Part 2 out of 7
he was anticipating exquisite hours.
At the precise instant when he put his latchkey in the door the door was
pulled away from him by a hand within, and he saw a woman of about
thirty-five, plump but not stout, in a blue sateen dress, bonneted but
not gloved. She had pleasant, commonplace features and brown hair.
Several seconds elapsed before George recognized in her Mrs. Lobley, the
charwoman of No. 8, and when he did so he was a little surprised at her
presentableness. He had met her very seldom in the house. He was always
late for breakfast, and his breakfast was always waiting for him. On
Sundays he was generally out. If he did catch sight of her, she was
invariably in a rough apron and as a rule on her knees. Their
acquaintance had scarcely progressed far enough for him to call her
'Mrs. Lob' with any confidence. He had never seen her at night, though
upon occasion he had heard her below in the basement, and for him she
was associated with mysterious nocturnal goings and comings by the
basement door. That she should be using the front door was as startling
as that she should be so nobly attired in blue sateen.
"Good evening--Mr. Cannon," she said, in her timid voice, too thin for
her body. He noticed that she was perturbed. Hitherto she had always
addressed him as 'sir.'
"Excuse me," she said, and with an apologetic air she slipped past him
and departed out of the house.
Mr. Haim was visible just within the doorway of the sitting-room, and
behind him the table with the tea-things still on it. George had felt
considerably self-conscious in Mr. Haim's presence at the office; and he
was so preoccupied by his own secret mighty affair that his first
suspicion connected the strange apparition of a new Mrs. Lobley and the
peculiar look on Mr. Haim's face with some disagreeable premature and
dramatic explosion of the secret mighty affair. His thoughts, though
absurd, ran thus because they could not run in any other way.
"Ah, Mr. Cannon!" said Mr. Haim queerly. "You're in early to-night."
"A bit earlier," George admitted, with caution. "Have to read, you
know." He was using the word 'read' in the examination sense.
"If you could spare me a minute," smiled Mr. Haim
"Have a cigarette," said Mr. Haim, as soon as George had deposited his
hat and come into the room. This quite unprecedented offer reassured
George, who in spite of reason had continued to fear that the landlord
had something on his mind about his daughter and his lodger. Mr. Haim
presented his well-known worn cigarette-case, and then with precise and
calm gestures carefully shut the door.
"The fact is," said he, "I wanted to tell you something. I told Mr.
Enwright this afternoon, as I thought was proper, and it seems to me
that you are the next person who ought to be informed."
"I am going to be married."
"The deuce you are!"
The light words had scarcely escaped from young George before he
perceived that his tone was a mistake, and that Mr. Haim was in a state
of considerable emotion, which would have to be treated very carefully.
And George too now suddenly partook of the emotion. He felt himself to
be astonished and even shaken by Mr. Haim's news. The atmosphere of the
interview changed in an instant. Mr. Haim moved silently on slippered
feet to the mantelpiece, out of the circle of lamplight, and dropped
some ash into the empty fire-place.
"I congratulate you," said George.
"Thank you!" said Mr. Haim brightly, seizing gratefully on the fustian
phrase, eager to hall-mark it as genuine and put it among his treasures.
Without doubt he was flattered. "Yes," he proceeded, as it were
reflectively, "I have asked Mrs. Lobley to be my wife, and she has done
me the honour to consent." He had the air of having invented the words
specially to indicate that Mrs. Lobley was descending from a throne in
order to espouse him. It could not have occurred to him that they had
ever been used before and that the formula was classic. He smiled again,
and went on: "Of course I've known and admired Mrs. Lobley for a long
time. What we should have done without her valuable help in this house I
don't like to think. I really don't."
"'Her help in this house,'" thought the ruthless George, behind
cigarette smoke. "Why doesn't he say right out she's the charwoman? If I
was marrying a charwoman, I should say I was marrying a charwoman." And
then he had a misgiving: "Should I? I wonder whether I should." And he
remembered that ultimately the charwoman was going to be his own
mother-in-law. He was aware of a serious qualm.
"Mrs. Lobley has had an uphill fight since her first husband's death,"
said Mr. Haim. "He was an insurance agent--the Prudential. She's come
out of it splendidly. She's always kept up her little home, though it
was only two rooms, and she'll only leave it because I can offer her a
better one. I have always admired her, and I'm sure the more you know
her the more you'll like her. She's a woman in a thousand, Mr. Cannon."
"I expect she is," George agreed feebly. He could not think of anything
"And I'm thankful I _can_ offer her a better home. I don't mind telling
you now that at one time I began to fear I shouldn't have a home. I've
had my ambitions, Mr. Cannon. I was meant for a quantity surveyor. I was
one--you may say. But it was not to be. I came down in the world, but I
kept my head above water. And then in the end, with a little money I had
I bought this house. L575. It needed some negotiation. Ground-rent L10
per annum, and seventy years to run. You see, all along I had had the
idea of building a studio in the garden. I was one of the first to see
the commercial possibilities of studios in Chelsea. But of course I know
Chelsea. I made the drawings for the studio myself. Mr. Enwright kindly
suggested a few improvements. With all my experience I was in a position
to get it put up as cheaply as possible. You'd be surprised at the
number of people in the building line anxious to oblige me. It cost
under L300. I had to borrow most of it. But I've paid it off. What's the
consequence? The consequence is that the rent of the studio and the top
rooms brings me in over eight per cent on all I spent on the house and
the studio together. And I'm living rent free myself."
"Yes.... If I'd had capital, Mr. Cannon, I could have made thousands out
of studios. Thousands. I fancy I've the gift. But I've never had the
capital. And that's all there is to it." He smacked his lips, and leaned
back against the mantelpiece. "You may tell me I've realized my
ambitions. Not all of them, Mr. Cannon. Not all of them. If I'd had
money I should have had leisure, and I should have improved myself.
Reading, I mean. Study. Literature. Music. Painting. History of
architecture. All that sort of thing. I've got the taste for it. I know
I've got the taste for it. But what could I do? I gave it up. You'll
never know how lucky you are, Mr. Cannon. I gave it up. However, I've
nothing to be ashamed of. At any rate I hope not."
George nodded appreciatively. He was touched. He was even impressed. He
admitted the _naivete_ of the ageing man, his vanity, his
sentimentality. But he saw himself to be in the presence of an
achievement. And though the crown of Mr. Haim's achievement was to marry
a charwoman, still the achievement impressed. And the shabby man with
the lined, common face was looking back at the whole of his life--there
was something positively formidable in that alone. He was at the end;
George was at the beginning, and George felt callow and deferential. The
sensation of callowness at once heightened his resolve to succeed. All
George's sensations seemed mysteriously to transform themselves into
food for this great resolve.
"And what does Miss Haim say to all this?" he asked, rather timidly and
wildly. It was a venturesome remark; it might well have been called an
impertinence; but the mage of Marguerite was involved in all the
workings of his mind, and it would not be denied expression.
Mr. Haim lifted his back from the mantelpiece sharply. Then he
hesitated, moving forward a little.
"Mr. Cannon," he said, "it's curious you should ask that." His voice
trembled, and at the vibration George was suddenly apprehensive. Mr.
Haim had soon recovered from his original emotion, but now he seemed to
be in danger of losing control of himself.
George nervously cleared his throat and apologized.
"I didn't mean----"
"I'd better tell you," Mr. Haim interrupted him, rather loudly. "We've
just had a terrible scene with my daughter, a terrible scene!" He seldom
referred to Marguerite by her Christian name, "Mr. Cannon, I had hoped
to get through my life without a scandal, and especially an open
scandal. But it seems as if I shouldn't--if I know my daughter! It was
not my intention to say anything. Far from it. Outsiders ought not to be
troubled.... I--I like you, Mr. Cannon. She left us a few minutes ago
And as she didn't put her hat on she must be either at the studio or at
"She went out of the house?" George questioned awkwardly.
Mr. Haim nodded, and then without warning he dropped like an inert lump
on to a chair and let his head fall on to his hand.
George was frightened as well as mystified. The spectacle of the old
man--at one moment boasting ingenuously of his career, and at the next
almost hysterical with woe--roused his pity in a very disconcerting
manner, and from his sight the Lucas & Enwright factotum vanished
utterly, and was supplanted by a tragic human being. But he had no idea
how to handle the unexampled situation with dignity; he realized
painfully his own lack of experience, and his over-mastering impulse was
to get away while it was still possible to get away. Moreover, he
desired intensely to see and hear Marguerite.
"Perhaps I had better find out where she is," he absurdly suggested, and
departed from the room feeling like a criminal reprieved.
The old man did not stir.
"Can I come in?" said George, hatless, pushing open the door of the
studio, which was ajar.
There were people in the bright and rather chilly studio, and none of
them moved until the figure arriving out of the darkness was identified.
Mr. Prince, who in the far corner was apparently cleaning or adjusting
his press, then came forward with a quiet, shy, urbane welcome.
Marguerite herself stood nearly under the central lamp, talking to Agg,
who was seated. The somewhat celebrated Agg immediately rose and said in
her somewhat deep voice to Marguerite:
"I must go."
Agg was the eldest daughter of the Agg family, a broad-minded and
turbulent tribe who acknowledged the nominal headship of a hard-working
and successful barrister. She was a painter, and lived and slept in
semi-independence in a studio of her own in Manresa Road, but maintained
close and constant relations with the rest of the tribe. In shape and
proportions fairly tall and fairly thin, she counted in shops among the
stock-sizes; but otherwise she was entitled to call herself unusual. She
kept her hair about as short as the hair of a boy who has postponed
going to the barber's for a month after the proper time, and she
incompletely covered the hair with the smallest possible hat. Her coat
was long and straight and her skirt short. Her boots were high, reaching
well up the calf, but they had high heels and were laced in some
hundreds of holes. She carried a cane in a neatly gloved hand. She was
twenty-seven. In style Marguerite and Agg made a great contrast with one
another. Each was fully aware of the contrast, and liked it.
"Good evening, Mr. Cannon," said Agg firmly, not shaking hands.
George had met her once in the way of small-talk at her father's house.
Having yet to learn the important truth that it takes all sorts to make
a world, he did not like her and wondered why she existed. He could
understand Agg being fond of Marguerite, but he could not understand
Marguerite being fond of Agg; and the friendship between these two, now
that he actually for the first time saw it in being, irked him.
"Is anything the matter?... Have you seen father?" asked Marguerite in a
serious, calm tone, turning to him. Like George, she had run into the
studio without putting on any street attire.
George perceived that there was no secret in the studio as to the crisis
in the Haim family. Clearly the topic had been under discussion. Prince
as well as Agg was privy to it. He did not quite like that. He was
vaguely jealous of both Prince and Agg. Indeed he was startled to find
that Marguerite could confide such a matter to Prince--at any rate
without consulting himself. While not definitely formulating the claim
in his own mind, he had somehow expected of Marguerite that until she
met him she would have existed absolutely sole, without any sentimental
connexions of any sort, in abeyance, waiting for his miraculous advent.
He was glad that Mr. Buckingham Smith was not of the conclave; he felt
that he could not have tolerated Mr. Buckingham Smith.
"Yes, I've seen him," George answered.
"Did he tell you?"
Mr. Prince, after a little hovering, retired to his press, and a wheel
could be heard creaking.
"What did he tell you?"
"He told me about--the marriage.... And I gathered there'd been a bit of
Agg then interjected, fixing her blue eyes on George:
"Marguerite is coming to live with me in my studio."
And her challenging gaze met George's.
"Oh!" George could not suppress his pained inquietude at this decision
having been made without his knowledge. Both girls misapprehended his
feeling. "That's it, is it?"
"Well," said Agg, "what can Mr. Haim expect? Here Marguerite's been
paying this woman two shillings a day and her food, and letting her take
a parcel home at nights. And then all of a sudden she comes dressed up
for tea, and sits down, and Mr. Haim says she's his future wife. What
_does_ he expect? Does he expect Marguerite to kiss her and call her
mamma? The situation's impossible."
"But you can't stop people from falling in love, Agg, you know. It's not
a crime," said Mr. Prince in his weak voice surprisingly from the press.
"I know it's not a crime," said Agg sharply. "And nobody wants to stop
people from falling in love. If Mr. Haim chooses to go mad about a
charwoman, when his wife, and such a wife, 's been dead barely three
years, that's his concern. It's true the lady isn't much more than half
his age, and that the whole business would be screamingly funny if it
wasn't disgusting; but still he's a free agent. And Marguerite's a free
agent too, I hope. Of course he's thunder-struck to discover that
Marguerite _is_ a free agent. He would be!"
"He certainly is in a state," said George, with an uneasy short laugh.
"And why is he in a state? Because Marguerite says she shall leave the
house? Not a bit. Only because of what he thinks is the scandal of her
leaving. Mr. Haim is a respectable man. He's simply all respectability.
Respectability's his god--Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Always has been.
He'd sacrifice everything to respectability--except the lovely Lobley.
It's not respectable in a respectable family for a girl to leave home on
account of her stepmother. And so he's in a state, if you please!... If
he wanted to carry on with Mrs. Lobley, let him carry on with her. But
no! That's not respectable. He's just got to marry her!" Agg sneered.
George was startled, perhaps excusably, at the monstrous doctrine
implied in Agg's remarks. He had thought himself a man of the world,
experienced, unshockable. But he blenched, and all his presence of mind
was needed to preserve a casual, cool demeanour. The worst of the trial
was Marguerite's tranquil acceptance of the attitude of her friend. She
glanced at Agg in silent, admiring approval. He surmised that until that
moment he had been perfectly ignorant of what girls really were.
"I see," said George courageously. And then, strangely, he began to
admire too. And he pulled himself together.
"I think I shall leave to-morrow," Marguerite announced. "Morning. It
will be much better. She can look after him. I don't see that I owe any
"Yes, you do, dear," Agg corrected her impressively. "You owe a duty to
your mother--to her memory. That's the duty you owe. I'll come round for
you to-morrow myself in a four-wheeler--let me see, about eleven."
George hated the sound of the word 'duty.'
"Thank you, dear," Marguerite murmured, and the girls shook hands; they
did not kiss.
"Good night, Mr. Cannon."
Agg departed, slightly banging the door.
"I think I'll go back home now," said Marguerite, in a sweet, firm tone.
"Had they gone out?"
"Who? Your father and What's-her-name? She's gone, but he hasn't. If you
don't want to meet him to-night again, hadn't you better----"
"Oh! If she's gone, he'll be gone too by this time. Trust him!"
Mr. Prince approached them, urging Marguerite soothingly to stay as long
as she liked. She shook her head, and pressed his hand affectionately.
When George and Marguerite re-entered No. 8 by the front door, Mr. Haim
was still sitting overcome at the tea-table. They both had sight of him
through the open door of the parlour. Marguerite was obviously disturbed
to see him there, but she went straight into the room. George moved into
the darkness of his own room. He heard the voices of the other two.
"Then you mean to go?" Haim asked accusingly.
Marguerite answered in a calm, good-humoured, sweet tone:
"Of course, if you mean to marry Mrs. Lobley."
"Marry Mrs. Lobley! Of course I shall marry her!" Haim's voice rose.
"What right have you to settle where I shall marry and where I shan't?"
"I've fixed everything up with Celia Agg," said Marguerite very quietly.
"You've soon arranged it!"
No reply from Marguerite. The old man spoke again:
"You've no right--It'll be an open scandal."
Then a silence. George now thought impatiently that a great fuss was
being made about a trifle, and that a matter much more important
deserved attention. His ear caught a violent movement. The old man came
out of the parlour, and, instead of taking his hat and rushing off to
find the enchantress, he walked slowly and heavily upstairs, preceded by
his immense shadow thrown from the hall-lamp. He disappeared round the
corner of the stairs. George, under the influence of the apparition, was
forced to modify his view that all the fuss was over a trifle. He
tiptoed into the parlour. Marguerite was standing at the table. As soon
as George came in she began to gather the tea-things together on the
"I _say_!" whispered George.
Marguerite's bent, tranquil face had a pleasant look as she handled the
"I shall get him a nice breakfast to-morrow," she said, also in a
whisper. "And as soon as he's gone to the office I shall pack. It won't
take me long, really."
"But won't Mrs. Lobley be here?"
"What if she is? I've nothing against Mrs. Lobley. Nor, as far as that
goes, against poor father either--you see what I mean."
"He told me you'd had a terrible scene. That's what he said'--a terrible
"It depends what you call a scene," she said smoothly. "I was rather
upset just at first--who wouldn't be?--but ..." She stopped, listening,
with a glance at the ceiling. There was not the slightest sound
overhead. "I wonder what he's doing?"
She picked up the tray.
"I'll carry that," said George.
"No! It's all right. I'm used to it. You might bring me the tablecloth.
But you won't drop the crumbs out of it, will you?"
He followed her with the bunched-up tablecloth down the dangerous
basement steps into the kitchen. She passed straight into the little
scullery, where the tray with its contents was habitually left for the
attention of Mrs. Lobley the next morning. When she turned again, he
halted her, as it were, at the entrance from the scullery with a
"Shall you be all right?"
"How do you mean--'all right'?"
"Well, for money, and so on."
"Oh yes!" She spoke lightly and surely, with a faint confident smile.
"I was thinking as they'd cut down your prices----"
"I shall have heaps. Agg and I--why, we can live splendidly for next to
nothing. You'll see."
He was rebuffed. He felt jealous of both Agg and Prince, but especially
of Prince. It still seemed outrageous to him that Prince should have
been taken into her confidence. Prince had known of the affair before
himself. He was more than jealous; he had a greater grievance.
Marguerite appeared to have forgotten all about love, all about the
mighty event of their betrothal. She appeared to have put it away, as
casually as she had put away the tray. Yet ought not the event to count
supreme over everything else--over no matter what? He was desolate and
"Did you tell Agg?" he asked.
"Our being engaged--and so on."
She started towards him.
"Dearest!" she protested, not in the least irritated or querulous, but
kindly, affectionately. "Without asking you first? Didn't we agree we
wouldn't say anything to anybody? But we shall have to think about
He met her and suddenly seized her. They kissed, and she shut her eyes.
He was ecstatically happy.
"Oh!" she murmured in his embrace. "I'm so glad I've got you."
And she opened her eyes and tears fell from them. She cried quietly,
without excitement and without shame. She cried with absolute
naturalness. Her tears filled him with profound delight. And in the
exquisite subterranean intimacy of the kitchen, he saw with his eyes and
felt with his arms how beautiful she was. Her face, seen close, was
incredibly soft and touching. Her nose was the most wonderful nose ever
witnessed. He gloated upon her perfection. For, literally, to him she
was perfect. With what dignity and with what a sense of justice she had
behaved, in the studio, in the parlour, and here. He was gloriously
reassured as he realized how in their joint future he would be able to
rely upon her fairness, her conscientiousness, her mere pleasantness
which nothing could disturb. Throughout the ordeal of the evening she
had not once been ruffled. She had not said an unkind word, nor given an
unkind gesture, nor exhibited the least trace of resentment. Then, she
had taste, and she was talented. But perhaps the greatest quality of all
was her adorable beauty and charm. And yet no! The final attraction was
that she trusted him, depended on him, cried in his embrace.... He
loosed her with reluctance, and she deliciously wiped her eyes on his
handkerchief, and he took her again.
"I suppose I must leave here too, now," he said.
"Oh, George!" she exclaimed. "You mustn't! Why should you? I don't want
"Don't you? Why?"
"Oh! I don't! Truly. You'll be just as well looked after as if I was
here. I do hope you'll stay."
That settled it. And Manresa Road was not far off.
She sat on the table and leaned against him a long time. Then she said
she must go upstairs to her room--she had so much to do. He could not
forbid, because she was irresistible. She extinguished the kitchen-lamp,
and, side by side, they groped up the stairs to the first floor. The cat
nonchalantly passed them in the hall.
"Put the lights out here, will you, when you go to bed?" she whispered.
He felt flattered.
She offered her face.... The lovely thing slipped away upstairs with
unimaginable, ravishing grace. She vanished. There was silence. After a
moment George could hear the clock ticking in the kitchen below. He
stood motionless, amid the dizzying memories of her glance, her
gestures, the softness of her body. What had happened to him was past
belief. He completely forgot the existence of the old man in love.
George, having had breakfast in bed, opened his door for the second time
that morning, and duly found on the mat the can of hot water (covered
with a bit of old blanket) and the can of cold water which comprised the
material for his bath. There was no sound in the house. The new spouse
might be upstairs or she might be downstairs--he could not tell; but the
cans proved that she was immanent and regardful; indeed, she never
forgot anything. And George's second state at No. 8 was physically even
better than his first. In the transition through autumn from summer to
winter--a transition which, according to the experience of tens of
thousands of London lodgers, is capable of turning comparative comfort
into absolute discomfort--Mrs. Haim had behaved with benevolence and
ingenuity. For example, the bedroom fire, laid overnight, was now
burning up well from the mere touch of the lodger's own match. Such
things are apt to count, and they counted with George.
As for Mr. Haim, George knew that he was still in bed, because, since
his marriage, Mr. Haim had made a practice of staying in bed on Sunday
mornings. The scheme was his wife's; she regarded it as his duty to
himself to exercise this grand male privilege of staying in bed; to do
so gave him majesty, magnificence, and was a sign of authority. A copy
of _The Referee_, fresh as fruit new-dropped from the bough, lay in the
hall at the front door. Mr. Haim had read _The Referee_ since _The
Referee_ was. He began his perusal with the feature known as "Mustard
and Cress," which not only amused him greatly, but convinced him that
his own ideas on affairs were really very sagacious. His chief and most
serious admiration, however was kept for "Our Hand-Book." "It's my
Bible," he had once remarked, "and I'm not ashamed to say it. And there
are scores and scores of men who'd say the same." Church bells could not
be heard at No. 8. _The Referee_ lying in the hall was the gracious sign
of Sabbath morning. Presently Mrs. Haim would carry it upstairs,
respectfully. For her it was simply and unanalysably _The Referee_. She
did not dream of looking into it. Mr. Haim did not expect her to look
into it. Her mission was to solace and to charm, his alone to supply the
intellectual basis upon which their existence reposed. George's nose
caught the ascending beautiful odour of bacon; he picked up his cans and
When he was dressed, he brought forward the grindstone to the fire, and
conscientiously put his nose to it, without even lighting a cigarette.
It had been agreed between himself and Marguerite that there should be
no more cigarettes until after lunch. It had also been agreed that he
should put his nose to the grindstone that Sunday morning, and that she
should do the same away in Manresa Road. George's grindstone happened to
be Miers and Crosskey's _The Soil in Relation to Health_. He was
preparing for his Final Examination. In addition to the vast
imperial subject of Design, the Final comprised four other
subjects--Construction, Hygiene, Properties and Uses of Building
Materials, and Ordinary Practice of Architecture. George was now busy
with one branch of the second of these subjects. Perhaps he was not
following precisely the order of tactics prescribed by the most wily
tacticians, for as usual he had his own ideas and they were arbitrary;
but he was veritably and visibly engaged in the slow but exciting
process of becoming a great architect. And he knew and felt that he was.
And the disordered bed, and the untransparent bath-water, and the
soap-tin by the side of the bath, and the breakfast-tray on a chair,
were as much a part of the inspiring spectacle as himself tense and
especially dandiacal in the midst.
Nevertheless appearances deceived. On a table were the thirteen folio
and quarto glorious illustrated volumes of Ongania's _Basilica di San
Marco_, which Mr. Enwright had obtained for him on loan, and which had
come down to No. 8 in a big box by Carter Paterson van. And while George
sat quite still with his eyes and his volition centred fiercely on Miers
and Crosskey, his brain would keep making excursions across the room to
the Church of St. Mark at Venice. He brought it back again and again
with a jerk but he could not retain it in place. The minutes passed; the
quarters passed, until an hour and a half had gone. Then he closed Miers
and Crosskey. He had sworn to study Miers and Crosskey for an hour and a
half. He had fought hard to do so, and nobody could say that he had not
done so. He was aware, however, that the fight had not been wholly
successful; he had not won it; on the other hand neither had he lost it.
Honour was saved, and he could still sincerely assert that in regard to
the Final Examination he had got time fiercely by the forelock. He rose
and strolled over to the _Basilica di San Marco_, and opened one or two
of those formidable and enchanting volumes. Then he produced a
cigarette, and struck a match, and he was about to light the cigarette,
when squinting down at it he suddenly wondered: "Now how the deuce did
that cigarette come into my mouth?" He replaced the cigarette in his
case, and in a moment he had left the house.
He was invited to Mrs. John Orgreave's new abode at Bedford Park for
lunch. In the early part of the year, Mrs. John had inherited
money--again, and the result had been an increase in the spaciousness of
her existence. George had not expected to see the new house, for he had
determined to have nothing more to do with Mrs. John. He was, it is to
be feared, rather touchy. He and Mrs. John had not openly quarrelled,
but in their hearts they had quarrelled. George had for some time
objected to her attitude towards him as a boarder. She would hint that,
as she assuredly had no need of boarders, she was conferring a favour on
him by boarding him. It was of course true, but George considered that
her references to the fact were offensive. He did not understand and
make allowances for Adela. Moreover, he thought that a woman who had
been through the Divorce Court ought to be modest in demeanour towards
people who had not been through the Divorce Court. Further, Adela
resented his frequent lateness for meals. And she had said, with an
uncompromising glance: "I hope you'll turn over a new leaf when we get
into the new house." And he had replied, with an uncompromising glance:
"Perhaps _I_ shan't get into the new house." Nothing else. But that
ended it. After that both felt that mutual detestation had set in. John
Orgreave was not implicated in the discreet rupture. Possibly he knew of
it; possibly he didn't; he was not one to look for trouble, and he
accepted the theory that it was part of George's vital scheme to inhabit
Chelsea. And then Adela, all fluffiness and winsomeness, had called, in
the previous week, at Russell Square and behaved like a woman whose sole
aim in life is to please and cosset men of genius. "I shall be
dreadfully hurt if you don't come to one of my Sunday lunches, George!"
she had said. And also: "We _miss_ you, you know," and had put her head
on one side.
Marguerite had thoroughly approved his acceptance of the invitation. She
thought that he 'ought' to accept. He had promised, as she had an urgent
design to do, not to arrive at the studio before 8 p.m., and he had
received a note from her that morning to insist on the hour.
The roads were covered with a very even, very thin coating of mud; it
was as though a corps of highly skilled house-painters had laid on the
mud, and just vanished. The pavements had a kind of yellowish-brown
varnish. Each of the few trees that could be seen--and there were a
few--carried about six surviving leaves. The sky was of a blue-black
with golden rents and gleams that travelled steadily eastwards. Except
the man with newspapers at the corner of Alexandra Grove, scarcely a
sign of life showed along the vistas of Fulham Road; but the clock over
the jeweller's was alive and bearing the usual false witness. From the
upper open galleries of the Workhouse one or two old men and old women
in uniform looked down indifferently upon the free world which they had
left for ever. Then an omnibus appeared faintly advancing from the
beautiful grey distance of the straight and endless street. George
crossed the road on his way towards Redcliffe Gardens and Earl's Court.
He was very smart, indeed smarter than ever, having produced in himself
quite naturally and easily a fair imitation of the elegant figures
which, upon his visits to the restaurant-building in Piccadilly, he had
observed airing themselves round about Bond Street. His hair was smooth
like polished marble; his hat and stick were at the right angle; his
overcoat was new, and it indicated the locality of his waist; the spots
of colour in his attire complied with the operative decrees. His young
face had in it nothing that obviously separated him from the average
youth of his clothes. Nobody would have said of him, at a glance, that
he might be a particularly serious individual. And most people would
have at once classed him as a callow pleasure-seeking person in the act
of seeking pleasure.
Nevertheless he was at that moment particularly serious, and his
seriousness was growing. His secret engagement had affected him, in part
directly, and in part by the intensification of ambitious endeavour
which had resulted from contact with that fount of seriousness,
Marguerite. Although still entirely dependent--even to cigarette
money--upon the benevolence of a couple of old individuals a hundred and
fifty miles off, he reckoned that he was advancing in the world. The
Intermediate Examination was past, and already he felt that he had come
to grips with the Final and would emerge victorious. He felt too that
his general knowledge and the force and variety of his ideas were
increasing. At times, when he and Marguerite talked, he was convinced
that both of them had achieved absolute knowledge, and that their
criticisms of the world were and would always be unanswerable. After the
Final, he hoped, his uncle would buy him a share in the Lucas & Enwright
practice. In due season, his engagement would be revealed, and all would
be immensely impressed by his self-restraint and his good taste, and the
marriage would occur, and he would be a London architect, an established
man--at the mature age of, say, twenty-two.
No cloud would have obscured the inward radiance caused by the lovely
image of Marguerite and by his confidence in himself, had it not been
for those criticisms of the world. He had moods of being rather gravely
concerned as to the world, and as to London. He was recovering from the
first great attack of London. He saw faults in London. He was capable of
being disturbed by, for example, the ugliness and the inefficiency of
London. He even thought that something ought to be done about it. Upon
this Sunday morning, fresh from visions of Venice, and rendered a little
complacent by the grim execution of the morning's programme of work, he
was positively pained by the aspect of Redcliffe Gardens. The Redcliffe
Arms public-house, locked and dead, which was the daily paradise of
hundreds of human beings, and had given balm and illusion to whole
generations, seemed simply horrible to him in its Sunday morning coma.
The large and stuffy unsightliness of it could not be borne. (However,
the glimpse of a barmaid at an upper window interested him pleasantly
for a moment.) And the Redcliffe Arms was the true gate to the stucco
and areas of Redcliffe Gardens. He looked down into the areas and saw
therein the furtive existence of squalor behind barred windows. All the
obscene apparatus of London life was there. And as he raised his eyes to
the drawing-room and bedroom stories he found no relief. His eyes could
discover nothing that was not mean, ugly, frowzy, and unimaginative. He
pictured the heavy, gloomy, lethargic life within. The slatternly
servants pottering about the bases of the sooty buildings sickened and
saddened him. A solitary Earl's Court omnibus that lumbered past with
its sinister, sparse cargo seemed to be a spectacle absolutely
tragic--he did not know why. The few wayfarers were obviously prim and
smug. No joy, no elegance, anywhere! Only, at intervals, a feeling that
mysterious and repulsive wealth was hiding itself like an ogre in the
eternal twilight of fastnesses beyond the stuccoed walls and the grimy
curtains.... The city worked six days in order to be precisely this on
the seventh. Truly it was very similar to the Five Towns, and in
essentials not a bit better.--A sociological discovery which startled
him! He wanted to destroy Redcliffe Gardens, and to design it afresh and
rebuild it under the inspiration of St. Mark's and of the principles of
hygiene as taught for the Final Examination. He had grandiose ideas for
a new design. As for Redcliffe Square, he could do marvels with its
He arrived too soon at Earl's Court Station, having forgotten that the
Underground Railway had a treaty with the Church of England and all the
Nonconformist churches not to run trains while the city, represented by
possibly two per cent of its numbers, was at divine worship. He walked
to and fro along the platforms in the vast echoing cavern peopled with
wandering lost souls, and at last a train came in from the void, and it
had the air of a miracle, because nobody had believed that any train
ever would come in. And at last the Turnham Green train came in, and
George got into a smoking compartment, and Mr. Enwright was in the
Mr. Enwright also was going to the Orgreave luncheon. He was in what the
office called 'one of his moods.' The other occupants of the compartment
had a stiff and self-conscious air: some apparently were proud of being
abroad on Sunday morning; some apparently were ashamed. Mr. Enwright's
demeanour was as free and natural as that of a child. His lined and
drawn face showed worry and self-absorption in the frankest manner. He
began at once to explain how badly he had slept; indeed he asserted that
he had not slept at all; and he complained with extreme acerbity of the
renewal of his catarrh. 'Constant secretion. Constant secretion,' was
the phrase he used to describe the chief symptom. Then by a forced
transition he turned to the profession of architecture, and restated his
celebrated theory that it was the Cinderella of professions. The firm
had quite recently obtained a very important job in a manufacturing
quarter of London, without having to compete for it; but Mr. Enwright's
great leading ideas never fluctuated with the fluctuation of facts. If
the multiplicity of his lucrative jobs had been such as to compel him to
run round from one to another on a piebald pony in the style of Sir Hugh
Corver, his view of the profession would not have altered. He spoke with
terrible sarcasm apropos of a rumour current in architectural circles
that a provincial city intended soon to invite competitive designs for a
building of realty enormous proportions, and took oath that in no case
should his firm, enter for the competition. In short, his condition was
George loved him, and was bound to humour him; and in order to respond
sympathetically to Enwright's pessimism he attempted to describe his
sensations concerning the London Sunday, and in particular the Sunday
morning aspect of Earl's Court streets. He animadverted with virulence,
and brought forward his new startling discovery that London was in truth
as provincial as the provinces.
"Well, I don't think it is," said Enwright, instantly becoming a
"Why don't you?"
"Simply because it's bigger--so much bigger. That's the principal
difference, and you'll never get over it. You must appreciate size. An
elephant is a noble animal, but it wouldn't be if it was only as big as
a fly. London's an elephant, and forget it not."
"It's frightfully ugly, most of it, anyhow, and especially on Sunday
morning," George persisted.
"Is it? I wonder whether it is, now. The architecture's ugly. But what's
architecture? Architecture isn't everything. If you can go up and down
London and see nothing but architecture, you'll never be an A1
architect." He spoke in a low, kindly, and reasonable tone. "I like
London on Sunday mornings. In fact it's marvellous. You say it's untidy
and all that ... slatternly, and so on. Well, so it ought to be when it
gets up late. Jolly bad sign if it wasn't. And that's part of it! Why,
dash it, look at a bedroom when you trail about, getting up! Look how
you leave it! The existence of a big city while it's waking up--lethargy
business--a sort of shamelessness--it's like a great animal! I think
it's marvellous, and I always have thought so."
George would not openly agree, but his mind was illuminated with a new
light, and in his mind he agreed, very admiringly.
The train stopped; people got out; and the two were alone in the
"I thought all was over between you and Adela," said Mr. Enwright,
confidentially and quizzically.
George blushed a little. "Oh no!"
"I don't know what I'm going to her lunch for, I'm sure. I suppose I
have to go."
"I have, too," said George.
"Well, she won't do you any good, you know. I was glad when you left
George looked worldly. "Rum sort, isn't she?"
I'll tell you what she is, now. You remember _Aida_ at the Paris Opera.
The procession in the second act where you lost your head and said it
was the finest music ever written. And those girls in white, waving
palms in front of the hero--What's-his-name. There are some women who
are born to do that and nothing else. Thin lips. Fixed idiotic smile.
They don't think a bit about what they're doing. They're thinking about
themselves all the time. They simply don't care a damn about the hero,
or about the audience, or anything, and they scarcely pretend to.
Arrogance isn't the word. It's something more terrific--it's stupendous!
Mrs. John's like that. I thought of it as I was coming along here."
"Is she?" said George negligently. "Perhaps she is. I never thought of
her like that."
Turnham Green Station was announced.
Despite the fresh pinky horrors of its external architecture, and
despite his own desire and firm intention to the contrary, George was
very deeply impressed by the new Orgreave home. It was far larger than
the previous house. The entrance was spacious, and the drawing-room,
with a great fire at either end, immense. He had never been in an
interior so splendid. He tried to be off-hand in his attitude towards
it, but did not fully succeed. The taste shown in the decoration and
furniture was almost unexceptionable. White walls--Heppel-white;
chintz--black, crackling chintz strewn with tens of thousands of giant
roses. On the walls were a few lithographs--John's contribution to the
general effect. John having of late years begun to take himself
seriously as a collector of lithographs.
One-third of the room was divided from the rest by an arched and fretted
screen of red lacquer, and within this open cage stood Mrs. John,
surveying winsomely the expanse of little tables, little chairs, big
chairs, huge chairs, sofas, rugs, flower-vases, and knick-knacks. She
had an advantage over most blondes nearing the forties in that she had
not stoutened. She was in fact thin as well as short; but her face was
too thin. Still, it dimpled, and she held her head knowingly on one
side, and her bright hair was wonderfully done up. Dressed richly as she
was, and assisted by the rejuvenating magic of jewels, she produced, in
the shadow of the screen, a notable effect of youthful vivacity, which
only the insult of close inspection could destroy. With sinuous gestures
she waved Mr. Enwright's metaphorical palm before the approaching
George. Her smile flattered him; her frail, dinging hand flattered him.
He had known her in her harsh morning moods; he had seen that
persuasive, manufactured mask vanish for whole minutes, to reveal a
petty egotism, giving way, regardless of appearances, to rage; he
clearly observed now the hard, preoccupied eyes. Nevertheless, the charm
which she exercised was undeniable. Her husband was permanently under
its spell. There he stood, near her, big, coarsening, good-natured,
content, proud of her. He mixed a cocktail and he threw a match into the
fire, in exactly the old Five Towns manner, which he would never lose.
But as for her, she had thrown off all trace of the Five Towns; she had
learnt London, deliberately, thoroughly. And even George, with the
unmerciful, ruthless judgment of his years, was obliged to admit that
she possessed a genuine pertinacity and had marvellously accomplished an
ambition. She had held John Orgreave for considerably over a decade; she
had had the tremendous courage to Leave the heavy provincial
manufacturer, her first husband; she had passed through the Divorce
Court as a respondent without blenching; she had slowly darned her
reputation with such skill that you could scarcely put your finger on
the place where the hole had been; and lo! she was reigning in Bedford
Park and had all she wanted--except youth. Nor did she in the least show
the resigned, disillusioned air of women who have but recently lost
their youth. She bore herself just as though she still had no fear of
strong lights, and as though she was still the dazzling, dashing blonde
of whom John in his earliest twenties used to say, with ingenuous
enthusiasm, that she was 'ripping'--the ripping Mrs. Chris Hamson. An
This domestic organism created by Mrs. John inspired George, and
instantly he was rapt away in dreams of his own future. He said to
himself again, and more forcibly, that he had a natural taste for luxury
and expensiveness, and that he would have the one and practise the
other. He invented gorgeous interiors which would be his and in which he
would be paramount and at ease. He positively yearned for them. He was
impatient to get back home and resume the long labours that would lead
him to them. Every grand adjunct of life must be his, and he could not
wait. Absurd to apprehend that Marguerite would not rise to his dreams!
Of course she would! She would fit herself perfectly into them,
completing them. She would understand all the artistic aspects of them,
because she was an artist; and in addition she would be mistress, wife,
hostess, commanding impeccable servants, receiving friends with beauty
and unsurpassable sweet dignity, wearing costly frocks and jewels as
though she had never worn anything else. She had the calm power, she had
the individuality, to fulfil all his desires for her. She would be the
authentic queen of which Mrs. John was merely the imitation. He wanted
intensely to talk to her about the future.... And then he had the
seductive idea of making presentable his bed-sitting-room at Mr. Haim's.
He saw the room instantaneously transformed; he at once invented each
necessary dodge for absolutely hiding during the day the inconvenient
fact that it had to serve as a bedroom at night; he refurnished it; he
found the money to refurnish it. And just as he was impatient to get
back home in order to work, so he was impatient to get back home in
order to transform his chamber into the ideal. Delay irked him
painfully. And yet he was extremely happy in the excitement of the
dreams that ached to be fulfilled.
"Now, Mr. Enwright," said Mrs. John in an accent to draw honey out of a
boulder. "You haven't told me what you think of it."
Enwright was wandering about by himself.
"He's coming on with his lithographs," he replied, as if after a
decision. "One or two of these are rather interesting."
"Oh! I don't mean the lithographs. You know those are all Jack's
affairs. I mean--well, the room. Now do pay me a compliment."
The other guests listened.
Enwright gave a little self-conscious smile, characteristic of him in
these dilemmas, half kind and half malicious.
"You must have taken a great deal of trouble over it," he said, with
bright amiability; and then relapsing from the effort: "it's all very
nice and harmless."
"Oh! Mr. Enwright! Is that all?" She pouted, though still waving the
palm. "And you so fond of the eighteenth century, too!"
"But I heard a rumour at the beginning of this year that we're living in
the twentieth," said Enwright.
"And I thought I should please you!" sighed Adela. "What _ought_ I to
"Well, you might have asked me to design you some furniture. Nobody ever
has asked me yet." He rubbed his eyeglasses and blinked.
"Oh! You geniuses.... Janet darling!"
Mrs. John moved forward to meet Miss Orgreave, John's appreciably elder
sister, spinster, who lived with another brother, Charles, a doctor at
Ealing. Janet was a prim emaciated creature, very straight and
dignified, whose glance always seemed to hesitate between benevolence
and fastidiousness. Janet and Charles had consented to forget the
episode of the Divorce Court. Marion, however, the eldest Orgreave
sister, mother of a family of daughters, had never received the
divorcee. On the other hand the divorcee, obeying her own code, had
obstinately ignored the wife of Jim Orgreave, a younger brother, who,
according to the universal opinion, had married disgracefully.
When the sisters-in-law had embraced, with that unconvincing fulsomeness
which is apt to result from a charitable act of oblivion, Janet turned
lovingly to George and asked after his mother. She was his mother's most
intimate friend. In the past he had called her Auntie, and was
accustomed to kiss her and be kissed. Indeed he feared that she might
want to kiss him now, but he was spared. As with negligence of tone he
answered her fond inquiries, he was busy reconstructing quite anew his
scheme for the bed-sittingroom--for it had actually been an
eighteenth-century scheme, and inspired by the notions of Mrs. John!
At the lunch-table George found that the party consisted of ten persons,
of whom one, seated next to himself, was a youngish, somewhat plump
woman who had arrived at the last moment. He had not been introduced to
her, nor to the four other strangers, for it had lately reached Bedford
Park that introductions were no longer the correct prelude to a meal. A
hostess who wished to be modern should throw her guests in ignorance
together and leave them to acquire knowledge by their own initiative.
This device added to the piquancy of a gathering. Moreover, there was
always a theory that each individual was well known, and that therefore
to introduce was subtly to insult. On Mrs. John's right was a
beautifully braided gentleman of forty or so, in brown, with brown
necktie and hair to match, and the hair was so perfect and ended so
abruptly that George at first took it for a wig; but soon afterwards he
decided that he had been unkind. Mr. Enwright was opposite to this brown
Mrs. John began by hoping that the brown gentleman had been to church.
"I'm afraid I haven't," he replied, with gentle regret in his voice.
And in the course of the conversation he was frequently afraid.
Nevertheless his attitude was by no means a fearful attitude; on the
contrary it was very confident. He would grasp the edge of the table
with his hands, and narrate at length, smiling amiably, and looking from
side to side regularly like a public speaker. He narrated in detail the
difficulties which he had in obtaining the right sort of cutlets rightly
cooked at his club, and added: "But of course there's only one club in
London that would be satisfactory in all this--shall I say?--finesse,
and I'm afraid I don't belong to it."
"What club's that?" John Orgreave sent the inquiry down the table.
"Oh yes, the Orleans! I suppose that _is_ the best."
And everybody seemed glad and proud that everybody had known of the
culinary supremacy of the Orleans.
"I'm afraid you'll all think I'm horribly greedy," said the brown
gentleman apologetically. And then at once, having noticed that Mr.
Enwright was gazing up at the great sham oak rafters that were glued on
to the white ceiling, he started upon this new architectural
picturesqueness which was to London and the beginning of the twentieth
century what the enamelled milking-stool had been to the provinces and
the end of the nineteenth century--namely, a reminder that even in an
industrial age romance should still survive in the hearts of men. The
brown gentleman remarked that with due deference to 'you professional
gentlemen,' he was afraid he liked the sham rafters, because they
reminded him of the good old times and all that sort of thing.
He was not only a conscientious conversationalist, but he originated
talk in others, and listened to them with his best attention. And he
invariably stepped into gaps with praise-worthy tact and skill. Thus the
chat meandered easily from subject to subject--the Automobile Club's
tour from London to Southsea, the latest hotel, Richter, the war (which
the brown gentleman treated with tired respect, as some venerable
survival that had forgotten to die), the abnormally early fogs, and the
abnormally violent and destructive gales. An argument arose as to
whether these startling weather phenomena were or were not a hint to
mankind from some undefined Higher Power that a new century had in truth
begun and that mankind had better mind what it was about. Mrs. John
favoured the notion, and so did Miss Orgreave, whereas John Orgreave
coarsely laughed at it. The brown gentleman held the scales admirably;
he was chivalrously sympathetic to the two ladies, and yet he respected
John's materialism. He did, however, venture to point out the
contradictions in the character of 'our host,' who was really very
responsive to music and art, but who seemed curiously to ignore certain
other influences--etc. etc.
"How true that is!" murmured Mrs. John.
The brown gentleman modestly enjoyed his triumph. With only three people
had he failed--Mr. Enwright, George, and the youngish woman next to
"And how's Paris, Miss Ingram?" he pointedly asked the last.
George was surprised. He had certainly taken her for a married woman,
and one of his generalizations about life was that he did not like young
married women; hence he had not liked her. He now regarded her with
fresh interest. She blushed a little, and looked very young indeed.
"Oh! Paris is all right!" she answered shortly.
The brown gentleman after a long, musing smile, discreetly abandoned the
opening; but George, inquiring in a low voice if she lived in Paris,
began a private talk with Miss Ingram, who did live in Paris. He had his
doubts about her entire agreeableness, but at any rate they got on to a
natural, brusque footing, which contrasted with the somewhat ceremonious
manner of the general conversation. She exceeded George in brusqueness,
and tended to patronize him as a youngster. He noticed that she had
"What do you think of his wig?" she demanded in an astonishing whisper,
when the meal was over and chairs were being vacated.
"_Is_ it a wig?" George exclaimed ingenuously.
"Oh, you boys!" she protested, with superiority. "Of course it's a wig."
"But how do you know it's a wig?" George insisted stoutly.
"'Is it a wig!'" she scorned him.
"Well, I'm not up in wigs," said George. "Who is he, anyhow?"
"I forget his name. I've only met him once, here at tea. I think he's a
tea-merchant. He seemed to remember me all right."
"A tea-merchant! I wonder why Mrs. John put him on her right, then, and
Mr. Enwright on her left." George resented the precedence.
"Is Mr. Enwright really very great, then?"
"Great! You bet he is.... I was in Paris with him in the summer.
Whereabouts do you live in Paris?"
She improved, especially at the point where she said that Mr. Enwright's
face was one of the most wonderful faces that she had ever seen.
Evidently she knew Paris as well as George knew London. Apparently she
had always lived there. But their interchanges concerning Paris, on a
sofa in the drawing-room, were stopped by a general departure. Mr.
Enwright began it. The tea-merchant instantly supported the movement.
Miss Ingram herself rose. The affair was at an end. Nothing interesting
had been said in the general talk, and little that was sincere. No topic
had been explored, no argument taken to a finish. No wit worth
mentioning had glinted. But everybody had behaved very well, and had
demonstrated that he or she was familiar with the usages of society and
with aspects of existence with which it was proper to be familiar. And
everybody--even Mr. Enwright--thanked Mrs. John most heartily for her
quite delightful luncheon; Mrs. John insisted warmly on her own pleasure
and her appreciation of her guests' extreme good nature in troubling to
come, and she was beyond question joyously triumphant. And George,
relieved, thought, as he tried to rival the rest in gratitude to Mrs.
"What was it all about? What did they all come for? _I_ came because she
made me. But why did the others come?"
The lunch had passed like a mild nightmare, and he felt as though, with
the inconsequence of dream-people, these people had gone away without
having accomplished some essential act which had been the object of
When George came out of the front door, he beheld Miss Ingram on the
kerb, in the act of getting into a very rich fur coat. A chauffeur, in a
very rich livery, was deferentially helping her. Behind them stretched a
long, open motor-car. This car, existing as it did at a time when the
public acutely felt that automobiles splashed respectable foot-farers
with arrogant mud and rendered unbearable the lives of the humble in
village streets, was of the immodest kind described, abusively, as
'powerful and luxurious.' The car of course drew attention, because it
had yet occurred to but few of anybody's friends that they might
themselves possess even a modest car, much less an immodest one. George
had not hitherto personally known a single motor-car owner.
But what struck him even more than the car was the fur coat, and the
haughty and fastidious manner in which Miss Ingram accepted it from the
chauffeur, and the disdainful, accustomed way in which she wore it--as
though it were a cheap rag--when once it was on her back. In her
gestures he glimpsed a new world. He had been secretly scorning the
affairs of the luncheon and all that it implied, and he had been
secretly scorning himself for his pitiful lack of brilliancy at the
luncheon. These two somewhat contradictory sentiments were suddenly
shrivelled in the fire of his ambition which had flared up anew at
contact with a spark. And the spark was the sight of the girl's costly
fur coat. He must have a costly fur coat, and a girl in it, and the girl
must treat the fur coat like a cheap rag. Otherwise he would die a
"Hallo!" called Miss Ingram.
"Hallo!" She had climbed into the car, and turned her head to look at
him. He saw that she was younger even than he had thought. She seemed
quite mature when she was still, but when she moved she had the lithe
motions of immaturity. As a boy, he now infallibly recognized a girl.
"Which way are you going?"
"Well--Chelsea more or less."
"I'll give you a lift."
He ought to have said: "Are you sure I shan't be taking you out of your
way?" But he said merely: "Oh! Thanks awfully!"
The chauffeur held the door for him, and then arranged a fur rug over
the knees of the boy and the girl. To be in the car gave George intense
pleasure, especially when the contrivance thrilled into life and began
to travel. He was thankful that his clothes were as smart as they ought
to be. She could not think ill of his clothes--no matter who her friends
"This is a great car," he said. "Had it long?"
"Oh! It's not mine," answered Miss Ingram. "It's Miss Wheeler's."
"Who's Miss Wheeler, if I may ask?"
"Miss Wheeler! She's a friend of mine. She lives in Paris. But she has a
flat in London too. I came over with her. We brought the car with us.
She was to have come to the Orgreaves's to-day, but she had a headache.
So I took the car--and her furs as well. They fit me, you see.... I say,
what's your Christian name? I hate surnames, don't you?"
"George. What's yours?"
"What? How do you spell it?"
She spelt it, adding 'Of course.' He thought it was somehow a very
romantic name. He decidedly liked the name. He was by no means sure,
however, that he liked the girl. He liked her appearance, though she was
freckled; she was unquestionably stylish; she had ascendancy; she
imposed herself; she sat as though the world was the instrument of her
individuality. Nevertheless he doubted if she was kind, and he knew that
she was patronizing. Further, she was not a conversationalist. At the
luncheon she had not been at ease; but here in the car she was at ease
absolutely, yet she remained taciturn.
"D'you drive?" he inquired.
"Yes," she said. "Look here, would you like to sit in front? And I'll
"Good!" he agreed vigorously. But he had a qualm about the safety of
being driven by a girl.
She abruptly stopped the car, and the chauffeur swerved to the pavement.
"I'm going to drive, Cuthbert," she said.
"Yes, miss," said the chauffeur willingly. "It's a bit side-slippy,
She gave no answer to this remark, but got out of the car with a
preoccupied, frowning air, as if she was being obliged to take a
responsible post, which she could fill better than anybody else, rather
against her inclination. A few persons paused to watch. She carefully
ignored them; so did George.
As soon as she had seized the wheel, released the brake and started the
car, she began to talk, looking negligently about her. George thought:
"She's only showing off." Still, the car travelled beautifully, and
there was a curious illusion that she must have the credit for that. She
explained the function of handles, pedals, and switches, and George
deemed it proper to indicate that he was not without some elementary
knowledge of the subject. He leaned far back, as Lois leaned, and as the
chauffeur had leaned, enjoying the brass fittings, the indicators, and
all the signs of high mechanical elaboration.
He noticed that Lois sounded her horn constantly, and often upon no
visible provocation. But once as she approached cross-roads at
unslackened speed, she seemed to forget to sound it and then sounded it
too late. Nothing untoward happened; Sunday traffic was thin, and she
sailed through the danger-zone with grand intrepidity.
"I say, George," she remarked, looking now straight in front of her.
("She's a bit of a caution," he reflected happily.) "Have you got
anything special on this afternoon?"
"Nothing what you may call deadly special," he answered. He wanted to
call her 'Lois,' but his volition failed at the critical moment.
"Well, then, won't you come and have tea with Miss Wheeler and me?
There'll only be just a few people, and you must be introduced to Miss
"Oh! I don't think I'd better." He was timid.
"Why not?" She pouted.
"All right, then. Thanks. I should like to."
"By the way, what's your surname?"
("She _is_ a caution," he reflected.)
"I wasn't quite sure," she said, when he had told her.
He was rather taken aback, but he reassured himself. No doubt girls of
her environment did behave as she behaved. After all, why not?
They entered Hammersmith. It was a grand and inspiring sensation to
swing through Hammersmith thus aristocratically repudiating the dowdy
Sunday crowd that stared in ingenuous curiosity. And there was a
wonderful quality in the spectacle of the great, formidable car being
actuated and controlled by the little gloved hands and delicately shod
feet of this frail, pampered, wilful girl.
In overtaking a cab that kept nearly to the middle of the road, Lois
hesitated in direction, appeared to defy the rule, and then corrected
"It's rather confusing," she observed, with a laugh. "You see, in France
you keep to the right and overtake things on their left."
"Yes. But this is London," said George dryly.
Half a minute later, just beyond the node of Hammersmith, where bright
hats and frocks were set off against the dark-shuttered fronts of shops,
Lois at quite a good speed inserted the car between a tramcar and an
omnibus, meeting the tram and overtaking the omnibus. The tram went by
like thunder, all its glass and iron rattling and shaking; the noise
deafened, and the wind blew hard like a squall. There appeared to be
scarcely an inch of space on either side of the car. George's heart
stopped. For one horrible second he expected a tremendous smash. The car
emerged safe. He saw the omnibus-driver gazing down at them with
reproof. After the roar of the tram died he heard the trotting of the
omnibus horses and Lois's nervous giggle. She tried, and did not fail,
to be jaunty; but she had had a shock, and the proof was that by mere
inadvertence she nearly charged the posts of the next street-refuge....
George switched off the current. She herself had shown him how to do it.
She now saw him do it. The engine stopped, and Lois, remembering in a
flash that her dignity was at stake, raised her hand and drew up fairly
neatly at the pavement.
"What's the matter?" she demanded imperiously.
"Are you going to drive this thing all the way into London, Lois?" he
demanded in turn.
They looked at each other. The chauffeur got down. "Of course."
"Not with me in it, anyhow!"
She sneered. "Oh! You boys! You've got no pluck."
"Perhaps not," he returned viciously. "Neither have you got any sense of
danger. Girls like you never have. I've noticed that before." Even his
mother with horses had no sense of danger.
"You're very rude," she replied. "And it was very rude of you to stop
"I dare say. But you shouldn't have told me you could drive."
He was now angry. And she not less so. He descended, and slammed the
"Thanks so much," he said, raised his hat, and walked away. She spoke,
but he did not catch what she said. He was saying to himself: "Pluck
indeed!" (He did not like her accusation.) "Pluck indeed! Of all the
damned cheek!... We might all have been killed--or worse. The least she
could have done was to apologize. But no! Pluck indeed! Women oughtn't
to be allowed to drive. It's too infernally silly for words."
He glanced backward. The chauffeur had started the car again, and was
getting in by Lois's side. Doubtless he was a fatalist by profession.
She drove off.
"Yes!" thought George. "And you'd drive home yourself now even if you
knew for certain you'd have an accident. You're just that stupid kind."
The car looked superb as it drew away, and she reclined in the driver's
seat with a superb effrontery. George was envious; he was pierced by
envy. He hated that other people, and especially girls, should command
luxuries which he could not possess. He hated that violently. "You
wait!" he said to himself. "You wait! I'll have as good a car as that,
and a finer girl than you in it. And she won't want to drive either.
You wait." He was more excited than he knew by the episode.
"Tea is ready, Mr. Cannon," said Mr. Haim in his most courteous style,
coming softly into George's room. And George looked up at the old man's
wrinkled face, and down at his crimson slippers, with the benevolent air
of a bookworm permitting himself to be drawn away from an ideal world
into the actual. Glasses on the end of George's nose would have set off
the tableau, but George had outgrown the spectacles which had disfigured
his boyhood. As a fact, since his return that afternoon from Mrs.
John's, he had, to the detriment of modesty and the fostering of
conceit, accomplished some further study for the Final, although most of
the time had been spent in dreaming of women and luxury.
"All right," said he. "I'll come."
"I don't think that lamp's been very well trimmed to-day," said Mr. Haim
"Does it smell?"
"Well, I do notice a slight odour."
"I'll open the window," said George heartily. He rose, pulled the
curtains, and opened the front French window with a large gesture. The
wild, raw, damp air of Sunday night rushed in from the nocturnal Grove,
and instantly extinguished the lamp.
"Oh!" exclaimed Mr. Haim, rather nervously.
"Saved me the trouble," said George.
As he emerged after Mr. Haim from the dark room, he was thinking that it
was ridiculous not to have electricity, and that he must try to come to
some arrangement with Mr. Haim for the installation of electricity.
Fancy oil-lamps in the middle of London in the twentieth century! Shocks
were waiting in George's mind for Mr. Haim. He intended, if he could, to
get the room on the first floor, empty since the departure of
Marguerite, and to use it for a bedroom, while keeping the ground-floor
room exclusively for work and society. His project would involve shocks
also for Mr. Edwin Clayhanger in the Five Towns, who would be called
upon to pay; but George had an airy confidence in the ability of his
stepfather to meet such shocks in a satisfactory manner.
To George's surprise, Mr. Alfred Prince was in the sitting-room. Shabby
and creased as usual, he looked far more like a clerk in some
establishment where clerks were not morally compelled to imitate dandies
than like an etcher of European renown. But, also as usual, he was
quietly at ease and conversational; and George at once divined that he
had been invited with the object of relieving the social situation
created by the presence of the brilliant young lodger at tea. This tea
was the first meal to be taken by George with Mr. and Mrs. Haim, for he
was almost never at home on Sunday afternoons, and he was not expected
to be at home. The table showed, as Mr. Haim's nervousness had shown,
that the importance of the occasion had been realized. It was an
obviously elaborate table. The repast was ready in every detail; the
teapot was under the cosy; the cover was over the hot crumpets; Mrs.
Haim alone lacked.
"Where's missus?" asked George lightly. Mr. Haim had not come into the
"I don't know," said Mr. Prince. "She brought the tea in a minute ago.
You been working this afternoon?"
At that moment Mr. Haim entered. He said:
"Mrs. Haim isn't feeling very well. She's upstairs. She says she's sure
she'll be all right in a little while. In the meantime she prefers us to
go on with our tea."
Mr. Prince and Mr. Haim looked at each other, and George looked at Mr.
Haim. The older men showed apprehension. The strange idea of
unconquerable destiny crossed George's mind--destiny clashing ruthlessly
with ambition and desire. The three males sat down in obedience to the
wish of the woman who had hidden herself in the room above. All of them
were dominated by the thought of her. They did not want to sit down and
eat and drink, and they were obliged to do so by the invisible
volitional force of which Mr. Haim was the unwilling channel. Mr. Haim,
highly self-conscious, began to pour out the tea. Mr. Prince, highly
self-conscious, suggested that he should make himself useful by
distributing the crumpets while they were hot. George, highly
selfconscious, accepted a crumpet. Mr. Prince chatted; George responded
in a brave worldly fashion; Mr. Haim said 'Yes,' 'Ye-es,' very absently.
And then Mrs. Haim appeared smiling in the doorway. "Ah!" breathed
everybody, assuaged. "Ah!" Mr. Haim moved from in front of the tea-tray
to the next seat. Mrs. Haim was perhaps somewhat pale, but she gave a
sincere, positive assurance that she was perfectly well again.
Reassurance spread throughout the company. Forebodings vanished; hearts
lightened; gladness reigned; the excellence of crumpets became
apparent. And all this swift, wonderful change was brought about by the
simple entry of the woman. But beneath the genuine relief and
satisfaction of the men there stirred vaguely the thought of the
mysteriousness of women, of the entire female sex. Mrs. Haim, charwoman,
was just as mysterious as any other woman. As for George, despite the
exhilaration which he could feel rising in him effortless and unsought,
he was preoccupied by more than women's mysteriousness; the conception
of destiny lingered and faintly troubled him. It was as though he had
been walking on a clear path through a vast and empty and safe forest,
and the eyes of a tiger had gleamed for an instant in the bush and gone.
Not a real tiger! And if a real tiger, then a tiger that would never
recur, and the only tiger in the forest!... Yet the entire forest was
Mrs. Haim was wearing the blue sateen. It was a dress unsuited to her
because it emphasized her large bulk; but it was her best dress; it
shone and glittered; it imposed. Her duty was to wear it on that Sunday
afternoon. She was shy, without being self-conscious. To preside over a
society consisting of young bloods, etchers of European renown, and
pillars of the architectural profession was an ordeal for her. She did
not pretend that it was not an ordeal. She did not pretend that the
occasion was not extraordinary. She was quite natural in her calm
confusion. She was not even proud, being perhaps utterly incapable of
social pride. Her husband was proud for her. He looked at her earnestly,
wistfully. He could not disguise his anxiety for her success. Was she
equal to the role? She was. Of course she was. He had never doubted that
she would be (he said to himself). His pride increased, scarcely escaped
"I must congratulate you on the new front doormat, Mrs. Haim," said Mr.
Prince, with notable conversational tact. "I felt it at once in the
Mrs. Haim smiled.
"I do like a good doormat," she said. "It saves so much work, I always
think. I told Mr. Haim I thought we needed a new one, and bless me if he
didn't take me straight out to buy one."
The new doormat expressed Mrs. Haim's sole and characteristic criticism
of the organism into which she had so unassumingly entered. Secure in
the adoration of Mr. Haim, she might safely have turned the place
upside-down and proved to the Grove that she could act the mistress with
the best of them; but she changed nothing except the doormat. The
kitchen and scullery had already been hers before the eye of Mr. Haim
had fallen upon her; she was accustomed to them and had largely
fashioned their arrangements. Her own furniture, such of it as was
retained, had been put into the spare bedroom and the kitchen, and was
hardly noticeable there. The dramatic thing for her to do would have
been to engage another charwoman. But Mrs. Haim was not dramatic; she
was accommodating. She fitted herself in. The answer to people who asked
what Mr. Haim could see in her, was that what Mr. Haim first saw was her
mere way of existing, and that in the same way she loved. At her
tea-table, as elsewhere, she exhibited no special quality; she said
little; she certainly did not shine. Nevertheless the three men were
quite happy and at ease, because her way of existing soothed and
reinspired them. George especially got gay; and he narrated the
automobile adventure of the afternoon with amusing gusto. He was thereby
a sort of hero, and he liked that. He was bound by his position in the
world and by his clothes and his style to pretend to some extent that
the adventure was much less extraordinary to him than it seemed to them.
The others made no pretence. They were open-mouthed. Their attitude
admitted frankly that above them was a world to which they could not
climb, that they were not familiar with it and knew nothing about it.
They admired George; they put it to his credit that he was acquainted
with these lofty matters and moved carelessly and freely among them; and
George too somehow thought that credit was due to him and that his
superiority was genuine.
"And do you mean to say she'd never met you before?" exclaimed Mr. Haim.
"Never in this world!"
Mr. Prince remarked calmly: "You must have had a very considerable
effect on her then." His eyes twinkled.
George flushed slightly. The idea had already presented itself to him
with great force. "Oh no!" He negligently pooh-poohed it.
"Well, does she go about asking every man she meets what his Christian
"I expect she just does."
There was silence for a moment. Mrs. Haim refilled a cup.
"Something will have to be done soon about these motor-cars," observed
Mr. Haim at length, sententiously, in the vein of 'Mustard and Cress.'
"That's very evident."
"They cost so much," said Mr. Prince. "Why! They cost as much as a
house, some of them."
"More!" said George.
"Nay, nay!" Mr. Haim protested. The point had come at which his
"Anyhow, you had a lucky escape," said Mr. Prince. "You might have been
lamed for life--or anything."
"I am always lucky," said he. He thought: "I wonder whether I _am_!" He
Mrs. Haim was half-way towards the door before any of the men noticed
what she was about. She had risen silently and quickly; she could
manoeuvre that stout frame of hers with surprising facility. There was a
strange, silly look on her face as she disappeared, and the face was
extremely pale. Mr. Haim showed alarm, and Mr. Prince concern. Mr.
Haim's hands clasped the arms of his chair; he bent forward
Then was heard the noise of a heavy subsidence, apparently on the
stairs. George was out of the room first. But the other two were
instantly upon him. Mrs. Haim had fallen at the turn of the stairs; her
body was distributed along the little half-landing there.
"My God! She's fainted!" muttered Mr. Haim.
"We'd better get her into the bedroom," said Mr. Prince, with awe.
The trouble had come back, but in a far more acute form. The prostrate
and unconscious body, all crooked and heaped in the shadow, intimidated
the three men, convicting them of helplessness and lack of ready wit.
George stood aside and let the elder pair pass him. Mr. Haim hurried up
the stairs, bent over his wife, and seized her under the arms. Mr.
Prince took her by the legs. They could not lift her. They were both
thin little men, quite unaccustomed to physical exertion. Mrs. Haim lay
like a giantess, immovably recumbent between their puny, straining
"Here, let me try," said George eagerly, springing towards the group.
With natural reluctance Mr. Haim gave way to him. George stooped and
braced himself to the effort. His face was close to the blanched, blind
face of Mrs. Haim. He thought she looked very young, astonishingly young
in comparison with either Haim or Prince. Her complexion was damaged but
not destroyed. Little fluffy portions of her hair seemed absolutely
girlish. Her body was full of nice curves, which struck George as most
enigmatically pathetic. But indeed the whole of her was pathetic, very
touching, very precious and fragile. Even her large, shiny, shapeless
boots and the coarse sateen stuff of her dress affected him. A lump
embarrassed his throat. He suddenly understood the feelings of Mr. Haim
towards her. She was inexpressibly romantic.... He lifted her torso
easily; and pride filled him because he could do easily what others
could not do at all. Her arms trailed limp. Mr. Haim and Mr. Prince
jointly raised her lower limbs. George staggered backwards up the
remainder of the stairs. As they steered the burden into the bedroom,
where a candle was burning, Mrs. Haim opened her eyes and, gazing
vacantly at the ceiling, murmured in a weak, tired voice:
"I'm all right. It's nothing. Please put me down."
"Yes, yes, my love!" said Mr. Haim, agitated.
They deposited her on the bed. She sighed; then smiled. A slight flush
showed on her cheek under the light of the candle which Mr. Prince was
holding aloft. Mysterious creature, with the mysterious forces of life
flowing and ebbing incomprehensibly within her! To George she was
marvellous, she was beautiful, as she lay defenceless and silently
"Thank you, Mr. Cannon. Thank you very much," said Mr. Haim, turning to
the strong man.
It was a dismissal. George modestly departed from the bedroom, which was
no place for him. After a few minutes Mr. Prince also descended. They
stood together at the foot of the stairs in the draught from the open
window of George's room.
"Hadn't I better go for a doctor?" George suggested.
"That's what I said," replied Mr. Prince. "But she won't have one."
"Well, she won't."
The accommodating, acquiescent dame, with scarcely strength to speak,
was defeating all three of them on that one point.
"What is it?" asked George confidentially.
"Oh! I don't suppose it's anything, really."
That George should collect the tea-things together on the tray, and
brush and fold the cloth, and carry the loaded tray downstairs into the
scullery, was sufficiently strange. But it was very much more strange
that he should have actually had the idea of washing-up the tea-things
himself. In his time, in the domestic crises of Bursley, he had boyishly
helped ladies to wash-up, and he reckoned that he knew all about the
operation. There he stood, between the kitchen and the scullery,
elegantly attired, with an inquiring eye upon the kettle of warm water
on the stove, debating whether he should make the decisive gesture of
emptying the kettle into the large tin receptacle that lay on the
slop-stone. Such was the miraculous effect on him of Mrs. Haim's
simplicity, her weakness, and her predicament. Mrs. Haim was a different
woman for him now that he had carried her upstairs and laid her all limp
and girlish on the solemn conjugal bed! He felt quite sure that old Haim
was incapable of washing-up. He assuredly did not want to be caught in
the act of washing-up, but he did want to be able to say in his
elaborately nonchalant manner, answering a question about the
disappearance of the tea-things: "I thought I might as well wash-up
while I was about it." And he did want Mrs. Haim to be put in a flutter
by the news that Mr. George Cannon had washed-up for her. The affair
would positively cause a sensation.
He was about to begin, taking the risks of premature discovery, when he
heard a noise above. It was Mr. Haim at last descending the stairs to
the ground floor. George started. He had been alone in the lower parts
of the house for a period which seemed long. (Mr. Prince had gone to the
studio, promising to return later.) The bedroom containing Mr. and Mrs.
Haim had become for him the abode of mystery. The entity of the
enchanted house had laid hold of his imagination. He had thought of
Marguerite as she used to pervade the house, and of his approaching
interview with her at the Manresa Road studio. He had thought very
benevolently of Marguerite and also of, Mr. and Mrs. Haim. He had
involved them all three, in his mind, in a net of peace and goodwill. He
saw the family quarrel as something inevitable, touching, absurd--the
work of a maleficent destiny which he might somehow undo and exorcise
by the magic act of washing-up, to be followed by other acts of a more
diplomatic and ingenious nature. And now the dull, distant symptoms of
Mr. Haim on the stairs suddenly halted him at the very outset of his
benignant machinations. He listened. If the peace of the world had
depended upon his washing-up he could not have permitted himself to be
actually seen in the role of kitchen-girl by Mr. Haim--so extreme was
his lack of logic and right reason. There was a silence, a protracted
silence, and then Mr. Haim unmistakably came down the basement stairs,
and George thanked God that he had not allowed his impulse to wash-up
run away with his discretion, to the ruin of his dignity.
Mr. Haim, hesitating in the kitchen doorway, peered in front of him as
if at a loss. George had shifted the kitchen lamp from its accustomed
"I'm here," said George, moving slightly in the dim light. "I thought I
might as well make myself useful and clear the table for you. How is she
going on?" He spoke cheerfully, even gaily, and he expected Mr. Haim to
be courteously appreciative--perhaps enthusiastic in gratitude.
"Mrs. Haim is quite recovered, thank you. It was only a passing
indisposition," said Mr. Haim, using one of his ridiculously stilted
phrases. His tone was strange; it was very strange.
"Good!" exclaimed George, with a gaiety that was now forced, a bravado
"The old chump evidently doesn't like me interfering. Silly old pompous
ass!" Nevertheless his attitude towards the huffy landlord, if scornful,
was good-humoured and indulgent.
Then he noticed that Mr. Haim held in his hand a half-sheet of
note-paper which disturbingly seemed familiar. "What is the meaning of
this, Mr. Cannon?" Mr. Haim demanded, advancing towards the brightness
of the lamp and extending the paper. He was excessively excited.
Excitement always intensified his age.
The offered document was the letter which George had that morning
received from Marguerite. The missive was short, a mere note, but its
terms could leave no doubt as to the relations between the writer and
the recipient. Moreover, it ended with a hieroglyphic sign, several
times repeated, whose significance is notorious throughout the civilized
"Where did you get that?" muttered George, with a defensive menace half
formed in his voice. He faltered. His mood had not yet become
Mr. Haim answered:
"I have just picked it up in the hall, sir. The wind must have blown it
off the table in your room, and the door was left open. I presume that I
have the right to read papers I find lying about in my own house."
George was dashed. On returning home from Mrs. John's lunch he had
changed his suit for another one almost equally smart, but of Angora and
therefore more comfortable. He liked to change. He had taken the letter
out of a side-pocket of the jacket and put it with his watch, money, and
other kit on the table while he changed, and he had placed everything
back into the proper pockets, everything except the letter.
Carelessness! A moment of negligence had brought about the irremediable.
The lovely secret was violated. The whole of his future life and of
Marguerite's future life seemed to have been undermined and contaminated
by that single act of omission. Marguerite wrote seldom to him because
of the risks. But precautions had been arranged for the occasions when
she had need to write, and she possessed a small stock of envelopes
addressed by himself, so that Mr. Haim might never by chance, picking up
an envelope from the hall floor, see George's name in his daughter's
hand. And now Mr. Haim had picked up an actual letter from the hall
floor. And the fault for the disaster was George's own.
"May I ask, sir, are you engaged to my daughter?" demanded Mr. Haim,
getting every instant still more excited.
George had once before seen him agitated about Marguerite, but by no
means to the same degree. He trembled. He shook. His dignity had a touch
of the grotesque; yet it remained dignity, and it enforced respect. For
George, destiny seemed to dominate the kitchen and the scullery like a
presence. He and the old man were alone together in that presence, and
he was abashed. He was conscious of awe. The old man's mien accused him
of an odious crime, of something base and shameful. Useless to argue
with himself that he was entirely guiltless, that he had the right to be
the betrothed of either Mr. Haim's daughter or any other girl, and to
publish or conceal the betrothal as he chose and as she chose. Yes,
useless! He felt, inexplicably, a criminal. He felt that he had
committed an enormity. It was not a matter of argument; it was a matter
of instinct. The old man's frightful and irrational resentment was his
condemnation. He could not face the old man.
He thought grievously: "I am up against this man. All politeness and
conventions have vanished. It's the real, inmost me, and the real,
inmost him." Nobody else could take a part in the encounter. And he was
sad, because he could not blame the old man. Could he blame the old man
for marrying a charwoman? Why, he could only admire him for marrying the
charwoman. In marrying the charwoman the old man had done a most
marvellous thing. Could he blame Marguerite? Impossible. Marguerite's
behaviour was perfectly comprehensible. He understood Marguerite and he
understood her father; he sympathized with both of them. But Marguerite
could not understand her father, and her father could not understand
either his daughter or George. Never could they understand! He alone
understood. And his understanding gave him a melancholy, hopeless
feeling of superiority, without at all lessening the strange conviction
of guilt. He had got himself gripped by destiny. Destiny had captured
all three of them. But not the fourth. The charwoman possessed the
mysterious power to defy destiny. Perhaps the power lay in her
simplicity.... Fool! An accursed negligence had eternally botched his
high plans for peace and goodwill.
"Yes," he said. "I am."
"And how long have you been engaged, sir?"
"Oh! Since before Marguerite left here." He tried to talk naturally and
"Then you've been living here all this time like a spy--a dirty spy. My
daughter behaves to us in an infamous manner. She makes an open scandal.
And all the time you're----"
George suddenly became very angry. And his anger relieved and delighted
him. With intense pleasure he felt his anger surging within him. He
frowned savagely. His eyes blazed. But he did not move.
"Excuse me," he interrupted, with cold and dangerous fury. "She didn't
do anything of the kind."
Mr. Haim went wildly on, intimidated possibly by George's defiance, but
"And all the time, I say, you stay on here, deceiving us, spying on us.
Going every night to that wicked, cruel, shameful girl and
tittle-tattling. Do you suppose that if we'd had the slightest idea----"
George walked up to him.
"I'm not going to stand here and listen to you talking about Marguerite
Their faces were rather close together. George forced himself away by a
terrific effort and left the kitchen.
George swung round, very pale. Then with a hard laugh he departed. He
stood in the hall, and thought of Mrs. Haim upstairs. The next moment he
had got his hat and overcoat and was in the street. A figure appeared in
the gloom. It was Mr. Prince.
"Hallo! Going out? How are things?"
"Oh! Fine!" He could scarcely articulate. A ghastly sob impeded the
words. Tears gushed into his eyes. The dimly glowing oblongs in the dark
facades of the Grove seemed unbearably tragic.
No. 6 Romney Studios, Manresa Road, Chelsea, was at the end of the
narrow alley which, running at right angles to the road, had a blank
wall on its left and Romney Studios on its right. The studios themselves
were nondescript shanties which reminded George of nothing so much as
the office of a clerk-of-the-works nailed together anyhow on ground upon
which a large building is in course of erection. They were constructed
of brick, wood, waterproof felting, and that adaptable material,
corrugated iron. No two were alike. None had the least pretension to
permanency, comeliness, or even architectural decency. They were all
horribly hot in summer, and they all needed immense stoves to render
them habitable in winter. In putting them up, however, cautiously and
one by one, the landlord had esteemed them to be the sort of thing that
was good enough for artists and that artists would willingly accept. He
had not been mistaken. Though inexpensive they were dear, but artists
accepted them with eagerness. None was ever empty. Thus it was
demonstrated once more that artists were exactly what capitalists and
other sagacious persons had always accused them of being.
When George knocked on the door of No. 6, the entire studio, and No. 5
also, vibrated. As a rule Agg, the female Cerberus of the shanty,
answered any summons from outside; but George hoped that to-night she
would be absent; he knew by experience that on Sunday nights she usually
paid a visit to her obstreperous family in Alexandra Grove.
The door was opened by a young man in a rich but torn and soiled
eighteenth-century costume, and he looked, in the half-light of the
entrance, as though he was just recovering from a sustained debauch. The
young man stared haughtily in silence. Only after an appreciable
hesitation did George see through the disguise and recover himself
sufficiently to remark with the proper nonchalance:
"Hallo, Agg! What's the meaning of this?"
"You're before your time," said she, shutting the door.
While he took off his overcoat Agg walked up the studio. She made an
astonishingly life-like young man. George and Agg were now not
unfriendly; but each constantly criticized the other in silence, and
both were aware of the existence of this vast body of unspoken
criticism. Agg criticized more than George, who had begun to take the
attitude that Agg ought to be philosophically accepted as
incomprehensible rather than criticized. He had not hitherto seen her in
male costume, but he would not exhibit any surprise.
"Where's Marguerite?" he inquired, advancing to the Stove and rubbing
his hands above it.
"Restrain your ardour," said Agg lightly. "She'll appear in due season.
I've told you--you're before your time."
George offered no retort. Despite his sharp walk, he was still terribly
agitated and preoccupied, and the phenomena of the lamplit studio had
not yet fully impressed his mind. He saw them, including Agg, as
hallucinations gradually turning to realities. He could not be worried
with Agg. His sole desire was to be alone with Marguerite immediately,
and he regarded the fancy costume chiefly as an obstacle to the
fulfilment of that desire, because Agg could not depart until she had
changed it for something else.
Then his gaze fell upon a life-size oil-sketch of Agg in the
eighteenth-century male dress. The light was bad, but it disclosed the
sketch sufficiently to enable some judgment on it to be formed. The
sketch was exceedingly clever, painted in the broad, synthetic manner
which Steer and Sickert had introduced into England as a natural
reaction from the finicking, false exactitudes of the previous age. It
showed Agg, glass in hand, as a leering, tottering young drunkard in
frills and velvet. The face was odious, but it did strongly resemble
Agg's face. The hair was replaced by a bag wig.
"Who did that?"
"I did, of course," said Agg. She pointed to the large mirror at the
opposite side of the studio.
"The dickens you did!" George murmured, struck. But now that he knew the
sketch to be the work of a woman he at once became more critical,
perceiving in it imitative instead of original qualities. "What is it? I
mean, what's the idea at the back of it, if it isn't a rude question,
"Title: 'Bonnie Prince Charlie,'" said Agg, without a smile. She was
walking about, in a convincingly masculine style. Unfortunately she
could not put her hands in her pockets, as the costume was without
"Is that your notion of the gent?"
"Didn't you know I'm supposed to be very like him?" cried Agg, vain. The
stern creature had frailties. Then she smiled grimly. "Look at my cold
blue eyes, my sharp chin, my curly-curly lips, my broad forehead, my
clear complexion. And I hope I'm thin enough. Look!" She picked up the
bag wig, which was lying on a chair, and put it on, and posed. The pose
"You seem to know a lot about this Charlie."
"Well, our well-beloved brother Sam is writing a monograph on him, you
see. Besides, every one----"
"But what's the idea? What's the scheme? Why is he drunk?"
"He always was drunk. He was a confirmed drunkard at thirty. Both his
fair ladies had to leave him because he was just a violent brute. And so
on and so on. I thought it was about time Charlie was shown up in his
true colours. And I'm doing it!... After all the sugar-stick Academy
pictures of him, my picture will administer a much-needed tonic to our
dear public. I expect I can get it into next year's New English Art
Club, and if I do it will be the sensation of the show.... I haven't
done with it yet. In fact I only started yesterday. There's going to be
a lot more realism in it. All those silly Jacobite societies will
furiously rage together.... And it's a bit of pretty good painting, you
"It is," George agreed. "But it's a wild scheme."
"Not so wild as you think, my minstrel boy. It's very, much needed. It's
symbolic, that picture is. It's a symbolic antidote. Shall I tell you
what put me on to it? Look here."
She led him to Marguerite's special work-table, under the curtained
window. There, on a sheet of paper stretched upon a drawing-board, was
the finished design which Marguerite had been labouring at for two days.
It was a design for a bookbinding, and the title of the book was, _The
Womanly Woman,_ and the author of the book was Sir Amurath Onway, M.D.,
D.Sc., F.R.S., a famous specialist in pathology. Marguerite, under
instruction from the bookbinders, had drawn a sweet picture, in quiet
colours, of a womanly woman in a tea-gown, sitting in a cosy corner of a
boudoir. The volume was destined to open the spring season of a
publishing firm of immense and historic respectability.
"Look at it! Look at it!" Agg insisted. "I've read the book myself. Poor
Marguerite had to go through the proofs, so that she could be sure of
getting the spirit of the binding right. Do you know why he wrote it? He
hates his wife--that's why. His wife isn't a womanly woman, and he's put
all his hatred of her into this immortal rubbish. Read this great work,
and you will be made to see what fine, noble creatures we men are"--she
strode to and fro--"and how a woman's first duty is to recognize her
inferiority to us, and be womanly.... Damme!... As soon as I saw what
poor Marguerite had to do I told her I should either have to go out and
kill some one, or produce an antidote. And then it occurred to me to
tell the truth about one of the leading popular heroes of history." She
bowed in the direction of the canvas. "I began to feel better at once. I
got the costume from a friend of the learned Sam's, and I've ruined
it.... I'm feeling quite bright to-night."
She gazed at George with her cold blue eyes, arraigning in his person
the whole sex which she thought she despised but which her deepest
instinct it was to counterfeit. George, while admiring, was a little
dismayed. She was sarcastic. She had brains and knowledge and ideas.
There was an intellectual foundation to her picture. And she could
paint--like a witch! Oh! She was ruthlessly clever! Well, he did not
like her. What he wanted, though he would not admit it, was old Onway's
womanly woman. And especially in that hour he wanted the womanly woman.
"What's Marguerite up to?" he asked quietly.
"After the heat and the toil of the day she's beautifying herself for
your august approval," said Agg icily. "I expect she's hurrying all she
can. But naturally you expect her to be in a permanent state of waiting
for you--fresh out of the cotton-wool."
The next instant Marguerite appeared from the cubicle or dressing-room
which had been contrived in a corner of the studio to the left of the
door. She was in her plain, everyday attire, but she had obviously just
washed, and her smooth hair shone from the brush.