that had
been rather pleasantly subdued from use to ornament. It had rich
blossoming cherry and apple trees. Large patches of grass full of
nodding yellow trumpets had been left amidst the not too precisely
mown grass, which was as it were grass path with an occasional lapse
into lawn or glade. And Margaret, hatless, with the fair hair above
her thin, delicately pink face very simply done, came to meet our
rather too consciously dressed party,--we had come in the motor four
strong, with my aunt in grey silk. Margaret wore a soft flowing
flowered blue dress of diaphanous material, all unconnected with the
fashion and tied with pretty ribbons, like a slenderer, unbountiful
It was one of those May days that ape the light and heat of summer,
and I remember disconnectedly quite a number of brightly lit figures
and groups walking about, and a white gate between orchard and
garden and a large lawn with an oak tree and a red Georgian house
with a verandah and open French windows, through which the tea
drinking had come out upon the moss-edged flagstones even as Mrs.
Seddon had planned.
The party was almost entirely feminine except for a little curate
with a large head, a good voice and a radiant manner, who was
obviously attracted by Margaret, and two or three young husbands
still sufficiently addicted to their wives to accompany them. One
of them I recall as a quite romantic figure with abundant blond
curly hair on which was poised a grey felt hat encircled by a
refined black band. He wore, moreover, a loose rich shot silk tie
of red and purple, a long frock coat, grey trousers and brown shoes,
and presently he removed his hat and carried it in one hand. There
were two tennis-playing youths besides myself. There was also one
father with three daughters in anxious control, a father of the old
school scarcely half broken in, reluctant, rebellious and
consciously and conscientiously "reet Staffordshire." The daughters
were all alert to suppress the possible plungings, the undesirable
humorous impulses of this almost feral guest. They nipped his very
gestures in the bud. The rest of the people were mainly mothers
with daughters--daughters of all ages, and a scattering of aunts,
and there was a tendency to clotting, parties kept together and
regarded parties suspiciously. Mr. Seddon was in hiding, I think,
all the time, though not formally absent.
Matters centred upon the tea in the long room of the French windows,
where four trim maids went to and fro busily between the house and
the clumps of people seated or standing before it; and tennis and
croquet were intermittently visible and audible beyond a bank of
rockwork rich with the spikes and cups and bells of high spring.
Mrs. Seddon presided at the tea urn, and Margaret partly assisted
and partly talked to me and my cousin Sibyl--Gertrude had found a
disused and faded initial and was partnering him at tennis in a
state of gentle revival--while their mother exercised a divided
chaperonage from a seat near Mrs. Seddon. The little curate,
stirring a partially empty cup of tea, mingled with our party, and
preluded, I remember, every observation he made by a vigorous
resumption of stirring.
We talked of Cambridge, and Margaret kept us to it. The curate was
a Selwyn man and had taken a pass degree in theology, but Margaret
had come to Gaylord's lecturers in Trinity for a term before her
breakdown, and understood these differences. She had the eagerness
of an exile to hear the old familiar names of places and
personalities. We capped familiar anecdotes and were enthusiastic
about Kings' Chapel and the Backs, and the curate, addressing
himself more particularly to Sibyl, told a long confused story
illustrative of his disposition to reckless devilry (of a pure-
minded kindly sort) about upsetting two canoes quite needlessly on
the way to Grantchester.
I can still see Margaret as I saw her that afternoon, see her fresh
fair face, with the little obliquity of the upper lip, and her brow
always slightly knitted, and her manner as of one breathlessly shy
but determined. She had rather open blue eyes, and she spoke in an
even musical voice with the gentlest of stresses and the ghost of a
lisp. And it was true, she gathered, that Cambridge still existed.
"I went to Grantchester," she said, "last year, and had tea under
the apple-blossom. I didn't think then I should have to come down."
(It was that started the curate upon his anecdote.)
"I've seen a lot of pictures, and learnt a lot about them--at the
Pitti and the Brera,--the Brera is wonderful--wonderful places,--but
it isn't like real study," she was saying presently. . . . "We
bought bales of photographs," she said.
I thought the bales a little out of keeping.
But fair-haired and quite simply and yet graciously and fancifully
dressed, talking of art and beautiful things and a beautiful land,
and with so much manifest regret for learning denied, she seemed a
different kind of being altogether from my smart, hard, high-
coloured, black-haired and resolutely hatted cousin; she seemed
translucent beside Gertrude. Even the little twist and droop of her
slender body was a grace to me.
I liked her from the moment I saw her, and set myself to interest
and please her as well as I knew how.
We recalled a case of ragging that had rustled the shrubs of
Newnham, and then Chris Robinson's visit--he had given a talk to
Bennett Hall also--and our impression of him.
"He disappointed me, too," said Margaret.
I was moved to tell Margaret something of my own views in the matter
of social progress, and she listened--oh! with a kind of urged
attention, and her brow a little more knitted, very earnestly. The
little curate desisted from the appendices and refuse heaps and
general debris of his story, and made himself look very alert and
"We did a lot of that when I was up in the eighties," he said. "I'm
glad Imperialism hasn't swamped you fellows altogether."
Gertrude, looking bright and confident, came to join our talk from
the shrubbery; the initial, a little flushed and evidently in a
state of refreshed relationship, came with her, and a cheerful lady
in pink and more particularly distinguished by a pink bonnet joined
our little group. Gertrude had been sipping admiration and was not
disposed to play a passive part in the talk.
"Socialism!" she cried, catching the word. "It's well Pa isn't
here. He has Fits when people talk of socialism. Fits!"
The initial laughed in a general kind of way.
The curate said there was socialism AND socialism, and looked at
Margaret to gauge whether he had been too bold in this utterance.
But she was all, he perceived, for broad-mindness, and he stirred
himself (and incidentally his tea) to still more liberality of
expression. He said the state of the poor was appalling, simply
appalling; that there were times when he wanted to shatter the whole
system, "only," he said, turning to me appealingly, "What have we
got to put in its place?"
"The thing that exists is always the more evident alternative," I
The little curate looked at it for a moment. "Precisely," he said
explosively, and turned stirring and with his head a little on one
side, to hear what Margaret was saying.
Margaret was saying, with a swift blush and an effect of daring,
that she had no doubt she was a socialist.
"And wearing a gold chain!" said Gertrude, "And drinking out of
eggshell! I like that!"
I came to Margaret's rescue. "It doesn't follow that because one's
a socialist one ought to dress in sackcloth and ashes."
The initial coloured deeply, and having secured my attention by
prodding me slightly with the wrist of the hand that held his
teacup, cleared his throat and suggested that "one ought to be
I perceived we were embarked upon a discussion of the elements. We
began an interesting little wrangle one of those crude discussions
of general ideas that are dear to the heart of youth. I and
Margaret supported one another as socialists, Gertrude and Sybil and
the initial maintained an anti-socialist position, the curate
attempted a cross-bench position with an air of intending to come
down upon us presently with a casting vote. He reminded us of a
number of useful principles too often overlooked in argument, that
in a big question like this there was much to be said on both sides,
that if every one did his or her duty to every one about them there
would be no difficulty with social problems at all, that over and
above all enactments we needed moral changes in people themselves.
My cousin Gertrude was a difficult controversialist to manage, being
unconscious of inconsistency in statement and absolutely impervious
to reply. Her standpoint was essentially materialistic; she didn't
see why she shouldn't have a good time because other people didn't;
they would have a good time, she was sure, if she didn't. She said
that if we did give up everything we had to other people, they
wouldn't very likely know what to do with it. She asked if we were
so fond of work-people, why we didn't go and live among them, and
expressed the inflexible persuasion that if we HAD socialism,
everything would be just the same again in ten years' time. She
also threw upon us the imputation of ingratitude for a beautiful
world by saying that so far as she was concerned she didn't want to
upset everything. She was contented with things as they were, thank
The discussion led in some way that I don't in the least recall now,
and possibly by abrupt transitions, to a croquet foursome in which
Margaret involved the curate without involving herself, and then
stood beside me on the edge of the lawn while the others played. We
watched silently for a moment.
"I HATE that sort of view," she said suddenly in a confidential
undertone, with her delicate pink flush returning.
"It's want of imagination," I said.
"To think we are just to enjoy ourselves," she went on; "just to go
on dressing and playing and having meals and spending money!" She
seemed to be referring not simply to my cousins, but to the whole
world of industry and property about us. "But what is one to do?"
she asked. "I do wish I had not had to come down. It's all so
pointless here. There seems to be nothing going forward, no ideas,
no dreams. No one here seems to feel quite what I feel, the sort of
need there is for MEANING in things. I hate things without
"Don't you do--local work?"
"I suppose I shall. I suppose I must find something. Do you think--
if one were to attempt some sort of propaganda?"
"Could you--?" I began a little doubtfully.
"I suppose I couldn't," she answered, after a thoughtful moment. "I
suppose it would come to nothing. And yet I feel there is so much
to be done for the world, so much one ought to be doing. . . . I
want to do something for the world."
I can see her now as she stood there with her brows nearly frowning,
her blue eyes looking before her, her mouth almost petulant. "One
feels that there are so many things going on--out of one's reach,"
I went back in the motor-car with my mind full of her, the quality
of delicate discontent, the suggestion of exile. Even a kind of
weakness in her was sympathetic. She told tremendously against her
background. She was, I say, like a protesting blue flower upon a
cinder heap. It is curious, too, how she connects and mingles with
the furious quarrel I had with my uncle that very evening. That
came absurdly. Indirectly Margaret was responsible. My mind was
running on ideas she had revived and questions she had set
clamouring, and quite inadvertently in my attempt to find solutions
I talked so as to outrage his profoundest feelings. . . .
What a preposterous shindy that was!
I sat with him in the smoking-room, propounding what I considered to
be the most indisputable and non-contentious propositions
conceivable--until, to my infinite amazement, he exploded and called
me a "damned young puppy."
It was seismic.
"Tremendously interesting time," I said, "just in the beginning of
making a civilisation."
"Ah!" he said, with an averted face, and nodded, leaning forward
over his cigar.
I had not the remotest thought of annoying him.
"Monstrous muddle of things we have got," I said, "jumbled streets,
ugly population, ugly factories--"
"You'd do a sight better if you had to do with it," said my uncle,
regarding me askance.
"Not me. But a world that had a collective plan and knew where it
meant to be going would do a sight better, anyhow. We're all
swimming in a flood of ill-calculated chances--"
"You'll be making out I organised that business down there--by
chance--next," said my uncle, his voice thick with challenge.
I went on as though I was back in Trinity.
"There's a lot of chance in the making of all great businesses," I
My uncle remarked that that showed how much I knew about businesses.
If chance made businesses, why was it that he always succeeded and
grew while those fools Ackroyd and Sons always took second place?
He showed a disposition to tell the glorious history of how once
Ackroyd's overshadowed him, and how now he could buy up Ackroyd's
three times over. But I wanted to get out what was in my mind.
"Oh!" I said, "as between man and man and business and business,
some of course get the pull by this quality or that--but it's forces
quite outside the individual case that make the big part of any
success under modern conditions. YOU never invented pottery, nor
any process in pottery that matters a rap in your works; it wasn't
YOUR foresight that joined all England up with railways and made it
possible to organise production on an altogether different scale.
You really at the utmost can't take credit for much more than being
the sort of man who happened to fit what happened to be the
requirements of the time, and who happened to be in a position to
take advantage of them--"
It was then my uncle cried out and called me a damned young puppy,
and became involved in some unexpected trouble of his own.
I woke up as it were from my analysis of the situation to discover
him bent over a splendid spittoon, cursing incoherently, retching a
little, and spitting out the end of his cigar which he had bitten
off in his last attempt at self-control, and withal fully prepared
as soon as he had cleared for action to give me just all that he
considered to be the contents of his mind upon the condition of
Well, why shouldn't I talk my mind to him? He'd never had an
outside view of himself for years, and I resolved to stand up to
him. We went at it hammer and tongs! It became clear that he
supposed me to be a Socialist, a zealous, embittered hater of all
ownership--and also an educated man of the vilest, most
pretentiously superior description. His principal grievance was
that I thought I knew everything; to that he recurred again and
again. . . .
We had been maintaining an armed truce with each other since my
resolve to go up to Cambridge, and now we had out all that had
accumulated between us. There had been stupendous accumulations. . . .
The particular things we said and did in that bawling encounter
matter nothing at all in this story. I can't now estimate how near
we came to fisticuffs. It ended with my saying, after a pungent
reminder of benefits conferred and remembered, that I didn't want to
stay another hour in his house. I went upstairs, in a state of
puerile fury, to pack and go off to the Railway Hotel, while he,
with ironical civility, telephoned for a cab.
"Good riddance!" shouted my uncle, seeing me off into the night.
On the face of it our row was preposterous, but the underlying
reality of our quarrel was the essential antagonism, it seemed to
me, in all human affairs, the antagonism between ideas and the
established method, that is to say, between ideas and the rule of
thumb. The world I hate is the rule-of-thumb world, the thing I and
my kind of people exist for primarily is to battle with that, to
annoy it, disarrange it, reconstruct it. We question everything,
disturb anything that cannot give a clear justification to our
questioning, because we believe inherently that our sense of
disorder implies the possibility of a better order. Of course we
are detestable. My uncle was of that other vaster mass who accept
everything for the thing it seems to be, hate enquiry and analysis
as a tramp hates washing, dread and resist change, oppose
experiment, despise science. The world is our battleground; and all
history, all literature that matters, all science, deals with this
conflict of the thing that is and the speculative "if" that will