Part 5 out of 7
work. The forcible, gradual dragging away of his mind from its
passionately gripped objective was torture. He had an impulse to throw
down the receiver and run off.
The distant squeaking voice changed to the petulant:
"You are horrid. You could come right enough if you wanted to."
"But don't you understand? It's awfully important for me."
He was astounded, absolutely astounded. She would not understand. She
had decided that he must go to the musical comedy and nothing else
mattered. His whole future did not matter.
"Oh! Very well, then," Lois said, undisguisedly vexed. "Of course, if
you won't, you won't. But really when two girls _implore_ you like
that.... And we have to leave to-morrow, and everything's upset!... I do
think it's ... However, good night."
"Here! Hold hard a sec. I'll come for an hour or so. What's the number
of the box?"
"Fourteen," said the voice brokenly.
Immediately afterwards she rang off. George was hurt and bewildered. The
girl was incredibly ruthless. She was mad. Why had he yielded? Only a
silly conventional feeling had made him yield. And yet he was a great
scorner of convention. He went upstairs again to the perspective
drawing. He looked at his watch. He might work for half an hour before
leaving to dress. No, he could not. The mood had vanished. The
perspective had slipped into another universe. He could not even pick up
a pen. He despised himself terribly, despairingly, for yielding.
In spite of all this he anticipated with pleasure the theatre-party. He
wanted to go; he was glad he was going; the memory of Lois in the
tea-palace excited him. And he could refuse a hearing to his conscience,
and could prevent himself from thinking uncomfortably of the future, as
well as most young men. His secret, unadmitted voluptuous eagerness was
alloyed only by an apprehension that after the scene over the telephone
Lois might be peevish and ungracious. The fear proved to be baseless.
Owing to the imperfections of the club laundry and the erring humanity
of Downs, he arrived late. _The Gay Spark_ had begun. He found a
darkened auditorium and a glowing stage. In the dim box Lois and
Laurencine were sitting in front on gilt chairs. Lucas sat behind
Laurencine, and there was an empty chair behind Lois. Her gesture, her
smile, her glance, as she turned to George and looked up, were touching.
She was delighted to see him; she had the mien of a child who has got
what it wanted and has absolutely forgotten that it ever pouted,
shrieked, and stamped its foot. She was determined to charm her
uttermost. Her eye in the gloom was soft with mysterious invitations.
George looked about the interior of the box; he saw the rich cloaks of
the girls hanging up next to glossy masculine hats, the large mirror on
the wall, and mother-of-pearl opera-glasses, chocolates, and flowers on
the crimson ledge. He was very close to the powerfully built and yet
plastic Lois. He could watch her changing curves as she breathed; the
faint scent she used rose to his nostrils. He thought, with contained
rapture: "Nothing in the world is equal to this." He did not care a fig
for the effect of perspective drawings or the result of the competition.
Lois, her head half-turned towards him, her gaze lost in the sombre
distances of the auditorium, talked in a low tone, ignoring the
performance. He gathered that the sudden departure of Irene Wheeler had
unusually impressed and disconcerted and, to a certain extent, mortified
the sisters, who could not explain it, and who resented the compulsion
to go back to Paris at once. And he detected in Lois, not for the first
time, a grievance that Irene kept her, Lois, apart from the main current
of her apparently gorgeous social career. Obviously an evening at which
the sole guests were two girls and a youth all quite unknown to
newspapers could not be a major item in the life of a woman such as
Irene Wheeler. She had left them unceremoniously to themselves at the
last moment, as it were permitting them to do what they liked within the
limits of goodness for one night, and commanding them to return sagely
home on the morrow. A red-nosed actor, hands in pockets, waddled
self-consciously on to the stage, and the packed audience, emitting
murmurs of satisfaction, applauded. Conversations were interrupted.
George, expectant, gave his attention to the show. He knew little or
nothing of musical comedy, having come under influences which had taught
him to despise it. His stepfather, for example, could be very sarcastic
about musical comedy, and through both Enwright and John Orgreave George
had further cultivated the habit of classical music, already acquired in
boyhood at home in the Five Towns. In the previous year, despite the
calls upon his time of study for examinations, George had attended the
Covent Garden performances of the Wagnerian "Ring" as he might have
attended High Mass. He knew by name a considerable percentage of the
hundred odd themes in "The Ring," and it was his boast that he could
identify practically all the forty-seven themes in _The Meistersingers_.
He raved about Ternina in _Tristan_. He had worshipped the Joachim
quartet. He was acquainted with all the popular symphonies of Beethoven,
Schubert, Schumann, Mozart, Glazounov, and Tschaikovsky. He even
frequented the Philharmonic Concerts, which were then conducted by a
composer of sentimental drawing-room ballads, and though he would not
class this conductor with Richter or Henry J. Wood, he yet believed that
somehow, by the magic of the sacred name of the Philharmonic Society,
the balladmonger in the man expired in the act of raising the baton and
was replaced by a serious and sensitive artist. He was accustomed to
hear the same pieces of music again and again and again, and they were
all or nearly all very fine, indisputably great. It never occurred to
him that once they had been unfamiliar and had had to fight for the
notice of persons who indulged in music exactly as he indulged in music.
He had no traffic with the unfamiliar. Unfamiliar items on a programme
displeased him. He had heard compositions by Richard Strauss, but he
could make nothing of them, and his timid, untravelled taste feared to
like them. Mr. Enwright himself was mainly inimical to Strauss, as to
most of modern Germany, perhaps because of the new architecture in
Berlin. George knew that there existed young English composers with such
names as Cyril Scott, Balfour Gardiner, Donald Tovey--for he had seen
these names recently on the front page of _The Daily Telegraph_--but he
had never gone to the extent of listening to their works. He was
entirely sure that they could not hold a candle to Wagner, and his
sub-conscious idea was that it was rather like their cheek to compose at
all. He had not noticed that Hugo Wolf had just died, nor indeed had he
noticed that Hugo Wolf had ever lived.
Nevertheless this lofty and exclusive adherent of the 'best' music was
not prejudiced in advance against _The Gay Spark_. He was anxious to
enjoy it and he expected to enjoy it. _The Gay Spark_ had already an
enormous prestige; it bore the agreeable, captivating label of Vienna;
and immense sums were being made out of it in all the capitals of the
world. George did not hope for immortal strains, but he anticipated a
distinguished, lilting gaiety, and in the 'book' a witty and
cosmopolitan flavour that would lift the thing high above such English
musical comedies as he had seen. It was impossible that a work of so
universal and prodigious a vogue should not have unquestionable virtues.
The sight of the red-nosed comedian rather shocked George, who had
supposed that red-nosed comedians belonged to the past. However, the man
was atoned for by three extremely beautiful and graceful young girls who
followed him. Round about the small group was ranged a semicircle of
handsome creatures in long skirts, behind whom was another semicircle of
young men in white flannels; the scene was a street in Mandalay. The
red-nosed comedian began by making a joke concerning his mother-in-law,
and another concerning mendacious statements to his wife to explain his
nocturnal absences from home, and another concerning his intoxicated
condition. The three extremely beautiful and graceful young girls
laughed deliriously at the red-nosed comedian; they replied in a similar
vein. They clasped his neck and kissed him rapturously, and thereupon he
sang a song, of which the message was that all three extremely beautiful
and graceful girls practised professionally the most ancient and stable
of feminine vocations; the girls, by means of many refrains, confirmed
this definition of their status in society. Then the four of them
danced, and there was enthusiastic applause from every part of the house
except the semicircle of European odalisques lost, for some unexplained
reason, in Mandalay. These ladies, the indubitable physical attractions
of each of whom were known by the management to fill five or six stalls
every night, took no pains whatever to hide that they were acutely bored
by the whole proceedings. Self-sufficient in their beauty, deeply aware
of the power of their beauty, they deigned to move a lackadaisical arm
or leg at intervals in accordance with the respectful suggestions of the
Soon afterwards the gay spark herself appeared, amid a hysteria of
applause. She played the part of the wife of a military officer, and
displayed therein a marvellous, a terrifying vitality of tongue, leg,
and arm. The young men in white flannels surrounded her, and she could
flirt with all of them; she was on intimate terms with the red-nosed
comedian, and also with the trio of delightful wantons, and her ideals
in life seemed to be identical with theirs. When, through the arrival of
certain dandies twirling canes, and the mysterious transformation of the
Burmese street into a Parisian cafe, these ideals were on the point of
realization, there was a great burst of brass in the orchestra,
succeeded by a violent chorus, some kicking, and a general wassail, and
the curtain fell on the first act. It had to be raised four times before
the gratefully appreciative clapping would cease.
The auditorium shone with light; it grew murmurous with ecstatic
approval. The virginal face of Laurencine shot its rapture to Lucas as
she turned to shake hands with George.
"Jolly well done, isn't it?" said Lucas.
"Yes," said George.
Lucas, too content to notice the perfunctoriness of George's
affirmative, went on:
"When you think that they're performing it this very night in St.
Petersburg, Berlin, Paris, Brussels, and, I fancy, Rome, but I'm not
sure--marvellous, isn't it?"
"It is," said George ambiguously.
Though continuing to like him, he now definitely despised Everard. The
fellow had no artistic perceptions; he was a child. By some means he had
got through his Final, and was soon to be a junior partner in Enwright &
Lucas. George, however, did not envy Everard the soft situation; he only
pitied Enwright & Lucas. Everard had often urged George to go to musical
comedies more frequently, hinting that they were frightfully better
than George could conceive. _The Gay Spark_ gave Lucas away entirely; it
gave away his method of existence.
"I don't believe you like it," said sharp Laurencine.
"I adore it," George protested. "Don't you?"
"Oh! _I_ do, of course," said Laurencine. "I knew I should."
Lucas, instinctively on the defence, said:
"The second act's much better than the first."
George's hopes, dashed but not broken, recovered somewhat. After all
there had been one or two gleams of real jokes, and a catchiness in
certain airs; and the spark possessed temperament in profusion. It was
possible that the next act might be diverting.
"You do look tired," said Laurencine.
"Oh no, darling!" Lois objected. "I think he looks splendid."
She was intensely happy in the theatre. The box was very well
placed--since Irene had bought it--with a view equally good of the stage
and of the semicircle of boxes. Lois' glance wandered blissfully round
the boxes, all occupied by gay parties, and over the vivacious stalls.
She gazed, and she enjoyed being gazed at. She bathed herself in the
glitter and the gaudiness and the opulence and the humanity, as in tonic
fluid. She seemed to float sinuously and voluptuously immersed in it, as
in tepid water lit with sunshine.
"Do have a choc.," she invited eagerly.
George took a chocolate. She took one. They all took one. They all had
the unconscious pride of youth that does not know itself young. Each was
different from the others. George showed the reserve of the artist;
Lucas the ease of the connoisseur of mundane spectacles; Laurencine the
sturdy, catholic, girlish innocence that nothing can corrupt. And the
sovereign was Lois. She straightened her shoulders; she leaned
languorously; she looked up, she looked down; she spoke softly and
loudly; she laughed and smiled. And in every movement and in every
gesture and tone she symbolized the ecstasy of life. She sought
pleasure, and she had found it, and she had no afterthought. She was
infectious; she was irresistible, and terrible too. For it was
dismaying, at any rate to George, to dwell on the fierceness of her
instinct and on the fierceness of its satisfaction. To George her
burning eyes were wistful, pathetic, in their simplicity. He felt a sort
of fearful pity for her. And he admired her--she was something
definite; she was something magnificently outright; she did live. Also
he liked her; the implications in her glance appealed to him. The
peculiar accents in which she referred to the enigma of Irene Wheeler
were extraordinarily attractive to that part of his nature which was
perverse and sophisticated. "At least she is not a simpleton," he
thought. "And she doesn't pretend to be. Some day I shall talk to her."
The orchestra resumed; the lights went out. Lois settled herself to
fresh enchantment as the curtain rolled up to disclose the bright halls
and staircases of a supper-club. The second act was an amplification and
inflammation of the themes of the first. As for the music, George
listened in vain for an original tune, even for a tune of which he could
not foretell the end from the beginning; the one or two engaging bits of
melody which enlivened the first act were employed again in the second.
The disdainful, lethargic chorus was the same; the same trio of
delicious wantons fondled and kissed the same red-nosed comedian, who
was still in the same state of inebriety, and the gay spark flitted
roysteringly through the same evolutions, in pursuit of the same simple
ideals. The jocularity pivoted unendingly on the same twin centres of
alcohol and concupiscence. Gradually the latter grew to more and more
importance, and the piece became a high and candid homage to the impulse
by force of which alone one generation succeeds another. No beautiful
and graceful young girl on the stage blenched before the salacious
witticisms of the tireless comedian; on the contrary he remained the
darling of the stage. And as he was the darling of the stage, so was he
the darling of the audience.
And if no beautiful and graceful young girl blenched on the stage,
neither did the beautiful and graceful young girls in the audience
blench. You could see them sitting happily with their fathers and
mothers and cousins and uncles and aunts, savouring the spectacle from
dim stalls and boxes in the most perfect respectability. Laurencine
leaning her elbows on the ledge of the box, watched with eager, parted
lips, and never showed the slightest sign of uneasiness.
George was uneasy; he was distressed. The extraordinary juxtaposition of
respectability and a ribald sexual display startled but did not distress
him. If the whole audience was ready to stand it he certainly was. He
had no desire to protect people from themselves, nor to blush on behalf
of others--whoever they might be. Had anybody accused him of saintliness
he would have resented the charge, quite justifiably, and if the wit of
_The Gay Spark_ had been witty, he would have enjoyed it without a
qualm. What distressed him, what utterly desolated him, was the
grossness, the poorness, the cheapness, the dullness, and the
uninventive monotony of the interminable entertainment. He yawned, he
could not help yawning; he yawned his soul away. Lois must have heard
him yawning, but she did not move. He looked at her curiously,
pitifully, speculating how much of her luxury was due to Irene Wheeler,
and how little to 'Parisian' of _The Sunday Journal_--for he had been
inquiring about the fruits of journalism. The vision of his own office
and of the perspective drawing rose seductively and irresistibly in his
mind. He could not stay in the theatre; he felt that if he stayed he
would be in danger of dropping down dead, suffocated by tedium; and the
drawing must be finished; it would not wait; it was the most urgent
thing in the world. And not a syllable had any person in the box said to
him about his great task. Lois's forearm, braceleted, lay on the front
of the box. Unceremoniously he took her hand.
"You aren't going?" Her whisper was incredulous.
He gave her no chance to expostulate. With one movement he had seized
his hat and coat and slid from the box, just as the finale of the act
was imminent and the red-nosed comedian was measuring the gay spark for
new _lingerie_ with a giant property-cigar. He had not said good-bye to
Laurencine. He had not asked about their departure on the morrow. But he
In the foyer a couple--a woman in a rose plush _sortie de bal_, and a
blade--were mysteriously talking. The blade looked at him, smiled, and
left the lady.
"Hal_lo_, old fellow!" It was Buckingham Smith, who had been getting on
in the world.
They shook hands.
"You've left Chelsea, haven't you?"
"Yes," said George.
"So've I. Don't see much of the old gang nowadays. Heard anything of old
George replied that he had not. The colloquy was over in a moment.
"You must come and see my show--next week," Buck Smith called out after
the departing George.
"I will," cried George.
He walked quickly up to Russell Square, impatient to steep himself anew
in his work. All sense of fatigue had left him. Time seemed to be flying
past him, and he rushing towards an unknown fate. On the previous day he
had received an enheartening, challenging, sardonic letter from his
stepfather, who referred to politics and envisaged a new epoch for the
country. Edwin Clayhanger was a Radical of a type found only in the
Midlands and the North. For many years Clayhanger's party, to which he
was passionately faithful, had had no war-cry and no programme worthy of
its traditions. The increasing success of the campaign against
Protection, and certain signs that the introduction of Chinese labour
into South Africa could be effectively resisted, had excited the
middle-aged provincial--now an Alderman--and he had managed to
communicate fire to George. But in George, though he sturdily shared his
stepfather's views, the resulting righteous energy was diverted to
The circumstances in which, about a month later, George lunched with the
Ingram family at their flat in the Rue d'Athenes, near the Gare St.
Lazare, Paris, had an appearance of the utmost simplicity and
ordinariness. He had been down to Staffordshire for a rest, and had
returned unrested. And then Mr. Enwright had suggested that it would do
him good to go to Paris, even to go alone. He went, with no plan, but
having made careful arrangements for the telegraphing to him of the
result of the competition, which was daily expected. By this time he was
very seriously convinced that there was no hope of him being among the
selected six or ten, and he preferred to get the news away from London
rather than in it; he felt that he could not face London on the day or
the morrow of a defeat which would of course render his youthful
He arrived in Paris on a Wednesday evening, and took a room in a _maison
meublee_ of the Rue de Seze. Every inexperienced traveller in Paris has
a friend who knows a lodging in Paris which he alleges is better and
cheaper than any other lodging--and which is not. The house in the Rue
de Seze was the economical paradise of Buckingham Smith, whom George had
encountered again at the Buckingham Smith exhibition. Buckingham Smith,
with over half his pictures bearing the red seal that indicates 'Sold,'
felt justified in posing to the younger George as a cosmopolitan
expert--especially as his opinions on modern French art were changing.
George spent three solitary and dejected days in Paris, affecting an
interest in museums and architecture and French opera, and committing
follies. Near the end of the third day, a Saturday, he suddenly sent a
threepenny express note to Lois Ingram. He would have telephoned had he
dared to use the French telephone. On Sunday morning, an aproned valet
having informed him that Monsieur was demanded at the telephone, he had
to use the telephone. Lois told him that he must come to lunch, and that
afterwards he would be escorted to the races. Dejection was instantly
transformed into a gay excitation. Proud of having spoken through a
French telephone, he began to conceive romantically the interior of a
Paris home--he had seen naught but a studio or so with Mr. Enwright--and
to thrill at the prospect of Sunday races. Not merely had he never seen
a horse-race on a Sunday--he had never seen a horse-race at all. He
perhaps was conscious of a genuine interest in Lois and her environment,
but what most satisfied and flattered him, after his loneliness, was the
bare fact of possessing social relations in Paris at all.
The Ingram home was up four flights of naked oaken stairs, fairly swept,
in a plain, flat-fronted house. The door of the home was opened by a
dark, untidy, dishevelled, uncapped, fat girl, with a full apron,
dazzling white and rectangularly creased, that had obviously just been
taken out of a drawer. Familiarly and amicably smiling, she led him into
a small, modest drawing-room where were Lois and her father and mother.
Lois was enigmatic and taciturn. Mr. and Mrs. Ingram were ingenuous,
loquacious, and at ease. Both of them had twinkling eyes. Mrs. Ingram
was rather stout and grey and small, and wore a quiet, inexpensive blue
dress, embroidered at the neck in the Morrisian manner, of no kind of
fashionableness. She spoke in a low voice, smiled to herself with a
benevolence that was not without a touch of the sardonic, and often
looked at the floor or at the ceiling. Mr. Ingram, very slim and neat,
was quite as small as his wife, and seemed smaller. He talked much and
rather amusingly, in a somewhat mincing tone, as it were apologetically,
truly anxious to please. He had an extremely fair complexion, and his
youthfulness was quite startling. His golden hair and perfect teeth
might have belonged to a boy. George leapt immediately into familiarity
with these two. But nobody could have less resembled his preconceived
image of 'Parisian' than Mr. Ingram. And he could not understand a bit
whence or how such a pair had produced their daughter Lois. Laurencine
was a far more comprehensible offspring for them.
The dining-room was even less spacious than the drawing-room, and as
unpretentious. The furniture everywhere was sparse, but there were one
or two rich knick-knacks, and an abundance of signed photographs. The
few pictures, too, were signed, and they drew attention. On the table
the napkins, save George's, were in rings, and each ring different from
the others. George's napkin had the air of a wealthy, stiff, shiny
relative of the rest. Evidently in that home the long art of making both
ends meet was daily practised. George grew light-hearted and happy,
despite the supreme preoccupation which only a telegram could allay. He
had keenly the sensation of being abroad. The multiplicity of doors, the
panelling of the doors, the narrow planking of the oaken floor, the
moulding of the cornices, the shape of the windows, the view of the
courtyard from the dining-room and of attics and chimney-cowls from the
drawing-room, the closed anthracite stoves in lieu of fires, the
crockery, the wine-bottle, the mustard, the grey salt, the
unconventional gestures and smiles and exclamations of the unkempt
maid--all these strange details enchanted him, and they all set off very
vividly the intense, nice, honest, reassuring Englishness of the host
It was not until after the others were seated for the meal that
Laurencine made her appearance. She was a magnificent and handsome
virgin, big-boned, physically a little awkward, candid. How exquisitely
and absurdly she flushed in shaking hands with George! With what a
delicious mock-furious setting of the teeth and tossing of the head she
frowned at her mother's reproaches for being late! This family knew the
meaning of intimacy but not of ceremony. Laurencine sat down at her
father's left; George was next to her on Mrs. Ingram's right. Lois had
the whole of the opposite side of the table.
"Does he know?" Laurencine asked; and turning to George: "Do you know?"
"You'd better tell him, dad. You like talking, and he ought to know. I
shan't be able to eat if he doesn't. It would be so ridiculous sitting
here and pretending."
Mrs. Ingram looked upwards across the room at a corner of the ceiling,
and smiled faintly.
"You might," she said, "begin by asking Mr. Cannon if he particularly
wants to be burdened with the weight of your secrets, my dear child."
"Oh! I particularly do," said George.
"There's no secret about it--at least there won't be soon," said
Lois spoke simultaneously:
"My dear mother, please call George George. If we call him George, you
can't possibly call him Mr. Cannon."
"I quite admit," Mrs. Ingram replied to her eldest, "I quite admit that
you and Laurencine are entitled to criticise my relations with my
husband, because he's your father. But I propose to carry on my affairs
with other men just according to my own ideas, and any interference will
be resented. I've had a bad night, owing to the garage again, and I
don't feel equal to calling George George. I've only known him about
twenty minutes. Moreover, I might be misunderstood, mightn't I, Mr.
"You might," said George.
"Now, dad!" Laurencine admonished.
Mr. Ingram, addressing George, began:
"Laurencine suffers from a grave form of self-consciousness----"
"I don't, dad."
"It is a disease akin to conceit. Her sufferings are sometimes so acute
that she cannot sit up straight and is obliged to loll and curl her legs
round the legs of the chair. We are all very sorry for her. The only
treatment is brutal candour, as she herself advocates----"
Laurencine jumped up, towered over her father, and covered his mouth
with her hand.
"This simple hand," said Mr. Ingram, seizing it, "will soon bear a ring.
Laurencine is engaged to be married."
"I'm not, father." She sat down again.
"Well, you are not. But you will be, I presume, by post-time to-night. A
young man of the name of Lucas has written to Laurencine this morning in
a certain sense, and he has also written to me. Laurencine has seen my
letter, and I've seen hers. But my envelope contained only one letter.
Whether her envelope contained more than one, whether the epistle which
I saw is written in the style usually practised by the present age,
whether it was composed for the special purpose of being shown to me, I
do not know, and discretion and nice gentlemanly feeling forbid me to
At this point, Laurencine snatched her father's napkin off his knees and
put it on her own.
"However, my wife and I have met this Mr. Lucas, and as our opinion
about him is not wholly unfavourable, the matter was satisfactorily and
quickly arranged--even before I had had my bath; Laurencine and I will
spend the afternoon in writing suitable communications to Mr. Lucas. I
am ready to show her mine for a shilling, but I doubt if five pounds
would procure me a sight of hers. Yet she is only an amateur writer and
I'm a professional."
There was a little silence, and then George said awkwardly:
"I congratulate old Lucas."
"This news must have astonished you extremely," observed Mr. Ingram. "It
must have come as a complete surprise. In fact you are doubtless in the
condition known to charwomen as capable of being knocked down with a
"Oh! Quite!" George agreed.
Nevertheless, in spite of his light tone, he regretted the engagement.
He did not think Lucas was worthy of the splendid girl. He felt sorry
for her. At that moment she faced him bravely, and smiled. Her face had
a tremendous deep crimson flush. There was a woman somewhere in the
girl! Strange phenomenon! And another strange phenomenon: if Laurencine
had been self-conscious, George also was self-conscious; and he avoided
Lois's eyes! Why? He wondered whether the circumstances in which he had
come to Paris and entered the Ingram home were as simple and ordinary as
they superficially appeared.
"Laurencine," said her mother, "give your father back his serviette!"
"Never mind, my dear," said Mr. Ingram very benevolently, and he bent
down and retrieved Laurencine's napkin, which he kept. "And now," he
proceeded, "the serious operation being over and the patient out of
danger, shall we talk about something else for a few moments?"
"I should think so indeed!" Laurencine exclaimed, suddenly gay. "George,
when _shall_ you know about the competition?"
"Any minute, I might," said he.
They all talked sympathetically to George on the new subject.
After lunch, Lois disappeared. She came back resplendent for the races,
when coffee had long been finished in the drawing-room.
"Why aren't you ready, Laure?" she demanded.
"I'm not going, darling."
"Lois," Mr. Ingram exhorted, "don't forget the afternoon is to be spent
in literary composition."
"It isn't," Laurencine contradicted. "I may as well tell you I've
written all I mean to write in the way of letters for one day. But I
don't want to go, really, Lois darling."
"No. She wants to think," Mrs. Ingram explained.
Lois set her lips together, and then glimpsed herself in the large
mirror over the anthracite stove. She looked too rich and complicated
for that simple drawing-room.
A performance on a horn made itself heard in the street below.
"There he is!" said Laurencine.
She opened a window and ran out on to the balcony and leaned over; then
glanced within the room and nodded. George had assumed that Irene
Wheeler was the author and hostess of the race-party, and he was not
mistaken. Irene's automobile had been sent round to embark him and the
girls. Mrs. Ingram urged him to come again the next day, and he said
ardently that he would. Mrs. Ingram's 'affair' with him was progressing
"But I hope you'll call me George, then," he added.
"I may!" she said. "I may! I may go even further."
Lois and George descended the stairs in silence. He had not seen her,
nor written to her, since the night of the comedy when he had so
abruptly left the box. Once or twice at the Ingrams' he had fancied that
she might be vexed with him for that unceremonious departure. But she
was not. The frank sigh of relief which she gave on reaching the foot of
the interminable stairs, and her equally frank smile, had no reserve
The chauffeur's welcoming grin seemed to indicate that he was much
attached to Miss Ingram. He touched his hat, bowed, and spoke to her at
some length in French. Lois frowned.
"It seems Miss Wheeler doesn't feel equal to going out this afternoon,"
she translated to George. "But she insists that we shall use the car all
"Is she ill?"
"She's lying down, trying to sleep."
"Well, then, I suppose we'd better use the car, hadn't we?"
Lois said seriously:
"If you don't object, I don't."
At Longchamps the sun most candidly and lovingly blessed the elaborate
desecration of the English Sabbath. The delicately ornamented grand
stands, the flags, the swards, the terraces, the alleys, the booths, the
notice-boards, the vast dappled sea of hats and faces in the distant
cheaper parts of the Hippodrome, were laved in the descending, caressing
floods of voluptuous, warm sunshine. The air itself seemed luminous. The
enchantment of the sun was irresistible; it stunned apprehensions and
sad memories, obliterating for a moment all that was or might be unhappy
in the past or in the future. George yielded to it. He abandoned his
preoccupations about the unsatisfactoriness of using somebody else's car
in the absence of the owner, about Mr. and Mrs. Ingram's ignorance of
the fact that their daughter had gone off alone with him, about Lois's
perfect indifference to this fact, about the engagement of Laurencine to
a man not her equal in worth, about the strange, uncomfortable effect of
Laurencine's engagement upon his attitude towards Lois, and finally and
supremely about the competition. He gave himself up to the bright warmth
like an animal, and forgot. And he became part of the marvellous and
complicated splendour of the scene, took pride in it, took even credit
for it (Heaven knew why!), and gradually passed from insular
astonishment to a bland, calm acceptance of the miracles of sensuous
beatitude which civilization had to offer.
After all, he was born to such experiences; they were his right; and he
was equal to them. Nevertheless his conviction of the miraculous
fortunately was not impaired. What was impaired was his conviction of
his own culture. He was constantly thinking that he knew everything or
could imagine everything, and constantly undergoing the shock of
undeception; but the shock of the Longchamps Sunday was excessive. He
had quite failed to imagine the race-meeting; he had imagined an
organism brilliant, perhaps, but barbaric and without form and style; he
had imagined grotesque contrasts of squalor, rascality, and fashion; he
had imagined an affair predominantly equine and masculine. The reality
did not correspond; it transcended his imagination; it painfully
demonstrated his jejune crudity. The Hippodrome was as formalized and
stylistic as an Italian garden; the only contrasts were those of one
elegance with another; horses were not to be seen, except occasionally
in the distance when under their riders they shot past some dark
background a flitting blur of primary colours with a rumble of muffled
thunder; and women, not men, predominated.
On entering the Hippodrome George and Lois had met a group of
fashionably attired women, and he had thought: "There's a bunch of jolly
well-dressed ones." But as the reserved precincts opened out before him
he saw none but fashionably attired women. They were there not in
hundreds but in thousands. They sat in rows on the grand stands; they
jostled each other on the staircases; they thronged the alleys and
swards. The men were negligible beside them. And they were not only
fashionably and very fashionably attired--all their frocks and all their
hats and all their parasols and all their boots were new, glittering,
spick-and-span; were complex and expensive; not one feared the sun. The
conception of what those innumerable chromatic toilettes had cost in the
toil, stitch by stitch, of malodorous workrooms and in the fatigue of
pale, industrious creatures was really formidable. But it could not
detract from the scenic triumph. The scenic triumph dazzlingly justified
itself, and proved beyond any cavilling that earth was a grand,
intoxicating place, and Longchamps under the sun an unequalled paradise
of the senses.... Ah! These women were finished--finished to the least
detail of coiffure, sunshade-handle, hatpin, jewellery, handbag,
bootlace, glove, stocking, _lingerie_. Each was the product of many arts
in co-ordination. Each was of great price. And there were thousands of
them. They were as cheap as periwinkles. George thought: "This is
He said aloud:
"Seems to be a fine lot of new clothes knocking about."
Evidently for Lois his tone was too impressed, not sufficiently casual.
She replied in her condescending manner, which he detested:
"My poor George, considering that this is the opening of the spring
season, and the place where all the new spring fashions are tried
out--what did you expect?"
The dolt had not known that he was assisting at a solemnity recognized
as such by experts throughout the clothed world. But Lois knew all those
things. She herself was trying out a new toilette, for which doubtless
Irene Wheeler was partly sponsor. She could hold her own on the terraces
with the rest. She was staggeringly different now from the daughter of
the simple home in the Rue d'Athenes.
The eyes of the splendid women aroused George's antipathy, because he
seemed to detect antipathy in them--not against himself but against the
male in him. These women, though by their glances they largely
mistrusted and despised each other, had the air of having combined
sexually against a whole sex. The situation was very contradictory. They
had beautified and ornamented themselves in order to attract a whole
sex, and yet they appeared to resent the necessity and instinct to
attract. They submitted with a secret repugnance to the mysterious and
supreme bond which kept the sexes inexorably together. And while
stooping to fascinate, while deliberately seeking attention, they still
had the assured mien of conquerors. Their eyes said that they knew they
were indispensable, that they had a transcendent role to play, that no
concealed baseness of the inimical sex was hidden from them, and that
they meant to exploit their position to the full. These Latin women
exhibited a logic, an elegance, and a frankness beyond the reach of the
Anglo-Saxon. Their eyes said not that they had been disillusioned, but
rather that they had never had illusions. They admitted the facts; they
admitted everything--economic dependence, chicane, the intention to
seize every advantage, ruthless egotism. They had no shame for a
depravity which they shared equally with the inescapable and cherished
enemy And it was the youngest who, beneath the languishing and the
softness and the invitation deceitful and irresistible, gazed outmost
triumphantly to the enemy: "You are the victims. We have tried our
strength and your infirmity." They were heroic. There was a feeling in
the bright air of melancholy and doom as the two hostile forces,
inseparable, inextricably involved together, surveyed the opponent in
the everlasting conflict. George felt its influence upon himself, upon
Lois, upon the whole scene. The eyes of the most feminine women in the
world, denying their smiles and their lure, had discovered to him
something which marked a definite change in his estimate of certain
ultimate earthly values.
"Perhaps a telegram is waiting for you at the hotel."
"Well, I can wait till I get back," he replied stoutly.
He thought, looking at her by his side:
"She is just like these Frenchwomen!" And for some reason he felt proud.
"You needn't," said Lois, "We can telephone from under the grand stand
if you like."
"But I don't know the number."
"We can get that out of the book, of course."
"I don't reckon I can use these French telephones."
"Oh! My poor boy, I'll telephone for you--unless you prefer not to risk
knowing the worst."
Yes, her tone was the tone of a strange woman. And it was she who
thirsted for the result of the competition.
Controlling himself, submissively he asked her to telephone for him, and
she agreed in a delightfully agreeable voice. She seemed to know the
entire geography of the Hippodrome. She secured a telephone-cabin in a
very business-like manner. As she entered the cabin she said to George:
"I'll ask them if a telegram has come, and if it has I'll ask them to
open it and read it to me, or spell it--of course it'll be in
Through the half-open door of the cabin he watched her, and listened.
She rapidly turned over the foul and torn pages of the telephone-book
with her thumb. She spoke into the instrument very clearly, curtly, and
authoritatively. George could translate in his mind what she said--his
great resolve to learn French had carried him so far.
"On the part of Monsieur Cannon, one of your clients, Monsieur Cannon of
London. Has there arrived a telegram for him?"
She waited. The squalor of the public box increased the effect of her
young and proud stylishness and of her perfume. George waited, humbled
by her superior skill in the arts of life, and saying anxiously to
himself: "Perhaps in a moment I shall know the result," almost
She hung up the instrument, and, with a glance at George, shook her
"There isn't anything," she murmured.
"It's very queer, isn't it? However..."
As they emerged from the arcana of the grand stand, Lois was stopped by
a tall, rather handsome Jew, who, saluting her with what George esteemed
to be French exaggeration of gesture, nevertheless addressed her in a
confidential tone in English. George, having with British restraint
acknowledged the salute, stood aside, and gazed discreetly away from the
pair. He could not hear what was being said. After several minutes Lois
rejoined George, and they went back into the crowds and the sun. She did
not speak. She did not utter one word. Only, when the numbers went up
for a certain race, she remarked:
"This is the Prix du Cadran. It's the principal race of the afternoon."
And when that was over, amid cheering that ran about the field like fire
through dried bush, she added:
"I think I ought to go back now. I told the chauffeur to be here after
the Prix du Cadran. What time is it exactly?"
They sat side by side in the long, open car, facing the chauffeur's
creaseless back. After passing the Cascade, the car swerved into the
Allee de Longchamps which led in an absolutely straight line, two miles
long, to the Port Maillot and the city. Spring decorated the magnificent
wooded thoroughfare. The side-alleys, aisles of an interminable nave,
were sprinkled with revellers and lovers and the most respectable
families half hidden amid black branches and gleams of tender green.
Automobiles and carriages threaded the main alley at varying speeds. The
number of ancient horse-cabs gradually increased until, after the
intersection of the Allee de la Reine Marguerite, they thronged the vast
road. All the humble and shabby genteel people in Paris who could
possibly afford a cab seemed to have taken a cab. Nearly every cab was
overloaded. The sight of this vast pathetic effort of the disinherited
towards gaiety and distraction and the mood of spring, intensified the
vague sadness in George due to the race-crowd, Lois's silence, and the
lack of news about the competition.
At length Lois said, scowling--no doubt involuntarily:
"I think I'd better tell you now. Irene Wheeler's committed suicide.
Shot herself." She pressed her lips together and looked at the road.
George gave a startled exclamation. He could not for an instant credit
the astounding news.
"But how do you know? Who told you?"
"The man who spoke to me in the grand stand. He's correspondent of _The
London Courier_--friend of father's of course."
"Then why on earth didn't you tell me before?... Shot herself! What
"I didn't tell you before because I couldn't."
All the violence of George's nature came to the surface as he said
"Of course you could!"
"I tell you I couldn't!" she cried. "I knew the car wouldn't be there
for us until after the Prix du Cadran. And if I'd told you I couldn't
have borne to be walking about that place three-quarters of an hour. We
should have had to talk about it. I couldn't have borne that. And so you
needn't be cross, please."
But her voice did not break, nor her eyes shine.
"I was wondering whether I should tell the chauffeur at once, or let him
find it out."
"I should let him find it out," said George. "He doesn't know that you
know. Besides, it might upset his driving."
"Oh! I shouldn't mind about his driving," Lois murmured disdainfully.
When the uninformed chauffeur drove the car with a grand sweep under the
marquise of the ostentatious pale yellow block in the Avenue Hoche where
Irene Wheeler had had her flat, Mr. Ingram and a police-agent were
standing on the steps, but nobody else was near. Little Mr. Ingram came
forward anxiously, his eyes humid, and his face drawn with pain and
"We know," said Lois. "I met Mr. Cardow at Longchamps. He knew."
Mr. Ingram's pain and distress seemed to increase.
He said, after a moment:
"Alfred will drive you home, dear, at once. _Alfred, vous seriez gentil
de reconduire Mademoiselle a la rue d'Athenes."_ He had the air of
supplicating the amiable chauffeur. "Mr. Cannon, I particularly want a
few words with you."
"But, father, I must come in!" said Lois. "I must----"
"You will go home immediately. Please, please do not add to my
difficulties. I shall come home myself as quickly as possible. You can
do nothing here. The seals have been affixed."
Lois raised her chin in silence.
Then Mr. Ingram turned to the police-agent, spoke to him in French, and
pointed to the car persuasively; and the police-agent permissively
nodded. The chauffeur, with an affectation of detachment worthy of the
greatest days of valetry, drove off, leaving George behind. Mr. Ingram
descended the steps.
"I think, perhaps, we might go to a cafe," said he in a tone which
dispersed George's fear of a discussion as to the propriety of the
unchaperoned visit to the races.
They sat down on the _terrasse_ of a large cafe near the Place des
Ternes, a few hundred yards away from the Avenue Hoche. The cafe was
nearly empty, citizens being either in the Bois or on the main
boulevards. Mr. Ingram sadly ordered bocks. The waiter, flapping his
long apron, called out in a loud voice as he went within: "_Deux blonds,
deux._" George supplied cigarettes.
"Mr. Cannon," began Mr. Ingram, "it is advisable for me to tell you a
most marvellous and painful story. I have only just heard it. It has
overwhelmed me, but I must do my duty." He paused.
"Certainly," said George self-consciously, not knowing what to say. He
nearly blushed as, in an attempt to seem at ease, he gazed negligently
round at the rows of chairs and marble tables, and at the sparse traffic
of the somnolent Place.
Mr. Ingram proceeded.
"When I first knew Irene Wheeler she was an art student here. So was I.
But I was already married, of course, and older than she. Exactly what
her age was I should not care to say. I can, however, say quite
truthfully that her appearance has scarcely altered in those nineteen
years. She always affirmed that her relatives, in Indianapolis, were
wealthy--or at least had money, but that they were very mean with her.
She lived in the simplest way. As for me, I had to give up art for
something less capricious, but capricious enough in all conscience. Miss
Wheeler went to America and was away for some time--a year or two. When
she came back to Paris she told us that she had made peace with her
people, and that her uncle, whom for present purposes I will call Mr. X,
a very celebrated railway magnate of Indianapolis, had adopted her. Her
new manner of life amply confirmed these statements."
"_Deux bocks_," cried the waiter, slapping down on the table two saucers
and two stout glass mugs filled with frothing golden liquid.
George, unaccustomed to the ritual of cafes, began at once to sip, but
Mr. Ingram, aware that the true boulevardier always ignores his bock for
several minutes, behaved accordingly.
"She was evidently extremely rich. I have had some experience, and I
estimate that she had the handling of at least half a million francs a
year. She seemed to be absolutely her own mistress. You have had an
opportunity of judging her style of existence. However, her attitude
towards ourselves was entirely unchanged. She remained intimate with my
wife, who, I may say, is an excellent judge of character, and she was
exceedingly kind to our girls, especially Lois--but Laurencine too--and
as they grew up she treated them like sisters. Now, Mr. Cannon, I shall
be perfectly frank with you. I shall not pretend that I was not rather
useful to Miss Wheeler--I mean in the Press. She had social ambitions.
And why not? One may condescend towards them, but do they not serve a
purpose in the structure of society? Very rich as she was, it was easy
for me to be useful to her. And at worst her pleasure in publicity was
quite innocent--indeed, it was so innocent as to be charming. Naive,
shall we call it?"
Here Mr. Ingram smiled sadly, tasted his bock, and threw away the end of
"Well," he resumed, "I am coming to the point. This is the point, which
I have learnt scarcely an hour ago--I was called up on the telephone
immediately after you and Lois had gone. This is the point. Mr. X was
not poor Irene's uncle, and he had not adopted her. But it was his money
that she was spending." Mr. Ingram gazed fixedly at George.
"I see," said George calmly, rising to the role of man of the world. "I
see." He had strange mixed sensations of pleasure, pride, and confusion.
"And you've just found this out?"
"I have just found it out from Mr. X himself, whom I met for the first
time to-day--in poor Irene's flat. I never assisted at such a scene.
Never! It positively unnerved me. Mr. X is a man of fifty-five,
fabulously wealthy, used to command, autocratic, famous in all the Stock
Exchanges of the world. When I tell you that he cried like a child ...
Oh! I never had such an experience. His infatuation for
Irene--indescribable! Indescribable! She had made her own terms with
him. He told me himself. Astounding terms, but for him it was those
terms or nothing. He accepted them--had to. She was to be quite free.
The most absolute discretion was to be observed. He came to Paris or
London every year, and sometimes she went to America. She utterly
refused to live in America."
"Why didn't she marry him?"
"He has a wife. I have no doubt in my own mind that one of his reasons
for accepting her extraordinary terms was to keep in close touch with
her at all costs in case his wife should die. Otherwise he might have
lost her altogether. He told me many things about poor Irene's family in
Indianapolis which I will not repeat. It was true that they had money,
as Irene said; but as for anything else ...! The real name was not
"Has he been over, here long?"
"He landed at Cherbourg last night. Just arrived."
"And she killed herself at once."
"Whether the deed was done immediately before or immediately after his
arrival is not yet established. And I need hardly tell you that Mr. X
has already fixed up arrangements not to appear in the case at all. But
one thing is sure--she had made all the preparations for suicide, made
them with the greatest care. The girls saw her yesterday, and both Lois
and I spoke to her on the telephone this morning. Not a trace of
anything in her voice. I assume she had given a message for Lois to the
"Yes," said George. "We never dreamed----"
"Of course not. Of course not."
"But why did she----"
"Another man, my dear sir! Another man! A young man named
Defourcambault, in the French Embassy in London."
"Oh, him!" George burst out. "I know him," he added fiercely.
"You do? Yes, I remember Laurencine saying.... Poor Irene, I fear, was
very deeply in love with him. She had written to Mr. X about
Defourcambault. He showed me the letter--most touching, really most
touching. His answer to it was to come to Europe at once. But poor
Irene's death had nothing to do with his coming. She did not know he was
coming. She shot herself as she lay in bed, and on the pillow was a
letter from this man Defourcambault--well, saying good-bye to her. I saw
the letter. Not a letter that I should wish to remember. Perhaps she had
told him something of her life. I much fear that Defourcambault will be
fetched from London, though I hope not. There would be no object.... No,
thank you. I will not smoke again. I only wanted to say this to you. All
Paris knows that my daughters were intimate with poor Irene. Now, if
anything comes out, if anything _should_ come out, if there's any
talk--you see my fear. I wish to assure you, Mr. Cannon, that I had not
the slightest suspicion, not the slightest. And yet we journalists
cannot exactly be called ingenuous! But I had not the slightest
suspicion, nor had my wife. You know the situation between Laurencine
and your friend Lucas. You and he are very intimate, I believe. May I
count on you to explain everything from my point of view to Mr. Lucas? I
could not bear that the least cloud should rest upon my little
"You needn't trouble about Lucas," said George positively. "Lucas 'll be
all right. Still, I'll talk to him."
"Thank you very much. Thank you very much. I knew I could rely on you.
I've kept you a long time, but I'm sure you understand. I'm thinking
only of my girls. Not for anything would I have them know the truth
about the affair."
"But aren't they bound to know it?" George asked.
Mr. Ingram was wounded. "I hope not. I hope not," he said gravely. "It
is not right that young girls should know such things."
"But surely, sooner or later----"
"Ah! After they are married, conceivably. That would be quite
different," he admitted, with cheerfulness. "And now," he smiled, "I'm
afraid I've got to go and write the case up for London. I can catch the
mail, I think. If not, I must cable. But they hate me to cable when the
mail is possible. Can I drop you anywhere?"
Simultaneously he signalled to a taxi and knocked on the window for the
attendance of the waiter.
"Thanks. If you're going anywhere near the Place de l'Opera," said
He was excited, rather than saddened, by the tragic event. He was indeed
very excited. And also he had a deep satisfaction, because it seemed to
him that he had at last been truly admitted into the great secret
fellowship of adult males. The initiation flattered his pride. He left
Mr. Ingram at the door of an English newspaper office in the Boulevard
des Italiens, and, after vainly asking for telegrams at the hotel,
walked away, aimlessly at first, along broad pavements encumbered with
the chairs and tables of vast, crowded cafes, and with bright Sunday
idlers and sinister street-vendors. But in a moment he had decided that
he must and ought to pay a call in the Rue d'Athenes. Mr. Ingram had
said nothing about his seeing Lois again, had not referred to Mrs.
Ingram's invitation to repeat his visit, might even vaguely object to an
immediate interview between him and Lois. Yet he could not, as a man of
the world, abandon Lois so unceremoniously. He owed something to Lois
and he owed something to himself. And he was a free adult. The call was
natural and necessary, and if Mr. Ingram did not like it he must, in the
Five Towns phrase, lump it. George set off to find the Rue d'Athenes
unguided. It was pleasurable to think that there was a private abode in
the city of cafes, hotels, and museums to which he had the social right
The watching concierge of the house nodded to him politely as he began
to mount the stairs. The Ingrams' servant smiled upon him as upon an old
and familiarly respected friend.
"Mademoiselle Lois?" he said, with directness.
The slatternly, benevolent girl widened her mouth still further in a
smile still more cordial, and led him to the drawing-room. As she did so
she picked up a newspaper packet that lay on a table in the tiny hall,
and, without putting it on a salver, deposited it in front of Lois, who
was alone in the drawing-room. George wondered what Lois would have
thought of such an outrage upon established ritual had it happened to
her in the home of Irene Wheeler instead of in her own; and then the
imagined vision of Irene lying dead in the sumptuous home in the Avenue
Hoche seemed to render all established ritual absurd.
"So you've come!" exclaimed Lois harshly. "Mother's quite knocked over,
and Laurencine's looking after her. All the usual eau-de-Cologne
business. And I should say father's not much better. My poor parents!
What did dad want you for?"
The servant had closed the door. Lois had got up from her chair and was
walking about the room, pulling aside a curtain and looking out, tapping
the mantelpiece with her hand, tapping with her feet the base of the
stove, George had the sensation of being locked in a cage with a
mysterious, incalculable, and powerful animal. He was fascinated. He
thought: "I wanted to see her alone and I am seeing her alone!"
"Well?" she insisted. "What did dad want you for?"
"Oh! He told me a few things about Miss Wheeler."
"I suppose he told you about Jules, and I suppose he told you I wasn't
to know on any account! Poor old dad! Instead of feeling he's my father,
d'you know what I feel? I feel as if I was his mother. He's _so_ clever;
he's frightfully clever; but he was never meant for this world. He's
just a beautiful child. How in Heaven's name could he think that a girl
like me could be intimate with Irene, and not know about the things that
were in her mind? How could he? Why! I've talked for hours with Irene
about Jules! She'd much sooner talk with me even than with mother. She's
cried in front of me. But I never cried. I always told her she was
making a mistake about Jules. I detested the little worm. But she
couldn't see it. No, she couldn't. She'd have quarrelled with me if I'd
let her quarrel. However, I wouldn't let her. Fancy quarrelling--over a
man! She couldn't help being mad over Jules. I told her she
couldn't--that was why I bore with her. I always told her he was only
playing with her. The one thing that I didn't tell her was that she was
too old for him. She really believed she never got any older. When I say
too old for him, I mean for her sake, not for his. He didn't think she
was too old. He couldn't--with that complexion of hers. I never envied
her anything else except her complexion and her money. But he wouldn't
marry an American. His people wouldn't let him. He's got to marry into a
family like his own, and there're only about ten for him to choose from.
I know she wrote to him on Thursday. She must have had the answer this
morning. Of course she had a revolver. I've got one myself. She went to
bed and did it. She used to say to me that if ever she did it that was
how she would do it.... And father tells me not to add to his
difficulties! Don't you think it's comic?... But she never told me
everything. I knew that. I accused her of it. She admitted it.
Lois spoke in a low, regular murmur, experimentally aware that privacy
in a Paris flat is relative. There were four doors in the walls of the
drawing-room, and a bedroom on either side. At moments George could
scarcely catch her words. He had never heard her say so much at once,
for she was taciturn by habit, even awkward in conversation. She
glowered at him darkly. The idea flashed through his mind: "There can't
be another girl like her. She's unique." He almost trembled at the
revelation. He was afraid, and yet courageous, challenging, combative.
She had grandeur. It might be moral, or not; but it was grandeur.
And--(that touch about the complexion!)--she could remember her
freckles! She might, in her hard egotism, in the rushing impulses of her
appetites--she might be an enemy, an enemy to close with whom would be
terrible rapture, and the war of the sexes was a sublime war, infinitely
superior in emotions to tame peace. (And had she not been certified an
angel? Had he not himself seen the angel in her?) She dwarfed her father
and mother. The conception, especially, of Mr. Ingram at lunch,
deliciously playful and dominating, and now with the adroit wit crushed
out of him and only a naive sentimentality left, was comic--as she had
ruthlessly characterized it. She alone towered formidably over the
devastated ruins of Irene's earthly splendour.
He said nothing.
She rang the bell by the mantelpiece. He heard it ring. No answer. She
"_Arrivez donc, jeune fille!_" she exclaimed impatiently.
The servant came.
"_Apportez du the, Seraphine._"
Then Lois lounged towards the table and tore sharply the wrapper of the
newspaper. George was still standing.
"He's probably got something in about her this week--about her soiree
last Tuesday. We weren't invited. Of course he went."
George saw the name the _Sunday Journal_. The paper had come by the
afternoon mail, and had been delivered, according to weekly custom, by
messenger from Mr. Ingram's office. Lois's tone and attitude tore
fatally the whole factitious 'Parisian' tradition, as her hand had torn
"See here," she said quietly, after a few seconds, and gave the
newspaper with her thumb indicating a paragraph.
He could hardly read the heading, because it unnerved him; nor the
opening lines. But he read this: "The following six architects have been
selected by the Assessors and will be immediately requested by the
Corporation to submit final designs for the town hall: Mr. Whinburn,
Mr.... Mr.... Mr. George E. Cannon ..."
"What did I always tell you?" she said.
And then she said:
"Your telegram must have been addressed wrong, or something."
He sat down. Once again he was afraid. He was afraid of winning in the
final competition. A vista of mayors, corporations, town clerks,
committees, contractors, clerks-of-works, frightened him. He was afraid
of his immaturity, of his inexperience. He could not carry out the
enterprise; he would reap only ignominy. His greatest desire had been
granted. He had expected, in the event, to be wildly happy. But he was
"Well, I'm blowed!" he exclaimed.
Lois, who had resumed the paper, read out:
"In accordance with the conditions of the competition, each of the above
named will receive a honorarium of one hundred guineas."
She looked at him.
"You'll get that town hall to do," she said positively. "You're bound to
get it. You'll see."
Her incomprehensible but convincing faith passed mysteriously into him.
A holy dew relieved him. He began to feel happy.
Lois glanced again at the paper, which with arms outstretched she held
in front of her like a man, like the men at Pickering's. Suddenly it
fell rustling to the floor, and she burst into tears.
She murmured indistinctly: "The last thing she did was for my
pleasure--sending the car."
George jumped up, animated by an inexpressible tenderness for her. She
had weakened. He moved towards her. He did not consider what he was
doing; he had naught to say; but his instinctive arms were about to
clasp her. He was unimaginably disturbed. She straightened and stiffened
in a second.
"But of course you've not got it yet," she said harshly, with apparent
Seraphine entered bouncingly with the tea. Lois regarded the tray, and
remarked the absence of the strainer.
"_Et la passoire_?" she demanded, with implacable sternness.
Seraphine gave a careless, apologetic gesture.
It was late in September, when most people had returned to London after
the holidays. John Orgreave mounted to the upper floor of the house in
Russell Square where George had his office. Underneath George's name on
the door had been newly painted the word 'Inquiries,' and on another
door, opposite, the word 'Private.' John Orgreave knocked with
exaggerated noise at this second door and went into what was now
George's private room.
"I suppose one ought to knock," he said in his hearty voice.
"Hallo, Mr. Orgreave!" George exclaimed, jumping up.
"If the mountain doesn't come to Mahomet, Mahomet must come to the
mountain," said John Orgreave.
"Come in," said George.
He noticed, and ignored, the touch of sarcasm in John Orgreave's
attitude. He had noticed a similar phenomenon in the attitude of various
people within the last four days, since architectural circles and even
the world in general had begun to resound with the echoing news that the
competition for the northern town hall had been won by a youth not
twenty-three years of age. Mr. Enwright had been almost cross, asserting
that the victory was perhaps a fluke, as the design of another
competitor was in reality superior to George's. Mr. Enwright had also
said, in his crabbed way: "You'll soon cut me out"; and, George
protesting, had gone on: "Oh! Yes, you will. I've been through this sort
of thing before. I know what I'm talking about. You're no different from
the rest." Whereupon George, impatient and genuinely annoyed, had
retorted upon him quite curtly, and had remembered what many
persons had said about Mr. Enwright's wrong-headed jealous
sensitiveness--animadversions which he, as a worshipper of Mr. Enwright,
had been accustomed to rebut. Further, Lucas himself had not erred by
the extravagance of his enthusiasm for George's earth-shaking success.
For example, Lucas had said: "Don't go and get above yourself, old chap.
They may decide not to build it after all. You never know with these
corporations." A remark extremely undeserved, for George considered that
the modesty and simplicity of his own demeanour under the stress of an
inordinate triumph were rather notable. Still, he had his dignity to
maintain against the satiric, and his position was such that he could
afford to maintain it.
Anyhow, he preferred the sardonic bearing of his professional intimates
to the sycophancy of certain acquaintances and of eager snobs unknown to
him. Among sundry telegrams received was one composed regardless of cost
and signed 'Turnbull.' He could not discover who Turnbull might be until
John Orgreave had reminded him of the wigged, brown, conversational
gentleman whom he had met, on one occasion only, at Adela's. In addition
to telegrams he had had letters, some of which contained requests for
money (demanded even as a right by the unlucky from the lucky), and an
assortment of charity circulars, money-lenders' circulars, and
bucket-shop lures. His mother's great sprawling letter had pleased him
better than any save one. The exception was his stepfather's. Edwin
Clayhanger, duly passing on to the next generation the benevolent
Midland gibe which he had inherited, wrote:
"DEAR GEORGE,--It's better than a bat in the eye with a burnt
stick.--Yours affectionately, NUNKS"
As a boy George had at one period called his stepfather 'Nunks,' but he
had not used the appellation for years. He was touched now.
The newspapers had been hot after him, and he knew not how to defend
himself. His photograph was implored. He was waylaid by journalists
shabby and by journalists spruce, and the resulting interviews made him
squirm. He became a man of mark at Pickering's. Photographers entreated
him to sit free of charge. What irritated him in the whole vast affair
was the continual insistence upon his lack of years. Nobody seemed to be
interested in his design for the town hall; everybody had the air of
regarding him as a youthful prodigy, a performing animal. Personally he
did not consider that he was so very young. (Nevertheless he did
consider that he was a youthful prodigy. He could recall no architect in
history who had done what he had done at his age.) The town clerk who
travelled from the North to see him treated his age in a different
manner, the patronizing. He did not care for the town clerk. However,
the town clerk was atoned for by the chairman of the new town hall
sub-committee, a true human being named Soulter, with a terrific accent
and a taste for architecture, pictures, and music. Mr. Soulter, though
at least forty-five, treated George, without any appearance of effort,
as a coeval. George immediately liked him, and the mere existence of Mr.
Soulter had the effect of dissipating nearly all George's horrible
qualms and apprehensions about his own competence to face the
overwhelming job of erection. Mr. Soulter was most soothing in the
matter of specifications and contractors.
"So you've got into your new room," said John Orgreave.
Never before had he mounted to see George either in the new room or in
the old room. The simple fact of the presence there of one of the
partners in the historic firm below compensated for much teasing sarcasm
and half-veiled jealousy. It was a sign. It was a seal authenticating
"I only wanted to give you a message from Adela. The Ingram young woman
is staying with us----"
"Lois?" The name shot out of him unbidden.
"Yes. You're humbly supplicated to go to tea to-day. Four o'clock. Thank
God I've not forgotten it!"
George arrived fifty-five minutes late at Bedford Park. Throughout the
journey thither he kept repeating: "She said I should do it. And I've
done it! I've done it! I've done it!" The triumph was still so close
behind him that he was constantly realizing it afresh, and saying,
wonder-struck: "I've done it." And the miraculous phantasm of the town
hall, uplifted in solid stone, formed itself again and again in his
enchanted mind, against a background of tremendous new ambitions rising
endlessly one behind another like snowy alps.
"Is this what you call four o'clock?" twittered Adela, between cajolery
and protest, somewhat older and facially more artificial, but eternally
blonde; still holding her fair head on one side and sinuously waving the
"Sorry! Sorry! I was kept at the last moment by a journalist johnny."
"Oh! Of course!" said Adela, pooh-poohing with her lips. "Of course we
expect that story nowadays!"
"Well, it was a chap from the _Builder_, or I wouldn't have seen him.
Can't trifle with a trade paper, you know."
"She's like the rest of them, as jealous as the devil."
Then Lois came into the room, hatted and gloved, in half-mourning. She
was pale, and appreciably thinner; she looked nervous, weak, and weary.
As he shook hands with her he felt very self-conscious, as though in
winning the competition and fulfilling her prophecy he had done
something dubious for which he ought to apologize. This was exceedingly
strange, but it was so. She had been ill after the death of Irene
Wheeler. Having left Paris for London on the day following the races, he
had written to her about nothing in particular, a letter which meant
everything but what it said--and had received an answer from Laurencine,
who announced that her sister was in bed, and likely to be in bed; and
that father and mother wished to be remembered to him. Then he wrote to
Laurencine. When the result of the final competition was published he
had written again to Lois. It seemed to him that he was bound to do so,
for had she not willed and decided his victory? No reply; but there had
scarcely been time for a reply.
"Did you get my letter?" he smiled.
"This afternoon," she said gravely. "It followed me here. Now I have to
go to Irene's flat. I should have been gone in another minute."
"She _will_ go alone," Adela put in anxiously.
"I shall be back for dinner," said Lois, and to the stupefaction of
George she moved towards the door.
But just as she opened the door she turned her head and, looking at
George with a frown, murmured:
"You can come with me if you like."
Adela burst out:
"He hasn't had any tea!"
"I'm not urging him to come, my dear. Good-bye."
Adela and George exchanged a glance, each signalling to the other that
perhaps this sick, strange girl ought to be humoured. He abandoned the
tea.... He was in the street with Lois. He was in the train with her.
Her ticket was in his pocket. He had explained to her why he was late,
and she had smiled, amiably but enigmatically. He thought: "She's no
right to go on like this. But what does it matter?" She said nothing
about the competition--not a word of congratulation. Indeed she hardly
spoke beyond telling him that she had to choose some object at the flat.
He was aware of the principal terms of Irene's will, which indeed had
caused the last flutter of excitement before oblivion so quickly
descended upon the notoriety of the social star. Irene's renown had
survived her complexion by only a few short weeks. The will was of a
rather romantic nature. Nobody familiar with the intimate circumstances
would have been surprised if Irene had divided her fortune between Lois
and Laurencine. The bulk of it, however, went back to Indianapolis. The
gross total fell far short of popular estimates. Lois and Laurencine
received five thousand pounds apiece, and in addition they were
requested to select each an object from Irene's belongings--Lois out of
the London flat, Laurencine out of the Paris flat. Lois had come to
London to choose, and she was staying with Adela, the sole chaperon
available. Since the death of Irene, Mrs. Ingram had been excessively
strict in the matter of chaperons.
They took a hansom at Victoria. Across the great square, whose leaves
were just yellowing, George saw the huge block of flats, and in one
story all the blinds were down. Lois marched first into the lift,
masterfully, as though she inhabited the block. She asked no one's
permission. Characteristically she had an order from the solicitors, and
the keys of the flat. She opened the door without any trouble. They were
inside, within the pale-sheeted interior. Scarcely a thing had yet been
moved, for, with the formalities of the judicatures of France, England,
and the State of Indiana to be complied with, events marched slowly
under the sticky manipulation of three different legal firms. Lois and
George walked cautiously across the dusty, dulled parquets into the vast
drawing-room. George doffed his hat.
"I'd better draw the blinds up," he suggested.
"No, no!" she sharply commanded. "I can see quite well. I don't want any
There was the piano upon which Laurencine had played! The embrasure of
the window! The corner in which Irene had sat spellbound by Jules
Defourcambault! The portraits of Irene, at least one of which would
perpetuate her name! The glazed cases full of her collections!... The
chief pieces of furniture and all the chairs were draped in the pale,
Suddenly Lois, rushing to the mantelpiece, cried:
"This is what I shall take."
It was a large photograph of Jules Defourcambault, bearing the words:
"_A Miss Irene Wheeler. Hommages respectueux de_ J.D.F."
"You won't!" he exclaimed, incredulous, shocked. He thought: "She is
"Yes, I shall."
There were hundreds of beautiful objects in the place, and she chose a
banal photograph of a despicable creature whom she detested.
"Why don't you take one of _her_ portraits? Or even a fan. What on earth
do you want with a thing like that?" His voice was changing.
"I shall take it and keep it for ever. He was the cause of it all. This
photograph was everything to her once."
George revolted utterly, and said with cold, harsh displeasure:
"You're simply being morbid. There's no sense in it."
She dropped down into a chair, and the impress of her body dragged the
dust-sheet from its gilt arms, exposing them. She put her face in her
hands and sobbed.
"You're awfully cruel!" she murmured thickly.
The sobs continued, shaking her body. She was beautifully dressed. Her
shoes were adorable, and the semi-transparent hose over her fine ankles.
She made a most disturbing, an unbearable, figure of compassion. She
needed wisdom, protection, guidance, strength. Every bit of her seemed
to appeal for these qualities. But at the same time she dismayed. He
moved nearer to her. Yes, she had grandeur. All the costly and valuable
objects in the drawing-room she had rejected in favour of the
satisfaction of a morbid and terrible whim. Who could have foreseen it?
He moved still nearer. He stood over her. He seized her yielding wrists.
He lifted her veil. Tears were running down her cheeks from the yellow
eyes. She looked at him through her tears.
"You're frightfully cruel," she feebly repeated.
"And what if I am?" he said solemnly. Did she really think him hard, had
she always thought him hard--she, the hard one? How strange! Yet no
doubt he was hard.
His paramount idea was:
"She had faith in me." It was as if her faith had created the man he
was. She was passionately ambitious; so was he.
And when he kissed her wet mouth, and stroked with incredible delicacy
those streaming cheeks, he felt himself full of foreboding. But he was
proud and confident.
He took her back to Bedford Park. She carried the photograph, unwrapped;
but he ventured no comment. She went straight up to her room.
"_You_ must tell Mrs. Orgreave," she said on the stairs.
Adela made a strange remark:
"Oh! But we always intended you to marry Lois!"
George came into the conjugal bedroom. The hour was about three o'clock
in the afternoon. Lois lay on the sofa at the foot of the twin beds. It
was perhaps characteristic of her that she sincerely preferred the sofa
to her bed. Sometimes in the night, when she could not sleep, she would
get up and go sighing to the sofa, and, with nothing but a slippery
eiderdown to cover her, sleep perfectly till George arose in the
morning. Quite contentedly conventional in most matters of mere social
deportment, she often resisted purely physical conventions. A bed was
the recognized machine for slumber; hence she would instinctively choose
another machine. Also, the sofa was nearer to the ground. She liked to
be near the ground. She had welcomed with ardour the first beginnings of
the new fashion which now regularly permits ladies to sit on the
hearth-rug after a ceremonial dinner and prop their backs with cushions
or mantelpieces. Doubtless a trait of the 'cave-woman' that as a girl
she had called herself!
She was now stretched on the sofa in a luxurious and expensive ribboned
muslin negligee, untidy, pale, haggard, heavy, shapeless, the expectant
mother intensely conscious of her own body and determined to maintain
all the privileges of the exacting role which nature had for the third
time assigned to her. Little Laurencine, aged eight, and little Lois,
aged five, in their summer white, were fondling her, tumbling about her,
burying themselves in her; she reclined careless, benignant, and
acquiescent under their tiny assaults; it was at moments as though the
three were one being. When their father appeared in the doorway, she
warned them in an apparently awed tone that father was there, and that
nursey was waiting for them and that they must run off quietly. And she
kissed them with the enormous kiss of a giantess suddenly rendered
passionate by a vast uprush of elemental feeling. And they ran off,
smiling confidently at their father, giggling, chattering about
important affairs in their intolerable, shrieking voices. George could
never understand why Lois should attempt, as she constantly did, to
instil into them awe of their father; his attitude to the children made
it impossible that she should succeed. But she kept on trying. The
cave-woman again! George would say to himself: "All women are
"Have you come to pack?" she asked, with fatigued fretfulness, showing
no sign of surprise at his arrival.
"Oh no!" he answered, and implied that in his over-charged existence
packing would have to be done when it could, if at all. "I only came in
for one second to see if I could root out that straw hat I wore last
"Do open the window," she implored grievously.
"It is open."
"Well, open it more."
"It's wide open."
"It's so stuffy in this room," she complained, expelling much breath.
It was stuffy in the room. The room was too full of the multitudinous
belongings and furniture of wife and husband. It was too small for its
uses. The pair, unduly thrown together, needed two rooms. But the house
could not yield them two rooms, though from the outside it had an air of
spaciousness. The space was employed in complying with custom, in
imitating the disposition of larger houses, and in persuading the tenant
that he was as good as his betters. There was a basement, because the
house belonged to the basement era, and because it is simpler to burrow
than to erect. On the ground floor were the hall--narrow, and the
dining-room--narrow. To have placed the dining-room elsewhere would have
been to double the number of stairs between it and the kitchen;
moreover, the situation of the dining-room in all such correct houses is
immutably fixed by the code Thus the handiest room in the house was
occupied during four hours of the twenty-four, and wasted during the
remaining twenty. Behind the dining-room was a very small room
appointed by the code to be George's 'den.' It would never have been
used at all had not George considered it his duty to use it
occasionally, and had not Lois at intervals taken a fancy to it because
it was not hers.
The whole of the first floor was occupied by the landing, the well of
the staircase, and the drawing-room, which last was inevitably shaped in
the resemblance of an L. The small back portion of it over George's den
was never utilized save by the grand piano and rare pianists. Still, the
code demanded that the drawing-room should have this strange appendage,
and that a grand piano should reside in it modestly, apologetically,
like a shame that cannot be entirely concealed. Nearly every house in
Elm Park Road, and every house in scores of miles of other correct
streets in the West End, had a drawing-room shaped in the semblance of
an L, and a grand piano in the hinterland thereof. The drawing-room,
like the dining-room, was occupied during about four hours of the
twenty-four, and wasted during the remaining twenty.
The two main floors of the house being in such manner accounted for, the
family and its dependents principally lived aloft on the second and
third floors. Eight souls slept up there nightly. A miracle of
George had had the house for ten years; he entered it as a bridegroom.
He had stayed in it for seven years because the landlord would only
confide it to him on lease, and at the end of the seven years he lacked
the initiative to leave it. An ugly house, utterly without architectural
merit! A strange house for an architect to inhabit! George, however, had
never liked it. Before his marriage he had discovered a magnificent
house in Fitzroy Square, a domestic masterpiece of the Adams period,
exquisitely designed without and within, huge rooms and many rooms,
lovely ceilings, a forged-iron stair-rail out of Paradise; a house
appreciably nearer to the centre than the one in Elm Park Road, and with
a lower rental. George would have taken the house, had not Lois pointed
out to him its fatal disadvantage, which had escaped him, namely, that
people simply did not live in Fitzroy Square. Instantly Lois entered
Fitzroy Square, George knew himself for a blind fool. Of course the
house was impossible. He was positively ashamed to show her the house.
She admitted that it was beautiful. So Elm Park Road was finally
selected, Elm Park Road being a street where people could, and in fact
did, live. It was astounding how Lois, with her small and fragmentary
knowledge of London, yet knew, precisely and infallibly, by instinct, by
the sound of the names of the thoroughfares, by magic diabolical or
celestial, what streets were inhabitable and what were not. And
something in George agreed with her.
He now rummaged among hat-boxes beneath the beds, pulled one out, and
discovered a straw hat in it.
"Will it do?" he questioned doubtfully.
"Let me look at it."
He approached her and gave her the hat, which she carefully examined,
"Put it on," she said.
He put it on, and she gazed at him for what seemed to him an
unnecessarily long time. His thought was that she liked to hold him
under her gaze.
"Well?" he exclaimed impatiently.
"It's quite all right," she said. "What's the matter with it? It makes
you look about fourteen." He felt envy in her voice. Then she added:
"But surely you won't be able to wear that thing to-morrow?"
"Of course not. I only want it for this afternoon.... This sun."
"Oh!" she cried. "I do think it's a shame I can't go to the Opening!
It's just my luck."
He considered that she arraigned her luck much too often; he considered
that on the whole her luck was decidedly good. But he knew that she had
to be humoured. It was her right to be humoured.
"Yes," he said judicially and rather shortly. "I'm sorry too! But what
are you going to do about it? If you can't go, you can't. And you know
it's absolutely out of the question." As a fact he was glad that her
condition made such an excursion impossible for her. She would certainly
have been rather a ticklish handful for him at the Opening.
"But I should so have _enjoyed_ it!" she insisted, with emphasis.
There it was, the thirst for enjoyment, pleasure! The supreme,
unslakable thirst! She had always had it, and he had always hardened
himself against it--while often, nevertheless, accepting with secret
pleasure the satisfactions of her thirst. Thus, for example, in the
matter of dancing. She had shared to the full in the extraordinary craze
for dancing which had held the West End for several years. Owing to her
initiative they had belonged to two dancing clubs whose members met
weekly in the saloons of the great hotels. The majority of the members
were acutely tedious to George, but Lois was quite uncritical, save on
the main point; she divided the members into good dancers and bad
dancers. George was a pretty good dancer. He liked dancing. Membership
of these clubs involved expense, it interfered with his sleep, it made
his early mornings more like defeats than triumphs, it prevented him
from duly reading and sketching. But he liked dancing. While resenting
the compulsion to outrage his conscience, he enjoyed the sin. What
exasperated him was Lois's argument that that kind of thing "did him
good" professionally, and was indeed essential to the career of a rising
or risen young architect, and that also it was good for his health and
his mind. He wished that she would not so unconvincingly pretend that
self-indulgence was not what it was. These pretences, however, seemed to
be a necessity of her nature. She reasoned similarly about the dinners
and theatre-parties which they gave and attended. Next to dancing she
adored dinners and theatre-parties. She would sooner eat a bad dinner in
company anywhere than a good dinner quietly at home; she would far
sooner go to a bad play than to none at all; she was in fact never bored
in the theatre or in the music-hall. Never!
Once, by misfortune--as George privately deemed--he had got a small job
(erection of a dwelling-house at Hampstead) through a dinner. Lois had
never forgotten it, and she would adduce the trifle again and again as
evidence of the sanity of her ideas about social life. George really did
not care for designing houses; they were not worth the trouble; he
habitually thought in public edifices and the palaces of kings, nobles,
and plutocrats of taste. Moreover, his commission on the house would not
have kept his own household in being for a month--and yet the owner,
while obviously proud to be the patron of the celebrated prodigy George
Cannon, had the air of doing George Cannon a favour!
And so her ambition, rather than his, had driven them both ruthlessly
on. Both were overpressed, but George considerably more than Lois. Lois
was never, in ordinary times, really tired. Dinners, teas, even lunches,
restaurants, theatres, music-halls, other people's houses, clubs,
dancing, changing clothes, getting into autos and taxis and getting out
of autos and taxis, looking at watches, writing down engagements, going
to bed with a sigh at the lateness of the hour, waking up fatigued to
the complexities of the new day--she coped admirably with it all. She
regarded it as natural; she regarded it as inevitable and proper. She
enjoyed it. She wanted it, and that which she wanted she must have. Yet
her attitude to George was almost invariably one of deep solicitude for
him. She would look at him with eyes troubled and anxious for his
welfare. When they were driving to a dance which he had no desire to
attend, she would put her arm in his and squeeze his arm and murmur:
"Coco, I don't _like_ you working so hard." (Coco was her pet name for
him, a souvenir of Paris.)
He acknowledged that, having chosen her role, she played it well. She
made him comfortable. She was a good housekeeper, and a fair organizer
generally. She knew how to be well served. He thought that her manner
to servants was often inexcusable, but she "kept" her servants, and they
would "do anything" for her. Further, except that she could not shine in
conversation, she was a good hostess. She never made mistakes, never
became muddled, never forgot. Of course she had friends to whom he was
indifferent or perhaps slightly hostile, but she was entitled to her
friends, as he to his. And she was a good mother. Stranger still, though
she understood none of the arts and had no logical taste, she possessed
a gift of guessing or of divination which, in all affairs relating to
the home, was the practical equivalent of genuine taste. George had
first noticed this faculty in her when she put a thousand pounds of her
money to a thousand pounds of his stepfather's and they began to buy
furniture. The house was beautifully furnished, and she had done her
share. And in the alterations, additions, and replacements which for
several years she had the habit of springing upon him, she rarely
offended him. Still, he knew indubitably that she had not taste,--anyhow
in his sense of the term,--and would never, never acquire it. An
astonishing creature! He had not finished being astonished at her. In
some respects he had not even come to a decision about her. For
instance, he suspected that she had "no notion of money," but he could
not be sure. She did what she liked with her own income, which was about
two hundred a year; that is to say, she clothed herself out of it. Her
household accounts were unknown to him; he had once essayed to
comprehend them, but had drawn back affrighted.
"Well," she said plaintively. "Now you're here, I think you might sit a
bit with me. It's most awfully lonely for me."
"I can't possibly," he said, with calm. "I have to rush off to the club
to see Davids about that business."
She ignored his inescapable duties! It was nothing to her that he had a
hundred affairs to arrange before his night-journey to the north. She
wanted him to sit with her. Therefore she thought that he ought to sit
with her, and she would be conscious of a grievance if he did not.
'Lonely!' Because the children were going out for an hour or so!
Besides, even if it was lonely, facts were facts, and destiny was
destiny and had to be borne.
"Oh! That!... Well, can't you go after tea?"
"Here, lass!" he said, with a laugh. "If I stop arguing here I shall
He bent down, and prepared his lips to kiss her. He smiled superiorly,
indulgently. He was the stronger. She defeated him sometimes; she
gravely defeated him in the general arrangement and colour of their
joint existence; but he was the stronger. She had known it for over ten
years. They had had two tremendous, critical, highly dangerous battles.
He had won them both. Lois had wanted to be married in Paris. He had
been ready to agree until suddenly it occurred to him that French legal
formalities might necessitate an undue disclosure as to his parentage
and the bigamy of which his mother had been a victim. He refused
absolutely to be married in Paris. He said: "You're English and I'm
English, and the proper place for us to be married is England." There
were good counter-arguments, but he would not have them. Curiously, at
this very period, news came from his stepfather of his father's death in
America. He kept it to himself. Again, on the night itself of their
marriage, he had said to her: "_Now give me that revolver you've got_."
At her protesting refusal he had said: "My wife is not going about with
any revolver. Not if I know it!" He was playful but determined. He
startled her, for the altercation lasted two hours. On the other hand he
had never said a word about the photograph of Jules Defourcambault, and
had never seen it. Somewhere, in some mysterious fastness, the
mysterious woman kept it.
His lips were close to hers, and his eyes to her eyes. Most persons
called her eyes golden, but to him they were just yellow. They had an
infinitesimal cast, to which nobody ever referred. They were voluptuous
eyes. He examined her face. She was still young; but the fine impressive
imprint of existence was upon her features, and the insipid freshness
had departed. She blinked, acquiescent. Her eyes changed, melting. He
could almost see into her brain, and watch there the impulse of
repentance for an unreasonable caprice, and the intense resolve to think
in the future only of her husband's welfare. She was like that.... She
could be an angel.... He knew that he was hard. He guessed that he might
be inordinately hard He would bear people down. Why had he not been
touched by her helpless condition? She was indeed touching as she lay.
She wanted to keep him near her and she could not. She wanted acutely to
go to the north, and she was imprisoned. She would have to pass the
night alone, and the next night alone. Danger and great suffering lay in
front of her. And she was she; she was herself, with all her terrific
instincts. She could not alter herself. Did she not merit compassion?
Still, _he must go to his club_.
He kissed her tenderly. She half lifted her head, and kissed him exactly
as she kissed his children, like a giantess, and as though she was the
ark of wisdom from everlasting, and he a callow boy whose safety
depended upon her sagacious, loving direction.
From the top of the flight of stairs leading from the ground floor,
George, waiting till it was over, witnessed the departure of his family
for the afternoon promenade. A prodigious affair! The parlourmaid (a
delightful creature who was, unfortunately, soon to make an excellent
match above her station) amiably helped the nursemaid to get the
perambulator down the steps. The parlourmaid wore her immutable uniform,
and the nursemaid wore her immutable uniform. Various things had to be
packed into the perambulator, and then little Lois had to be packed into
it--not because she could not walk, but because it was not desirable for
her to arrive at the playground tired. Nursey's sunshade was
undiscoverable, and little Laurencine's little sunshade had to be
retrieved from underneath little Lois in the depths of the perambulator.
Nursey's book had fallen on the steps. Then the tiny but elaborate
perambulator of Laurencine's doll had to go down the steps, and the doll
had to be therein ensconced under Laurencine's own direction, and
Laurencine's sunshade had to be opened, and Laurencine had to prove to
the maids that she could hold the sunshade in one hand and push the
doll's perambulator with the other. Finally, the procession of human
beings and vehicles moved, munitioned, provisioned, like a caravan
setting forth into the desert, the parlourmaid amiably waving adieux.
George thought: "I support all that. It all depends on me. I have
brought it all into existence." And his reflections embraced Lois
upstairs, and the two colleagues of the parlourmaid in the kitchen, and
the endless apparatus of the house, and the people at his office and the
apparatus there, and the experiences that awaited him on the morrow, and
all his responsibilities, and all his apprehensions for the future. And
he was amazed and dismayed by the burden which almost unwittingly he
bore night and day. But he felt too that it was rather fine. He felt
that he was in the midst of life.
As he was cranking his car, which he had left unattended at the kerb,
Mrs. Buckingham Smith's magnificent car driven by her magnificent
chauffeur, swept in silence up to the door and sweetly stopped. George's
car was a very little one, and he was his own chauffeur, and had to walk
home from the garage when he had done with it. The contemplation of Buck
Smith's career showed George that there are degrees of success. Buck
Smith received a thousand pounds for a portrait (in the French manner of
painting)--and refused commissions at that. Buck Smith had a kind of
palace in Melbury Road. By the side of Buck Smith. George was a
struggling semi-failure. Mrs. Buck Smith, the lady whom George had first
glimpsed in the foyer of a theatre, was a superb Jewess whom Buck had
enticed from the stage. George did not like her because she was apt, in
ecstasy, to froth at the mouth, and for other reasons; but she was one
of his wife's most intimate friends. Lois, usually taciturn, would
chatter with Adah for hours.
"I thought I'd come and see Lois," said Mrs. Buck, effulgently smiling,
as George handed her out of the car. "How is the dear thing? You just
"You'll do her all the good in the world," George replied. "I can't
stop. I have to leave town to-night, and I'm full up."
"Oh yes! The Opening! How perfectly splendid!" Tiny bubbles showed
between her glorious lips. "What a shame it is poor Lois isn't able to
"Yes," said George. "But look here! Don't you go and tell her so. That's
quite the wrong tack."
"I see! I see!" said Mrs. Buck, gazing at him as one who was capable of
subtle comprehensions. "By the way," she added, as she turned to mount
the steps, "I ran across Everard Lucas at the Berkeley to-day. Lunching
there. I said I was coming here. He told me to tell you, if I saw you,
that old Mr. Haim or Home or some such name was dead. He said you'd be
"By Jove!" George ejaculated. "Is he? Haven't seen him for years and
He got into his car and drove off at speed. Beneath his off-hand words
to Mrs. Buckingham Smith he was conscious of a quickly growing, tender
sympathy for Marguerite Haim. The hardness in him was dissolved almost
instantaneously. He saw Marguerite, who had been adamantine in the
difference which separated them, as the image of pliancy, sweetness,
altruism, and devotion; and he saw her lips and the rapt glance of her
eyes as beautiful as in the past. What a soft, soothing, assuaging
contrast with the difficult Lois, so imperious and egoistic! (An
unforgettable phrase of Lois's had inhabited his mind for over a decade:
"Fancy quarrelling over a man!") He had never met Marguerite since their
separation, and for years he had heard nothing whatever about her; he
did not under-estimate the ordeal of meeting her again. Yet he at once
decided that he must meet her again. He simply could not ignore her in
her bereavement and new loneliness. To write to her would be absurd; it
would be a cowardly evasion; moreover, he could not frame a letter. He
must prove to her and to himself that he had a sense of decent
kindliness which would rise above conventional trifles when occasion
At the top of Elm Park Gardens, instead of turning east towards
Piccadilly he turned west in the direction of the Workhouse tower. And
thus he exposed the unreality of the grandiose pleas with which
professional men impose on their wives and on themselves. A few minutes
earlier his appointment at the club (not Pickering's, to which, however,
he still belonged, but a much greater institution, the Artists, in
Albemarle Street) had been an affair of extreme importance, upon which
might depend his future career, for did it not concern negotiations for
a London factory, which was to be revolutionary in design, and to cost
L150,000, and which, erected, would form a permanent advertisement of
the genius of George Cannon? Now he remembered that Sir Isaac Davids,
the patron of all the arts and the influencer of commissions, had said
that he would probably but not certainly be at the club that afternoon,
and he argued that in any event half an hour sooner or later would not
make or mar the business. Indeed, he went further, and persuaded himself
that between that moment and dinner he had nothing to do except sign a
few routine letters at the office. Still, it was just as well that Lois
should remain in delusion as to his being seriously pressed for time.
As he curved, slackening and accelerating, with the perfect assurance of
long habit, through the swift, intricate, towering motor traffic of