Part 8 out of 9
"YOUR things," she said.
"Aren't they yours too?"
"Because of you," she said.
"Aren't they your very own things?"
"Women don't have that sort of very own thing. Indeed, it's true!
And think! You've been down there preaching the goodness of
children, telling them the only good thing in a state is happy,
hopeful children, working to free mothers and children--"
"And we give our own children to do it?" I said.
"Yes," she said. "And sometimes I think it's too much to give--too
much altogether. . . . Children get into a woman's brain--when she
mustn't have them, especially when she must never hope for them.
Think of the child we might have now!--the little creature with
soft, tender skin, and little hands and little feet! At times it
haunts me. It comes and says, Why wasn't I given life? I can hear
it in the night. . . . The world is full of such little ghosts,
dear lover--little things that asked for life and were refused.
They clamour to me. It's like a little fist beating at my heart.
Love children, beautiful children. Little cold hands that tear at
my heart! Oh, my heart and my lord!" She was holding my arm with
both her hands and weeping against it, and now she drew herself to
my shoulder and wept and sobbed in my embrace. "I shall never sit
with your child on my knee and you beside me-never, and I am a woman
and your lover! . . ."
But the profound impossibility of our relation was now becoming more
and more apparent to us. We found ourselves seeking justification,
clinging passionately to a situation that was coldly, pitilessly,
impossible and fated. We wanted quite intensely to live together
and have a child, but also we wanted very many other things that
were incompatible with these desires. It was extraordinarily
difficult to weigh our political and intellectual ambitions against
those intimate wishes. The weights kept altering according as one
found oneself grasping this valued thing or that. It wasn't as if
we could throw everything aside for our love, and have that as we
wanted it. Love such as we bore one another isn't altogether, or
even chiefly, a thing in itself--it is for the most part a value set
upon things. Our love was interwoven with all our other interests;
to go out of the world and live in isolation seemed to us like
killing the best parts of each other; we loved the sight of each
other engaged finely and characteristically, we knew each other best
as activities. We had no delusions about material facts; we didn't
want each other alive or dead, we wanted each other fully alive. We
wanted to do big things together, and for us to take each other
openly and desperately would leave us nothing in the world to do.
We wanted children indeed passionately, but children with every
helpful chance in the world, and children born in scandal would be
handicapped at every turn. We wanted to share a home, and not a
And when we were at this stage of realisation, began the intimations
that we were found out, and that scandal was afoot against us. . . .
I heard of it first from Esmeer, who deliberately mentioned it, with
that steady grey eye of his watching me, as an instance of the
preposterous falsehoods people will circulate. It came to Isabel
almost simultaneously through a married college friend, who made it
her business to demand either confirmation or denial. It filled us
both with consternation. In the surprise of the moment Isabel
admitted her secret, and her friend went off "reserving her freedom
Discovery broke out in every direction. Friends with grave faces
and an atmosphere of infinite tact invaded us both. Other friends
ceased to invade either of us. It was manifest we had become--we
knew not how--a private scandal, a subject for duologues, an
amazement, a perplexity, a vivid interest. In a few brief weeks it
seemed London passed from absolute unsuspiciousness to a chattering
exaggeration of its knowledge of our relations.
It was just the most inappropriate time for that disclosure. The
long smouldering antagonism to my endowment of motherhood ideas had
flared up into an active campaign in the EXPURGATOR, and it would be
altogether disastrous to us if I should be convicted of any personal
irregularity. It was just because of the manifest and challenging
respectability of my position that I had been able to carry the
thing as far as I had done. Now suddenly my fortunes had sprung a
leak, and scandal was pouring in. . . . It chanced, too, that a
wave of moral intolerance was sweeping through London, one of those
waves in which the bitterness of the consciously just finds an ally
in the panic of the undiscovered. A certain Father Blodgett had
been preaching against social corruption with extraordinary force,
and had roused the Church of England people to a kind of competition
in denunciation. The old methods of the Anti-Socialist campaign had
been renewed, and had offered far too wide a scope and too tempting
an opportunity for private animosity, to be restricted to the
private affairs of the Socialists. I had intimations of an
extensive circulation of "private and confidential" letters. . . .
I think there can be nothing else in life quite like the unnerving
realisation that rumour and scandal are afoot about one. Abruptly
one's confidence in the solidity of the universe disappears. One
walks silenced through a world that one feels to be full of
inaudible accusations. One cannot challenge the assault, get it out
into the open, separate truth and falsehood. It slinks from you,
turns aside its face. Old acquaintances suddenly evaded me, made
extraordinary excuses; men who had presumed on the verge of my world
and pestered me with an intrusive enterprise, now took the bold step
of flat repudiation. I became doubtful about the return of a nod,
retracted all those tentacles of easy civility that I had hitherto
spread to the world. I still grow warm with amazed indignation when
I recall that Edward Crampton, meeting me full on the steps of the
Climax Club, cut me dead. "By God!" I cried, and came near catching
him by the throat and wringing out of him what of all good deeds and
bad, could hearten him, a younger man than I and empty beyond
comparison, to dare to play the judge to me. And then I had an open
slight from Mrs. Millingham, whom I had counted on as one counts
upon the sunrise. I had not expected things of that sort; they were
disconcerting beyond measure; it was as if the world were giving way
beneath my feet, as though something failed in the essential
confidence of life, as though a hand of wet ice had touched my
heart. Similar things were happening to Isabel. Yet we went on
working, visiting, meeting, trying to ignore this gathering of
implacable forces against us.
For a time I was perplexed beyond measure to account for this
campaign. Then I got a clue. The centre of diffusion was the
Bailey household. The Baileys had never forgiven me my abandonment
of the young Liberal group they had done so much to inspire and
organise; their dinner-table had long been a scene of hostile
depreciation of the BLUE WEEKLY and all its allies; week after week
Altiora proclaimed that I was "doing nothing," and found other
causes for our bye-election triumphs; I counted Chambers Street a
dangerous place for me. Yet, nevertheless, I was astonished to find
them using a private scandal against me. They did. I think
Handitch had filled up the measure of their bitterness, for I had
not only abandoned them, but I was succeeding beyond even their
power of misrepresentation. Always I had been a wasp in their
spider's web, difficult to claim as a tool, uncritical,
antagonistic. I admired their work and devotion enormously, but I
had never concealed my contempt for a certain childish vanity they
displayed, and for the frequent puerility of their political
intrigues. I suppose contempt galls more than injuries, and anyhow
they had me now. They had me. Bailey, I found, was warning fathers
of girls against me as a "reckless libertine," and Altiora, flushed,
roguish, and dishevelled, was sitting on her fender curb after
dinner, and pledging little parties of five or six women at a time
with infinite gusto not to let the matter go further. Our cell was
open to the world, and a bleak, distressful daylight streaming in.
I had a gleam of a more intimate motive in Altiora from the reports
that came to me. Isabel had been doing a series of five or six
articles in the POLITICAL REVIEW in support of our campaign, the
POLITICAL REVIEW which had hitherto been loyally Baileyite. Quite
her best writing up to the present, at any rate, is in those papers,
and no doubt Altiora had had not only to read her in those invaded
columns, but listen to her praises in the mouths of the tactless
influential. Altiora, like so many people who rely on gesture and
vocal insistence in conversation, writes a poor and slovenly prose
and handles an argument badly; Isabel has her University training
behind her and wrote from the first with the stark power of a clear-
headed man. "Now we know," said Altiora, with just a gleam of
malice showing through her brightness, "now we know who helps with
She revealed astonishing knowledge.
For a time I couldn't for the life of me discover her sources. I
had, indeed, a desperate intention of challenging her, and then I
bethought me of a youngster named Curmain, who had been my
supplemental typist and secretary for a time, and whom I had sent on
to her before the days of our breach. "Of course!" said I,
"Curmain!" He was a tall, drooping, sidelong youth with sandy hair,
a little forward head, and a long thin neck. He stole stamps, and,
I suspected, rifled my private letter drawer, and I found him one
day on a turn of the stairs looking guilty and ruffled with a pretty
Irish housemaid of Margaret's manifestly in a state of hot
indignation. I saw nothing, but I felt everything in the air
between them. I hate this pestering of servants, but at the same
time I didn't want Curmain wiped out of existence, so I had packed
him off without unnecessary discussion to Altiora. He was quick and
cheap anyhow, and I thought her general austerity ought to redeem
him if anything could; the Chambers Street housemaid wasn't for any
man's kissing and showed it, and the stamps and private letters were
looked after with an efficiency altogether surpassing mine. And
Altiora, I've no doubt left now whatever, pumped this young
undesirable about me, and scenting a story, had him to dinner alone
one evening to get to the bottom of the matter. She got quite to
the bottom of it,--it must have been a queer duologue. She read
Isabel's careless, intimate letters to me, so to speak, by this
proxy, and she wasn't ashamed to use this information in the service
of the bitterness that had sprung up in her since our political
breach. It was essentially a personal bitterness; it helped no
public purpose of theirs to get rid of me. My downfall in any
public sense was sheer waste,--the loss of a man. She knew she was
behaving badly, and so, when it came to remonstrance, she behaved
worse. She'd got names and dates and places; the efficiency of her
information was irresistible. And she set to work at it
marvellously. Never before, in all her pursuit of efficient ideals,
had Altiora achieved such levels of efficiency. I wrote a protest
that was perhaps ill-advised and angry, I went to her and tried to
stop her. She wouldn't listen, she wouldn't think, she denied and
lied, she behaved like a naughty child of six years old which has
made up its mind to be hurtful. It wasn't only, I think, that she
couldn't bear our political and social influence; she also--I
realised at that interview couldn't bear our loving. It seemed to
her the sickliest thing,--a thing quite unendurable. While such
things were, the virtue had gone out of her world.
I've the vividest memory of that call of mine. She'd just come in
and taken off her hat, and she was grey and dishevelled and tired,
and in a business-like dress of black and crimson that didn't suit
her and was muddy about the skirts; she'd a cold in her head and
sniffed penetratingly, she avoided my eye as she talked and
interrupted everything I had to say; she kept stabbing fiercely at
the cushions of her sofa with a long hat-pin and pretending she was
overwhelmed with grief at the DEBACLE she was deliberately
"Then part," she cried, "part. If you don't want a smashing up,--
part! You two have got to be parted. You've got never to see each
other ever, never to speak." There was a zest in her voice. "We're
not circulating stories," she denied. "No! And Curmain never told
us anything--Curmain is an EXCELLENT young man; oh! a quite
excellent young man. You misjudged him altogether." . . .
I was equally unsuccessful with Bailey. I caught the little wretch
in the League Club, and he wriggled and lied. He wouldn't say where
he had got his facts, he wouldn't admit he had told any one. When I
gave him the names of two men who had come to me astonished and
incredulous, he attempted absurdly to make me think they had told
HIM. He did his horrible little best to suggest that honest old
Quackett, who had just left England for the Cape, was the real
scandalmonger. That struck me as mean, even for Bailey. I've still
the odd vivid impression of his fluting voice, excusing the
inexcusable, his big, shifty face evading me, his perspiration-
beaded forehead, the shrugging shoulders, and the would-be
exculpatory gestures--Houndsditch gestures--of his enormous ugly
"I can assure you, my dear fellow," he said; "I can assure you we've
done everything to shield you--everything." . . .
Isabel came after dinner one evening and talked in the office. She
made a white-robed, dusky figure against the deep blues of my big
window. I sat at my desk and tore a quill pen to pieces as I
"The Baileys don't intend to let this drop," I said. "They mean
that every one in London is to know about it."
"Well!" I said.
"Dear heart," said Isabel, facing it, "it's no good waiting for
things to overtake us; we're at the parting of the ways."
"What are we to do?"
"They won't let us go on."
"They are ORGANISING scandal."
"It's no good waiting for things to overtake us," I echoed; "they
have overtaken us." I turned on her. "What do you want to do?"
"Everything," she said. "Keep you and have our work. Aren't we
"And we can't!"
"I've got to tell Margaret," I said.
"I can't bear the idea of any one else getting in front with it.
I've been wincing about Margaret secretly--"
"I know. You'll have to tell her--and make your peace with her."
She leant back against the bookcases under the window.
"We've had some good times, Master;" she said, with a sigh in her
And then for a long time we stared at one another in silence.
"We haven't much time left," she said.
"Shall we bolt?" I said.
"And leave all this?" she asked, with her eyes going round the room.
"And that?" And her head indicated Westminster. "No!"
I said no more of bolting.
"We've got to screw ourselves up to surrender," she said.
"Master," she said, "it isn't all sex and stuff between us?"
"I can't give up the work. Our work's my life."
We came upon another long pause.
"No one will believe we've ceased to be lovers--if we simply do,"
"We've got to do something more parting than that."
I nodded, and again we paused. She was coming to something.
"I could marry Shoesmith," she said abruptly.
"But--" I objected.
"He knows. It wasn't fair. I told him."
"Oh, that explains," I said. "There's been a kind of sulkiness--
But--you told him?"
She nodded. "He's rather badly hurt," she said. "He's been a good
friend to me. He's curiously loyal. But something, something he
said one day--forced me to let him know. . . . That's been the
beastliness of all this secrecy. That's the beastliness of all
secrecy. You have to spring surprises on people. But he keeps on.
He's steadfast. He'd already suspected. He wants me very badly to
marry him. . . ."
"But you don't want to marry him?"
"I'm forced to think of it."
"But does he want to marry you at that? Take you as a present from
the world at large?--against your will and desire? . . . I don't
"He cares for me."
"He thinks this is a fearful mess for me. He wants to pull it
We sat for a time in silence, with imaginations that obstinately
refused to take up the realities of this proposition.
"I don't want you to marry Shoesmith," I said at last.
"Don't you like him?"
"Not as your husband."
"He's a very clever and sturdy person--and very generous and devoted
"You can't expect that. He thinks you are wonderful--and,
naturally, that you ought not to have started this."
"I've a curious dislike to any one thinking that but myself. I'm
quite ready to think it myself."
"He'd let us be friends--and meet."
"Let us be friends!" I cried, after a long pause. "You and me!"
"He wants me to be engaged soon. Then, he says, he can go round
fighting these rumours, defending us both--and force a quarrel on
"I don't understand him," I said, and added, "I don't understand
I was staring at her face. It seemed white and set in the dimness.
"Do you really mean this, Isabel?" I asked.
"What else is there to do, my dear?--what else is there to do at
all? I've been thinking day and night. You can't go away with me.
You can't smash yourself suddenly in the sight of all men. I'd
rather die than that should happen. Look what you are becoming in
the country! Look at all you've built up!--me helping. I wouldn't
let you do it if you could. I wouldn't let you--if it were only for
Margaret's sake. THIS . . . closes the scandal, closes everything."
"It closes all our life together," I cried.
She was silent.
"It never ought to have begun," I said.
She winced. Then abruptly she was on her knees before me, with her
hands upon my shoulder and her eyes meeting mine.
"My dear," she said very earnestly, "don't misunderstand me! Don't
think I'm retreating from the things we've done! Our love is the
best thing I could ever have had from life. Nothing can ever equal
it; nothing could ever equal the beauty and delight you and I have
had together. Never! You have loved me; you do love me. . . ."
No one could ever know how to love you as I have loved you; no one
could ever love me as you have loved me, my king. And it's just
because it's been so splendid, dear; it's just because I'd die
rather than have a tithe of all this wiped out of my life again--for
it's made me, it's all I am--dear, it's years since I began loving
you--it's just because of its goodness that I want not to end in
wreckage now, not to end in the smashing up of all the big things I
understand in you and love in you. . . .
"What is there for us if we keep on and go away?" she went on. "All
the big interests in our lives will vanish--everything. We shall
become specialised people--people overshadowed by a situation. We
shall be an elopement, a romance--all our breadth and meaning gone!
People will always think of it first when they think of us; all our
work and aims will be warped by it and subordinated to it. Is it
good enough, dear? Just to specialise. . . . I think of you.
We've got a case, a passionate case, the best of cases, but do we
want to spend all our lives defending it and justifying it? And
there's that other life. I know now you care for Margaret--you care
more than you think you do. You have said fine things of her. I've
watched you about her. Little things have dropped from you. She's
given her life for you; she's nothing without you. You feel that to
your marrow all the time you are thinking about these things. Oh,
I'm not jealous, dear. I love you for loving her. I love you in
relation to her. But there it is, an added weight against us,
another thing worth saving."
Presently, I remember, she sat back on her heels and looked up into
my face. "We've done wrong--and parting's paying. It's time to
pay. We needn't have paid, if we'd kept to the track. . . . You
and I, Master, we've got to be men."
"Yes," I said; "we've got to be men."
I was driven to tell Margaret about our situation by my intolerable
dread that otherwise the thing might come to her through some stupid
and clumsy informant. She might even meet Altiora, and have it from
I can still recall the feeling of sitting at my desk that night in
that large study of mine in Radnor Square, waiting for Margaret to
come home. It was oddly like the feeling of a dentist's reception-
room; only it was for me to do the dentistry with clumsy, cruel
hands. I had left the door open so that she would come in to me.
I heard her silken rustle on the stairs at last, and then she was in
the doorway. "May I come in?" she said.
"Do," I said, and turned round to her.
"Working?" she said.
"Hard," I answered. "Where have YOU been?"
"At the Vallerys'. Mr. Evesham was talking about you. They were
all talking. I don't think everybody knew who I was. Just Mrs.
Mumble I'd been to them. Lord Wardenham doesn't like you."
"But they all feel you're rather big, anyhow. Then I went on to
Park Lane to hear a new pianist and some other music at Eva's."
"Then I looked in at the Brabants' for some midnight tea before I
came on here. They'd got some writers--and Grant was there."
"You HAVE been flying round. . . ."
There was a little pause between us.
I looked at her pretty, unsuspecting face, and at the slender grace
of her golden-robed body. What gulfs there were between us!
"You've been amused," I said.
"It's been amusing. You've been at the House?"
"The Medical Education Bill kept me." . . .
After all, why should I tell her? She'd got to a way of living that
fulfilled her requirements. Perhaps she'd never hear. But all that
day and the day before I'd been making up my mind to do the thing.
"I want to tell you something," I said. "I wish you'd sit down for
a moment or so." . . .
Once I had begun, it seemed to me I had to go through with it.
Something in the quality of my voice gave her an intimation of
unusual gravity. She looked at me steadily for a moment and sat
down slowly in my armchair.
"What is it?" she said.
I went on awkwardly. "I've got to tell you--something
extraordinarily distressing," I said.
She was manifestly altogether unaware.
"There seems to be a good deal of scandal abroad--I've only recently
heard of it--about myself--and Isabel."
"What do they say?" she asked.
It was difficult, I found, to speak.
"They say she's my mistress."
"Oh! How abominable!"
She spoke with the most natural indignation. Our eyes met.
"We've been great friends," I said.
"Yes. And to make THAT of it. My poor dear! But how can they?"
She paused and looked at me. "It's so incredible. How can any one
believe it? I couldn't."
She stopped, with her distressed eyes regarding me. Her expression
changed to dread. There was a tense stillness for a second,
I turned my face towards the desk, and took up and dropped a handful
of paper fasteners.
"Margaret," I said, "I'm afraid you'll have to believe it."
Margaret sat very still. When I looked at her again, her face was
very white, and her distressed eyes scrutinised me. Her lips
quivered as she spoke. "You really mean--THAT?" she said.
"I never dreamt."
"I never meant you to dream."
"And that is why--we've been apart?"
I thought. "I suppose it is."
"Why have you told me now?"
"Those rumours. I didn't want any one else to tell you."
"Or else it wouldn't have mattered?"
She turned her eyes from me to the fire. Then for a moment she
looked about the room she had made for me, and then quite silently,
with a childish quivering of her lips, with a sort of dismayed
distress upon her face, she was weeping. She sat weeping in her
dress of cloth of gold, with her bare slender arms dropped limp over
the arms of her chair, and her eyes averted from me, making no
effort to stay or staunch her tears. "I am sorry, Margaret," I
said. "I was in love. . . . I did not understand. . . ."
Presently she asked: "What are you going to do?"
"You see, Margaret, now it's come to be your affair--I want to know
what you--what you want."
"You want to leave me?"
"If you want me to, I must."
"Leave Parliament--leave all the things you are doing,--all this
fine movement of yours?"
"No." I spoke sullenly. "I don't want to leave anything. I want to
stay on. I've told you, because I think we--Isabel and I, I mean--
have got to drive through a storm of scandal anyhow. I don't know
how far things may go, how much people may feel, and I can't, I
can't have you unconscious, unarmed, open to any revelation--"
She made no answer.
"When the thing began--I knew it was stupid but I thought it was a
thing that wouldn't change, wouldn't be anything but itself,
wouldn't unfold--consequences. . . . People have got hold of these
vague rumours. . . . Directly it reached any one else but--but us
two--I saw it had to come to you."
I stopped. I had that distressful feeling I have always had with
Margaret, of not being altogether sure she heard, of being doubtful
if she understood. I perceived that once again I had struck at her
and shattered a thousand unsubstantial pinnacles. And I couldn't
get at her, to help her, or touch her mind! I stood up, and at my
movement she moved. She produced a dainty little handkerchief, and
made an effort to wipe her face with it, and held it to her eyes.
"Oh, my Husband!" she sobbed.
"What do you mean to do?" she said, with her voice muffled by her
"We're going to end it," I said.
Something gripped me tormentingly as I said that. I drew a chair
beside her and sat down. "You and I, Margaret, have been partners,"
I began. "We've built up this life of ours together; I couldn't
have done it without you. We've made a position, created a work--"
She shook her head. "You," she said.
"You helping. I don't want to shatter it--if you don't want it
shattered. I can't leave my work. I can't leave you. I want you
to have--all that you have ever had. I've never meant to rob you.
I've made an immense and tragic blunder. You don't know how things
took us, how different they seemed! My character and accident have
conspired--We'll pay--in ourselves, not in our public service."
I halted again. Margaret remained very still.
"I want you to understand that the thing is at an end. It is
definitely at an end. We--we talked--yesterday. We mean to end it
altogether." I clenched my hands. "She's--she's going to marry
I wasn't looking now at Margaret any more, but I heard the rustle of
her movement as she turned on me.
"It's all right," I said, clinging to my explanation. "We're doing
nothing shabby. He knows. He will. It's all as right--as things
can be now. We're not cheating any one, Margaret. We're doing
things straight--now. Of course, you know. . . . We shall--we
shall have to make sacrifices. Give things up pretty completely.
Very completely. . . . We shall have not to see each other for a
time, you know. Perhaps not a long time. Two or three years. Or
write--or just any of that sort of thing ever--"
Some subconscious barrier gave way in me. I found myself crying
uncontrollably--as I have never cried since I was a little child. I
was amazed and horrified at myself. And wonderfully, Margaret was
on her knees beside me, with her arms about me, mingling her weeping
with mine. "Oh, my Husband!" she cried, "my poor Husband! Does it
hurt you so? I would do anything! Oh, the fool I am! Dear, I love
you. I love you over and away and above all these jealous little
She drew down my head to her as a mother might draw down the head of
a son. She caressed me, weeping bitterly with me. "Oh! my dear,"
she sobbed, "my dear! I've never seen you cry! I've never seen you
cry. Ever! I didn't know you could. Oh! my dear! Can't you have
her, my dear, if you want her? I can't bear it! Let me help you,
dear. Oh! my Husband! My Man! I can't bear to have you cry!" For
a time she held me in silence.
"I've thought this might happen, I dreamt it might happen. You two,
I mean. It was dreaming put it into my head. When I've seen you
together, so glad with each other. . . . Oh! Husband mine, believe
me! believe me! I'm stupid, I'm cold, I'm only beginning to realise
how stupid and cold, but all I want in all the world is to give my
life to you." . . .
"We can't part in a room," said Isabel.
"We'll have one last talk together," I said, and planned that we
should meet for a half a day between Dover and Walmer and talk
ourselves out. I still recall that day very well, recall even the
curious exaltation of grief that made our mental atmosphere
distinctive and memorable. We had seen so much of one another, had
become so intimate, that we talked of parting even as we parted with
a sense of incredible remoteness. We went together up over the
cliffs, and to a place where they fall towards the sea, past the
white, quaint-lanterned lighthouses of the South Foreland. There,
in a kind of niche below the crest, we sat talking. It was a
spacious day, serenely blue and warm, and on the wrinkled water
remotely below a black tender and six hooded submarines came
presently, and engaged in mysterious manoeuvers. Shrieking gulls
and chattering jackdaws circled over us and below us, and dived and
swooped; and a skerry of weedy, fallen chalk appeared, and gradually
disappeared again, as the tide fell and rose.
We talked and thought that afternoon on every aspect of our
relations. It seems to me now we talked so wide and far that
scarcely an issue in the life between man and woman can arise that
we did not at least touch upon. Lying there at Isabel's feet, I
have become for myself a symbol of all this world-wide problem
between duty and conscious, passionate love the world has still to
solve. Because it isn't solved; there's a wrong in it either way. .
. . The sky, the wide horizon, seemed to lift us out of ourselves
until we were something representative and general. She was
womanhood become articulate, talking to her lover.
"I ought," I said, "never to have loved you."
"It wasn't a thing planned," she said.
"I ought never to have let our talk slip to that, never to have
turned back from America."
"I'm glad we did it," she said. "Don't think I repent."
I looked at her.
"I will never repent," she said. "Never!" as though she clung to
her life in saying it.
I remember we talked for a long time of divorce. It seemed to us
then, and it seems to us still, that it ought to have been possible
for Margaret to divorce me, and for me to marry without the
scandalous and ugly publicity, the taint and ostracism that follow
such a readjustment. We went on to the whole perplexing riddle of
marriage. We criticised the current code, how muddled and
conventionalised it had become, how modified by subterfuges and
concealments and new necessities, and the increasing freedom of
women. "It's all like Bromstead when the building came," I said;
for I had often talked to her of that early impression of purpose
dissolving again into chaotic forces. "There is no clear right in
the world any more. The world is Byzantine. The justest man to-day
must practise a tainted goodness."
These questions need discussion--a magnificent frankness of
discussion--if any standards are again to establish an effective
hold upon educated people. Discretions, as I have said already,
will never hold any one worth holding--longer than they held us.
Against every "shalt not" there must be a "why not" plainly put,--
the "why not" largest and plainest, the law deduced from its
purpose. "You and I, Isabel," I said, "have always been a little
disregardful of duty, partly at least because the idea of duty comes
to us so ill-clad. Oh! I know there's an extravagant insubordinate
strain in us, but that wasn't all. I wish humbugs would leave duty
alone. I wish all duty wasn't covered with slime. That's where the
real mischief comes in. Passion can always contrive to clothe
itself in beauty, strips itself splendid. That carried us. But for
all its mean associations there is this duty. . . .
"Don't we come rather late to it?"
"Not so late that it won't be atrociously hard to do."
"It's queer to think of now," said Isabel. "Who could believe we
did all we have done honestly? Well, in a manner honestly. Who
could believe we thought this might be hidden? Who could trace it
all step by step from the time when we found that a certain boldness
in our talk was pleasing? We talked of love. . . . Master, there's
not much for us to do in the way of Apologia that any one will
credit. And yet if it were possible to tell the very heart of our
story. . . .
"Does Margaret really want to go on with you?" she asked--"shield
you--knowing of . . . THIS?"
"I'm certain. I don't understand--just as I don't understand
Shoesmith, but she does. These people walk on solid ground which is
just thin air to us. They've got something we haven't got.
Assurances? I wonder." . . .
Then it was, or later, we talked of Shoesmith, and what her life
might be with him.
"He's good," she said; "he's kindly. He's everything but magic.
He's the very image of the decent, sober, honourable life. You
can't say a thing against him or I--except that something--something
in his imagination, something in the tone of his voice--fails for
me. Why don't I love him?--he's a better man than you! Why don't
you? IS he a better man than you? He's usage, he's honour, he's
the right thing, he's the breed and the tradition,--a gentleman.
You're your erring, incalculable self. I suppose we women will
trust this sort and love your sort to the very end of time. . . ."
We lay side by side and nibbled at grass stalks as we talked. It
seemed enormously unreasonable to us that two people who had come to
the pitch of easy and confident affection and happiness that held
between us should be obliged to part and shun one another, or murder
half the substance of their lives. We felt ourselves crushed and
beaten by an indiscriminating machine which destroys happiness in
the service of jealousy. "The mass of people don't feel these
things in quite the same manner as we feel them," she said. "Is it
because they're different in grain, or educated out of some
"It's because we've explored love a little, and they know no more
than the gateway," I said. "Lust and then jealousy; their simple
conception--and we have gone past all that and wandered hand in
hand. . . ."
I remember that for a time we watched two of that larger sort of
gull, whose wings are brownish-white, circle and hover against the
blue. And then we lay and looked at a band of water mirror clear
far out to sea, and wondered why the breeze that rippled all the
rest should leave it so serene.
"And in this State of ours," I resumed.
"Eh!" said Isabel, rolling over into a sitting posture and looking
out at the horizon. "Let's talk no more of things we can never see.
Talk to me of the work you are doing and all we shall do--after we
have parted. We've said too little of that. We've had our red
life, and it's over. Thank Heaven!--though we stole it! Talk about
your work, dear, and the things we'll go on doing--just as though we
were still together. We'll still be together in a sense--through
all these things we have in common."
And so we talked of politics and our outlook. We were interested to
the pitch of self-forgetfulness. We weighed persons and forces,
discussed the probabilities of the next general election, the steady
drift of public opinion in the north and west away from Liberalism
towards us. It was very manifest that in spite of Wardenham and the
EXPURGATOR, we should come into the new Government strongly. The
party had no one else, all the young men were formally or informally
with us; Esmeer would have office, Lord Tarvrille, I . . . and very
probably there would be something for Shoesmith. "And for my own
part," I said, "I count on backing on the Liberal side. For the
last two years we've been forcing competition in constructive
legislation between the parties. The Liberals have not been long in
following up our Endowment of Motherhood lead. They'll have to give
votes and lip service anyhow. Half the readers of the BLUE WEEKLY,
they say, are Liberals. . . .
"I remember talking about things of this sort with old Willersley,"
I said, "ever so many years ago. It was some place near Locarno,
and we looked down the lake that shone weltering--just as now we
look over the sea. And then we dreamt in an indistinct featureless
way of all that you and I are doing now."
"I!" said Isabel, and laughed.
"Well, of some such thing," I said, and remained for awhile silent,
thinking of Locarno.
I recalled once more the largeness, the release from small personal
things that I had felt in my youth; statecraft became real and
wonderful again with the memory, the gigantic handling of gigantic
problems. I began to talk out my thoughts, sitting up beside her,
as I could never talk of them to any one but Isabel; began to
recover again the purpose that lay under all my political ambitions
and adjustments and anticipations. I saw the State, splendid and
wide as I had seen it in that first travel of mine, but now it was
no mere distant prospect of spires and pinnacles, but populous with
fine-trained, bold-thinking, bold-doing people. It was as if I had
forgotten for a long time and now remembered with amazement.
At first, I told her, I had been altogether at a loss how I could do
anything to battle against the aimless muddle of our world; I had
wanted a clue--until she had come into my life questioning,
suggesting, unconsciously illuminating. "But I have done nothing,"
she protested. I declared she had done everything in growing to
education under my eyes, in reflecting again upon all the processes
that had made myself, so that instead of abstractions and blue-books
and bills and devices, I had realised the world of mankind as a
crowd needing before all things fine women and men. We'd spoilt
ourselves in learning that, but anyhow we had our lesson. Before
her I was in a nineteenth-century darkness, dealing with the nation
as if it were a crowd of selfish men, forgetful of women and
children and that shy wild thing in the hearts of men, love, which
must be drawn upon as it has never been drawn upon before, if the
State is to live. I saw now how it is possible to bring the loose
factors of a great realm together, to create a mind of literature
and thought in it, and the expression of a purpose to make it self-
conscious and fine. I had it all clear before me, so that at a
score of points I could presently begin. The BLUE WEEKLY was a
centre of force. Already we had given Imperialism a criticism, and
leavened half the press from our columns. Our movement consolidated
and spread. We should presently come into power. Everything moved
towards our hands. We should be able to get at the schools, the
services, the universities, the church; enormously increase the
endowment of research, and organise what was sorely wanted, a
criticism of research; contrive a closer contact between the press
and creative intellectual life; foster literature, clarify,
strengthen the public consciousness, develop social organisation and
a sense of the State. Men were coming to us every day, brilliant
young peers like Lord Dentonhill, writers like Carnot and Cresswell.
It filled me with pride to win such men. "We stand for so much more
than we seem to stand for," I said. I opened my heart to her, so
freely that I hesitate to open my heart even to the reader, telling
of projects and ambitions I cherished, of my consciousness of great
powers and widening opportunities. . . .
Isabel watched me as I talked.
She too, I think, had forgotten these things for a while. For it is
curious and I think a very significant thing that since we had
become lovers, we had talked very little of the broader things that
had once so strongly gripped our imaginations.
"It's good," I said, "to talk like this to you, to get back to youth
and great ambitions with you. There have been times lately when
politics has seemed the pettiest game played with mean tools for
mean ends--and none the less so that the happiness of three hundred
million people might be touched by our follies. I talk to no one
else like this. . . . And now I think of parting, I think but of
how much more I might have talked to you." . . .
Things drew to an end at last, but after we had spoken of a thousand
"We've talked away our last half day," I said, staring over my
shoulder at the blazing sunset sky behind us. "Dear, it's been the
last day of our lives for us. . . . It doesn't seem like the last
day of our lives. Or any day."
"I wonder how it will feel?" said Isabel.
"It will be very strange at first--not to be able to tell you
"I've a superstition that after--after we've parted--if ever I go
into my room and talk, you'll hear. You'll be--somewhere."
"I shall be in the world--yes."
"I don't feel as though these days ahead were real. Here we are,
here we remain."
"Yes, I feel that. As though you and I were two immortals, who
didn't live in time and space at all, who never met, who couldn't
part, and here we lie on Olympus. And those two poor creatures who
did meet, poor little Richard Remington and Isabel Rivers, who met
and loved too much and had to part, they part and go their ways, and
we lie here and watch them, you and I. She'll cry, poor dear."
"She'll cry. She's crying now!"
"Poor little beasts! I think he'll cry too. He winces. He could--
for tuppence. I didn't know he had lachrymal glands at all until a
little while ago. I suppose all love is hysterical--and a little
foolish. Poor mites! Silly little pitiful creatures! How we have
blundered! Think how we must look to God! Well, we'll pity them,
and then we'll inspire him to stiffen up again--and do as we've
determined he shall do. We'll see it through,--we who lie here on
the cliff. They'll be mean at times, and horrid at times; we know
them! Do you see her, a poor little fine lady in a great house,--
she sometimes goes to her room and writes."
"She writes for his BLUE WEEKLY still."
"Yes. Sometimes--I hope. And he's there in the office with a bit
of her copy in his hand."
"Is it as good as if she still talked it over with him before she
wrote it? Is it?"
"Better, I think. Let's play it's better--anyhow. It may be that
talking over was rather mixed with love-making. After all, love-
making is joy rather than magic. Don't let's pretend about that
even. . . . Let's go on watching him. (I don't see why her writing
shouldn't be better. Indeed I don't.) See! There he goes down
along the Embankment to Westminster just like a real man, for all
that he's smaller than a grain of dust. What is running round
inside that speck of a head of his? Look at him going past the
Policemen, specks too--selected large ones from the country. I
think he's going to dinner with the Speaker--some old thing like
that. Is his face harder or commoner or stronger?--I can't quite
see. . . . And now he's up and speaking in the House. Hope he'll
hold on to the thread. He'll have to plan his speeches to the very
end of his days--and learn the headings."
"Isn't she up in the women's gallery to hear him?"
"No. Unless it's by accident."
"She's there," she said.
"Well, by accident it happens. Not too many accidents, Isabel.
Never any more adventures for us, dear, now. No! . . . They play
the game, you know. They've begun late, but now they've got to.
You see it's not so very hard for them since you and I, my dear, are
here always, always faithfully here on this warm cliff of love
accomplished, watching and helping them under high heaven. It isn't
so VERY hard. Rather good in some ways. Some people HAVE to be
broken a little. Can you see Altiora down there, by any chance?"
"She's too little to be seen," she said.
"Can you see the sins they once committed?"
"I can only see you here beside me, dear--for ever. For all my
life, dear, till I die. Was that--the sin?" . . .
I took her to the station, and after she had gone I was to drive to
Dover, and cross to Calais by the night boat. I couldn't, I felt,
return to London. We walked over the crest and down to the little
station of Martin Mill side by side, talking at first in broken
fragments, for the most part of unimportant things.
"None of this," she said abruptly, "seems in the slightest degree
real to me. I've got no sense of things ending."
"We're parting," I said.
"We're parting--as people part in a play. It's distressing. But I
don't feel as though you and I were really never to see each other
again for years. Do you?"
I thought. "No," I said.
"After we've parted I shall look to talk it over with you."
"So shall I."
"I feel as if you'd always be there, just about where you are now.
Invisible perhaps, but there. We've spent so much of our lives
joggling elbows." . . .
"Yes. Yes. I don't in the least realise it. I suppose I shall
begin to when the train goes out of the station. Are we wanting in
"I don't know. We've always assumed it was the other way about."
"Even when the train goes out of the station--! I've seen you into
so many trains."
"I shall go on thinking of things to say to you--things to put in
your letters. For years to come. How can I ever stop thinking in
that way now? We've got into each other's brains."
"It isn't real," I said; "nothing is real. The world's no more than
a fantastic dream. Why are we parting, Isabel?"
"I don't know. It seems now supremely silly. I suppose we have to.
Can't we meet?--don't you think we shall meet even in dreams?"
"We'll meet a thousand times in dreams," I said.
"I wish we could dream at the same time," said Isabel. . . . "Dream
walks. I can't believe, dear, I shall never have a walk with you
"If I'd stayed six months in America," I said, "we might have walked
long walks and talked long talks for all our lives."
"Not in a world of Baileys," said Isabel. "And anyhow--"
She stopped short. I looked interrogation.
"We've loved," she said.
I took her ticket, saw to her luggage, and stood by the door of the
compartment. "Good-bye," I said a little stiffly, conscious of the
people upon the platform. She bent above me, white and dusky,
looking at me very steadfastly.
"Come here," she whispered. "Never mind the porters. What can they
know? Just one time more--I must."
She rested her hand against the door of the carriage and bent down
upon me, and put her cold, moist lips to mine.
CHAPTER THE THIRD
THE BREAKING POINT
And then we broke down. We broke our faith with both Margaret and
Shoesmith, flung career and duty out of our lives, and went away
It is only now, almost a year after these events, that I can begin
to see what happened to me. At the time it seemed to me I was a
rational, responsible creature, but indeed I had not parted from her
two days before I became a monomaniac to whom nothing could matter
but Isabel. Every truth had to be squared to that obsession, every
duty. It astounds me to think how I forgot Margaret, forgot my
work, forgot everything but that we two were parted. I still
believe that with better chances we might have escaped the
consequences of the emotional storm that presently seized us both.
But we had no foresight of that, and no preparation for it, and our
circumstances betrayed us. It was partly Shoesmith's unwisdom in
delaying his marriage until after the end of the session--partly my
own amazing folly in returning within four days to Westminster. But
we were all of us intent upon the defeat of scandal and the complete
restoration of appearances. It seemed necessary that Shoesmith's
marriage should not seem to be hurried, still more necessary that I
should not vanish inexplicably. I had to be visible with Margaret
in London just as much as possible; we went to restaurants, we
visited the theatre; we could even contemplate the possibility of my
presence at the wedding. For that, however, we had schemed a
weekend visit to Wales, and a fictitious sprained ankle at the last
moment which would justify my absence. . . .
I cannot convey to you the intolerable wretchedness and rebellion of
my separation from Isabel. It seemed that in the past two years all
my thoughts had spun commisures to Isabel's brain and I could think
of nothing that did not lead me surely to the need of the one
intimate I had found in the world. I came back to the House and the
office and my home, I filled all my days with appointments and duty,
and it did not save me in the least from a lonely emptiness such as
I had never felt before in all my life. I had little sleep. In the
daytime I did a hundred things, I even spoke in the House on two
occasions, and by my own low standards spoke well, and it seemed to
me that I was going about in my own brain like a hushed survivor in
a house whose owner lies dead upstairs.
I came to a crisis after that wild dinner of Tarvrille's. Something
in that stripped my soul bare.
It was an occasion made absurd and strange by the odd accident that
the house caught fire upstairs while we were dining below. It was a
men's dinner--"A dinner of all sorts," said Tarvrille, when he
invited me; "everything from Evesham and Gane to Wilkins the author,
and Heaven knows what will happen!" I remember that afterwards
Tarvrille was accused of having planned the fire to make his dinner
a marvel and a memory. It was indeed a wonderful occasion, and I
suppose if I had not been altogether drenched in misery, I should
have found the same wild amusement in it that glowed in all the
others. There were one or two university dons, Lord George Fester,
the racing man, Panmure, the artist, two or three big City men,
Weston Massinghay and another prominent Liberal whose name I can't
remember, the three men Tarvrille had promised and Esmeer, Lord
Wrassleton, Waulsort, the member for Monckton, Neal and several
others. We began a little coldly, with duologues, but the
conversation was already becoming general--so far as such a long
table permitted--when the fire asserted itself.
It asserted itself first as a penetrating and emphatic smell of
burning rubber,--it was caused by the fusing of an electric wire.
The reek forced its way into the discussion of the Pekin massacres
that had sprung up between Evesham, Waulsort, and the others at the
end of the table. "Something burning," said the man next to me.
"Something must be burning," said Panmure.
Tarvrille hated undignified interruptions. He had a particularly
imperturbable butler with a cadaverous sad face and an eye of rigid
disapproval. He spoke to this individual over his shoulder. "Just
see, will you," he said, and caught up the pause in the talk to his
Wilkins was asking questions, and I, too, was curious. The story of
the siege of the Legations in China in the year 1900 and all that
followed upon that, is just one of those disturbing interludes in
history that refuse to join on to that general scheme of
protestation by which civilisation is maintained. It is a break in
the general flow of experience as disconcerting to statecraft as the
robbery of my knife and the scuffle that followed it had been to me
when I was a boy at Penge. It is like a tear in a curtain revealing
quite unexpected backgrounds. I had never given the business a
thought for years; now this talk brought back a string of pictures
to my mind; how the reliefs arrived and the plundering began, how
section after section of the International Army was drawn into
murder and pillage, how the infection spread upward until the wives
of Ministers were busy looting, and the very sentinels stripped and
crawled like snakes into the Palace they were set to guard. It did
not stop at robbery, men were murdered, women, being plundered, were
outraged, children were butchered, strong men had found themselves
with arms in a lawless, defenceless city, and this had followed.
Now it was all recalled.
"Respectable ladies addicted to district visiting at home were as
bad as any one," said Panmure. "Glazebrook told me of one--flushed
like a woman at a bargain sale, he said--and when he pointed out to
her that the silk she'd got was bloodstained, she just said, 'Oh,
bother!' and threw it aside and went back. . . ."
We became aware that Tarvrille's butler had returned. We tried not
to seem to listen.
"Beg pardon, m'lord," he said. "The house IS on fire, m'lord."
"Just overhead, m'lord."
"The maids are throwing water, m'lord, and I've telephoned FIRE."
"No, m'lord, no immediate danger."
"It's all right," said Tarvrille to the table generally. "Go on!
It's not a general conflagration, and the fire brigade won't be five
minutes. Don't see that it's our affair. The stuff's insured.
They say old Lady Paskershortly was dreadful. Like a harpy. The
Dowager Empress had shown her some little things of hers. Pet
things--hidden away. Susan went straight for them--used to take an
umbrella for the silks. Born shoplifter."
It was evident he didn't want his dinner spoilt, and we played up
"This is recorded history," said Wilkins,--"practically. It makes
one wonder about unrecorded history. In India, for example."
But nobody touched that.
"Thompson," said Tarvrille to the imperturbable butler, and
indicating the table generally, "champagne. Champagne. Keep it
"M'lord," and Thompson marshalled his assistants.
Some man I didn't know began to remember things about Mandalay.
"It's queer," he said, "how people break out at times;" and told his
story of an army doctor, brave, public-spirited, and, as it
happened, deeply religious, who was caught one evening by the
excitement of plundering--and stole and hid, twisted the wrist of a
boy until it broke, and was afterwards overcome by wild remorse.
I watched Evesham listening intently. "Strange," he said, "very
strange. We are such stuff as thieves are made of. And in China,
too, they murdered people--for the sake of murdering. Apart, so to
speak, from mercenary considerations. I'm afraid there's no doubt
of it in certain cases. No doubt at all. Young soldiers fresh from
German high schools and English homes!"
"Did OUR people?" asked some patriot.
"Not so much. But I'm afraid there were cases. . . . Some of the
Indian troops were pretty bad."
Gane picked up the tale with confirmations.
It is all printed in the vividest way as a picture upon my memory,
so that were I a painter I think I could give the deep rich browns
and warm greys beyond the brightly lit table, the various
distinguished faces, strongly illuminated, interested and keen,
above the black and white of evening dress, the alert menservants
with their heavier, clean-shaved faces indistinctly seen in the
dimness behind. Then this was coloured emotionally for me by my
aching sense of loss and sacrifice, and by the chance trend of our
talk to the breaches and unrealities of the civilised scheme. We
seemed a little transitory circle of light in a universe of darkness
and violence; an effect to which the diminishing smell of burning
rubber, the trampling of feet overhead, the swish of water, added
enormously. Everybody--unless, perhaps, it was Evesham--drank
rather carelessly because of the suppressed excitement of our
situation, and talked the louder and more freely.
"But what a flimsy thing our civilisation is!" said Evesham; "a mere
thin net of habits and associations!"
"I suppose those men came back," said Wilkins.
"Lady Paskershortly did!" chuckled Evesham.
"How do they fit it in with the rest of their lives?" Wilkins
speculated. "I suppose there's Pekin-stained police officers,
Pekin-stained J. P.'s--trying petty pilferers in the severest
manner." . . .
Then for a time things became preposterous. There was a sudden
cascade of water by the fireplace, and then absurdly the ceiling
began to rain upon us, first at this point and then that. "My new
suit!" cried some one. "Perrrrrr-up pe-rr"--a new vertical line of
blackened water would establish itself and form a spreading pool
upon the gleaming cloth. The men nearest would arrange catchment
areas of plates and flower bowls. "Draw up!" said Tarvrille, "draw
up. That's the bad end of the table!" He turned to the
imperturbable butler. "Take round bath towels," he said; and
presently the men behind us were offering--with inflexible dignity--
"Port wine, Sir. Bath towel, Sir!" Waulsort, with streaks of
blackened water on his forehead, was suddenly reminded of a wet year
when he had followed the French army manoeuvres. An animated
dispute sprang up between him and Neal about the relative efficiency
of the new French and German field guns. Wrassleton joined in and a
little drunken shrivelled Oxford don of some sort with a black-
splashed shirt front who presently silenced them all by the
immensity and particularity of his knowledge of field artillery.
Then the talk drifted to Sedan and the effect of dead horses upon
drinking-water, which brought Wrassleton and Weston Massinghay into
a dispute of great vigour and emphasis. "The trouble in South
Africa," said Weston Massinghay, "wasn't that we didn't boil our
water. It was that we didn't boil our men. The Boers drank the
same stuff we did. THEY didn't get dysentery."
That argument went on for some time. I was attacked across the
table by a man named Burshort about my Endowment of Motherhood
schemes, but in the gaps of that debate I could still hear Weston
Massinghay at intervals repeat in a rather thickened voice: "THEY
didn't get dysentery."
I think Evesham went early. The rest of us clustered more and more
closely towards the drier end of the room, the table was pushed
along, and the area beneath the extinguished conflagration abandoned
to a tinkling, splashing company of pots and pans and bowls and
baths. Everybody was now disposed to be hilarious and noisy, to say
startling and aggressive things; we must have sounded a queer
clamour to a listener in the next room. The devil inspired them to
begin baiting me. "Ours isn't the Tory party any more," said
Burshort. "Remington has made it the Obstetric Party."
"That's good!" said Weston Massinghay, with all his teeth gleaming;
"I shall use that against you in the House!"
"I shall denounce you for abusing private confidences if you do,"
"Remington wants us to give up launching Dreadnoughts and launch
babies instead," Burshort urged. "For the price of one Dreadnought--"
The little shrivelled don who had been omniscient about guns joined
in the baiting, and displayed himself a venomous creature.
Something in his eyes told me he knew Isabel and hated me for it.
"Love and fine thinking," he began, a little thickly, and knocking
over a wine-glass with a too easy gesture. "Love and fine thinking.
Two things don't go together. No philosophy worth a damn ever came
out of excesses of love. Salt Lake City--Piggott--Ag--Agapemone
again--no works to matter."
"Got to rec'nise these facts," said my assailant. "Love and fine
think'n pretty phrase--attractive. Suitable for p'litical
dec'rations. Postcard, Christmas, gilt lets, in a wreath of white
flow's. Not oth'wise valu'ble."
I made some remark, I forget what, but he overbore me.
Real things we want are Hate--Hate and COARSE think'n. I b'long to
the school of Mrs. F's Aunt--"
"What?" said some one, intent.
"In 'Little Dorrit,'" explained Tarvrille; "go on!"
"Hate a fool," said my assailant.
Tarvrille glanced at me. I smiled to conceal the loss of my temper.
"Hate," said the little man, emphasising his point with a clumsy
fist. "Hate's the driving force. What's m'rality?--hate of rotten
goings on. What's patriotism?--hate of int'loping foreigners.
What's Radicalism?--hate of lords. What's Toryism?--hate of
disturbance. It's all hate--hate from top to bottom. Hate of a
mess. Remington owned it the other day, said he hated a mu'll.
There you are! If you couldn't get hate into an election, damn it
(hic) people wou'n't poll. Poll for love!--no' me!"
He paused, but before any one could speak he had resumed.
"Then this about fine thinking. Like going into a bear pit armed
with a tagle--talgent--talgent galv'nometer. Like going to fight a
mad dog with Shasepear and the Bible. Fine thinking--what we want
is the thickes' thinking we can get. Thinking that stands up alone.
Taf Reform means work for all, thassort of thing."
The gentleman from Cambridge paused. "YOU a flag!" he said. "I'd
as soon go to ba'ell und' wet tissue paper!"
My best answer on the spur of the moment was:
"The Japanese did." Which was absurd.
I went on to some other reply, I forget exactly what, and the talk
of the whole table drew round me. It was an extraordinary
revelation to me. Every one was unusually careless and outspoken,
and it was amazing how manifestly they echoed the feeling of this
old Tory spokesman. They were quite friendly to me, they regarded
me and the BLUE WEEKLY as valuable party assets for Toryism, but it
was clear they attached no more importance to what were my realities
than they did to the remarkable therapeutic claims of Mrs. Eddy.
They were flushed and amused, perhaps they went a little too far in
their resolves to draw me, but they left the impression on my mind
of men irrevocably set upon narrow and cynical views of political
life. For them the political struggle was a game, whose counters
were human hate and human credulity; their real aim was just every
one's aim, the preservation of the class and way of living to which
their lives were attuned. They did not know how tired I was, how
exhausted mentally and morally, nor how cruel their convergent
attack on me chanced to be. But my temper gave way, I became tart
and fierce, perhaps my replies were a trifle absurd, and Tarvrille,
with that quick eye and sympathy of his, came to the rescue. Then
for a time I sat silent and drank port wine while the others talked.
The disorder of the room, the still dripping ceiling, the noise, the
displaced ties and crumpled shirts of my companions, jarred on my
tormented nerves. . . .
It was long past midnight when we dispersed. I remember Tarvrille
coming with me into the hall, and then suggesting we should go
upstairs to see the damage. A manservant carried up two flickering
candles for us. One end of the room was gutted, curtains, hangings,
several chairs and tables were completely burnt, the panelling was
scorched and warped, three smashed windows made the candles flare
and gutter, and some scraps of broken china still lay on the puddled
As we surveyed this, Lady Tarvrille appeared, back from some party,
a slender, white-cloaked, satin-footed figure with amazed blue eyes
beneath her golden hair. I remember how stupidly we laughed at her
I parted from Panmure at the corner of Aldington Street, and went my
way alone. But I did not go home, I turned westward and walked for
a long way, and then struck northward aimlessly. I was too
miserable to go to my house.
I wandered about that night like a man who has discovered his Gods
are dead. I can look back now detached yet sympathetic upon that
wild confusion of moods and impulses, and by it I think I can
understand, oh! half the wrongdoing and blundering in the world.
I do not feel now the logical force of the process that must have
convinced me then that I had made my sacrifice and spent my strength
in vain. At no time had I been under any illusion that the Tory
party had higher ideals than any other party, yet it came to me like
a thing newly discovered that the men I had to work with had for the
most part no such dreams, no sense of any collective purpose, no
atom of the faith I held. They were just as immediately intent upon
personal ends, just as limited by habits of thought, as the men in
any other group or party. Perhaps I had slipped unawares for a time
into the delusions of a party man--but I do not think so.
No, it was the mood of profound despondency that had followed upon
the abrupt cessation of my familiar intercourse with Isabel, that
gave this fact that had always been present in my mind its quality
of devastating revelation. It seemed as though I had never seen
before nor suspected the stupendous gap between the chaotic aims,
the routine, the conventional acquiescences, the vulgarisations of
the personal life, and that clearly conscious development and
service of a collective thought and purpose at which my efforts
aimed. I had thought them but a little way apart, and now I saw
they were separated by all the distance between earth and heaven. I
saw now in myself and every one around me, a concentration upon
interests close at hand, an inability to detach oneself from the
provocations, tendernesses, instinctive hates, dumb lusts and shy
timidities that touched one at every point; and, save for rare
exalted moments, a regardlessness of broader aims and remoter
possibilities that made the white passion of statecraft seem as
unearthly and irrelevant to human life as the story an astronomer
will tell, half proven but altogether incredible, of habitable
planets and answering intelligences, suns' distances uncounted
across the deep. It seemed to me I had aspired too high and thought
too far, had mocked my own littleness by presumption, had given the
uttermost dear reality of life for a theoriser's dream.
All through that wandering agony of mine that night a dozen threads
of thought interwove; now I was a soul speaking in protest to God
against a task too cold and high for it, and now I was an angry man,
scorned and pointed upon, who had let life cheat him of the ultimate
pride of his soul. Now I was the fool of ambition, who opened his
box of gold to find blank emptiness, and now I was a spinner of
flimsy thoughts, whose web tore to rags at a touch. I realised for
the first time how much I had come to depend upon the mind and faith
of Isabel, how she had confirmed me and sustained me, how little
strength I had to go on with our purposes now that she had vanished
from my life. She had been the incarnation of those great
abstractions, the saving reality, the voice that answered back.
There was no support that night in the things that had been. We
were alone together on the cliff for ever more!--that was very
pretty in its way, but it had no truth whatever that could help me
now, no ounce of sustaining value. I wanted Isabel that night, no
sentiment or memory of her, but Isabel alive,--to talk to me, to
touch me, to hold me together. I wanted unendurably the dusky
gentleness of her presence, the consolation of her voice.
We were alone together on the cliff! I startled a passing cabman
into interest by laughing aloud at that magnificent and
characteristic sentimentality. What a lie it was, and how
satisfying it had been! That was just where we shouldn't remain.
We of all people had no distinction from that humanity whose lot is
to forget. We should go out to other interests, new experiences,
new demands. That tall and intricate fabric of ambitious
understandings we had built up together in our intimacy would be the
first to go; and last perhaps to endure with us would be a few gross
memories of sights and sounds, and trivial incidental excitements. . . .
I had a curious feeling that night that I had lost touch with life
for a long time, and had now been reminded of its quality. That
infernal little don's parody of my ruling phrase, "Hate and coarse
thinking," stuck in my thoughts like a poisoned dart, a centre of
inflammation. Just as a man who is debilitated has no longer the
vitality to resist an infection, so my mind, slackened by the crisis
of my separation from Isabel, could find no resistance to his
emphatic suggestion. It seemed to me that what he had said was
overpoweringly true, not only of contemporary life, but of all
possible human life. Love is the rare thing, the treasured thing;
you lock it away jealously and watch, and well you may; hate and
aggression and force keep the streets and rule the world. And fine
thinking is, in the rough issues of life, weak thinking, is a
balancing indecisive process, discovers with disloyal impartiality a
justice and a defect on each disputing side. "Good honest men," as
Dayton calls them, rule the world, with a way of thinking out
decisions like shooting cartloads of bricks, and with a steadfast
pleasure in hostility. Dayton liked to call his antagonists
"blaggards and scoundrels"--it justified his opposition--the Lords
were "scoundrels," all people richer than be were "scoundrels," all
Socialists, all troublesome poor people; he liked to think of jails
and justice being done. His public spirit was saturated with the
sombre joys of conflict and the pleasant thought of condign
punishment for all recalcitrant souls. That was the way of it, I
perceived. That had survival value, as the biologists say. He was
fool enough in politics to be a consistent and happy politician. . . .
Hate and coarse thinking; how the infernal truth of the phrase beat
me down that night! I couldn't remember that I had known this all
along, and that it did not really matter in the slightest degree. I
had worked it all out long ago in other terms, when I had seen how
all parties stood for interests inevitably, and how the purpose in
life achieves itself, if it achieves itself at all, as a bye product
of the war of individuals and classes. Hadn't I always known that
science and philosophy elaborate themselves in spite of all the
passion and narrowness of men, in spite of the vanities and weakness
of their servants, in spite of all the heated disorder of
contemporary things? Wasn't it my own phrase to speak of "that
greater mind in men, in which we are but moments and transitorily
lit cells?" Hadn't I known that the spirit of man still speaks like
a thing that struggles out of mud and slime, and that the mere
effort to speak means choking and disaster? Hadn't I known that we
who think without fear and speak without discretion will not come to
our own for the next two thousand years?
It was the last was most forgotten of all that faith mislaid.
Before mankind, in my vision that night, stretched new centuries of
confusion, vast stupid wars, hastily conceived laws, foolish
temporary triumphs of order, lapses, set-backs, despairs,
catastrophes, new beginnings, a multitudinous wilderness of time, a
nigh plotless drama of wrong-headed energies. In order to assuage
my parting from Isabel we had set ourselves to imagine great rewards
for our separation, great personal rewards; we had promised
ourselves success visible and shining in our lives. To console
ourselves in our separation we had made out of the BLUE WEEKLY and
our young Tory movement preposterously enormous things-as though
those poor fertilising touches at the soil were indeed the
germinating seeds of the millennium, as though a million lives such
as ours had not to contribute before the beginning of the beginning.
That poor pretence had failed. That magnificent proposition
shrivelled to nothing in the black loneliness of that night.
I saw that there were to be no such compensations. So far as my
real services to mankind were concerned I had to live an
unrecognised and unrewarded life. If I made successes it would be
by the way. Our separation would alter nothing of that. My scandal
would cling to me now for all my life, a thing affecting
relationships, embarrassing and hampering my spirit. I should
follow the common lot of those who live by the imagination, and
follow it now in infinite loneliness of soul; the one good
comforter, the one effectual familiar, was lost to me for ever; I
should do good and evil together, no one caring to understand; I
should produce much weary work, much bad-spirited work, much
absolute evil; the good in me would be too often ill-expressed and
missed or misinterpreted. In the end I might leave one gleaming
flake or so amidst the slag heaps for a moment of postmortem
sympathy. I was afraid beyond measure of my derelict self. Because
I believed with all my soul in love and fine thinking that did not
mean that I should necessarily either love steadfastly or think
finely. I remember how I fell talking to God--I think I talked out
loud. "Why do I care for these things?" I cried, "when I can do so
little! Why am I apart from the jolly thoughtless fighting life of
men? These dreams fade to nothingness, and leave me bare!"
I scolded. "Why don't you speak to a man, show yourself? I thought
I had a gleam of you in Isabel,--and then you take her away. Do you
really think I can carry on this game alone, doing your work in
darkness and silence, living in muddled conflict, half living, half
Grotesque analogies arose in my mind. I discovered a strange
parallelism between my now tattered phrase of "Love and fine
thinking" and the "Love and the Word" of Christian thought. Was it
possible the Christian propaganda had at the outset meant just that
system of attitudes I had been feeling my way towards from the very
beginning of my life? Had I spent a lifetime making my way back to
Christ? It mocks humanity to think how Christ has been overlaid. I
went along now, recalling long-neglected phrases and sentences; I
had a new vision of that great central figure preaching love with
hate and coarse thinking even in the disciples about Him, rising to
a tidal wave at last in that clamour for Barabbas, and the public
satisfaction in His fate. . . .
It's curious to think that hopeless love and a noisy disordered
dinner should lead a man to these speculations, but they did. "He
DID mean that!" I said, and suddenly thought of what a bludgeon
they'd made of His Christianity. Athwart that perplexing, patient
enigma sitting inaudibly among publicans and sinners, danced and
gibbered a long procession of the champions of orthodoxy. "He
wasn't human," I said, and remembered that last despairing cry, "My
God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
"Oh, HE forsakes every one," I said, flying out as a tired mind
will, with an obvious repartee. . . .
I passed at a bound from such monstrous theology to a towering rage
against the Baileys. In an instant and with no sense of absurdity I
wanted--in the intervals of love and fine thinking--to fling about
that strenuously virtuous couple; I wanted to kick Keyhole of the
PEEPSHOW into the gutter and make a common massacre of all the
prosperous rascaldom that makes a trade and rule of virtue. I can
still feel that transition. In a moment I had reached that phase of
weakly decisive anger which is for people of my temperament the
concomitant of exhaustion.
"I will have her," I cried. "By Heaven! I WILL have her! Life
mocks me and cheats me. Nothing can be made good to me again. . . .
Why shouldn't I save what I can? I can't save myself without
her. . . ."
I remember myself--as a sort of anti-climax to that--rather
tediously asking my way home. I was somewhere in the neighbourhood
of Holland Park. . . .
It was then between one and two. I felt that I could go home now
without any risk of meeting Margaret. It had been the thought of
returning to Margaret that had sent me wandering that night. It is
one of the ugliest facts I recall about that time of crisis, the
intense aversion I felt for Margaret. No sense of her goodness, her
injury and nobility, and the enormous generosity of her forgiveness,
sufficed to mitigate that. I hope now that in this book I am able
to give something of her silvery splendour, but all through this
crisis I felt nothing of that. There was a triumphant kindliness
about her that I found intolerable. She meant to be so kind to me,
to offer unstinted consolation, to meet my needs, to supply just all
she imagined Isabel had given me.
When I left Tarvrille's, I felt I could anticipate exactly how she
would meet my homecoming. She would be perplexed by my crumpled
shirt front, on which I had spilt some drops of wine; she would
overlook that by an effort, explain it sentimentally, resolve it
should make no difference to her. She would want to know who had
been present, what we had talked about, show the alertest interest
in whatever it was--it didn't matter what. . . . No, I couldn't
So I did not reach my study until two o'clock.
There, I remember, stood the new and very beautiful old silver
candlesticks that she had set there two days since to please me--the
foolish kindliness of it! But in her search for expression,
Margaret heaped presents upon me. She had fitted these candlesticks
with electric lights, and I must, I suppose, have lit them to write
my note to Isabel. "Give me a word--the world aches without you,"
was all I scrawled, though I fully meant that she should come to me.
I knew, though I ought not to have known, that now she had left her
flat, she was with the Balfes--she was to have been married from the
Balfes--and I sent my letter there. And I went out into the silent
square and posted the note forthwith, because I knew quite clearly
that if I left it until morning I should never post it at all.
I had a curious revulsion of feeling that morning of our meeting.
(Of all places for such a clandestine encounter she had chosen the
bridge opposite Buckingham Palace.) Overnight I had been full of
self pity, and eager for the comfort of Isabel's presence. But the
ill-written scrawl in which she had replied had been full of the
suggestion of her own weakness and misery. And when I saw her, my
own selfish sorrows were altogether swept away by a wave of pitiful
tenderness. Something had happened to her that I did not
understand. She was manifestly ill. She came towards me wearily,
she who had always borne herself so bravely; her shoulders seemed
bent, and her eyes were tired, and her face white and drawn. All my
life has been a narrow self-centred life; no brothers, no sisters or
children or weak things had ever yet made any intimate appeal to me,
and suddenly--I verily believe for the first time in my life!--I
felt a great passion of protective ownership; I felt that here was
something that I could die to shelter, something that meant more
than joy or pride or splendid ambitions or splendid creation to me,
a new kind of hold upon me, a new power in the world. Some sealed
fountain was opened in my breast. I knew that I could love Isabel
broken, Isabel beaten, Isabel ugly and in pain, more than I could
love any sweet or delightful or glorious thing in life. I didn't
care any more for anything in the world but Isabel, and that I
should protect her. I trembled as I came near her, and could
scarcely speak to her for the emotion that filled me. . . .
"I had your letter," I said.
"I had yours."
"Where can we talk?"
I remember my lame sentences. "We'll have a boat. That's best
I took her to the little boat-house, and there we hired a boat, and
I rowed in silence under the bridge and into the shade of a tree.
The square grey stone masses of the Foreign Office loomed through
the twigs, I remember, and a little space of grass separated us from
the pathway and the scrutiny of passers-by. And there we talked.
"I had to write to you," I said.
"I had to come."
"When are you to be married?"
"Well?" I said. "But--can we?"
She leant forward and scrutinised my face with eyes wide open.
"What do you mean?" she said at last in a whisper.
"Can we stand it? After all?"
I looked at her white face. "Can you?" I said.
She whispered. "Your career?"
Then suddenly her face was contorted,--she wept silently, exactly as
a child tormented beyond endurance might suddenly weep. . . .
"Oh! I don't care," I cried, "now. I don't care. Damn the whole
system of things! Damn all this patching of the irrevocable! I
want to take care of you, Isabel! and have you with me."
"I can't stand it," she blubbered.
"You needn't stand it. I thought it was best for you. . . . I
thought indeed it was best for you. I thought even you wanted it
"Couldn't I live alone--as I meant to do?"
"No," I said, "you couldn't. You're not strong enough. I've
thought of that; I've got to shelter you."
"And I want you," I went on. "I'm not strong enough--I can't stand
life without you."
She stopped weeping, she made a great effort to control herself, and
looked at me steadfastly for a moment. "I was going to kill
myself," she whispered. "I was going to kill myself quietly--
somehow. I meant to wait a bit and have an accident. I thought--
you didn't understand. You were a man, and couldn't understand. . . ."
"People can't do as we thought we could do," I said. "We've gone
too far together."
"Yes," she said, and I stared into her eyes.
"The horror of it," she whispered. "The horror of being handed
over. It's just only begun to dawn upon me, seeing him now as I do.
He tries to be kind to me. . . . I didn't know. I felt adventurous
before. . . . It makes me feel like all the women in the world who
have ever been owned and subdued. . . . It's not that he isn't the
best of men, it's because I'm a part of you. . . . I can't go
through with it. If I go through with it, I shall be left--robbed
of pride--outraged--a woman beaten. . . ."
"I know," I said, "I know."
"I want to live alone. . . . I don't care for anything now but just
escape. If you can help me. . . ."
"I must take you away. There's nothing for us but to go away
"But your work," she said; "your career! Margaret! Our promises!"
"We've made a mess of things, Isabel--or things have made a mess of
us. I don't know which. Our flags are in the mud, anyhow. It's
too late to save those other things! They have to go. You can't
make terms with defeat. I thought it was Margaret needed me most.
But it's you. And I need you. I didn't think of that either. I
haven't a doubt left in the world now. We've got to leave
everything rather than leave each other. I'm sure of it. Now we
have gone so far. We've got to go right down to earth and begin
again. . . . Dear, I WANT disgrace with you. . . ."
So I whispered to her as she sat crumpled together on the faded
cushions of the boat, this white and weary young woman who had been
so valiant and careless a girl. "I don't care," I said. "I don't
care for anything, if I can save you out of the wreckage we have
The next day I went to the office of the BLUE WEEKLY in order to get
as much as possible of its affairs in working order before I left
London with Isabel. I just missed Shoesmith in the lower office.
Upstairs I found Britten amidst a pile of outside articles,
methodically reading the title of each and sometimes the first half-
dozen lines, and either dropping them in a growing heap on the floor
for a clerk to return, or putting them aside for consideration. I
interrupted him, squatted on the window-sill of the open window, and
sketched out my ideas for the session.
"You're far-sighted," he remarked at something of mine which reached
"I like to see things prepared," I answered.
"Yes," he said, and ripped open the envelope of a fresh aspirant.
I was silent while he read.
"You're going away with Isabel Rivers," he said abruptly.
"Well!" I said, amazed.
"I know," he said, and lost his breath. "Not my business. Only--"
It was queer to find Britten afraid to say a thing.
"It's not playing the game," he said.
"What do you know?"
"Everything that matters."
"Some games," I said, "are too hard to play."
There came a pause between us.
"I didn't know you were watching all this," I said.
"Yes," he answered, after a pause, "I've watched."
"Sorry--sorry you don't approve."
"It means smashing such an infernal lot of things, Remington."
I did not answer.
"You're going away then?"
"There's your wife."
"Shoesmith--whom you're pledged to in a manner. You've just picked
him out and made him conspicuous. Every one will know. Oh! of
course--it's nothing to you. Honour--"
"All this movement of ours. That's what I care for most. . . .
It's come to be a big thing, Remington."
"That will go on."
"We have a use for you--no one else quite fills it. No one. . . .
I'm not sure it will go on."
"Do you think I haven't thought of all these things?"
He shrugged his shoulders, and rejected two papers unread.
"I knew," he remarked, "when you came back from America. You were
alight with it." Then he let his bitterness gleam for a moment.
"But I thought you would stick to your bargain."
"It's not so much choice as you think," I said.
"There's always a choice."
"No," I said.
He scrutinised my face.
"I can't live without her--I can't work. She's all mixed up with
this--and everything. And besides, there's things you can't
understand. There's feelings you've never felt. . . . You don't
understand how much we've been to one another."
Britten frowned and thought.
"Some things one's GOT to do," he threw out.
"Some things one can't do."
"These infernal institutions--"
"Some one must begin," I said.
He shook his head. "Not YOU," he said. "No!"
He stretched out his hands on the desk before him, and spoke again.
"Remington," he said, "I've thought of this business day and night
too. It matters to me. It matters immensely to me. In a way--it's
a thing one doesn't often say to a man--I've loved you. I'm the
sort of man who leads a narrow life. . . . But you've been
something fine and good for me, since that time, do you remember?
when we talked about Mecca together."
"Yes. And you'll always be something fine and good for me anyhow.
I know things about you,--qualities--no mere act can destroy them. .
. . Well, I can tell you, you're doing wrong. You're going on now
like a man who is hypnotised and can't turn round. You're piling
wrong on wrong. It was wrong for you two people ever to be lovers."
"It gripped us hard," I said.
"Yes!--but in your position! And hers! It was vile!"
"You've not been tempted."
"How do you know? Anyhow--having done that, you ought to have stood
the consequences and thought of other people. You could have ended
it at the first pause for reflection. You didn't. You blundered
again. You kept on. You owed a certain secrecy to all of us! You
didn't keep it. You were careless. You made things worse. This
engagement and this publicity!--Damn it, Remington!"
"I know," I said, with smarting eyes. "Damn it! with all my heart!
It came of trying to patch. . . . You CAN'T patch."
"And now, as I care for anything under heaven, Remington, you two
ought to stand these last consequences--and part. You ought to
part. Other people have to stand things! Other people have to
part. You ought to. You say--what do you say? It's loss of so
much life to lose each other. So is losing a hand or a leg. But
it's what you've incurred. Amputate. Take your punishment--After
all, you chose it."
"Oh, damn!" I said, standing up and going to the window.
"Damn by all means. I never knew a topic so full of justifiable
damns. But you two did choose it. You ought to stick to your
I turned upon him with a snarl in my voice. "My dear Britten!" I
cried. "Don't I KNOW I'm doing wrong? Aren't I in a net? Suppose
I don't go! Is there any right in that? Do you think we're going
to be much to ourselves or any one after this parting? I've been
thinking all last night of this business, trying it over and over
again from the beginning. How was it we went wrong? Since I came
back from America--I grant you THAT--but SINCE, there's never been a
step that wasn't forced, that hadn't as much right in it or more, as
wrong. You talk as though I was a thing of steel that could bend
this way or that and never change. You talk as though Isabel was a
cat one could give to any kind of owner. . . . We two are things
that change and grow and alter all the time. We're--so interwoven
that being parted now will leave us just misshapen cripples. . . .
You don't know the motives, you don't know the rush and feel of
things, you don't know how it was with us, and how it is with us.
You don't know the hunger for the mere sight of one another; you
don't know anything."
Britten looked at his finger-nails closely. His red face puckered
to a wry frown. "Haven't we all at times wanted the world put
back?" he grunted, and looked hard and close at one particular nail.
There was a long pause.
"I want her," I said, "and I'm going to have her. I'm too tired for
balancing the right or wrong of it any more. You can't separate
them. I saw her yesterday. . . . She's--ill. . . . I'd take her
now, if death were just outside the door waiting for us."