Part 3 out of 5
"Madame?" replied the fat woman in alarm.
"Run for a taxi."
"But, madame, it is raining terribly."
"_Je m'en fous_! Run for a taxi."
Turning back into the room she repeated; "The clock is too soon." But
she knew that it was not. Nearly nude, she put on a hat.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Do not worry. I come with you."
She took a skirt and a jersey and then threw a cloak over everything.
He was very slow; he could find nothing; he could button nothing. She
helped him. But when he began to finger his leggings with the endless
laces and the innumerable eyelets she snatched them from him.
"Those--in the taxi," she said.
"But there is no taxi."
"There will be a taxi. I have sent the maid."
At the last moment, as she was hurrying him on to the staircase, she
grasped her handbag. They stumbled one after the other down the dark
stairs. He had now caught the infection of her tremendous anxiety. She
opened the front door. The glistening street was absolutely empty; the
rain pelted on the pavements and the roadway, each drop falling like
a missile and raising a separate splash, so that it seemed as if the
flood on the earth was leaping up to meet the flood from the sky.
"Come!" she said with hysterical impatience. "We cannot wait. There
will be a taxi in Piccadilly, I know."
Simultaneously a taxi swerved round the corner of Burlington Street.
Marthe stood on the step next to the driver. As the taxi halted she
jumped down. Her drenched white apron was over her head and she was
wet to the skin.
In the taxi, while the officer struck matches, Christine knelt and
fastened his leggings; he could not have performed the nice operation
for himself. And all the time she was doing something else--she
was pushing forward the whole taxi, till her muscles ached with the
effort. Then she sat back on the seat, smoothed her hair under the
hat, unclasped the bag, and patted her features delicately with the
powder-puff. Neither knew the exact time, and in vain they tried to
discern the faces of clocks that flew past them in the heavy rain.
Christine sighed and said:
"These tempests. This rain. They say it is because of the big
cannons--which break the clouds."
The officer, who had the air of being in a dream, suddenly bent
towards her and replied with a most strange solemnity:
"It is to wash away the blood!"
She had not thought of that. Of course it was! She sighed again.
As they neared Victoria the officer said:
"My kit-bag! It's at the hotel. Shall I have time to pay my bill and
get it? The Grosvenor's next to the station, you know."
She answered unhesitatingly: "You will go direct to the train. I will
try the hotel."
"Drive round to the Grosvenor entrance like hell," he instructed the
driver when the taxi stopped in the station yard.
In the hotel she would never have got the bag, owing to her
difficulties in explaining the situation in English to a haughty
reception-clerk, had not a French-Swiss waiter been standing by. She
flung imploring French sentences at the waiter like a stream from a
hydrant. The bill was produced in less than half a minute. She put
down money of her own to pay for it, for she had refused to wait at
the station while the officer fished in the obscurities of his purse.
The bag, into which a menial had crammed a kit probably scattered
about the bedroom, arrived unfastened. Once more at the station, she
gave the cabman all the change which she had received at the hotel
counter. By a miracle she made a porter understand what was needed and
how urgently it was needed. He said the train was just going, and ran.
She ran after him. The ticket-collector at the platform gate allowed
the porter to pass, but raised an implacable arm to prevent her from
following. She had no platform ticket, and she could not possibly be
travelling by the train. Then she descried her officer standing at an
open carriage door in conversation with another officer and tapping
his leggings with his cane. How aristocratic and disdainful and
self-absorbed the pair looked! They existed in a world utterly
different from hers. They were the triumphant and negligent males.
She endeavoured to direct the porter with her pointing hand, and then,
hysterical again, she screamed out the one identifying word she knew:
It was lost in the resounding echoes of the immense vault. Edgar
certainly did not hear it. But he caught the great black initials,
"E.W." on the kit-bag as the porter staggered along, and stopped the
aimless man, and the kit-bag was thrown into the apartment. Doors were
now banging. Christine saw Edgar take out his purse and fumble at it.
But Edgar's companion pushed Edgar into the train and himself gave a
tip which caused the porter to salute extravagantly. The porter, at
any rate, had been rewarded. Christine began to cry, not from chagrin,
but with relief. Women on the platform waved absurd little white
handkerchiefs. Heads and khaki shoulders stuck out of the carriage
windows of the shut train. A small green flag waved; arms waved like
semaphores. The train ought to have been gliding away, but something
delayed it, and it was held as if spellbound under the high, dim
semicircle of black glass, amid the noises of steam, the hissing of
electric globes, the horrible rattle of luggage trucks, the patter of
feet, and the vast, murmuring gloom. Christine saw Edgar leaning from
a window and gazing anxiously about. The little handkerchiefs were
still courageously waving, and she, too, waved a little wisp. But he
did not see her; he was not looking in the right place for her.
She thought: Why did he not stay near the gate for me? But she thought
again: Because he feared to miss the train. It was necessary that he
should be close to his compartment. He knows he is not quite sober.
She wondered whether he had any relatives, or any relations with
another woman. He seemed to be as solitary as she was.
On the same side of the platform-gate as herself a very tall, slim,
dandy of an officer was bending over a smartly-dressed girl, smiling
at her and whispering. Suddenly the girl turned from him with a
disdainful toss of the head and said in a loud, clear Cockney voice:
"You can't tell the tale to me, young man. This is my second time on
Christine heard the words, but was completely puzzled. The train
moved, at first almost imperceptibly. The handkerchiefs showed extreme
agitation. Then a raucous song floated from the train:
"John Brown's baby's got a pimple on his--_shoooo_--
John Brown's baby's got a pimple on his--_shoooo_--
John Brown's baby's got a pimple on his--_shoooo_--
and we all went marching home.
Glory, glory, Alleluia!
Glory, glory ..."
The rails showed empty where the train had been, and the sound of the
song faded and died. Some of the women were crying. Christine felt
that she was in a land of which she understood nothing but the tears.
She also felt very cold in the legs.
GETTING ON WITH THE WAR
The floors of the Reynolds Galleries were covered with some hundreds
of very well-dressed and very expensively-dressed women and some
scores of men. The walls were covered with a loan collection of
oil-paintings, water-colour drawings, and etchings--English and
French, but chiefly English. A very large proportion of the pictures
were portraits of women done by a select group of very expensive
painters in the highest vogue. These portraits were the main
attraction of the elegant crowd, which included many of the sitters;
as for the latter, they failed to hide under an unconvincing mask of
indifference their curiosity as to their own effectiveness in a frame.
The portraits for the most part had every quality save that of
sincerity. They were transcendantly adroit and they reeked of talent.
They were luxurious, refined, sensual, titillating, exquisite, tender,
compact, of striking poses and subtle new tones. And while the heads
were well finished and instantly recognisable as likenesses, the
impressionism of the hands and of the provocative draperies showed
that the artists had fully realised the necessity of being modern. The
mischief and the damnation were that the sitters liked them because
they produced in the sitters the illusion that the sitters were really
what the sitters wanted to be, and what indeed nearly every woman in
the galleries wanted to be; and the ideal of the sitters was a low
ideal. The portraits flattered; but only a few guessed that they
flattered ignobly; scarcely any even of the artists guessed that.
The portraits were a success; the exhibition was a success; and all
the people at the private view justly felt that they were part of and
contributing to the success. And though seemingly the aim of everybody
was to prove to everybody else that no war, not the greatest war,
could disturb the appearances of social life in London, yet many were
properly serious and proud in their seriousness. It was the autumn of
1915. British troops were triumphantly on the road to Kut, and British
forces were approaching decisive victory in Gallipoli. The Russians
had turned on their pursuers. The French had initiated in Champagne
an offensive so dramatic that it was regarded as the beginning of the
end. And the British on their left, in the taking of Loos and Hill 70,
had achieved what might have been regarded as the greatest success on
the Western Front, had it not been for the rumour, current among the
informed personages at the Reynolds Galleries, that recent bulletins
had been reticent to the point of deception and that, in fact, Hill
70 had ceased to be ours a week earlier. Further, Zeppelins had raided
London and killed and wounded numerous Londoners, and all present in
the Reynolds Galleries were aware, from positive statements in the
newspapers, that whereas German morale was crumbling, all Londoners,
including themselves, had behaved with the most marvellous stoic calm
in the ordeal of the Zeppelins.
The assembly had a further and particular reason for serious pride.
It was getting on with the war, and in a most novel way. Private views
are customarily views gratis. But the entry to this private view cost
a guinea, and there was absolutely no free list. The guineas were
going to the support of the Lechford Hospitals in France. The happy
idea was G.J.'s own, and Lady Queenie Paulle and her mother had taken
the right influential measures to ensure its grandiose execution. A
queen had visited the private view for half an hour. Thus all the very
well-dressed and very expensively-dressed women, and all the men who
admired and desired them as they moved, in voluptuous perfection, amid
dazzling pictures with the soft illumination of screened skylights
above and the reflections in polished parquet below--all of both sexes
were comfortably conscious of virtue in the undoubted fact that they
were helping to support two renowned hospitals where at that very
moment dissevered legs and arms were being thrown into buckets.
In a little room at the end of the galleries was a small but choice
collection of the etchings of Felicien Rops: a collection for
connoisseurs, as the critics were to point out in the newspapers the
next morning. For Rops, though he had an undeniable partiality for
subjects in which ugly and prurient women displayed themselves in
nothing but the inessentials of costume, was a classic before whom it
was necessary to bow the head in homage.
G.J. was in this room in company with a young and handsome Staff
officer, Lieutenant Molder, home on convalescent leave from Suvla Bay.
Mr. Molder had left Oxford in order to join the army; he had behaved
admirably, and well earned the red shoulder-ornaments which pure
accident had given him. He was a youth of artistic and literary
tastes, with genuine ambitions quite other than military, and after a
year of horrible existence in which he had hungered for the arts
more than for anything, he was solacing and renewing himself in the
contemplation of all the masterpieces that London could show. He
greatly esteemed G.J.'s connoisseurship, and G.J. had taken him in
hand. At the close of a conscientious and highly critical round of
the galleries they had at length reached the Rops room, and they
were discussing every aspect of Rops except his lubricity, when Lady
Queenie Paulle approached them from behind. Molder was the first to
notice her and turn. He blushed.
"Well, Queen," said G.J., who had already had several conversations
with her in the galleries that day and on the previous days of
"Well, I hope you're satisfied with the results of your beautiful
The young woman, slim and pale, had long since gone out of mourning.
She was most brilliantly attired, and no detail lacked to the
perfection of her modish outfit. Indeed, just as she was, she would
have made a marvellous mannequin, except for the fact that mannequins
are not usually allowed to perfume themselves in business hours. Her
thin, rather high voice, which somehow matched her complexion and
carriage, had its customary tone of amiable insolence, and her tired,
drooping eyes their equivocal glance, as she faced the bearded and
grave middle-aged bachelor and the handsome, muscular boy; even the
boy was older than Queen, yet she seemed to condescend to them as if
she were an immortal from everlasting to everlasting and could teach
both of them all sorts of useful things about life. Nobody could have
guessed from that serene demeanour that her self-satisfaction was
marred by any untoward detail whatever. Yet it was. All her frocks
were designed to conceal a serious defect which seriously disturbed
her: she was low-breasted.
G.J. said bluntly:
"May I present Mr. Molder?--Lady Queenie Paulle."
And he said to himself, secretly annoyed:
"Dash the infernal chit. That's what she's come for. Now she's got
She gave the slightest, dubious nod to Molder, who, having faced
fighting Turks with an equanimity equal to Queenie's own, was yet
considerably flurried by the presence and the gaze of this legendary
girl. Queenie, enjoying his agitation, but affecting to ignore him,
began to talk quickly in the vein of exclusive gossip; she mentioned
in a few seconds the topics of the imminent entry of Bulgaria into
the war, the maturing Salonika expedition, the confidential terrible
utterances of K. on recruiting, and, of course, the misfortune (due to
causes which Queenie had at her finger-ends) round about Loos. Then
in regard to the last she suddenly added, quite unjustifiably implying
that the two phenomena were connected: "You know, mother's hospitals
are frightfully full just now.... But, of course, you do know. That's
why I'm so specially glad to-day's such a success."
Thus in a moment, and with no more than ten phrases, she had conveyed
the suggestion that while mere soldiers, ageing men-about-town, and
the ingenuous mass of the public might and did foolishly imagine the
war to be a simple affair, she herself, by reason of her intelligence
and her private sources of knowledge, had a full, unique apprehension
of its extremely complex and various formidableness. G.J. resented the
familiar attitude, and he resented Queenie's very appearance and the
appearance of the entire opulent scene. In his head at that precise
instant were not only the statistics of mortality and major operations
at the Lechford Hospitals, but also the astounding desolating tales of
the handsome boy about folly, ignorance, stupidity and martyrdoms at
He said, with the peculiar polite restraint that in him masked emotion
"Yes, I'm glad it's a success. But the machinery of it is perhaps just
slightly out of proportion to the results. If people had given to
the hospitals what they have spent on clothes to come here and what
they've paid painters so that they could see themselves on the walls,
we should have made twenty times as much as we have made--a hundred
times as much. Why, good god! Queen, the whole afternoon's takings
wouldn't buy what you're wearing now, to say nothing of the five
hundred other women here." His eye rested on the badge of her
half-brother's regiment which she had had reproduced in diamonds.
At this juncture he heard himself addressed in a hearty, heavy voice
as "G.J., old soul." An officer with the solitary crown on his
sleeve, bald, stoutish, but probably not more than forty-five, touched
him--much gentler than he spoke--on the shoulder.
"Craive, my son! You back! Well, it's startling to see you at a
The Major, saluting Lady Queenie as a distant acquaintance, retorted:
"Morally, you owe me a guinea, my dear G.J. I called at the flat, and
the young woman there told me you'd surely be here."
While they were talking G.J. could hear Queenie Paulle and Molder:
"Where are you back from?"
"Suvla, Lady Queenie."
"You must be oozing with interest and actuality. Tell G.J. to bring
you to tea one day, quite, quite soon, will you? _I_'ll tell him."
And Molder murmured something fatuously conventional. G.J. showed
decorously that he had caught his own name. Whereupon Lady Queenie,
instead of naming a day for tea, addressed him almost bitterly:
"G.J., what's come over you? What in the name of Pan do you suppose
all you males are fighting each other for?" She paused effectively.
"Good god! If I began to dress like a housemaid the Germans would
be in London in a month. Our job as women is quite delicate
enough without you making it worse by any damned sentimental
superficiality.... I want you to bring Mr. Molder to tea _to-morrow_,
and if you can't come he must come alone...."
With a last strange look at Molder she retired into the glitter of the
crowded larger room.
"She been driving any fresh men to suicide lately?" Major Craive
demanded acidly under his breath.
G.J. raised his eyebrows.
Then: "That's not _you_, Frankie!" said the Major with a start of
recognition towards the Staff lieutenant.
"Yes, sir," said Molder.
They shook hands. At the previous Christmas they had lain out together
on the cliffs of the east coast in wild weather, waiting to repel a
phantom army of thirty thousand Germans.
"It was the red hat put me off," the Major explained.
"Not my fault, sir," Molder smiled.
"Devilish glad to see you, my boy."
G.J. murmured to Molder:
"You don't want to go and have tea with her, do you?"
And Molder answered, with the somewhat fatuous, self-conscious
grin that no amount of intelligence can keep out of the face of a
good-looking fellow who knows that he has made an impression:
"Well, I don't know--"
G.J. raised his eyebrows again, but with indulgence, and winked at
The Major shut his lips tight, then stood with his mouth open for a
second or two in the attitude of a man suddenly receiving the onset of
a great and original idea.
"She's right, hang it all!" he exclaimed. "She's right! Of course she
is! Why, what's all this"--he waved an arm at the whole scene--"what's
all this but sex? Look at 'em! And look at their portraits! You aren't
going to tell me! What's the good of pretending? Hang it all, when my
own aunt comes down to breakfast in a low-cut blouse that would have
given her fits even in the evening ten years ago!... And jolly fine
too. I'm all for it. The more of it the merrier--that's what I say.
And don't any of you high-brows go trying to alter it. If you do I
retire, and you can defend your own bally Front."
"Craive," said G.J. affectionately, "until you and Queen came along
Molder and I really thought we were at a picture exhibition, and we
still think so, don't we, Molder?" The Lieutenant nodded. "Now, as
you're here, just let me show you one or two things."
"Oh!" breathed the Major, "have pity. It's not any canvas woman that
I want--By Jove!" He caught sight of an invention of Felicien Rops, a
pig on the end of a string, leading, or being driven by, a woman who
wore nothing but stockings, boots and a hat. "What do you call that?"
"My dear fellow, that's one of the most famous etchings in the world."
"Is it?" the Major said. "Well, I'm not surprised. There's more in
this business than I imagined." He set himself to examine all the
exhibits by Rops, and when he had finished he turned to G.J.
"Listen here, G.J. We're going to make a night of it. I've decided on
"Sorry, dear heart," said G.J. "I'm engaged with Molder to-night. We
shall have some private chamber-music at my rooms--just for ourselves.
You ought to come. Much better for your health."
"What time will the din be over?"
"Now I say again--listen here. Let's talk business. I'll come to your
chamber-music. I've been before, and survived, and I'll come again.
But afterwards you'll come with me to the Guinea-Fowl."
"But, my dear chap, I can't throw Molder out into Vigo Street at
eleven o'clock," G.J. protested, startled by the blunt mention of the
notorious night-club in the young man's presence.
"Naturally you can't. He'll come along with us. Frankie and I have
nearly fallen into the North Sea or German Ocean together, haven't we,
Frankie? It'll be my show. And I'll turn up with the stuff--one, two
or three pretty ladies according as your worship wishes."
G.J. was now more than startled; he was shocked; he felt his cheeks
reddening. It was the presence of Molder that confused him. Never had
he talked to Molder on any subjects but the arts, and if they had once
or twice lighted on the topic of women it was only in connection with
the arts. He was really interested in and admired Molder's unusual
aesthetic intelligence, and he had done what he could to foster it,
and he immensely appreciated Molder's youthful esteem for himself.
Moreover, he was easily old enough to be Molder's father. It seemed
to him that though two generations might properly mingle in anything
else, they ought not to mingle in licence. Craive's crudity was
"See here!" Craive went on, serious and determined. "You know the sort
of thing I've come from. I got four days unexpected. I had to run down
to my uncle's. The old things would have died if I hadn't. To-morrow I
go back. This is my last night. I haven't had a scratch up to now.
But my turn's coming, you bet. Next week I may be in heaven or hell or
anywhere, or blind for life or without my legs or any damn thing you
please. But I'm going to have to-night, and you're going to join in."
G.J. saw the look of simple, half-worshipful appeal that sometimes
came into Craive's rather ingenuous face. He well knew that look, and
it always touched him. He remembered certain descriptive letters
which he had received from Craive at the Front,--they corresponded
faithfully. He could not have explained the intimacy of his relations
with Craive. They had begun at a club, over cards. The two had little
in common--Craive was a stockbroker when world-wars did not happen
to be in progress--but G.J. greatly liked him because, with all his
crudity, he was such a decent, natural fellow, so kind-hearted,
so fresh and unassuming. And Craive on his part had developed an
admiration for G.J. which G.J. was quite at a loss to account for. The
one clue to the origin of the mysterious attachment between them had
been a naive phrase which he had once overheard Craive utter to a
mutual acquaintance: "Old G.J.'s so subtle, isn't he?"
G.J. said to himself, reconsidering the proposal:
"And why on earth not?"
And then aloud, soothingly, to Craive:
"All right! All right!"
The Major brightened and said to Molder:
"You'll come, of course?"
"Oh, rather!" answered Molder, quite simply.
And G.J., again to himself, said:
"I am a simpleton."
The Major's pleading, and the spectacle of the two officers with their
precarious hold on life, humiliated G.J. as well as touched him. And,
if only in order to avoid the momentary humiliation, he would have
been well content to be able to roll back his existence and to have
had a military training and to be with them in the sacred and proud
"Now listen here!" said the Major. "About the aforesaid pretty
There they stood together in the corner, hiding several of Rops's
eccentricities, ostensibly discussing art, charity, world-politics,
the strategy of war, the casualty lists.
Christine found the night at the guinea-fowl rather dull. The
supper-room, garish and tawdry in its decorations, was functioning as
usual. The round tables and the square tables, the tables large and
the tables small, were well occupied with mixed parties and couples.
Each table had its own yellow illumination, and the upper portion
of the room, with a certain empty space in the centre of it, was
bafflingly shadowed. Between two high, straight falling curtains could
be seen a section of the ball-room, very bright against the curtains,
with the figures of dancers whose bodies seemed to be glued to each
other, pale to black or pale to khaki, passing slowly and rhythmically
across. The rag-time music, over a sort of ground-bass of syncopated
tom-tom, surged through the curtains like a tide of the sea of
Aphrodite, and bathed everyone at the supper-tables in a mysterious
aphrodisiacal fluid. The waiters alone were insensible to its
influence. They moved to and fro with the impassivity and disdain of
eunuchs separated for ever from the world's temptations. Loud laughs
or shrill little shrieks exploded at intervals from the sinister
melancholy of the interior.
On Christine's left, at a round table in a corner, sat G.J.; on her
right, the handsome boy Molder. On Molder's right, Miss Aida Altown
spread her amplitude, and on G.J.'s left was a young girl known to
the company as Alice. Major Craive, the host, the splendid quality of
whose hospitality was proved by the flowers, the fruit, the bottles,
the cigar-boxes and the cigarette-boxes on the table, sat between
Alice and Aida Altown.
The three women on principle despised and scorned each other with
false warm smiles and sudden outbursts of compliment. Christine knew
that the other two detested her as being "one of those French girls"
who, under the protection of Free Trade, came to London and, by their
lack of scruple and decency, took the bread out of the mouths of the
nice, modest, respectable, English girls. She on her side disdained
both of them, not merely because they were courtesans (which
somehow Christine considered she really was not), but also for their
characteristic insipidity, lackadaisicalness and ignorance of the
technique of the profession. They expected to be paid for doing
Aida Altown she knew by sight as belonging to a great rival Promenade.
Aida had reached the purgatory of obesity which Christine always
feared. Despite the largeness of her mass, she was a very beautiful
woman in the English manner, blonde, soft, idle, without a trace of
temperament, and incomparably dull and stupid. But she was ageing;
she had been favourably known in the West End continuously (save for
a brief escapade in New York) for perhaps a quarter of a century. She
was at the period when such as she realise with flaccid alarm that
they have no future, and when they are ready to risk grave imprudences
for youths who feel flattered by their extreme maturity. Christine
gazed calmly at her, supercilious and secure in the immense advantage
of at least fifteen years to the good.
And if she shrugged her shoulders at Aida for being too old,
Christine did the same at Alice for being too young. Alice was truly
a girl--probably not more than seventeen. Her pert, pretty, infantile
face was an outrage against the code. She was a mere amateur, with
everything to learn, absurdly presuming upon the very quality which
would vanish first. And she was a fool. She obviously had no sense,
not even the beginnings of sense. She was wearing an impudently
expensive frock which must have cost quite five times as much as
Christine's own, though the latter in the opinion of the wearer was
by far the more authentically _chic_. And she talked proudly at large
about her losses on the turf and of the swindles practised upon her.
Christine admitted that the girl could make plenty of money, and would
continue to make money for a long, long time, bar accidents, but her
final conclusion about Alice was: "She will end on straw."
The supper was over. The conversation had never been vivacious, and
now it was half-drowned in champagne. The girls had wanted to hear
about the war, but the Major, who had arrived in a rather dogmatic
mood, put an absolute ban on shop. Alice had then kept the talk, such
as it was, upon her favourite topic--revues. She was an encyclopaedia
of knowledge concerning revues past, present, and to come. She had
once indeed figured for a few grand weeks in a revue chorus, thereby
acquiring unique status in her world. The topic palled upon both Aida
and Christine. And Christine had said to herself: "They are aware of
nothing, those two," for Aida and Alice had proved to be equally and
utterly ignorant of the superlative social event of the afternoon, the
private view at the Reynolds Galleries--at which indeed Christine had
not assisted, but of which she had learnt all the intimate details
from G.J. What, Christine demanded, _could_ be done with such a pair
She might have been excused for abandoning all attempt to behave as
a woman of the world should at a supper party. Nevertheless, she
continued good-naturedly and conscientiously in the performance of her
duty to charm, to divert, and to enliven. After all, the ladies
were there to captivate the males, and if Aida and Alice dishonestly
flouted obligations, Christine would not. She would, at any rate, show
them how to behave.
She especially attended to G.J., who having drunk little, was taciturn
and preoccupied in his amiabilities. She divined that something was
the matter, but she could not divine that his thoughts were saddened
by the recollection at the Guinea-Fowl of the lovely music which he
had heard earlier in his drawing-room and by the memory of the Major's
letters and of what the Major had said at the Reynolds Galleries
about the past and the possibilities of the future. The Major was very
benevolently intoxicated, and at short intervals he raised his glass
to G.J., who did not once fail to respond with an affectionate smile
which Christine had never before seen on G.J.'s face.
Suddenly Alice, who had been lounging semi-somnolent with an extinct
cigarette in her jewelled fingers, sat up and said in the uncertain
voice of an inexperienced girl who has ceased to count the number of
"Shall I recite? I've been trained, you know."
And, not waiting for an answer, she stood and recited, with a
surprisingly correct and sure pronunciation of difficult words to show
that she had, in fact, received some training:
Helen, thy beauty is to me
Like those Nicean barks of yore,
That gently o'er a perfumed sea
The weary, wayworn wanderer bore
To his own native shore.
On desperate seas long wont to roam,
Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,
Thy naiad airs have brought me home
To the glory that was Greece,
To the grandeur that was Rome.
Lo! In your brilliant window niche,
How statue-like I see thee stand,
The agate lamp within thy hand!
Ah, Psyche from the regions which
Are Holy Land!
The uncomprehended marvellous poem, having startled the whole room,
ceased, and the rag-time resumed its sway. A drunken "Bravo!"
came from one table, a cheer from another. Young Alice nodded an
acknowledgment and sank loosely into her chair, exhausted by her last
effort against the spell of champagne and liqueurs. And the naive, big
Major, bewitched by the child, subsided into soft contact with her,
and they almost tearfully embraced. A waiter sedately replaced a glass
which Alice's drooping, negligent hand had over-turned, and wiped the
cloth. G.J. was silent. The whole table was silent.
"_Est-ce de la grande poesie_?" asked Christine of G.J., who did not
reply. Christine, though she condemned Alice as now disgusting, had
been taken aback and, in spite of herself, much impressed by the
surprising display of elocution.
"_Oui_," said Molder, in his clipped, self-conscious Oxford French.
Two couples from other tables were dancing in the middle of the room.
Molder demanded, leaning towards her:
"I say, do you dance?"
"But certainly," said Christine. "I learnt at the convent." And she
spoke of her convent education, a triumphant subject with her, though
she had actually spent less than a year in the convent.
After a few moments they both rose, and Christine, bending over G.J.,
whispered lovingly in his ear:
"Dear, thou wilt not be jealous if I dance one turn with thy young
She was addressing the wrong person. Already throughout the supper
Aida, ignoring the fact that the whole structure of civilised society
is based on the rule that at a meal a man must talk first to the lady
on his right and then to the lady on his left and so on infinitely,
had secretly taken exception to the periodic intercourse--and
particularly the intercourse in French--between Christine and Molder,
who was officially "hers". That these two should go off and dance
together was the supreme insult to her. By ill-chance she had not
sufficient physical command of herself.
Christine felt that Molder would have danced better two hours earlier;
but still he danced beautifully. Their bodies fitted like two parts
of a jigsaw puzzle that have discovered each other. She realised that
G.J. was middle-aged, and regret tinctured the ecstasy of the dance.
Then suddenly she heard a loud, imploring cry in her ear:
She looked round, pale, still dancing, but only by inertia.
Nobody was near her. The four people at the Major's table gave no sign
of agitation or even of interest. The Major still had Alice more or
less in his arms.
"What was that?" she asked wildly.
"What was what?" said Molder, at a loss to understand her
And she heard the cry again, and then again:
She recognised the voice. It was the voice of the officer whom she had
taken to Victoria Station one Sunday night months and months ago.
"Excuse me!" she said, slipping from Molder's hold, and she hurried
out of the room to the ladies' cloak-room, got her wraps, and ran past
the watchful guardian, through the dark, dubious portico of the club
into the street. The thing was done in a moment, and why she did it
she could not tell. She knew simply that she must do it, and that she
was under the dominion of those unseen powers in whom she had always
believed. She forgot the Guinea-Fowl as completely as though it had
been a pre-natal phenomenon with her.
But outside she lost faith. Half a dozen motor-cars were slumbering
in a row near the door of the Guinea-Fowl, and they all stirred
monstrously yet scarcely perceptibly at the sight of the woman's
figure, solitary, fragile and pale in the darkness. They seemed for an
instant to lust for her; and then, recognising that she was not their
prey, to sink back into the torpor of their inexhaustible patience.
The sight of them was prejudicial to the dominion of the unseen
powers. Christine admitted to herself that she had drunk a lot, that
she was demented, that her only proper course was to return dutifully
to the supper-party. She wondered what, if she did not so return, she
could possibly say to justify herself to G.J.
Nevertheless she went on down the street, hurrying, automatic, and
reached the main thoroughfare. It was dark with the new protective
darkness. The central hooded lamps showed like poor candles, making a
series of rings of feeble illumination on the vast invisible floor of
the road. Nobody was afoot; not a soul. The last of the motor-buses
that went about killing and maiming people in the new protective
darkness had long since reached its yard. The seductive dim violet
bulbs were all extinguished on the entrances of the theatres, and,
save for a thread of light at some lofty window here and there, the
curving facades of the street were as undecipherable as the heavens
above or as the asphalte beneath.
Then Christine's ear detected a faint roar. It grew louder; it became
terrific; and a long succession of huge loaded army waggons with
peering head-lamps thundered past at full speed, one close behind
the next, shaking the very avenue. The slightest misjudgment by the
leading waggon in the confusion of light and darkness--and the whole
convoy would have pitched itself together in a mass of iron, flesh,
blood and ordnance; but the convoy went ruthlessly and safely forward
till its final red tail-lamp swung round a corner and vanished. The
avenue ceased to shake. The thunder died away, and there was silence
again. Whence and why the convoy came, and at whose dread omnipotent
command? Whither it was bound? What it carried? No answer in the
darkness to these enigmas!... And Christine was afraid of England. She
remembered people in Ostend saying that England would never go to war.
She, too, had said it, bitterly. And now she was in the midst of the
unmeasured city which had darkened itself for war, and she was afraid
of an unloosed might....
What madness was she doing? She did not even know the man's name.
She knew only that he was "Edgar W." She would have liked to be his
_marraine_, according to the French custom, but he had never written
to her. He was still in her debt for the hotel bill and the taxi fare.
He had not even kissed her at the station. She tried to fancy that she
heard his voice calling "Christine" with frantic supplication in her
ears, but she could not. She turned into another side street, and saw
a lighted doorway. Two soldiers were standing in the veiled radiance.
She could just read the lower half of the painted notice: "All service
men welcome. Beds. Meals. Writing and reading rooms. Always open." She
passed on. One of the soldiers, a non-commissioned officer of mature
years, solemnly winked at her, without moving an unnecessary muscle.
She looked modestly down.
Twenty yards further on she described near a lamp-post a tall soldier
whose somewhat bent body seemed to be clustered over with pots, pans,
tins, bags, valises, satchels and weapons, like the figure of some
military Father Christmas on his surreptitious rounds. She knew that
he must be a poor benighted fellow just back from the trenches. He was
staring up at the place where the street-sign ought to have been. He
glanced at her, and said, in a fatigued, gloomy, aristocratic voice:
"Pardon me, Madam. Is this Denman Street? I want to find the Denman
Christine looked into his face. A sacred dew suffused her from head
to foot. She trembled with an intimidated joy. She felt the mystic
influences of all the unseen powers. She knew herself with holy dread
to be the chosen of the very clement Virgin, and the channel of a
miraculous intervention. It was the most marvellous, sweetest
thing that had ever happened. It was humanly incredible, but it had
"Is it you?" she murmured in a soft, breaking voice.
The man stooped and examined her face.
She said, while he gazed at her: "Edgar!... See--the wrist watch,"
and held up her arm, from which the wide sleeve of her mantle slipped
And the man said: "Is it you?"
She said: "Come with me. I will look after you."
The man answered glumly:
"I have no money--at least not enough for you. And I owe you a lot of
money already. You are an angel. I'm ashamed."
"What do you mean?" Christine protested. "Do you forget that you gave
me a five-pound note? It was more than enough to pay the hotel.... As
for the rest, let us not speak of it. Come with me."
"Did I?" muttered the man.
She could feel the very clement Virgin smiling approval of her fib;
it was exactly such a fib as the Virgin herself would have told in a
quandary of charity. And when a taxi came round the corner, she knew
that the Virgin disguised as a taxi-driver was steering it, and she
hailed it with a firm and yet loving gesture.
The taxi stopped. She opened the door, and in her sombre mantle and
bright trailing frock and glinting, pale shoes she got in, and the
military Father Christmas with much difficulty and jingling and
clinking insinuated himself after her into the vehicle, and banged to
the door. And at the same moment one of the soldiers from the Hostel
"Here, mate!... What do you want to take his money from him for, you
But the taxi drove off. Christine had not understood. And had she
understood, she would not have cared. She had a divine mission; she
was in bliss.
"You did not seem surprised to meet me," she said, taking Edgar's
"Had you called out my name--'Christine'?"
"You are sure?"
"Perhaps you were thinking of me? I was thinking of you."
"Perhaps. I don't know. But I'm never surprised."
"You must be very tired?"
"But why are you like that? All these things? You are not an officer
"No. I had to resign my commission--just after I saw you." He paused,
and added drily: "Whisky." His deep rich voice filled the taxi with
the resigned philosophy of fatalism.
"Of course I joined up again at once," he said casually. "I soon got
out to the Front. Now I'm on leave. That's mere luck."
She burst into tears. She was so touched by his curt story, and by the
grotesquerie of his appearance in the faint light from the exterior
lamp which lit the dial of the taximeter, that she lost control of
herself. And the man gave a sob, or possibly it was only a gulp to
hide a sob. And she leaned against him in her thin garments. And he
clinked and jingled, and his breath smelt of beer.
The flat was in darkness, except for the little lamp by the bedside.
The soldier lay asleep in his flannel shirt in the wide bed, and
Christine lay awake next him. His clothes were heaped on a chair.
His eighty pounds' weight of kit were deposited in a corner of the
drawing-room. On the table in the drawing-room were the remains of a
meal. Christine was thinking, carelessly and without apprehension, of
what she should say to G.J. She would tell him that she had suddenly
felt unwell. No! That would be silly. She would tell him that he
really had not the right to ask her to meet such women as Aida and
Alice. Had he no respect for her? Or she would tell him that Aida
had obviously meant to attack her, and that the dance with Lieutenant
Molder was simply a device to enable her to get away quietly and avoid
all scandal in a resort where scandal was intensely deprecated. She
could tell him fifty things, and he would have to accept whatever she
chose to tell him. She was mystically happy in the incomparable marvel
of the miracle, and in her care of the dull, unresponding man. Her
heart yearned thankfully, devotedly, passionately to the Virgin of the
In the profound nocturnal silence broken only by the man's slow,
regular breathing, she heard a sudden ring. It was the front-door bell
ringing in the kitchen. The bell rang again and again obstinately.
G.J.'s party was over, then, and he had arrived to make inquiries. She
smiled, and did not move. After a few moments she could hear Marthe
stirring. She sprang up, and then, cunningly considerate, slipped from
under the bed-clothes as noiselessly and as smoothly as a snake, so
that the man should not be disturbed. The two women met in the little
hall, Christine in the immodesty of a lacy and diaphanous garment,
and Marthe in a coarse cotton nightgown covered with a shawl. The bell
rang once more, loudly, close to their ears.
"Are you mad?" Christine whispered with fierceness. "Go back to bed.
Let him ring."
It was afternoon in April, 1916. G.J. rang the right bell at the
entrance of the London home of the Lechfords. Lechford House, designed
about 1840 by an Englishman of genius who in this rare instance had
found a patron with the wit to let him alone, was one of the finest
examples of domestic architecture in the West End. Inspired by the
formidable palaces of Rome and Florence, the artist had conceived
a building in the style of the Italian renaissance, but modified,
softened, chastened, civilised, to express the bland and yet haughty
sobriety of the English climate and the English peerage. People
without an eye for the perfect would have correctly described it as
a large plain house in grey stone, of three storeys, with a width
of four windows on either side of its black front door, a jutting
cornice, and rather elaborate chimneys. It was, however, a masterpiece
for the connoisseur, and foreign architects sometimes came with
cards of admission to pry into it professionally. The blinds of its
principal windows were down--not because of the war; they were often
down, for at least four other houses disputed with Lechford House the
honour of sheltering the Marquis and his wife and their sole surviving
child. Above the roof a wire platform for the catching of bombs had
given the mansion a somewhat ridiculous appearance, but otherwise
Lechford House managed to look as though it had never heard of the
One half of the black entrance swung open, and a middle-aged gentleman
dressed like Lord Lechford's stockbroker, but who was in reality his
butler, said in answer to G.J.'s enquiry:
"Lady Queenie is not at home, sir."
"But it is five o'clock," protested G.J., suddenly sick of Queen's
impudent unreliability. "And I have an appointment with her at five."
The butler's face relaxed ever so little from its occupational
inhumanity of a suet pudding; the spirit of compassion seemed to
inform it for an instant.
"Her ladyship went out about a quarter of an hour ago, sir."
"When d'you think she'll be back?"
The suet pudding was restored.
"That I could not say, sir."
"Damn the girl!" said G.J. to himself; and aloud: "Please tell her
ladyship that I've called."
"Mr. Hoape, is it not, sir?"
By the force of his raisin eyes the butler held G.J. as he turned to
descend the steps.
"There's nobody at home, sir, except Mrs. Carlos Smith. Mrs. Carlos
Smith is in Lady Queenie's apartments."
"Mrs. Carlos Smith!" exclaimed G.J., who had not seen Concepcion for
some seventeen months; nor heard from her for nearly as long, nor
heard of her since the previous year.
"Ask her if she can see me, will you?" said G.J. impetuously, after a
He stepped on to the tessellated pavement of the outer hall. On the
raised tessellated pavement of the inner hall stood two meditative
youngish footmen, possibly musing upon the problems of the
intensification of the Military Service Act which were then exciting
journalists and statesmen. Beyond was the renowned staircase, which,
rising with insubstantial grace, lost itself in silvery altitude
like the way to heaven. Presently G.J. was mounting the staircase and
passing statues by Canova and Thorwaldsen, and portraits of which
the heads had been painted by Lawrence and the hands and draperies
by Lawrence's hireling, and huger canvasses on which the heads and
breasts had been painted by Rubens and everything else by Rubens's
regiment of hirelings. The guiding footman preceded him through a
great chamber which he recognised as the drawing-room in its winding
sheet, and then up a small and insignificant staircase; and G.J. was
on ground strange to him, for never till then had he been higher than
the first-floor in Lechford House.
Lady Queenie's apartments did violence to G.J.'s sensibilities as an
upholder of traditionalism in all the arts, of the theory that every
sound movement in any art must derive from its predecessor. Some
months earlier he had met for a few minutes the creative leader of the
newest development in internal decoration, and he vividly remembered a
saying of the grey-haired, slouch-hatted man: "At the present day
the only people in the world with really vital perceptions about
decoration are African niggers, and the only inspiring productions are
the coloured cotton stuffs designed for the African native market."
The remark had amused and stimulated him, but he had never troubled to
go in search of examples of the inspiring influence of African taste
on London domesticity. He now saw perhaps the supreme instance lodged
in Lechford House, like a new and truculent state within a great
Lady Queenie had imposed terms on her family, and under threats of
rupture, of separation, of scandal, Lady Queenie's exotic nest had
come into existence in the very fortress of unchangeable British
convention. The phenomenon was a war phenomenon due to the war,
begotten by the war; for Lady Queenie had said that if she was to
do war-work without disaster to her sanity she must have the right
environment. Thus the putting together of Lady Queenie's nest had
proceeded concurrently with the building of national projectile
factories and of square miles of offices for the girl clerks of
ministries and departments of government.
The footman left G.J. alone in a room designated the boudoir. G.J.
resented the boudoir, because it was like nothing that he had
ever witnessed. The walls were irregularly covered with rhombuses,
rhomboids, lozenges, diamonds, triangles, and parallelograms; the
carpet was treated likewise, and also the upholstery and the cushions.
The colourings of the scene in their excessive brightness, crudity and
variety surpassed G.J.'s conception of the possible. He had learned
the value of colour before Queen was born, and in the Albany had
translated principle into practice. But the hues of the boudoir made
the gaudiest effects of Regency furniture appear sombre. The place
resembled a gigantic and glittering kaleidoscope deranged and
G.J.'s glance ran round the room like a hunted animal seeking escape,
and found no escape. He was as disturbed as he might have been
disturbed by drinking a liqueur on the top of a cocktail. Nevertheless
he had to admit that some of the contrasts of pure colour were rather
beautiful, even impressive; and he hated to admit it. He was aware of
a terrible apprehension that he would never be the same man again, and
that henceforth his own abode would be eternally stricken for him with
the curse of insipidity. Regaining somewhat his nerve, he looked for
pictures. There were no pictures. But every piece of furniture was
painted with primitive sketches of human figures, or of flowers, or
of vessels, or of animals. On the front of the mantelpiece were
perversely but brilliantly depicted, with a high degree of finish,
two nude, crouching women who gazed longingly at each other across the
impassable semicircular abyss of the fireplace; and just above their
heads, on a scroll, ran these words:
"The ways of God are strange."
He heard movements and a slight cough in the next room, the door
leading to which was ajar. Concepcion's cough; he thought he
recognised it. Five minutes ago he had had no notion of seeing her;
now he was about to see her. And he felt excited and troubled, as much
by the sudden violence of life as by the mere prospect of the meeting.
After her husband's death Concepcion had soon withdrawn from London.
A large engineering firm on the Clyde, one of the heads of which
happened to be constitutionally a pioneer, was establishing a canteen
for its workmen, and Concepcion, the tentacles of whose influence
would stretch to any length, had decided that she ought to take up
canteen work, and in particular the canteen work of just that firm.
But first of all, to strengthen her prestige and acquire new prestige,
she had gone to the United States, with a powerful introduction to
Sears, Roebuck and Company of Chicago, in order to study industrial
canteenism in its most advanced and intricate manifestations.
Portraits of Concepcion in splendid furs on the deck of the steamer
in the act of preparing to study industrial canteenism in its most
advanced and intricate manifestations had appeared in the illustrated
weeklies. The luxurious trip had cost several hundreds of pounds,
but it was war expenditure, and, moreover, Concepcion had come into
considerable sums of money through her deceased husband. Her return to
Britain had never been published. Advertisements of Concepcion ceased.
Only a few friends knew that she was in the most active retirement on
the Clyde. G.J. had written to her twice but had obtained no replies.
One fact he knew, that she had not had a child. Lady Queenie had not
mentioned her; it was understood that the inseparables had quarrelled
in the heroic manner and separated for ever.
She entered the boudoir slowly. G.J. grew self-conscious, as it were
because she was still the martyr of destiny and he was not. She wore a
lavender-tinted gown of Queen's; he knew it was Queen's because he had
seen precisely such a gown on Queen, and there could not possibly
be another gown precisely like that very challenging gown. It suited
Queen, but it did not suit Concepcion. She looked older; she was
thirty-two, and might have been taken for thirty-five. She was
very pale, with immense fatigued eyes; but her ridiculous nose had
preserved all its originality. And she had the same slightly masculine
air--perhaps somewhat intensified--with an added dignity. And G.J.
thought: "She is as mysterious and unfathomable as I am myself." And
he was impressed and perturbed.
With a faint, sardonic smile, glancing at him as a physical equal
from her unusual height (she was as tall as Lady Queenie), she said
abruptly and casually:
"Am I changed?"
"No," he replied as abruptly and casually, clasping almost inimically
her ringed hand--she was wearing Queenie's rings. "But you're tired.
The journey, I suppose."
"It's not that. We sat up till five o'clock this morning, talking."
"Queen and I."
"What did you do that for?"
"Well, you see, we'd had the devil's own row--" She stopped, leaving
his imagination to complete the picture of the meeting and the night
He smiled awkwardly--tried to be paternal, and failed.
"She never wanted me to leave London. I came back last night with only
a handbag just as she was going out to dinner. She didn't go out to
dinner. Queen is a white woman. Nobody knows how white Queen is. I
didn't know myself until last night."
There was a pause. G.J. said:
"I had an appointment here with the white woman, on business."
"Yes, I know," said Concepcion negligently. "She'll be home soon."
Something infinitesimally malicious in the voice and gaze sent the
singular idea shooting through his mind that Queen had gone out on
purpose so that Concepcion might have him alone for a while. And he
was wary of both of them, as he might have been of two pagan goddesses
whom he, a poor defiant mortal, suspected of having laid an eye on him
for their own ends.
"_You've_ changed, anyhow," said Concepcion.
He was startled, not displeased.
"More sure of yourself," said Concepcion, with a trace of the old
harsh egotism in her tone. "It appears you're a perfect tyrant on the
Lechford Committee now you're vice-chairman, and all the more footling
members dread the days when you're in the chair. It appears also
that you've really overthrown two chairmen, and yet won't take the
He was still more startled, but now positively flattered by the
world's estimate of his activities and individuality. He saw himself
in a new light.
"This what you were talking about until five a.m.?"
The butler entered.
"Shall I serve tea, Madam?"
Concepcion looked at the man scornfully:
One of the minor stalwarts entered and arranged a table, and the other
followed with a glittering, steaming tray in his hands, while
the butler hovered like a winged hippopotamus over the operation.
Concepcion half sat down by the table, and then, altering her mind,
dropped on to a vast chaise-longue, as wide as a bed, and covered with
as many cushions as would have stocked a cushion shop, which occupied
the principal place in front of the hearth. The hem of her rich
gown just touched the floor. G.J. could see that she was wearing the
transparent deep-purple stockings that Queen wore with the transparent
lavender gown. Her right shoulder rose high from the mass of the body,
and her head was sunk between two cushions. Her voice came smothered
from the cushions:
"Damn it! G.J. Don't look at me like that."
He was standing near the mantelpiece.
"Why?" he exclaimed. "What's the matter, Con?"
There was no answer. He lit a cigarette. The ebullient kettle kept
lifting its lid in growing impatience. But Concepcion seemed to have
forgotten the tea. G.J. had a thought, distinct like a bubble on a sea
of thoughts, that if the tea was already made, as no doubt it was, it
would soon be stewed. Concepcion said:
"The matter is that I'm a ruined woman, and Queen can't understand."
And in the bewildering voluptuous brightness and luxury of the room
G.J. had the sensation of being a poor, baffled ghost groping in the
night of existence. Concepcion's left arm slipped over the edge of
the day-bed and hung limp and pale, the curved fingers touching the
She was sitting up on the chaise-longue and had poured out the tea--he
had pushed the tea-table towards the chaise-longue--and she was
talking in an ordinary tone just as though she had not immodestly
bared her spirit to him and as though she knew not that he realised
she had done so. She was talking at length, as one who in the past had
been well accustomed to giving monologues and to holding drawing-rooms
in subjection while she chattered, and to making drawing-rooms feel
glad that they had consented to subjection. She was saying:
"You've no idea what the valley of the Clyde is now. You can't have.
It's filled with girls, and they come into it every morning by train
to huge stations specially built for them, and they make the most
ghastly things for killing other girls' lovers all day, and they go
back by train at night. Only some of them work all night. I had to
leave my own works to organise the canteen of a new filling factory.
Five thousand girls in that factory. It's frightfully dangerous. They
have to wear special clothing. They have to take off every stitch from
their bodies in one room, and run in their innocence and nothing else
to another room where the special clothing is. That's the only way
to prevent the whole place being blown up one beautiful day. But five
thousand of them! You can't imagine it. You'd like to, G.J., but you
can't. However, I didn't stay there very long. I wanted to go back to
my own place. I was adored at my own place. Of course the men adored
me. They used to fight about me sometimes. Terrific men. Nothing
ever made me happier than that, or so happy. But the girls were more
interesting. Two thousand of them there. You'd never guess it, because
they were hidden in thickets of machinery. But see them rush out
endlessly to the canteen for tea! All sorts. Lots of devils and cats.
Some lovely creatures, heavenly creatures, as fine as a queen. They
adored me too. They didn't at first, some of them. But they soon
tumbled to it that I was the modern woman, and that they'd never
seen me before, and it was a great discovery. Absurdly easy to
raise yourself to be the idol of a crowd that fancies itself canny!
Incredibly easy! I used to take their part against the works-manager
as often as I could; he was a fiend; he hated me; but then I was a
fiend, too, and I hated him more. I used often to come on at six in
the morning, when they did, and 'sign on'. It isn't really signing on
now at all; there's a clock dial and a whole machine for catching
you out. They loved to see me doing that. And I worked the lathes
sometimes, just for a bit, just to show that I wasn't ashamed to work.
Etc.... All that sentimental twaddle. It pleased them. And if any
really vigorous-minded girl had dared to say it was sentimental
twaddle, there would have been a crucifixion or something of the sort
in the cloak-rooms. The mob's always the same. But what pleased them
far more than anything was me knowing them by their Christian names.
Not all, of course; still, hundreds of them. Marvellous feats of
memorising I did! I used to go about muttering under my breath:
'Winnie, wart on left hand, Winnie, wart on left hand, wart on left
hand, Winnie.' You see? And I've sworn at them--not often; it wouldn't
do, naturally. But there was scarcely a woman there that I couldn't
simply blast in two seconds if I felt like it. On the other hand, I
assure you I could be very tender. I was surprised how tender I could
be, now and then, in my little office. They'd tell me anything--sounds
sentimental, but they would--and some of them had no more notion
that there's such a thing on earth as propriety than a monkey has. I
thought I knew everything before I went to the Clyde valley. Well,
I didn't." Concepcion looked at G.J. "You know you're very innocent,
G.J., compared to me."
"I should hope so!" said G.J., impenetrably.
"What do you think of it all?" she demanded in a fresh tone, leaning a
little towards him.
He replied: "I'm impressed."
He was, in fact, very profoundly impressed; but he had to illustrate
the hardness in himself which she had revealed to him. (He wondered
whether the members of the Lechford Committee really did credit him
with having dethroned a couple of chairmen. The idea was new to his
modesty. Perhaps he had been underestimating his own weight on the
committee. No doubt he had.) All constraint was now dissipated between
Concepcion and himself. They were behaving to each other as though
their intimacy had never been interrupted for a single week. She
amazed him, sitting there in the purple stockings and the affronting
gown, and he admired. Her material achievement alone was prodigious.
He pictured her as she rose in the winter dark and in the summer dawn
to go to the works and wrestle with so much incalculable human nature
and so many complex questions of organisation, day after day, week
after week, month after month, for nearly eighteen months. She had
kept it up; that was the point. She had shown what she was made of,
and what she was made of was unquestionably marvellous.
He would have liked to know about various things to which she had made
no reference. Did she live in a frowsy lodging-house near the great
works? What kind of food did she get? What did she do with her
evenings and her Sundays? Was she bored? Was she miserable or
exultant? Had she acquaintances, external interests; or did she
immerse herself completely, inclusively, in the huge, smoking,
whirring, foul, perilous hell which she had described? The
contemplation of the horror of the hell gave him--and her, too, he
thought--a curious feeling which was not unpleasurable. It had
savour. He would not, however, inquire from her concerning details.
He preferred, on reflection, to keep the details mysterious, as
mysterious as her individuality and as the impression of her worn
eyes. The setting of mystery in his mind suited her.
He said: "But of course your relations with those girls were
artificial, after all."
"No, they weren't. I tell you the girls were perfectly open; there
wasn't the slightest artificiality."
"Yes, but were you open, to them? Did you ever tell them anything
about yourself, for instance?"
"Did they ever ask you to?"
"No! They wouldn't have thought of doing so."
"That's what I call artificiality. By the way, how have you been
ruined? Who ruined you? Was it the hated works-manager?" There had
been no change in his tone; he spoke with the utmost detachment.
"I was coming to that," answered Concepcion, apparently with a
detachment equal to his. "Last week but one in one of the shops there
was a girl standing in front of a machine, with her back to it. About
twenty-two--you must see her in your mind--about twenty-two, nice
chestnut hair. Cap over it, of course--that's the rule. Khaki overalls
and trousers. Rather high-heeled patent-leather boots--they fancy
themselves, thank God!--and a bit of lace showing out of the khaki at
the neck. Red cheeks; she was fairly new to the works. Do you see her?
She meant to be one of the devils. Earning two pounds a week nearly,
and eagerly spending it all. Fully awake to all the possibilities of
her body. I was in the shop. I said something to her, and she didn't
hear at first--the noise of some of the shops is shattering. I went
close to her and repeated it. She laughed out of mere vivacity, and
threw back her head as people do when they laugh. The machine behind
her must have caught some hair that wasn't under her cap. All her hair
was dragged from under the cap, and in no time all her hair was torn
out and the whole of her scalp ripped clean off. In a second or two I
got her on to a trolley--I did it--and threw an overall over her and
ran her to the dressing-station, close to the main office entrance.
There was a car there. One of the directors was just driving off.
I stopped him. It wasn't a case for our dressing-station. In three
minutes I had her at the hospital--three minutes. The car was soaked
in blood. But she didn't lose consciousness, that child didn't. She's
dead now. She's buried. Her body that she meant to use so profusely
for her own delights is squeezed up in the little black box in the
dark and the silence, down below where the spring can't get at it....
I had no sleep for two nights. On the second day a doctor at the
hospital said that I must take at least three months' holiday. He said
I'd had a nervous breakdown. I didn't know I had, and I don't know
now. I said I wouldn't take any holiday, and that nothing would induce
"Because I'd sworn, absolutely sworn to myself, to stick that job till
the war was over. You understand, I'd sworn it. Well, they wouldn't
let me on to the works. And yesterday one of the directors brought
me up to town himself. He was very kind, in his Clyde way. Now you
understand what I mean when I say I'm ruined. I'm ruined with myself,
you see. I didn't stick it. I couldn't. But there were twenty or
thirty girls who saw the accident. They're sticking it."
"Yes," he said in a voice soft and moved, "I understand." And while
he spoke thus aloud, though his emotion was genuine, and his desire to
comfort and sustain her genuine, and his admiration for her genuine,
he thought to himself: "How theatrically she told it! Every effect
was studied, nearly every word. Well, she can't help it. But does she
imagine I can't see that all the casualness was deliberately part of
She lit a cigarette and leaned her half-draped elbows on the
tea-table, and curved her ringed fingers, which had withstood time and
fatigue much better than her face; and then she reclined again on the
chaise-longue, on her back, and sent up smoke perpendicularly, and
through the smoke seemed to be trying to decipher the enigmas of the
ceiling. G.J. rose and stood over her in silence. At last she went on:
"The work those girls do is excruciating, hellish, and they don't
realise it. That's the worst of it. They'll never be the same again.
They're ruining their health, and, what's more important, their looks.
You can see them changing under your eyes. Ours was the best factory
on the Clyde, and the conditions were unspeakable, in spite of
canteens, and rest-rooms, and libraries, and sanitation, and all this
damned 'welfare'. Fancy a girl chained up for twelve hours every day
to a thundering, whizzing, iron machine that never gets tired. The
machine's just as fresh at six o'clock at night as it was at six
o'clock in the morning, and just as anxious to maim her if she doesn't
look out for herself--more anxious. The whole thing's still going on;
they're at it now, this very minute. You're interested in a factory,
aren't you, G.J.?"
"Yes," he answered gently, but looked with seemingly callous firmness
down at her.
"The Reveille Company, or some such name."
"Making tons of money, I hear."
"You're a profiteer, G.J."
"I'm not. Long since I decided I must give away all my extra profits."
"Ever go and look at your factory?"
"Any nice young girls working there?"
"I don't know."
"If there are, are they decently treated?"
"Don't know that, either."
"Why don't you go and see?"
"It's no business of mine."
"Yes, it is. Aren't you making yourself glorious as a philanthropist
out of the thing?"
"I tell you it's no business of mine," he insisted evenly. "I couldn't
do anything if I went. I've no status."
"Possibly. But systems can't be altered like that. Systems alter
themselves, and they aren't in a hurry about it. This system isn't
new, though it's new to you."
"You people in London don't know what work is."
"And what about your Clyde strikes?" G.J. retorted.
"Well, all that's settled now," said Concepcion rather uneasily, like
a champion who foresees a fight but lacks confidence.
"Yes, but--" G.J. suddenly altered his tone to the persuasive: "You
must know all about those strikes. What was the real cause? We don't
understand them here."
"If you really want to know--nerves," she said earnestly and
"Overwork. No rest. No change. Everlasting punishment. The one
incomprehensible thing to me is that the whole of Glasgow didn't go on
strike and stay out for ever."
"There's just as much overwork in London as there is on the Clyde."
"There's a lot more talking--Parliament, Cabinet, Committees. You
should hear what they say about it in Glasgow."
"Con," he said kindly, "you don't suspect it, but you're childish.
It's the job of one part of London to talk. If that part of London
didn't talk your tribes on the Clyde couldn't work, because they
wouldn't know what to do, nor how to do it. Talking has to come
before working, and let me tell you it's more difficult, and it's more
killing, because it's more responsible. Excuse this common sense made
easy for beginners, but you brought it on yourself."
She frowned. "And what do you do? Do you talk or work?" She smiled.
"I'll tell you this!" said he, smiling candidly and benevolently. "It
took me a dickens of a time really to _put_ myself into anything that
meant steady effort. I'd lost the habit. Natural enough, and I'm not
going into sackcloth about it. However, I'm improving. I'm going
to take on the secretaryship of the Lechford Committee. Some of 'em
mayn't want me, but they'll have to have me. And when they've got
me they'll have to look out. All of them, including Queen and her
"Will it take the whole of your time?"
"Yes. I'm doing three days a week now."
"I suppose you think you've beaten me."
"Con, I do ask you not to be a child."
"But I am a child. Why don't you humour me? You know I've had a
nervous breakdown. You used to humour me."
He shook his head.
"Humouring you won't do _your_ nervous breakdown any good. It might
some women's--but not yours."
"You shall humour me!" she cried. "I haven't told you half my ruin.
Do you know I meant to love Carly all my life. I felt sure I should.
Well, I can't! It's gone, all that feeling--already! In less than two
years! And now I'm only sorry for him and sorry for myself. Isn't it
horrible? Isn't it horrible?"
"Try not to think," he murmured.
She sat up impetuously.
"Don't talk such damned nonsense! 'Try not to think'! Why, my
frightful unhappiness is the one thing that keeps me alive."
"Yes," G.J. yielded. "It was nonsense."
She sank back. He saw moisture in her eyes and felt it in his own.
Lady Queenie arrived in haste, as though relentless time had pursued
her up the stairs.
"Why, you're in the dark here!" she exclaimed impatiently, and
impatiently switched on several lights. "Sorry I'm late, G.J.," she
said perfunctorily, without taking any trouble to put conviction into
her voice. "How have you two been getting on?"
She looked at Concepcion and G.J. in a peculiar way, inquisitorial and
Then, towards the door:
"Come in, come in, Dialin."
A young soldier with the stripe of a lance-corporal entered, slightly
nervous and slightly defiant.
"And you, Miss I-forget-your-name."
A young woman entered; she had very red lips and very high heels, and
was both more nervous and more defiant than the young soldier.
"This is Mr. Dialin, you know, Con, second ballet-master at the
Ottoman. I met him by sheer marvellous chance. He's only got ten
minutes; he hasn't really got that; but he's going to see me do my
Lady Queenie made no attempt to introduce Miss I-forget-your-name, who
of her own accord took a chair with a curious, dashed effrontery. It
appeared that she was attached to Mr. Dialin. Lady Queenie cast off
rapidly gloves, hat and coat, and then, having rushed to the bell and
rung it fiercely several times, came back to the chaise-longue and
gazed at it and at the surrounding floor.
"Would you mind, Con?"
Concepcion rose. Lady Queenie, rushing off again, pushed several more
switches, and from a thick cluster of bulbs in front of a large mirror
at the end of the room there fell dazzling sheets of light. A footman
"Push the day-bed right away towards the window," she commanded.
The footman inclined and obeyed, and the lance-corporal superiorly
helped him. Then the footman was told to energise the gramophone,
which in its specially designed case stood in a corner. The footman
seemed to be on intimate terms with the gramophone. Meanwhile Lady
Queenie, with a safety-pin, was fastening the back hem of her short
skirt to the front between the knees. Still bending, she took her
shoes off. Her scent impregnated the room.
"You see, it will be barefoot," she explained to Mr. Dialin.
The walls of London were already billed with an early announcement of
the marvels of the Pageant of Terpsichore, which was to occur at the
Albert Hall, under the superintendence of the greatest modern English
painters, in aid of a fund for soldiers disabled by deafness. The
performers were all ladies of the upper world, ladies bearing names
for the most part as familiar as the names of streets--and not a
stage-star among them. Amateurism was to be absolutely untainted by
professionalism in the prodigious affair; therefore the prices of
tickets ruled high, and queens had conferred their patronage.
Lady Queenie removed several bracelets and a necklace, and, seizing a
plate, deposited it on the carpet.
"That piece of bread-and-butter," she said, "is the head of my beloved
The clever footman started the gramophone, and Lady Queenie began
to dance. The lance-corporal walked round her, surveying her at all
angles, watching her like a tiger, imitating movements, suggesting
movements, sketching emotions with his arm, raising himself at
intervals on the toes of his thick boots. After a few moments
Concepcion glanced at G.J., conveying to him a passionate, adoring
admiration of Queen's talent.
G.J., startled by her brightened eyes so suddenly full of temperament,
nodded to please her. But the fact was that he saw naught to admire in
the beautiful and brazen amateur's performance. He wondered that she
could not have discovered something more original than to follow the
footsteps of Maud Allan in a scene which years ago had become stale.
He wondered that, at any rate, Concepcion should not perceive the
poor, pretentious quality of the girlish exhibition. And as he looked
at the mincing Dialin he pictured the lance-corporal helping to serve
a gun. And as he looked at the youthful, lithe Queenie posturing in
the shower-bath of rays amid the blazing chromatic fantasy of the
room, and his nostrils twitched to her pungent perfume, he pictured
the reverberating shell-factory on the Clyde where girls had their
scalps torn off by unappeasable machinery, and the filling-factory
where five thousand girls stripped themselves naked in order to lessen
the danger of being blown to bits.... After a climax of capering
Queen fell full length on her stomach upon the carpet, her soft chin
accurately adjusted to the edge of the plate. The music ceased. The
gramophone gnashed on the disc until the footman lifted its fang.
Miss I-forget-your-name raised both her feet from the floor, stuck her
legs out in a straight, slanting line, and condescendingly clapped.
Then, seeing that Queen was worrying the piece of bread-and-butter
with her teeth, she exclaimed in agitation:
Mr. Dialin assisted the breathless Queen to rise, and they went off
into a corner and he talked to her in low tones. Soon he looked at his
wrist-watch and caught the summoning eye of Miss I-forget-your-name.
"But it's pretty all right, isn't it?" said Queen.
"Oh, yes! Oh, yes!" he soothed her with an expert's casualness.
"Naturally, you want to work it up. You fell beautifully. Now you go
and see Crevelli--he's the man."
"I shall get him to come here. What's his address?"
"I don't know. He's just moved. But you'll see it in the April number
of _The Dancing Times_."
As the footman was about to escort Mr. Dialin and his urgent lady
downstairs Queen ordered:
"Bring me up a whisky-and-soda."
"It's splendid, Queen," said Concepcion enthusiastically when the two
were alone with G.J.
"I'm so glad you think so, darling. How are you, darling?" She kissed
the older woman affectionately, fondly, on the lips, and then gave
G.J. a challenging glance.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, and called out very loud: "Robin! I want you at
The secretarial Miss Robinson, carrying a note-book, appeared like
magic from the inner room.
"Get me the April number of _The Dancing News_."
"_Times_," G.J. corrected.
"Well, _Times_. It's all the same. And write to Mr. Opson and say
that we really must have proper dressing-room accommodation. It's most
"Yes, your ladyship. Your ladyship has the sub-committee as to
entrance arrangements for the public at half-past six."
"I shan't go. Telephone to them. I've got quite enough to do without
that. I'm utterly exhausted. Don't forget about _The Dancing Times_
and to write to Mr. Opson."
"Yes, your ladyship."
"G.J.," said Queen after Robin had gone, "you are a pig if you don't
go on that sub-committee as to entrance arrangements. You know what
the Albert Hall is. They'll make a horrible mess of it, and it's just
the sort of thing you can do better than anybody."
"Yes. But a pig I am," answered G.J. firmly. Then he added: "I'll tell
you how you might have avoided all these complications."
"By having no pageant and simply going round collecting subscriptions.
Nobody would have refused you. And there'd have been no expenses to
come off the total."
Lady Queenie put her lips together.
"Has he been behaving in this style to you, Con?"
"A little--now and then," said Concepcion.
Later, when the chaise-longue and Queen's shoes had been replaced, and
the tea-things and the head of John the Baptist taken away, and
all the lights extinguished save one over the mantelpiece, and Lady
Queenie had nearly finished the whisky-and-soda, and nothing remained
of the rehearsal except the safety-pin between Lady Queenie's knees,
G.J. was still waiting for her to bethink herself of the Hospitals
subject upon which he had called by special request and appointment
to see her. He took oath not to mention it first. Shortly afterwards,
stiff in his resolution, he departed.
In three minutes he was in the smoking-room of his club, warming
himself at a fine, old, huge, wasteful grate, in which burned such
a coal fire as could not have been seen in France, Italy, Germany,
Austria, Russia, nor anywhere on the continent of Europe. The war had
as yet changed nothing in the impregnable club, unless it was that
ordinary matches had recently been substituted for the giant matches
on which the club had hitherto prided itself. The hour lay neglected
midway between tea and dinner, and there were only two other members
in the vast room--solitaries, each before his own grand fire.
G.J. took up _The Times_, which his duties had prevented him from
reading at large in the morning. He wandered with a sense of ease
among its multifarious pages, and, in full leisure, brought his
information up to date concerning the state of the war and of the
country. Air-raids by Zeppelins were frequent, and some authorities
talked magniloquently about the "defence of London." Hundreds of
people had paid immense sums for pictures and objects of art at the
Red Cross Sale at Christie's, one of the most successful social events
of the year. The House of Commons was inquisitive about Mesopotamia
as a whole, and one British Army was still trying to relieve another
British Army besieged in Kut. German submarine successes were
obviously disquieting. The supply of beer was reduced. There were to
be forty principal aristocratic dancers in the Pageant of Terpsichore.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer had budgeted for five hundred
millions, and was very proud. The best people were at once proud and
scared of the new income tax at 5s. in the L. They expressed the
fear that such a tax would kill income or send it to America. The
theatrical profession was quite sure that the amusements tax would
involve utter ruin for the theatrical profession, and the match trade
was quite sure that the match tax would put an end to matches, and
some unnamed modest individuals had apparently decided that the travel
tax must and forthwith would be dropped. The story of the evacuation
of Gallipoli had grown old and tedious. Cranks were still vainly
trying to prove to the blunt John Bullishness of the Prime Minister
that the Daylight Saving Bill was not a piece of mere freak
legislation. The whole of the West End and all the inhabitants of
country houses in Britain had discovered a new deity in Australia
and spent all their spare time and lungs in asserting that all other
deities were false and futile; his earthly name was Hughes. Jan Smuts
was fighting in the primeval forests of East Africa. The Germans were
discussing their war aims; and on the Verdun front they had reached
Mort Homme in the usual way, that was, according to the London Press,
by sacrificing more men than any place could possibly be worth; still,
they had reached Mort Homme. And though our losses and the French
losses were everywhere--one might assert, so to speak--negligible,
nevertheless the steadfast band of thinkers and fact-facers who held
a monopoly of true patriotism were extremely anxious to extend the
Military Service Act, so as to rope into the Army every fit male in
the island except themselves.
The pages of _The Times_ grew semi-transparent, and G.J. descried
Concepcion moving mysteriously in a mist behind them. Only then did he
begin effectively to realise her experiences and her achievement and
her ordeal on the distant, romantic Clyde. He said to himself: "I
could never have stood what she has stood." She was a terrific
woman; but because she was such a mixture of the mad-heroic and the
silly-foolish, he rather condescended to her. She lacked what he was
sure he possessed, and what he prized beyond everything--poise. And
had she truly had a nervous breakdown, or was that fancy? Did she
truly despair of herself as a ruined woman, doubly ruined, or was
she acting a part, as much in order to impress herself as in order to
impress others? He thought the country and particularly its Press,
was somewhat like Concepcion as a complex. He condescended to Queenie
also, not bitterly, but with sardonic pity. There she was, unalterable
by any war, instinctively and ruthlessly working out her soul and her
destiny. The country was somewhat like Queenie too. But, of course,
comparison between Queenie and Concepcion was absurd. He had had to
defend himself to Concepcion. And had he not defended himself?
True, he had begun perhaps too slowly to work for the war; however,
he had begun. What else could he have done beyond what he had done?
Become a special constable? Grotesque. He simply could not see himself
as a special constable, and if the country could not employ him more
usefully than in standing on guard over an electricity works or a
railway bridge in the middle of the night, the country deserved to
lose his services. Become a volunteer? Even more grotesque. Was he, a
man turned fifty, to dress up and fall flat on the ground at the
word of some fantastic jackanapes, or stare into vacancy while some
inspecting general examined his person as though it were a tailor's
mannikin? He had tried several times to get into a Government
department which would utilise his brains, but without success. And
the club hummed with the unimaginable stories related by disappointed
and dignified middle-aged men whose too eager patriotism had been
rendered ridiculous by the vicious foolery of Government departments.
No! He had some work to do and he was doing it. People were looking
to him for decision, for sagacity, for initiative; he supplied these
things. His work might grow even beyond his expectations; but if it
did not he should not worry. He felt that, unfatigued, he could and
would contribute to the mass of the national resolution in the latter
and more racking half of the war.
Morally, he was profiting by the war. Nay, more, in a deep sense he
was enjoying it. The immensity of it, the terror of it, the idiocy
of it, the splendour of it, its unique grandeur as an illustration of
human nature, thrilled the spectator in him. He had little fear for
the result. The nations had measured themselves; the factors of the
equation were known. Britain conceivably might not win, but she could
never lose. And he did not accept the singular theory that unless she
won this war another war would necessarily follow. He had, in spite
of all, a pretty good opinion of mankind, and would not exaggerate
its capacity for lunatic madness. The worst was over when Paris was
definitely saved. Suffering would sink and die like a fire. Privations
were paid for day by day in the cash of fortitude. Taxes would always
be met. A whole generation, including himself, would rapidly vanish
and the next would stand in its place. And at worst, the path of
evolution was unchangeably appointed. A harsh, callous philosophy.
What impressed him, and possibly intimidated him beyond anything else
whatever, was the onset of the next generation. He thought of Queenie,
of Mr. Dialin, of Miss I-forget-your-name, of Lieutenant Molder. How
unconsciously sure of themselves and arrogant in their years! How
strong! How unapprehensive! (And yet he had just been taking credit
for his own freedom from apprehensiveness!) They were young--and he
was so no longer. Pooh! (A brave "pooh"!) He was wiser than they. He
had acquired the supreme and subtly enjoyable faculty, which they had
yet painfully to acquire, of nice, sure, discriminating, all-weighing
judgment ... Concepcion had divested herself of youth. And Christine,
since he knew her, had never had any youthfulness save the physical.
There were only these two.
Said a voice behind him:
"You dining here to-night?"
"Shall we crack a bottle together?" (It was astonishing and deplorable
how cliches survived in the best clubs!)
"By all means."
The voice spoke lower:
"That Bollinger's all gone at last."
"You were fearing the worst the last time I saw you," said G.J.
"Auction afterwards?" the voice suggested.
"Afraid I can't," said G.J. after a moment's hesitation. "I shall have
to leave early."
After dinner G.J. walked a little eastwards from the club, and,
entering Leicester Square from the south, crossed it, and then turned
westwards again on the left side of the road leading to Piccadilly
Circus. It was about the time when Christine usually went from her
flat to her Promenade. Without admitting a definite resolve to see
Christine that evening he had said to himself that he would rather
like to see her, or that he wouldn't mind seeing her, and that he
might, if the mood took him, call at Cork Street and catch her before
she left. Having advanced thus far in the sketch of his intentions,
he had decided that it would be a pity not to take precautions to
encounter her in the street, assuming that she had already started but
had not reached the theatre. The chance of meeting her on her way
was exceedingly small; nevertheless he would not miss it. Hence his
roundabout route; and hence his selection of the chaste as against
the unchaste pavement of Coventry Street. He knew very little
of Christine's professional arrangements, but he did know, from
occasional remarks of hers, that owing to the need for economy and the
difficulty of finding taxis she now always walked to the Promenade on
dry nights, and that from a motive of self-respect she always took
the south side of Piccadilly and the south side of Coventry Street in
order to avoid the risk of ever being mistaken for something which she
It was a dry night, but very cloudy. Points of faint illumination,
mysteriously travelling across the heavens and revealing the
otherwise invisible cushioned surface of the clouds, alone showed that
searchlights were at their work of watching over the heedless town.
Entertainments had drawn in the people from the streets; motor-buses
were half empty; implacable parcels-vans, with thin, exhausted boys
scarcely descried on their rear perches, forced the more fragile
traffic to yield place to them. Footfarers were few, except on the
north side of Coventry Street, where officers, soldiers, civilians,
police and courtesans marched eternally to and fro, peering at one
another in the thick gloom that, except in the immediate region of
a lamp, put all girls, the young and the ageing, the pretty and
the ugly, the good-natured and the grasping, on a sinister enticing
equality. And they were all, men and women and vehicles, phantoms
flitting and murmuring and hooting in the darkness. And the violet
glow-worms that hung in front of theatres and cinemas seemed to mark
the entrances to unimaginable fastnesses, and the side streets seemed
to lead to the precipitous edges of the universe where nothing was.
G.J. recognised Christine just beyond the knot of loiterers at the
Piccadilly Tube. The improbable had happened. She was walking at what
was for her a rather quick pace, purposeful and preoccupied. For an
instant the recognition was not mutual; he liked the uninviting stare
that she gave him as he stopped.
"It is thou?" she exclaimed, and her dimly-seen face softened suddenly
into a delighted, adoring smile.
He was moved by the passion which she still had for him. He felt
vaguely and yet acutely an undischarged obligation in regard to
her. It was the first time he had met her in such circumstances. A
constraint fell between them. In five minutes she would have been in
her Promenade engaged upon her highly technical business, displaying
her attractions while appearing to protect herself within a virginal
timidity (for this was her natural method). In any case, even had
he not set forth on purpose to find her, he could scarcely have
accompanied her to the doors of the theatre and there left her to the
night's routine. They both hesitated, and then, without a word, he
turned aside and she followed close, acquiescent by training and by
instinct. Knowing his sure instinct for what was proper, she knew at
once that hazard had saved her from the night's routine, and she was
full of quiet triumph. He, of course, though absolutely loyal to her,
had for dignity's sake to practise the duplicity of pretending to make
up his mind what he should do.
They went through the Tube station and were soon in one of the
withdrawn streets between Coventry Street and Pall Mall East. The
episode had somehow the air of an adventure. He looked at her; the
hat was possibly rather large, but, in truth, she was the image of
refinement, delicacy, virtue, virtuous surrender. He thought it was
marvellous that there should exist such a woman as she. And he thought
how marvellous was the protective vastness of the town, beneath whose
shield he was free--free to live different lives simultaneously, to
make his own laws, to maintain indefinitely exciting and delicious
secrecies. Not half a mile off were Concepcion and Queen, and his
amour was as safe from them as if he had hidden it in the depths of
some hareemed Asiatic city.
Christine said politely:
"But I detain thee?"
"As for that," he replied, "what does that matter, after all?"
"Thou knowest," she said in a new tone, "I am all that is most
worried. In this London they are never willing to leave you in peace."
"What is it, my poor child?" he asked benevolently.
"They talk of closing the Promenade," she answered.
"Never!" he murmured easily, reassuringly.
He remembered the night years earlier when, as a protest against some
restrictive action of a County Council, the theatre of varieties whose
Promenade rivalled throughout the whole world even the Promenade of
the Folies-Bergere, shut its doors and darkened its blazing facade,
and the entire West End seemed to go into a kind of shocked mourning.
But the next night the theatre had reopened as usual and the Promenade
had been packed. Close the Promenades! Absurd! Not the full bench
of archbishops and bishops could close the Promenades! The thing was
inconceivable, especially in war-time, when human nature was so human.
"But it is quite serious!" she cried. "Everyone speaks of it.... What
idiots! What frightful lack of imagination! And how unjust! What do
they suppose we are going to do, we other women? Do they intend to put
respectable women like me on to the pavement? It is a fantastic idea!