Part 7 out of 9
Liberals will find yourselves with a country behind you, vaguely
indignant perhaps, but totally unprepared with any ideas whatever in
the matter, face to face with the problem of bringing the British
constitution up-to-date. Anything may happen, provided only that it
is sufficiently absurd. If the King backs the Lords--and I don't
see why he shouldn't--you have no Republican movement whatever to
fall back upon. You lost it during the Era of Good Taste. The
country, I say, is destitute of ideas, and you have no ideas to give
it. I don't see what you will do. . . . For my own part, I mean to
spend a year or so between a window and my writingdesk."
I paused. "I think, gentlemen," began Parvill, "that we hear all
this with very great regret. . . ."
My estrangement from Margaret stands in my memory now as something
that played itself out within the four walls of our house in Radnor
Square, which was, indeed, confined to those limits. I went to and
fro between my house and the House of Commons, and the dining-rooms
and clubs and offices in which we were preparing our new
developments, in a state of aggressive and energetic dissociation,
in the nascent state, as a chemist would say. I was free now, and
greedy for fresh combination. I had a tremendous sense of released
energies. I had got back to the sort of thing I could do, and to
the work that had been shaping itself for so long in my imagination.
Our purpose now was plain, bold, and extraordinarily congenial. We
meant no less than to organise a new movement in English thought and
life, to resuscitate a Public Opinion and prepare the ground for a
revised and renovated ruling culture.
For a time I seemed quite wonderfully able to do whatever I wanted
to do. Shoesmith responded to my first advances. We decided to
create a weekly paper as our nucleus, and Crupp and I set to work
forthwith to collect a group of writers and speakers, including
Esmeer, Britten, Lord Gane, Neal, and one or two younger men, which
should constitute a more or less definite editorial council about
me, and meet at a weekly lunch on Tuesday to sustain our general co-
operations. We marked our claim upon Toryism even in the colour of
our wrapper, and spoke of ourselves collectively as the Blue
Weeklies. But our lunches were open to all sorts of guests, and our
deliberations were never of a character to control me effectively in
my editorial decisions. My only influential councillor at first was
old Britten, who became my sub-editor. It was curious how we two
had picked up our ancient intimacy again and resumed the easy give
and take of our speculative dreaming schoolboy days.
For a time my life centred altogether upon this journalistic work.
Britten was an experienced journalist, and I had most of the
necessary instincts for the business. We meant to make the paper
right and good down to the smallest detail, and we set ourselves at
this with extraordinary zeal. It wasn't our intention to show our
political motives too markedly at first, and through all the dust
storm and tumult and stress of the political struggle of 1910, we
made a little intellectual oasis of good art criticism and good
writing. It was the firm belief of nearly all of us that the Lords
were destined to be beaten badly in 1910, and our game was the
longer game of reconstruction that would begin when the shouting and
tumult of that immediate conflict were over. Meanwhile we had to
get into touch with just as many good minds as possible.
As we felt our feet, I developed slowly and carefully a broadly
conceived and consistent political attitude. As I will explain
later, we were feminist from the outset, though that caused
Shoesmith and Gane great searching of heart; we developed Esmeer's
House of Lords reform scheme into a general cult of the aristocratic
virtues, and we did much to humanise and liberalise the narrow
excellencies of that Break-up of the Poor Law agitation, which had
been organised originally by Beatrice and Sidney Webb. In addition,
without any very definite explanation to any one but Esmeer and
Isabel Rivers, and as if it was quite a small matter, I set myself
to secure a uniform philosophical quality in our columns.
That, indeed, was the peculiar virtue and characteristic of the BLUE
WEEKLY. I was now very definitely convinced that much of the
confusion and futility of contemporary thought was due to the
general need of metaphysical training. . . . The great mass of
people--and not simply common people, but people active and
influential in intellectual things--are still quite untrained in the
methods of thought and absolutely innocent of any criticism of
method; it is scarcely a caricature to call their thinking a crazy
patchwork, discontinuous and chaotic. They arrive at conclusions by
a kind of accident, and do not suspect any other way may be found to
their attainment. A stage above this general condition stands that
minority of people who have at some time or other discovered general
terms and a certain use for generalisations. They are--to fall back
on the ancient technicality--Realists of a crude sort. When I say
Realist of course I mean Realist as opposed to Nominalist, and not
Realist in the almost diametrically different sense of opposition to
Idealist. Such are the Baileys; such, to take their great
prototype, was Herbert Spencer (who couldn't read Kant); such are
whole regiments of prominent and entirely self-satisfied
contemporaries. They go through queer little processes of
definition and generalisation and deduction with the completest
belief in the validity of the intellectual instrument they are
using. They are Realists--Cocksurists--in matter of fact;
sentimentalists in behaviour. The Baileys having got to this
glorious stage in mental development--it is glorious because it has
no doubts--were always talking about training "Experts" to apply the
same simple process to all the affairs of mankind. Well, Realism
isn't the last word of human wisdom. Modest-minded people, doubtful
people, subtle people, and the like--the kind of people William
James writes of as "tough-minded," go on beyond this methodical
happiness, and are forever after critical of premises and terms.
They are truer--and less confident. They have reached scepticism
and the artistic method. They have emerged into the new Nominalism.
Both Isabel and I believe firmly that these differences of
intellectual method matter profoundly in the affairs of mankind,
that the collective mind of this intricate complex modern state can
only function properly upon neo-Nominalist lines. This has always
been her side of our mental co-operation rather than mine. Her mind
has the light movement that goes so often with natural mental power;
she has a wonderful art in illustration, and, as the reader probably
knows already, she writes of metaphysical matters with a rare charm
and vividness. So far there has been no collection of her papers
published, but they are to be found not only in the BLUE WEEKLY
columns but scattered about the monthlies; many people must be
familiar with her style. It was an intention we did much to realise
before our private downfall, that we would use the BLUE WEEKLY to
maintain a stream of suggestion against crude thinking, and at last
scarcely a week passed but some popular distinction, some large
imposing generalisation, was touched to flaccidity by her pen or
mine. . . .
I was at great pains to give my philosophical, political, and social
matter the best literary and critical backing we could get in
London. I hunted sedulously for good descriptive writing and good
criticism; I was indefatigable in my readiness to hear and consider,
if not to accept advice; I watched every corner of the paper, and
had a dozen men alert to get me special matter of the sort that
draws in the unattached reader. The chief danger on the literary
side of a weekly is that it should fall into the hands of some
particular school, and this I watched for closely. It seems
impossible to get vividness of apprehension and breadth of view
together in the same critic. So it falls to the wise editor to
secure the first and impose the second. Directly I detected the
shrill partisan note in our criticism, the attempt to puff a poor
thing because it was "in the right direction," or damn a vigorous
piece of work because it wasn't, I tackled the man and had it out
with him. Our pay was good enough for that to matter a good deal. . . .
Our distinctive little blue and white poster kept up its neat
persistent appeal to the public eye, and before 1911 was out, the
BLUE WEEKLY was printing twenty pages of publishers' advertisements,
and went into all the clubs in London and three-quarters of the
country houses where week-end parties gather together. Its sale by
newsagents and bookstalls grew steadily. One got more and more the
reassuring sense of being discussed, and influencing discussion.
Our office was at the very top of a big building near the end of
Adelphi Terrace; the main window beside my desk, a big undivided
window of plate glass, looked out upon Cleopatra's Needle, the
corner of the Hotel Cecil, the fine arches of Waterloo Bridge, and
the long sweep of south bank with its shot towers and chimneys, past
Bankside to the dimly seen piers of the great bridge below the
Tower. The dome of St. Paul's just floated into view on the left
against the hotel facade. By night and day, in every light and
atmosphere, it was a beautiful and various view, alive as a
throbbing heart; a perpetual flow of traffic ploughed and splashed
the streaming silver of the river, and by night the shapes of things
became velvet black and grey, and the water a shining mirror of
steel, wearing coruscating gems of light. In the foreground the
Embankment trams sailed glowing by, across the water advertisements
flashed and flickered, trains went and came and a rolling drift of
smoke reflected unseen fires. By day that spectacle was sometimes a
marvel of shining wet and wind-cleared atmosphere, sometimes a
mystery of drifting fog, sometimes a miracle of crowded details,
As I think of that view, so variously spacious in effect, I am back
there, and this sunlit paper might be lamp-lit and lying on my old
desk. I see it all again, feel it all again. In the foreground is
a green shaded lamp and crumpled galley slips and paged proofs and
letters, two or three papers in manuscript, and so forth. In the
shadows are chairs and another table bearing papers and books, a
rotating bookcase dimly seen, a long window seat black in the
darkness, and then the cool unbroken spectacle of the window. How
often I would watch some tram-car, some string of barges go from me
slowly out of sight. The people were black animalculae by day,
clustering, collecting, dispersing, by night, they were phantom
face-specks coming, vanishing, stirring obscurely between light and
I recall many hours at my desk in that room before the crisis came,
hours full of the peculiar happiness of effective strenuous work.
Once some piece of writing went on, holding me intent and forgetful
of time until I looked up from the warm circle of my electric lamp
to see the eastward sky above the pale silhouette of the Tower
Bridge, flushed and banded brightly with the dawn.
CHAPTER THE FOURTH
THE BESETTING OF SEX
Art is selection and so is most autobiography. But I am concerned
with a more tangled business than selection, I want to show a
contemporary man in relation to the state and social usage, and the
social organism in relation to that man. To tell my story at all I
have to simplify. I have given now the broad lines of my political
development, and how I passed from my initial liberal-socialism to
the conception of a constructive aristocracy. I have tried to set
that out in the form of a man discovering himself. Incidentally
that self-development led to a profound breach with my wife. One
has read stories before of husband and wife speaking severally two
different languages and coming to an understanding. But Margaret
and I began in her dialect, and, as I came more and more to use my
I had thought when I married that the matter of womankind had ended
for me. I have tried to tell all that sex and women had been to me
up to my married life with Margaret and our fatal entanglement,
tried to show the queer, crippled, embarrassed and limited way in
which these interests break upon the life of a young man under
contemporary conditions. I do not think my lot was a very
exceptional one. I missed the chance of sisters and girl playmates,
but that is not an uncommon misadventure in an age of small
families; I never came to know any woman at all intimately until I
was married to Margaret. My earlier love affairs were encounters of
sex, under conditions of furtiveness and adventure that made them
things in themselves, restricted and unilluminating. From a boyish
disposition to be mystical and worshipping towards women I had
passed into a disregardful attitude, as though women were things
inferior or irrelevant, disturbers in great affairs. For a time
Margaret had blotted out all other women; she was so different and
so near; she was like a person who stands suddenly in front of a
little window through which one has been surveying a crowd. She
didn't become womankind for me so much as eliminate womankind from
my world. . . . And then came this secret separation. . . .
Until this estrangement and the rapid and uncontrollable development
of my relations with Isabel which chanced to follow it, I seemed to
have solved the problem of women by marriage and disregard. I
thought these things were over. I went about my career with
Margaret beside me, her brow slightly knit, her manner faintly
strenuous, helping, helping; and if we had not altogether abolished
sex we had at least so circumscribed and isolated it that it would
not have affected the general tenor of our lives in the slightest
degree if we had.
And then, clothing itself more and more in the form of Isabel and
her problems, this old, this fundamental obsession of my life
returned. The thing stole upon my mind so that I was unaware of its
invasion and how it was changing our long intimacy. I have already
compared the lot of the modern publicist to Machiavelli writing in
his study; in his day women and sex were as disregarded in these
high affairs as, let us say, the chemistry of air or the will of the
beasts in the fields; in ours the case has altogether changed, and
woman has come now to stand beside the tall candles, half in the
light, half in the mystery of the shadows, besetting, interrupting,
demanding unrelentingly an altogether unprecedented attention. I
feel that in these matters my life has been almost typical of my
time. Woman insists upon her presence. She is no longer a mere
physical need, an aesthetic bye-play, a sentimental background; she
is a moral and intellectual necessity in a man's life. She comes to
the politician and demands, Is she a child or a citizen? Is she a
thing or a soul? She comes to the individual man, as she came to me
and asks, Is she a cherished weakling or an equal mate, an
unavoidable helper? Is she to be tried and trusted or guarded and
controlled, bond or free? For if she is a mate, one must at once
trust more and exact more, exacting toil, courage, and the hardest,
most necessary thing of all, the clearest, most shameless,
explicitness of understanding. . . .
In all my earlier imaginings of statecraft I had tacitly assumed
either that the relations of the sexes were all right or that anyhow
they didn't concern the state. It was a matter they, whoever "they"
were, had to settle among themselves. That sort of disregard was
possible then. But even before 1906 there were endless intimations
that the dams holding back great reservoirs of discussion were
crumbling. We political schemers were ploughing wider than any one
had ploughed before in the field of social reconstruction. We had
also, we realised, to plough deeper. We had to plough down at last
to the passionate elements of sexual relationship and examine and
decide upon them.
The signs multiplied. In a year or so half the police of the
metropolis were scarce sufficient to protect the House from one
clamorous aspect of the new problem. The members went about
Westminster with an odd, new sense of being beset. A good
proportion of us kept up the pretence that the Vote for Women was an
isolated fad, and the agitation an epidemic madness that would
presently pass. But it was manifest to any one who sought more than
comfort in the matter that the streams of women and sympathisers and
money forthcoming marked far deeper and wider things than an idle
fancy for the franchise. The existing laws and conventions of
relationship between Man and Woman were just as unsatisfactory a
disorder as anything else in our tumbled confusion of a world, and
that also was coming to bear upon statecraft.
My first parliament was the parliament of the Suffragettes. I don't
propose to tell here of that amazing campaign, with its absurdities
and follies, its courage and devotion. There were aspects of that
unquenchable agitation that were absolutely heroic and aspects that
were absolutely pitiful. It was unreasonable, unwise, and, except
for its one central insistence, astonishingly incoherent. It was
amazingly effective. The very incoherence of the demand witnessed,
I think, to the forces that lay behind it. It wasn't a simple
argument based on a simple assumption; it was the first crude
expression of a great mass and mingling of convergent feelings, of a
widespread, confused persuasion among modern educated women that the
conditions of their relations with men were oppressive, ugly,
dishonouring, and had to be altered. They had not merely adopted
the Vote as a symbol of equality; it was fairly manifest to me that,
given it, they meant to use it, and to use it perhaps even
vindictively and blindly, as a weapon against many things they had
every reason to hate. . . .
I remember, with exceptional vividness, that great night early in
the session of 1909, when--I think it was--fifty or sixty women went
to prison. I had been dining at the Barham's, and Lord Barham and I
came down from the direction of St. James's Park into a crowd and a
confusion outside the Caxton Hall. We found ourselves drifting with
an immense multitude towards Parliament Square and parallel with a
silent, close-packed column of girls and women, for the most part
white-faced and intent. I still remember the effect of their faces
upon me. It was quite different from the general effect of staring
about and divided attention one gets in a political procession of
men. There was an expression of heroic tension.
There had been a pretty deliberate appeal on the part of the women's
organisers to the Unemployed, who had been demonstrating throughout
that winter, to join forces with the movement, and the result was
shown in the quality of the crowd upon the pavement. It was an
ugly, dangerous-looking crowd, but as yet good-tempered and
sympathetic. When at last we got within sight of the House the
square was a seething seat of excited people, and the array of
police on horse and on foot might have been assembled for a
revolutionary outbreak. There were dense masses of people up
Whitehall, and right on to Westminster Bridge. The scuffle that
ended in the arrests was the poorest explosion to follow such
stupendous preparations. . . .
Later on in that year the women began a new attack. Day and night,
and all through the long nights of the Budget sittings, at all the
piers of the gates of New Palace Yard and at St. Stephen's Porch,
stood women pickets, and watched us silently and reproachfully as we
went to and fro. They were women of all sorts, though, of course,
the independent worker-class predominated. There were grey-headed
old ladies standing there, sturdily charming in the rain; battered-
looking, ambiguous women, with something of the desperate bitterness
of battered women showing in their eyes; north-country factory
girls; cheaply-dressed suburban women; trim, comfortable mothers of
families; valiant-eyed girl graduates and undergraduates; lank,
hungry-looking creatures, who stirred one's imagination; one very
dainty little woman in deep mourning, I recall, grave and steadfast,
with eyes fixed on distant things. Some of those women looked
defiant, some timidly aggressive, some full of the stir of
adventure, some drooping with cold and fatigue. The supply never
ceased. I had a mortal fear that somehow the supply might halt or
cease. I found that continual siege of the legislature
extraordinarily impressive--infinitely more impressive than the
feeble-forcible "ragging" of the more militant section. I thought
of the appeal that must be going through the country, summoning the
women from countless scattered homes, rooms, colleges, to
I remember too the petty little difficulty I felt whether I should
ignore these pickets altogether, or lift a hat as I hurried past
with averted eyes, or look them in the face as I did so. Towards
the end the House evoked an etiquette of salutation.
There was a tendency, even on the part of its sympathisers, to treat
the whole suffrage agitation as if it were a disconnected issue,
irrelevant to all other broad developments of social and political
life. We struggled, all of us, to ignore the indicating finger it
thrust out before us. "Your schemes, for all their bigness," it
insisted to our reluctant, averted minds, "still don't go down to
the essential things. . . ."
We have to go deeper, or our inadequate children's insufficient
children will starve amidst harvests of earless futility. That
conservatism which works in every class to preserve in its
essentials the habitual daily life is all against a profounder
treatment of political issues. The politician, almost as absurdly
as the philosopher, tends constantly, in spite of magnificent
preludes, vast intimations, to specialise himself out of the reality
he has so stupendously summoned--he bolts back to littleness. The
world has to be moulded anew, he continues to admit, but without, he
adds, any risk of upsetting his week-end visits, his morning cup of
tea. . . .
The discussion of the relations of men and women disturbs every one.
It reacts upon the private life of every one who attempts it. And
at any particular time only a small minority have a personal
interest in changing the established state of affairs. Habit and
interest are in a constantly recruited majority against conscious
change and adjustment in these matters. Drift rules us. The great
mass of people, and an overwhelming proportion of influential
people, are people who have banished their dreams and made their
compromise. Wonderful and beautiful possibilities are no longer to
be thought about. They have given up any aspirations for intense
love, their splendid offspring, for keen delights, have accepted a
cultivated kindliness and an uncritical sense of righteousness as
their compensation. It's a settled affair with them, a settled,
dangerous affair. Most of them fear, and many hate, the slightest
reminder of those abandoned dreams. As Dayton once said to the
Pentagram Circle, when we were discussing the problem of a universal
marriage and divorce law throughout the Empire, "I am for leaving
all these things alone." And then, with a groan in his voice,
"Leave them alone! Leave them all alone!"
That was his whole speech for the evening, in a note of suppressed
passion, and presently, against all our etiquette, he got up and
For some years after my marriage, I too was for leaving them alone.
I developed a dread and dislike for romance, for emotional music,
for the human figure in art--turning my heart to landscape. I
wanted to sneer at lovers and their ecstasies, and was uncomfortable
until I found the effective sneer. In matters of private morals
these were my most uncharitable years. I didn't want to think of
these things any more for ever. I hated the people whose talk or
practice showed they were not of my opinion. I wanted to believe
that their views were immoral and objectionable and contemptible,
because I had decided to treat them as at that level. I was, in
fact, falling into the attitude of the normal decent man.
And yet one cannot help thinking! The sensible moralised man finds
it hard to escape the stream of suggestion that there are still
dreams beyond these commonplace acquiescences,--the appeal of beauty
suddenly shining upon one, the mothlike stirrings of serene summer
nights, the sweetness of distant music. . . .
It is one of the paradoxical factors in our public life at the
present time, which penalises abandonment to love so abundantly and
so heavily, that power, influence and control fall largely to
unencumbered people and sterile people and people who have married
for passionless purposes, people whose very deficiency in feeling
has left them free to follow ambition, people beautyblind, who don't
understand what it is to fall in love, what it is to desire children
or have them, what it is to feel in their blood and bodies the
supreme claim of good births and selective births above all other
affairs in life, people almost of necessity averse from this most
fundamental aspect of existence. . . .
It wasn't, however, my deepening sympathy with and understanding of
the position of women in general, or the change in my ideas about
all these intimate things my fast friendship with Isabel was
bringing about, that led me to the heretical views I have in the
last five years dragged from the region of academic and timid
discussion into the field of practical politics. Those influences,
no doubt, have converged to the same end, and given me a powerful
emotional push upon my road, but it was a broader and colder view of
things that first determined me in my attempt to graft the Endowment
of Motherhood in some form or other upon British Imperialism. Now
that I am exiled from the political world, it is possible to
estimate just how effectually that grafting has been done.
I have explained how the ideas of a trained aristocracy and a
universal education grew to paramount importance in my political
scheme. It is but a short step from this to the question of the
quantity and quality of births in the community, and from that again
to these forbidden and fear-beset topics of marriage, divorce, and
the family organisation. A sporadic discussion of these aspects had
been going on for years, a Eugenic society existed, and articles on
the Falling Birth Rate, and the Rapid Multiplication of the Unfit
were staples of the monthly magazines. But beyond an intermittent
scolding of prosperous childless people in general--one never
addressed them in particular--nothing was done towards arresting
those adverse processes. Almost against my natural inclination, I
found myself forced to go into these things. I came to the
conclusion that under modern conditions the isolated private family,
based on the existing marriage contract, was failing in its work.
It wasn't producing enough children, and children good enough and
well trained enough for the demands of the developing civilised
state. Our civilisation was growing outwardly, and decaying in its
intimate substance, and unless it was presently to collapse, some
very extensive and courageous reorganisation was needed. The old
haphazard system of pairing, qualified more and more by worldly
discretions, no longer secures a young population numerous enough or
good enough for the growing needs and possibilities of our Empire.
Statecraft sits weaving splendid garments, no doubt, but with a
puny, ugly, insufficient baby in the cradle.
No one so far has dared to take up this problem as a present
question for statecraft, but it comes unheralded, unadvocated, and
sits at every legislative board. Every improvement is provisional
except the improvement of the race, and it became more and more
doubtful to me if we were improving the race at all! Splendid and
beautiful and courageous people must come together and have
children, women with their fine senses and glorious devotion must be
freed from the net that compels them to be celibate, compels them to
be childless and useless, or to bear children ignobly to men whom
need and ignorance and the treacherous pressure of circumstances
have forced upon them. We all know that, and so few dare even to
whisper it for fear that they should seem, in seeking to save the
family, to threaten its existence. It is as if a party of pigmies
in a not too capacious room had been joined by a carnivorous giant--
and decided to go on living happily by cutting him dead. . . .
The problem the developing civilised state has to solve is how it
can get the best possible increase under the best possible
conditions. I became more and more convinced that the independent
family unit of to-day, in which the man is master of the wife and
owner of the children, in which all are dependent upon him,
subordinated to his enterprises and liable to follow his fortunes up
or down, does not supply anything like the best conceivable
conditions. We want to modernise the family footing altogether. An
enormous premium both in pleasure and competitive efficiency is put
upon voluntary childlessness, and enormous inducements are held out
to women to subordinate instinctive and selective preferences to
social and material considerations.
The practical reaction of modern conditions upon the old tradition
of the family is this: that beneath the pretence that nothing is
changing, secretly and with all the unwholesomeness of secrecy
everything is changed. Offspring fall away, the birth rate falls
and falls most among just the most efficient and active and best
adapted classes in the community. The species is recruited from
among its failures and from among less civilised aliens.
Contemporary civilisations are in effect burning the best of their
possible babies in the furnaces that run the machinery. In the
United States the native Anglo-American strain has scarcely
increased at all since 1830, and in most Western European countries
the same is probably true of the ablest and most energetic elements
in the community. The women of these classes still remain legally
and practically dependent and protected, with the only natural
excuse for their dependence gone. . . .
The modern world becomes an immense spectacle of unsatisfactory
groupings; here childless couples bored to death in the hopeless
effort to sustain an incessant honeymoon, here homes in which a
solitary child grows unsocially, here small two or three-child homes
that do no more than continue the culture of the parents at a great
social cost, here numbers of unhappy educated but childless married
women, here careless, decivilised fecund homes, here orphanages and
asylums for the heedlessly begotten. It is just the disorderly
proliferation of Bromstead over again, in lives instead of in
What is the good, what is the common sense, of rectifying
boundaries, pushing research and discovery, building cities,
improving all the facilities of life, making great fleets, waging
wars, while this aimless decadence remains the quality of the
biological outlook? . . .
It is difficult now to trace how I changed from my early aversion
until I faced this mass of problems. But so far back as 1910 I had
it clear in my mind that I would rather fail utterly than
participate in all the surrenders of mind and body that are implied
in Dayton's snarl of "Leave it alone; leave it all alone!" Marriage
and the begetting and care of children, is the very ground substance
in the life of the community. In a world in which everything
changes, in which fresh methods, fresh adjustments and fresh ideas
perpetually renew the circumstances of life, it is preposterous that
we should not even examine into these matters, should rest content
to be ruled by the uncriticised traditions of a barbaric age.
Now, it seems to me that the solution of this problem is also the
solution of the woman's individual problem. The two go together,
are right and left of one question. The only conceivable way out
from our IMPASSE lies in the recognition of parentage, that is to
say of adequate mothering, as no longer a chance product of
individual passions but a service rendered to the State. Women must
become less and less subordinated to individual men, since this
works out in a more or less complete limitation, waste, and
sterilisation of their essentially social function; they must become
more and more subordinated as individually independent citizens to
the collective purpose. Or, to express the thing by a familiar
phrase, the highly organised, scientific state we desire must, if it
is to exist at all, base itself not upon the irresponsible man-ruled
family, but upon the matriarchal family, the citizen-ship and
freedom of women and the public endowment of motherhood.
After two generations of confused and experimental revolt it grows
clear to modern women that a conscious, deliberate motherhood and
mothering is their special function in the State, and that a
personal subordination to an individual man with an unlimited power
of control over this intimate and supreme duty is a degradation. No
contemporary woman of education put to the test is willing to
recognise any claim a man can make upon her but the claim of her
freely-given devotion to him. She wants the reality of her choice
and she means "family" while a man too often means only possession.
This alters the spirit of the family relationships fundamentally.
Their form remains just what it was when woman was esteemed a
pretty, desirable, and incidentally a child-producing, chattel.
Against these time-honoured ideas the new spirit of womanhood
struggles in shame, astonishment, bitterness, and tears. . . .
I confess myself altogether feminist. I have no doubts in the
matter. I want this coddling and browbeating of women to cease. I
want to see women come in, free and fearless, to a full
participation in the collective purpose of mankind. Women, I am
convinced, are as fine as men; they can be as wise as men; they are
capable of far greater devotion than men. I want to see them
citizens, with a marriage law framed primarily for them and for
their protection and the good of the race, and not for men's
satisfactions. I want to see them bearing and rearing good children
in the State as a generously rewarded public duty and service,
choosing their husbands freely and discerningly, and in no way
enslaved by or subordinated to the men they have chosen. The social
consciousness of women seems to me an unworked, an almost untouched
mine of wealth for the constructive purpose of the world. I want to
change the respective values of the family group altogether, and
make the home indeed the women's kingdom and the mother the owner
and responsible guardian of her children.
It is no use pretending that this is not novel and revolutionary; it
is. The Endowment of Motherhood implies a new method of social
organization, a rearrangement of the social unit, untried in human
experience--as untried as electric traction was or flying in 1800.
Of course, it may work out to modify men's ideas of marriage
profoundly. To me that is a secondary consideration. I do not
believe that particular assertion myself, because I am convinced
that a practical monogamy is a psychological necessity to the mass
of civilised people. But even if I did believe it I should still
keep to my present line, because it is the only line that will
prevent a highly organised civilisation from ending in biological
decay. The public Endowment of Motherhood is the only possible way
which will ensure the permanently developing civilised state at
which all constructive minds are aiming. A point is reached in the
life-history of a civilisation when either this reconstruction must
be effected or the quality and MORALE of the population prove
insufficient for the needs of the developing organisation. It is
not so much moral decadence that will destroy us as moral
inadaptability. The old code fails under the new needs. The only
alternative to this profound reconstruction is a decay in human
quality and social collapse. Either this unprecedented
rearrangement must be achieved by our civilisation, or it must
presently come upon a phase of disorder and crumble and perish, as
Rome perished, as France declines, as the strain of the Pilgrim
Fathers dwindles out of America. Whatever hope there may be in the
attempt therefore, there is no alternative to the attempt.
I wanted political success now dearly enough, but not at the price
of constructive realities. These questions were no doubt
monstrously dangerous in the political world; there wasn't a
politician alive who didn't look scared at the mention of "The
Family," but if raising these issues were essential to the social
reconstructions on which my life was set, that did not matter. It
only implied that I should take them up with deliberate caution.
There was no release because of risk or difficulty.
The question of whether I should commit myself to some open project
in this direction was going on in my mind concurrently with my
speculations about a change of party, like bass and treble in a
complex piece of music. The two drew to a conclusion together. I
would not only go over to Imperialism, but I would attempt to
I thought at first that I was undertaking a monstrous uphill task.
But as I came to look into the possibilities of the matter, a strong
persuasion grew up in my mind that this panic fear of legislative
proposals affecting the family basis was excessive, that things were
much riper for development in this direction than old-experienced
people out of touch with the younger generation imagined, that to
phrase the thing in a parliamentary fashion, "something might be
done in the constituencies" with the Endowment of Motherhood
forthwith, provided only that it was made perfectly clear that
anything a sane person could possibly intend by "morality" was left
untouched by these proposals.
I went to work very carefully. I got Roper of the DAILY TELEPHONE
and Burkett of the DIAL to try over a silly-season discussion of
State Help for Mothers, and I put a series of articles on eugenics,
upon the fall in the birth-rate, and similar topics in the BLUE
WEEKLY, leading up to a tentative and generalised advocacy of the
public endowment of the nation's children. I was more and more
struck by the acceptance won by a sober and restrained presentation
of this suggestion.
And then, in the fourth year of the BLUE WEEKLY'S career, came the
Handitch election, and I was forced by the clamour of my antagonist,
and very willingly forced, to put my convictions to the test. I
returned triumphantly to Westminster with the Public Endowment of
Motherhood as part of my open profession and with the full approval
of the party press. Applauding benches of Imperialists cheered me
on my way to the table between the whips.
That second time I took the oath I was not one of a crowd of new
members, but salient, an event, a symbol of profound changes and new
purposes in the national life.
Here it is my political book comes to an end, and in a sense my book
ends altogether. For the rest is but to tell how I was swept out of
this great world of political possibilities. I close this Third
Book as I opened it, with an admission of difficulties and
complexities, but now with a pile of manuscript before me I have to
confess them unsurmounted and still entangled.
Yet my aim was a final simplicity. I have sought to show my growing
realisation that the essential quality of all political and social
effort is the development of a great race mind behind the interplay
of individual lives. That is the collective human reality, the
basis of morality, the purpose of devotion. To that our lives must
be given, from that will come the perpetual fresh release and
further ennoblement of individual lives. . . .
I have wanted to make that idea of a collective mind play in this
book the part United Italy plays in Machiavelli's PRINCE. I have
called it the hinterland of reality, shown it accumulating a
dominating truth and rightness which must force men's now sporadic
motives more and more into a disciplined and understanding relation
to a plan. And I have tried to indicate how I sought to serve this
great clarification of our confusions. . . .
Now I come back to personality and the story of my self-betrayal,
and how it is I have had to leave all that far-reaching scheme of
mine, a mere project and beginning for other men to take or leave as
it pleases them.
BOOK THE FOURTH
CHAPTER THE FIRST
LOVE AND SUCCESS
I come to the most evasive and difficult part of my story, which is
to tell how Isabel and I have made a common wreck of our joint
It is not the telling of one simple disastrous accident. There was
a vein in our natures that led to this collapse, gradually and at
this point and that it crept to the surface. One may indeed see our
destruction--for indeed politically we could not be more extinct if
we had been shot dead--in the form of a catastrophe as disconnected
and conclusive as a meteoric stone falling out of heaven upon two
friends and crushing them both. But I do not think that is true to
our situation or ourselves. We were not taken by surprise. The
thing was in us and not from without, it was akin to our way of
thinking and our habitual attitudes; it had, for all its impulsive
effect, a certain necessity. We might have escaped no doubt, as two
men at a hundred yards may shoot at each other with pistols for a
considerable time and escape. But it isn't particularly reasonable
to talk of the contrariety of fate if they both get hit.
Isabel and I were dangerous to each other for several years of
friendship, and not quite unwittingly so.
In writing this, moreover, there is a very great difficulty in
steering my way between two equally undesirable tones in the
telling. In the first place I do not want to seem to confess my
sins with a penitence I am very doubtful if I feel. Now that I have
got Isabel we can no doubt count the cost of it and feel
unquenchable regrets, but I am not sure whether, if we could be put
back now into such circumstances as we were in a year ago, or two
years ago, whether with my eyes fully open I should not do over
again very much as I did. And on the other hand I do not want to
justify the things we have done. We are two bad people--if there is
to be any classification of good and bad at all, we have acted
badly, and quite apart from any other considerations we've largely
wasted our own very great possibilities. But it is part of a queer
humour that underlies all this, that I find myself slipping again
and again into a sentimental treatment of our case that is as
unpremeditated as it is insincere. When I am a little tired after a
morning's writing I find the faint suggestion getting into every
other sentence that our blunders and misdeeds embodied, after the
fashion of the prophet Hosea, profound moral truths. Indeed, I feel
so little confidence in my ability to keep this altogether out of my
book that I warn the reader here that in spite of anything he may
read elsewhere in the story, intimating however shyly an esoteric
and exalted virtue in our proceedings, the plain truth of this
business is that Isabel and I wanted each other with a want entirely
formless, inconsiderate, and overwhelming. And though I could tell
you countless delightful and beautiful things about Isabel, were
this a book in her praise, I cannot either analyse that want or
account for its extreme intensity.
I will confess that deep in my mind there is a belief in a sort of
wild rightness about any love that is fraught with beauty, but that
eludes me and vanishes again, and is not, I feel, to be put with the
real veracities and righteousnesses and virtues in the paddocks and
menageries of human reason. . . .
We have already a child, and Margaret was childless, and I find
myself prone to insist upon that, as if it was a justification.
But, indeed, when we became lovers there was small thought of
Eugenics between us. Ours was a mutual and not a philoprogenitive
passion. Old Nature behind us may have had such purposes with us,
but it is not for us to annex her intentions by a moralising
afterthought. There isn't, in fact, any decent justification for us
whatever--at that the story must stand.
But if there is no justification there is at least a very effective
excuse in the mental confusedness of our time. The evasion of that
passionately thorough exposition of belief and of the grounds of
morality, which is the outcome of the mercenary religious
compromises of the late Vatican period, the stupid suppression of
anything but the most timid discussion of sexual morality in our
literature and drama, the pervading cultivated and protected muddle-
headedness, leaves mentally vigorous people with relatively enormous
possibilities of destruction and little effective help. They find
themselves confronted by the habits and prejudices of manifestly
commonplace people, and by that extraordinary patched-up
Christianity, the cult of a "Bromsteadised" deity, diffused,
scattered, and aimless, which hides from examination and any
possibility of faith behind the plea of good taste. A god about
whom there is delicacy is far worse than no god at all. We are
FORCED to be laws unto ourselves and to live experimentally. It is
inevitable that a considerable fraction of just that bolder, more
initiatory section of the intellectual community, the section that
can least be spared from the collective life in a period of trial
and change, will drift into such emotional crises and such disaster
as overtook us. Most perhaps will escape, but many will go down,
many more than the world can spare. It is the unwritten law of all
our public life, and the same holds true of America, that an honest
open scandal ends a career. England in the last quarter of a
century has wasted half a dozen statesmen on this score; she would,
I believe, reject Nelson now if he sought to serve her. Is it
wonderful that to us fretting here in exile this should seem the
cruellest as well as the most foolish elimination of a necessary
social element? It destroys no vice; for vice hides by nature. It
not only rewards dullness as if it were positive virtue, but sets an
enormous premium upon hypocrisy. That is my case, and that is why I
am telling this side of my story with so much explicitness.
Ever since the Kinghamstead election I had maintained what seemed a
desultory friendship with Isabel. At first it was rather Isabel
kept it up than I. Whenever Margaret and I went down to that villa,
with its three or four acres of garden and shrubbery about it, which
fulfilled our election promise to live at Kinghamstead, Isabel would
turn up in a state of frank cheerfulness, rejoicing at us, and talk
all she was reading and thinking to me, and stay for all the rest of
the day. In her shameless liking for me she was as natural as a
savage. She would exercise me vigorously at tennis, while Margaret
lay and rested her back in the afternoon, or guide me for some long
ramble that dodged the suburban and congested patches of the
constituency with amazing skill. She took possession of me in that
unabashed, straight-minded way a girl will sometimes adopt with a
man, chose my path or criticised my game with a motherly solicitude
for my welfare that was absurd and delightful. And we talked. We
discussed and criticised the stories of novels, scraps of history,
pictures, social questions, socialism, the policy of the Government.
She was young and most unevenly informed, but she was amazingly
sharp and quick and good. Never before in my life had I known a
girl of her age, or a woman of her quality. I had never dreamt
there was such talk in the world. Kinghamstead became a lightless
place when she went to Oxford. Heaven knows how much that may not
have precipitated my abandonment of the seat!
She went to Ridout College, Oxford, and that certainly weighed with
me when presently after my breach with the Liberals various little
undergraduate societies began to ask for lectures and discussions.
I favoured Oxford. I declared openly I did so because of her. At
that time I think we neither of us suspected the possibility of
passion that lay like a coiled snake in the path before us. It
seemed to us that we had the quaintest, most delightful friendship
in the world; she was my pupil, and I was her guide, philosopher,
and friend. People smiled indulgently--even Margaret smiled
indulgently--at our attraction for one another.
Such friendships are not uncommon nowadays--among easy-going,
liberal-minded people. For the most part, there's no sort of harm,
as people say, in them. The two persons concerned are never
supposed to think of the passionate love that hovers so close to the
friendship, or if they do, then they banish the thought. I think we
kept the thought as permanently in exile as any one could do. If it
did in odd moments come into our heads we pretended elaborately it
Only we were both very easily jealous of each other's attention, and
tremendously insistent upon each other's preference.
I remember once during the Oxford days an intimation that should
have set me thinking, and I suppose discreetly disentangling myself.
It was one Sunday afternoon, and it must have been about May, for
the trees and shrubs of Ridout College were gay with blossom, and
fresh with the new sharp greens of spring. I had walked talking
with Isabel and a couple of other girls through the wide gardens of
the place, seen and criticised the new brick pond, nodded to the
daughter of this friend and that in the hammocks under the trees,
and picked a way among the scattered tea-parties on the lawn to our
own circle on the grass under a Siberian crab near the great bay
window. There I sat and ate great quantities of cake, and discussed
the tactics of the Suffragettes. I had made some comments upon the
spirit of the movement in an address to the men in Pembroke, and it
had got abroad, and a group of girls and women dons were now having
it out with me.
I forget the drift of the conversation, or what it was made Isabel
interrupt me. She did interrupt me. She had been lying prone on
the ground at my right hand, chin on fists, listening thoughtfully,
and I was sitting beside old Lady Evershead on a garden seat. I
turned to Isabel's voice, and saw her face uplifted, and her dear
cheeks and nose and forehead all splashed and barred with sunlight
and the shadows of the twigs of the trees behind me. And something--
an infinite tenderness, stabbed me. It was a keen physical
feeling, like nothing I had ever felt before. It had a quality of
tears in it. For the first time in my narrow and concentrated life
another human being had really thrust into my being and gripped my
Our eyes met perplexed for an extraordinary moment. Then I turned
back and addressed myself a little stiffly to the substance of her
intervention. For some time I couldn't look at her again.
From that time forth I knew I loved Isabel beyond measure.
Yet it is curious that it never occurred to me for a year or so that
this was likely to be a matter of passion between us. I have told
how definitely I put my imagination into harness in those matters at
my marriage, and I was living now in a world of big interests, where
there is neither much time nor inclination for deliberate love-
making. I suppose there is a large class of men who never meet a
girl or a woman without thinking of sex, who meet a friend's
daughter and decide: "Mustn't get friendly with her--wouldn't DO,"
and set invisible bars between themselves and all the wives in the
world. Perhaps that is the way to live. Perhaps there is no other
method than this effectual annihilation of half--and the most
sympathetic and attractive half--of the human beings in the world,
so far as any frank intercourse is concerned. I am quite convinced
anyhow that such a qualified intimacy as ours, such a drifting into
the sense of possession, such untrammeled conversation with an
invisible, implacable limit set just where the intimacy glows, it is
no kind of tolerable compromise. If men and women are to go so far
together, they must be free to go as far as they may want to go,
without the vindictive destruction that has come upon us. On the
basis of the accepted codes the jealous people are right, and the
liberal-minded ones are playing with fire. If people are not to
love, then they must be kept apart. If they are not to be kept
apart, then we must prepare for an unprecedented toleration of
Isabel was as unforeseeing as I to begin with, but sex marches into
the life of an intelligent girl with demands and challenges far more
urgent than the mere call of curiosity and satiable desire that
comes to a young man. No woman yet has dared to tell the story of
that unfolding. She attracted men, and she encouraged them, and
watched them, and tested them, and dismissed them, and concealed the
substance of her thoughts about them in the way that seems
instinctive in a natural-minded girl. There was even an engagement--
amidst the protests and disapproval of the college authorities. I
never saw the man, though she gave me a long history of the affair,
to which I listened with a forced and insincere sympathy. She
struck me oddly as taking the relationship for a thing in itself,
and regardless of its consequences. After a time she became silent
about him, and then threw him over; and by that time, I think, for
all that she was so much my junior, she knew more about herself and
me than I was to know for several years to come.
We didn't see each other for some months after my resignation, but
we kept up a frequent correspondence. She said twice over that she
wanted to talk to me, that letters didn't convey what one wanted to
say, and I went up to Oxford pretty definitely to see her--though I
combined it with one or two other engagements--somewhere in
February. Insensibly she had become important enough for me to make
journeys for her.
But we didn't see very much of one another on that occasion. There
was something in the air between us that made a faint embarrassment;
the mere fact, perhaps, that she had asked me to come up.
A year before she would have dashed off with me quite unscrupulously
to talk alone, carried me off to her room for an hour with a minute
of chaperonage to satisfy the rules. Now there was always some one
or other near us that it seemed impossible to exorcise.
We went for a walk on the Sunday afternoon with old Fortescue, K.
C., who'd come up to see his two daughters, both great friends of
Isabel's, and some mute inglorious don whose name I forget, but who
was in a state of marked admiration for her. The six of us played a
game of conversational entanglements throughout, and mostly I was
impressing the Fortescue girls with the want of mental concentration
possible in a rising politician. We went down Carfex, I remember,
to Folly Bridge, and inspected the Barges, and then back by way of
Merton to the Botanic Gardens and Magdalen Bridge. And in the
Botanic Gardens she got almost her only chance with me.
"Last months at Oxford," she said.
"And then?" I asked.
"I'm coming to London," she said.
She was silent for a moment. Then she said abruptly, with that
quick flush of hers and a sudden boldness in her eyes: "I'm going to
work with you. Why shouldn't I?"
Here, again, I suppose I had a fair warning of the drift of things.
I seem to remember myself in the train to Paddington, sitting with a
handful of papers--galley proofs for the BLUE WEEKLY, I suppose--on
my lap, and thinking about her and that last sentence of hers, and
all that it might mean to me.
It is very hard to recall even the main outline of anything so
elusive as a meditation. I know that the idea of working with her
gripped me, fascinated me. That my value in her life seemed growing
filled me with pride and a kind of gratitude. I was already in no
doubt that her value in my life was tremendous. It made it none the
less, that in those days I was obsessed by the idea that she was
transitory, and bound to go out of my life again. It is no good
trying to set too fine a face upon this complex business, there is
gold and clay and sunlight and savagery in every love story, and a
multitude of elvish elements peeped out beneath the fine rich
curtain of affection that masked our future. I've never properly
weighed how immensely my vanity was gratified by her clear
preference for me. Nor can I for a moment determine how much
deliberate intention I hide from myself in this affair.
Certainly I think some part of me must have been saying in the
train: "Leave go of her. Get away from her. End this now." I
can't have been so stupid as not to have had that in my mind. . . .
If she had been only a beautiful girl in love with me, I think I
could have managed the situation. Once or twice since my marriage
and before Isabel became of any significance in my life, there had
been incidents with other people, flashes of temptation--no telling
is possible of the thing resisted. I think that mere beauty and
passion would not have taken me. But between myself and Isabel
things were incurably complicated by the intellectual sympathy we
had, the jolly march of our minds together. That has always
mattered enormously. I should have wanted her company nearly as
badly if she had been some crippled old lady; we would have hunted
shoulder to shoulder, as two men. Only two men would never have had
the patience and readiness for one another we two had. I had never
for years met any one with whom I could be so carelessly sure of
understanding or to whom I could listen so easily and fully. She
gave me, with an extraordinary completeness, that rare, precious
effect of always saying something fresh, and yet saying it so that
it filled into and folded about all the little recesses and corners
of my mind with an infinite, soft familiarity. It is impossible to
explain that. It is like trying to explain why her voice, her voice
heard speaking to any one--heard speaking in another room--pleased
She was the only Oxford woman who took a first that year. She spent
the summer in Scotland and Yorkshire, writing to me continually of
all she now meant to do, and stirring my imagination. She came to
London for the autumn session. For a time she stayed with old Lady
Colbeck, but she fell out with her hostess when it became clear she
wanted to write, not novels, but journalism, and then she set every
one talking by taking a flat near Victoria and installing as her
sole protector an elderly German governess she had engaged through a
scholastic agency. She began writing, not in that copious flood the
undisciplined young woman of gifts is apt to produce, but in exactly
the manner of an able young man, experimenting with forms,
developing the phrasing of opinions, taking a definite line. She
was, of course, tremendously discussed. She was disapproved of, but
she was invited out to dinner. She got rather a reputation for the
management of elderly distinguished men. It was an odd experience
to follow Margaret's soft rustle of silk into some big drawing-room
and discover my snub-nosed girl in the blue sack transformed into a
shining creature in the soft splendour of pearls and ivory-white and
lace, and with a silver band about her dusky hair.
For a time we did not meet very frequently, though always she
professed an unblushing preference for my company, and talked my
views and sought me out. Then her usefulness upon the BLUE WEEKLY
began to link us closelier. She would come up to the office, and
sit by the window, and talk over the proofs of the next week's
articles, going through my intentions with a keen investigatory
scalpel. Her talk always puts me in mind of a steel blade. Her
writing became rapidly very good; she had a wit and a turn of the
phrase that was all her own. We seemed to have forgotten the little
shadow of embarrassment that had fallen over our last meeting at
Oxford. Everything seemed natural and easy between us in those
days; a little unconventional, but that made it all the brighter.
We developed something like a custom of walks, about once a week or
so, and letters and notes became frequent. I won't pretend things
were not keenly personal between us, but they had an air of being
innocently mental. She used to call me "Master" in our talks, a
monstrous and engaging flattery, and I was inordinately proud to
have her as my pupil. Who wouldn't have been? And we went on at
that distance for a long time--until within a year of the Handitch
After Lady Colbeck threw her up as altogether too "intellectual" for
comfortable control, Isabel was taken up by the Balfes in a less
formal and compromising manner, and week-ended with them and their
cousin Leonora Sparling, and spent large portions of her summer with
them in Herefordshire. There was a lover or so in that time, men
who came a little timidly at this brilliant young person with the
frank manner and the Amazonian mind, and, she declared, received her
kindly refusals with manifest relief. And Arnold Shoesmith struck
up a sort of friendship that oddly imitated mine. She took a liking
to him because he was clumsy and shy and inexpressive; she embarked
upon the dangerous interest of helping him to find his soul. I had
some twinges of jealousy about that. I didn't see the necessity of
him. He invaded her time, and I thought that might interfere with
her work. If their friendship stole some hours from Isabel's
writing, it did not for a long while interfere with our walks or our
talks, or the close intimacy we had together.
Then suddenly Isabel and I found ourselves passionately in love.
The change came so entirely without warning or intention that I find
it impossible now to tell the order of its phases. What disturbed
pebble started the avalanche I cannot trace. Perhaps it was simply
that the barriers between us and this masked aspect of life had been
wearing down unperceived.
And there came a change in Isabel. It was like some change in the
cycle of nature, like the onset of spring--a sharp brightness, an
uneasiness. She became restless with her work; little encounters
with men began to happen, encounters not quite in the quality of the
earlier proposals; and then came an odd incident of which she told
me, but somehow, I felt, didn't tell me completely. She told me all
she was able to tell me. She had been at a dance at the Ropers',
and a man, rather well known in London, had kissed her. The thing
amazed her beyond measure. It was the sort of thing immediately
possible between any man and any woman, that one never expects to
happen until it happens. It had the surprising effect of a judge
generally known to be bald suddenly whipping off his wig in court.
No absolutely unexpected revelation could have quite the same
quality of shock. She went through the whole thing to me with a
remarkable detachment, told me how she had felt--and the odd things
it seemed to open to her.
"I WANT to be kissed, and all that sort of thing," she avowed. "I
suppose every woman does."
She added after a pause: "And I don't want any one to do it."
This struck me as queerly expressive of the woman's attitude to
these things. "Some one presently will--solve that," I said.
"Some one will perhaps."
I was silent.
"Some one will," she said, almost viciously. "And then we'll have
to stop these walks and talks of ours, dear Master. . . . I'll be
sorry to give them up."
"It's part of the requirements of the situation," I said, "that he
should be--oh, very interesting! He'll start, no doubt, all sorts
of new topics, and open no end of attractive vistas. . . . You
can't, you know, always go about in a state of pupillage."
"I don't think I can," said Isabel. "But it's only just recently
I've begun to doubt about it."
I remember these things being said, but just how much we saw and
understood, and just how far we were really keeping opaque to each
other then, I cannot remember. But it must have been quite soon
after this that we spent nearly a whole day together at Kew Gardens,
with the curtains up and the barriers down, and the thing that had
happened plain before our eyes. I don't remember we ever made any
declaration. We just assumed the new footing. . . .
It was a day early in that year--I think in January, because there
was thin, crisp snow on the grass, and we noted that only two other
people had been to the Pagoda that day. I've a curious impression
of greenish colour, hot, moist air and huge palm fronds about very
much of our talk, as though we were nearly all the time in the
Tropical House. But I also remember very vividly looking at certain
orange and red spray-like flowers from Patagonia, which could not
have been there. It is a curious thing that I do not remember we
made any profession of passionate love for one another; we talked as
though the fact of our intense love for each other had always been
patent between us. There was so long and frank an intimacy between
us that we talked far more like brother and sister or husband and
wife than two people engaged in the war of the sexes. We wanted to
know what we were going to do, and whatever we did we meant to do in
the most perfect concert. We both felt an extraordinary accession
of friendship and tenderness then, and, what again is curious, very
little passion. But there was also, in spite of the perplexities we
faced, an immense satisfaction about that day. It was as if we had
taken off something that had hindered our view of each other, like
people who unvizored to talk more easily at a masked ball.
I've had since to view our relations from the standpoint of the
ordinary observer. I find that vision in the most preposterous
contrast with all that really went on between us. I suppose there I
should figure as a wicked seducer, while an unprotected girl
succumbed to my fascinations. As a matter of fact, it didn't occur
to us that there was any personal inequality between us. I knew her
for my equal mentally; in so many things she was beyond comparison
cleverer than I; her courage outwent mine. The quick leap of her
mind evoked a flash of joy in mine like the response of an induction
wire; her way of thinking was like watching sunlight reflected from
little waves upon the side of a boat, it was so bright, so mobile,
so variously and easily true to its law. In the back of our minds
we both had a very definite belief that making love is full of
joyous, splendid, tender, and exciting possibilities, and we had to
discuss why we shouldn't be to the last degree lovers.
Now, what I should like to print here, if it were possible, in all
the screaming emphasis of red ink, is this: that the circumstances
of my upbringing and the circumstances of Isabel's upbringing had
left not a shadow of belief or feeling that the utmost passionate
love between us was in itself intrinsically WRONG. I've told with
the fullest particularity just all that I was taught or found out
for myself in these matters, and Isabel's reading and thinking, and
the fierce silences of her governesses and the breathless warnings
of teachers, and all the social and religious influences that had
been brought to bear upon her, had worked out to the same void of
conviction. The code had failed with us altogether. We didn't for
a moment consider anything but the expediency of what we both, for
all our quiet faces and steady eyes, wanted most passionately to do.
Well, here you have the state of mind of whole brigades of people,
and particularly of young people, nowadays. The current morality
hasn't gripped them; they don't really believe in it at all. They
may render it lip-service, but that is quite another thing. There
are scarcely any tolerable novels to justify its prohibitions; its
prohibitions do, in fact, remain unjustified amongst these ugly
suppressions. You may, if you choose, silence the admission of this
in literature and current discussion; you will not prevent it
working out in lives. People come up to the great moments of
passion crudely unaware, astoundingly unprepared as no really
civilised and intelligently planned community would let any one be
unprepared. They find themselves hedged about with customs that
have no organic hold upon them, and mere discretions all generous
spirits are disposed to despise.
Consider the infinite absurdities of it! Multitudes of us are
trying to run this complex modern community on a basis of "Hush"
without explaining to our children or discussing with them anything
about love and marriage at all. Doubt and knowledge creep about in
enforced darknesses and silences. We are living upon an ancient
tradition which everybody doubts and nobody has ever analysed. We
affect a tremendous and cultivated shyness and delicacy about
imperatives of the most arbitrary appearance. What ensues? What
did ensue with us, for example? On the one hand was a great desire,
robbed of any appearance of shame and grossness by the power of
love, and on the other hand, the possible jealousy of so and so, the
disapproval of so and so, material risks and dangers. It is only in
the retrospect that we have been able to grasp something of the
effectual case against us. The social prohibition lit by the
intense glow of our passion, presented itself as preposterous,
irrational, arbitrary, and ugly, a monster fit only for mockery. We
might be ruined! Well, there is a phase in every love affair, a
sort of heroic hysteria, when death and ruin are agreeable additions
to the prospect. It gives the business a gravity, a solemnity.
Timid people may hesitate and draw back with a vague instinctive
terror of the immensity of the oppositions they challenge, but
neither Isabel nor I are timid people.
We weighed what was against us. We decided just exactly as scores
of thousands of people have decided in this very matter, that if it
were possible to keep this thing to ourselves, there was nothing
against it. And so we took our first step. With the hunger of love
in us, it was easy to conclude we might be lovers, and still keep
everything to ourselves. That cleared our minds of the one
persistent obstacle that mattered to us--the haunting presence of
And then we found, as all those scores of thousands of people
scattered about us have found, that we could not keep it to
ourselves. Love will out. All the rest of this story is the
chronicle of that. Love with sustained secrecy cannot be love. It
is just exactly the point people do not understand.
But before things came to that pass, some months and many phases and
a sudden journey to America intervened.
"This thing spells disaster," I said. "You are too big and I am too
big to attempt this secrecy. Think of the intolerable possibility
of being found out! At any cost we have to stop--even at the cost
"Just because we may be found out!"
"Just because we may be found out."
"Master, I shouldn't in the least mind being found out with you.
I'm afraid--I'd be proud."
"Wait till it happens."
There followed a struggle of immense insincerity between us. It is
hard to tell who urged and who resisted.
She came to me one night to the editorial room of the BLUE WEEKLY,
and argued and kissed me with wet salt lips, and wept in my arms;
she told me that now passionate longing for me and my intimate life
possessed her, so that she could not work, could not think, could
not endure other people for the love of me. . . .
I fled absurdly. That is the secret of the futile journey to
America that puzzled all my friends.
I ran away from Isabel. I took hold of the situation with all my
strength, put in Britten with sketchy, hasty instructions to edit
the paper, and started headlong and with luggage, from which, among
other things, my shaving things were omitted, upon a tour round the
Preposterous flight that was! I remember as a thing almost farcical
my explanations to Margaret, and how frantically anxious I was to
prevent the remote possibility of her coming with me, and how I
crossed in the TUSCAN, a bad, wet boat, and mixed seasickness with
ungovernable sorrow. I wept--tears. It was inexpressibly queer and
ridiculous--and, good God! how I hated my fellow-passengers!
New York inflamed and excited me for a time, and when things
slackened, I whirled westward to Chicago--eating and drinking, I
remember, in the train from shoals of little dishes, with a sort of
desperate voracity. I did the queerest things to distract myself--
no novelist would dare to invent my mental and emotional muddle.
Chicago also held me at first, amazing lapse from civilisation that
the place is! and then abruptly, with hosts expecting me, and
everything settled for some days in Denver, I found myself at the
end of my renunciations, and turned and came back headlong to
Let me confess it wasn't any sense of perfect and incurable trust
and confidence that brought me back, or any idea that now I had
strength to refrain. It was a sudden realisation that after all the
separation might succeed; some careless phrasing in one of her
jealously read letters set that idea going in my mind--the haunting
perception that I might return to London and find it empty of the
Isabel who had pervaded it. Honour, discretion, the careers of both
of us, became nothing at the thought. I couldn't conceive my life
resuming there without Isabel. I couldn't, in short, stand it.
I don't even excuse my return. It is inexcusable. I ought to have
kept upon my way westward--and held out. I couldn't. I wanted
Isabel, and I wanted her so badly now that everything else in the
world was phantom-like until that want was satisfied. Perhaps you
have never wanted anything like that. I went straight to her.
But here I come to untellable things. There is no describing the
reality of love. The shapes of things are nothing, the actual
happenings are nothing, except that somehow there falls a light upon
them and a wonder. Of how we met, and the thrill of the adventure,
the curious bright sense of defiance, the joy of having dared, I
can't tell--I can but hint of just one aspect, of what an amazing
LARK--it's the only word--it seemed to us. The beauty which was the
essence of it, which justifies it so far as it will bear
justification, eludes statement.
What can a record of contrived meetings, of sundering difficulties
evaded and overcome, signify here? Or what can it convey to say
that one looked deep into two dear, steadfast eyes, or felt a heart
throb and beat, or gripped soft hair softly in a trembling hand?
Robbed of encompassing love, these things are of no more value than
the taste of good wine or the sight of good pictures, or the hearing
of music,--just sensuality and no more. No one can tell love--we
can only tell the gross facts of love and its consequences. Given
love--given mutuality, and one has effected a supreme synthesis and
come to a new level of life--but only those who know can know. This
business has brought me more bitterness and sorrow than I had ever
expected to bear, but even now I will not say that I regret that
wilful home-coming altogether. We loved--to the uttermost. Neither
of us could have loved any one else as we did and do love one
another. It was ours, that beauty; it existed only between us when
we were close together, for no one in the world ever to know save
My return to the office sticks out in my memory with an extreme
vividness, because of the wild eagle of pride that screamed within
me. It was Tuesday morning, and though not a soul in London knew of
it yet except Isabel, I had been back in England a week. I came in
upon Britten and stood in the doorway.
"GOD!" he said at the sight of me.
"I'm back," I said.
He looked at my excited face with those red-brown eyes of his.
Silently I defied him to speak his mind.
"Where did you turn back?" he said at last.
I had to tell what were, so far as I can remember my first positive
lies to Margaret in explaining that return. I had written to her
from Chicago and again from New York, saying that I felt I ought to
be on the spot in England for the new session, and that I was coming
back--presently. I concealed the name of my boat from her, and made
a calculated prevarication when I announced my presence in London.
I telephoned before I went back for my rooms to be prepared. She
was, I knew, with the Bunting Harblows in Durham, and when she came
back to Radnor Square I had been at home a day.
I remember her return so well.
My going away and the vivid secret of the present had wiped out from
my mind much of our long estrangement. Something, too, had changed
in her. I had had some hint of it in her letters, but now I saw it
plainly. I came out of my study upon the landing when I heard the
turmoil of her arrival below, and she came upstairs with a quickened
gladness. It was a cold March, and she was dressed in unfamiliar
dark furs that suited her extremely and reinforced the delicate
flush of her sweet face. She held out both her hands to me, and
drew me to her unhesitatingly and kissed me.
"So glad you are back, dear," she said. "Oh! so very glad you are
I returned her kiss with a queer feeling at my heart, too
undifferentiated to be even a definite sense of guilt or meanness.
I think it was chiefly amazement--at the universe--at myself.
"I never knew what it was to be away from you," she said.
I perceived suddenly that she had resolved to end our estrangement.
She put herself so that my arm came caressingly about her.
"These are jolly furs," I said.
"I got them for you."
The parlourmaid appeared below dealing with the maid and the luggage
"Tell me all about America," said Margaret. "I feel as though you'd
been away six year's."
We went arm in arm into our little sitting-room, and I took off the
fur's for her and sat down upon the chintz-covered sofa by the fire.
She had ordered tea, and came and sat by me. I don't know what I
had expected, but of all things I had certainly not expected this
sudden abolition of our distances.
"I want to know all about America," she repeated, with her eyes
scrutinising me. "Why did you come back?"
I repeated the substance of my letters rather lamely, and she sat
"But why did you turn back--without going to Denver?"
"I wanted to come back. I was restless."
"Restlessness," she said, and thought. "You were restless in
Venice. You said it was restlessness took you to America."
Again she studied me. She turned a little awkwardly to her tea
things, and poured needless water from the silver kettle into the
teapot. Then she sat still for some moments looking at the equipage
with expressionless eyes. I saw her hand upon the edge of the table
tremble slightly. I watched her closely. A vague uneasiness
possessed me. What might she not know or guess?
She spoke at last with an effort. "I wish you were in Parliament
again," she said. "Life doesn't give you events enough."
"If I was in Parliament again, I should be on the Conservative
"I know," she said, and was still more thoughtful.
"Lately," she began, and paused. "Lately I've been reading--you."
I didn't help her out with what she had to say. I waited.
"I didn't understand what you were after. I had misjudged. I
didn't know. I think perhaps I was rather stupid." Her eyes were
suddenly shining with tears. "You didn't give me much chance to
She turned upon me suddenly with a voice full of tears.
"Husband," she said abruptly, holding her two hands out to me, "I
want to begin over again!"
I took her hands, perplexed beyond measure. "My dear!" I said.
"I want to begin over again."
I bowed my head to hide my face, and found her hand in mine and
"Ah!" she said, and slowly withdrew her hand. She leant forward
with her arm on the sofa-back, and looked very intently into my
face. I felt the most damnable scoundrel in the world as I returned
her gaze. The thought of Isabel's darkly shining eyes seemed like a
physical presence between us. . . .
"Tell me," I said presently, to break the intolerable tension, "tell
me plainly what you mean by this."
I sat a little away from her, and then took my teacup in hand, with
an odd effect of defending myself. "Have you been reading that old
book of mine?" I asked.
"That and the paper. I took a complete set from the beginning down
to Durham with me. I have read it over, thought it over. I didn't
understand--what you were teaching."
There was a little pause.
"It all seems so plain to me now," she said, "and so true."
I was profoundly disconcerted. I put down my teacup, stood up in
the middle of the hearthrug, and began talking. "I'm tremendously
glad, Margaret, that you've come to see I'm not altogether
perverse," I began. I launched out into a rather trite and windy
exposition of my views, and she sat close to me on the sofa, looking
up into my face, hanging on my words, a deliberate and invincible
"Yes," she said, "yes." . . .
I had never doubted my new conceptions before; now I doubted them
profoundly. But I went on talking. It's the grim irony in the
lives of all politicians, writers, public teachers, that once the
audience is at their feet, a new loyalty has gripped them. It isn't
their business to admit doubt and imperfections. They have to go on
talking. And I was now so accustomed to Isabel's vivid interruptions,
qualifications, restatements, and confirmations. . . .
Margaret and I dined together at home. She made me open out my
political projects to her. "I have been foolish," she said. "I
want to help."
And by some excuse I have forgotten she made me come to her room. I
think it was some book I had to take her, some American book I had
brought back with me, and mentioned in our talk. I walked in with
it, and put it down on the table and turned to go.
"Husband!" she cried, and held out her slender arms to me. I was
compelled to go to her and kiss her, and she twined them softly
about my neck and drew me to her and kissed me. I disentangled them
very gently, and took each wrist and kissed it, and the backs of her
"Good-night," I said. There came a little pause. "Good-night,
Margaret," I repeated, and walked very deliberately and with a kind
of sham preoccupation to the door.
I did not look at her, but I could feel her standing, watching me.
If I had looked up, she would, I knew, have held out her arms to
me. . . .
At the very outset that secret, which was to touch no one but Isabel
and myself, had reached out to stab another human being.
The whole world had changed for Isabel and me; and we tried to
pretend that nothing had changed except a small matter between us.
We believed quite honestly at that time that it was possible to keep
this thing that had happened from any reaction at all, save perhaps
through some magically enhanced vigour in our work, upon the world
about us! Seen in retrospect, one can realise the absurdity of this
belief; within a week I realised it; but that does not alter the
fact that we did believe as much, and that people who are deeply in
love and unable to marry will continue to believe so to the very end
of time. They will continue to believe out of existence every
consideration that separates them until they have come together.
Then they will count the cost, as we two had to do.
I am telling a story, and not propounding theories in this book; and
chiefly I am telling of the ideas and influences and emotions that
have happened to me--me as a sort of sounding board for my world.
The moralist is at liberty to go over my conduct with his measure
and say, "At this point or at that you went wrong, and you ought to
have done"--so-and-so. The point of interest to the statesman is
that it didn't for a moment occur to us to do so-and-so when the
time for doing it came. It amazes me now to think how little either
of us troubled about the established rights or wrongs of the
situation. We hadn't an atom of respect for them, innate or
acquired. The guardians of public morals will say we were very bad
people; I submit in defence that they are very bad guardians--
provocative guardians. . . . And when at last there came a claim
against us that had an effective validity for us, we were in the
full tide of passionate intimacy.
I had a night of nearly sleepless perplexity after Margaret's
return. She had suddenly presented herself to me like something
dramatically recalled, fine, generous, infinitely capable of
feeling. I was amazed how much I had forgotten her. In my contempt
for vulgarised and conventionalised honour I had forgotten that for
me there was such a reality as honour. And here it was, warm and
near to me, living, breathing, unsuspecting. Margaret's pride was
my honour, that I had had no right even to imperil.
I do not now remember if I thought at that time of going to Isabel
and putting this new aspect of the case before her. Perhaps I did.
Perhaps I may have considered even then the possibility of ending
what had so freshly and passionately begun. If I did, it vanished
next day at the sight of her. Whatever regrets came in the
darkness, the daylight brought an obstinate confidence in our
resolution again. We would, we declared, "pull the thing off."
Margaret must not know. Margaret should not know. If Margaret did
not know, then no harm whatever would be done. We tried to sustain
that. . . .
For a brief time we had been like two people in a magic cell,
magically cut off from the world and full of a light of its own, and
then we began to realise that we were not in the least cut off, that
the world was all about us and pressing in upon us, limiting us,
threatening us, resuming possession of us. I tried to ignore the
injury to Margaret of her unreciprocated advances. I tried to
maintain to myself that this hidden love made no difference to the
now irreparable breach between husband and wife. But I never spoke
of it to Isabel or let her see that aspect of our case. How could
I? The time for that had gone. . . .
Then in new shapes and relations came trouble. Distressful elements
crept in by reason of our unavoidable furtiveness; we ignored them,
hid them from each other, and attempted to hide them from ourselves.
Successful love is a thing of abounding pride, and we had to be
secret. It was delightful at first to be secret, a whispering, warm
conspiracy; then presently it became irksome and a little shameful.
Her essential frankness of soul was all against the masks and
falsehoods that many women would have enjoyed. Together in our
secrecy we relaxed, then in the presence of other people again it
was tiresome to have to watch for the careless, too easy phrase, to
snatch back one's hand from the limitless betrayal of a light,
Love becomes a poor thing, at best a poor beautiful thing, if it
develops no continuing and habitual intimacy. We were always
meeting, and most gloriously loving and beginning--and then we had
to snatch at remorseless ticking watches, hurry to catch trains, and
go back to this or that. That is all very well for the intrigues of
idle people perhaps, but not for an intense personal relationship.
It is like lighting a candle for the sake of lighting it, over and
over again, and each time blowing it out. That, no doubt, must be
very amusing to children playing with the matches, but not to people
who love warm light, and want it in order to do fine and honourable
things together. We had achieved--I give the ugly phrase that
expresses the increasing discolouration in my mind--"illicit
intercourse." To end at that, we now perceived, wasn't in our
style. But where were we to end? . . .
Perhaps we might at this stage have given it up. I think if we
could have seen ahead and around us we might have done so. But the
glow of our cell blinded us. . . . I wonder what might have
happened if at that time we had given it up. . . . We propounded
it, we met again in secret to discuss it, and our overpowering
passion for one another reduced that meeting to absurdity. . . .
Presently the idea of children crept between us. It came in from
all our conceptions of life and public service; it was, we found, in
the quality of our minds that physical love without children is a
little weak, timorous, more than a little shameful. With
imaginative people there very speedily comes a time when that
realisation is inevitable. We hadn't thought of that before--it
isn't natural to think of that before. We hadn't known. There is
no literature in English dealing with such things.
There is a necessary sequence of phases in love. These came in
their order, and with them, unanticipated tarnishings on the first
bright perfection of our relations. For a time these developing
phases were no more than a secret and private trouble between us,
little shadows spreading by imperceptible degrees across that vivid
and luminous cell.
The Handitch election flung me suddenly into prominence.
It is still only two years since that struggle, and I will not
trouble the reader with a detailed history of events that must be
quite sufficiently present in his mind for my purpose already. Huge
stacks of journalism have dealt with Handitch and its significance.
For the reader very probably, as for most people outside a
comparatively small circle, it meant my emergence from obscurity.
We obtruded no editor's name in the BLUE WEEKLY; I had never as yet
been on the London hoardings. Before Handitch I was a journalist
and writer of no great public standing; after Handitch, I was
definitely a person, in the little group of persons who stood for
the Young Imperialist movement. Handitch was, to a very large
extent, my affair. I realised then, as a man comes to do, how much
one can still grow after seven and twenty. In the second election I
was a man taking hold of things; at Kinghamstead I had been simply a
young candidate, a party unit, led about the constituency, told to
do this and that, and finally washed in by the great Anti-
Imperialist flood, like a starfish rolling up a beach.
My feminist views had earnt the mistrust of the party, and I do not
think I should have got the chance of Handitch or indeed any chance
at all of Parliament for a long time, if it had not been that the
seat with its long record of Liberal victories and its Liberal
majority of 3642 at the last election, offered a hopeless contest.
The Liberal dissensions and the belated but by no means contemptible
Socialist candidate were providential interpositions. I think,
however, the conduct of Gane, Crupp, and Tarvrille in coming down to
fight for me, did count tremendously in my favour. "We aren't going
to win, perhaps," said Crupp, "but we are going to talk." And until
the very eve of victory, we treated Handitch not so much as a
battlefield as a hoarding. And so it was the Endowment of
Motherhood as a practical form of Eugenics got into English
Plutus, our agent, was scared out of his wits when the thing began.
"They're ascribing all sorts of queer ideas to you about the
Family," he said.
"I think the Family exists for the good of the children," I said;
"is that queer?"
"Not when you explain it--but they won't let you explain it. And
"I'm all right about marriage--trust me."
"Of course, if YOU had children," said Plutus, rather
inconsiderately. . . .
They opened fire upon me in a little electioneering rag call the
HANDITCH SENTINEL, with a string of garbled quotations and
misrepresentations that gave me an admirable text for a speech. I
spoke for an hour and ten minutes with a more and more crumpled copy
of the SENTINEL in my hand, and I made the fullest and completest
exposition of the idea of endowing motherhood that I think had ever
been made up to that time in England. Its effect on the press was
extraordinary. The Liberal papers gave me quite unprecedented space
under the impression that I had only to be given rope to hang
myself; the Conservatives cut me down or tried to justify me; the
whole country was talking. I had had a pamphlet in type upon the
subject, and I revised this carefully and put it on the book-stalls
within three days. It sold enormously and brought me bushels of
letters. We issued over three thousand in Handitch alone. At
meeting after meeting I was heckled upon nothing else. Long before
polling day Plutus was converted.
"It's catching on like old age pensions," he said. "We've dished
the Liberals! To think that such a project should come from our
But it was only with the declaration of the poll that my battle was
won. No one expected more than a snatch victory, and I was in by
over fifteen hundred. At one bound Cossington's papers passed from
apologetics varied by repudiation to triumphant praise. "A
renascent England, breeding men," said the leader in his chief daily
on the morning after the polling, and claimed that the Conservatives
had been ever the pioneers in sanely bold constructive projects.
I came up to London with a weary but rejoicing Margaret by the night
CHAPTER THE SECOND
THE IMPOSSIBLE POSITION
To any one who did not know of that glowing secret between Isabel
and myself, I might well have appeared at that time the most
successful and enviable of men. I had recovered rapidly from an
uncongenial start in political life; I had become a considerable
force through the BLUE WEEKLY, and was shaping an increasingly
influential body of opinion; I had re-entered Parliament with quite
dramatic distinction, and in spite of a certain faltering on the
part of the orthodox Conservatives towards the bolder elements in
our propaganda, I had loyal and unenvious associates who were making
me a power in the party. People were coming to our group,
understandings were developing. It was clear we should play a
prominent part in the next general election, and that, given a
Conservative victory, I should be assured of office. The world
opened out to me brightly and invitingly. Great schemes took shape
in my mind, always more concrete, always more practicable; the years
ahead seemed falling into order, shining with the credible promise
of immense achievement.
And at the heart of it all, unseen and unsuspected, was the secret
of my relations with Isabel--like a seed that germinates and
thrusts, thrusts relentlessly.
From the onset of the Handitch contest onward, my meetings with her
had been more and more pervaded by the discussion of our situation.
It had innumerable aspects. It was very present to us that we
wanted to be together as much as possible--we were beginning to long
very much for actual living together in the same house, so that one
could come as it were carelessly--unawares--upon the other, busy
perhaps about some trivial thing. We wanted to feel each other in
the daily atmosphere. Preceding our imperatively sterile passion,
you must remember, outside it, altogether greater than it so far as
our individual lives were concerned, there had grown and still grew
an enormous affection and intellectual sympathy between us. We
brought all our impressions and all our ideas to each other, to see
them in each other's light. It is hard to convey that quality of
intellectual unison to any one who has not experienced it. I
thought more and more in terms of conversation with Isabel; her
possible comments upon things would flash into my mind, oh!--with
the very sound of her voice.
I remember, too, the odd effect of seeing her in the distance going
about Handitch, like any stranger canvasser; the queer emotion of
her approach along the street, the greeting as she passed. The
morning of the polling she vanished from the constituency. I saw
her for an instant in the passage behind our Committee rooms.
"Going?" said I.
"Stay it out. I want you to see the fun. I remember--the other
She didn't answer for a moment or so, and stood with face averted.
"It's Margaret's show," she said abruptly. "If I see her smiling
there like a queen by your side--! She did--last time. I
remember." She caught at a sob and dashed her hand across her face
impatiently. "Jealous fool, mean and petty, jealous fool! . . .
Good luck, old man, to you! You're going to win. But I don't want
to see the end of it all the same. . . ."
"Good-bye!" said I, clasping her hand as some supporter appeared in
the passage. . . .
I came back to London victorious, and a little flushed and coarse
with victory; and so soon as I could break away I went to Isabel's
flat and found her white and worn, with the stain of secret weeping
about her eyes. I came into the room to her and shut the door.
"You said I'd win," I said, and held out my arms.
She hugged me closely for a moment.
"My dear," I whispered, "it's nothing--without you--nothing!"
We didn't speak for some seconds. Then she slipped from my hold.
"Look!" she said, smiling like winter sunshine. "I've had in all
the morning papers--the pile of them, and you--resounding."
"It's more than I dared hope."
She stood for a moment still smiling bravely, and then she was
sobbing in my arms. "The bigger you are--the more you show," she
said--"the more we are parted. I know, I know--"
I held her close to me, making no answer.
Presently she became still. "Oh, well," she said, and wiped her
eyes and sat down on the little sofa by the fire; and I sat down
"I didn't know all there was in love," she said, staring at the
coals, "when we went love-making."
I put my arm behind her and took a handful of her dear soft hair in
my hand and kissed it.
"You've done a great thing this time," she said. "Handitch will
"It opens big chances," I said. "But why are you weeping, dear
"Envy," she said, "and love."
"You're not lonely?"
"I've plenty to do--and lots of people."
"I want you."
"You've got me."
She put her arm about me and kissed me. "I want you," she said,
"just as if I had nothing of you. You don't understand--how a woman
wants a man. I thought once if I just gave myself to you it would
be enough. It was nothing--it was just a step across the threshold.
My dear, every moment you are away I ache for you--ache! I want to
be about when it isn't love-making or talk. I want to be doing
things for you, and watching you when you're not thinking of me.
All those safe, careless, intimate things. And something else--"
She stopped. "Dear, I don't want to bother you. I just want you to
know I love you. . . ."
She caught my head in her hands and kissed it, then stood up
I looked up at her, a little perplexed.
"Dear heart," said I, "isn't this enough? You're my councillor, my
colleague, my right hand, the secret soul of my life--"
"And I want to darn your socks," she said, smiling back at me.
She smiled "No," she said. "I'm not insatiable, Master. But I'm a
woman in love. And I'm finding out what I want, and what is
necessary to me--and what I can't have. That's all."
"We get a lot."
"We want a lot. You and I are greedy people for the things we like,
Master. It's very evident we've got nearly all we can ever have of
one another--and I'm not satisfied."
"What more is there?
"For you--very little. I wonder. For me--every thing. Yes--
everything. You didn't mean it, Master; you didn't know any more
than I did when I began, but love between a man and a woman is
sometimes very one-sided. Fearfully one-sided! That's all. . . ."
"Don't YOU ever want children?" she said abruptly.
"I suppose I do."
"I haven't thought of them."
"A man doesn't, perhaps. But I have. . . . I want them--like
hunger. YOUR children, and home with you. Really, continually you!
That's the trouble. . . . I can't have 'em, Master, and I can't
She was crying, and through her tears she laughed.
"I'm going to make a scene," she said, "and get this over. I'm so
discontented and miserable; I've got to tell you. It would come
between us if I didn't. I'm in love with you, with everything--with
all my brains. I'll pull through all right. I'll be good, Master,
never you fear. But to-day I'm crying out with all my being. This
election--You're going up; you're going on. In these papers--you're
a great big fact. It's suddenly come home to me. At the back of my
mind I've always had the idea I was going to have you somehow
presently for myself--I mean to have you to go long tramps with, to
keep house for, to get meals for, to watch for of an evening. It's
a sort of habitual background to my thought of you. And it's
nonsense--utter nonsense!" She stopped. She was crying and
choking. "And the child, you know--the child!"
I was troubled beyond measure, but Handitch and its intimations were
clear and strong.
"We can't have that," I said.
"No," she said, "we can't have that."
"We've got our own things to do."