Part 4 out of 5
Fantastic!... And the night-clubs closing too!"
"There is always the other place."
"The Ottoman? Do not speak to me of the Ottoman. Moreover, that also
will be suppressed. They are all mad." She gave a great sigh. "Oh!
What a fool I was to leave Paris! After all, in Paris, they know what
it is, life! However, I weary thee. Let us say no more about it."
She controlled her agitation. The subject was excessively delicate,
and that she should have expressed herself so violently on it
showed the powerful reality of the emotion it had aroused in her.
Unquestionably the decency of her livelihood was at stake. She had
convinced him of the peril. But what could he say? He could not say,
"Do not despair. You are indispensable; therefore you will not be
dispensed with. These crises have often arisen before, and they always
end in the same manner. And are there not the big hotels, the chic
cinemas, certain restaurants? Not to mention the clientele which you
must have made for yourself?" Such remarks were impossible. But not
more impossible than the very basis of his relations with her. He was
aware again of the weight of an undischarged obligation to her. His
behaviour towards her had always been perfection, and yet was she not
his creditor? He had a conscience, and it was illogical and extremely
At that moment a young man flew along the silent, shadowed street, and
as he passed them shouted somewhat hysterically the one word:
Christine clutched his arm. They stood still.
"Do not be frightened," said G.J. with perfect tranquillity.
"But I hear guns," she protested.
He, too, heard the distant sounds of guns, and it occurred to him that
the sounds had begun earlier, while they were talking.
"I expect it's only anti-aircraft practice," he replied. "I seem to
remember seeing a warning in the paper about there being practice one
of these nights."
Christine, increasing the pressure on his arm and apparently trying to
drag him away, complained:
"They ought to give warning of raids. That is elementary. This country
is so bizarre."
"Oh!" said G.J., full of wisdom and standing his ground. "That would
never do. Warnings would make panics, and they wouldn't help in the
least. We are just as safe here as anywhere. Even supposing there
is an air-raid, the chance of any particular spot being hit must be
several million to one against. And I don't think for a moment there
is an air-raid."
"Well, I don't," G.J. answered with calm superiority. The fact was
that he did not know why he thought there was not an air-raid.
To assume that there was not an air-raid, in the absence of proof
positive of the existence of an air-raid, was with him constitutional:
a state of mind precisely as illogical, biased and credulous as the
alarmist mood which he disdained in others. Also he was lacking in
candour, for after a few seconds the suspicion crept into his mind
that there might indeed be an air-raid--and he would not utter it.
"In any case," said Christine, "they always give warning in Paris."
"I'd better get this woman home," and said aloud: "Come along."
"But is it safe?" she asked anxiously.
He saw that she was the primeval woman, exactly like Concepcion and
Queen. First she wanted to run, and then when he was ready to run
she asked: "Is it safe?" And he felt very indulgent and comfortably
masculine. He admitted that it would be absurd to expect the conduct
of a frightened Christine to be governed by the operations of reason.
He was not annoyed, because personally he simply did not care a whit
whether they moved or not. While they were hesitating a group of
people came round the corner. These people were talking loudly, and
as they approached G.J. discerned that one of them was pointing to the
"There she is! There she is!" shouted an eager voice. Seeing more
human society in G.J. and Christine, the group stopped near them.
G.J. gazed in the indicated direction, and lo! there was a point of
light in the sky.
And then guns suddenly began to sound much nearer.
"What did I tell you?" said another voice. "I told you they'd cleared
the corner at the bottom of St. James's Street for a gun. Now they've
got her going. Good for us they're shooting southwards."
Christine was shaking on G.J.'s arm.
"It's all right! It's all right!" he murmured compassionately, and she
tightened her clutch on him in thanks.
He looked hard at the point of light, which might have been anything.
The changing forms of thin clouds continually baffled the vision.
"By god!" shouted the first voice. "She's hit. See her stagger? She's
hit. She'll blaze up in a moment. One down last week. Another this.
Look at her now. She's afire."
The group gave a weak cheer.
Then the clouds cleared for an instant and revealed a crescent. G.J.
"That's the moon, you idiots. It's not a Zeppelin."
Even as he spoke he wondered, and regretted, that he should be calling
them idiots. They were complete strangers to him. The group vanished,
crestfallen, round another corner. G.J. laughed to Christine. Then the
noise of guns was multiplied. That he was with Christine in the midst
of an authentic air-raid could no longer be doubted. He was conscious
of the wine he had drunk at the club. He had the sensation of human
beings, men like himself, who ate and drank and laced their boots,
being actually at that moment up there in the sky with intent to
kill him and Christine. It was a marvellous sensation, terrible but
exquisite. And he had the sensation of other human beings beyond the
sea, giving deliberate orders in German for murder, murdering for
their lives; and they, too, were like himself, and ate and drank and
either laced their boots or had them laced daily. And the staggering
apprehension of the miraculous lunacy of war swept through his soul.
THE CHILD'S ARM
"You see," he said to Christine, "it was not a Zeppelin.... We shall
be quite safe here."
But in that last phrase he had now confessed to her the existence
of an air-raid. He knew that he was not behaving with the maximum
of sagacity. There were, for example, hotels with subterranean
grill-rooms close by, and there were similar refuges where danger
would be less than in the street, though the street was narrow and
might be compared to a trench. And yet he had said, "We shall be quite
safe here." In others he would have condemned such an attitude.
Now, however, he realised that he was very like others. An inactive
fatalism had seized him. He was too proud, too idle, too negligent,
too curious, to do the wise thing. He and Christine were in the
air-raid, and in it they should remain. He had just the senseless,
monkeyish curiosity of the staring crowd so lyrically praised by
the London Press. He was afraid, but his curiosity and inertia were
stronger than his fear. Then came a most tremendous explosion--the
loudest sound, the most formidable physical phenomenon that G.J. had
ever experienced in his life. The earth under their feet trembled.
Christine gave a squeal and seemed to subside to the ground, but he
pulled her up again, not in calm self-possession, but by the sheer
automatism of instinct. A spasm of horrible fright shot through him.
He thought, in awe and stupefaction:
He thought about death and maiming and blood. The relations between
him and those everyday males aloft in the sky seemed to be appallingly
close. After the explosion perfect silence--no screams, no noise of
crumbling--perfect silence, and yet the explosion seemed still to
dominate the air! Ears ached and sang. Something must be done. All
theories of safety had been smashed to atoms in the explosion. G.J.
dragged Christine along the street, he knew not why. The street was
unharmed. Not the slightest trace in it, so far as G.J. could tell in
the gloom, of destruction! But where the explosion had been, whether
east, west, south or north, he could not guess. Except for the
disturbance in his ears the explosion might have been a hallucination.
Suddenly he saw at the end of the street a wide thoroughfare, and he
could not be sure what thoroughfare it was. Two motor-buses passed
the end of the street at mad speed; then two taxis; then a number of
people, men and women, running hard. Useless and silly to risk the
perils of that wide thoroughfare! He turned back with Christine. He
got her to run. In the thick gloom he looked for an open door or a
porch, but there was none. The houses were like the houses of the
dead. He made more than one right angle turn. Christine gave a sign
that she could go no farther. He ceased trying to drag her. He was
recovering himself. Once more he heard the guns--childishly feeble
after the explosion of the bomb. After all, one spot was as safe as
The outline of a building seemed familiar. It was an abandoned chapel;
he knew he was in St. Martin's Street. He was about to pull Christine
into the shelter of the front of the chapel, when something happened
for which he could not find a name. True, it was an explosion. But the
previous event had been an explosion, and this one was a thousandfold
more intimidating. The earth swayed up and down. The sound alone of
the immeasurable cataclysm annihilated the universe. The sound and the
concussion transcended what had been conceivable. Both the sound
and the concussion seemed to last for a long time. Then, like an
afterthought, succeeded the awful noise of falling masses and the
innumerable crystal tinkling of shattered glass. This noise ceased and
G.J. was now in a strange condition of mild wonder. There was silence
in the dark solitude of St. Martin's Street. Then the sound of guns
supervened once more, but they were distant guns. G.J. discovered that
he was not holding Christine, and also that, instead of being in the
middle of the street, he was leaning against the door of a house.
He called faintly, "Christine!" No reply. "In a moment," he said to
himself, "I must go out and look for her. But I am not quite ready
yet." He had a slight pain in his side; it was naught; it was naught,
especially in comparison with the strange conviction of weakness and
"We've not won this war yet," and he had qualms.
One poor lamp burned in the street. He started to walk slowly and
uncertainly towards it. Near by he saw a hat on the ground. It was his
own. He put it on. Suddenly the street lamp went out. He walked on,
and stepped ankle-deep into broken glass. Then the road was clear
again. He halted. Not a sign of Christine! He decided that she must
have run away, and that she would run blindly and, finding herself
either in Leicester Square or Lower Regent Street, would by instinct
run home. At any rate, she could not be blown to atoms, for they were
together at the instant of the explosion. She must exist, and she must
have had the power of motion. He remembered that he had had a stick;
he had it no longer. He turned back and, taking from his pocket the
electric torch which had lately come into fashion, he examined the
road for his stick. The sole object of interest which the torch
revealed was a child's severed arm, with a fragment of brown frock on
it and a tinsel ring on one of the fingers of the dirty little hand.
The blood from the other end had stained the ground. G.J. abruptly
switched off the torch. Nausea overcame him, and then a feeling of
the most intense pity and anger overcame the nausea. (A month elapsed
before he could mention his discovery of the child's arm to anyone at
all.) The arm lay there as if it had been thrown there. Whence had it
come? No doubt it had come from over the housetops....
He smelt gas, and then he felt cold water in his boots. Water was
advancing in a flood along the street. "Broken mains, of course," he
said to himself, and was rather pleased with the promptness of his
explanation. At the elbow of St. Martin's Street, where a new dim
vista opened up, he saw policemen, then firemen; then he heard the
beat of a fire-engine, upon whose brass glinted the reflection of
flames that were flickering in a gap between two buildings. A huge
pile of debris encumbered the middle of the road. The vista was
closed by a barricade, beyond which was a pressing crowd. "Stand clear
there!" said a policeman to him roughly. "There's a wall going to
fall there any minute." He walked off, hurrying with relief from the
half-lit scene of busy, dim silhouettes. He could scarcely understand
it; and he was incapable of replying to the policeman. He wanted to be
alone and to ponder himself back into perfect composure. At the elbow
again he halted afresh. And as he stood figures in couples, bearing
stretchers, strode past him. The stretchers were covered with cloths
that hung down. Not the faintest sound came from beneath the cloths.
After a time he went on. The other exit of St. Martin's Street was
being barricaded as he reached it. A large crowd had assembled,
and there was a sound of talking like steady rain. He pushed grimly
through the crowd. He was set apart from the idle crowd. He would tell
the crowd nothing. In a minute he was going westwards on the left
side of Coventry Street again. The other side was as populous with
saunterers as ever. The violet glow-worms still burned in front of the
theatres and cinemas. Motor-buses swept by; taxis swept by; parcels
vans swept by, hooting. A newsman was selling papers at the corner.
Was he in a dream now? Or had he been in a dream in St. Martin's
Street? The vast capacity of the capital for digesting experience
seemed to endanger his reason. Save for the fragments of eager
conversation everywhere overheard, there was not a sign of disturbance
of the town's habitual life. And he was within four hundred yards
of the child's arm and of the spot where the procession of
stretcher-bearers had passed. One thought gradually gained ascendancy
in his mind: "I am saved!" It became exultant: "I might have been
blown to bits, but I am saved!" Despite the world's anguish and the
besetting imminence of danger, life and the city which he inhabited
had never seemed so enchanting, so lovely, as they did then. He
hurried towards Cork Street, hopeful.
At two periods of the day Marthe, with great effort and for
professional purposes, achieved some degree of personal tidiness.
The first period began at about four o'clock in the afternoon. By six
o'clock or six-thirty she had slipped back into the sloven. The second
period began at about ten o'clock at night. It was more brilliant
while it lasted, but owing to the accentuation of Marthe's
characteristics by fatigue it seldom lasted more than an hour. When
Marthe opened the door to G.J. she was at her proudest, intensely
conscious of being clean and neat, and unwilling to stand any nonsense
from anybody. Of course she was polite to G.J. as the chief friend of
the establishment and a giver of good tips, but she deprecated calls
by gentlemen in the evening, for unless they were made by appointment
the risk of complications at once arose.
The mention of an air-raid rendered her definitely inimical. Formerly
Marthe had been more than average nervous in air-raids, but she had
grown used to them and now defied them. As she kept all windows closed
on principle she heard less of raids than some people. G.J. did not
explain the circumstances. He simply asked if Madame had returned. No,
Madame had not returned. True, Marthe had not been unaware of guns and
things, but there was no need to worry; Madame must have arrived at
the theatre long before the guns started. Marthe really could not be
bothered with these unnecessary apprehensions. She had her duties to
attend to like other folks, and they were heavy, and she washed her
hands of air-raids; she accepted no responsibility for them; for her,
within the flat, they did not exist, and the whole German war-machine
was thereby foiled. G.J. was on the point of a full explanation,
but he checked himself. A recital of the circumstances would not
immediately help, and it might hinder. Concealing his astonishment at
the excesses of which unimaginative stolidity is capable, even in an
Italian, he turned down the stairs again.
He stopped in the middle of the stairs, because he did not know what
he was going to do, and he seemed to lack force for decisions. No harm
could have happened to Christine; she had run off, that was certain.
And yet--had he not often heard of the impish tricks of explosions?
Of one person being taken and another left? Was it not possible that
Christine had been blown to the other end of the street, and was now
lying there?... No! Either she was on her way home, or, automatically,
she had scurried to the theatre, which was close to St. Martin's
Street, and been too fearful to venture forth again. Perhaps she was
looking somewhere for _him_. Yet she might be dead. In any case, what
could he do? Ring up the police? It was too soon. He decided that he
would wait in Cork Street for half an hour. This plan appealed to him
for the mere reason that it was negative.
As he opened the front door he saw a taxi standing outside. The
taxi-man had taken one of the lamps from its bracket, and was looking
into the interior of the cab, which was ornate with toy-curtains
and artificial flowers to indicate to the world that he was an
owner-driver and understood life. Hearing the noise of the door,
he turned his head--he was wearing a bowler hat and a smart white
muffler--and said to G.J., with self-respecting respect for a
"This is No. 170, isn't it, sir?"
The taxi-man jerked his head to draw G.J.'s attention to the interior
of the vehicle. Christine was half on the seat and half on the floor,
unconscious, with shut eyes.
Instantly G.J. was conscious of making a complete recovery from all
the effects, physical and moral, of the air-raid.
"Just help me to get her out, will you?" he said in a casual tone,
"and I'll carry her upstairs. Where did you pick the lady up?"
"Strand, sir, nearly opposite Romano's."
"The dickens you did!"
"Shock from air-raid, I suppose, sir."
"She did seem a little upset when she hailed me, or I shouldn't have
taken her. I was off home, and I only took her to oblige."
The taxi-man ran quickly round to the other side of the cab and
entered it by the off-door, behind Christine. Together the men lifted
"I can manage her," said G.J. calmly.
"Excuse me, sir, you'll have to get hold lower down, so as her
waist'll be nearly as high as your shoulder. My brother's a fireman."
"Right," said G.J. "By the way, what's the fare?"
Holding Christine across his shoulder with the right arm, he
unbuttoned his overcoat with his left hand and took out change from
his trouser pocket for the driver.
"You might pull the door to after me," he said, in response to the
driver's expression of thanks.
The door banged. He was alone with Christine on the long, dark,
inclement stairs. He felt the contours of her body through her
clothes. She was limp, helpless. She was a featherweight. She was
nothing at all; inexpressibly girlish, pathetic, dear. Never had G.J.
felt as he felt then. He mounted the stairs rather quickly, with firm,
disdaining steps, and, despite his being a little out of breath,
he had a tremendous triumph over the stolidity of Marthe when she
answered his ring. Marthe screamed, and in the scream readjusted her
views concerning air-raids.
"It's queer this swoon lasting such a long time!" he reflected, when
Christine had been deposited on the sofa in the sitting-room, and the
common remedies and tricks tried without result, and Marthe had gone
into the kitchen to make hot water hotter.
He had established absolute empire over Marthe. He had insisted on
Marthe not being silly; and yet, though he had already been
silly himself in his absurd speculations as to the possibility of
Christine's death, he was now in danger of being silly again. Did
ordinary swoons ever continue as this one was continuing? Would
Christine ever come out of it? He stood with his back to the
fireplace, and her head and shoulders were right under him, so that he
looked almost perpendicularly down upon them. Her face was as pale as
ivory; every drop of blood seemed to have left it; the same with
her neck and bosom; her limbs had dropped anyhow, in disarray; a fur
jacket was untidily cast over her black muslin dress. But her waved
hair, fresh from the weekly visit of the professional coiffeur,
remained in the most perfect order.
G.J. looked round the room. It was getting very shabby. Its pale
enamelled shabbiness and the tawdry ugliness of nearly every object
in it had never repelled and saddened him as they did then. The sole
agreeable item was a large photograph of the mistress in a rich silver
frame which he had given her. She would not let him buy knicknacks or
draperies for her drawing-room; she preferred other presents. And now
that she lay in the room, but with no power to animate it, he
knew what the room really looked like; it looked like a dentist's
waiting-room, except that no dentist would expose copies of _La Vie
Parisienne_ to the view of clients. It had no more individuality than
a dentist's waiting-room. Indeed it was a dentist's waiting-room.
He remembered that he had had similar ideas about the room at the
beginning of his acquaintance with Christine; but he had partially
forgotten them, and moreover, they had not by any means been so clear
and desolating as in that moment.
He looked from the photograph to her face. The face was like the
photograph, but in the swoon its wistfulness became unbearable. And
it was so young. What was she? Twenty-seven? She could not be
twenty-eight. No age! A girl! And talk about experience! She had had
scarcely any experience, save one kind of experience. The monotony and
narrowness of her life was terrifying to him. He had fifty interests,
but she had only one. All her days were alike. She had no change
and no holiday; no past and no future; no family; no intimate
friends--unless Marthe was an intimate friend; no horizons, no
prospects. She witnessed life in London through the distorting,
mystifying veil of a foreign language imperfectly understood. She was
the most solitary girl in London, or she would have been were there
not a hundred thousand or so others in nearly the same case.... Stay!
Once she had delicately allowed him to divine that she had been to
Bournemouth with a gentleman for a week-end. He could recall
nothing else. Nightly, or almost nightly, she listened to the same
insufferably tedious jokes in the same insufferably tedious revue. But
the authorities were soon going to deprive her of the opportunity of
doing that. And then she would cease to receive even the education
that revues can furnish, and in her mind no images would survive but
images connected with the material arts of love. For, after all,
what had they truly in common, he and she, but a periodical transient
When next he looked at her, her eyes were wide open and a flush was
coming, as imperceptibly as the dawn, into her cheeks. He took her
hands again and rubbed them. Marthe returned, and Christine drank. She
gazed, in weak silence, first at Marthe and then at G.J. After a few
moments no one spoke. Marthe took off Christine's boots, and rubbed
her stockinged feet, and then kissed them violently.
"Madame should go to bed."
"I am better."
Marthe left the room, seeming resentful.
"What has passed?" Christine murmured, without smiling.
"A faint in the taxi, my poor child. That was all," said G.J. calmly.
"But how is it that I find myself here?"
"I carried thee upstairs in my arms."
"Why not?" He spoke lightly, with careful negligence. "It appears that
thou wast in the Strand."
"Was I? I lost thee. Something tore thee from me. I ran. I ran till I
could not run. I was sure that never more should I see thee alive. Oh!
My Gilbert, what terrible moments! What a catastrophe! Never shall I
forget those moments!"
G.J. said, with bland supremacy:
"But it is necessary that thou shouldst forget them. Master thyself.
Thou knowst now what it is--an air-raid. It was an ordinary air-raid.
There have been many like it. There will be many more. For once we
were in the middle of a raid--by chance. But we are safe--that is
"But the deaths?"
He shook his head.
"But there must have been many deaths!"
"I do not know. There will have been deaths. There usually are." He
shrugged his shoulders.
Christine sat up and gave a little screech.
"Ah!" She burst out, her features suddenly transformed by enraged
protest. "Why wilt thou act thy cold man?"
He was amazed at the sudden nervous strength she showed.
"But, my little one--"
"Why wilt thou act thy cold man? I shall become mad in this sacred
England. I shall become totally mad. You are all the same, all, all,
men and women. You are marvels--let it be so!--but you are not human.
Do you then wish to be taken for telegraph-poles? Always you are
pretending something. Pretending that you have no sentiments. And you
are soaked in sentimentality. But no! You will not show it! You will
not applaud your soldiers in the streets. You will not salute your
flag. You will not salute even a corpse. You have only one phrase: 'It
is nothing'. If you win a battle, 'It is nothing' If you lose one, 'It
is nothing'. If you are nearly killed in an air-raid, 'It is nothing'.
And if you were killed outright and could yet speak, you would say,
with your eternal sneer, 'It is nothing'. You other men, you make love
with the air of turning on a tap. As for your women, god knows--! But
I have a horror of Englishwomen. Prudes but wantons. Can I not guess?
Always hypocrites. Always holding themselves in. My god, that pinched
smile! And your women of the world especially. Have they a natural
gesture? Yet does not everyone know that they are rotten with vice and
perversity? And your actresses!... And they talk of us! Ah, well! For
me, I can say that I earn my living honestly, every son of it. For all
that I receive, I give. And they would throw me on to the pavement to
starve, me whose function in society--"
She collapsed in sobs, and with averted face held out her arms in
appeal. G.J., at once admiring and stricken with compassion, bent
and clasped her neck, and kissed her, and kept his mouth on hers.
Her tears dropped freely on his cheeks. Her sobs shook both of them.
Gradually the sobs decreased in violence and frequency. In an infant's
broken voice she murmured into his mouth:
"My wolf! Is it true--that thou didst carry me here in thy arms? I am
He was not in the slightest degree irritated or grieved by her tirade.
But the childlike changeableness and facility of her emotions touched
him. He savoured her youth, and himself felt curiously young. It was
the fact that within the last year he had grown younger.
He thought of great intellectuals, artists, men of action, princes,
kings--historical figures--in whom courtesans had inspired immortal
passion. He thought of the illustrious courtesans who had made
themselves heroic in legend, women whose loves were countless and
often venal, and yet whose renown had come down to posterity as
gloriously as that of supreme poets. He thought of lifelong passionate
attachments, which to the world were inexplicable, and which the world
never tired of leniently discussing. He overheard people saying: "Yes.
Picked her up somewhere, in a Promenade. She worships him, and he
adores her. Don't know where he hides her. You see them about together
sometimes--at concerts, for instance. Mysterious-looking creature she
is. Plays the part very well, too. Strange affair. But, of course,
there's no accounting for these things."
The role attracted him. And there could be no doubt that she did
worship him utterly. He did not analyse his feeling for her--perhaps
could not. She satisfied something in him that was profound. She
never offended his sensibilities, nor wearied him. Her manners were
excellent, her gestures full of grace and modesty, her temperament
extreme. A unique combination! And if the tie between them was not
real and secure, why should he have yearned for her company that night
after the scenes with Concepcion and Queen. Those women challenged
him, discomposed him, fretted him, fought him, left his nerves raw.
She soothed. Why should he not, in the French phrase, "put her among
her own furniture?" In a proper artistic environment, an environment
created by himself, of taste and moderate luxury, she would be
exquisite. She would blossom. And she would blossom for him alone.
She would live for his footstep on her threshold; and when he was
not there she would dream amid cushions like a cat. In the right
environment she would become another being, that was to say, the same
being, but orchidised. And when he was old, when he was sixty-five,
she would still be young, still be under forty and seductive. And the
publishing of his last will and testament, under which she inherited
all, would render her famous throughout all the West End, and the word
"romance" would spring to every lip. He searched in his mind for the
location of suitable flats.
"Is it true that thou didst carry me in thine arms?" repeated
He murmured into her mouth:
"Is it true? Can she doubt? The proof, then."
And he picked her up as though she had been a doll, and carried her
into the bedroom. As she lay on the bed, she raised her arm and looked
at the broken wrist-watch and sighed.
"My mascot. It is not a _blague_, my mascot."
Shortly afterwards she began to cry again, at first gently; then sobs
"She must sleep," he said firmly.
She shook her head.
"I cannot. I have been too upset. It is impossible that I should
"Go and buy me a drug."
"If I go and buy her a drug, will she undress and get into bed while I
Calling Marthe, and taking the latch-key of the street-door, he went
to his chemist's in Dover Street and bought some potassium bromide and
sal volatile. When he came back Marthe whispered to him:
"She sleeps. She has told me everything as I undressed her. The poor
G.J. went home at once, partly so that Christine should not be
disturbed, partly because he desired solitude in order to examine and
compose his mind. Mrs. Braiding had left an agreeable modest fire--fit
for cold April--in the drawing-room. He had just sat down in front of
it and was tranquillising himself in the familiar harmonious beauty
of the apartment (which, however, did seem rather insipid after the
decorative excesses of Queen's room), when he heard footsteps on
the little stairway from the upper floor. Mrs. Braiding entered the
This was a Mrs. Braiding very different from the Mrs. Braiding of
1914, a shameless creature of more rounded contours than of old, and
not quite so spick and span as of old. She was carrying in her arms
that which before the war she could not have conceived herself as
carrying. The being was invisible in wraps, but it was there; and she
seemed to have no shame for it, seemed indeed to be proud of it and
defiant about it.
Braiding's military career had been full of surprises. He had expected
within a few months of joining the colours to be dashing gloriously
and homicidally at panic-stricken Germans across the plains of
Flanders, to be, in fact, saving the Empire at the muzzle of rifle
and the point of bayonet. In truth, he found that for interminable,
innumerable weeks his job was to save the Empire by cleaning harness
on the East Coast of England--for under advice he had transferred to
the artillery. Later, when his true qualifications were discovered,
he had to save the Empire by polishing the buttons and serving the
morning tea and buying the cigarettes of a major who in 1914 had been
a lawyer by profession and a soldier only for fun. The major talked
too much, and to the wrong people. He became lyric concerning the
talents of Braiding to a dandiacal Divisional General at Colchester,
and soon, by the actuating of mysterious forces and the filling up of
many Army forms, Braiding was removed to Colchester, and had to save
the Empire by valeting the Divisonal General. Foiled in one direction,
Braiding advanced in another. By tradition, when a valet marries a
lady's maid, the effect on the birth-rate is naught. And it is certain
that but for the war Braiding would not have permitted himself to act
as he did. The Empire, however, needed citizens. The first rumour that
Braiding had done what in him lay to meet the need spread through
the kitchens of the Albany like a new gospel, incredible and
stupefying--but which imposed itself. The Albany was never the same
All the kitchens were agreed that Mr. Hoape would soon be stranded.
The spectacle of Mrs. Braiding as she slipped out of a morning past
the porter's lodge mesmerised beholders. At last, when things had
reached the limit, Mrs. Braiding slipped out and did not come back.
Meanwhile a much younger sister of hers had been introduced into the
flat. But when Mrs. Braiding went the virgin went also. The flat was
more or less closed, and Mr. Hoape had slept at his club for weeks.
At length the flat was reopened, but whereas three had left it, four
That a bachelor of Mr. Hoape's fastidiousness should tolerate in his
home a woman with a tiny baby was remarkable; it was as astounding
perhaps as any phenomenon of the war, and a sublime proof that Mr.
Hoape realised that the Empire was fighting for its life. It arose
from the fact that both G.J. and Braiding were men of considerable
sagacity. Braiding had issued an order, after seeing G.J., that his
wife should not leave G.J.'s service. And Mrs. Braiding, too, had her
sense of duty. She was very proud of G.J.'s war-work, and would
have thought it disloyal to leave him in the lurch, and so possibly
prejudice the war-work--especially as she was convinced that he would
never get anybody else comparable to herself.
At first she had been a little apologetic and diffident about her
offspring. But soon the man-child had established an important
position in the flat, and though he was generally invisible, his
individuality pervaded the whole place. G.J. had easily got accustomed
to the new inhabitant. He tolerated and then liked the babe. He had
never nursed it--for such an act would have been excessive--but he had
once stuck his finger in its mouth, and he had given it a perambulator
that folded up. He did venture secretly to hope that Braiding would
not imagine it to be his duty to provide further for the needs of the
That Mrs. Braiding had grown rather shameless in motherhood was shown
by her quite casual demeanour as she now came into the drawing-room
with the baby, for this was the first time she had ever come into the
drawing-room with the baby, knowing her august master to be there.
"Mrs. Braiding," said G.J. "That child ought to be asleep."
"He is asleep, sir," said the woman, glancing into the mysteries of
the immortal package, "but Maria hasn't been able to get back yet
because of the raid, and I didn't want to leave him upstairs alone
with the cat. He slept all through the raid."
"It seems some of you have made the cellar quite comfortable."
"Oh, yes, sir. Particularly now with the oilstove and the carpet.
Perhaps one night you'll come down, sir."
"I may have to. I shouldn't have been much surprised to find some
damage here to-night. They've been very close, you know.... Near
Leicester Square." He could not be troubled to say more than that.
"Have they really, sir? It's just like them," said Mrs. Braiding. And
she then continued in exactly the same tone: "Lady Queenie Paulle has
just been telephoning from Lechford House, sir." She still--despite
her marvellous experiences--impishly loved to make extraordinary
announcements as if they were nothing at all. And she felt an uplifted
satisfaction in having talked to Lady Queenie Paulle herself on the
"What does _she_ want?" G.J. asked impatiently, and not at all in a
voice proper for the mention of a Lady Queenie to a Mrs. Braiding.
He was annoyed; he resented any disturbance of the repose which he so
Mrs. Braiding showed that she was a little shocked. The old harassed
look of bearing up against complex anxieties came into her face.
"Her ladyship wished to speak to you, sir, on a matter of importance.
I didn't know _where_ you were, sir."
That last phrase was always used by Mrs. Braiding when she wished to
imply that she could guess where G.J. had been. He did not suppose
that she was acquainted with the circumstances of his amour, but he
had a suspicion amounting to conviction that she had conjectured it,
as men of science from certain derangements in their calculations will
conjecture the existence of a star that no telescope has revealed.
"Well, better leave Lady Queenie alone for to-night."
"I promised her ladyship that I would ring her up again in any case in
a quarter of an hour. That was approximately ten minutes ago."
He could not say:
"Be hanged to your promises!"
Reluctantly he went to the telephone himself, and learnt from Lady
Queenie, who always knew everything, that the raiders were expected to
return in about half an hour, and that she and Concepcion desired his
presence at Lechford House. He replied coldly that he was too tired to
come, and was indeed practically in bed. "But you must come. Don't
you understand we want you?" said Lady Queenie autocratically, adding:
"And don't forget that business about the hospitals. We didn't attend
to it this afternoon, you know." He said to himself: "And whose fault
was that?" and went off angrily, wondering what mysterious power of
convention it was that compelled him to respond to the whim of a girl
whom he scarcely even respected.
The main door of LECHFORD HOUSE was ajar, and at the sound of G.J.'s
footsteps on the marble of the porch it opened. Robin, the secretary,
stood at the threshold. Evidently she had been set to wait for him.
"The men-servants are all in the cellars," said she perkily.
G.J. retorted with sardonic bitterness:
"And quite right, too. I'm glad someone's got some sense left."
Yet he did not really admire the men-servants for being in the
cellars. Somehow it seemed mean of them not to be ready to take any
risks, however unnecessary.
Robin, hiding her surprise and confusion in a nervous snigger, banged
the heavy door, and led him through the halls and up the staircases.
As she went forward she turned on electric lamps here and there in
advance, turning them off by the alternative switches after she had
passed them, so that in the vast, shadowed, echoing interior the two
appeared to be preceded by light and pursued by a tide of darkness.
She was mincingly feminine, and very conscious of the fact that G.J.
was a fine gentleman. In the afternoon, and again to-night--at first,
he had taken her for a mere girl; but as she halted under a lamp to
hold a door for him at the entrance to the upper stairs, he perceived
that it must have been a long time since she was a girl. Often had he
warned himself that the fashion of short skirts and revealed stockings
gave a deceiving youthfulness to the middle-aged, and yet nearly every
day he had to learn the lesson afresh.
He was just expecting to be shown into the boudoir when Robin stopped
at a very small door.
"Her ladyship and Mrs. Carlos Smith are out on the roof. This is the
ladder," she said, and illuminated the ladder.
G.J. had no choice but to mount. Luckily he had kept his hat. He put
it on. As he climbed he felt a slight recurrence of the pain in his
side which he had noticed in St. Martin's Street. The roof was a very
strange, tempestuous place, and insecure. He had an impression similar
to that of being at sea, for the wind, which he had scarcely
observed in the street, made melancholy noises in the new protective
wire-netting that stretched over his head. This bomb-catching
contrivance, fastened on thick iron stanchions, formed a sort of
second roof, and was a very solid and elaborate affair which must
have cost much money. The upstreaming light from the ladder-shaft was
suddenly extinguished. He could see nobody, and the loneliness was
Somehow, when Robin had announced that the ladies were on the roof he
had imagined the roof as a large, flat expanse. It was nothing of the
kind. So far as he could distinguish in the deep gloom it had leaden
pathways, but on either hand it sloped sharply up or sharply down. He
might have fallen sheer into a chasm, or stumbled against the leaden
side of a slant. He descried a lofty construction of carved masonry
with an iron ladder clamped into it, far transcending the net. Not
immediately did he comprehend that it was merely one of the famous
Lechford chimney-stacks looming gigantic in the night. He walked
cautiously onward and came to a precipice and drew back, startled, and
took another pathway at right angles to the first one. Presently
the protective netting stopped, and he was exposed to heaven; he had
reached the roof of the servants' quarters towards the back of the
He stood still and gazed, accustoming himself to the night. The moon
was concealed, but there were patches of dim stars. He could make out,
across the empty Green Park, the huge silhouette of Buckingham Palace,
and beyond that the tower of Westminster Cathedral. To his left he
could see part of a courtyard or small square, with a fore-shortened
black figure, no doubt a policeman, carrying a flash-lamp. The
tree-lined Mall seemed to be utterly deserted. But Piccadilly showed
a line of faint stationary lights and still fainter moving lights.
A mild hum and the sounds of motor-horns and cab-whistles came from
Piccadilly, where people were abroad in ignorance that the raid was
not really over. All the heavens were continually restless with long,
shifting rays from the anti-aircraft stations, but the rays served
only to prove the power of darkness.
Then he heard quick, smooth footsteps. Two figures, one behind the
other, approached him, almost running, eagerly, girlishly, with
little cries. The first was Queen, who wore a white skirt and a very
close-fitting black jersey. Concepcion also wore a white skirt and a
very close-fitting black jersey, but with a long mantle hung loosely
from the shoulders. Both were bareheaded.
"Isn't it splendid, G.J.?" Queen burst out enthusiastically. Again
G.J. had the sensation of being at sea--perhaps on the deck of a
yacht. He felt that rain ought to have been beating on the face of the
excited and careless girl. Before answering, he turned up the collar
of his overcoat. Then he said:
"Won't you catch a chill?"
"I'm never cold," said Queen. It was true. "I shall always come up
here for raids in future."
"You seem to be enjoying it."
"I love it. I love it. I only thought of it to-night. It's the next
best thing to being a man and being at the Front. It _is_ being at the
Her face was little more than a pale, featureless oval to him in the
gloom, but he could divine from the vibrations of her voice that she
was as ecstatic as a young maid at her first dance.
"And what about that business interview that you've just asked for on
the 'phone?" G.J. acidly demanded.
"Oh, we'll come to that later. We wanted a man here--not to save us,
only to save us from ourselves--and you were the best we could think
of, wasn't he, Con? But you've not heard about my next bazaar, G.J.,
"I thought it was a Pageant."
"I mean after that. A bazaar. I don't know yet what it will be for,
but I've got lots of the most topping ideas for it. For instance, I'm
going to have a First-Aid Station."
"What for? Air-raid casualties?"
Queen scorned his obtuseness, pouring out a cataract of swift
"No. First-Aid to lovely complexions. Help for Distressed Beauties.
I shall get Roger Fry to design the Station and the costumes of my
attendants. It will be marvellous, and I tell you there'll always be
a queue waiting for admittance. I shall have all the latest dodges in
the sublime and fatal art of make-up, and if any of the Bond Street
gang refuse to help me I'll damn well ruin them. But they won't refuse
because they know what I'll do. Gontran is coming in with his new
steaming process for waving. Con, you must try that. It's a miracle.
Waving's no good for my style of coiffure, but it would suit you. You
always wouldn't wave, but you've got to now, my seraph. The electric
heater works in sections. No danger. No inconvenience to the poor old
scalp. The waves will last for six months or more. It has to be seen
to be believed, and even then you can't believe it. Its only fault is
that it's too natural to be natural. But who wants to be natural? This
modern craze for naturalness seems to me to be rather unwholesome, not
to say perverted. What?"
She seized G.J.'s arm convulsively.
Concepcion had said nothing. G.J. sought her eyes in the darkness, but
did not find them.
"So much for the bazaar!" he said.
Queen suddenly cried aloud:
"What is it, Robin? Has Captain Brickly telephoned?"
"Yes, my lady," came a voice faintly across the gloom from the region
of the ladder-shaft.
"They're coming! They'll be here directly!" exclaimed Queen, loosing
G.J. and clapping her hands.
G.J. thought of Robin affixed to the telephone, and some
scarlet-shouldered officer at the War Office quitting duty for the
telephone, in order to keep the capricious girl informed of military
movements simply because she had taken the trouble to be her father's
daughter, and in so doing had acquired the right to treat the imperial
machine as one of her nursery toys. And he became unreasonably
"I suppose you were cowering in your Club during the first Act?" she
said, with vivacity.
"Yes," G.J. briefly answered. Once more he was aware of a strong
instinctive disinclination to relate what had happened to him. He was
too proud to explain, and perhaps too tired.
"You ought to have been up here. They dropped two bombs close to the
National Gallery; pity they couldn't have destroyed a Landseer or two
while they were so near! There were either seven or eight killed and
eighteen wounded, so far as is known. But there were probably more.
There was quite a fire, too, but that was soon got under. We saw it
all except the explosion of the bombs. We weren't looking in the right
place--no luck! However, we saw the Zepp. What a shame the moon's
disappeared again! Listen! Listen!... Can't you hear the engines?"
G.J. shrugged his shoulders. Nothing could be heard above the faint
hum of Piccadilly. The wind seemed to have diminished to a chill,
Concepcion had sat down on a coping.
"Look!" she exclaimed in a startled whisper, and sprang erect.
To the south, down among the trees, a red light flashed and was gone.
The faint, irregular hum of Piccadilly persisted for a couple of
seconds, and then was drowned in the loud report, which seemed to
linger and wander in the great open spaces. G.J.'s flesh crept. He
comprehended the mad ecstasy of Queen, and because he comprehended it
his anger against her increased.
"Can you see the Zepp?" murmured Queen, as it were ferociously. "It
must be within range, or they wouldn't have fired. Look along the
lines of the searchlights. One of them, at any rate, must have got on
to it. We saw it before. Can't you see it? I can hear the engines, I
Another flash was followed by another resounding report. More guns
spoke in the distance. Then a glare arose on the southern horizon.
"Incendiary bomb!" muttered Queen. She stood stock-still, with her
mouth open, entranced.
The Zeppelin or the Zeppelins remained invisible and inaudible.
Yet they must be aloft there, somewhere amid the criss-cross of the
unresting searchlights. G.J. waited, powerfully impressed, incapable
of any direct action, gazing blankly now at the women and now at the
huge undecipherable heaven and earth, and receiving the chill zephyr
on his face. The nearmost gun had ceased to fire. Occasionally there
was perfect silence--for no faintest hum came from Piccadilly, and
nothing seemed to move there. The further guns recommenced, and then
the group heard a new sound, rather like the sound of a worn-out taxi
accelerating before changing gear. It grew gradually louder. It grew
very loud. It seemed to be ripping the envelope of the air. It seemed
as if it would last for ever--till it finished with a gigantic and
intimidating _plop_ quite near the front of Lechford House. Queen
"Shrapnel--and a big lump!"
G.J. could see the quick heave of her bosom imprisoned in the black.
She was breathing through her nostrils.
"Come downstairs into the house," he said sharply--more than sharply,
brutally. "Where in the name of God is the sense of stopping up here?
Are you both mad?"
Queen laughed lightly.
"Oh, G.J.! How funny you are! I'm really surprised you haven't left
London for good before now. By rights you ought to belong to the
Hook-it Brigade. Do you know what they do? They take a ticket to any
station north or west, and when they get out of the train they run to
the nearest house and interview the tenant. Has he any accommodation
to let? Will he take them in as boarders? Will he take them as paying
guests? Will he let the house furnished? Will he let it unfurnished?
Will he allow them to camp out in the stables? Will he sell the
blooming house? So there isn't a house to be had on the North Western
nearer than Leighton Buzzard."
"Are you going? Because I am," said G.J.
"I shall go--and so will you, both of you."
"G.J.," Queen mocked him, "you're in a funk."
"I've got courage enough to go, anyhow," said he. "And that's more
than you have."
"You're losing your temper."
As a fact he was. He grabbed at Queen, but she easily escaped him.
He saw the whiteness of her skirt in the distance of the roof, dimly
rising. She was climbing the ladder up the side of the chimney. She
stood on the top of the chimney, and laughed again. A gun sounded.
G.J. said no more. Using his flash-lamp he found his way to the
ladder-shaft and descended. He was in the warm and sheltered interior
of the house; he was in another and a saner world. Robin was at the
foot of the ladder; she blinked under his lamp.
"I've had enough of that," he said, and followed her to the
illuminated boudoir, where after a certain hesitation she left him.
Alone in the boudoir he felt himself to be a very shamed and futile
person, and he was still extremely angry. The next moment Concepcion
entered the boudoir.
"Ah!" he murmured, curiously appeased.
"You're quite right," said Concepcion simply.
"Can you give me any reason, Con, why we should make a present of
ourselves to the Hun?"
"You're quite right."
"Is she coming?"
Concepcion made a negative sign. "She doesn't know what fear is, Queen
"She doesn't know what sense is. She ought to be whipped, and if I got
hold of her I'd whip her."
"She'd like nothing better," said Concepcion.
G.J. removed his overcoat and sat down.
IN THE BOUDOIR
"We aren't so desperately safe even here," said G.J., firmly pursuing
the moral triumph which Concepcion's very surprising and comforting
descent from the roof had given him.
"Don't go to extremes," she answered.
"No, I won't." He thought of the valetry in the cellars, and the
impossible humiliation of joining them; and added: "I merely state."
Then, after a moment of silence: "By the way, was it only _her_ idea
that I should come along, or did the command come from both of you?"
The suspicion of some dark, feminine conspiracy revisited him.
"It was Queen's idea."
"Oh! Well, I don't quite understand the psychology of it."
"Surely that's plain."
"It isn't in the least plain."
Concepcion loosed and dropped her cloak, and, not even glancing at
G.J., went to the fire and teased it with the poker. Bending down,
with one hand on the graphic and didactic mantelpiece, and staring
into the fire, she said:
"Queen's in love with you, of course."
The words were a genuine shock to his sarcastic and rather embittered
and bullying mood. Was he to believe them? The vibrant, uttering voice
was convincing enough. Was he to show the conventional incredulity
proper to such an occasion? Or was he to be natural, brutally natural?
He was drawn first to one course and then to the other, and finally
spoke at random, by instinct:
"What have I been doing to deserve this?"
Concepcion replied, still looking into the fire: "As far as I can
gather it must be your masterful ways at the Hospital Committee that
have impressed her, and especially your unheard-of tyrannical methods
with her august mother."
"I see.... Thanks!"
It had not occurred to him that he had treated the Marchioness
tyrannically; he treated her like anybody else; he now perceived that
this was to treat her tyrannically. His imagination leapt forward as
he gazed round the weird and exciting room which Queen had brought
into existence for the illustration of herself, and as he pictured the
slim, pale figure outside clinging in the night to the vast chimney,
and as he listened to the faint intermittent thud of far-off guns.
He had a spasm of delicious temptation. He was tempted by Queen's
connections and her prospective wealth. If anybody was to possess
millions after the war, Queen would one day possess millions. Her
family and her innumerable powerful relatives would be compelled to
accept him without the slightest reserve, for Queen issued edicts;
and through all those big people he would acquire immense prestige
and influence, which he could use greatly. Ambition flared up in
him--ambition to impress himself on his era. And he reflected with
satisfaction on the strangeness of the fact that such an opportunity
should have come to him, the son of a lawyer, solely by virtue of his
own individuality. He thought of Christine, and poor little Christine
was shrunk to nothing at all; she was scarcely even an object of
compassion; she was a prostitute.
But far more than by Queen's connections and prospective wealth he was
tempted by her youth and beauty; he saw her beautiful and girlish, and
he was sexually tempted. Most of all he was tempted by the desire to
master her. He saw again the foolish, elegant, brilliant thing on the
chimney pretending to defy him and mock at him. And he heard himself
commanding sharply: "Come down. Come down and acknowledge your ruler.
Come down and be whipped." (For had he not been told that she would
like nothing better?) And he heard the West End of London and all the
country-houses saying, "She obeys _him_ like a slave." He conceived a
new and dazzling environment for himself; and it was undeniable that
he needed something of the kind, for he was growing lonely; before
the war he had lived intensely in his younger friends, but the war had
taken nearly all of them away from him, many of them for ever.
Then he said in a voice almost resentfully satiric, and wondered why
such a tone should come from his lips:
"Another of her caprices, no doubt."
"What do you mean--another of her caprices?" said Concepcion,
straightening herself and leaning against the mantelpiece.
He had noticed, only a moment earlier, on the mantelpiece, a large
photograph of the handsome Molder, with some writing under it.
"Well, what about that, for example?"
He pointed. Concepcion glanced at him for the first time, and her eyes
followed the direction of his finger.
"That! I don't know anything about it."
"Do you mean to say that while you were gossiping till five o'clock
this morning, you two, she didn't mention it?"
G.J. went right on, murmuring:
"Wants to do something unusual. Wants to astonish the town."
"Then you seriously tell me she's fallen in love with me, Con?"
"I haven't the slightest doubt of it."
"Did she say so?"
There was a sound outside the door. They both started like plotters in
danger, and tried to look as if they had been discussing the weather
or the war. But no interruption occurred.
"Well, she did. I know I shall be thought mischievous. If she had the
faintest notion I'd breathed the least hint to you, she'd quarrel with
me eternally--of course. I couldn't bear another quarrel. If it had
been anybody else but you I wouldn't have said a word. But you're
different from anybody else. And I couldn't help it. You don't know
what Queen is. Queen's a white woman."
"So you said this afternoon."
"And so she is. She has the most curious and interesting brain, and
she's as straight as a man."
"I've never noticed it."
"But I know. I know. And she's an exquisite companion."
"And so on and so on. And I expect the scheme is that I am to make
love to her and be worried out of my life, and then propose to her and
she'll accept me." The word "scheme" brought up again his suspicion
of a conspiracy. Evidently there was no conspiracy, but there was a
plot--of one.... A nervous breakdown? Was Concepcion merely under an
illusion that she had had a nervous breakdown, or had she in truth had
one, and was this singular interview a result of it?
Concepcion continued with surprising calm magnanimity:
"I know her mind is strange, but it's lovely. No one but me has ever
seen into it. She's following her instinct, unconsciously--as we all
do, you know. And her instinct's right, in spite of everything. Her
instinct's telling her just now that she needs a master. And that's
exactly what she does need. We must remember she's very young--"
"Yes," G.J. interrupted, bursting out with a kind of savagery that he
could not explain. "Yes. She's young, and she finds even my age spicy.
There'd be something quite amusingly piquant for her in marrying a man
nearly thirty years her senior."
Concepcion advanced towards him. There she stood in front of him,
quite close to his chair, gazing down at him in her tight black
jersey and short white skirt; she was wearing black stockings now. Her
serious face was perfectly unruffled. And in her worn face was all her
experience; all the nights and days on the Clyde were in her face; the
scalping of the young Glasgow girl was in her face, and the failure
to endure either in work or in love. There was complete silence within
and without--not the echo of an echo of a gun. G.J. felt as though he
were at bay.
"People like you and Queen don't want to bother about age. Neither
of you has any age. And I'm not imploring you to have her. I'm only
telling you that she's there for you if you want her. But doesn't
she attract you? Isn't she positively irresistible?" She added with
poignancy: "I know if I were a man I should find her irresistible."
A look of sacrifice came into Concepcion's eyes as she finished:
"I'd do anything, anything, to make Queen happy."
"Yes, you would," retorted G.J. icily, carried away by a ruthless
and inexorable impulse. "You'd do anything to make her happy even for
three months. Yes, to make her happy for three weeks you'd be ready
to ruin my whole life. I know you and Queen." And the mild image of
Christine formed in his mind, soothingly, infinitely desirable. What
balm, after the nerve-racking contact of these incalculable creatures!
Concepcion retired with a gesture of the arm and sat down by the fire.
"You're terrible, G.J.," she said wistfully. "Queen wouldn't be thrown
away on you, but you'd be thrown away on her. I admit it. I didn't
think you had it in you. I never saw a man develop as you have.
Marriage isn't for you. You ought to roam in the primeval forest, and
take and kill."
"Not a bit," said G.J., appeased once more. "Not a bit.... But the new
relations of the sexes aren't in my line."
"_New_? My poor boy, are you so ingenuous after all? There's nothing
very new in the relations of the sexes that I know of. They're much
what they were in the Garden of Eden."
"What do you know of the Garden of Eden?"
"I get my information from Milton," she replied cheerfully, as though
"Have you read _Paradise Lost_, then, Con?"
"I read it all through in my lodgings. And it's really rather good.
In fact, the remarks of Raphael to Adam in the eighth book--I think it
is--are still just about the last word on the relations of the sexes:
"Oft-times nothing profits more
Than self-esteem, grounded on just and right
Well-managed; of that skill the more thou
The more she will acknowledge thee her head
_And to realities yield all her shows_."
G.J., marvelling, exclaimed with sudden enthusiasm:
"By Jove! You're an astounding woman, Con. You do me good!"
There was a fresh noise beyond the door, and the door opened and Robin
rushed in, blanched and hysterical, and with her seemed to rush in
"Oh! Madame!" she cried. "As there was no more firing I went on to the
roof, and her ladyship--" She covered her face and sobbed.
G.J. jumped up.
"Go and see," said Concepcion in a blank voice, not moving. "I
can't.... It's the message straight from Potsdam that's arrived."
G.J. emerged from the crowded and malodorous Coroner's Court with a
deep sense of the rigour and the thoroughness of British justice, and
especially of its stolidity.
There had been four inquests, all upon the bodies of air-raid victims:
a road-man, his wife, an orphan baby--all belonging to the thick
central mass of the proletariat, for a West End slum had received a
bomb full in the face--and Lady Queenie Paulle. The policemen were
stolid; the reporters were stolid; the proletariat was stolid;
the majority of the witnesses were stolid, and in particular the
representatives of various philanthropic agencies who gave the most
minute evidence about the habits and circumstances of the slum; and
the jurymen were very stolid, and never more so than when, with stubby
fingers holding ancient pens, they had to sign quantities of blue
forms under the strict guidance of a bareheaded policeman.
The world of Queenie's acquaintances made a strange, vivid contrast
to this grey, grim, blockish world; and the two worlds regarded each
other with the wonder and the suspicious resentment of foreigners.
Queen's world came expecting to behave as at a cause celebre of, for
example, divorce. Its representatives were quite ready to tolerate
unpleasing contacts and long stretches of tedium in return for some
glimpse of the squalid and the privilege of being able to say that
they had been present at the inquest. But most of them had arrived
rather late, and they had reckoned without the Coroner, and
comparatively few obtained even admittance.
The Coroner had arrived on the stroke of the hour, in a silk hat and
frock coat, with a black bag, and had sat down at his desk and begun
to rule the proceedings with an absolutism that no High Court Judge
would have attempted. He was autocrat in a small, close, sordid room;
but he was autocrat. He had already shown his quality in some indirect
collisions with the Marquis of Lechford. The Marquis felt that he
could not stomach the exposure of his daughter's corpse in a common
mortuary with other corpses of he knew not whom. Long experience of
the marquisate had taught him to believe that everything could be
arranged. He found, however, that this matter could not be arranged.
There was no appeal from the ukase of the Coroner. Then he wished
to be excused from giving evidence, since his evidence could have no
direct bearing on the death. But he was informed by a mere clerk, who
had knowledge of the Coroner's ways, that if he did not attend the
inquest would probably be adjourned for his attendance. The fact was,
the Coroner had appreciated as well as anybody that heaven and the war
had sent him a cause celebre of the first-class. He saw himself
the supreme being of a unique assize. He saw his remarks reproduced
verbatim in the papers, for, though localities might not be mentioned,
there was no censor's ban upon the _obiter dicta_ of coroners. His
idiosyncrasy was that he hid all his enjoyment in his own breast. Even
had he had the use of a bench, instead of a mere chair, he would never
have allowed titled ladies in mirific black hats to share it with him.
He was an icy radical, sincere, competent, conscientious and vain. He
would be no respecter of persons, but he was a disrespecter of persons
above a certain social rank. He said, "Open that window." And that
window was opened, regardless of the identity of the person who might
be sitting under it. He said: "This court is unhealthily full. Admit
no more." And no more could be admitted, though the entire peerage
The Marquis had considered that the inquest on his daughter might be
taken first. The other three cases were taken first, and, even taken
concurrently, they occupied an immense period of time. All the bodies
were, of course, "viewed" together, and the absence of the jury seemed
to the Marquis interminable; he thought the despicable tradesmen were
gloating unduly over the damaged face of his daughter. The Coroner had
been marvellously courteous to the procession of humble witnesses. He
could not have been more courteous to the exalted; and he was not. In
the sight of the Coroner all men were equal.
G.J. encountered him first. "I did my best to persuade her ladyship to
come down," said G.J. very formally. "I am quite sure you did,"
said the Coroner with the dryest politeness. "And you failed." The
policeman had related events from the moment when G.J. had fetched
him in from the street. The policeman could remember everything, what
everybody had said, the positions of all objects, the characteristics
and extent of the wire-netting, the exact posture of the deceased
girl, the exact minute of his visit. He and the Coroner played to each
other like well-rehearsed actors. Mrs. Carlos Smith's ordeal was very
brief, and the Coroner dismissed her with an expression of sympathy
that seemed to issue from his mouth like carved granite. With the
doctor alone the Coroner had become human; the Coroner also was a
doctor. The doctor had talked about a relatively slight extravasation
of blood, and said that death had been instantaneous. Said the
Coroner: "The body was found on the wire-netting; it had fallen from
the chimney. In your opinion, was the fall a contributory cause of
death?" The doctor said, No. "In your opinion death was due to an
extremely small piece of shrapnel which struck the deceased's head
slightly above the left ear, entering the brain?" The doctor said,
The Marquis of Lechford had to answer questions as to his parental
relations with his daughter. How long had he been away in the country?
How long had the deceased been living in Lechford House practically
alone? How old was his daughter? Had he given any order to the effect
that nobody was to be on the roof of his house during an air-raid?
Had he given any orders at all as to conduct during an air-raid? The
Coroner sympathised deeply with his lordship's position, and felt
sure that his lordship understood that; but his lordship would
also understand that the policy of heads of households in regard to
air-raids had more than a domestic interest--it had, one might say, a
national interest; and the force of prominent example was one of the
forces upon which the Government counted, and had the right to count,
for help in the regulation of public conduct in these great crises of
the most gigantic war that the world had ever seen. "Now, as to the
wire-netting," had said the Coroner, leaving the subject of the force
of example. He had a perfect plan of the wire-netting in his mind. He
understood that the chimney-stack rose higher than the wire-netting,
and that the wire-netting went round the chimney-stack at a distance
of a foot or more, leaving room so that a person might climb up
the perpendicular ladder. If a person fell from the top of the
chimney-stack it was a chance whether that person fell on the
wire-netting, or through the space between the wire-netting and the
chimney on to the roof itself. The jury doubtless understood. (The
jury, however, at that instant had been engaged in examining the
bit of shrapnel which had been extracted from the brain of the only
daughter of a Marquis.) The Coroner understood that the wire-netting
did not extend over the whole of the house. "It extends over all the
main part of the house," his lordship had replied. "But not over the
back part of the house?" His lordship agreed. "The servants'
quarters, probably?" His lordship nodded. The Coroner had said: "The
wire-netting does not extend over the servants' quarters," in a very
even voice. A faint hiss in court had been extinguished by the sharp
glare of the Coroner's eyes. His lordship, a thin, antique figure, in
a long cloak that none but himself would have ventured to wear, had
stepped down, helpless.
There had been much signing of depositions. The Coroner had spoken of
The Hague Convention, mentioning one article by its number. The jury
as to the first three cases--in which the victims had been killed by
bombs--had returned a verdict of wilful murder against the Kaiser.
The Coroner, suppressing the applause, had agreed heartily with the
verdict. He told the jury that the fourth case was different, and
the jury returned a verdict of death from shrapnel. They gave
their sympathy to all the relatives, and added a rider about the
inadvisability of running unnecessary risks, and the Coroner, once
more agreeing heartily, had thereon made an effective little speech to
a hushed, assenting audience.
There were several motor-cars outside. G.J. signalled across the
street to the taxi-man who telephoned every morning to him for orders.
He had never owned a motor-car, and, because he had no ambition to
drive himself, had never felt the desire to own one. The taxi-man
experienced some delay in starting his engine. G.J. lit a cigarette.
Concepcion came out, alone. He had expected her to be with the
Marquis, with whom she had arrived. She was dressed in mourning. Only
on that day, and once before--on the day of her husband's funeral--had
he seen her in mourning. She looked now like the widow she was.
Nevertheless, he had not quite accustomed himself to the sight of her
"I wonder whether I can get a taxi?" she asked.
"You can have mine," said he. "Where do you want to go?"
She named a disconcerting address near Shepherd's Market.
At that moment a Pressman with a camera came boldly up and snapped
her. The man had the brazen demeanour of a racecourse tout. But
Concepcion seemed not to mind at all, and G.J. remembered that she was
deeply inured to publicity. Her portrait had already appeared in the
picture papers along with that of Queen, but the papers had deemed it
necessary to remind a forgetful public that Mrs. Carlos Smith was
the same lady as the super-celebrated Concepcion Iquist. The taxi-man
hesitated for an instant on hearing the address, but only for an
instant. He had earned the esteem and regular patronage of G.J. by a
curious hazard. One night G.J. had hailed him, and the man had said in
a flash, without waiting for the fare to speak, "The Albany, isn't it,
sir? I drove you home about two months ago." Thenceforward he had been
for G.J. the perfect taxi-man.
In the taxi Concepcion said not a word, and G.J. did not disturb her.
Beneath his superficial melancholy he was sustained by the mere joy
of being alive. The common phenomena of the streets were beautiful
to him. Concepcion's calm and grieved vitality seemed mysteriously
exquisite. He had had similar sensations while walking along Coventry
Street after his escape from the explosion of the bomb. Fatigue and
annoyance and sorrow had extinguished them for a time, but now that
the episode of Queen's tragedy was closed they were born anew. Queen,
the pathetic victim of the indiscipline of her own impulses, was gone.
But he had escaped. He lived. And life was an affair miraculous and
"I think I've been here before," said he, when they got out of the
taxi in a short, untidy, indeterminate street that was a cul-de-sac.
The prospect ended in a garage, near which two women chauffeurs were
discussing a topic that interested them. A hurdy-gurdy was playing
close by, and a few ragged children stared at the hurdy-gurdy, on the
end of which a baby was cradled. The fact that the street was midway
between Curzon Street and Piccadilly, and almost within sight of the
monumental new mansion of an American duchess, explained the existence
of the building in front of which the taxi had stopped. The entrance
to the flats was mean and soiled. It repelled, but Concepcion
unapologetically led G.J. up a flight of four stone steps and round
a curve into a little corridor. She halted at a door on the ground
"Yes," said G.J. with admirable calm, "I do believe you've got the
very flat I once looked at with a friend of mine. If I remember
it didn't fill the bill because the tenant wouldn't sub-let it
unfurnished. When did you get hold of this?"
"Yesterday afternoon," Concepcion answered. "Quick work. But these
feats can be accomplished. I've only taken it for a month. Hotels seem
to be all full. I couldn't open my own place at a moment's notice, and
I didn't mean to stay on at Lechford House, even if they'd asked me
G.J.'s notion of the vastness and safety of London had received a
shock. He was now a very busy man, and would quite sincerely have told
anybody who questioned him on the point that he hadn't a moment to
call his own. Nevertheless, on the previous morning he had spent
a considerable time in searching for a nest in which to hide his
Christine and create romance; and he had come to this very flat.
More, there had been two flats to let in the block. He had declined
them--the better one because of the furniture, the worse because
it was impossibly small, and both because of the propinquity of the
garage. But supposing that he had taken one and Concepcion the other!
He recoiled at the thought....
Concepcion's new home, if not impossibly small, was small, and the
immensity and abundance of the furniture made it seem smaller than it
actually was. Each little room had the air of having been furnished
out of a huge and expensive second-hand emporium. No single style
prevailed. There were big carved and inlaid antique cabinets and
chests, big hanging crystal candelabra, and big pictures (some of
them apparently family portraits, the rest eighteenth-century
flower-pieces) in big gilt frames, with a multiplicity of occasional
tables and bric-a-brac. Gilt predominated. The ornate cornices were
gilded. Human beings had to move about like dwarfs on the tiny free
spaces of carpet between frowning cabinetry. The taste and the aim
of the author of this home defied deduction. In the first room a
charwoman was cleaning. Concepcion greeted her like a sister. In the
next room, whose window gave on to a blank wall, tea was laid for one
in front of a gas-fire. Concepcion reached down a cup and saucer from
a glazed cupboard and put a match to the spirit-lamp under the kettle.
"Let me see, the bedroom's up here, isn't it?" said G.J., pointing
along a passage that was like a tunnel.
Concepcion, yielding to his curiosity, turned on lights everywhere and
preceded him. The passage, hung with massive canvases, had scarcely
more than width enough for G.J.'s shoulders. The tiny bedroom
was muslined in every conceivable manner. It had a colossal bed,
surpassing even Christine's. A muslined maid was bending over some
drapery-shop boxes on the floor and removing garments therefrom.
Concepcion greeted her like a sister. "Don't let me disturb you,
Emily," she said, and to G.J., "Emily was poor Queenie's maid, and she
has come to me for a little while." G.J. amicably nodded. Tears came
suddenly into the maid's eyes. G.J. looked away and saw the bathroom,
which, also well muslined, was completely open to the bedroom.
"Whose _is_ this marvellous home?" he added when they had gone back to
"I think the original tenant is the wife of somebody who's interned."
"How simple the explanation is!" said G.J. "But I should never have
They started the tea in a strange silence. After a minute or two G.J.
"I mustn't stay long."
"Neither must I." Concepcion smiled.
"Got to go out?"
There was another silence. Then Concepcion said:
"I'm going to Sarah Churcher's. And as I know she has her Pageant
Committee at five-thirty, I'd better not arrive later than five, had
"What is there between you and Lady Churcher?"
"Well, I'm going to offer to take Queen's place on the organising
"Con!" he exclaimed impulsively, "you aren't?"
In an instant the atmosphere of the little airless, electric-lit,
gas-fumed apartment was charged with a fluid that no physical
chemistry could have traced. Concepcion said mildly:
"I am. I owe it to Queen's memory to take her place if I can. Of
course I'm no dancer, but in other things I expect I can make myself
G.J. replied with equal mildness:
"You aren't going to mix yourself up with that crowd again--after all
you've been through! The Pageant business isn't good enough for you,
Con, and you know it. You know it's odious."
"I feel it's my duty. I feel I owe it to Queen. It's a sort of
religion with me, I expect. Each person has his own religion, and I
doubt if one's more dogmatic than another."
He was grieved; he had a sense almost of outrage. He hated to picture
Concepcion subduing herself to the horrible environment of the Pageant
enterprise. But he said nothing more. The silence resumed. They might
have conversed, with care, about the inquest, or about the funeral,
which was to take place at the Castle, in Cheshire. Silence, however,
suited them best.
"Also I thought you needed repose," said G.J. when Concepcion broke
the melancholy enchantment by rising to look for cigarettes.
"I must be allowed to work," she answered after a pause, putting a
cigarette between her teeth. "I must have something to do--unless, of
course, you want me to go to the bad altogether."
It was a remarkable saying, but it seemed to admit that he was
legitimately entitled to his critical interest in her.
"If I'd known that," he said, suddenly inspired, "I should have asked
you to take on something for _me_." He waited; she made no response,
and he continued: "I'm secretary of my small affair since yesterday.
The paid secretary, a nice enough little thing, has just run off
to the Women's Auxiliary Corps in France and left me utterly in the
lurch. Just like domestic servants, these earnest girl-clerks are,
when it comes to the point! No imagination. Wanted to wear khaki, and
no doubt thought she was doing a splendid thing. Never occurred to her
the mess I should be in. I'd have asked you to step into the breach.
You'd have been frightfully useful."
"But I'm no girl-clerk," Concepcion gently and carelessly protested.
"Well, she wasn't either. I shouldn't have wanted you to be a typist.
We have a typist. As a matter of fact, her job needed a bit more
brains than she'd got. However--"
Another silence. G.J. rose to depart. Concepcion did not stir. She
"I don't think anybody realises what Queen's death is to me. Not even
you." On her face was the look of sacrifice which G.J. had seen there
as they talked together in Queen's boudoir during the raid.
He thought, amazed:
"And they'd only had about twenty-four hours together, and part of
that must have been spent in making up their quarrel!"
"I quite agree. People can't realise what they haven't had to go
through. I've understood that ever since I read in the paper the
day before yesterday that 'two bombs fell close together and one
immediately after the other' in a certain quarter of the West End.
That was all the paper said about those two bombs."
"Why! What do you mean?"
"And I understood it when poor old Queen gave me some similar
information on the roof."
"What _do_ you mean?"
"I was between those two bombs when they fell. One of 'em blew me
against a house. I've been to look at the place since. And I'm dashed
if I myself could realise then what I'd been through."
She gave a little cry. Her face pleased him.
"And you weren't hurt?"
"I had a pain in my side, but it's gone," he said laconically.
"And you never said anything to us! Why not?"
"Well--there were so many other things...."
"G.J., you're astounding!"
"No, I'm not. I'm just myself."
"And hasn't it upset your nerves?"
"Not as far as I can judge. Of course one never knows, but I think
not. What do you think?"
She offered no response. At length she spoke with queer emotion:
"You remember that night I said it was a message direct from Potsdam?
Well, naturally it wasn't. But do you know the thought that tortures
me? Supposing the shrapnel that killed Queen was out of a shell made
at my place in Glasgow!... It might have been.... Supposing it was!"
"Con," he said firmly, "I simply won't listen to that kind of talk.
There's no excuse for it. Shall I tell you what, more than anything
else, has made me respect you since Queen was killed? Ninety-nine
women out of a hundred would have managed to remind me, quite
illogically and quite inexcusably, that I was saying hard things about
poor old Queen at the very moment when she was lying dead on the roof.
You didn't. You knew I was very sorry about Queen, but you knew that
my feelings as to her death had nothing whatever to do with what I
happened to be saying when she was killed. You knew the difference
between sentiment and sentimentality. For God's sake, don't start
wondering where the shell was made."
She looked up at him, saying nothing, and he savoured the intelligence
of her weary, fine, alert, comprehending face. He did not pretend to
himself to be able to fathom the enigmas of that long glance. He had
again the feeling of the splendour of what it was to be alive, to have
survived. Just as he was leaving she said casually:
"Very well. I'll do what you want."
"What I want?"
"I won't go to Sarah Churcher's."
"You mean you'll come as assistant secretary?"
She nodded. "Only I don't need to be paid."
And he, too, fell into a casual tone:
Thus, by this nonchalance, they conspired to hide from themselves
the seriousness of that which had passed between them. The grotesque,
pretentious little apartment was mysteriously humanised; it was no
longer the reception-room of a furnished flat by chance hired for a
month; they had lived in it.
She finished, eagerly smiling:
"I can practise my religion just as much with you as with Sarah
Churcher, can't I? Queen was on your committee, too. Yes, I shan't be
The remark disquieted his triumph. That aspect of the matter had not
occurred to him.
Late of that same afternoon G.J., in the absence of the chairman,
presided as honorary secretary over a meeting of the executive
committee of the Lechford hospitals. In the course of the war the
committee had changed its habitation more than once. The hotel which
had at first given it a home had long ago been commandeered by the
Government for a new Government department, and its hundreds of
chambers were now full of the clicking of typewriters and the
dictation of officially phrased correspondence, and the
conferences which precede decisions, and the untamed footsteps of
messenger-flappers, and the making of tea, and chatter about cinemas,
blouses and headaches. Afterwards the committee had been the guest of
a bank and of a trust company, and had for a period even paid rent to
a common landlord. But its object was always to escape the formality
of rent-paying, and it was now lodged in an untenanted mansion
belonging to a viscount in a great Belgravian square. Its sign was
spread high across the facade; its posters were in the windows; and on
the door was a notice such as in 1914 nobody had ever expected to see
in that quadrangle of guarded sacred castles: "Turn the handle and
walk in." The mansion, though much later in date, was built precisely
on the lines of a typical Bloomsbury boarding-house. It had the same
basement, the same general disposition of rooms, the same abundance
of stairs and paucity of baths, the same chilly draughts and primeval
devices for heating, and the same superb disregard for the convenience
of servants. The patrons of domestic architecture had permitted
architects to learn nothing in seventy years except that chimney-flues
must be constructed so that they could be cleaned without exposing
sooty infants to the danger of suffocation or incineration.
The committee sat on the first floor in the back drawing-room,
whose furniture consisted of a deal table, Windsor chairs, a row of
hat-pegs, a wooden box containing coal, half a poker, two unshaded
lights; the walls, from which all the paper had been torn off, were
decorated with lists of sub-committees, posters, and rows of figures
scrawled here and there in pencil. The room was divided from the main
drawing-room by the usual folding-doors. The smaller apartment had
been chosen in the winter because it was somewhat easier to keep warm
than the other one. In the main drawing-room the honorary secretary
camped himself at a desk near the fireplace.
When the clock struck, G.J., one of whose monastic weaknesses was a
ritualistic regard for punctuality, was in his place at the head of
the table, and the table well filled with members, for the honorary
secretary's harmless foible was known and admitted. The table and the
chairs, the scraping of the chair-legs on the bare floor, the agenda
papers and the ornamentation thereof by absent-minded pens, were the
same as in the committee's youth. But the personnel of the committee
had greatly changed, and it was enlarged--as its scope had been
enlarged. The two Lechford hospitals behind the French lines were
now only a part of the committee's responsibilities. It had a special
hospital in Paris, two convalescent homes in England, and an important
medical unit somewhere in Italy. Finance was becoming its chief
anxiety, for the reason that, though soldiers had not abandoned
in disgust the practice of being wounded, philanthropists were
unquestionably showing signs of fatigue. It had collected money by
postal appeals, by advertisements, by selling flags, by competing with
drapers' shops, by intimidation, by ruse and guile, and by all the
other recognised methods. Of late it had depended largely upon the
very wealthy, and, to a less extent, upon G.J., who having gradually
constituted the committee his hobby, had contributed some thousands
of pounds from his share of the magic profits of the Reveille Company.
Everybody was aware of the immense importance of G.J.'s help. G.J.
never showed it in his demeanour, but the others continually showed
it in theirs. He had acquired authority. He had also acquired the sure
manner of one accustomed to preside.
"Before we begin on the agenda," he said--and as he spoke a late
member crept apologetically in and tiptoed to the heavily charged
hat-pegs--"I would like to mention about Miss Trewas. Some of you know
that through an admirable but somewhat disordered sense of patriotism
she has left us at a moment's notice. I am glad to say that my friend
Mrs. Carlos Smith, who, I may tell you, has had a very considerable
experience of organisation, has very kindly agreed, subject of course
to the approval of the committee, to step temporarily into the breach.
She will be an honorary worker, like all of us here, and I am sure
that the committee will feel as grateful to her as I do."
As there had been smiles at the turn of his phrase about Miss Trewas,
so now there were fervent, almost emotional, "Hear-hears."
"Mrs. Smith, will you please read the minutes of the last meeting."
Concepcion was sitting at his left hand. He kept thinking, "I'm one of
those who get things done." Two hours ago, and the idea of enlisting
her had not even occurred to him, and already he had taken her out
of her burrow, brought her to the offices, coached her in the
preliminaries of her allotted task, and introduced several important
members of the committee to her! It was an achievement.
Never had the minutes been listened to with such attention as they
obtained that day. Concepcion was apparently not in the least nervous,
and she read very well--far better than the deserter Miss Trewas, who
could not open her mouth without bridling. Concepcion held the room.
Those who had not seen before the celebrated Concepcion Iquist now saw
her and sated their eyes upon her. She had been less a woman than a
legend. The romance of South America enveloped her, and the romance of
her famous and notorious uncle, of her triumph over the West End, her
startling marriage and swift widowing, her journey to America and her
complete disappearance, her attachment to Lady Queenie, and now her
And the sharp condiment to all this was the general knowledge of the
bachelor G.J.'s long intimacy with her, and of their having both
been at Lechford House on the night of the raid, and both been at
the inquest on the body of Lady Queenie Paulle on that very day.
But nobody could have guessed from their placid and self-possessed
demeanour that either of them had just emerged from a series of
ordeals. They won a deep and full respect. Still, some people ventured
to have their own ideas; and an ingenuous few were surprised to find
that the legend was only a woman after all, and a rather worn
woman, not indeed very recognisable from her innumerable portraits.
Nevertheless the respect for the pair was even increased when G.J.
broached the first item on the agenda--a resolution of respectful
sympathy with the Marquis and Marchioness of Lechford in their
bereavement, of profound appreciation of the services of Lady Queenie
on the committee, and of an intention to send by the chairman to the
funeral a wreath to be subscribed for by the members. G.J. proposed
the resolution himself, and it was seconded by a lady and supported
by a gentleman whose speeches gave no hint that Lady Queenie had again
and again by her caprices nearly driven the entire committee into a
lunatic asylum and had caused several individual resignations. G.J.
put the resolution without a tremor; it was impressively carried; and
Concepcion wrote down the terms of it quite calmly in her secretarial
notes. The performance of the pair was marvellous, and worthy of the
Then arrived Sir Stephen Bradern. Sir Stephen was chairman of the
French Hospitals Management Sub-committee.
"Sir Stephen, you are just too late for the resolution as to Lady
"I deeply apologise, Mr. Chairman," replied the aged but active Sir
Stephen, nervously stroking his rather long beard. "I hope, however,
that I may be allowed to associate myself very closely with the
resolution." After a suitable pause and general silence he went on:
"I've been detained by that Nurse Smaith that my sub-committee's been
having trouble with. You'll find, when you come to them, that she's on
my sub-committee's minutes. I've just had an interview with her, and
she says she wants to see the executive. I don't know what you think,
Mr. Chairman--" He stopped.
"I should have her brought in," said the lady who had previously
spoken. "If I might suggest," she added.
A boy scout, who seemed to have long ago grown out of his uniform,
entered with a note for somebody. He was told to bring in Nurse
She proved to be a rather short and rather podgy woman, with a
reddish, not rosy, complexion, and red hair. The ugly red-bordered
cape of the British Red Cross did not suit her better than it suited
any other wearer. She was in full, strict, starched uniform, and
prominently wore medals on her plenteous breast. She looked as though,
if she had a sister, that sister might be employed in a large draper's
shop at Brixton or Islington. In saying "Gid ahfternoon" she revealed
the purity of a cockney accent undefiled by Continental experiences.
She sat down in a manner sternly defensive. She was nervous and
abashed, but evidently dangerous. She belonged to the type which
is courageous in spite of fear. She had resolved to interview the
committee, and though the ordeal frightened her, she desperately and
triumphantly welcomed it.
"Now, Nurse Smaith," said G.J. diplomatically. "We are always very
glad to see our nurses, even when our time is limited. Will you kindly
tell the committee as briefly as possible just what your claim is?"
And the nurse replied, with medals shaking:
"I'm claiming, as I've said before, two weeks' salary in loo of
notice, and my fare home from France; twenty-five francs salary and
ninety-five francs expenses. And I sy nothing of excess luggage."
"But you didn't _come_ home."
"I have come home, though."
One of those members whose destiny it is always to put a committee in
the wrong remarked:
"But surely, Nurse, you left our employ nearly a year ago. Why didn't
you claim before?"
"I've been at you for two months at least, and I was ill for six
months in Turin; they had to put me off the train there," said Nurse
Smaith, getting self-confidence.
"As I understand," said G.J. "You left us in order to join a
Serbian unit of another society, and you only returned to England in
"I didn't leave you, sir. That is, I mean, I left you, but I was told
"Who told you to go?"
Sir Stephen benevolently put in:
"But the matron had always informed us that it was you who said you
wouldn't stay another minute. We have it in the correspondence."
"That's what _she_ says. But I say different. And I can prove it."