The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
THIS is the saddest story I have ever heard. We had known the
Ashburnhams for nine seasons of the town of Nauheim with an extreme
intimacy--or, rather with an acquaintanceship as loose and easy and yet
as close as a good glove's with your hand. My wife and I knew Captain
and Mrs Ashburnham as well as it was possible to know anybody, and yet,
in another sense, we knew nothing at all about them. This is, I believe,
a state of things only possible with English people of whom, till today,
when I sit down to puzzle out what I know of this sad affair, I knew
nothing whatever. Six months ago I had never been to England, and,
certainly, I had never sounded the depths of an English heart. I had
known the shallows.
I don't mean to say that we were not acquainted with many English
people. Living, as we perforce lived, in Europe, and being, as we
perforce were, leisured Americans, which is as much as to say that we
were un-American, we were thrown very much into the society of the nicer
English. Paris, you see, was our home. Somewhere between Nice and
Bordighera provided yearly winter quarters for us, and Nauheim always
received us from July to September. You will gather from this statement
that one of us had, as the saying is, a "heart", and, from the statement
that my wife is dead, that she was the sufferer.
Captain Ashburnham also had a heart. But, whereas a yearly month or so
at Nauheim tuned him up to exactly the right pitch for the rest of the
twelvemonth, the two months or so were only just enough to keep poor
Florence alive from year to year. The reason for his heart was,
approximately, polo, or too much hard sportsmanship in his youth. The
reason for poor Florence's broken years was a storm at sea upon our
first crossing to Europe, and the immediate reasons for our imprisonment
in that continent were doctor's orders. They said that even the short
Channel crossing might well kill the poor thing.
When we all first met, Captain Ashburnham, home on sick leave from an
India to which he was never to return, was thirty-three; Mrs
Ashburnham--Leonora--was thirty-one. I was thirty-six and poor Florence
thirty. Thus today Florence would have been thirty-nine and Captain
Ashburnham forty-two; whereas I am forty-five and Leonora forty. You
will perceive, therefore, that our friendship has been a
young-middle-aged affair, since we were all of us of quite quiet
dispositions, the Ashburnhams being more particularly what in England it
is the custom to call "quite good people".
They were descended, as you will probably expect, from the Ashburnham
who accompanied Charles I to the scaffold, and, as you must also expect
with this class of English people, you would never have noticed it. Mrs
Ashburnham was a Powys; Florence was a Hurlbird of Stamford,
Connecticut, where, as you know, they are more old-fashioned than even
the inhabitants of Cranford, England, could have been. I myself am a
Dowell of Philadelphia, Pa., where, it is historically true, there are
more old English families than you would find in any six English
counties taken together. I carry about with me, indeed--as if it were
the only thing that invisibly anchored me to any spot upon the
globe--the title deeds of my farm, which once covered several blocks
between Chestnut and Walnut Streets. These title deeds are of wampum,
the grant of an Indian chief to the first Dowell, who left Farnham in
Surrey in company with William Penn. Florence's people, as is so often
the case with the inhabitants of Connecticut, came from the
neighbourhood of Fordingbridge, where the Ashburnhams' place is. From
there, at this moment, I am actually writing.
You may well ask why I write. And yet my reasons are quite many. For it
is not unusual in human beings who have witnessed the sack of a city or
the falling to pieces of a people to desire to set down what they have
witnessed for the benefit of unknown heirs or of generations infinitely
remote; or, if you please, just to get the sight out of their heads.
Some one has said that the death of a mouse from cancer is the whole
sack of Rome by the Goths, and I swear to you that the breaking up of
our little four-square coterie was such another unthinkable event.
Supposing that you should come upon us sitting together at one of the
little tables in front of the club house, let us say, at Homburg, taking
tea of an afternoon and watching the miniature golf, you would have said
that, as human affairs go, we were an extraordinarily safe castle. We
were, if you will, one of those tall ships with the white sails upon a
blue sea, one of those things that seem the proudest and the safest of
all the beautiful and safe things that God has permitted the mind of men
to frame. Where better could one take refuge? Where better?
Permanence? Stability? I can't believe it's gone. I can't believe that
that long, tranquil life, which was just stepping a minuet, vanished in
four crashing days at the end of nine years and six weeks. Upon my word,
yes, our intimacy was like a minuet, simply because on every possible
occasion and in every possible circumstance we knew where to go, where
to sit, which table we unanimously should choose; and we could rise and
go, all four together, without a signal from any one of us, always to
the music of the Kur orchestra, always in the temperate sunshine, or, if
it rained, in discreet shelters. No, indeed, it can't be gone. You can't
kill a minuet de la cour. You may shut up the music-book, close the
harpsichord; in the cupboard and presses the rats may destroy the white
satin favours. The mob may sack Versailles; the Trianon may fall, but
surely the minuet--the minuet itself is dancing itself away into the
furthest stars, even as our minuet of the Hessian bathing places must be
stepping itself still. Isn't there any heaven where old beautiful
dances, old beautiful intimacies prolong themselves? Isn't there any
Nirvana pervaded by the faint thrilling of instruments that have fallen
into the dust of wormwood but that yet had frail, tremulous, and
No, by God, it is false! It wasn't a minuet that we stepped; it was a
prison--a prison full of screaming hysterics, tied down so that they
might not outsound the rolling of our carriage wheels as we went along
the shaded avenues of the Taunus Wald.
And yet I swear by the sacred name of my creator that it was true. It
was true sunshine; the true music; the true splash of the fountains from
the mouth of stone dolphins. For, if for me we were four people with the
same tastes, with the same desires, acting--or, no, not acting--sitting
here and there unanimously, isn't that the truth? If for nine years I
have possessed a goodly apple that is rotten at the core and discover
its rottenness only in nine years and six months less four days, isn't
it true to say that for nine years I possessed a goodly apple? So it may
well be with Edward Ashburnham, with Leonora his wife and with poor dear
Florence. And, if you come to think of it, isn't it a little odd that
the physical rottenness of at least two pillars of our four-square house
never presented itself to my mind as a menace to its security? It
doesn't so present itself now though the two of them are actually dead.
I don't know. . . .
I know nothing--nothing in the world--of the hearts of men. I only know
that I am alone--horribly alone. No hearthstone will ever again witness,
for me, friendly intercourse. No smoking-room will ever be other than
peopled with incalculable simulacra amidst smoke wreaths. Yet, in the
name of God, what should I know if I don't know the life of the hearth
and of the smoking-room, since my whole life has been passed in those
places? The warm hearthside! --Well, there was Florence: I believe that
for the twelve years her life lasted, after the storm that seemed
irretrievably to have weakened her heart--I don't believe that for one
minute she was out of my sight, except when she was safely tucked up in
bed and I should be downstairs, talking to some good fellow or other in
some lounge or smoking-room or taking my final turn with a cigar before
going to bed. I don't, you understand, blame Florence. But how can she
have known what she knew? How could she have got to know it? To know it
so fully. Heavens! There doesn't seem to have been the actual time. It
must have been when I was taking my baths, and my Swedish exercises,
being manicured. Leading the life I did, of the sedulous, strained
nurse, I had to do something to keep myself fit. It must have been then!
Yet even that can't have been enough time to get the tremendously long
conversations full of worldly wisdom that Leonora has reported to me
since their deaths. And is it possible to imagine that during our
prescribed walks in Nauheim and the neighbourhood she found time to
carry on the protracted negotiations which she did carry on between
Edward Ashburnham and his wife? And isn't it incredible that during all
that time Edward and Leonora never spoke a word to each other in
private? What is one to think of humanity?
For I swear to you that they were the model couple. He was as devoted as
it was possible to be without appearing fatuous. So well set up, with
such honest blue eyes, such a touch of stupidity, such a warm
goodheartedness! And she--so tall, so splendid in the saddle, so fair!
Yes, Leonora was extraordinarily fair and so extraordinarily the real
thing that she seemed too good to be true. You don't, I mean, as a rule,
get it all so superlatively together. To be the county family, to look
the county family, to be so appropriately and perfectly wealthy; to be
so perfect in manner--even just to the saving touch of insolence that
seems to be necessary. To have all that and to be all that! No, it was
too good to be true. And yet, only this afternoon, talking over the
whole matter she said to me: "Once I tried to have a lover but I was so
sick at the heart, so utterly worn out that I had to send him away."
That struck me as the most amazing thing I had ever heard. She said "I
was actually in a man's arms. Such a nice chap! Such a dear fellow! And
I was saying to myself, fiercely, hissing it between my teeth, as they
say in novels--and really clenching them together: I was saying to
myself: 'Now, I'm in for it and I'll really have a good time for once in
my life--for once in my life!' It was in the dark, in a carriage, coming
back from a hunt ball. Eleven miles we had to drive! And then suddenly
the bitterness of the endless poverty, of the endless acting--it fell on
me like a blight, it spoilt everything. Yes, I had to realize that I had
been spoilt even for the good time when it came. And I burst out crying
and I cried and I cried for the whole eleven miles. Just imagine me
crying! And just imagine me making a fool of the poor dear chap like
that. It certainly wasn't playing the game, was it now?"
I don't know; I don't know; was that last remark of hers the remark of a
harlot, or is it what every decent woman, county family or not county
family, thinks at the bottom of her heart? Or thinks all the time for
the matter of that? Who knows?
Yet, if one doesn't know that at this hour and day, at this pitch of
civilization to which we have attained, after all the preachings of all
the moralists, and all the teachings of all the mothers to all the
daughters in saecula saeculorum . . . but perhaps that is what all
mothers teach all daughters, not with lips but with the eyes, or with
heart whispering to heart. And, if one doesn't know as much as that
about the first thing in the world, what does one know and why is one
I asked Mrs Ashburnham whether she had told Florence that and what
Florence had said and she answered:--"Florence didn't offer any comment
at all. What could she say? There wasn't anything to be said. With the
grinding poverty we had to put up with to keep up appearances, and the
way the poverty came about--you know what I mean--any woman would have
been justified in taking a lover and presents too. Florence once said
about a very similar position--she was a little too well-bred, too
American, to talk about mine--that it was a case of perfectly open
riding and the woman could just act on the spur of the moment. She said
it in American of course, but that was the sense of it. I think her
actual words were: 'That it was up to her to take it or leave it. . .
I don't want you to think that I am writing Teddy Ashburnham down a
brute. I don't believe he was. God knows, perhaps all men are like that.
For as I've said what do I know even of the smoking-room? Fellows come
in and tell the most extraordinarily gross stories--so gross that they
will positively give you a pain. And yet they'd be offended if you
suggested that they weren't the sort of person you could trust your wife
alone with. And very likely they'd be quite properly offended--that is
if you can trust anybody alone with anybody. But that sort of fellow
obviously takes more delight in listening to or in telling gross
stories--more delight than in anything else in the world. They'll hunt
languidly and dress languidly and dine languidly and work without
enthusiasm and find it a bore to carry on three minutes' conversation
about anything whatever and yet, when the other sort of conversation
begins, they'll laugh. and wake up and throw themselves about in their
chairs. Then, if they so delight in the narration, how is it possible
that they can be offended--and properly offended--at the suggestion that
they might make attempts upon your wife's honour? Or again: Edward
Ashburnham was the cleanest looking sort of chap;--an excellent
magistrate, a first rate soldier, one of the best landlords, so they
said, in Hampshire, England. To the poor and to hopeless drunkards, as I
myself have witnessed, he was like a painstaking guardian. And he never
told a story that couldn't have gone into the columns of the Field more
than once or twice in all the nine years of my knowing him. He didn't
even like hearing them; he would fidget and get up and go out to buy a
cigar or something of that sort. You would have said that he was just
exactly the sort of chap that you could have trusted your wife with. And
I trusted mine and it was madness.
And yet again you have me. If poor Edward was dangerous because of the
chastity of his expressions--and they say that is always the hall-mark
of a libertine--what about myself? For I solemnly avow that not only
have I never so much as hinted at an impropriety in my conversation in
the whole of my days; and more than that, I will vouch for the cleanness
of my thoughts and the absolute chastity of my life. At what, then, does
it all work out? Is the whole thing a folly and a mockery? Am I no
better than a eunuch or is the proper man--the man with the right to
existence--a raging stallion forever neighing after his neighbour's
I don't know. And there is nothing to guide us. And if everything is so
nebulous about a matter so elementary as the morals of sex, what is
there to guide us in the more subtle morality of all other personal
contacts, associations, and activities? Or are we meant to act on
impulse alone? It is all a darkness.
I DON'T know how it is best to put this thing down--whether it would be
better to try and tell the story from the beginning, as if it were a
story; or whether to tell it from this distance of time, as it reached
me from the lips of Leonora or from those of Edward himself.
So I shall just imagine myself for a fortnight or so at one side of the
fireplace of a country cottage, with a sympathetic soul opposite me. And
I shall go on talking, in a low voice while the sea sounds in the
distance and overhead the great black flood of wind polishes the bright
stars. From time to time we shall get up and go to the door and look out
at the great moon and say: "Why, it is nearly as bright as in Provence!"
And then we shall come back to the fireside, with just the touch of a
sigh because we are not in that Provence where even the saddest stories
are gay. Consider the lamentable history of Peire Vidal. Two years ago
Florence and I motored from Biarritz to Las Tours, which is in the Black
Mountains. In the middle of a tortuous valley there rises up an immense
pinnacle and on the pinnacle are four castles--Las Tours, the Towers.
And the immense mistral blew down that valley which was the way from
France into Provence so that the silver grey olive leaves appeared like
hair flying in the wind, and the tufts of rosemary crept into the iron
rocks that they might not be torn up by the roots.
It was, of course, poor dear Florence who wanted to go to Las Tours. You
are to imagine that, however much her bright personality came from
Stamford, Connecticut, she was yet a graduate of Poughkeepsie. I never
could imagine how she did it--the queer, chattery person that she was.
With the far-away look in her eyes--which wasn't, however, in the least
romantic--I mean that she didn't look as if she were seeing poetic
dreams, or looking through you, for she hardly ever did look at
you!--holding up one hand as if she wished to silence any objection--or
any comment for the matter of that--she would talk. She would talk about
William the Silent, about Gustave the Loquacious, about Paris frocks,
about how the poor dressed in 1337, about Fantin-Latour, about the
Paris-Lyons-Mediterranée train-deluxe, about whether it would be worth
while to get off at Tarascon and go across the windswept
suspension-bridge, over the Rhone to take another look at Beaucaire.
We never did take another look at Beaucaire, of course--beautiful
Beaucaire, with the high, triangular white tower, that looked as thin as
a needle and as tall as the Flatiron, between Fifth and
Broadway--Beaucaire with the grey walls on the top of the pinnacle
surrounding an acre and a half of blue irises, beneath the tallness of
the stone pines, What a beautiful thing the stone pine is! . . .
No, we never did go back anywhere. Not to Heidelberg, not to Hamelin,
not to Verona, not to Mont Majour--not so much as to Carcassonne itself.
We talked of it, of course, but I guess Florence got all she wanted out
of one look at a place. She had the seeing eye.
I haven't, unfortunately, so that the world is full of places to which I
want to return--towns with the blinding white sun upon them; stone pines
against the blue of the sky; corners of gables, all carved and painted
with stags and scarlet flowers and crowstepped gables with the little
saint at the top; and grey and pink palazzi and walled towns a mile or
so back from the sea, on the Mediterranean, between Leghorn and Naples.
Not one of them did we see more than once, so that the whole world for
me is like spots of colour in an immense canvas. Perhaps if it weren't
so I should have something to catch hold of now.
Is all this digression or isn't it digression? Again I don't know. You,
the listener, sit opposite me. But you are so silent. You don't tell me
anything. I am, at any rate, trying to get you to see what sort of life
it was I led with Florence and what Florence was like. Well, she was
bright; and she danced. She seemed to dance over the floors of castles
and over seas and over and over and over the salons of modistes and over
the plages of the Riviera--like a gay tremulous beam, reflected from
water upon a ceiling. And my function in life was to keep that bright
thing in existence. And it was almost as difficult as trying to catch
with your hand that dancing reflection. And the task lasted for years.
Florence's aunts used to say that I must be the laziest man in
Philadelphia. They had never been to Philadelphia and they had the New
England conscience. You see, the first thing they said to me when I
called in on Florence in the little ancient, colonial, wooden house
beneath the high, thin-leaved elms--the first question they asked me was
not how I did but what did I do. And I did nothing. I suppose I ought to
have done something, but I didn't see any call to do it. Why does one do
things? I just drifted in and wanted Florence. First I had drifted in on
Florence at a Browning tea, or something of the sort in Fourteenth
Street, which was then still residential. I don't know why I had gone to
New York; I don't know why I had gone to the tea. I don't see why
Florence should have gone to that sort of spelling bee. It wasn't the
place at which, even then, you expected to find a Poughkeepsie graduate.
I guess Florence wanted to raise the culture of the Stuyvesant crowd and
did it as she might have gone in slumming. Intellectual slumming, that
was what it was. She always wanted to leave the world a little more
elevated than she found it. Poor dear thing, I have heard her lecture
Teddy Ashburnham by the hour on the difference between a Franz Hals and
a Wouvermans and why the Pre-Mycenaean statues were cubical with knobs
on the top. I wonder what he made of it? Perhaps he was thankful.
I know I was. For do you understand my whole attentions, my whole
endeavours were to keep poor dear Florence on to topics like the finds
at Cnossos and the mental spirituality of Walter Pater. I had to keep
her at it, you understand, or she might die. For I was solemnly informed
that if she became excited over anything or if her emotions were really
stirred her little heart might cease to beat. For twelve years I had to
watch every word that any person uttered in any conversation and I had
to head it off what the English call "things"--off love, poverty, crime,
religion and the rest of it. Yes, the first doctor that we had when she
was carried off the ship at Havre assured me that this must be done.
Good God, are all these fellows monstrous idiots, or is there a
freemasonry between all of them from end to end of the earth? . . . That
is what makes me think of that fellow Peire Vidal.
Because, of course, his story is culture and I had to head her towards
culture and at the same time it's so funny and she hadn't got to laugh,
and it's so full of love and she wasn't to think of love. Do you know
the story? Las Tours of the Four Castles had for chatelaine Blanche
Somebody-or-other who was called as a term of commendation, La
Louve--the She-Wolf. And Peire Vidal the Troubadour paid his court to La
Louve. And she wouldn't have anything to do with him. So, out of
compliment to her--the things people do when they're in love!--he
dressed himself up in wolfskins and went up into the Black Mountains.
And the shepherds of the Montagne Noire and their dogs mistook him for a
wolf and he was torn with the fangs and beaten with clubs. So they
carried him back to Las Tours and La Louve wasn't at all impressed. They
polished him up and her husband remonstrated seriously with her. Vidal
was, you see, a great poet and it was not proper to treat a great poet
So Peire Vidal declared himself Emperor of Jerusalem or somewhere and
the husband had to kneel down and kiss his feet though La Louve
wouldn't. And Peire set sail in a rowing boat with four companions to
redeem the Holy Sepulchre. And they struck on a rock somewhere, and, at
great expense, the husband had to fit out an expedition to fetch him
back. And Peire Vidal fell all over the Lady's bed while the husband,
who was a most ferocious warrior, remonstrated some more about the
courtesy that is due to great poets. But I suppose La Louve was the more
ferocious of the two. Anyhow, that is all that came of it. Isn't that a
You haven't an idea of the queer old-fashionedness of Florence's
aunts--the Misses Hurlbird, nor yet of her uncle. An extraordinarily
lovable man, that Uncle John. Thin, gentle, and with a "heart" that made
his life very much what Florence's afterwards became. He didn't reside
at Stamford; his home was in Waterbury where the watches come from. He
had a factory there which, in our queer American way, would change its
functions almost from year to year. For nine months or so it would
manufacture buttons out of bone. Then it would suddenly produce brass
buttons for coachmen's liveries. Then it would take a turn at embossed
tin lids for candy boxes. The fact is that the poor old gentleman, with
his weak and fluttering heart, didn't want his factory to manufacture
anything at all. He wanted to retire. And he did retire when he was
seventy. But he was so worried at having all the street boys in the town
point after him and exclaim: "There goes the laziest man in Waterbury!"
that he tried taking a tour round the world. And Florence and a young
man called Jimmy went with him. It appears from what Florence told me
that Jimmy's function with Mr Hurlbird was to avoid exciting topics for
him. He had to keep him, for instance, out of political discussions. For
the poor old man was a violent Democrat in days when you might travel
the world over without finding anything but a Republican. Anyhow, they
went round the world.
I think an anecdote is about the best way to give you an idea of what
the old gentleman was like. For it is perhaps important that you should
know what the old gentleman was; he had a great deal of influence in
forming the character of my poor dear wife.
Just before they set out from San Francisco for the South Seas old Mr
Hurlbird said he must take something with him to make little presents to
people he met on the voyage. And it struck him that the things to take
for that purpose were oranges--because California is the orange
country--and comfortable folding chairs. So he bought I don't know how
many cases of oranges--the great cool California oranges, and
half-a-dozen folding chairs in a special case that he always kept in his
cabin. There must have been half a cargo of fruit.
For, to every person on board the several steamers that they
employed--to every person with whom he had so much as a nodding
acquaintance, he gave an orange every morning. And they lasted him right
round the girdle of this mighty globe of ours. When they were at North
Cape, even, he saw on the horizon, poor dear thin man that he was, a
lighthouse. "Hello," says he to himself, "these fellows must be very
lonely. Let's take them some oranges." So he had a boatload of his fruit
out and had himself rowed to the lighthouse on the horizon. The folding
chairs he lent to any lady that he came across and liked or who seemed
tired and invalidish on the ship. And so, guarded against his heart and,
having his niece with him, he went round the world. . . .
He wasn't obtrusive about his heart. You wouldn't have known he had one.
He only left it to the physical laboratory at Waterbury for the benefit
of science, since he considered it to be quite an extraordinary kind of
heart. And the joke of the matter was that, when, at the age of
eighty-four, just five days before poor Florence, he died of bronchitis
there was found to be absolutely nothing the matter with that organ. It
had certainly jumped or squeaked or something just sufficiently to take
in the doctors, hut it appears that that was because of an odd formation
of the lungs. I don't much understand about these matters.
I inherited his money because Florence died five days after him. I wish
I hadn't. It was a great worry. I had to go out to Waterbury just after
Florence's death because the poor dear old fellow had left a good many
charitable bequests and I had to appoint trustees. I didn't like the
idea of their not being properly handled.
Yes, it was a great worry. And just as I had got things roughly settled
I received the extraordinary cable from Ashburnham begging me to come
back and have a talk with him. And immediately afterwards came one from
Leonora saying, "Yes, please do come. You could be so helpful." It was
as if he had sent the cable without consulting her and had afterwards
told her. Indeed, that was pretty much what had happened, except that he
had told the girl and the girl told the wife. I arrived, however, too
late to be of any good if I could have been of any good. And then I had
my first taste of English life. It was amazing. It was overwhelming. I
never shall forget the polished cob that Edward, beside me, drove; the
animal's action, its high-stepping, its skin that was like satin. And
the peace! And the red cheeks! And the beautiful, beautiful old house.
Just near Branshaw Teleragh it was and we descended on it from the high,
clear, windswept waste of the New Forest. I tell you it was amazing to
arrive there from Waterbury. And it came into my head--for Teddy
Ashburnham, you remember, had cabled to me to "come and have a talk"
with him--that it was unbelievable that anything essentially calamitous
could happen to that place and those people. I tell you it was the very
spirit of peace. And Leonora, beautiful and smiling, with her coils of
yellow hair, stood on the top doorstep, with a butler and footman and a
maid or so behind her. And she just said: "So glad you've come," as if
I'd run down to lunch from a town ten miles away, instead of having come
half the world over at the call of two urgent telegrams.
The girl was out with the hounds, I think.
And that poor devil beside me was in an agony. Absolute, hopeless, dumb
agony such as passes the mind of man to imagine.
IT was a very hot summer, in August, 1904; and Florence had already been
taking the baths for a month. I don't know how it feels to be a patient
at one of those places. I never was a patient anywhere. I daresay the
patients get a home feeling and some sort of anchorage in the spot. They
seem to like the bath attendants, with their cheerful faces, their air
of authority, their white linen. But, for myself, to be at Nauheim gave
me a sense--what shall I say?--a sense almost of nakedness--the
nakedness that one feels on the sea-shore or in any great open space. I
had no attachments, no accumulations. In one's own home it is as if
little, innate sympathies draw one to particular chairs that seem to
enfold one in an embrace, or take one along particular streets that seem
friendly when others may be hostile. And, believe me, that feeling is a
very important part of life. I know it well, that have been for so long
a wanderer upon the face of public resorts. And one is too polished up.
Heaven knows I was never an untidy man. But the feeling that I had when,
whilst poor Florence was taking her morning bath, I stood upon the
carefully swept steps of the Englischer Hof, looking at the carefully
arranged trees in tubs upon the carefully arranged gravel whilst
carefully arranged people walked past in carefully calculated gaiety, at
the carefully calculated hour, the tall trees of the public gardens,
going up to the right; the reddish stone of the baths--or were they
white half-timber châlets? Upon my word I have forgotten, I who was
there so often. That will give you the measure of how much I was in the
landscape. I could find my way blindfolded to the hot rooms, to the
douche rooms, to the fountain in the centre of the quadrangle where the
rusty water gushes out. Yes, I could find my way blindfolded. I know the
exact distances. From the Hotel Regina you took one hundred and
eighty-seven paces, then, turning sharp, left-handed, four hundred and
twenty took you straight down to the fountain. From the Englischer Hof,
starting on the sidewalk, it was ninety-seven paces and the same four
hundred and twenty, but turning lefthanded this time.
And now you understand that, having nothing in the world to do--but
nothing whatever! I fell into the habit of counting my footsteps. I
would walk with Florence to the baths. And, of course, she entertained
me with her conversation. It was, as I have said, wonderful what she
could make conversation out of. She walked very lightly, and her hair
was very nicely done, and she dressed beautifully and very expensively.
Of course she had money of her own, but I shouldn't have minded. And yet
you know I can't remember a single one of her dresses. Or I can remember
just one, a very simple one of blue figured silk--a Chinese
pattern--very full in the skirts and broadening out over the shoulders.
And her hair was copper-coloured, and the heels of her shoes were
exceedingly high, so that she tripped upon the points of her toes. And
when she came to the door of the bathing place, and when it opened to
receive her, she would look back at me with a little coquettish smile,
so that her cheek appeared to be caressing her shoulder.
I seem to remember that, with that dress, she wore an immensely broad
Leghorn hat--like the Chapeau de Paille of Rubens, only very white. The
hat would be tied with a lightly knotted scarf of the same stuff as her
dress. She knew how to give value to her blue eyes. And round her neck
would be some simple pink, coral beads. And her complexion had a perfect
clearness, a perfect smoothness . . .
Yes, that is how I most exactly remember her, in that dress, in that
hat, looking over her shoulder at me so that the eyes flashed very
blue--dark pebble blue . . .
And, what the devil! For whose benefit did she do it? For that of the
bath attendant? of the passers-by? I don't know. Anyhow, it can't have
been for me, for never, in all the years of her life, never on any
possible occasion, or in any other place did she so smile to me,
mockingly, invitingly. Ah, she was a riddle; but then, all other women
are riddles. And it occurs to me that some way back I began a sentence
that I have never finished . . . It was about the feeling that I had
when I stood on the steps of my hotel every morning before starting out
to fetch Florence back from the bath. Natty, precise, well-brushed,
conscious of being rather small amongst the long English, the lank
Americans, the rotund Germans, and the obese Russian Jewesses, I should
stand there, tapping a cigarette on the outside of my case, surveying
for a moment the world in the sunlight. But a day was to come when I was
never to do it again alone. You can imagine, therefore, what the coming
of the Ashburnhams meant to me.
I have forgotten the aspect of many things, but I shall never forget the
aspect of the dining-room of the Hotel Excelsior on that evening--and on
so many other evenings. Whole castles have vanished from my memory,
whole cities that I have never visited again, but that white room,
festooned with papier-maché fruits and flowers; the tall windows; the
many tables; the black screen round the door with three golden cranes
flying upward on each panel; the palm-tree in the centre of the room;
the swish of the waiter's feet; the cold expensive elegance; the mien of
the diners as they came in every evening--their air of earnestness as if
they must go through a meal prescribed by the Kur authorities and their
air of sobriety as if they must seek not by any means to enjoy their
meals--those things I shall not easily forget. And then, one evening, in
the twilight, I saw Edward Ashburnham lounge round the screen into the
room. The head waiter, a man with a face all grey--in what subterranean
nooks or corners do people cultivate those absolutely grey
complexions?--went with the timorous patronage of these creatures
towards him and held out a grey ear to be whispered into. It was
generally a disagreeable ordeal for newcomers but Edward Ashburnham bore
it like an Englishman and a gentleman. I could see his lips form a word
of three syllables--remember I had nothing in the world to do but to
notice these niceties--and immediately I knew that he must be Edward
Ashburnham, Captain, Fourteenth Hussars, of Branshaw House, Branshaw
Teleragh. I knew it because every evening just before dinner, whilst I
waited in the hall, I used, by the courtesy of Monsieur Schontz, the
proprietor, to inspect the little police reports that each guest was
expected to sign upon taking a room.
The head waiter piloted him immediately to a vacant table, three away
from my own--the table that the Grenfalls of Falls River, N.J., had just
vacated. It struck me that that was not a very nice table for the
newcomers, since the sunlight, low though it was, shone straight down
upon it, and the same idea seemed to come at the same moment into
Captain Ashburnham's head. His face hitherto had, in the wonderful
English fashion, expressed nothing whatever. Nothing. There was in it
neither joy nor despair; neither hope nor fear; neither boredom nor
satisfaction. He seemed to perceive no soul in that crowded room; he
might have been walking in a jungle. I never came across such a perfect
expression before and I never shall again. It was insolence and not
insolence; it was modesty and not modesty. His hair was fair,
extraordinarily ordered in a wave, running from the left temple to the
right; his face was a light brick-red, perfectly uniform in tint up to
the roots of the hair itself; his yellow moustache was as stiff as a
toothbrush and I verily believe that he had his black smoking jacket
thickened a little over the shoulder-blades so as to give himself the
air of the slightest possible stoop. It would be like him to do that;
that was the sort of thing he thought about. Martingales, Chiffney bits,
boots; where you got the best soap, the best brandy, the name of the
chap who rode a plater down the Khyber cliffs; the spreading power of
number three shot before a charge of number four powder . . . by
heavens, I hardly ever heard him talk of anything else. Not in all the
years that I knew him did I hear him talk of anything but these
subjects. Oh, yes, once he told me that I could buy my special shade of
blue ties cheaper from a firm in Burlington Arcade than from my own
people in New York. And I have bought my ties from that firm ever since.
Otherwise I should not remember the name of the Burlington Arcade. I
wonder what it looks like. I have never seen it. I imagine it to be two
immense rows of pillars, like those of the Forum at Rome, with Edward
Ashburnham striding down between them. But it probably isn't--the least
like that. Once also he advised me to buy Caledonian Deferred, since
they were due to rise. And I did buy them and they did rise. But of how
he got the knowledge I haven't the faintest idea. It seemed to drop out
of the blue sky.
And that was absolutely all that I knew of him until a month ago--that
and the profusion of his cases, all of pigskin and stamped with his
initials, E. F. A. There were gun cases, and collar cases, and shirt
cases, and letter cases and cases each containing four bottles of
medicine; and hat cases and helmet cases. It must have needed a whole
herd of the Gadarene swine to make up his outfit. And, if I ever
penetrated into his private room it would be to see him standing, with
his coat and waistcoat off and the immensely long line of his perfectly
elegant trousers from waist to boot heel. And he would have a slightly
reflective air and he would be just opening one kind of case and just
Good God, what did they all see in him? for I swear there was all there
was of him, inside and out; though they said he was a good soldier. Yet,
Leonora adored him with a passion that was like an agony, and hated him
with an agony that was as bitter as the sea. How could he arouse
anything like a sentiment, in anybody?
What did he even talk to them about--when they were under four eyes?
--Ah, well, suddenly, as if by a flash of inspiration, I know. For all
good soldiers are sentimentalists--all good soldiers of that type. Their
profession, for one thing, is full of the big words, courage, loyalty,
honour, constancy. And I have given a wrong impression of Edward
Ashburnham if I have made you think that literally never in the course
of our nine years of intimacy did he discuss what he would have called
"the graver things." Even before his final outburst to me, at times,
very late at night, say, he has blurted out something that gave an
insight into the sentimental view of the cosmos that was his. He would
say how much the society of a good woman could do towards redeeming you,
and he would say that constancy was the finest of the virtues. He said
it very stiffly, of course, but still as if the statement admitted of no
Constancy! Isn't that the queer thought? And yet, I must add that poor
dear Edward was a great reader--he would pass hours lost in novels of a
sentimental type--novels in which typewriter girls married Marquises and
governesses Earls. And in his books, as a rule, the course of true love
ran as smooth as buttered honey. And he was fond of poetry, of a certain
type--and he could even read a perfectly sad love story. I have seen his
eyes filled with tears at reading of a hopeless parting. And he loved,
with a sentimental yearning, all children, puppies, and the feeble
generally. . . .
So, you see, he would have plenty to gurgle about to a woman--with that
and his sound common sense about martingales and his--still
sentimental--experiences as a county magistrate; and with his intense,
optimistic belief that the woman he was making love to at the moment was
the one he was destined, at last, to be eternally constant to. . . .
Well, I fancy he could put up a pretty good deal of talk when there was
no man around to make him feel shy. And I was quite astonished, during
his final burst out to me--at the very end of things, when the poor girl
was on her way to that fatal Brindisi and he was trying to persuade
himself and me that he had never really cared for her--I was quite
astonished to observe how literary and how just his expressions were. He
talked like quite a good book--a book not in the least cheaply
sentimental. You see, I suppose he regarded me not so much as a man. I
had to be regarded as a woman or a solicitor. Anyhow, it burst out of
him on that horrible night. And then, next morning, he took me over to
the Assizes and I saw how, in a perfectly calm and business-like way, he
set to work to secure a verdict of not guilty for a poor girl, the
daughter of one of his tenants, who had been accused of murdering her
baby. He spent two hundred pounds on her defence . . . Well, that was
I had forgotten about his eyes. They were as blue as the sides of a
certain type of box of matches. When you looked at them carefully you
saw that they were perfectly honest, perfectly straightforward,
perfectly, perfectly stupid. But the brick pink of his complexion,
running perfectly level to the brick pink of his inner eyelids, gave
them a curious, sinister expression--like a mosaic of blue porcelain set
in pink china. And that chap, coming into a room, snapped up the gaze of
every woman in it, as dexterously as a conjurer pockets billiard balls.
It was most amazing. You know the man on the stage who throws up sixteen
balls at once and they all drop into pockets all over his person, on his
shoulders, on his heels, on the inner side of his sleeves; and he stands
perfectly still and does nothing. Well, it was like that. He had rather
a rough, hoarse voice.
And, there he was, standing by the table. I was looking at him, with my
back to the screen. And suddenly, I saw two distinct expressions flicker
across his immobile eyes. How the deuce did they do it, those
unflinching blue eyes with the direct gaze? For the eyes themselves
never moved, gazing over my shoulder towards the screen. And the gaze
was perfectly level and perfectly direct and perfectly unchanging. I
suppose that the lids really must have rounded themselves a little and
perhaps the lips moved a little too, as if he should be saying: "There
you are, my dear." At any rate, the expression was that of pride, of
satisfaction, of the possessor. I saw him once afterwards, for a moment,
gaze upon the sunny fields of Branshaw and say: "All this is my land!"
And then again, the gaze was perhaps more direct, harder if
possible--hardy too. It was a measuring look; a challenging look. Once
when we were at Wiesbaden watching him play in a polo match against the
Bonner Hussaren I saw the same look come into his eyes, balancing the
possibilities, looking over the ground. The German Captain, Count Baron
Idigon von Lelöffel, was right up by their goal posts, coming with the
ball in an easy canter in that tricky German fashion. The rest of the
field were just anywhere. It was only a scratch sort of affair.
Ashburnham was quite close to the rails not five yards from us and I
heard him saying to himself: "Might just be done!" And he did it.
Goodness! he swung that pony round with all its four legs spread out,
like a cat dropping off a roof. . . .
Well, it was just that look that I noticed in his eyes: "It might," I
seem even now to hear him muttering to himself, "just be done."
I looked round over my shoulder and saw, tall, smiling brilliantly and
buoyant--Leonora. And, little and fair, and as radiant as the track of
sunlight along the sea--my wife.
That poor wretch! to think that he was at that moment in a perfect devil
of a fix, and there he was, saying at the back of his mind: "It might
just be done." It was like a chap in the middle of the eruption of a
volcano, saying that he might just manage to bolt into the tumult and
set fire to a haystack. Madness? Predestination? Who the devil knows?
Mrs Ashburnham exhibited at that moment more gaiety than I have ever
since known her to show. There are certain classes of English
people--the nicer ones when they have been to many spas, who seem to
make a point of becoming much more than usually animated when they are
introduced to my compatriots. I have noticed this often. Of course, they
must first have accepted the Americans. But that once done, they seem to
say to themselves: "Hallo, these women are so bright. We aren't going to
be outdone in brightness." And for the time being they certainly aren't.
But it wears off. So it was with Leonora--at least until she noticed me.
She began, Leonora did--and perhaps it was that that gave me the idea of
a touch of insolence in her character, for she never afterwards did any
one single thing like it--she began by saying in quite a loud voice and
from quite a distance:
"Don't stop over by that stuffy old table, Teddy. Come and sit by these
And that was an extraordinary thing to say. Quite extraordinary. I
couldn't for the life of me refer to total strangers as nice people.
But, of course, she was taking a line of her own in which I at any
rate--and no one else in the room, for she too had taken the trouble to
read through the list of guests--counted any more than so many clean,
bull terriers. And she sat down rather brilliantly at a vacant table,
beside ours--one that was reserved for the Guggenheimers. And she just
sat absolutely deaf to the remonstrances of the head waiter with his
face like a grey ram's. That poor chap was doing his steadfast duty too.
He knew that the Guggenheimers of Chicago, after they had stayed there a
month and had worried the poor life out of him, would give him two
dollars fifty and grumble at the tipping system. And he knew that Teddy
Ashburnham and his wife would give him no trouble whatever except what
the smiles of Leonora might cause in his apparently unimpressionable
bosom--though you never can tell what may go on behind even a not quite
spotless plastron! --And every week Edward Ashburnham would give him a
solid, sound, golden English sovereign. Yet this stout fellow was intent
on saving that table for the Guggenheimers of Chicago. It ended in
"Why shouldn't we all eat out of the same trough? --that's a nasty New
York saying. But I'm sure we're all nice quiet people and there can be
four seats at our table. It's round."
Then came, as it were, an appreciative gurgle from the Captain and I was
perfectly aware of a slight hesitation--a quick sharp motion in Mrs
Ashburnham, as if her horse had checked. But she put it at the fence all
right, rising from the seat she had taken and sitting down opposite me,
as it were, all in one motion.
I never thought that Leonora looked her best in evening dress. She
seemed to get it too clearly cut, there was no ruffling. She always
affected black and her shoulders were too classical. She seemed to stand
out of her corsage as a white marble bust might out of a black Wedgwood
vase. I don't know.
I loved Leonora always and, today, I would very cheerfully lay down my
life, what is left of it, in her service. But I am sure I never had the
beginnings of a trace of what is called the sex instinct towards her.
And I suppose--no I am certain that she never had it towards me. As far
as I am concerned I think it was those white shoulders that did it. I
seemed to feel when I looked at them that, if ever I should press my
lips upon them that they would be slightly cold--not icily, not without
a touch of human heat, but, as they say of baths, with the chill off. I
seemed to feel chilled at the end of my lips when I looked at her . . .
No, Leonora always appeared to me at her best in a blue tailor-made.
Then her glorious hair wasn't deadened by her white shoulders. Certain
women's lines guide your eyes to their necks, their eyelashes, their
lips, their breasts. But Leonora's seemed to conduct your gaze always to
her wrist. And the wrist was at its best in a black or a dog-skin glove
and there was always a gold circlet with a little chain supporting a
very small golden key to a dispatch box. Perhaps it was that in which
she locked up her heart and her feelings.
Anyhow, she sat down opposite me and then, for the first time, she paid
any attention to my existence. She gave me, suddenly, yet deliberately,
one long stare. Her eyes too were blue and dark and the eyelids were so
arched that they gave you the whole round of the irises. And it was a
most remarkable, a most moving glance, as if for a moment a lighthouse
had looked at me. I seemed to perceive the swift questions chasing each
other through the brain that was behind them. I seemed to hear the brain
ask and the eyes answer with all the simpleness of a woman who was a
good hand at taking in qualities of a horse--as indeed she was. "Stands
well; has plenty of room for his oats behind the girth. Not so much in
the way of shoulders," and so on. And so her eyes asked: "Is this man
trustworthy in money matters; is he likely to try to play the lover; is
he likely to let his women be troublesome? Is he, above all, likely to
babble about my affairs?"
And, suddenly, into those cold, slightly defiant, almost defensive china
blue orbs, there came a warmth, a tenderness, a friendly recognition . .
. oh, it was very charming and very touching--and quite mortifying. It
was the look of a mother to her son, of a sister to her brother. It
implied trust; it implied the want of any necessity for barriers. By
God, she looked at me as if I were an invalid--as any kind woman may
look at a poor chap in a bath chair. And, yes, from that day forward she
always treated me and not Florence as if I were the invalid. Why, she
would run after me with a rug upon chilly days. I suppose, therefore,
that her eyes had made a favourable answer. Or, perhaps, it wasn't a
favourable answer. And then Florence said: "And so the whole round table
is begun." Again Edward Ashburnham gurgled slightly in his throat; but
Leonora shivered a little, as if a goose had walked over her grave. And
I was passing her the nickel-silver basket of rolls. Avanti! . . .
So began those nine years of uninterrupted tranquillity. They were
characterized by an extraordinary want of any communicativeness on the
part of the Ashburnhams to which we, on our part, replied by leaving out
quite as extraordinarily, and nearly as completely, the personal note.
Indeed, you may take it that what characterized our relationship was an
atmosphere of taking everything for granted. The given proposition was,
that we were all "good people." We took for granted that we all liked
beef underdone but not too underdone; that both men preferred a good
liqueur brandy after lunch; that both women drank a very light Rhine
wine qualified with Fachingen water--that sort of thing. It was also
taken for granted that we were both sufficiently well off to afford
anything that we could reasonably want in the way of amusements fitting
to our station--that we could take motor cars and carriages by the day;
that we could give each other dinners and dine our friends and we could
indulge if we liked in economy. Thus, Florence was in the habit of
having the Daily Telegraph sent to her every day from London. She was
always an Anglo-maniac, was Florence; the Paris edition of the New York
Herald was always good enough for me. But when we discovered that the
Ashburnhams' copy of the London paper followed them from England,
Leonora and Florence decided between them to suppress one subscription
one year and the other the next. Similarly it was the habit of the Grand
Duke of Nassau Schwerin, who came yearly to the baths, to dine once with
about eighteen families of regular Kur guests. In return he would give a
dinner of all the eighteen at once. And, since these dinners were rather
expensive (you had to take the Grand Duke and a good many of his suite
and any members of the diplomatic bodies that might be there)--Florence
and Leonora, putting their heads together, didn't see why we shouldn't
give the Grand Duke his dinner together. And so we did. I don't suppose
the Serenity minded that economy, or even noticed it. At any rate, our
joint dinner to the Royal Personage gradually assumed the aspect of a
yearly function. Indeed, it grew larger and larger, until it became a
sort of closing function for the season, at any rate as far as we were
I don't in the least mean to say that we were the sort of persons who
aspired to mix "with royalty." We didn't; we hadn't any claims; we were
just "good people." But the Grand Duke was a pleasant, affable sort of
royalty, like the late King Edward VII, and it was pleasant to hear him
talk about the races and, very occasionally, as a bonne bouche, about
his nephew, the Emperor; or to have him pause for a moment in his walk
to ask after the progress of our cures or to be benignantly interested
in the amount of money we had put on Lelöffel's hunter for the Frankfurt
But upon my word, I don't know how we put in our time. How does one put
in one's time? How is it possible to have achieved nine years and to
have nothing whatever to show for it? Nothing whatever, you understand.
Not so much as a bone penholder, carved to resemble a chessman and with
a hole in the top through which you could see four views of Nauheim.
And, as for experience, as for knowledge of one's fellow beings--nothing
either. Upon my word, I couldn't tell you offhand whether the lady who
sold the so expensive violets at the bottom of the road that leads to
the station, was cheating me or no; I can't say whether the porter who
carried our traps across the station at Leghorn was a thief or no when
he said that the regular tariff was a lira a parcel. The instances of
honesty that one comes across in this world are just as amazing as the
instances of dishonesty. After forty-five years of mixing with one's
kind, one ought to have acquired the habit of being able to know
something about one's fellow beings. But one doesn't.
I think the modern civilized habit--the modern English habit of taking
every one for granted--is a good deal to blame for this. I have observed
this matter long enough to know the queer, subtle thing that it is; to
know how the faculty, for what it is worth, never lets you down.
Mind, I am not saying that this is not the most desirable type of life
in the world; that it is not an almost unreasonably high standard. For
it is really nauseating, when you detest it, to have to eat every day
several slices of thin, tepid, pink india rubber, and it is disagreeable
to have to drink brandy when you would prefer to be cheered up by warm,
sweet Kümmel. And it is nasty to have to take a cold bath in the morning
when what you want is really a hot one at night. And it stirs a little
of the faith of your fathers that is deep down within you to have to
have it taken for granted that you are an Episcopalian when really you
are an old-fashioned Philadelphia Quaker.
But these things have to be done; it is the cock that the whole of this
society owes to Æsculapius.
And the odd, queer thing is that the whole collection of rules applies
to anybody--to the anybodies that you meet in hotels, in railway trains,
to a less degree, perhaps, in steamers, but even, in the end, upon
steamers. You meet a man or a woman and, from tiny and intimate sounds,
from the slightest of movements, you know at once whether you are
concerned with good people or with those who won't do. You know, this is
to say, whether they will go rigidly through with the whole programme
from the underdone beef to the Anglicanism. It won't matter whether they
be short or tall; whether the voice squeak like a marionette or rumble
like a town bull's; it won't matter whether they are Germans, Austrians,
French, Spanish, or even Brazilians-- they will be the Germans or
Brazilians who take a cold bath every morning and who move, roughly
speaking, in diplomatic circles.
But the inconvenient--well, hang it all, I will say it--the damnable
nuisance of the whole thing is, that with all the taking for granted,
you never really get an inch deeper than the things I have catalogued.
I can give you a rather extraordinary instance of this. I can't remember
whether it was in our first year--the first year of us four at Nauheim,
because, of course, it would have been the fourth year of Florence and
myself--but it must have been in the first or second year. And that
gives the measure at once of the extraordinariness of our discussion and
of the swiftness with which intimacy had grown up between us. On the one
hand we seemed to start out on the expedition so naturally and with so
little preparation, , that it was as if we must have made many such
excursions before; and our intimacy seemed so deep. . . .
Yet the place to which we went was obviously one to which Florence at
least would have wanted to take us quite early, so that you would almost
think we should have gone there together at the beginning of our
intimacy. Florence was singularly expert as a guide to archaeological
expeditions and there was nothing she liked so much as taking people
round ruins and showing you the window from which some one looked down
upon the murder of some one else. She only did it once; but she did it
quite magnificently. She could find her way, with the sole help of
Baedeker, as easily about any old monument as she could about any
American city where the blocks are all square and the streets all
numbered, so that you can go perfectly easily from Twenty-fourth to
Now it happens that fifty minutes away from Nauheim, by a good train, is
the ancient city of M----, upon a great pinnacle of basalt, girt with a
triple road running sideways up its shoulder like a scarf. And at the
top there is a castle--not a square castle like Windsor, but a castle
all slate gables and high peaks with gilt weathercocks flashing
bravely--the castle of St Elizabeth of Hungary. It has the disadvantage
of being in Prussia; and it is always disagreeable to go into that
country; but it is very old and there are many double-spired churches
and it stands up like a pyramid out of the green valley of the Lahn. I
don't suppose the Ashburnhams wanted especially to go there and I didn't
especially want to go there myself. But, you understand, there was no
objection. It was part of the cure to make an excursion three or four
times a week. So that we were all quite unanimous in being grateful to
Florence for providing the motive power. Florence, of course, had a
motive of her own. She was at that time engaged in educating Captain
Ashburnham--oh, of course, quite pour le bon motif! She used to say to
Leonora: "I simply can't understand how you can let him live by your
side and be so ignorant!" Leonora herself always struck me as being
remarkably well educated. At any rate, she knew beforehand all that
Florence had to tell her. Perhaps she got it up out of Baedeker before
Florence was up in the morning. I don't mean to say that you would ever
have known that Leonora knew anything, but if Florence started to tell
us how Ludwig the Courageous wanted to have three wives at once--in
which he differed from Henry VIII, who wanted them one after the other,
and this caused a good deal of trouble--if Florence started to tell us
this, Leonora would just nod her head in a way that quite pleasantly
rattled my poor wife.
She used to exclaim: "Well, if you knew it, why haven't you told it all
already to Captain Ashburnham? I'm sure he finds it interesting!" And
Leonora would look reflectively at her husband and say: "I have an idea
that it might injure his hand--the hand, you know, used in connection
with horses' mouths. . . ." And poor Ashburnham would blush and mutter
and would say: "That's all right. Don't you bother about me."
I fancy his wife's irony did quite alarm poor Teddy; because one evening
he asked me seriously in the smoking-room if I thought that having too
much in one's head would really interfere with one's quickness in polo.
It struck him, he said, that brainy Johnnies generally were rather muffs
when they got on to four legs. I reassured him as best I could. I told
him that he wasn't likely to take in enough to upset his balance. At
that time the Captain was quite evidently enjoying being educated by
Florence. She used to do it about three or four times a week under the
approving eyes of Leonora and myself. It wasn't, you understand,
systematic. It came in bursts. It was Florence clearing up one of the
dark places of the earth, leaving the world a little lighter than she
had found it. She would tell him the story of Hamlet; explain the form
of a symphony, humming the first and second subjects to him, and so on;
she would explain to him the difference between Arminians and Erastians;
or she would give him a short lecture on the early history of the United
States. And it was done in a way well calculated to arrest a young
attention. Did you ever read Mrs Markham? Well, it was like that. . . .
But our excursion to M---- was a much larger, a much more full dress
affair. You see, in the archives of the Schloss in that city there was a
document which Florence thought would finally give her the chance to
educate the whole lot of us together. It really worried poor Florence
that she couldn't, in matters of culture, ever get the better of
Leonora. I don't know what Leonora knew or what she didn't know, but
certainly she was always there whenever Florence brought out any
information. And she gave, somehow, the impression of really knowing
what poor Florence gave the impression of having only picked up. I can't
exactly define it. It was almost something physical. Have you ever seen
a retriever dashing in play after a greyhound? You see the two running
over a green field, almost side by side, and suddenly the retriever
makes a friendly snap at the other. And the greyhound simply isn't
there. You haven't observed it quicken its speed or strain a limb; but
there it is, just two yards in front of the retriever's outstretched
muzzle. So it was with Florence and Leonora in matters of culture.
But on this occasion I knew that something was up. I found Florence some
days before, reading books like Ranke's History of the Popes, Symonds'
Renaissance, Motley's Rise of the Dutch Republic and Luther's Table
I must say that, until the astonishment came, I got nothing but pleasure
out of the little expedition. I like catching the two-forty; I like the
slow, smooth roll of the great big trains--and they are the best trains
in the world! I like being drawn through the green country and looking
at it through the clear glass of the great windows. Though, of course,
the country isn't really green. The sun shines, the earth is blood red
and purple and red and green and red. And the oxen in the ploughlands
are bright varnished brown and black and blackish purple; and the
peasants are dressed in the black and white of magpies; and there are
great Rocks of magpies too. Or the peasants' dresses in another field
where there are little mounds of hay that will be grey-green on the
sunny side and purple in the shadows--the peasants' dresses are
vermilion with emerald green ribbons and purple skirts and white shirts
and black velvet stomachers. Still, the impression is that you are drawn
through brilliant green meadows that run away on each side to the dark
purple fir-woods; the basalt pinnacles; the immense forests. And there
is meadowsweet at the edge of the streams, and cattle. Why, I remember
on that afternoon I saw a brown cow hitch its horns under the stomach of
a black and white animal and the black and white one was thrown right
into the middle of a narrow stream. I burst out laughing. But Florence
was imparting information so hard and Leonora was listening so intently
that no one noticed me. As for me, I was pleased to be off duty; I was
pleased to think that Florence for the moment was indubitably out of
mischief--because she was talking about Ludwig the Courageous (I think
it was Ludwig the Courageous but I am not an historian) about Ludwig the
Courageous of Hessen who wanted to have three wives at once and
patronized Luther--something like that!--I was so relieved to be off
duty, because she couldn't possibly be doing anything to excite herself
or set her poor heart a-fluttering--that the incident of the cow was a
real joy to me. I chuckled over it from time to time for the whole rest
of the day. Because it does look very funny, you know, to see a black
and white cow land on its back in the middle of a stream. It is so just
exactly what one doesn't expect of a cow.
I suppose I ought to have pitied the poor animal; but I just didn't. I
was out for enjoyment. And I just enjoyed myself. It is so pleasant to
be drawn along in front of the spectacular towns with the peaked castles
and the many double spires. In the sunlight gleams come from the
city--gleams from the glass of windows; from the gilt signs of
apothecaries; from the ensigns of the student corps high up in the
mountains; from the helmets of the funny little soldiers moving their
stiff little legs in white linen trousers. And it was pleasant to get
out in the great big spectacular Prussian station with the hammered
bronze ornaments and the paintings of peasants and flowers and cows; and
to hear Florence bargain energetically with the driver of an ancient
droschka drawn by two lean horses. Of course, I spoke German much more
correctly than Florence, though I never could rid myself quite of the
accent of the Pennsylvania Duitsch of my childhood. Anyhow, we were
drawn in a sort of triumph, for five marks without any trinkgeld, right
up to the castle. And we were taken through the museum and saw the
fire-backs, the old glass, the old swords and the antique contraptions.
And we went up winding corkscrew staircases and through the Rittersaal,
the great painted hall where the Reformer and his friends met for the
first time under the protection of the gentleman that had three wives at
once and formed an alliance with the gentleman that had six wives, one
after the other (I'm not really interested in these facts but they have
a bearing on my story). And we went through chapels, and music rooms,
right up immensely high in the air to a large old chamber, full of
presses, with heavily-shuttered windows all round. And Florence became
positively electric. She told the tired, bored custodian what shutters
to open; so that the bright sunlight streamed in palpable shafts into
the dim old chamber. She explained that this was Luther's bedroom and
that just where the sunlight fell had stood his bed. As a matter of
fact, I believe that she was wrong and that Luther only stopped, as it
were, for lunch, in order to evade pursuit. But, no doubt, it would have
been his bedroom if he could have been persuaded to stop the night. And
then, in spite of the protest of the custodian, she threw open another
shutter and came tripping back to a large glass case.
"And there," she exclaimed with an accent of gaiety, of triumph, and of
audacity. She was pointing at a piece of paper, like the half-sheet of a
letter with some faint pencil scrawls that might have been a jotting of
the amounts we were spending during the day. And I was extremely happy
at her gaiety, in her triumph, in her audacity. Captain Ashburnham had
his hands upon the glass case. "There it is--the Protest." And then, as
we all properly stage-managed our bewilderment, she continued: "Don't
you know that is why we were all called Protestants? That is the pencil
draft of the Protest they drew up. You can see the signatures of Martin
Luther, and Martin Bucer, and Zwingli, and Ludwig the Courageous. . . ."
I may have got some of the names wrong, but I know that Luther and Bucer
were there. And her animation continued and I was glad. She was better
and she was out of mischief. She continued, looking up into Captain
Ashburnham's eyes: "It's because of that piece of paper that you're
honest, sober, industrious, provident, and clean-lived. If it weren't
for that piece of paper you'd be like the Irish or the Italians or the
Poles, but particularly the Irish. . . ."
And she laid one finger upon Captain Ashburnham' s wrist.
I was aware of something treacherous, something frightful, something
evil in the day. I can't define it and can't find a simile for it. It
wasn't as if a snake had looked out of a hole. No, it was as if my heart
had missed a beat. It was as if we were going to run and cry out; all
four of us in separate directions, averting our heads. In Ashburnham's
face I know that there was absolute panic. I was horribly frightened and
then I discovered that the pain in my left wrist was caused by Leonora's
"I can't stand this," she said with a most extraordinary passion; "I
must get out of this."
I was horribly frightened. It came to me for a moment, though I hadn't
time to think it, that she must be a madly jealous woman--jealous of
Florence and Captain Ashburnham, of all people in the world! And it was
a panic in which we fled! We went right down the winding stairs, across
the immense Rittersaal to a little terrace that overlooks the Lahn, the
broad valley and the immense plain into which it opens out.
"Don't you see?" she said, "don't you see what's going on?" The panic
again stopped my heart. I muttered, I stuttered--I don't know how I got
the words out:
"No! What's the matter? Whatever's the matter?"
She looked me straight in the eyes; and for a moment I had the feeling
that those two blue discs were immense, were overwhelming, were like a
wall of blue that shut me off from the rest of the world. I know it
sounds absurd; but that is what it did feel like.
"Don't you see," she said, with a really horrible bitterness, with a
really horrible lamentation in her voice, "Don't you see that that's the
cause of the whole miserable affair; of the whole sorrow of the world?
And of the eternal damnation of you and me and them. . . ."
I don't remember how she went on; I was too frightened; I was too
amazed. I think I was thinking of running to fetch assistance--a doctor,
perhaps, or Captain Ashburnham. Or possibly she needed Florence's tender
care, though, of course, it would have been very bad for Florence's
heart. But I know that when I came out of it she was saying: "Oh, where
are all the bright, happy, innocent beings in the world? Where's
happiness? One reads of it in books!"
She ran her hand with a singular clawing motion upwards over her
forehead. Her eyes were enormously distended; her face was exactly that
of a person looking into the pit of hell and seeing horrors there. And
then suddenly she stopped. She was, most amazingly, just Mrs Ashburnham
again. Her face was perfectly clear, sharp and defined; her hair was
glorious in its golden coils. Her nostrils twitched with a sort of
contempt. She appeared to look with interest at a gypsy caravan that was
coming over a little bridge far below us.
"Don't you know," she said, in her clear hard voice, "don't you know
that I'm an Irish Catholic?"
THOSE words gave me the greatest relief that I have ever had in my life.
They told me, I think, almost more than I have ever gathered at any one
moment--about myself. I don't think that before that day I had ever
wanted anything very much except Florence. I have, of course, had
appetites, impatiences . . . Why, sometimes at a table d'hôte, when
there would be, say, caviare handed round, I have been absolutely full
of impatience for fear that when the dish came to me there should not be
a satisfying portion left over by the other guests. I have been
exceedingly impatient at missing trains. The Belgian State Railway has a
trick of letting the French trains miss their connections at Brussels.
That has always infuriated me. I have written about it letters to The
Times that The Times never printed; those that I wrote to the Paris
edition of the New York Herald were always printed, but they never
seemed to satisfy me when I saw them. Well, that was a sort of frenzy
It was a frenzy that now I can hardly realize. I can understand it
intellectually. You see, in those days I was interested in people with
"hearts." There was Florence, there was Edward Ashburnham--or, perhaps,
it was Leonora that I was more interested in. I don't mean in the way of
love. But, you see, we were both of the. same profession--at any rate as
I saw it. And the profession was that of keeping heart patients alive.
You have no idea how engrossing such a profession may become. Just as
the blacksmith says: "By hammer and hand all Art doth stand," just as
the baker thinks that all the solar system revolves around his morning
delivery of rolls, as the postmaster-general believes that he alone is
the preserver of society--and surely, surely, these delusions are
necessary to keep us going--so did I and, as I believed, Leonora,
imagine that the whole world ought to be arranged so as to ensure the
keeping alive of heart patients. You have no idea how engrossing such a
profession may become--how imbecile, in view of that engrossment, appear
the ways of princes, of republics, of municipalities. A rough bit of
road beneath the motor tyres, a couple of succeeding "thank'ee-marms"
with their quick jolts would be enough to set me grumbling to Leonora
against the Prince or the Grand Duke or the Free City through whose
territory we might be passing. I would grumble like a stockbroker whose
conversations over the telephone are incommoded by the ringing of bells
from a city church. I would talk about medieval survivals, about the
taxes being surely high enough. The point, by the way, about the missing
of the connections of the Calais boat trains at Brussels was that the
shortest possible sea journey is frequently of great importance to
sufferers from the heart. Now, on the Continent, there are two special
heart cure places, Nauheim and Spa, and to reach both of these baths
from England if in order to ensure a short sea passage, you come by
Calais--you have to make the connection at Brussels. And the Belgian
train never waits by so much the shade of a second for the one coming
from Calais or from Paris. And even if the French train, are just on
time, you have to run--imagine a heart patient running! --along the
unfamiliar ways of the Brussels station and to scramble up the high
steps of the moving train. Or, if you miss connection, you have to wait
five or six hours. . . . I used to keep awake whole nights cursing that
My wife used to run--she never, in whatever else she may have misled me,
tried to give me the impression that she was not a gallant soul. But,
once in the German Express, she would lean back, with one hand to her
side and her eyes closed. Well, she was a good actress. And I would be
in hell. In hell, I tell you. For in Florence I had at once a wife and
an unattained mistress--that is what it comes to--and in the retaining
of her in this world I had my occupation, my career, my ambition. It is
not often that these things are united in one body. Leonora was a good
actress too. By Jove she was good! I tell you, she would listen to me by
the hour, evolving my plans for a shock-proof world. It is true that, at
times, I used to notice about her an air of inattention as if she were
listening, a mother, to the child at her knee, or as if, precisely, I
were myself the patient.
You understand that there was nothing the matter with Edward
Ashburnham's heart--that he had thrown up his commission and had left
India and come half the world over in order to follow a woman who had
really had a "heart" to Nauheim. That was the sort of sentimental ass he
was. For, you understand, too, that they really needed to live in India,
to economize, to let the house at Branshaw Teleragh.
Of course, at that date, I had never heard of the Kilsyte case.
Ashburnham had, you know, kissed a servant girl in a railway train, and
it was only the grace of God, the prompt functioning of the
communication cord and the ready sympathy of what I believe you call the
Hampshire Bench, that kept the poor devil out of Winchester Gaol for
years and years. I never heard of that case until the final stages of
Leonora's revelations. . . .
But just think of that poor wretch. . . . I, who have surely the right,
beg you to think of that poor wretch. Is it possible that such a
luckless devil should be so tormented by blind and inscrutable destiny?
For there is no other way to think of it. None. I have the right to say
it, since for years he was my wife's lover, since he killed her, since
he broke up all the pleasantnesses that there were in my life. There is
no priest that has the right to tell me that I must not ask pity for
him, from you, silent listener beyond the hearth-stone, from the world,
or from the God who created in him those desires, those madnesses. . . .
Of course, I should not hear of the Kilsyte case. I knew none of their
friends; they were for me just good people--fortunate people with broad
and sunny acres in a southern county. Just good people! By heavens, I
sometimes think that it would have been better for him, poor dear, if
the case had been such a one that I must needs have heard of it--such a
one as maids and couriers and other Kur guests whisper about for years
after, until gradually it dies away in the pity that there is knocking
about here and there in the world. Supposing he had spent his seven
years in Winchester Gaol or whatever it is that inscrutable and blind
justice allots to you for following your natural but ill-timed
inclinations--there would have arrived a stage when nodding gossips on
the Kursaal terrace would have said, "Poor fellow," thinking of his
ruined career. He would have been the fine soldier with his back now
bent. . . . Better for him, poor devil, if his back had been prematurely
Why, it would have been a thousand times better. . . . For, of course,
the Kilsyte case, which came at the very beginning of his finding
Leonora cold and unsympathetic, gave him a nasty jar. He left servants
alone after that.
It turned him, naturally, all the more loose amongst women of his own
class. Why, Leonora told me that Mrs Maidan--the woman he followed from
Burma to Nauheim--assured her he awakened her attention by swearing that
when he kissed the servant in the train he was driven to it. I daresay
he was driven to it, by the mad passion to find an ultimately satisfying
woman. I daresay he was sincere enough. Heaven help me, I daresay he was
sincere enough in his love for Mrs Maidan. She was a nice little thing,
a dear little dark woman with long lashes, of whom Florence grew quite
fond. She had a lisp and a happy smile. We saw plenty of her for the
first month of our acquaintance, then she died, quite quietly--of heart
But you know, poor little Mrs Maidan--she was so gentle, so young. She
cannot have been more than twenty-three and she had a boy husband out in
Chitral not more than twenty-four, I believe. Such young things ought to
have been left alone. Of course Ashburnham could not leave her alone. I
do not believe that he could. Why, even I, at this distance of time am
aware that I am a little in love with her memory. I can't help smiling
when I think suddenly of her--as you might at the thought of something
wrapped carefully away in lavender, in some drawer, in some old house
that you have long left. She was so--so submissive. Why, even to me she
had the air of being submissive--to me that not the youngest child will
ever pay heed to. Yes, this is the saddest story . . .
No, I cannot help wishing that Florence had left her alone--with her
playing with adultery. I suppose it was; though she was such a child
that one has the impression that she would hardly have known how to
spell such a word. No, it was just submissiveness--to the importunities,
to the tempestuous forces that pushed that miserable fellow on to ruin.
And I do not suppose that Florence really made much difference. If it
had not been for her that Ashburnham left his allegiance for Mrs Maidan,
then it would have been some other woman. But still, I do not know.
Perhaps the poor young thing would have died--she was bound to die,
anyhow, quite soon--but she would have died without having to soak her
noonday pillow with tears whilst Florence, below the window, talked to
Captain Ashburnham about the Constitution of the United States. . . .
Yes, it would have left a better taste in the mouth if Florence had let
her die in peace. . . .
Leonora behaved better in a sense. She just boxed Mrs Maidan's
ears--yes, she hit her, in an uncontrollable access of rage, a hard blow
on the side of the cheek, in the corridor of the hotel, outside Edward's
rooms. It was that, you know, that accounted for the sudden, odd
intimacy that sprang up between Florence and Mrs Ashburnham.
Because it was, of course, an odd intimacy. If you look at it from the
outside nothing could have been more unlikely than that Leonora, who is
the proudest creature on God's earth, would have struck up an
acquaintanceship with two casual Yankees whom she could not really have
regarded as being much more than a carpet beneath her feet. You may ask
what she had to be proud of. Well, she was a Powys married to an
Ashburnham--I suppose that gave her the right to despise casual
Americans as long as she did it unostentatiously. I don't know what
anyone has to be proud of. She might have taken pride in her patience,
in her keeping her husband out of the bankruptcy court. Perhaps she did.
At any rate that was how Florence got to know her. She came round a
screen at the corner of the hotel corridor and found Leonora with the
gold key that hung from her wrist caught in Mrs Maidan's hair just
before dinner. There was not a single word spoken. Little Mrs Maidan was
very pale, with a red mark down her left cheek, and the key would not
come out of her black hair. It was Florence who had to disentangle it,
for Leonora was in such a state that she could not have brought herself
to touch Mrs Maidan without growing sick.
And there was not a word spoken. You see, under those four eyes--her own
and Mrs Maidan's--Leonora could just let herself go as far as to box Mrs
Maidan's ears. But the moment a stranger came along she pulled herself
wonderfully up. She was at first silent and then, the moment the key was
disengaged by Florence she was in a state to say: "So awkward of me . .
. I was just trying to put the comb straight in Mrs Maidan's hair. . .
Mrs Maidan, however, was not a Powys married to an Ashburnham; she was a
poor little O'Flaherty whose husband was a boy of country parsonage
origin. So there was no mistaking the sob she let go as she went
desolately away along the corridor. But Leonora was still going to play
up. She opened the door of Ashburnham's room quite ostentatiously, so
that Florence should hear her address Edward in terms of intimacy and
liking. "Edward," she called. But there was no Edward there.
You understand that there was no Edward there. It was then, for the only
time of her career, that Leonora really compromised herself--She
exclaimed . . . "How frightful! . . . Poor little Maisie! . . ."
She caught herself up at that, but of course it was too late. It was a
queer sort of affair. . . .
I want to do Leonora every justice. I love her very dearly for one thing
and in this matter, which was certainly the ruin of my small household
cockle-shell, she certainly tripped up. I do not believe--and Leonora
herself does not believe--that poor little Maisie Maidan was ever
Edward's mistress. Her heart was really so bad that she would have
succumbed to anything like an impassioned embrace. That is the plain
English of it, and I suppose plain English is best. She was really what
the other two, for reasons of their own, just pretended to be. Queer,
isn't it? Like one of those sinister jokes that Providence plays upon
one. Add to this that I do not suppose that Leonora would much have
minded, at any other moment, if Mrs Maidan had been her husband's
mistress. It might have been a relief from Edward's sentimental
gurglings over the lady and from the lady's submissive acceptance of
those sounds. No, she would not have minded.
But, in boxing Mrs Maidan's ears, Leonora was just striking the face of
an intolerable universe. For, that afternoon she had had a frightfully
painful scene with Edward.
As far as his letters went, she claimed the right to open them when she
chose. She arrogated to herself the right because Edward's affairs were
in such a frightful state and he lied so about them that she claimed the
privilege of having his secrets at her disposal. There was not, indeed,
any other way, for the poor fool was too ashamed of his lapses ever to
make a clean breast of anything. She had to drag these things out of
It must have been a pretty elevating job for her. But that afternoon,
Edward being on his bed for the hour and a half prescribed by the Kur
authorities, she had opened a letter that she took to come from a
Colonel Hervey. They were going to stay with him in Linlithgowshire for
the month of September and she did not know whether the date fixed would
be the eleventh or the eighteenth. The address on this letter was, in
handwriting, as like Colonel Hervey's as one blade of corn is like
another. So she had at the moment no idea of spying on him.
But she certainly was. For she discovered that Edward Ashburnham was
paying a blackmailer of whom she had never heard something like three
hundred pounds a year . . . It was a devil of a blow; it was like death;
for she imagined that by that time she had really got to the bottom of
her husband's liabilities. You see, they were pretty heavy. What had
really smashed them up had been a perfectly common-place affair at Monte
Carlo--an affair with a cosmopolitan harpy who passed for the mistress
of a Russian Grand Duke. She exacted a twenty thousand pound pearl tiara
from him as the price of her favours for a week or so. It would have
pipped him a good deal to have found so much, and he was not in the
ordinary way a gambler. He might, indeed, just have found the twenty
thousand and the not slight charges of a week at an hotel with the fair
creature. He must have been worth at that date five hundred thousand
dollars and a little over.
Well, he must needs go to the tables and lose forty thousand pounds. . .
. Forty thousand solid pounds, borrowed from sharks! And even after that
he must--it was an imperative passion--enjoy the favours of the lady. He
got them, of course, when it was a matter of solid bargaining, for far
less than twenty thousand, as he might, no doubt, have done from the
first. I daresay ten thousand dollars covered the bill.
Anyhow, there was a pretty solid hole in a fortune of a hundred thousand
pounds or so. And Leonora had to fix things up; he would have run from
money-lender to money-lender. And that was quite in the early days of
her discovery of his infidelities--if you like to call them
infidelities. And she discovered that one from public sources. God knows
what would have happened if she had not discovered it from public
sources. I suppose he would have concealed it from her until they were
penniless. But she was able, by the grace of God, to get hold of the
actual lenders of the money, to learn the exact sums that were needed.
And she went off to England.
Yes, she went right off to England to her attorney and his while he was
still in the arms of his Circe--at Antibes, to which place they had
retired. He got sick of the lady quite quickly, but not before Leonora
had had such lessons in the art of business from her attorney that she
had her plan as clearly drawn up as was ever that of General Trochu for
keeping the Prussians out of Paris in 1870. It was about as effectual at
first, or it seemed so.
That would have been, you know, in 1895, about nine years before the
date of which I am talking--the date of Florence's getting her hold over
Leonora; for that was what it amounted to. . . . Well, Mrs Ashburnham
had simply forced Edward to settle all his property upon her. She could
force him to do anything; in his clumsy, good-natured, inarticulate way
he was as frightened of her as of the devil. And he admired her
enormously, and he was as fond of her as any man could be of any woman.
She took advantage of it to treat him as if he had been a person whose
estates are being managed by the Court of Bankruptcy. I suppose it was
the best thing for him.
Anyhow, she had no end of a job for the first three years or so.
Unexpected liabilities kept on cropping up--and that afflicted fool did
not make it any easier. You see, along with the passion of the chase
went a frame of mind that made him be extraordinarily ashamed of
himself. You may not believe it, but he really had such a sort of
respect for the chastity of Leonora's imagination that he hated--he was
positively revolted at the thought that she should know that the sort of
thing that he did existed in the world. So he would stick out in an
agitated way against the accusation of ever having done anything. He
wanted to preserve the virginity of his wife's thoughts. He told me that
himself during the long walks we had at the last--while the girl was on
the way to Brindisi.
So, of course, for those three years or so, Leonora had many agitations.
And it was then that they really quarrelled.
Yes, they quarrelled bitterly. That seems rather extravagant. You might
have thought that Leonora would be just calmly loathing and he
lachrymosely contrite. But that was not it a bit . . . Along with
Edward's passions and his shame for them went the violent conviction of
the duties of his station--a conviction that was quite unreasonably
expensive. I trust I have not, in talking of his liabilities, given the
impression that poor Edward was a promiscuous libertine. He was not; he
was a sentimentalist. The servant girl in the Kilsyte case had been
pretty, but mournful of appearance. I think that, when he had kissed
her, he had desired rather to comfort her. And, if she had succumbed to
his blandishments I daresay he would have set her up in a little house
in Portsmouth or Winchester and would have been faithful to her for four
or five years. He was quite capable of that.
No, the only two of his affairs of the heart that cost him money were
that of the Grand Duke's mistress and that which was the subject of the
blackmailing letter that Leonora opened. That had been a quite
passionate affair with quite a nice woman. It had succeeded the one with
the Grand Ducal lady. The lady was the wife of a brother officer and
Leonora had known all about the passion, which had been quite a real
passion and had lasted for several years. You see, poor Edward's
passions were quite logical in their progression upwards. They began
with a servant, went on to a courtesan and then to a quite nice woman,
very unsuitably mated. For she had a quite nasty husband who, by means
of letters and things, went on blackmailing poor Edward to the tune of
three or four hundred a year--with threats of the Divorce Court. And
after this lady came Maisie Maidan, and after poor Maisie only one more
affair and then--the real passion of his life. His marriage with Leonora
had been arranged by his parents and, though he always admired her
immensely, he had hardly ever pretended to be much more than tender to
her, though he desperately needed her moral support, too. . . .
But his really trying liabilities were mostly in the nature of
generosities proper to his station. He was, according to Leonora, always
remitting his tenants' rents and giving the tenants to understand that
the reduction would be permanent; he was always redeeming drunkards who
came before his magisterial bench; he was always trying to put
prostitutes into respectable places--and he was a perfect maniac about
children. I don't know how many ill-used people he did not pick up and
provide with careers--Leonora has told me, but I daresay she exaggerated
and the figure seems so preposterous that I will not put it down. All
these things, and the continuance of them seemed to him to be his
duty--along with impossible subscriptions to hospitals and Boy Scouts
and to provide prizes at cattle shows and antivivisection societies. . .
Well, Leonora saw to it that most of these things were not continued.
They could not possibly keep up Branshaw Manor at that rate after the
money had gone to the Grand Duke's mistress. She put the rents back at
their old figures; discharged the drunkards from their homes, and sent
all the societies notice that they were to expect no more subscriptions.
To the children, she was more tender; nearly all of them she supported
till the age of apprenticeship or domestic service. You see, she was
She was childless herself, and she considered herself to be to blame.
She had come of a penniless branch of the Powys family, and they had
forced upon her poor dear Edward without making the stipulation that the
children should be brought up as Catholics. And that, of course, was
spiritual death to Leonora. I have given you a wrong impression if I
have not made you see that Leonora was a woman of a strong, cold
conscience, like all English Catholics. (I cannot, myself, help
disliking this religion; there is always, at the bottom of my mind, in
spite of Leonora, the feeling of shuddering at the Scarlet Woman, that
filtered in upon me in the tranquility of the little old Friends'
Meeting House in Arch Street, Philadelphia.) So I do set down a good
deal of Leonora's mismanagement of poor dear Edward's case to the
peculiarly English form of her religion. Because, of course, the only
thing to have done for Edward would have been to let him sink down until
he became a tramp of gentlemanly address, having, maybe, chance love
affairs upon the highways. He would have done so much less harm; he
would have been much less agonized too. At any rate, he would have had
fewer chances of ruining and of remorse. For Edward was great at
But Leonora's English Catholic conscience, her rigid principles, her
coldness, even her very patience, were, I cannot help thinking, all
wrong in this special case. She quite seriously and naïvely imagined
that the Church of Rome disapproves of divorce; she quite seriously and
naïvely believed that her church could be such a monstrous and imbecile
institution as to expect her to take on the impossible job of making
Edward Ashburnham a faithful husband. She had, as the English would say,
the Nonconformist temperament. In the United States of North America we
call it the New England conscience. For, of course, that frame of mind
has been driven in on the English Catholics. The centuries that they
have gone through--centuries of blind and malignant oppression, of
ostracism from public employment, of being, as it were, a small
beleagured garrison in a hostile country, and therefore having to act
with great formality--all these things have combined to perform that
conjuring trick. And I suppose that Papists in England are even
Continental Papists are a dirty, jovial and unscrupulous crew. But that,
at least, lets them be opportunists. They would have fixed poor dear
Edward up all right. (Forgive my writing of these monstrous things in
this frivolous manner. If I did not I should break down and cry.) In
Milan, say, or in Paris, Leonora would have had her marriage dissolved
in six months for two hundred dollars paid in the right quarter. And
Edward would have drifted about until he became a tramp of the kind I
have suggested. Or he would have married a barmaid who would have made
him such frightful scenes in public places and would so have torn out
his moustache and left visible signs upon his face that he would have
been faithful to her for the rest of his days. That was what he wanted
to redeem him. . . .
For, along with his passions and his shames there went the dread of
scenes in public places, of outcry, of excited physical violence; of
publicity, in short. Yes, the barmaid would have cured him. And it would
have been all the better if she drank; he would have been kept busy
looking after her.
I know that I am right in this. I know it because of the Kilsyte case.
You see, the servant girl that he then kissed was nurse in the family of
the Nonconformist head of the county--whatever that post may be called.
And that gentleman was so determined to ruin Edward, who was the
chairman of the Tory caucus, or whatever it is--that the poor dear
sufferer had the very devil of a time. They asked questions about it in
the House of Commons; they tried to get the Hampshire magistrates
degraded; they suggested to the War Ministry that Edward was not the
proper person to hold the King's commission. Yes, he got it hot and
The result you have heard. He was completely cured of philandering
amongst the lower classes. And that seemed a real blessing to Leonora.
It did not revolt her so much to be connected--it is a sort of
connection--with people like Mrs Maidan, instead of with a little
In a dim sort of way, Leonora was almost contented when she arrived at
Nauheim, that evening. . . .
She had got things nearly straight by the long years of scraping in
little stations in Chitral and Burma--stations where living is cheap in
comparison with the life of a county magnate, and where, moreover,
liaisons of one sort or another are normal and inexpensive too. So that,
when Mrs Maidan came along--and the Maidan affair might have caused
trouble out there because of the youth of the husband--Leonora had just
resigned herself to coming home. With pushing and scraping and with
letting Branshaw Teleragh, and with selling a picture and a relic of
Charles I or so. had got--and, poor dear, she had never had a really
decent dress to her back in all those years and years--she had got, as
she imagined, her poor dear husband back into much the same financial
position as had been his before the mistress of the Grand Duke had
happened along. And, of course, Edward himself had helped her a little
on the financial side. He was a fellow that many men liked. He was so
presentable and quite ready to lend you his cigar puncher--that sort of
thing. So, every now and then some financier whom he met about would
give him a good, sound, profitable tip. And Leonora was never afraid of
a bit of a gamble--English Papists seldom are, I do not know why.
So nearly all her investment turned up trumps, and Edward was really in
fit case to reopen Branshaw Manor and once more to assume his position
in the county. Thus Leonora had accepted Maisie Maidan almost with
resignation--almost with a sigh of relief. She really liked the poor
child--she had to like somebody. And, at any rate, she felt she could
trust Maisie--she could trust her not to rook Edward for several
thousands a week, for Maisie had refused to accept so much as a trinket
ring from him. It is true that Edward gurgled and raved about the girl
in a way that she had never yet experienced. But that, too, was almost a
relief. I think she would really have welcomed it if he could have come
across the love of his life. It would have given her a rest.
And there could not have been anyone better than poor little Mrs Maidan;
she was so ill she could not want to be taken on expensive jaunts. . . .
It was Leonora herself who paid Maisie's expenses to Nauheim. She handed
over the money to the boy husband, for Maisie would never have allowed
it; but the husband was in agonies of fear. Poor devil!
I fancy that, on the voyage from India, Leonora was as happy as ever she
had been in her life. Edward was wrapped up, completely, in his girl--he
was almost like a father with a child, trotting about with rugs and
physic and things, from deck to deck. He behaved, however, with great
circumspection, so that nothing leaked through to the other passengers.
And Leonora had almost attained to the attitude of a mother towards Mrs
Maidan. So it had looked very well--the benevolent, wealthy couple of
good people, acting as saviours to the poor, dark-eyed, dying young
thing. And that attitude of Leonora's towards Mrs Maidan no doubt partly
accounted for the smack in the face. She was hitting a naughty child who
had been stealing chocolates at an inopportune moment.
It was certainly an inopportune moment. For, with the opening of that
blackmailing letter from that injured brother officer, all the old
terrors had redescended upon Leonora. Her road had again seemed to
stretch out endless; she imagined that there might be hundreds and
hundreds of such things that Edward was concealing from her--that they
might necessitate more mortgagings, more pawnings of bracelets, more and
always more horrors. She had spent an excruciating afternoon. The matter
was one of a divorce case, of course, and she wanted to avoid publicity
as much as Edward did, so that she saw the necessity of continuing the
payments. And she did not so much mind that. They could find three
hundred a year. But it was the horror of there being more such
She had had no conversation with Edward for many years--none that went
beyond the mere arrangements for taking trains or engaging servants. But
that afternoon she had to let him have it. And he had been just the same
as ever. It was like opening a book after a decade to find the words the
same. He had the same motives. He had not wished to tell her about the
case because he had not wished her to sully her mind with the idea that
there was such a thing as a brother officer who could be a
blackmailer--and he had wanted to protect the credit of his old light of
love. That lady was certainly not concerned with her husband. And he
swore, and swore, and swore, that there was nothing else in the world
against him. She did not believe him.
He had done it once too often--and she was wrong for the first time, so
that he acted a rather creditable part in the matter. For he went right
straight out to the post-office and spent several hours in coding a
telegram to his solicitor, bidding that hard-headed man to threaten to
take out at once a warrant against the fellow who was on his track. He
said afterwards that it was a bit too thick on poor old Leonora to be
ballyragged any more. That was really the last of his outstanding
accounts, and he was ready to take his personal chance of the Divorce
Court if the blackmailer turned nasty. He would face it out--the
publicity, the papers, the whole bally show. Those were his simple
words. . . .
He had made, however, the mistake of not telling Leonora where he was
going, so that, having seen him go to his room to fetch the code for the
telegram, and seeing, two hours later, Maisie Maidan come out of his
room, Leonora imagined that the two hours she had spent in silent agony
Edward had spent with Maisie Maidan in his arms. That seemed to her to
be too much.
As a matter of fact, Maisie's being in Edward's room had been the
result, partly of poverty, partly of pride, partly of sheer innocence.
She could not, in the first place, afford a maid; she refrained as much
as possible from sending the hotel servants on errands, since every
penny was of importance to her, and she feared to have to pay high tips
at the end of her stay. Edward had lent her one of his fascinating cases
contaiing fifteen different sizes of scisssors, and, having seen from
her window, his departure for the post-office, she had taken the
opportunity of returning the case. She could not see why she should not,
though she felt a certain remorse at the thought that she had kissed the
pillows of his bed. That was the way it took her.
But Leonora could see that, without the shadow of a doubt, the incident
gave Florence a hold over her. It let Florence into things and Florence
was the only created being who had any idea that the Ashburnhams were
not just good people with nothing to their tails. She determined at
once, not so much to give Florence the privilege of her intimacy--which
would have been the payment of a kind of blackmail--as to keep Florence
under observation until she could have demonstrated to Florence that she
was not in the least jealous of poor Maisie. So that was why she had
entered the dining-room arm in arm with my wife, and why she had so
markedly planted herself at our table. She never left us, indeed, for a
minute that night, except just to run up to Mrs Maidan's room to beg her
pardon and to beg her also to let Edward take her very markedly out into
the gardens that night. She said herself, when Mrs Maidan came rather
wistfully down into the lounge where we were all sitting: "Now, Edward,
get up and take Maisie to the Casino. I want Mrs Dowell to tell me all
about the families in Connecticut who came from Fordingbridge." For it
had been discovered that Florence came of a line that had actually owned
Branshaw Teleragh for two centuries before the Ashburnhams came there.
And there she sat with me in that hall, long after Florence had gone to
bed, so that I might witness her gay reception of that pair. She could
And that enables me to fix exactly the day of our going to the town of
M----. For it was the very day poor Mrs Maidan died. We found her dead
when we got back--pretty awful, that, when you come to figure out what
it all means. . . .
At any rate the measure of my relief when Leonora said that she was an
Irish Catholic gives you the measure of my affection for that couple. It
was an affection so intense that even to this day I cannot think of
Edward without sighing. I do not believe that I could have gone on any
more with them. I was getting too tired. And I verily believe, too, if
my suspicion that Leonora was jealous of Florence had been the reason
she gave for her outburst I should have turned upon Florence with the
maddest kind of rage. Jealousy would have been incurable. But Florence's
mere silly jibes at the Irish and at the Catholics could be apologized
out of existence. And that I appeared to fix up in two minutes or so.
She looked at me for a long time rather fixedly and queerly while I was
doing it. And at last I worked myself up to saying:
"Do accept the situation. I confess that I do not like your religion.
But I like you so intensely. I don't mind saying that I have never had
anyone to be really fond of, and I do not believe that anyone has ever
been fond of me, as I believe you really to be."
"Oh, I'm fond enough of you," she said. "Fond enough to say that I wish
every man was like you. But there are others to be considered." She was
thinking, as a matter of fact, of poor Maisie. She picked a little piece
of pellitory out of the breast-high wall in front of us. She chafed it
for a long minute between her finger and thumb, then she threw it over
"Oh, I accept the situation," she said at last, "if you can."
I REMEMBER laughing at the phrase, "accept the situation", which she
seemed to repeat with a gravity too intense. I said to her something
"It's hardly as much as that. I mean, that I must claim the liberty of a
free American citizen to think what I please about your co-religionists.
And I suppose that Florence must have liberty to think what she pleases
and to say what politeness allows her to say."
"She had better," Leonora answered, "not say one single word against my
people or my faith."
It struck me at the time, that there was an unusual, an almost
threatening, hardness in her voice. It was almost as if she were trying
to convey to Florence, through me, that she would seriously harm my wife
if Florence went to something that was an extreme. Yes, I remember
thinking at the time that it was almost as if Leonora were saying,
through me to Florence:
"You may outrage me as you will; you may take all that I personally
possess, but do not you care to say one single thing in view of the
situation that that will set up--against the faith that makes me become
the doormat for your feet."
But obviously, as I saw it, that could not be her meaning. Good people,
be they ever so diverse in creed, do not threaten each other. So that I
read Leonora's words to mean just no more than:
"It would be better if Florence said nothing at all against my
co-religionists, because it is a point that I am touchy about."
That was the hint that, accordingly, I conveyed to Florence when,
shortly afterwards, she and Edward came down from the tower. And I want
you to understand that, from that moment until after Edward and the girl
and Florence were all dead together, I had never the remotest glimpse,
not the shadow of a suspicion, that there was anything wrong, as the
saying is. For five minutes, then, I entertained the possibility that
Leonora might be jealous; but there was never another flicker in that
flame-like personality. How in the world should I get it?
For, all that time, I was just a male sick nurse. And what chance had I
against those three hardened gamblers, who were all in league to conceal
their hands from me? What earthly chance? They were three to one--and
they made me happy. Oh God, they made me so happy that I doubt if even
paradise, that shall smooth out all temporal wrongs, shall ever give me
the like. And what could they have done better, or what could they have
done that could have been worse? I don't know. . . .
I suppose that, during all that time I was a deceived husband and that
Leonora was pimping for Edward. That was the cross that she had to take
up during her long Calvary of a life. . . .
You ask how it feels to be a deceived husband. Just Heavens, I do not
know. It feels just nothing at all. It is not Hell, certainly it is not
necessarily Heaven. So I suppose it is the intermediate stage. What do
they call it? Limbo. No, I feel nothing at all about that. They are
dead; they have gone before their Judge who, I hope, will open to them
the springs of His compassion. It is not my business to think about it.
It is simply my business to say, as Leonora's people say: "Requiem
aeternam dona eis, Do mine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. In memoria
aeterna erit. . . ." But what were they? The just? The unjust? God
knows! I think that the pair of them were only poor wretches, creeping
over this earth in the shadow of an eternal wrath. It is very terrible.
. . .
It is almost too terrible, the picture of that judgement, as it appears
to me sometimes, at nights. It is probably the suggestion of some
picture that I have seen somewhere. But upon an immense plain, suspended
in mid-air, I seem to see three figures, two of them clasped close in an
intense embrace, and one intolerably solitary. lt is in black and white,
my picture of that judgement, an etching, perhaps; only I cannot tell an
etching from a photographic reproduction. And the immense plain is the
hand of God, stretching out for miles and miles, with great spaces above
it and below it. And they are in the sight of God, and it is Florence
that is alone. . . .
And, do you know, at the thought of that intense solitude I feel an
overwhelming desire to rush forward and comfort her. You cannot, you
see, have acted as nurse to a person for twelve years without wishing to
go on nursing them, even though you hate them with the hatred of the
adder, and even in the palm of God. But, in the nights, with that vision
of judgement before me, I know that I hold myself back. For I hate
Florence. I hate Florence with such a hatred that I would not spare her
an eternity of loneliness. She need not have done what she did. She was
an American, a New Englander. She had not the hot passions of these
Europeans. She cut out that poor imbecile of an Edward--and I pray God
that he is really at peace, clasped close in the arms of that poor, poor
girl! And, no doubt, Maisie Maidan will find her young husband again,
and Leonora will burn, clear and serene, a northern light and one of the
archangels of God. And me. . . . Well, perhaps, they will find me an
elevator to run. . . . But Florence. . . .
She should not have done it. She should not have done it. It was playing
it too low down. She cut out poor dear Edward from sheer vanity; she
meddled between him and Leonora from a sheer, imbecile spirit of
district visiting. Do you understand that, whilst she was Edward's
mistress, she was perpetually trying to reunite him to his wife? She
would gabble on to Leonora about forgiveness--treating the subject from
the bright, American point of view. And Leonora would treat her like the
whore she was. Once she said to Florence in the early morning:
"You come to me straight out of his bed to tell me that that is my
proper place. I know it, thank you."
But even that could not stop Florence. She went on saying that it was
her ambition to leave this world a little brighter by the passage of her
brief life, and how thankfully she would leave Edward, whom she thought
she had brought to a right frame of mind, if Leonora would only give him
a chance. He needed, she said, tenderness beyond anything.
And Leonora would answer--for she put up with this outrage for
years--Leonora, as I understand, would answer something like:
"Yes, you would give him up. And you would go on writing to each other
in secret, and committing adultery in hired rooms. I know the pair of
you, you know. No. I prefer the situation as it is."
Half the time Florence would ignore Leonora's remarks. She would think
they were not quite ladylike. The other half of the time she would try
to persuade Leonora that her love for Edward was quite spiritual--on
account of her heart. Once she said:
"If you can believe that of Maisie Maidan, as you say you do, why cannot
you believe it of me?"
Leonora was, I understand, doing her hair at that time in front of the
mirror in her bedroom. And she looked round at Florence, to whom she did
not usually vouchsafe a glance,--she looked round coolly and calmly, and
"Never do you dare to mention Mrs Maidan's name again. You murdered her.
You and I murdered her between us. I am as much a scoundrel as you. I
don't like to be reminded of it."
Florence went off at once into a babble of how could she have hurt a
person whom she hardly knew, a person whom with the best intentions, in
pursuance of her efforts to leave the world a little brighter, she had
tried to save from Edward. That was how she figured it out to herself.
She really thought that. . . . So Leonora said patiently:
"Very well, just put it that I killed her and that it's a painful
subject. One does not like to think that one had killed someone.
Naturally not. I ought never to have brought her from India."
And that, indeed, is exactly how Leonora looked at it. It is stated a
little baldly, but Leonora was always a great one for bald statements.
What had happened on the day of our jaunt to the ancient city of M----
had been this:
Leonora, who had been even then filled with pity and contrition for the
poor child, on returning to our hotel had gone straight to Mrs Maidan's
room. She had wanted just to pet her. And she had perceived at first
only, on the clear, round table covered with red velvet, a letter
addressed to her. It ran something like:
"Oh, Mrs Ashburnham, how could you have done it? I trusted you so. You
never talked to me about me and Edward, but I trusted you. How could you
buy me from my husband? I have just heard how you have--in the hall they
were talking about it, Edward and the American lady. You paid the money
for me to come here. Oh, how could you? How could you? I am going
straight back to Bunny. . . ."
Bunny was Mrs Maidan's husband.
And Leonora said that, as she went on reading the letter, she had,
without looking round her, a sense that that hotel room was cleared,
that there were no papers on the table, that there were no clothes on
the hooks, and that there was a strained silence--a silence, she said,
as if there were something in the room that drank up such sounds as
there were. She had to fight against that feeling, whilst she read the
postscript of the letter.
"I did not know you wanted me for an adulteress," the postscript began.
The poor child was hardly literate. "It was surely not right of you and
I never wanted to be one. And I heard Edward call me a poor little rat
to the American lady. He always called me a little rat in private, and I
did not mind. But, if he called me it to her, I think he does not love
me any more. Oh, Mrs Ashburnham, you knew the world and I knew nothing.
I thought it would be all right if you thought it could, and I thought
you would not have brought me if you did not, too. You should not have
done it, and we out of the same convent. . . ."
Leonora said that she screamed when she read that.
And then she saw that Maisie's boxes were all packed, and she began a
search for Mrs Maidan herself--all over the hotel. The manager said that
Mrs Maidan had paid her bill, and had gone up to the station to ask the
Reiseverkehrsbureau to make her out a plan for her immediate return to
Chitral. He imagined that he had seen her come back, but he was not
quite certain. No one in the large hotel had bothered his head about the
child. And she, wandering solitarily in the hall, had no doubt sat down
beside a screen that had Edward and Florence on the other side. I never
heard then or after what had passed between that precious couple. I
fancy Florence was just about beginning her cutting out of poor dear
Edward by addressing to him some words of friendly warning as to the
ravages he might be making in the girl's heart. That would be the sort
of way she would begin. And Edward would have sentimentally assured her
that there was nothing in it; that Maisie was just a poor little rat
whose passage to Nauheim his wife had paid out of her own pocket. That
would have been enough to do the trick.
For the trick was pretty efficiently done. Leonora, with panic growing
and with contrition very large in her heart, visited every one of the
public rooms of the hotel--the dining-room, the lounge, the
schreibzimmer, the winter garden. God knows what they wanted with a
winter garden in an hotel that is only open from May till October. But
there it was. And then Leonora ran--yes, she ran up the stairs--to see
if Maisie had not returned to her rooms. She had determined to take that
child right away from that hideous place. It seemed to her to be all
unspeakable. I do not mean to say that she was not quite cool about it.
Leonora was always Leonora. But the cold justice of the thing demanded
that she should play the part of mother to this child who had come from
the same convent. She figured it out to amount to that. She would leave
Edward to Florence and to me--and she would devote all her time to
providing that child with an atmosphere of love until she could be
returned to her poor young husband. It was naturally too late.
She had not cared to look round Maisie's rooms at first. Now, as soon as
she came in, she perceived, sticking out beyond the bed, a small pair of
feet in high-heeled shoes. Maisie had died in the effort to strap up a
great portmanteau. She had died so grotesquely that her little body had
fallen forward into the trunk, and it had closed upon her, like the jaws
of a gigantic alligator. The key was in her hand. Her dark hair, like
the hair of a Japanese, had come down and covered her body and her face.
Leonora lifted her up--she was the merest featherweight--and laid her on
the bed with her hair about her. She was smiling, as if she had just
scored a goal in a hockey match. You understand she had not committed
suicide. Her heart had just stopped. I saw her, with the long lashes on
the cheeks, with the smile about the lips, with the flowers all about
her. The stem of a white lily rested in her hand so that the spike of
flowers was upon her shoulder. She looked like a bride in the sunlight
of the mortuary candles that were all about her, and the white coifs of
the two nuns that knelt at her feet with their faces hidden might have
been two swans that were to bear her away to kissing-kindness land, or
wherever it is. Leonora showed her to me. She would not let either of
the others see her. She wanted, you know, to spare poor dear Edward's
feelings. He never could bear the sight of a corpse. And, since she
never gave him an idea that Maisie had written to her, he imagined that
the death had been the most natural thing in the world. He soon got over
it. Indeed, it was the one affair of his about which he never felt much
THE death of Mrs Maidan occurred on the 4th of August, 1904. And then
nothing happened until the 4th of August, 1913. There is the curious
coincidence of dates, but I do not know whether that is one of those
sinister, as if half jocular and altogether merciless proceedings on the
part of a cruel Providence that we call a coincidence. Because it may
just as well have been the superstitious mind of Florence that forced
her to certain acts, as if she had been hypnotized. It is, however,
certain that the 4th of August always proved a significant date for her.
To begin with, she was born on the 4th of August. Then, on that date, in
the year 1899, she set out with her uncle for the tour round the world
in company with a young man called Jimmy. But that was not merely a
coincidence. Her kindly old uncle, with the supposedly damaged heart,
was in his delicate way, offering her, in this trip, a birthday present
to celebrate her coming of age. Then, on the 4th of August, 1900, she
yielded to an action that certainly coloured her whole life--as well as
mine. She had no luck. She was probably offering herself a birthday
present that morning. . . .
On the 4th of August, 1901, she married me, and set sail for Europe in a
great gale of wind--the gale that affected her heart. And no doubt
there, again, she was offering herself a birthday gift--the birthday
gift of my miserable life. It occurs to me that I have never told you
anything about my marriage. That was like this: I have told you, as I
think, that I first met Florence at the Stuyvesants', in Fourteenth
Street. And, from that moment, I determined with all the obstinacy of a
possibly weak nature, if not to make her mine, at least to marry her. I
had no occupation--I had no business affairs. I simply camped down there
in Stamford, in a vile hotel, and just passed my days in the house, or
on the verandah of the Misses Hurlbird. The Misses Hurlbird, in an odd,
obstinate way, did not like my presence. But they were hampered by the
national manners of these occasions. Florence had her own sitting-room.
She could ask to it whom she liked, and I simply walked into that
apartment. I was as timid as you will, but in that matter I was like a
chicken that is determined to get across the road in front of an
automobile. I would walk into Florence's pretty, little, old-fashioned
room, take off my hat, and sit down.
Florence had, of course, several other fellows, too--strapping young New
Englanders, who worked during the day in New York and spent only the
evenings in the village of their birth. And, in the evenings, they would
march in on Florence with almost as much determination as I myself
showed. And I am bound to say that they were received with as much
disfavour as was my portion--from the Misses Hurlbird. . . .
They were curious old creatures, those two. It was almost as if they
were members of an ancient family under some curse--they were so
gentlewomanly, so proper, and they sighed so. Sometimes I would see
tears in their eyes. I do not know that my courtship of Florence made
much progress at first. Perhaps that was because it took place almost
entirely during the daytime, on hot afternoons, when the clouds of dust
hung like fog, right up as high as the tops of the thin-leaved elms. The
night, I believe, is the proper season for the gentle feats of love, not
a Connecticut July afternoon, when any sort of proximity is an almost
appalling thought. But, if I never so much as kissed Florence, she let
me discover very easily, in the course of a fortnight, her simple wants.
And I could supply those wants. . . .
She wanted to marry a gentleman of leisure; she wanted a European
establishment. She wanted her husband to have an English accent, an
income of fifty thousand dollars a year from real estate and no
ambitions to increase that income. And--she faintly hinted--she did not
want much physical passion in the affair. Americans, you know, can
envisage such unions without blinking.
She gave cut this information in floods of bright talk--she would pop a
little bit of it into comments over a view of the Rialto, Venice, and,
whilst she was brightly describing Balmoral Castle, she would say that
her ideal husband would he one who could get her received at the British
Court. She had spent, it seemed, two months in Great Britain--seven
weeks in touring from Stratford to Strathpeffer, and one as paying guest
in an old English family near Ledbury, an impoverished, but still
stately family, called Bagshawe. They were to have spent two months more
in that tranquil bosom, but inopportune events, apparently in her
uncle's business, had caused their rather hurried return to Stamford.
The young man called Jimmy had remained in Europe to perfect his
knowledge of that continent. He certainly did: he was most useful to us
But the point that came out--that there was no mistaking--was that
Florence was coldly and calmly determined to take no look at any man who
could not give her a European settlement. Her glimpse of English home
life had effected this. She meant, on her marriage, to have a year in
Paris, and then to have her husband buy some real estate in the
neighbourhood of Fordingbridge, from which place the Hurlbirds had come
in the year 1688. On the strength of that she was going to take her
place in the ranks of English county society. That was fixed.
I used to feel mightily elevated when I considered these details, for I
could not figure out that amongst her acquaintances in Stamford there
was any fellow that would fill the bill. The most of them were not as
wealthy as I, and those that were were not the type to give up the
fascinations of Wall Street even for the protracted companionship of
Florence. But nothing really happened during the month of July. On the
1st of August Florence apparently told her aunts that she intended to
She had not told me so, but there was no doubt about the aunts, for, on
that afternoon, Miss Florence Hurlbird, Senior, stopped me on my way to
Florence's sitting-room and took me, agitatedly, into the parlour. It
was a singular interview, in that old-fashioned colonial room, with the
spindle-legged furniture, the silhouettes, the miniatures, the portrait
of General Braddock, and the smell of lavender. You see, the two poor
maiden ladies were in agonies--and they could not say one single thing
direct. They would almost wring their hands and ask if I had considered
such a thing as different temperaments. I assure you they were almost
affectionate, concerned for me even, as if Florence were too bright for
my solid and serious virtues.
For they had discovered in me solid and serious virtues. That might have
been because I had once dropped the remark that I preferred General
Braddock to General Washington. For the Hurlbirds had backed the losing
side in the War of Independence, and had been seriously impoverished and
quite efficiently oppressed for that reason. The Misses Hurlbird could
never forget it.
Nevertheless they shuddered at the thought of a European career for
myself and Florence. Each of them really wailed when they heard that
that was what I hoped to give their niece. That may have been partly
because they regarded Europe as a sink of iniquity, where strange
laxities prevailed. They thought the Mother Country as Erastian as any
other. And they carried their protests to extraordinary lengths, for
them. . . .
They even, almost, said that marriage was a sacrament; but neither Miss
Florence nor Miss Emily could quite bring herself to utter the word. And
they almost brought themselves to say that Florence's early life had
been characterized by flirtations--something of that sort.
I know I ended the interview by saying:
"I don't care. If Florence has robbed a bank I am going to marry her and
take her to Europe."
And at that Miss Emily wailed and fainted. But Miss Florence, in spite
of the state of her sister, threw herself on my neck and cried out:
"Don't do it, John. Don't do it. You're a good young man," and she
added, whilst I was getting out of the room to send Florenc to her
"We ought to tell you more. But she's our dear sister's child."
Florence, I remember, received me with a chalk-pale face and the
"Have those old cats been saying anything against me?" But I assured her
that they had not and hurried her into the room of her strangely
afflicted relatives. I had really forgotten all about that exclamation
of Florence's until this moment. She treated me so very well--with such
tact--that, if I ever thought of it afterwards I put it down to her deep
affection for me.
And that evening, when I went to fetch her for a buggy-ride, she had
disappeared. I did not lose any time. I went into New York and engaged
berths on the "Pocahontas", that was to sail on the evening of the
fourth of the month, and then, returning to Stamford, I tracked out, in
the course of the day, that Florence had been driven to Rye Station. And
there I found that she had taken the cars to Waterbury. She had, of
course, gone to her uncle's. The old man received me with a stony, husky
face. I was not to see Florence; she was ill; she was keeping her room.
And, from something that he let drop--an odd Biblical phrase that I have
forgotten --I gathered that all that family simply did not intend her to
marry ever in her life.
I procured at once the name of the nearest minister and a rope
ladder--you have no idea how primitively these matters were arranged in
those days in the United States. I daresay that may be so still. And at
one o'clock in the morning of the 4th of August I was standing in
Florence's bedroom. I was so one-minded in my purpose that it never
struck me there was anything improper in being, at one o'clock in the
morning, in Florence's bedroom. I just wanted to wake her up. She was
not, however, asleep. She expected me, and her relatives had only just
left her. She received me with an embrace of a warmth. . . . Well, it
was the first time I had ever been embraced by a woman--and it was the
last when a woman's embrace has had in it any warmth for me. . . .
I suppose it was my own fault, what followed. At any rate, I was in such
a hurry to get the wedding over, and was so afraid of her relatives
finding me there, that I must have received her advances with a certain
amount of absence of mind. I was out of that room and down the ladder in
under half a minute. She kept me waiting at the foot an unconscionable
time--it was certainly three in the morning before we knocked up that
minister. And I think that that wait was the only sign Florence ever
showed of having a conscience as far as I was concerned, unless her
lying for some moments in my arms was also a sign of conscience. I fancy
that, if I had shown warmth then, she would have acted the proper wife
to me, or would have put me back again. But, because I acted like a
Philadelphia gentleman, she made me, I suppose, go through with the part
of a male nurse. Perhaps she thought that I should not mind.
After that, as I gather, she had not any more remorse. She was only
anxious to carry out her plans. For, just before she came down the
ladder, she called me to the top of that grotesque implement that I went
up and down like a tranquil jumping-jack. I was perfectly collected. She
said to me with a certain fierceness:
"It is determined that we sail at four this afternoon? You are not lying
about having taken berths?"
I understood that she would naturally be anxious to get away from the
neighbourhood of her apparently insane relatives, so that I readily
excused her for thinking that I should be capable of lying about such a
thing. I made it, therefore, plain to her that it was my fixed
determination to sail by the "Pocahontas". She said then--it was a
moonlit morning, and she was whispering in my ear whilst I stood on the
ladder. The hills that surround Waterbury showed, extraordinarily
tranquil, around the villa. She said, almost coldly:
"I wanted to know, so as to pack my trunks." And she added: "I may be
ill, you know. I guess my heart is a little like Uncle Hurlbird's. It
runs in families."
I whispered that the "Pocahontas" was an extraordinarily steady boat. .
Now I wonder what had passed through Florence's mind during the two
hours that she had kept me waiting at the foot of the ladder. I would
give not a little to know. Till then, I fancy she had had no settled
plan in her mind. She certainly never mentioned her heart till that
time. Perhaps the renewed sight of her Uncle Hurlbird had given her the
idea. Certainly her Aunt Emily, who had come over with her to Waterbury,
would have rubbed into her, for hours and hours, the idea that any
accentuated discussions would kill the old gentleman. That would recall
to her mind all the safeguards against excitement with which the poor
silly old gentleman had been hedged in during their trip round the
world. That, perhaps, put it into her head. Still, I believe there was
some remorse on my account, too. Leonora told me that Florence said
there was--for Leonora knew all about it, and once went so far as to ask
her how she could do a thing so infamous. She excused herself on the
score of an overmastering passion. Well, I always say that an
overmastering passion is a good excuse for feelings. You cannot help
them. And it is a good excuse for straight actions--she might have
bolted with the fellow, before or after she married me. And, if they had
not enough money to get along with, they might have cut their throats,
or sponged on her family, though, of course, Florence wanted such a lot
that it would have suited her very badly to have for a husband a clerk
in a dry-goods store, which was what old Hurlbird would have made of
that fellow. He hated him. No, I do not think that there is much excuse
God knows. She was a frightened fool, and she was fantastic, and I
suppose that, at that time, she really cared for that imbecile. He
certainly didn't care for her. Poor thing. . . . At any rate, after I
had assured her that the "Pocahontas" was a steady ship, she just said:
"You'll have to look after me in certain ways--like Uncle Hurlbird is
looked after. I will tell you how to do it." And then she stepped over
the sill, as if she were stepping on board a boat. I suppose she had
I had, no doubt, eye-openers enough. When we re-entered the Hurlbird
mansion at eight o'clock the Hurlbirds were just exhausted. Florence had
a hard, triumphant air. We had got married about four in the morning and
had sat about in the woods above the town till then, listening to a
mocking-bird imitate an old tom-cat. So I guess Florence had not found
getting married to me a very stimulating process. I had not found
anything much more inspiring to say than how glad I was, with
variations. I think I was too dazed. Well, the Hurlbirds were too dazed
to say much. We had breakfast together, and then Florence went to pack
her grips and things. Old Hurlbird took the opportunity to read me a
full-blooded lecture, in the style of an American oration, as to the
perils for young American girlhood lurking in the European jungle. He
said that Paris was full of snakes in the grass, of which he had had
bitter experience. He concluded, as they always do, poor, dear old
things, with the aspiration that all American women should one day be
sexless--though that is not the way they put it. . . .
Well, we made the ship all right by one-thirty--an there was a tempest
blowing. That helped Florence a good deal. For we were not ten minutes
out from Sandy Hook before Florence went down into her cabin and her
heart took her. An agitated stewardess came running up to me, and I went
running down. I got my directions how to behave to my wife. Most of them
came from her, though it was the ship doctor who discreetly suggested to
me that I had better refrain from manifestations of affection. I was
I was, of course, full of remorse. It occurred to me that her heart was
the reason for the Hurlbirds' mysterious desire to keep their youngest
and dearest unmarried. Of course, they would be too refined to put the
motive into words. They were old stock New Englanders. They would not
want to have to suggest that a husband must not kiss the back of his
wife's neck. They would not like to suggest that he might, for the
matter of that. I wonder, though, how Florence got the doctor to enter
the conspiracy--the several doctors.
Of course her heart squeaked a bit--she had the same configuration of
the lungs as her Uncle Hurlbird. And, in his company, she must have
heard a great deal of heart talk from specialists. Anyhow, she and they
tied me pretty well down--and Jimmy, of course, that dreary boy--what in
the world did she see in him? He was lugubrious, silent, morose. He had
no talent as a painter. He was very sallow and dark, and he never shaved
sufficiently. He met us at Havre, and he proceeded to make himself
useful for the next two years, during which he lived in our flat in
Paris, whether we were there or not. He studied painting at Julien's, or
some such place. . . .
That fellow had his hands always in the pockets of his odious,
square-shouldered, broad-hipped, American coats, and his dark eyes were
always full of ominous appearances. He was, besides, too fat. Why, I was
much the better man. . . .
And I daresay Florence would have given me the better. She showed signs
of it. I think, perhaps, the enigmatic smile with which she used to look
back at me over her shoulder when she went into the bathing place was a
sort of invitation. I have mentioned that. It was as if she were saying:
"I am going in here. I am going to stand so stripped and white and
straight--and you are a man. . . ." Perhaps it was that. . . .
No, she cannot have liked that fellow long. He looked like sallow putty.
I understand that he had been slim and dark and very graceful at the
time of her first disgrace. But, loafing about in Paris, on her
pocket-money and on the allowance that old Hurlbird made him to keep out
of the United States, had given him a stomach like a man of forty, and
dyspeptic irritation on top of it.
God, how they worked me! It was those two between them who really
elaborated the rules. I have told you something about them--how I had to
head conversations, for all those eleven years, off such topics as love,
poverty, crime, and so on. But, looking over what I have written, I see
that I have unintentionally misled you when I said that Florence was
never out of my sight. Yet that was the impression that I really had
until just now. When I come to think of it she was out of my sight most
of the time.
You see, that fellow impressed upon me that what Florence needed most of
all were sleep and privacy. I must never enter her room without
knocking, or her poor little heart might flutter away to its doom. He
said these things with his lugubrious croak, and his black eyes like a
crow's, so that I seemed to see poor Florence die ten times a day--a
little, pale, frail corpse. Why, I would as soon have thought of
entering her room without her permission as of burgling a church. I
would sooner have committed that crime. I would certainly have done it
if I had thought the state of her heart demanded the sacrilege. So at
ten o'clock at night the door closed upon Florence, who had gently, and,
as if reluctantly, backed up that fellow's recommendations; and she
would wish me good night as if she were a cinquecento Italian lady
saying good-bye to her lover. And at ten o'clock of the next morning
there she would come out the door of her room as fresh as Venus rising
from any of the couches that are mentioned in Greek legends.
Her room door was locked because she was nervous about thieves; but an
electric contrivance on a cord was understood to be attached to her
little wrist. She had only to press a bulb to raise the house. And I was
provided with an axe--an axe!--great gods, with which to break down her
door in case she ever failed to answer my knock, after I knocked really
loud several times. It was pretty well thought out, you see.
What wasn't so well thought out were the ultimate consequences--our
being tied to Europe. For that young man rubbed it so well into me that
Florence would die if she crossed the Channel--he impressed it so fully
on my mind that, when later Florence wanted to go to Fordingbridge, I
cut the proposal short--absolutely short, with a curt no. It fixed her
and it frightened her. I was even backed up by all the doctors. I seemed
to have had endless interviews with doctor after doctor, cool, quiet
men, who would ask, in reasonable tones, whether there was any reason
for our going to England--any special reason. And since I could not see
any special reason, they would give the verdict: "Better not, then." I
daresay they were honest enough, as things go. They probably imagined
that the mere associations of the steamer might have effects on
Florence's nerves. That would be enough, that and a conscientious desire
to keep our money on the Continent.
It must have rattled poor Florence pretty considerably, for you see, the
main idea--the only main idea of her heart, that was otherwise cold--was
to get to Fordingbridge and be a county lady in the home of her
ancestors. But Jimmy got her, there: he shut on her the door of the
Channel; even on the fairest day of blue sky, with the cliffs of England
shining like mother of pearl in full view of Calais, I would not have
let her cross the steamer gangway to save her life. I tell you it fixed
It fixed her beautifully, because she could not announce herself as
cured, since that would have put an end to the locked bedroom
arrangements. And, by the time she was sick of Jimmy--which happened in
the year 1903 --she had taken on Edward Ashburnham. Yes, it was a bad
fix for her, because Edward could have taken her to Fordingbridge, and,
though he could not give her Branshaw Manor, that home of her ancestors
being settled on his wife, she could at least have pretty considerably
queened it there or thereabouts, what with our money and the support of
the Ashburnhams. Her uncle, as soon as he considered that she had really
settled down with me-- and I sent him only the most glowing accounts of
her virtue and constancy --made over to her a very considerable part of
his fortune for which he had no use. I suppose that we had, between us,
fifteen thousand a year in English money, though I never quite knew how
much of hers went to Jimmy. At any rate, we could have shone in
I never quite knew, either, how she and Edward got rid of Jimmy. I fancy
that fat and disreputable raven must have had his six golden front teeth
knocked down his throat by Edward one morning whilst I had gone out to
buy some flowers in the Rue de la Paix, leaving Florence and the flat in
charge of those two. And serve him very right, is all that I can say. He
was a bad sort of blackmailer; I hope Florence does not have his company
in the next world.
As God is my Judge, I do not believe that I would have separated those
two if I had known that they really and passionately loved each other. I
do not know where the public morality of the case comes in, and, of
course, no man really knows what he would have done in any given case.
But I truly believe that I would have united them, observing ways and
means as decent as I could. I believe that I should have given them
money to live upon and that I should have consoled myself somehow. At
that date I might have found some young thing, like Maisie Maidan, or
the poor girl, and I might have had some peace. For peace I never had
with Florence, and hardly believe that I cared for her in the way of
love after a year or two of it. She became for me a rare and fragile
object, something burdensome, but very frail. Why it was as if I had
been given a thin-shelled pullet's egg to carry on my palm from
Equatorial Africa to Hoboken. Yes, she became for me, as it were, the
subject of a bet--the trophy of an athlete's achievement, a parsley
crown that is the symbol of his chastity, his soberness, his
abstentions, and of his inflexible will. Of intrinsic value as a wife, I
think she had none at all for me. I fancy I was not even proud of the
way she dressed.
But her passion for Jimmy was not even a passion, and, mad as the
suggestion may appear, she was frightened for her life. Yes, she was
afraid of me. I will tell you how that happened.
I had, in the old days, a darky servant, called Julius, who valeted me,
and waited on me, and loved me, like the crown of his head. Now, when we
left Waterbury to go to the "Pocahontas", Florence entrusted to me one
very special and very precious leather grip. She told me that her life
might depend on that grip, which contained her drugs against heart
attacks. And, since I was never much of a hand at carrying things, I
entrusted this, in turn, to Julius, who was a grey-haired chap of sixty
or so, and very picturesque at that. He made so much impression on
Florence that she regarded him as a sort of father, and absolutely
refused to let me take him to Paris. He would have inconvenienced her.
Well, Julius was so overcome with grief at being left behind that he
must needs go and drop the precious grip. I saw red, I saw purple. I
flew at Julius. On the ferry, it was, I filled up one of his eyes; I
threatened to strangle him. And, since an unresisting negro can make a
deplorable noise and a deplorable spectacle, and, since that was
Florence's first adventure in the married state, she got a pretty idea
of my character. It affirmed in her the desperate resolve to conceal
from me the fact that she was not what she would have called "a pure
woman". For that was really the mainspring of her fantastic actions. She
was afraid that I should murder her. . . .
So she got up the heart attack, at the earliest possible opportunity, on
board the liner. Perhaps she was not so very much to be blamed. You must
remember that she was a New Englander, and that New England had not yet
come to loathe darkies as it does now. Whereas, if she had come from
even so little south as Philadelphia, and had been an oldish family, she
would have seen that for me to kick Julius was not so outrageous an act
as for her cousin, Reggie Hurlbird, to say--as I have heard him say to
his English butler--that for two cents he would bat him on the pants.
Besides, the medicine-grip did not bulk as largely in her eyes as it did
in mine, where it was the symbol of the existence of an adored wife of a
day. To her it was just a useful lie. . . .
Well, there you have the position, as clear as I can make it--the
husband an ignorant fool, the wife a cold sensualist with imbecile
fears--for I was such a fool that I should never have known what she was
or was not--and the blackmailing lover. And then the other lover came
along. . . .
Well, Edward Ashburnham was worth having. Have I conveyed to you the
splendid fellow that he was--the fine soldier, the excellent landlord,
the extraordinarily kind, careful and industrious magistrate, the
upright, honest, fair-dealing, fair-thinking, public character? I
suppose I have not conveyed it to you. The truth is, that I never knew
it until the poor girl came along--the poor girl who was just as
straight, as splendid and as upright as he. I swear she was. I suppose I
ought to have known. I suppose that was, really, why I liked him so
much--so infinitely much. Come to think of it, I can remember a thousand
little acts of kindliness, of thoughtfulness for his inferiors, even on
the Continent. Look here, I know of two families of dirty,
unpicturesque, Hessian paupers that that fellow, with an infinite
patience, rooted up, got their police reports, set on their feet, or
exported to my patient land. And he would do it quite inarticulately,
set in motion by seeing a child crying in the street. He would wrestle
with dictionaries, in that unfamiliar tongue. . . . Well, he could not
bear to see a child cry. Perhaps he could not bear to see a woman and
not give her the comfort of his physical attractions.
But, although I liked him so intensely, I was rather apt to take these
things for granted. They made me feel comfortable with him, good towards
him; they made me trust him. But I guess I thought it was part of the
character of any English gentleman. Why, one day he got it into his head
that the head waiter at the Excelsior had been crying--the fellow with
the grey face and grey whiskers. And then he spent the best part of a
week, in correspondence and up at the British consul's, in getting the
fellow's wife to come back from London and bring back his girl baby. She
had bolted with a Swiss scullion. If she had not come inside the week he
would have gone to London himself to fetch her. He was like that.
Edward Ashburnham was like that, and I thought it was only the duty of
his rank and station. Perhaps that was all that it was--but I pray God
to make me discharge mine as well. And, but for the poor girl, I daresay
that I should never have seen it, however much the feeling might have
been over me. She had for him such enthusiasm that, although even now I
do not understand the technicalities of English life, I can gather
enough. She was with them during the whole of our last stay at Nauheim.
Nancy Rufford was her name; she was Leonora's only friend's only child,
and Leonora was her guardian, if that is the correct term. She had lived
with the Ashburnhams ever since she had been of the age of thirteen,
when her mother was said to have committed suicide owing to the
brutalities of her father. Yes, it is a cheerful story. . . .
Edward always called her "the girl", and it was very pretty, the evident
affection he had for her and she for him. And Leonora's feet she would
have kissed--those two were for her the best man and the best woman on
earth--and in heaven. I think that she had not a thought of evil in her
head--the poor girl. . . .
Well, anyhow, she chanted Edward's praises to me for the hour together,
but, as I have said, I could not make much of it. It appeared that he
had the D.S.O., and that his troop loved him beyond the love of men. You
never saw such a troop as his. And he had the Royal Humane Society's
medal with a clasp. That meant, apparently, that he had twice jumped off
the deck of a troopship to rescue what the girl called "Tommies", who
had fallen overboard in the Red Sea and such places. He had been twice
recommended for the V.C., whatever that might mean, and, although owing
to some technicalities he had never received that apparently coveted
order, he had some special place about his sovereign at the coronation.
Or perhaps it was some post in the Beefeaters'. She made him out like a
cross between Lohengrin and the Chevalier Bayard. Perhaps he was. . . .
But he was too silent a fellow to make that side of him really
decorative. I remember going to him at about that time and asking him
what the D.S.O. was, and he grunted out:
"It's a sort of a thing they give grocers who've honourably supplied the
troops with adulterated coffee in war-time"--something of that sort. He
did not quite carry conviction to me, so, in the end, I put it directly
to Leonora. I asked her fully and squarely--prefacing the question with
some remarks, such as those that I have already given you, as to the
difficulty one has in really getting to know people when one's intimacy
is conducted as an English acquaintanceship--I asked her whether her
husband was not really a splendid fellow--along at least the lines of
his public functions. She looked at me with a slightly awakened
air--with an air that would have been almost startled if Leonora could
ever have been startled.
"Didn't you know?" she asked. "If I come to think of it there is not a
more splendid fellow in any three counties, pick them where you
will--along those lines." And she added, after she had looked at me
reflectively for what seemed a long time:
"To do my husband justice there could not be a better man on the earth.
There would not be room for it--along those lines."
"Well," I said, "then he must really be Lohengrin and the Cid in one
body. For there are not any other lines that count."
Again she looked at me for a long time.
"It's your opinion that there are no other lines that count?" she asked
"Well," I answered gaily, "you're not going to accuse him of not being a
good husband, or of not being a good guardian to your ward?"
She spoke then, slowly, like a person who is listening to the sounds in
a sea-shell held to her ear--and, would you believe it?--she told me
afterwards that, at that speech of mine, for the first time she had a
vague inkling of the tragedy that was to follow so soon--although the
girl had lived with them for eight years or so:
"Oh, I'm not thinking of saying that he is not the best of husbands, or
that he is not very fond of the girl."
And then I said something like:
"Well, Leonora, a man sees more of these things than even a wife. And,
let me tell you, that in all the years I've known Edward he has never,
in your absence, paid a moment's attention to any other woman--not by
the quivering of an eyelash. I should have noticed. And he talks of you
as if you were one of the angels of God."
"Oh," she came up to the scratch, as you could be sure Leonora would
always come up to the scratch, "I am perfectly sure that he always
speaks nicely of me."
I daresay she had practice in that sort of scene--people must have been
always complimenting her on her husband's fidelity and adoration. For
half the world--the whole of the world that knew Edward and Leonora
believed that his conviction in the Kilsyte affair had been a
miscarriage of justice--a conspiracy of false evidence, got together by
Nonconformist adversaries. But think of the fool that I was. . . .
LET me think where we were. Oh, yes . . . that conversation took place
on the 4th of August, 1913. I remember saying to her that, on that day,
exactly nine years before, I had made their acquaintance, so that it had
seemed quite appropriate and like a birthday speech to utter my little
testimonial to my friend Edward. I could quite confidently say that,
though we four had been about together in all sorts of places, for all
that length of time, I had not, for my part, one single complaint to
make of either of them. And I added, that that was an unusual record for
people who had been so much together. You are not to imagine that it was
only at Nauheim that we met. That would not have suited Florence.
I find, on looking at my diaries, that on the 4th of September, 1904,
Edward accompanied Florence and myself to Paris, where we put him up
till the twenty-first of that month. He made another short visit to us
in December of that year--the first year of our acquaintance. It must
have been during this visit that he knocked Mr Jimmy's teeth down his
throat. I daresay Florence had asked him to come over for that purpose.
In 1905 he was in Paris three times--once with Leonora, who wanted some
frocks. In 1906 we spent the best part of six weeks together at Mentone,
and Edward stayed with us in Paris on his way back to London. That was
how it went.
The fact was that in Florence the poor wretch had got hold of a Tartar,
compared with whom Leonora was a sucking kid. He must have had a hell of
a time. Leonora wanted to keep him for--what shall I say--for the good
of her church, as it were, to show that Catholic women do not lose their
men. Let it go at that, for the moment. I will write more about her
motives later, perhaps. But Florence was sticking on to the proprietor
of the home of her ancestors. No doubt he was also a very passionate
lover. But I am convinced that he was sick of Florence within three
years of even interrupted companionship and the life that she led him. .
If ever Leonora so much as mentioned in a letter that they had had a
woman staying with them--or, if she so much as mentioned a woman's name
in a letter to me--off would go a desperate cable in cipher to that poor
wretch at Branshaw, commanding him on pain of an instant and horrible
disclosure to come over and assure her of his fidelity. I daresay he
would have faced it out; I daresay he would have thrown over Florence
and taken the risk of exposure. But there he had Leonora to deal with.
And Leonora assured him that, if the minutest fragment of the real
situation ever got through to my senses, she would wreak upon him the
most terrible vengeance that she could think of. And he did not have a
very easy job. Florence called for more and more attentions from him as
the time went on. She would make him kiss her at any moment of the day;
and it was only by his making it plain that a divorced lady could never
assume a position in the county of Hampshire that he could prevent her
from making a bolt of it with him in her train. Oh, yes, it was a
difficult job for him.
For Florence, if you please, gaining in time a more composed view of
nature, and overcome by her habits of garrulity, arrived at a frame of
mind in which she found it almost necessary to tell me all about
it--nothing less than that. She said that her situation was too
unbearable with regard to me.
She proposed to tell me all, secure a divorce from me, and go with
Edward and settle in California. . . . I do not suppose that she was
really serious in this. It would have meant the extinction of all hopes
of Branshaw Manor for her. Besides she had got it into her head that
Leonora, who was as sound as a roach, was consumptive. She was always
begging Leonora, before me, to go and see a doctor. But, none the less,
poor Edward seems to have believed in her determination to carry him
off. He would not have gone; he cared for his wife too much. But, if
Florence had put him at it, that would have meant my getting to know of
it, and his incurring Leonora's vengeance. And she could have made it
pretty hot for him in ten or a dozen different ways. And she assured me
that she would have used every one of them. She was determined to spare
my feelings. And she was quite aware that, at that date, the hottest she
could have made it for him would have been to refuse, herself, ever to
see him again. . . .
Well, I think I have made it pretty clear. Let me come to the 4th of
August, 1913, the last day of my absolute ignorance--and, I assure you,
of my perfect happiness. For the coming of that dear girl only added to
On that 4th of August I was sitting in the lounge with a rather odious
Englishman called Bagshawe, who had arrived that night, too late for
dinner. Leonora had just gone to bed and I was waiting for Florence and
Edward and the girl to come back from a concert at the Casino. They had
not gone there all together. Florence, I remember, had said at first
that she would remain with Leonora, and me, and Edward and the girl had
gone off alone. And then Leonora had said to Florence with perfect
"I wish you would go with those two. I think the girl ought to have the
appearance of being chaperoned with Edward in these places. I think the
time has come." So Florence, with her light step, had slipped out after
them. She was all in black for some cousin or other. Americans are
particular in those matters.
We had gone on sitting in the lounge till towards ten, when Leonora had
gone up to bed. It had been a very hot day, but there it was cool. The
man called Bagshawe had been reading The Times on the other side of the
room, but then he moved over to me with some trifling question as a
prelude to suggesting an acquaintance. I fancy he asked me something
About the poll-tax on Kur-guests, and whether it could not be sneaked
out of. He was that sort of person.
Well, he was an unmistakable man, with a military figure, rather
exaggerated, with bulbous eyes that avoided your own, and a pallid
complexion that suggested vices practised in secret along with an uneasy
desire for making acquaintance at whatever cost. . . . The filthy toad.
. . .
He began by telling me that he came from Ludlow Manor, near Ledbury. The
name had a slightly familiar sound, though I could not fix it in my
mind. Then he began to talk about a duty on hops, about Californian
hops, about Los Angeles, where he had been. He fencing for a topic with
which he might gain my affection.
And then, quite suddenly, in the bright light of the street, I saw
Florence running. It was like that--I saw Florence running with a face
whiter than paper and her hand on the black stuff over her heart. I tell
you, my own heart stood still; I tell you I could not move. She rushed
in at the swing doors. She looked round that place of rush chairs, cane
tables and newspapers. She saw me and opened her lips. She saw the man
who was talking to me. She stuck her hands over her face as if she
wished to push her eyes out. And she was not there any more.
I could not move; I could not stir a finger. And then that man said:
"By Jove: Florry Hurlbird." He turned upon me with an oily and uneasy
sound meant for a laugh. He was really going to ingratiate himself with
"Do you know who that is?" he asked. "The last time I saw that girl she
was coming out of the bedroom of a young man called Jimmy at five
o'clock in the morning. In my house at Ledbury. You saw her recognize
me." He was standing on his feet, looking down at me. I don't know what
I looked like. At any rate, he gave a sort of gurgle and then stuttered:
"Oh, I say. . . ." Those were the last words I ever heard of Mr
Bagshawe's. A long time afterwards I pulled myself out of the lounge and
went up to Florence's room. She had not locked the door--for the first
time of our married life. She was lying, quite respectably arranged,
unlike Mrs Maidan, on her bed. She had a little phial that rightly
should have contained nitrate of amyl, in her right hand. That was on
the 4th of August, 1913.
THE odd thing is that what sticks out in my recollection of the rest of
that evening was Leonora's saying:
"Of course you might marry her," and, when I asked whom, she answered:
Now that is to me a very amazing thing--amazing for the light of
possibilities that it casts into the human heart. For I had never had
the slightest conscious idea of marrying the girl; I never had the
slightest idea even of caring for her. I must have talked in an odd way,
as people do who are recovering from an anaesthetic. It is as if one had
a dual personality, the one I being entirely unconscious of the other. I
had thought nothing; I had said such an extraordinary thing.
I don't know that analysis of my own psychology matters at all to this
story. I should say that it didn't or, at any rate, that I had given
enough of it. But that odd remark of mine had a strong influence upon
what came after. I mean, that Leonora would probably never have spoken
to me at all about Florence's relations with Edward if I hadn't said,
two hours after my wife's death:
"Now I can marry the girl."
She had, then, taken it for granted that I had been suffering all that
she had been suffering, or, at least, that I had permitted all that she
had permitted. So that, a month ago, about a week after the funeral of
poor Edward, she could say to me in the most natural way in the world--I
had been talking about the duration of my stay at Branshaw--she said
with her clear, reflective intonation:
"Oh, stop here for ever and ever if you can." And then she added, "You
couldn't be more of a brother to me, or more of a counsellor, or more of
a support. You are all the consolation I have in the world. And isn't it
odd to think that if your wife hadn't been my husband's mistress, you
would probably never have been here at all?"
That was how I got the news--full in the face, like that. I didn't say
anything and I don't suppose I felt anything, unless maybe it was with
that mysterious and unconscious self that underlies most people. Perhaps
one day when I am unconscious or walking in my sleep I may go and spit
upon poor Edward's grave. It seems about the most unlikely thing I could
do; but there it is.
No, I remember no emotion of any sort, but just the clear feeling that
one has from time to time when one hears that some Mrs So-and-So is au
mieux with a certain gentleman. It made things plainer, suddenly, to my
curiosity. It was as if I thought, at that moment, of a windy November
evening, that, when I came to think it over afterwards, a dozen
unexplained things would fit themselves into place. But I wasn't
thinking things over then. I remember that distinctly. I was just
sitting back, rather stiffly, in a deep arm-chair. That is what I
remember. It was twilight.
Branshaw Manor lies in a little hollow with lawns across it and
pine-woods on the fringe of the dip. The immense wind, coming from
across the forest, roared overhead. But the view from the window was
perfectly quiet and grey. Not a thing stirred, except a couple of
rabbits on the extreme edge of the lawn. It was Leonora's own little
study that we were in and we were waiting for the tea to be brought. I,
as I said, was sitting in the deep chair, Leonora was standing in the
window twirling the wooden acorn at the end of the window-blind cord
desultorily round and round. She looked across the lawn and said, as far
as I can remember:
"Edward has been dead only ten days and yet there are rabbits on the
I understand that rabbits do a great deal of harm to the short grass in
England. And then she turned round to me and said without any adornment
at all, for I remember her exact words:
"I think it was stupid of Florence to commit suicide."
I cannot tell you the extraordinary sense of leisure that we two seemed
to have at that moment. It wasn't as if we were waiting for a train, it
wasn't as if we were waiting for a meal--it was just that there was
nothing to wait for. Nothing.
There was an extreme stillness with the remote and intermittent sound of
the wind. There was the grey light in that brown, small room. And there
appeared to be nothing else in the world. I knew then that Leonora was
about to let me into her full confidence. It was as if--or no, it was
the actual fact that--Leonora with an odd English sense of decency had
determined to wait until Edward had been in his grave for a full week
before she spoke. And with some vague motive of giving her an idea of
the extent to which she must permit herself to make confidences, I said
slowly --and these words too I remember with exactitude--"Did Florence
commit suicide? I didn't know."
I was just, you understand, trying to let her know that, if she were
going to speak she would have to talk about a much wider range of things
than she had before thought necessary.
So that that was the first knowledge I had that Florence had committed
suicide. It had never entered my head. You may think that I had been
singularly lacking in suspiciousness; you may consider me even to have
been an imbecile. But consider the position.
In such circumstances of clamour, of outcry, of the crash of many people
running together, of the professional reticence of such people as
hotel-keepers, the traditional reticence of such "good people" as the
Ashburnhams--in such circumstances it is some little material object,
always, that catches the eye and that appeals to the imagination. I had
no possible guide to the idea of suicide and the sight of the little
flask of nitrate of amyl in Florence's hand suggested instantly to my
mind the idea of the failure of her heart. Nitrate of amyl, you
understand, is the drug that is given to relieve sufferers from angina
Seeing Florence, as I had seen her, running with a white face and with
one hand held over her heart, and seeing her, as I immediately
afterwards saw her, lying upon her bed with the so familiar little brown
flask clenched in her fingers, it was natural enough for my mind to
frame the idea. As happened now and again, I thought, she had gone out
without her remedy and, having felt an attack coming on whilst she was
in the gardens, she had run in to get the nitrate in order, as quickly
as possible, to obtain relief. And it was equally inevitable my mind
should frame the thought that her heart, unable to stand the strain of
the running, should have broken in her side. How could I have known
that, during all the years of our married life, that little brown flask
had contained, not nitrate of amyl, but prussic acid? It was
Why, not even Edward Ashburnham, who was, after all more intimate with
her than I was, had an inkling of the truth. He just thought that she
had dropped dead of heart disease. Indeed, I fancy that the only people
who ever knew that Florence had committed suicide were Leonora, the
Grand Duke, the head of the police and the hotel-keeper. I mention these
last three because my recollection of that night is only the sort of
pinkish effulgence from the electric-lamps in the hotel lounge. There
seemed to bob into my consciousness, like floating globes, the faces of
those three. Now it would be the bearded, monarchical, benevolent head
of the Grand Duke; then the sharp-featured, brown, cavalry-moustached
feature of the chief of police; then the globular, polished and
high-collared vacuousness that represented Monsieur Schontz, the
proprietor of the hotel. At times one head would be there alone, at
another the spiked helmet of the official would be close to the healthy
baldness of the prince; then M. Schontz's oiled locks would push in
between the two. The sovereign's soft, exquisitely trained voice would
say, "Ja, ja, ja!" each word dropping out like so many soft pellets of
suet; the subdued rasp of the official would come: "Zum Befehl
Durchlaucht," like five revolver-shots; the voice of M. Schontz would go
on and on under its breath like that of an unclean priest reciting from
his breviary in the corner of a railway-carriage. That was how it
presented itself to me.
They seemed to take no notice of me; I don't suppose that I was even
addressed by one of them. But, as long as one or the other, or all three
of them were there, they stood between me as if, I being the titular
possessor of the corpse, had a right to be present at their conferences.
Then they all went away and I was left alone for a long time.
And I thought nothing; absolutely nothing. I had no ideas; I had no
strength. I felt no sorrow, no desire for action, no inclination to go
upstairs and fall upon the body of my wife. I just saw the pink
effulgence, the cane tables, the palms, the globular match-holders, the
indented ash-trays. And then Leonora came to me and it appears that I
addressed to her that singular remark:
"Now I can marry the girl."
But I have given you absolutely the whole of my recollection of that
evening, as it is the whole of my recollection of the succeeding three
or four days. I was in a state just simply cataleptic. They put me to
bed and I stayed there; they brought me my clothes and I dressed; they
led me to an open grave and I stood beside it. If they had taken me to
the edge of a river, or if they had flung me beneath a railway train, I
should have been drowned or mangled in the same spirit. I was the
Well, those are my impressions.
What had actually happened had been this. I pieced it together
afterwards. You will remember I said that Edward Ashburnham and the girl
had gone off, that night, to a concert at the Casino and that Leonora
had asked Florence, almost immediately after their departure, to follow
them and to perform the office of chaperone. Florence, you may also
remember, was all in black, being the mourning that she wore for a
deceased cousin, Jean Hurlbird. It was a very black night and the girl
was dressed in cream-coloured muslin, that must have glimmered under the
tall trees of the dark park like a phosphorescent fish in a cupboard.
You couldn't have had a better beacon.
And it appears that Edward Ashburnham led the girl not up the straight
allée that leads to the Casino, but in under the dark trees of the park.
Edward Ashburnham told me all this in his final outburst. I have told
you that, upon that occasion, he became deucedly vocal. I didn't pump
him. I hadn't any motive. At that time I didn't in the least connect him
with my wife. But the fellow talked like a cheap novelist.--Or like a
very good novelist for the matter of that, if it's the business of a
novelist to make you see things clearly. And I tell you I see that thing
as clearly as if it were a dream that never left me. It appears that,
not very far from the Casino, he and the girl sat down in the darkness
upon a public bench. The lights from that place of entertainment must
have reached them through the tree-trunks, since, Edward said, he could
quite plainly see the girl's face--that beloved face with the high
forehead, the queer mouth, the tortured eyebrows, and the direct eyes.
And to Florence, creeping up behind them, they must have presented the
appearance of silhouettes. For I take it that Florence came creeping up
behind them over the short grass to a tree that, I quite well remember,
was immediately behind that public seat. It was not a very difficult
feat for a woman instinct with jealousy. The Casino orchestra was, as
Edward remembered to tell me, playing the Rakocsy march, and although it
was not loud enough, at that distance, to drown the voice of Edward
Ashburnham it was certainly sufficiently audible to efface, amongst the
noises of the night, the slight brushings and rustlings that might have
been made by the feet of Florence or by her gown in coming over the
short grass. And that miserable woman must have got it in the face, good
and strong. It must have been horrible for her. Horrible! Well, I
suppose she deserved all that she got.
Anyhow, there you have the picture, the immensely tall trees, elms most
of them, towering and feathering away up into the black mistiness that
trees seem to gather about them at night; the silhouettes of those two
upon the seat; the beams of light coming from the Casino, the woman all
in black peeping with fear behind the tree-trunk. It is melodrama; but I
can't help it.
And then, it appears, something happened to Edward Ashburnham. He
assured me--and I see no reason for disbelieving him--that until that
moment he had had no idea whatever of caring for the girl. He said that
he had regarded her exactly as he would have regarded a daughter. He
certainly loved her, but with a very deep, very tender and very tranquil
love. He had missed her when she went away to her convent-school; he had
been glad when she had returned. But of more than that he had been
totally unconscious. Had he been conscious of it, he assured me, he
would have fled from it as from a thing accursed. He realized that it
was the last outrage upon Leonora. But the real point was his entire
unconsciousness. He had gone with her into that dark park with no
quickening of the pulse, with no desire for the intimacy of solitude. He
had gone, intending to talk about polo-ponies, and tennis-racquets;
about the temperament of the reverend Mother at the convent she had left
and about whether her frock for a party when they got home should be
white or blue. It hadn't come into his head that they would talk about a
single thing that they hadn't always talked about; it had not even come
into his head that the tabu which extended around her was not
inviolable. And then, suddenly, that--
He was very careful to assure me that at that time there was no physical
motive about his declaration. It did not appear to him to be a matter of
a dark night and a propinquity and so on. No, it was simply of her
effect on the moral side of his life that he appears to have talked. He
said that he never had the slightest notion to enfold her in his arms or
so much as to touch her hand. He swore that he did not touch her hand.
He said that they sat, she at one end of the bench, he at the other; he
leaning slightly towards her and she looking straight towards the light
of the Casino, her face illuminated by the lamps. The expression upon
her face he could only describe as "queer". At another time, indeed, he
made it appear that he thought she was glad. It is easy to imagine that
she was glad, since at that time she could have had no idea of what was
really happening. Frankly, she adored Edward Ashburnham. He was for her,
in everything that she said at that time, the model of humanity, the
hero, the athlete, the father of his country, the law-giver. So that for
her, to be suddenly, intimately and overwhelmingly praised must have
been a matter for mere gladness, however overwhelming it were. It must
have been as if a god had approved her handiwork or a king her loyalty.
She just sat still and listened, smiling. And it seemed to her that all
the bitterness of her childhood, the terrors of her tempestuous father,
the bewailings of her cruel-tongued mother were suddenly atoned for. She
had her recompense at last. Because, of course, if you come to figure it
out, a sudden pouring forth of passion by a man whom you regard as a
cross between a pastor and a father might, to a woman, have the aspect
of mere praise for good conduct. It wouldn't, I mean, appear at all in
the light of an attempt to gain possession. The girl, at least, regarded
him as firmly anchored to his Leonora. She had not the slightest inkling
of any infidelities. He had always spoken to her of his wife in terms of
reverence and deep affection. He had given her the idea that he regarded
Leonora as absolutely impeccable and as absolutely satisfying. Their
union had appeared to her to be one of those blessed things that are
spoken of and contemplated with reverence by her church.
So that, when he spoke of her as being the person he cared most for in
the world, she naturally thought that he meant to except Leonora and she
was just glad. It was like a father saying that he approved of a
marriageable daughter . . . And Edward, when he realized what he was
doing, curbed his tongue at once. She was just glad and she went on
being just glad.
I suppose that that was the most monstrously wicked thing that Edward
Ashburnham ever did in his life. And yet I am so near to all these
people that I cannot think any of them wicked. It is impossible of me to
think of Edward Ashburnham as anything but straight, upright and
honourable. That, I mean, is, in spite of everything, my permanent view
of him. I try at times by dwelling on some of the things that he did to
push that image of him away, as you might try to push aside a large
pendulum. But it always comes back--the memory of his innumerable acts
of kindness, of his efficiency, of his unspiteful tongue. He was such a
So I feel myself forced to attempt to excuse him in this as in so many
other things. It is, I have no doubt, a most monstrous thing to attempt
to corrupt a young girl just out of a convent. But I think Edward had no
idea at all of corrupting her. I believe that he simply loved her. He
said that that was the way of it and I, at least, believe him and I
believe too that she was the only woman he ever really loved. He said
that that was so; and he did enough to prove it. And Leonora said that
it was so and Leonora knew him to the bottom of his heart.
I have come to be very much of a cynic in these matters; I mean that it
is impossible to believe in the permanence of man's or woman's love. Or,
at any rate, it is impossible to believe in the permanence of any early
passion. As I see it, at least, with regard to man, a love affair, a
love for any definite woman--is something in the nature of a widening of
the experience. With each new woman that a man is attracted to there
appears to come a broadening of the outlook, or, if you like, an
acquiring of new territory. A turn of the eyebrow, a tone of the voice,
a queer characteristic gesture--all these things, and it is these things
that cause to arise the passion of love--all these things are like so
many objects on the horizon of the landscape that tempt a man to walk
beyond the horizon, to explore. He wants to get, as it were, behind
those eyebrows with the peculiar turn, as if he desired to see the world
with the eyes that they overshadow. He wants to hear that voice applying
itself to every possible proposition, to every possible topic; he wants
to see those characteristic gestures against every possible background.
Of the question of the sex-instinct I know very little and I do not
think that it counts for very much in a really great passion. It can be
aroused by such nothings--by an untied shoelace, by a glance of the eye
in passing-- that I think it might be left out of the calculation. I
don't mean to say that any great passion can exist without a desire for
consummation. That seems to me to be a commonplace and to be therefore a
matter needing no comment at all. It is a thing, with all its accidents,
that must be taken for granted, as, in a novel, or a biography, you take
it for granted that the characters have their meals with some
regularity. But the real fierceness of desire, the real heat of a
passion long continued and withering up the soul of a man is the craving
for identity with the woman that he loves. He desires to see with the
same eyes, to touch with the same sense of touch, to hear with the same
ears, to lose his identity, to be enveloped, to be supported. For,
whatever may be said of the relation of the sexes, there is no man who
loves a woman that does not desire to come to her for the renewal of his
courage, for the cutting asunder of his difficulties. And that will be
the mainspring of his desire for her. We are all so afraid, we are all
so alone, we all so need from the outside the assurance of our own
worthiness to exist.
So, for a time, if such a passion come to fruition, the man will get
what he wants. He will get the moral support, the encouragement, the
relief from the sense of loneliness, the assurance of his own worth. But
these things pass away; inevitably they pass away as the shadows pass
across sundials. It is sad, but it is so. The pages of the book will
become familiar; the beautiful corner of the road will have been turned
too many times. Well, this is the saddest story.
And yet I do believe that for every man there comes at last a woman--or
no, that is the wrong way of formulating it. For every man there comes
at last a time of life when the woman who then sets her seal upon his
imagination has set her seal for good. He will travel over no more
horizons; he will never again set the knapsack over his shoulders; he
will retire from those scenes. He will have gone out of the business.
That at any rate was the case with Edward and the poor girl. It was
quite literally the case. It was quite literally the case that his
passions--for the mistress of the Grand Duke, for Mrs Basil, for little
Mrs Maidan, for Florence, for whom you will--these passions were merely
preliminary canters compared to his final race with death for her. I am
certain of that. I am not going to be so American as to say that all
true love demands some sacrifice. It doesn't. But I think that love will
be truer and more permanent in which self-sacrifice has been exacted.
And, in the case of the other women, Edward just cut in and cut them out
as he did with the polo-ball from under the nose of Count Baron von
Lelöffel. I don't mean to say that he didn't wear himself as thin as a
lath in the endeavour to capture the other women; but over her he wore
himself to rags and tatters and death--in the effort to leave her alone.
And, in speaking to her on that night, he wasn't, I am convinced,
committing a baseness. It was as if his passion for her hadn't existed;
as if the very words that he spoke, without knowing that he spoke them,
created the passion as they went along. Before he spoke, there was
nothing; afterwards, it was the integral fact of his life. Well, I must
get back to my story.
And my story was concerning itself with Florence--with Florence, who
heard those words from behind the tree. That of course is only
conjecture, but I think the conjecture is pretty well justified. You
have the fact that those two went out, that she followed them almost
immediately afterwards through the darkness and, a little later, she
came running back to the hotel with that pallid face and the hand
clutching her dress over her heart. It can't have been only Bagshawe.
Her face was contorted with agony before ever her eyes fell upon me or
upon him beside me. But I dare say Bagshawe may have been the
determining influence in her suicide. Leonora says that she had that
flask, apparently of nitrate of amyl, but actually of prussic acid, for
many years and that she was determined to use it if ever I discovered
the nature of her relationship with that fellow Jimmy. You see, the
mainspring of her nature must have been vanity. There is no reason why
it shouldn't have been; I guess it is vanity that makes most of us keep
straight, if we do keep straight, in this world.
If it had been merely a matter of Edward's relations with the girl I
dare say Florence would have faced it out. She would no doubt have made
him scenes, have threatened him, have appealed to his sense of humour,
to his promises. But Mr Bagshawe and the fact that the date was the 4th
of August must have been too much for her superstitious mind. You see,
she had two things that she wanted. She wanted to be a great lady,
installed in Branshaw Teleragh. She wanted also to retain my respect.
She wanted, that is to say, to retain my respect for as long as she
lived with me. I suppose, if she had persuaded Edward Ashburnham to bolt
with her she would have let the whole thing go with a run. Or perhaps
she would have tried to exact from me a new respect for the greatness of
her passion on the lines of all for love and the world well lost. That
would be just like Florence.
In all matrimonial associations there is, I believe, one constant factor
--a desire to deceive the person with whom one lives as to some weak
spot in one's character or in one's career. For it is intolerable to
live constantly with one human being who perceives one's small
meannesses. It is really death to do so--that is why so many marriages
turn out unhappily.
I, for instance, am a rather greedy man; I have a taste for good cookery
and a watering tooth at the mere sound of the names of certain
comestibles. If Florence had discovered this secret of mine I should
have found her knowledge of it so unbearable that I never could have
supported all the other privations of the régime that she extracted from
me. I am bound to say that Florence never discovered this secret.
Certainly she never alluded to it; I dare say she never took sufficient
interest in me.
And the secret weakness of Florence--the weakness that she could not
bear to have me discover, was just that early escapade with the fellow
called Jimmy. Let me, as this is in all probability the last time I
shall mention Florence's name, dwell a little upon the change that had
taken place in her psychology. She would not, I mean, have minded if I
had discovered that she was the mistress of Edward Ashburnham. She would
rather have liked it. Indeed, the chief trouble of poor Leonora in those
days was to keep Florence from making, before me, theatrical displays,
on one line or another, of that very fact. She wanted, in one mood, to
come rushing to me, to cast herself on her knees at my feet and to
declaim a carefully arranged, frightfully emotional, outpouring as to
her passion. That was to show that she was like one of the great erotic
women of whom history tells us. In another mood she would desire to come
to me disdainfully and to tell me that I was considerably less than a
man and that what had happened was what must happen when a real male
came along. She wanted to say that in cool, balanced and sarcastic
sentences. That was when she wished to appear like the heroine of a
French comedy. Because of course she was always play acting.
But what she didn't want me to know was the fact of her first escapade
with the fellow called Jimmy. She had arrived at figuring out the sort
of low-down Bowery tough that that fellow was. Do you know what it is to
shudder, in later life, for some small, stupid action--usually for some
small, quite genuine piece of emotionalism--of your early life? Well, it
was that sort of shuddering that came over Florence at the thought that
she had surrendered to such a low fellow. I don't know that she need
have shuddered. It was her footing old uncle's work; he ought never to
have taken those two round the world together and shut himself up in his
cabin for the greater part of the time. Anyhow, I am convinced that the
sight of Mr Bagshawe and the thought that Mr Bagshawe--for she knew that
unpleasant and toadlike personality--the thought that Mr Bagshawe would
almost certainly reveal to me that he had caught her coming out of
Jimmy's bedroom at five o'clock in the morning on the 4th of August,
1900--that was the determining influence in her suicide. And no doubt
the effect of the date was too much for her superstitious personality.
She had been born on the 4th of August; she had started to go round the
world on the 4th of August; she had become a low fellow's mistress on
the 4th of August. On the same day of the year she had married me; on
that 4th she had lost Edward's love, and Bagshawe had appeared like a
sinister omen--like a grin on the face of Fate. It was the last straw.
She ran upstairs, arranged herself decoratively upon her bed--she was a
sweetly pretty woman with smooth pink and white cheeks, long hair, the
eyelashes falling like a tiny curtain on her cheeks. She drank the
little phial of prussic acid and there she lay.--Oh, extremely charming
and clear-cut--looking with a puzzled expression at the electric-light
bulb that hung from the ceiling, or perhaps through it, to the stars
above. Who knows? Anyhow, there was an end of Florence.
You have no idea how quite extraordinarily for me that was the end of
Florence. From that day to this I have never given her another thought;
I have not bestowed upon her so much as a sigh. Of course, when it has
been necessary to talk about her to Leonora, or when for the purpose of
these writings I have tried to figure her out, I have thought about her
as I might do about a problem in algebra. But it has always been as a
matter for study, not for remembrance. She just went completely out of
existence, like yesterday's paper.
I was so deadly tired. And I dare say that my week or ten days of
affaissement--of what was practically catalepsy--was just the repose
that my exhausted nature claimed after twelve years of the repression of
my instincts, after twelve years of playing the trained poodle. For that
was all that I had been. I suppose that it was the shock that did
it--the several shocks. But I am unwilling to attribute my feelings at
that time to anything so concrete as a shock. It was a feeling so
tranquil. It was as if an immensely heavy--an unbearably heavy knapsack,
supported upon my shoulders by straps, had fallen off and left my
shoulders themselves that the straps had cut into, numb and without
sensation of life. I tell you, I had no regret. What had I to regret? I
suppose that my inner soul--my dual personality--had realized long
before that Florence was a personality of paper--that she represented a
real human being with a heart, with feelings, with sympathies and with
emotions only as a bank-note represents a certain quantity of gold. I
know that sort of feeling came to the surface in me the moment the man
Bagshawe told me that he had seen her coming out of that fellow's
bedroom. I thought suddenly that she wasn't real; she was just a mass of
talk out of guidebooks, of drawings out of fashion-plates. It is even
possible that, if that feeling had not possessed me, I should have run
up sooner to her room and might have prevented her drinking the prussic
acid. But I just couldn't do it; it would have been like chasing a scrap
of paper--an occupation ignoble for a grown man.
And, as it began, so that matter has remained. I didn't care whether she
had come out of that bedroom or whether she hadn't. It simply didn't
interest me. Florence didn't matter.
I suppose you will retort that I was in love with Nancy Rufford and that
my indifference was therefore discreditable. Well, I am not seeking to
avoid discredit. I was in love with Nancy Rufford as I am in love with
the poor child's memory, quietly and quite tenderly in my American sort
of way. I had never thought about it until I heard Leonora state that I
might now marry her. But, from that moment until her worse than death, I
do not suppose that I much thought about anything else. I don't mean to
say that I sighed about her or groaned; I just wanted to marry her as
some people want to go to Carcassonne.
Do you understand the feeling--the sort of feeling that you must get
certain matters out of the way, smooth out certain fairly negligible
complications before you can go to a place that has, during all your
life, been a sort of dream city? I didn't attach much importance to my
superior years. I was forty-five, and she, poor thing, was only just
rising twenty-two. But she was older than her years and quieter. She
seemed to have an odd quality of sainthood, as if she must inevitably
end in a convent with a white coif framing her face. But she had
frequently told me that she had no vocation; it just simply wasn't
there--the desire to become a nun. Well, I guess that I was a sort of
convent myself; it seemed fairly proper that she should make her vows to
No, I didn't see any impediment on the score of age. I dare say no man
does and I was pretty confident that with a little preparation, I could
make a young girl happy. I could spoil her as few young girls have ever
been spoiled; and I couldn't regard myself as personally repulsive. No
man can, or if he ever comes to do so, that is the end of him. But, as
soon as I came out of my catalepsy, I seemed to perceive that my
problem--that what I had to do to prepare myself for getting into
contact with her, was just to get back into contact with life. I had
been kept for twelve years in a rarefied atmosphere; what I then had to
do was a little fighting with real life, some wrestling with men of
business, some travelling amongst larger cities, something harsh,
something masculine. I didn't want to present myself to Nancy Rufford as
a sort of an old maid. That was why, just a fortnight after Florence's
suicide, I set off for the United States.
IMMEDIATELY after Florence's death Leonora began to put the leash upon
Nancy Rufford and Edward. She had guessed what had happened under the
trees near the Casino. They stayed at Nauheim some weeks after I went,
and Leonora has told me that that was the most deadly time of her
existence. It seemed like a long, silent duel with invisible weapons, so
she said. And it was rendered all the more difficult by the girl's
entire innocence. For Nancy was always trying to go off alone with
Edward--as she had been doing all her life, whenever she was home for
holidays. She just wanted him to say nice things to her again.
You see, the position was extremely complicated. It was as complicated
as it well could be, along delicate lines. There was the complication
caused by the fact that Edward and Leonora never spoke to each other
except when other people were present. Then, as I have said, their
demeanours were quite perfect. There was the complication caused by the
girl's entire innocence; there was the further complication that both
Edward and Leonora really regarded the girl as their daughter. Or it
might be more precise to say that they regarded her as being Leonora's
daughter. And Nancy was a queer girl; it is very difficult to describe
her to you.
She was tall and strikingly thin; she had a tortured mouth, agonized
eyes, and a quite extraordinary sense of fun. You, might put it that at
times she was exceedingly grotesque and at times extraordinarily
beautiful. Why, she had the heaviest head of black hair that I have ever
come across; I used to wonder how she could bear the weight of it. She
was just over twenty-one and at times she seemed as old as the hills, at
times not much more than sixteen. At one moment she would be talking of
the lives of the saints and at the next she would be tumbling all over
the lawn with the St Bernard puppy. She could ride to hounds like a
Maenad and she could sit for hours perfectly still, steeping
handkerchief after handkerchief in vinegar when Leonora had one of her
headaches. She was, in short, a miracle of patience who could be almost
miraculously impatient. It was, no doubt, the convent training that
effected that. I remember that one of her letters to me, when she was
about sixteen, ran something like:
"On Corpus Christi"--or it may have been some other saint's day, I
cannot keep these things in my head--"our school played Roehampton at
Hockey. And, seeing that our side was losing, being three goals to one
against us at halftime, we retired into the chapel and prayed for
victory. We won by five goals to three." And I remember that she seemed
to describe afterwards a sort of saturnalia. Apparently, when the
victorious fifteen or eleven came into the refectory for supper, the
whole school jumped upon the tables and cheered and broke the chairs on
the floor and smashed the crockery--for a given time, until the Reverend
Mother rang a hand-bell. That is of course the Catholic
tradition--saturnalia that can end in a moment, like the crack of a
whip. I don't, of course, like the tradition, but I am bound to say that
it gave Nancy--or at any rate Nancy had--a sense of rectitude that I
have never seen surpassed. It was a thing like a knife that looked out
of her eyes and that spoke with her voice, just now and then. It
positively frightened me. I suppose that I was almost afraid to be in a
world where there could be so fine a standard. I remember when she was
about fifteen or sixteen on going back to the convent I once gave her a
couple of English sovereigns as a tip. She thanked me in a peculiarly
heartfelt way, saying that it would come in extremely handy. I asked her
why and she explained. There was a rule at the school that the pupils
were not to speak when they walked through the garden from the chapel to
the refectory. And, since this rule appeared to be idiotic and
arbitrary, she broke it on purpose day after day. In the evening the
children were all asked if they had committed any faults during the day,
and every evening Nancy confessed that she had broken this particular
rule. It cost her sixpence a time, that being the fine attached to the
offence. Just for the information I asked her why she always confessed,
and she answered in these exact words:
"Oh, well, the girls of the Holy Child have always been noted for their
truthfulness. It's a beastly bore, but I've got to do it."
I dare say that the miserable nature of her childhood, coming before the
mixture of saturnalia and discipline that was her convent life, added
something to her queernesses. Her father was a violent madman of a
fellow, a major of one of what I believe are called the Highland
regiments. He didn't drink, but he had an ungovernable temper, and the
first thing that Nancy could remember was seeing her father strike her
mother with his clenched fist so that her mother fell over sideways from
the breakfast-table and lay motionless. The mother was no doubt an
irritating woman and the privates of that regiment appeared to have been
irritating, too, so that the house was a place of outcries and perpetual
disturbances. Mrs Rufford was Leonora's dearest friend and Leonora could
be cutting enough at times. But I fancy she was as nothing to Mrs
Rufford. The Major would come in to lunch harassed and already spitting
out oaths after an unsatisfactory morning's drilling of his stubborn men
beneath a hot sun. And then Mrs Rufford would make some cutting remark
and pandemonium would break loose. Once, when she had been about twelve,
Nancy had tried to intervene between the pair of them. Her father had
struck her full upon the forehead a blow so terrible that she had lain
unconscious for three days. Nevertheless, Nancy seemed to prefer her
father to her mother. She remembered rough kindnesses from him. Once or
twice when she had been quite small he had dressed her in a clumsy,
impatient, but very tender way. It was nearly always impossible to get a
servant to stay in the family and, for days at a time, apparently, Mrs
Rufford would be incapable. I fancy she drank. At any rate, she had so
cutting a tongue that even Nancy was afraid of her--she so made fun of
any tenderness, she so sneered at all emotional displays. Nancy must
have been a very emotional child.
Then one day, quite suddenly, on her return from a ride at Fort William,
Nancy had been sent, with her governess, who had a white face, right
down South to that convent school. She had been expecting to go there in
two months' time. Her mother disappeared from her life at that time. A
fortnight later Leonora came to the convent and told her that her mother
was dead. Perhaps she was. At any rate, I never heard until the very end
what became of Mrs Rufford. Leonora never spoke of her.
And then Major Rufford went to India, from which he returned very seldom
and only for very short visits; and Nancy lived herself gradually into
the life at Branshaw Teleragh. I think that, from that time onwards, she
led a very happy life, till the end. There were dogs and horses and old
servants and the Forest. And there were Edward and Leonora, who loved
I had known her all the time--I mean, that she always came to the
Ashburnhams' at Nauheim for the last fortnight of their stay--and I
watched her gradually growing. She was very cheerful with me. She always
even kissed me, night and morning, until she was about eighteen. And she
would skip about and fetch me things and laugh at my tales of life in
Philadelphia. But, beneath her gaiety, I fancy that there lurked some
terrors. I remember one day, when she was just eighteen, during one of
her father's rare visits to Europe, we were sitting in the gardens, near
the iron-stained fountain. Leonora had one of her headaches and we were
waiting for Florence and Edward to come from their baths. You have no
idea how beautiful Nancy looked that morning.
We were talking about the desirability of taking tickets in
lotteries--of the moral side of it, I mean. She was all in white, and so
tall and fragile; and she had only just put her hair up, so that the
carriage of her neck had that charming touch of youth and of
unfamiliarity. Over her throat there played the reflection from a little
pool of water, left by a thunderstorm of the night before, and all the
rest of her features were in the diffused and luminous shade of her
white parasol. Her dark hair just showed beneath her broad, white hat of
pierced, chip straw; her throat was very long and leaned forward, and
her eyebrows, arching a little as she laughed at some old-fashionedness
in my phraseology, had abandoned their tense line. And there was a
little colour in her cheeks and light in her deep blue eyes. And to
think that that vivid white thing, that saintly and swanlike being--to
think that. . . Why, she was like the sail of a ship, so white and so
definite in her movements. And to think that she will never . . . Why,
she will never do anything again. I can't believe it . . .
Anyhow, we were chattering away about the morality of lotteries. And
then, suddenly, there came from the arcades behind us the overtones of
her father's unmistakable voice; it was as if a modified foghorn had
boomed with a reed inside it. I looked round to catch sight of him. A
tall, fair, stiffly upright man of fifty, he was walking away with an
Italian baron who had had much to do with the Belgian Congo. They must
have been talking about the proper treatment of natives, for I heard him
"Oh, hang humanity!"
When I looked again at Nancy her eyes were closed and her face was more
pallid than her dress, which had at least some pinkish reflections from
the gravel. It was dreadful to see her with her eyes closed like that.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, and her hand that had appeared to be groping,
settled for a moment on my arm. "Never speak of it. Promise never to
tell my father of it. It brings back those dreadful dreams . . ." And,
when she opened her eyes she looked straight into mine. "The blessed
saints," she said, "you would think they would spare you such things. I
don't believe all the sinning in the world could make one deserve them."
They say the poor thing was always allowed a light at night, even in her
bedroom. . . . And yet, no young girl could more archly and lovingly
have played with an adored father. She was always holding him by both
coat lapels; cross-questioning him as to how he spent his time; kissing
the top of his head. Ah, she was well-bred, if ever anyone was.
The poor, wretched man cringed before her--but she could not have done
more to put him at his ease. Perhaps she had had lessons in it at her
convent. It was only that peculiar note of his voice, used when he was
overbearing or dogmatic, that could unman her--and that was only visible
when it came unexpectedly. That was because the bad dreams that the
blessed saints allowed her to have for her sins always seemed to her to
herald themselves by the booming sound of her father's voice. It was
that sound that had always preceded his entrance for the terrible
lunches of her childhood. . . .
I have reported, earlier in this chapter, that Leonora said, during that
remainder of their stay at Nauheim, after I had left, it had seemed to
her that she was fighting a long duel with unseen weapons against silent
adversaries. Nancy, as I have also said, was always trying to go off
with Edward alone. That had been her habit for years. And Leonora found
it to be her duty to stop that. It was very difficult. Nancy was used to
having her own way, and for years she had been used to going off with
Edward, ratting, rabbiting, catching salmon down at Fordingbridge,
district-visiting of the sort that Edward indulged in, or calling on the
tenants. And at Nauheim she and Edward had always gone up to the Casino
alone in the evenings--at any rate, whenever Florence did not call for
his attendance. It shows the obviously innocent nature of the regard of
those two that even Florence had never had any idea of jealousy. Leonora
had cultivated the habit of going to bed at ten o'clock.
I don't know how she managed it, but, for all the time they were at
Nauheim, she contrived never to let those two be alone together, except
in broad daylight, in very crowded places. If a Protestant had done that
it would no doubt have awakened a self-consciousness in the girl. But
Catholics, who have always reservations and queer spots of secrecy, can
manage these things better. And I dare say that two things made this
easier--the death of Florence and the fact that Edward was obviously
sickening. He appeared, indeed, to be very ill; his shoulders began to
be bowed; there were pockets under his eyes; he had extraordinary
moments of inattention.
And Leonora describes herself as watching him as a fierce cat watches an
unconscious pigeon in a roadway. In that silent watching, again, I think
she was a Catholic--of a people that can think thoughts alien to ours
and keep them to themselves. And the thoughts passed through her mind;
some of them even got through to Edward with never a word spoken. At
first she thought that it might be remorse, or grief, for the death of
Florence that was oppressing him. But she watched and watched, and
uttered apparently random sentences about Florence before the girl, and
she perceived that he had no grief and no remorse. He had not any idea
that Florence could have committed suicide without writing at least a
tirade to him. The absence of that made him certain that it had been
heart disease. For Florence had never undeceived him on that point. She
thought it made her seem more romantic.
No, Edward had no remorse. He was able to say to himself that he had
treated Florence with gallant attentiveness of the kind that she desired
until two hours before her death. Leonora gathered that from the look in
his eyes, and from the way he straightened his shoulders over her as she
lay in her coffin--from that and a thousand other little things. She
would speak suddenly about Florence to the girl and he would not start
in the least; he would not even pay attention, but would sit with
bloodshot eyes gazing at the tablecloth. He drank a good deal, at that
time--a steady soaking of drink every evening till long after they had
gone to bed.
For Leonora made the girl go to bed at ten, unreasonable though that
seemed to Nancy. She would understand that, whilst they were in a sort
of half mourning for Florence, she ought not to be seen at public
places, like the Casino; but she could not see why she should not
accompany her uncle upon his evening strolls though the park. I don't
know what Leonora put up as an excuse--something, I fancy, in the nature
of a nightly orison that she made the girl and herself perform for the
soul of Florence. And then, one evening, about a fortnight later, when
the girl, growing restive at even devotional exercises, clamoured once
more to be allowed to go for a walk with Edward, and when Leonora was
really at her wits' end, Edward gave himself into her hands. He was just
standing up from dinner and had his face averted.
But he turned his heavy head and his bloodshot eyes upon his wife and
looked full at her.
"Doctor von Hauptmann," he said, "has ordered me to go to bed
immediately after dinner. My heart's much worse."
He continued to look at Leonora for a long minute--with a sort of heavy
contempt. And Leonora understood that, with his speech, he was giving
her the excuse that she needed for separating him from the girl, and
with his eyes he was reproaching her for thinking that he would try to
He went silently up to his room and sat there for a long time--until the
girl was well in bed--reading in the Anglican prayer-book. And about
half-past ten she heard his footsteps pass her door, going outwards. Two
and a half hours later they came back, stumbling heavily.
She remained, reflecting upon this position until the last night of
their stay at Nauheim. Then she suddenly acted. For, just in the same
way, suddenly after dinner, she looked at him and said:
"Teddy, don't you think you could take a night off from your doctor's
orders and go with Nancy to the Casino. The poor child has had her visit
He looked at her in turn for a long, balancing minute.
"Why, yes," he said at last.
Nancy jumped out of her chair and kissed him.
Those two words, Leonora said, gave her the greatest relief of any two
syllables she had ever heard in her life. For she realized that Edward
was breaking up, not under the desire for possession, but from the
dogged determination to hold his hand. She could relax some of her
Nevertheless, she sat in the darkness behind her half-closed jalousies,
looking over the street and the night and the trees until, very late,
she could hear Nancy's clear voice coming closer and saying:
"You did look an old guy with that false nose."
There had been some sort of celebration of a local holiday up in the
Kursaal. And Edward replied with his sort of sulky good nature:
"As for you, you looked like old Mother Sideacher."
The girl came swinging along, a silhouette beneath a gas-lamp; Edward,
another, slouched at her side. They were talking just as they had talked
any time since the girl had been seventeen; with the same tones, the
same joke about an old beggar woman who always amused them at Branshaw.
The girl, a little later, opened Leonora's door whilst she was still
kissing Edward on the forehead as she had done every night.
"We've had a most glorious time," she said. "He's ever so much better.
He raced me for twenty yards home. Why are you all in the dark?"
Leonora could hear Edward going about in his room, but, owing to the
girl's chatter, she could not tell whether he went out again or not. And
then, very much later, because she thought that if he were drinking
again something must be done to stop it, she opened for the first time,
and very softly, the never-opened door between their rooms. She wanted
to see if he had gone out again. Edward was kneeling beside his bed with
his head hidden in the counterpane. His arms, outstretched, held out
before him a little image of the Blessed Virgin--a tawdry, scarlet and
Prussian blue affair that the girl had given him on her first return
from the convent. His shoulders heaved convulsively three times, and
heavy sobs came from him before she could close the door. He was not a
Catholic; but that was the way it took him.
Leonora slept for the first time that night with a sleep from which she
never once started.
AND then Leonora completely broke down--on the day that they returned to
Branshaw Teleragh. It is the infliction of our miserable minds--it is
the scourge of atrocious but probably just destiny that no grief comes
by itself. No, any great grief, though the grief itself may have gone,
leaves in its place a train of horrors, of misery, and despair. For
Leonora was, in herself, relieved. She felt that she could trust Edward
with the girl and she knew that Nancy could be absolutely trusted. And
then, with the slackening of her vigilance, came the slackening of her
entire mind. This is perhaps the most miserable part of the entire
story. For it is miserable to see a clean intelligence waver; and
You are to understand that Leonora loved Edward with a passion that was
yet like an agony of hatred. And she had lived with him for years and
years without addressing to him one word of tenderness. I don't know how
she could do it. At the beginning of that relationship she had been just
married off to him. She had been one of seven daughters in a bare,
untidy Irish manor-house to which she had returned from the convent I
have so often spoken of. She had left it just a year and she was just
nineteen. It is impossible to imagine such inexperience as was hers. You
might almost say that she had never spoken to a man except a priest.
Coming straight from the convent, she had gone in behind the high walls
of the manor-house that was almost more cloistral than any convent could
have been. There were the seven girls, there was the strained mother,
there was the worried father at whom, three times in the course of that
year, the tenants took pot-shots from behind a hedge. The women-folk,
upon the whole, the tenants respected. Once a week each of the girls,
since there were seven of them, took a drive with the mother in the old
basketwork chaise drawn by a very fat, very lumbering pony. They paid
occasionally a call, but even these were so rare that, Leonora has
assured me, only three times in the year that succeeded her coming home
from the convent did she enter another person's house. For the rest of
the time the seven sisters ran about in the neglected gardens between
the unpruned espaliers. Or they played lawn-tennis or fives in an angle
of a great wall that surrounded the garden--an angle from which the
fruit trees had long died away. They painted in water-colour; they
embroidered; they copied verses into albums. Once a week they went to
Mass; once a week to the confessional, accompanied by an old nurse. They
were happy since they had known no other life.
It appeared to them a singular extravagance when, one day, a
photographer was brought over from the county town and photographed them
standing, all seven, in the shadow of an old apple tree with the grey
lichen on the raddled trunk.
But it wasn't an extravagance.
Three weeks before Colonel Powys had written to Colonel Ashburnham:
"I say, Harry, couldn't your Edward marry one of my girls? It would be a
god-send to me, for I'm at the end of my tether and, once one girl
begins to go off, the rest of them will follow."
He went on to say that all his daughters were tall, upstanding,
clean-limbed and absolutely pure, and he reminded Colonel Ashburnham
that, they having been married on the same day, though in different
churches, since the one was a Catholic and the other an Anglican--they
had said to each other, the night before, that, when the time came, one
of their sons should marry one of their daughters. Mrs Ashburnham had
been a Powys and remained Mrs Powys' dearest friend. They had drifted
about the world as English soldiers do, seldom meeting, but their women
always in correspondence one with another. They wrote about minute
things such as the teething of Edward and of the earlier daughters or
the best way to repair a Jacob's ladder in a stocking. And, if they met
seldom, yet it was often enough to keep each other's personalities fresh
in their minds, gradually growing a little stiff in the joints, but
always with enough to talk about and with a store of reminiscences.
Then, as his girls began to come of age when they must leave the convent
in which they were regularly interned during his years of active
service, Colonel Powys retired from the army with the necessity of
making a home for them. It happened that the Ashburnhams had never seen
any of the Powys girls, though, whenever the four parents met in London,
Edward Ashburnham was always of the party. He was at that time
twenty-two and, I believe, almost as pure in mind as Leonora herself. It
is odd how a boy can have his virgin intelligence untouched in this
That was partly due to the careful handling of his mother, partly to the
fact that the house to which he went at Winchester had a particularly
pure tone and partly to Edward's own peculiar aversion from anything
like coarse language or gross stories. At Sandhurst he had just kept out
of the way of that sort of thing. He was keen on soldiering, keen on
mathematics, on land-surveying, on politics and, by a queer warp of his
mind, on literature. Even when he was twenty-two he would pass hours
reading one of Scott's novels or the Chronicles of Froissart.
Mrs Ashburnham considered that she was to be congratulated, and almost
every week she wrote to Mrs Powys, dilating upon her satisfaction.
Then, one day, taking a walk down Bond Street with her son, after having
been at Lord's, she noticed Edward suddenly turn his head round to take
a second look at a well-dressed girl who had passed them. She wrote
about that, too, to Mrs Powys, and expressed some alarm. It had been, on
Edward's part, the merest reflex action. He was so very abstracted at
that time owing to the pressure his crammer was putting upon him that he
certainly hadn't known what he was doing.
It was this letter of Mrs Ashburnham's to Mrs Powys that had caused the
letter from Colonel Powys to Colonel Ashburnham--a letter that was
half-humorous, half longing. Mrs Ashburnham caused her husband to reply,
with a letter a little more jocular--something to the effect that
Colonel Powys ought to give them some idea of the goods that he was
marketing. That was the cause of the photograph. I have seen it, the
seven girls, all in white dresses, all very much alike in feature--all,
except Leonora, a little heavy about the chins and a little stupid about
the eyes. I dare say it would have made Leonora, too, look a little
heavy and a little stupid, for it was not a good photograph. But the
black shadow from one of the branches of the apple tree cut right across
her face, which is all but invisible.
There followed an extremely harassing time for Colonel and Mrs Powys.
Mrs Ashburnham had written to say that, quite sincerely, nothing would
give greater ease to her maternal anxieties than to have her son marry
one of Mrs Powys' daughters if only he showed some inclination to do so.
For, she added, nothing but a love-match was to be thought of in her
Edward's case. But the poor Powys couple had to run things so very fine
that even the bringing together of the young people was a desperate
The mere expenditure upon sending one of the girls over from Ireland to
Branshaw was terrifying to them; and whichever girl they selected might
not be the one to ring Edward's bell. On the other hand, the expenditure
upon mere food and extra sheets for a visit from the Ashburnhams to them
was terrifying, too. It would mean, mathematically, going short in so
many meals themselves, afterwards. Nevertheless, they chanced it, and
all the three Ashburnhams came on a visit to the lonely manor-house.
They could give Edward some rough shooting, some rough fishing and a
whirl of femininity; but I should say the girls made really more
impression upon Mrs Ashburnham than upon Edward himself. They appeared
to her to be so clean run and so safe. They were indeed so clean run
that, in a faint sort of way, Edward seems to have regarded them rather
as boys than as girls. And then, one evening, Mrs Ashburnham had with
her boy one of those conversations that English mothers have with
English sons. It seems to have been a criminal sort of proceeding,
though I don't know what took place at it. Anyhow, next morning Colonel
Ashburnham asked on behalf of his son for the hand of Leonora. This
caused some consternation to the Powys couple, since Leonora was the
third daughter and Edward ought to have married the eldest. Mrs Powys,
with her rigid sense of the proprieties, almost wished to reject the
proposal. But the Colonel, her husband, pointed out that the visit would
have cost them sixty pounds, what with the hire of an extra servant, of
a horse and car, and with the purchase of beds and bedding and extra
tablecloths. There was nothing else for it but the marriage. In that way
Edward and Leonora became man and wife.
I don't know that a very minute study of their progress towards complete
disunion is necessary. Perhaps it is. But there are many things that I
cannot well make out, about which I cannot well question Leonora, or
about which Edward did not tell me. I do not know that there was ever
any question of love from Edward to her. He regarded her, certainly, as
desirable amongst her sisters. He was obstinate to the extent of saying
that if he could not have her he would not have any of them. And, no
doubt, before the marriage, he made her pretty speeches out of books
that he had read. But, as far as he could describe his feelings at all,
later, it seems that, calmly and without any quickening of the pulse, he
just carried the girl off, there being no opposition . It had, however,
been all so long ago that it seemed to him, at the end of his poor life,
a dim and misty affair. He had the greatest admiration for Leonora.
He had the very greatest admiration. He admired her for her
truthfulness, for her cleanness of mind, and the clean-run-ness of her
limbs, for her efficiency, for the fairness of her skin, for the gold of
her hair, for her religion, for her sense of duty. It was a satisfaction
to take her about with him.
But she had not for him a touch of magnetism. I suppose, really, he did
not love her because she was never mournful; what really made him feel
good in life was to comfort somebody who would be darkly and
mysteriously mournful. That he had never had to do for Leonora. Perhaps,
also, she was at first too obedient. I do not mean to say that she was
submissive-- that she deferred, in her j udgements, to his. She did not.
But she had been handed over to him, like some patient medieval virgin;
she had been taught all her life that the first duty of a woman is to
obey. And there she was.
In her, at least, admiration for his qualities very soon became love of
the deepest description. If his pulses never quickened she, so I have
been told, became what is called an altered being when he approached her
from the other side of a dancing-floor. Her eyes followed him about full
of trustfulness, of admiration, of gratitude, and of love. He was also,
in a great sense, her pastor and guide--and he guided her into what, for
a girl straight out of a convent, was almost heaven. I have not the
least idea of what an English officer's wife's existence may be like. At
any rate, there were feasts, and chatterings, and nice men who gave her
the right sort of admiration, and nice women who treated her as if she
had been a baby. And her confessor approved of her life, and Edward let
her give little treats to the girls of the convent she had left, and the
Reverend Mother approved of him. There could not have been a happier
girl for five or six years.
For it was only at the end of that time that clouds began, as the saying
is, to arise. She was then about twenty-three, and her purposeful
efficiency made her perhaps have a desire for mastery. She began to
perceive that Edward was extravagant in his largesses. His parents died
just about that time, and Edward, though they both decided that he
should continue his soldiering, gave a great deal of attention to the
management of Branshaw through a steward. Aldershot was not very far
away, and they spent all his leaves there.
And, suddenly, she seemed to begin to perceive that his generosities
were almost fantastic. He subscribed much too much to things connected
with his mess, he pensioned off his father's servants, old or new, much
too generously. They had a large income, but every now and then they
would find themselves hard up. He began to talk of mortgaging a farm or
two, though it never actually came to that.
She made tentative efforts at remonstrating with him. Her father, whom
she saw now and then, said that Edward was much too generous to his
tenants; the wives of his brother officers remonstrated with her in
private; his large subscriptions made it difficult for their husbands to
keep up with them. Ironically enough, the first real trouble between
them came from his desire to build a Roman Catholic chapel at Branshaw.
He wanted to do it to honour Leonora, and he proposed to do it very
expensively. Leonora did not want it; she could perfectly well drive
from Branshaw to the nearest Catholic Church as often as she liked.
There were no Roman Catholic tenants and no Roman Catholic servants
except her old nurse who could always drive with her. She had as many
priests to stay with her as could be needed--and even the priests did
not want a gorgeous chapel in that place where it would have merely
seemed an invidious instance of ostentation. They were perfectly ready
to celebrate Mass for Leonora and her nurse, when they stayed at
Branshaw, in a cleaned-up outhouse. But Edward was as obstinate as a hog
He was truly grieved at his wife's want of sentiment--at her refusal to
receive that amount of public homage from him. She appeared to him to be
wanting in imagination--to be cold and hard. I don't exactly know what
part her priests played in the tragedy that it all became; I dare say
they behaved quite creditably but mistakenly. But then, who would not
have been mistaken with Edward? I believe he was even hurt that
Leonora's confessor did not make strenuous efforts to convert him. There
was a period when he was quite ready to become an emotional Catholic.
I don't know why they did not take him on the hop; but they have queer
sorts of wisdoms, those people, and queer sorts of tact. Perhaps they
thought that Edward's too early conversion would frighten off other
Protestant desirables from marrying Catholic girls. Perhaps they saw
deeper into Edward than he saw himself and thought that he would make a
not very creditable convert. At any rate they--and Leonora--left him
very much alone. It mortified him very considerably. He has told me that
if Leonora had then taken his aspirations seriously everything would
have been different. But I dare say that was nonsense.
At any rate, it was over the question of the chapel that they had their
first and really disastrous quarrel. Edward at that time was not well;
he supposed himself to be overworked with his regimental affairs--he was
managing the mess at the time. And Leonora was not well--she was
beginning to fear that their union might be sterile. And then her father
came over from Glasmoyle to stay with them.
Those were troublesome times in Ireland, I understand. At any rate,
Colonel Powys had tenants on the brain--his own tenants having shot at
him with shot-guns. And, in conversation with Edward's land-steward, he
got it into his head that Edward managed his estates with a mad
generosity towards his tenants. I understand, also, that those
years--the 'nineties--were very bad for farming. Wheat was fetching only
a few shillings the hundred; the price of meat was so low that cattle
hardly paid for raising; whole English counties were ruined. And Edward
allowed his tenants very high rebates.
To do both justice Leonora has since acknowledged that she was in the
wrong at that time and that Edward was following out a more far-seeing
policy in nursing his really very good tenants over a bad period. It was
not as if the whole of his money came from the land; a good deal of it
was in rails. But old Colonel Powys had that bee in his bonnet and, if
he never directly approached Edward himself on the subject, he preached
unceasingly, whenever he had the opportunity, to Leonora. His pet idea
was that Edward ought to sack all his own tenants and import a set of
farmers from Scotland. That was what they were doing in Essex. He was of
opinion that Edward was riding hotfoot to ruin.
That worried Leonora very much--it worried her dreadfully; she lay awake
nights; she had an anxious line round her mouth. And that, again,
worried Edward. I do not mean to say that Leonora actually spoke to
Edward about his tenants--but he got to know that some one, probably her
father, had been talking to her about the matter. He got to know it
because it was the habit of his steward to look in on them every morning
about breakfast-time to report any little happenings. And there was a
farmer called Mumford who had only paid half his rent for the last three
years. One morning the land-steward reported that Mumford would be
unable to pay his rent at all that year. Edward reflected for a moment
and then he said something like:
"Oh well, he's an old fellow and his family have been our tenants for
over two hundred years. Let him off altogether."
And then Leonora--you must remember that she had reason for being very
nervous and unhappy at that time--let out a sound that was very like a
groan. It startled Edward, who more than suspected what was passing in
her mind--it startled him into a state of anger. He said sharply:
"You wouldn't have me turn out people who've been earning money for us
for centuries--people to whom we have responsibilities--and let in a
pack of Scotch farmers?"
He looked at her, Leonora said, with what was practically a glance of
hatred and then, precipitately, he left the breakfast-table. Leonora
knew that it probably made it all the worse that he had been betrayed
into a manifestation of anger before a third party. It was the first and
last time that he ever was betrayed into such a manifestation of anger.
The land-steward, a moderate and well-balanced man whose family also had
been with the Ashburnhams for over a century, took it upon himself to
explain that he considered Edward was pursuing a perfectly proper course
with his tenants. He erred perhaps a little on the side of generosity,
but hard times were hard times, and every one had to feel the pinch,
landlord as well as tenants. The great thing was not to let the land get
into a poor state of cultivation. Scotch farmers just skinned your
fields and let them go down and down. But Edward had a very good set of
tenants who did their best for him and for themselves. These arguments
at that time carried very little conviction to Leonora. She was,
nevertheless, much concerned by Edward's outburst of anger.
The fact is that Leonora had been practising economies in her
department. Two of the under-housemaids had gone and she had not
replaced them; she had spent much less that year upon dress. The fare
she had provided at the dinners they gave had been much less bountiful
and not nearly so costly as had been the case in preceding years, and
Edward began to perceive a hardness and determination in his wife's
character. He seemed to see a net closing round him--a net in which they
would be forced to live like one of the comparatively poor county
families of the neighbourhood. And, in the mysterious way in which two
people, living together, get to know each other's thoughts without a
word spoken, he had known, even before his outbreak, that Leonora was
worrying about his managing of the estates. This appeared to him to be
intolerable. He had, too, a great feeling of self-contempt because he
had been betrayed into speaking harshly to Leonora before that
land-steward. She imagined that his nerve must be deserting him, and
there can have been few men more miserable than Edward was at that
You see, he was really a very simple soul--very simple. He imagined that
no man can satisfactorily accomplish his life's work without loyal and
whole-hearted cooperation of the woman he lives with. And he was
beginning to perceive dimly that, whereas his own traditions were
entirely collective, his wife was a sheer individualist. His own
theory--the feudal theory of an over-lord doing his best by his
dependents, the dependents meanwhile doing their best for the
over-lord--this theory was entirely foreign to Leonora's nature. She
came of a family of small Irish landlords--that hostile garrison in a
plundered country. And she was thinking unceasingly of the children she
wished to have.
I don't know why they never had any children--not that I really believe
that children would have made any difference. The dissimilarity of
Edward and Leonora was too profound. It will give you some idea of the
extraordinary naïveté of Edward Ashburnham that, at the time of his
marriage and for perhaps a couple of years after, he did not really know
how children are produced. Neither did Leonora. I don't mean to say that
this state of things continued, but there it was. I dare say it had a
good deal of influence on their mentalities. At any rate, they never had
a child. It was the Will of God.
It certainly presented itself to Leonora as being the Will of God--as
being a mysterious and awful chastisement of the Almighty. For she had
discovered shortly before this period that her parents had not exacted
from Edward's family the promise that any children she should bear
should be brought up as Catholics. She herself had never talked of the
matter with either her father, her mother, or her husband. When at last
her father had let drop some words leading her to believe that that was
the fact, she tried desperately to extort the promise from Edward. She
encountered an unexpected obstinacy. Edward was perfectly willing that
the girls should be Catholic; the boys must be Anglican. I don't
understand the bearing of these things in English society. Indeed,
Englishmen seem to me to be a little mad in matters of politics or of
religion. In Edward it was particularly queer because he himself was
perfectly ready to become a Romanist. He seemed, however, to contemplate
going over to Rome himself and yet letting his boys be educated in the
religion of their immediate ancestors. This may appear illogical, but I
dare say it is not so illogical as it looks. Edward, that is to say,
regarded himself as having his own body and soul at his own disposal.
But his loyalty to the traditions of his family would not permit him to
bind any future inheritors of his name or beneficiaries by the death of
his ancestors. About the girls it did not so much matter. They would
know other homes and other circumstances. Besides, it was the usual
thing. But the boys must be given the opportunity of choosing--and they
must have first of all the Anglican teaching. He was perfectly
unshakable about this.
Leonora was in an agony during all this time. You will have to remember
she seriously believed that children who might be born to her went in
danger, if not absolutely of damnation, at any rate of receiving false
doctrine. It was an agony more terrible than she could describe. She
didn't indeed attempt to describe it, but I could tell from her voice
when she said, almost negligently, "I used to lie awake whole nights. It
was no good my spiritual advisers trying to console me." I knew from her
voice how terrible and how long those nights must have seemed and of how
little avail were the consolations of her spiritual advisers. Her
spiritual advisers seemed to have taken the matter a little more calmly.
They certainly told her that she must not consider herself in any way to
have sinned. Nay, they seem even to have extorted, to have threatened
her, with a view to getting her out of what they considered to be a
morbid frame of mind. She would just have to make the best of things, to
influence the children when they came, not by propaganda, but by
personality. And they warned her that she would be committing a sin if
she continued to think that she had sinned. Nevertheless, she continued
to think that she had sinned.
Leonora could not be aware that the man whom she loved passionately and
whom, nevertheless, she was beginning to try to rule with a rod of
iron--that this man was becoming more and more estranged from her. He
seemed to regard her as being not only physically and mentally cold, but
even as being actually wicked and mean. There were times when he would
almost shudder if she spoke to him. And she could not understand how he
could consider her wicked or mean. It only seemed to her a sort of
madness in him that he should try to take upon his own shoulders the
burden of his troop, of his regiment, of his estate and of half of his
country. She could not see that in trying to curb what she regarded as
megalomania she was doing anything wicked. She was just trying to keep
things together for the sake of the children who did not come. And,
little by little, the whole of their intercourse became simply one of
agonized discussion as to whether Edward should subscribe to this or
that institution or should try to reclaim this or that drunkard. She
simply could not see it.
Into this really terrible position of strain, from which there appeared
to be no issue, the Kilsyte case came almost as a relief. It is part of
the peculiar irony of things that Edward would certainly never have
kissed that nurse-maid if he had not been trying to please Leonora.
Nurse-maids do not travel first-class, and, that day, Edward travelled
in a third-class carriage in order to prove to Leonora that he was
capable of economies. I have said that the Kilsyte case came almost as a
relief to the strained situation that then existed between them. It gave
Leonora an opportunity of backing him up in a whole-hearted and
absolutely loyal manner. It gave her the opportunity of behaving to him
as he considered a wife should behave to her husband.
You see, Edward found himself in a railway carriage with a quite pretty
girl of about nineteen. And the quite pretty girl of about nineteen,
with dark hair and red cheeks and blue eyes, was quietly weeping. Edward
had been sitting in his corner thinking about nothing at all. He had
chanced to look at the nurse-maid; two large, pretty tears came out of
her eyes and dropped into her lap. He immediately felt that he had got
to do something to comfort her. That was his job in life. He was
desperately unhappy himself and it seemed to him the most natural thing
in the world that they should pool their sorrows. He was quite
democratic; the idea of the difference in their station never seems to
have occurred to him. He began to talk to her. He discovered that her
young man had been seen walking out with Annie of Number 54. He moved
over to her side of the carriage. He told her that the report probably
wasn't true; that, after all, a young man might take a walk with Annie
from Number 54 without its denoting anything very serious. And he
assured me that he felt at least quite half-fatherly when he put his arm
around her waist and kissed her. The girl, however, had not forgotten
the difference of her station.
All her life, by her mother, by other girls, by schoolteachers, by the
whole tradition of her class she had been warned against gentlemen. She
was being kissed by a gentleman. She screamed, tore herself away; sprang
up and pulled a communication cord.
Edward came fairly well out of the affair in the public estimation; but
it did him, mentally, a good deal of harm.
IT is very difficult to give an all-round impression of an man. I wonder
how far I have succeeded with Edward Ashburnham. I dare say I haven't
succeeded at all. It is ever very difficult to see how such things
matter. Was it the important point about poor Edward that he was very
well built, carried himself well, was moderate at the table and led a
regular life--that he had, in fact, all the virtues that are usually
accounted English? Or have I in the least succeeded in conveying that he
was all those things and had all those virtues? He certainly was them
and had them up to the last months of his life. They were the things
that one would set upon his tombstone. They will, indeed, be set upon
his tombstone by his widow.
And have I, I wonder, given the due impression of how his life was
portioned and his time laid out? Because, until the very last, the
amount of time taken up by his various passions was relatively small. I
have been forced to write very much about his passions, but you have to
consider--I should like to be able to make you consider--that he rose
every morning at seven, took a cold bath, breakfasted at eight, was
occupied with his regiment from nine until one; played polo or cricket
with the men when it was the season for cricket, till tea-time.
Afterwards he would occupy himself with the letters from his
land-steward or with the affairs of his mess, till dinner-time. He would
dine and pass the evening playing cards, or playing billiards with
Leonora or at social functions of one kind or another. And the greater
part of his life was taken up by that--by far the greater part of his
life. His love-affairs, until the very end, were sandwiched in at odd
moments or took place during the social evenings, the dances and
dinners. But I guess I have made it hard for you, O silent listener, to
get that impression. Anyhow, I hope I have not given you the idea that
Edward Ashburnham was a pathological case. He wasn't. He was just a
normal man and very much of a sentimentalist. I dare say the quality of
his youth, the nature of his mother's influence, his ignorances, the
crammings that he received at the hands of army coaches--I dare say that
all these excellent influences upon his adolescence were very bad for
him. But we all have to put up with that sort of thing and no doubt it
is very bad for all of us. Nevertheless, the outline of Edward's life
was an outline perfectly normal of the life of a hard-working,
sentimental and efficient professional man.
That question of first impressions has always bothered me a good deal--
but quite academically. I mean that, from time to time I have wondered
whether it were or were not best to trust to one's first impressions in
dealing with people. But I never had anybody to deal with except waiters
and chambermaids and the Ashburnhams, with whom I didn't know that I was
having any dealings. And, as far as waiters and chambermaids were
concerned, I have generally found that my first impressions were correct
enough. If my first idea of a man was that he was civil, obliging, and
attentive, he generally seemed to go on being all those things. Once,
however, at our Paris flat we had a maid who appeared to be charming and
transparently honest. She stole, nevertheless, one of Florence's diamond
rings. She did it, however, to save her young man from going to prison.
So here, as somebody says somewhere, was a special case.
And, even in my short incursion into American business life--an
incursion that lasted during part of August and nearly the whole of
September--I found that to rely upon first impressions was the best
thing I could do. I found myself automatically docketing and labelling
each man as he was introduced to me, by the run of his features and by
the first words that he spoke. I can't, however, be regarded as really
doing business during the time that I spent in the United States. I was
just winding things up. If it hadn't been for my idea of marrying the
girl I might possibly hav looked for something to do in my own country.
For my experiences there were vivid and amusing. It was exactly as if I
had come out of a museum into a riotous fancy-dress ball. During my life
with Florence I had almost come to forget that there were such things as
fashions or occupations or the greed of gain. I had, in fact, forgotten
that there was such a thing as a dollar and that a dollar can be
extremely desirable if you don't happen to possess one. And I had
forgotten, too, that there was such a thing as gossip that mattered. In
that particular, Philadelphia was the most amazing place I have ever
been in in my life. I was not in that city for more than a week or ten
days and I didn't there transact anything much in the way of business;
nevertheless, the number of times that I was warned by everybody against
everybody else was simply amazing. A man I didn't know would come up
behind my lounge chair in the hotel, and, whispering cautiously beside
my ear, would warn me against some other man that I equally didn't know
but who would be standing by the bar. I don't know what they thought I
was there to do--perhaps to buy out the city's debt or get a controlling
hold of some railway interest. Or, perhaps, they imagined that I wanted
to buy a newspaper, for they were either politicians or reporters,
which, of course, comes to the same thing. As a matter of fact, my
property in Philadelphia was mostly real estate in the old-fashioned
part of the city and all I wanted to do there was just to satisfy myself
that the houses were in good repair and the doors kept properly painted.
I wanted also to see my relations, of whom I had a few. These were
mostly professional people and they were mostly rather hard up because
of the big bank failure in 1907 or thereabouts. Still, they were very
nice. They would have been nicer still if they hadn't, all of them, had
what appeared to me to be the mania that what they called influences
were working against them. At any rate, the impression of that city was
one of old-fashioned rooms, rather English than American in type, in
which handsome but careworn ladies, cousins of my own, talked
principally about mysterious movements that were going on against them.
I never got to know what it was all about; perhaps they thought I knew
or perhaps there weren't any movements at all. It was all very secret
and subtle and subterranean. But there was a nice young fellow called
Carter who was a sort of second-nephew of mine, twice removed. He was
handsome and dark and gentie and tall and modest. I understand also that
he was a good cricketer. He was employed by the real-estate agents who
collected my rents. It was he, therefore, who took me over my own
property and I saw a good deal of him and of a nice girl called Mary, to
whom he was engaged. At that time I did, what I certainly shouldn't do
now--I made some careful inquiries as to his character. I discovered
from his employers that he was just all that he appeared, honest,
industrious, high-spirited, friendly and ready to do anyone a good turn.
His relatives, however, as they were mine, too--seemed to have something
darkly mysterious against him. I imagined that he must have been mixed
up in some case of graft or that he had at least betrayed several
innocent and trusting maidens. I pushed, however, that particular
mystery home and discovered it was only that he was a Democrat. My own
people were mostly Republicans. It seemed to make it worse and more
darkly mysterious to them that young Carter was what they called a sort
of a Vermont Democrat which was the whole ticket and no mistake. But I
don't know what it means. Anyhow, I suppose that my money will go to him
when I die--I like the recollection of his friendly image and of the
nice girl he was engaged to. May Fate deal very kindly with them.
I have said just now that, in my present frame of mind, nothing would
ever make me make inquiries as to the character of any man that I liked
at first sight. (The little digression as to my Philadelphia experiences
was really meant to lead around to this.) For who in this world can give
anyone a character? Who in this world knows anything of any other
heart--or of his own? I don't mean to say that one cannot form an
average estimate of the way a person will behave. But one cannot be
certain of the way any man will behave in every case--and until one can
do that a "character" is of no use to anyone. That, for instance, was
the way with Florence's maid in Paris. We used to trust that girl with
blank cheques for the payment of the tradesmen. For quite a time she was
so trusted by us. Then, suddenly, she stole a ring. We should not have
believed her capable of it; she would not have believed herself capable
of it. It was nothing in her character. So, perhaps, it was with Edward
Or, perhaps, it wasn't. No, I rather think it wasn't. It is difficult to
figure out. I have said that the Kilsyte case eased the immediate
tension for him and Leonora. It let him see that she was capable of
loyalty to him; it gave her her chance to show that she believed in him.
She accepted without question his statement that, in kissing the girl,
he wasn't trying to do more than administer fatherly comfort to a
weeping child. And, indeed, his own world--including the
magistrates--took that view of the case. Whatever people say, one's
world can be perfectly charitable at times . . . But, again, as I have
said, it did Edward a great deal of harm.
That, at least, was his view of it. He assured me that, before that case
came on and was wrangled about by counsel with all sorts of
dirty-mindedness that counsel in that sort of case can impute, he had
not had the least idea that he was capable of being unfaithful to
Leonora. But, in the midst of that tumult--he says that it came suddenly
into his head whilst he was in the witness-box--in the midst of those
august ceremonies of the law there came suddenly into his mind the
recollection of the softness of the girl's body as he had pressed her to
him. And, from that moment, that girl appeared desirable to him--and
Leonora completely unattractive.
He began to indulge in day-dreams in which he approached the nurse-maid
more tactfully and carried the matter much further. Occasionally he
thought of other women in terms of wary courtship--or, perhaps, it would
be more exact to say that he thought of them in terms of tactful
comforting, ending in absorption. That was his own view of the case. He
saw himself as the victim of the law. I don't mean to say that he saw
himself as a kind of Dreyfus. The law, practically, was quite kind to
him. It stated that in its view Captain Ashburnham had been misled by an
ill-placed desire to comfort a member of the opposite sex, and it fined
him five shilling for his want of tact, or of knowledge of the world.
But Edward maintained that it had put ideas into his head.
I don't believe it, though he certainly did. He was twenty-seven then,
and his wife was out of sympathy with him--some crash was inevitable.
There was between them a momentary rapprochement; but it could not last.
It made it, probably, all the worse that, in that particular matter,
Leonara had come so very well up to the scratch. For, whilst Edward
respected her more and was grateful to her, it made her seem by so much
the more cold in other matters that were near his heart--his
responsibilities, his career, his tradition. It brought his despair of
her up to a point of exasperation--and it riveted on him the idea that
he might find some other woman who would give him the moral support that
he needed. He wanted to be looked upon as a sort of Lohengrin.
At that time, he says, he went about deliberately looking for some woman
who could help him. He found several--for there were quite a number of
ladies in his set who were capable of agreeing with this handsome and
fine fellow that the duties of a feudal gentleman were feudal. He would
have liked to pass his days talking to one or other of these ladies. But
there was always an obstacle--if the lady were married there would be a
husband who claimed the greater part of her time and attention. If, on
the other hand, it were an unmarried girl, he could not see very much of
her for fear of compromising her. At that date, you understand, he had
not the least idea of seducing any one of these ladies. He wanted only
moral support at the hands of some female, because he found men
difficult to talk to about ideals. Indeed, I do not believe that he had,
at any time, any idea of making any one his mistress. That sounds queer;
but I believe it is quite true as a statement of character.
It was, I believe, one of Leonora's priests--a man of the world--who
suggested that she should take him to Monte Carlo. He had the idea that
what Edward needed, in order to fit him for the society of Leonora, was
a touch of irresponsibility. For Edward, at that date, had much the
aspect of a prig. I mean that, if he played polo and was an excellent
dancer he did the one for the sake of keeping himself fit and the other
because it was a social duty to show himself at dances, and, when there,
to dance well. He did nothing for fun except what he considered to be
his work in life. As the priest saw it, this must for ever estrange him
from Leonora --not because Leonora set much store by the joy of life,
but because she was out of sympathy with Edward's work. On the other
hand, Leonora did like to have a good time, now and then, and, as the
priest saw it, if Edward could be got to like having a good time now and
then, too, there would be a bond of sympathy between them. It was a good
idea, but it worked out wrongly.
It worked out, in fact, in the mistress of the Grand Duke. In anyone
less sentimental than Edward that would not have mattered. With Edward
it was fatal. For, such was his honourable nature, that for him to enjoy
a woman's favours made him feel that she had a bond on him for life.
That was the way it worked out in practice. Psychologically it meant
that he could not have a mistress without falling violently in love with
her. He was a serious person--and in this particular case it was very
expensive. The mistress of the Grand Duke--a Spanish dancer of
passionate appearance --singled out Edward for her glances at a ball
that was held in their common hotel. Edward was tall, handsome, blond
and very wealthy as she understood--and Leonora went up to bed early.
She did not care for public dances, but she was relieved to see that
Edward appeared to be having a good time with several amiable girls. And
that was the end of Edward--for the Spanish dancer of passionate
appearance wanted one night of him for his beaux yeux. He took her into
the dark gardens and, remembering suddenly the girl of the Kilsyte case,
he kissed her. He kissed her passionately, violently, with a sudden
explosion of the passion that had been bridled all his life--for Leonora
was cold, or at any rate, well behaved. La Dolciquita liked this
reversion, and he passed the night in her bed.
When the palpitating creature was at last asleep in his arms he
discovered that he was madly, was passionately, was overwhelmingly in
love with her. It was a passion that had arisen like fire in dry corn.
He could think of nothing else; he could live for nothing else. But La
Dolciquita was a reasonable creature without an ounce of passion in her.
She wanted a certain satisfaction of her appetites and Edward had
appealed to her the night before. Now that was done with, and, quite
coldly, she said that she wanted money if he was to have any more of
her. It was a perfectly reasonable commercial transaction. She did not
care two buttons for Edward or for any man and he was asking her to risk
a very good situation with the Grand Duke. If Edward could put up
sufficient money to serve as a kind of insurance against accident she
was ready to like Edward for a time that would be covered, as it were,
by the policy. She was getting fifty thousand dollars a year from her
Grand Duke; Edward would have to pay a premium of two years' hire for a
month of her society. There would not be much risk of the Grand Duke's
finding it out and it was not certain that he would give her the keys of
the street if he did find out. But there was the risk--a twenty per cent
risk, as she figured it out. She talked to Edward as if she had been a
solicitor with an estate to sell--perfectly quietly and perfectly coldly
without any inflections in her voice. She did not want to be unkind to
him; but she could see no reason for being kind to him. She was a
virtuous business woman with a mother and two sisters and her own old
age to be provided comfortably for. She did not expect more than a five
years' further run. She was twenty-four and, as she said: "We Spanish
women are horrors at thirty." Edward swore that he would provide for her
for life if she would come to him and leave off talking so horribly; but
she only shrugged one shoulder slowly and contemptuously. He tried to
convince this woman, who, as he saw it, had surrendered to him her
virtue, that he regarded it as in any case his duty to provide for her,
and to cherish her and even to love her--for life. In return for her
sacrifice he would do that. In return, again, for his honourable love
she would listen for ever to the accounts of his estate. That was how he
figured it out.
She shrugged the same shoulder with the same gesture and held out her
left hand with the elbow at her side:
"Enfin, mon ami," she said, "put in this hand the price of that tiara at
Forli's or . . ." And she turned her back on him.
Edward went mad; his world stood on its head; the palms in front of the
blue sea danced grotesque dances. You see, he believed in the virtue,
tenderness and moral support of women. He wanted more than anything to
argue with La Dolciquita; to retire with her to an island and point out
to her the damnation of her point of view and how salvation can only be
found in true love and the feudal system. She had once been his
mistress, he reflected, and by all the moral laws she ought to have gone
on being his mistress or at the very least his sympathetic confidante.
But her rooms were closed to him; she did not appear in the hotel.
Nothing: blank silence. To break that down he had to have twenty
thousand pounds. You have heard what happened.
He spent a week of madness; he hungered; his eyes sank in; he shuddered
at Leonora's touch. I dare say that nine-tenths of what he took to be
his passion for La Dolciquita was really discomfort at the thought that
he had been unfaithful to Leonora. He felt uncommonly bad, that is to
say--oh, unbearably bad, and he took it all to be love. Poor devil, he
was incredibly naïve. He drank like a fish after Leonora was in bed and
he spread himself over the tables, and this went on for about a
fortnight. Heaven knows what would have happened; he would have thrown
away every penny that he possessed.
On the night after he had lost about forty thousand pounds and whilst
the whole hotel was whispering about it, La Dolciquita walked composedly
into his bedroom. He was too drunk to recognize her, and she sat in his
arm-chair, knitting and holding smelling salts to her nose--for he was
pretty far gone with alcoholic poisoning--and, as soon as he was able to
understand her, she said:
"Look here, mon ami, do not go to the tables again. Take a good sleep
now and come and see me this afternoon."
He slept till the lunch-hour. By that time Leonora had heard the news. A
Mrs Colonel Whelan had told her. Mrs Colonel Whelan seems to have been
the only sensible person who was ever connected with the Ashburnhams.
She had argued it out that there must be a woman of the harpy variety
connected with Edward's incredible behaviour and mien; and she advised
Leonora to go straight off to Town--which might have the effect of
bringing Edward to his senses--and to consult her solicitor and her
spiritual adviser. She had better go that very morning; it was no good
arguing with a man in Edward's condition.
Edward, indeed, did not know that she had gone. As soon as he awoke he
went straight to La Dolciquita's room and she stood him his lunch in her
own apartments. He fell on her neck and wept, and she put up with it for
a time. She was quite a good-natured woman. And, when she had calmed him
down with Eau de Mélisse, she said:
"Look here, my friend, how much money have you left? Five thousand
dollars? Ten?" For the rumour went that Edward had lost two kings'
ransoms a night for fourteen nights and she imagined that he must be
near the end of his resources.
The Eau de Mélisse had calmed Edward to such an extent that, for the
moment, he really had a head on his shoulders. He did nothing more than
"Why," she answered, "I may just as well have the ten thousand dollars
as the tables. I will go with you to Antibes for a week for that sum."
Edward grunted: "Five." She tried to get seven thousand five hundred;
but he stuck to his five thousand and the hotel expenses at Antibes. The
sedative carried him just as far as that and then he collapsed again. He
had to leave for Antibes at three; he could not do without it. He left a
note for Leonora saying that he had gone off for a week with the Clinton
He did not enjoy himself very much at Antibes. La Dolciquita could talk
of nothing with any enthusiasm except money, and she tired him
unceasingly, during every waking hour, for presents of the most
expensive description. And, at the end of a week, she just quietly
kicked him out. He hung about in Antibes for three days. He was cured of
the idea that he had any duties towards La Dolciquita--feudal or
otherwise. But his sentimentalism required of him an attitude of Byronic
gloom--as if his court had gone into half-mourning. Then his appetite
suddenly returned, and he remembered Leonora. He found at his hotel at
Monte Carlo a telegram from Leonora, dispatched from London, saying;
"Please return as soon as convenient." He could not understand why
Leonora should have abandoned him so precipitately when she only thought
that he had gone yachting with the Clinton Morleys. Then he discovered
that she had left the hotel before he had written the note. He had a
pretty rocky journey back to town; he was frightened out of his
life--and Leonora had never seemed so desirable to him.
I CALL this the Saddest Story, rather than "The Ashburnham Tragedy",
just because it is so sad, just because there was no current to draw
things along to a swift and inevitable end. There is about it none of
the elevation that accompanies tragedy; there is about it no nemesis, no
destiny. Here were two noble people--for I am convinced that both Edward
and Leonora had noble natures--here, then, were two noble natures,
drifting down life, like fireships afloat on a lagoon and causing
miseries, heart-aches, agony of the mind and death. And they themselves
steadily deteriorated. And why? For what purpose? To point what lesson?
It is all a darkness.
There is not even any villain in the story--for even Major Basil, the
husband of the lady who next, and really, comforted the unfortunate
Edward --even Major Basil was not a villain in this piece. He was a
slack, loose, shiftless sort of fellow--but he did not do anything to
Edward. Whilst they were in the same station in Burma he borrowed a good
deal of money--though, really, since Major Basil had no particular
vices, it was difficult to know why he wanted it. He
collected--different types of horses' bits from the earliest times to
the present day--but, since he did not prosecute even this occupation
with any vigour, he cannot have needed much money for the acquirement,
say, of the bit of Genghis Khan's charger--if Genghis Khan had a
charger. And when I say that he borrowed a good deal of money from
Edward I do not mean to say that he had more than a thousand pounds from
him during the five years that the connection lasted. Edward, of course,
did not have a great deal of money; Leonora was seeing to that. Still,
he may have had five hundred pounds a year English, for his menus
plaisirs--for his regimental subscriptions and for keeping his men
smart. Leonora hated that; she would have preferred to buy dresses for
herself or to have devoted the money to paying off a mortgage. Still,
with her sense of justice, she saw that, since she was managing a
property bringing in three thousand a year with a view to
re-establishing it as a property of five thousand a year and since the
property really, if not legally, belonged to Edward, it was reasonable
and just that Edward should get a slice of his own. Of course she had
the devil of a job.
I don't know that I have got the financial details exactly right. I am a
pretty good head at figures, but my mind, still, sometimes mixes up
pounds with dollars and I get a figure wrong. Anyhow, the proposition
was something like this: Properly worked and without rebates to the
tenants and keeping up schools and things, the Branshaw estate should
have brought in about five thousand a year when Edward had it. It
brought in actually about four. (I am talking in pounds, not dollars.)
Edward's excesses with the Spanish Lady had reduced its value to about
three--as the maximum figure, without reductions. Leonora wanted to get
it back to five.
She was, of course, very young to be faced with such a
proposition--twenty-four is not a very advanced age. So she did things
with a youthful vigour that she would, very likely, have made more
merciful, if she had known more about life. She got Edward remarkably on
the hop. He had to face her in a London hotel, when he crept back from
Monte Carlo with his poor tail between his poor legs. As far as I can
make out she cut short his first mumblings and his first attempts at
affectionate speech with words something like:
"We're on the verge of ruin. Do you intend to let me pull things
together? If not I shall retire to Hendon on my jointure." (Hendon
represented a convent to which she occasionally went for what is called
a "retreat" in Catholic circles.)
And poor dear Edward knew nothing--absolutely nothing. He did not know
how much money he had, as he put it, "blued" at the tables. It might
have been a quarter of a million for all he remembered. He did not know
whether she knew about La Dolciquita or whether she imagined that he had
gone off yachting or had stayed at Monte Carlo. He was just dumb and he
just wanted to get into a hole and not have to talk. Leonora did not
make him talk and she said nothing herself.
I do not know much about English legal procedure--I cannot, I mean, give
technical details of how they tied him up. But I know that, two days
later, without her having said more than I have reported to you, Leonora
and her attorney had become the trustees, as I believe it is called, of
all Edward's property, and there was an end of Edward as the good
landlord and father of his people. He went out. Leonora then had three
thousand a year at her disposal. She occupied Edward with getting
himself transferred to a part of his regiment that was in Burma--if that
is the right way to put it. She herself had an interview, lasting a week
or so--with Edward's land-steward. She made him understand that the
estate would have to yield up to its last penny. Before they left for
India she had let Branshaw for seven years at a thousand a year. She
sold two Vandykes and a little silver for eleven thousand pounds and she
raised, on mortgage, twenty-nine thousand. That went to Edward's
money-lending friends in Monte Carlo. So she had to get the twenty-nine
thousand back, for she did not regard the Vandykes and the silver as
things she would have to replace. They were just frills to the
Ashburnham vanity. Edward cried for two days over the disappearance of
his ancestors and then she wished she had not done it; but it did not
teach her anything and it lessened such esteem as she had for him. She
did not also understand that to let Branshaw affected him with a feeling
of physical soiling--that it was almost as bad for him as if a woman
belonging to him had become a prostitute. That was how it did affect
him; but I dare say she felt just as bad about the Spanish dancer.
So she went at it. They were eight years in India, and during the whole
of that time she insisted that they must be self-supporting--they had to
live on his Captain's pay, plus the extra allowance for being at the
front. She gave him the five hundred a year for Ashburnham frills, as
she called it to herself--and she considered she was doing him very
Indeed, in a way, she did him very well--but it was not his way. She was
always buying him expensive things which, as it were, she took off her
own back. I have, for instance, spoken of Edward's leather cases. Well,
they were not Edward's at all; they were Leonora's manifestations. He
liked to be clean, but he preferred, as it were, to be threadbare. She
never understood that, and all that pigskin was her idea of a reward to
him for putting her up to a little speculation by which she made eleven
hundred pounds. She did, herself, the threadbare business. When they
went up to a place called Simla, where, as I understand, it is cool in
the summer and very social--when they went up to Simla for their healths
it was she who had him prancing around, as we should say in the United
States, on a thousand-dollar horse with the gladdest of glad rags all
over him. She herself used to go into "retreat". I believe that was very
good for her health and it was also very inexpensive.
It was probably also very good for Edward's health, because he pranced
about mostly with Mrs Basil, who was a nice woman and very, very kind to
him. I suppose she was his mistress, but I never heard it from Edward,
of course. I seem to gather that they carried it on in a high romantic
fashion, very proper to both of them--or, at any rate, for Edward; she
seems to have been a tender and gentle soul who did what he wanted. I do
not mean to say that she was without character; that was her job, to do
what Edward wanted. So I figured it out, that for those five years,
Edward wanted long passages of deep affection kept up in long, long
talks and that every now and then they "fell," which would give Edward
an opportunity for remorse and an excuse to lend the Major another
fifty. I don't think that Mrs Basil considered it to be "falling"; she
just pitied him and loved him.
You see, Leonora and Edward had to talk about something during all these
years. You cannot be absolutely dumb when you live with a person unless
you are an inhabitant of the North of England or the State of Maine. So
Leonora imagined the cheerful device of letting him see the accounts of
his estate and discussing them with him. He did not discuss them much;
he was trying to behave prettily. But it was old Mr Mumford--the farmer
who did not pay his rent--that threw Edward into Mrs Basil's arms. Mrs
Basil came upon Edward in the dusk, in the Burmese garden, with all
sorts of flowers and things. And he was cutting up that crop--with his
sword, not a walking-stick. He was also carrying on and cursing in a way
you would not believe.
She ascertained that an old gentleman called Mumford had been ejected
from his farm and had been given a little cottage rent-free, where he
lived on ten shillings a week from a farmers' benevolent society,
supplemented by seven that was being allowed him by the Ashburnham
trustees. Edward had just discovered that fact from the estate accounts.
Leonora had left them in his dressing-room and he had begun to read them
before taking off his marching-kit. That was how he came to have a
sword. Leonora considered that she had been unusually generous to old Mr
Mumford in allowing him to inhabit a cottage, rent-free, and in giving
him seven shillings a week. Anyhow, Mrs Basil had never seen a man in
such a state as Edward was. She had been passionately in love with him
for quite a time, and he had been longing for her sympathy and
admiration with a passion as deep. That was how they came to speak about
it, in the Burmese garden, under the pale sky, with sheaves of severed
vegetation, misty and odorous, in the night around their feet. I think
they behaved themselves with decorum for quite a time after that, though
Mrs Basil spent so many hours over the accounts of the Ashburnham estate
that she got the name of every field by heart. Edward had a huge map of
his lands in his harness-room and Major Basil did not seem to mind. I
believe that people do not mind much in lonely stations.
It might have lasted for ever if the Major had not been made what is
called a brevet-colonel during the shuffling of troops that went on just
before the South African War. He was sent off somewhere else and, of
course, Mrs Basil could not stay with Edward. Edward ought, I suppose,
to have gone to the Transvaal. It would have done him a great deal of
good to get killed. But Leonora would not let him; she had heard awful
stories of the extravagance of the hussar regiment in war-time--how they
left hundred-bottle cases of champagne, at five guineas a bottle, on the
veldt and so on. Besides, she preferred to see how Edward was spending
his five hundred a year. I don't mean to say that Edward had any
grievance in that. He was never a man of the deeds of heroism sort and
it was just as good for him to be sniped at up in the hills of the North
Western frontier, as to be shot at by an old gentleman in a tophat at
the bottom of some spruit. Those are more or less his words about it. I
believe he quite distinguished himself over there. At any rate, he had
had his D.S.O. and was made a brevet-major. Leonora, however, was not in
the least keen on his soldiering. She hated also his deeds of heroism.
One of their bitterest quarrels came after he had, for the second time,
in the Red Sea, jumped overboard from the troopship and rescued a
private soldier. She stood it the first time and even complimented him.
But the Red Sea was awful, that trip, and the private soldiers seemed to
develop a suicidal craze. It got on Leonora's nerves; she figured
Edward, for the rest of that trip, jumping overboard every ten minutes.
And the mere cry of "Man overboard" is a disagreeable, alarming and
disturbing thing. The ship gets stopped and there are all sorts of
shouts. And Edward would not promise not to do it again, though,
fortunately, they struck a streak of cooler weather when they were in
the Persian Gulf. Leonora had got it into her head that Edward was
trying to commit suicide, so I guess it was pretty awful for her when he
would not give the promise. Leonora ought never to have been on that
troopship; but she got there somehow, as an economy.
Major Basil discovered his wife's relation with Edward just before he
was sent to his other station. I don't know whether that was a
blackmailer's adroitness or just a trick of destiny. He may have known
of it all the time or he may not. At any rate, he got hold of, just
about then, some letters and things. It cost Edward three hundred pounds
immediately. I do not know how it was arranged; I cannot imagine how
even a blackmailer can make his demands. I suppose there is some sort of
way of saving your face. I figure the Major as disclosing the letters to
Edward with furious oaths, then accepting his explanations that the
letters were perfectly innocent if the wrong construction were not put
upon them. Then the Major would say: "I say, old chap, I'm deuced hard
up. Couldn't you lend me three hundred or so?" I fancy that was how it
was. And, year by year, after that there would come a letter from the
Major, saying that he was deuced hard up and couldn't Edward lend him
three hundred or so?
Edward was pretty hard hit when Mrs Basil had to go away. He really had
been very fond of her, and he remained faithful to her memory for quite
a long time. And Mrs Basi had loved him very much and continued to
cherish a hope of reunion with him. Three days ago there came a quite
proper but very lamentable letter from her to Leonora, asking to be
given particulars as to Edward's death. She had read the advertisement
of it in an Indian paper. I think she must have been a very nice woman.
. . .
And then the Ashburnhams were moved somewhere up towards a place or a
district called Chitral. I am no good at geography of the Indian Empire.
By that time they had settled down into a model couple and they never
spoke in private to each other. Leonora had given up even showing the
accounts of the Ashburnham estate to Edward. He thought that that was
because she had piled up such a lot of money that she did not want him
to know how she was getting on any more. But, as a matter of fact, after
five or six years it had penetrated to her mind that it was painful to
Edward to have to look on at the accounts of his estate and have no hand
in the management of it. She was trying to do him a kindness. And, up in
Chitral, poor dear little Maisie Maidan came along. . . .
That was the most unsettling to Edward of all his affairs. It made him
suspect that he was inconstant. The affair with the Dolciquita he had
sized up as a short attack of madness like hydrophobia. His relations
with Mrs Basil had not seemed to him to imply moral turpitude of a gross
kind. The husband had been complaisant; they had really loved each
other; his wife was very cruel to him and had long ceased to be a wife
to him. He thought that Mrs Basil had been his soul-mate, separated from
him by an unkind fate--something sentimental of that sort.
But he discovered that, whilst he was still writing long weekly letters
to Mrs Basil, he was beginning to be furiously impatient if he missed
seeing Maisie Maidan during the course of the day. He discovered himself
watching the doorways with impatience; he discovered that he disliked
her boy husband very much for hours at a time. He discovered that he was
getting up at unearthly hours in order to have time, later in the
morning, to go for a walk with Maisie Maidan. He discovered himself
using little slang words that she used and attaching a sentimental value
to those words. These, you understand, were discoveries that came so
late that he could do nothing but drift. He was losing weight; his eyes
were beginning to fall in; he had touches of bad fever. He was, as he
described it, pipped.
And, one ghastly hot day, he suddenly heard himself say to Leonora:
"I say, couldn't we take Mrs Maidan with us to Europe and drop her at
He hadn't had the least idea of saying that to Leonora. He had merely
been standing, looking at an illustrated paper, waiting for dinner.
Dinner was twenty minutes late or the Ashburnhams would not have been
alone together. No, he hadn't had the least idea of framing that speech.
He had just been standing in a silent agony of fear, of longing, of
heat, of fever. He was thinking that they were going back to Branshaw in
a month and that Maisie Maidan was going to remain behind and die. And
then, that had come out.
The punkah swished in the darkened room; Leonora lay exhausted and
motionless in her cane lounge; neither of them stirred. They were both
at that time very ill in indefinite ways.
And then Leonora said:
"Yes. I promised it to Charlie Maidan this afternoon. I have offered to
pay her ex's myself."
Edward just saved himself from saying: "Good God!" You see, he had not
the least idea of what Leonora knew--about Maisie, about Mrs Basil, even
about La Dolciquita. It was a pretty enigmatic situation for him. It
struck him that Leonora must be intending to manage his loves as she
managed his money affairs and it made her more hateful to him--and more
worthy of respect.
Leonora, at any rate, had managed his money to some purpose. She had
spoken to him, a week before, for the first time in several years--about
money. She had made twenty-two thousand pounds out of the Branshaw land
and seven by the letting of Branshaw furnished. By fortunate
investments--in which Edward had helped her--she had made another six or
seven thousand that might well become more. The mortgages were all paid
off, so that, except for the departure of the two Vandykes and the
silver, they were as well off as they had been before the Dolciquita had
acted the locust. It was Leonora's great achievement. She laid the
figures before Edward, who maintained an unbroken silence.
"I propose," she said, "that you should resign from the Army and that we
should go back to Branshaw. We are both too ill to stay here any
Edward said nothing at all.
"This," Leonora continued passionlessly, "is the great day of my life."
"You have managed the job amazingly. You are a wonderful woman." He was
thinking that if they went back to Branshaw they would leave Maisie
Maidan behind. That thought occupied him exclusively. They must,
undoubtedly, return to Branshaw; there could be no doubt that Leonora
was too ill to stay in that place. She said:
"You understand that the management of the whole of the expenditure of
the income will be in your hands. There will be five thousand a year."
She thought that he cared very much about the expenditure of an income
of five thousand a year and that the fact that she had done so much for
him would rouse in him some affection for her. But he was thinking
exclusively of Maisie Maidan--of Maisie, thousands of miles away from
him. He was seeing the mountains between them--blue mountains and the
sea and sunlit plains. He said:
"That is very generous of you." And she did not know whether that were
praise or a sneer. That had been a week before. And all that week he had
passed in an increasing agony at the thought that those mountains, that
sea, and those sunlit plains would be between him and Maisie Maidan.
That thought shook him in the burning nights: the sweat poured from him
and he trembled with cold, in the burning noons--at that thought. He had
no minute's rest; his bowels turned round and round within him: his
tongue was perpetually dry and it seemed to him that the breath between
his teeth was like air from a pest-house.
He gave no thought to Leonora at all; he had sent in his papers. They
were to leave in a month. It seemed to him to be his duty to leave that
place and to go away, to support Leonora. He did his duty.
It was horrible, in their relationship at that time, that whatever she
did caused him to hate her. He hated her when he found that she proposed
to set him up as the Lord of Branshaw again--as a sort of dummy lord, in
swaddling clothes. He imagined that she had done this in order to
separate him from Maisie Maidan. Hatred hung in all the heavy nights and
filled the shadowy corners of the room. So when he heard that she had
offered to the Maidan boy to take his wife to Europe with him,
automatically he hated her since he hated all that she did. It seemed to
him, at that time, that she could never be other than cruel even if, by
accident, an act of hers were kind. . . . Yes, it was a horrible
But the cool breezes of the ocean seemed to clear up that hatred as if
it had been a curtain. They seemed to give him back admiration for her,
and respect. The agreeableness of having money lavishly at command, the
fact that it had bought for him the companionship of Maisie
Maidan--these things began to make him see that his wife might have been
right in the starving and scraping upon which she had insisted. He was
at ease; he was even radiantly happy when he carried cups of bouillon
for Maisie Maidan along the deck. One night, when he was leaning beside
Leonora, over the ship's side, he said suddenly:
"By jove, you're the finest woman in the world. I wish we could be
She just turned away without a word and went to her cabin. Still, she
was very much better in health.
And now, I suppose, I must give you Leonora's side of the case. . . .
That is very difficult. For Leonora, if she preserved an unchanged
front, changed very frequently her point of view. She had been drilled--
in her tradition, in her upbringing--to keep her mouth shut. But there
were times, she said, when she was so near yielding to the temptation of
speaking that afterwards she shuddered to think of those times. You must
postulate that what she desired above all things was to keep a shut
mouth to the world; to Edward and to the women that he loved. If she
spoke she would despise herself.
From the moment of his unfaithfulness with La Dolciquita she never acted
the part of wife to Edward. It was not that she intended to keep herself
from him as a principle, for ever. Her spiritual advisers, I believe,
forbade that. But she stipulated that he must, in some way, perhaps
symbolical, come back to her. She was not very clear as to what she
meant; probably she did not know herself. Or perhaps she did.
There were moments when he seemed to be coming back to her; there were
moments when she was within a hair of yielding to her physical passion
for him. In just the same way, at moments, she almost yielded to the
temptation to denounce Mrs Basil to her husband or Maisie Maidan to
hers. She desired then to cause the horrors and pains of public
scandals. For, watching Edward more intently and with more straining of
ears than that which a cat bestows upon a bird overhead, she was aware
of the progress of his passion for each of these ladies. She was aware
of it from the way in which his eyes returned to doors and gateways; she
knew from his tranquillities when he had received satisfactions.
At times she imagined herself to see more than was warranted. She
imagined that Edward was carrying on intrigues with other women--with
two at once; with three. For whole periods she imagined him to be a
monster of libertinage and she could not see that he could have anything
against her. She left him his liberty; she was starving herself to build
up his fortunes; she allowed herself none of the joys of femininity--no
dresses, no jewels--hardly even friendships, for fear they should cost
And yet, oddly, she could not but be aware that both Mrs Basil and
Maisie Maidan were nice women. The curious, discounting eye which one
woman can turn on another did not prevent her seeing that Mrs Basil was
very good to Edward and Mrs Maidan very good for him. That seemed her to
be a monstrous and incomprehensible working of Fate's. Incomprehensible!
Why, she asked herself again and again, did none of the good deeds that
she did for her husband ever come through to him, or appear to hime as
good deeds? By what trick of mania could not he let her be as good to
him as Mrs Basil was? Mrs Basil was not so extraordinarily dissimilar to
herself. She was, it was true, tall, dark, with soft mournful voice and
a great kindness of manner for every created thing, from punkah men to
flowers on the trees. But she was not so well read as Lenora, at any
rate in learned books. Leonora could not stand novels. But, even with
all her differences, Mrs Basil did not appear to Leonora to differ so
very much from herself. She was truthful, honest and, for the rest, just
a woman. And Leonora had a vague sort of idea that, to a man, all women
are the same after three weeks of close intercourse. She thought that
the kindness should no longer appeal, the soft and mournful voice no
longer thrill, the tall darkness no longer give a man the illusion that
he was going into the depths of an unexplored wood. She could not
understand how Edward could go on and on maundering over Mrs Basil. She
could not see why he should continue to write her long letters after
their separation. After that, indeed, she had a very bad time.
She had at that period what I will call the "monstrous" theory of
Edward. She was always imagining him ogling at every woman that he came
across. She did not, that year, go into "retreat" at Simla because she
was afraid that he would corrupt her maid in her absence. She imagined
him carrying on intrigues with native women or Eurasians. At dances she
was in a fever of watchfulness.
She persuaded herself that this was because she had a dread of scandals.
Edward might get himself mixed up with a marriageable daughter of some
man who would make a row or some husband who would matter. But, really,
she acknowledged afterwards to herself, she was hoping that, Mrs Basil
being out of the way, the time might have come when Edward should return
to her. All that period she passed in an agony of jealousy and fear--the
fear that Edward might really become promiscuous in his habits.
So that, in an odd way, she was glad when Maisie Maidan came along--and
she realized that she had not, before, been afraid of husbands and of
scandals, since, then, she did her best to keep Maisie's husband
unsuspicious. She wished to appear so trustful of Edward that Maidan
could not possibly have any suspicions. It was an evil position for her.
But Edward was very ill and she wanted to see him smile again. She
thought that if he could smile again through her agency he might return,
through gratitude and satisfied love--to her. At that time she thought
that Edward was a person of light and fleeting passions. And she could
understand Edward's passion for Maisie, since Maisie was one of those
women to whom other women will allow magnetism.
She was very pretty; she was very young; in spite of her heart she was
very gay and light on her feet. And Leonora was really very fond of
Maisie, who was fond enough of Leonora. Leonora, indeed, imagined that
she could manage this affair all right. She had no thought of Maisie's
being led into adultery; she imagined that if she could take Maisie and
Edward to Nauheim, Edward would see enough of her to get tired of her
pretty little chatterings, and of the pretty little motions of her hands
and feet. And she thought she could trust Edward. For there was not any
doubt of Maisie's passion for Edward. She raved about him to Leonora as
Leonora had heard girls rave about drawing masters in schools. She was
perpetually asking her boy husband why he could not dress, ride, shoot,
play polo, or even recite sentimental poems, like their major. And young
Maidan had the greatest admiration for Edward, and he adored, was
bewildered by and entirely trusted his wife. It appeared to him that
Edward was devoted to Leonora. And Leonora imagined that when poor
Maisie was cured of her hear and Edward had seen enough of her, he would
return to her. She had the vague, passionate idea that, when Edward had
exhausted a number of other types of women he must turn to her. Why
should not her type have its turn in his heart? She imagined that, by
now, she understood him better, that she understood better his vanities
and that, by making him happier, she could arouse his love.
Florence knocked all that on the head. . . .
I HAVE, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way so that it
may be difficult for anyone to find their path through what may be a
sort of maze. I cannot help it. I have stuck to my idea of being in a
country cottage with a silent listener, hearing between the gusts of the
wind and amidst the noises of the distant sea, the story as it comes.
And, when one discusses an affair--a long, sad affair--one goes back,
one goes forward. One remembers points that one has forgotten and one
explains them all the more minutely since one recognizes that one has
forgotten to mention them in their proper places and that one may have
given, by omitting them, a false impression. I console myself with
thinking that this is a real story and that, after all, real stories are
probably told best in the way a person telling a story would tell them.
They will then seem most real.
At any rate, I think I have brought my story up to the date of Maisie
Maidan's death. I mean that I have explained everything that went before
it from the several points of view that were necessary--from Leonora's,
from Edward's and, to some extent, from my own. You have the facts for
the trouble of finding them; you have the points of view as far as I
could ascertain or put them. Let me imagine myself back, then, at the
day of Maisie's death--or rather at the moment of Florence's
dissertation on the Protest, up in the old Castle of the town of M----.
Let us consider Leonora's point of view with regard to Florence;
Edward's, of course, I cannot give you, for Edward naturally never spoke
of his affair with my wife. (I may, in what follows, be a little hard on
Florence; but you must remember that I have been writing away at this
story now for six months and reflecting longer and longer upon these
And the longer I think about them the more certain I become that
Florence was a contaminating influence--she depressed and deteriorated
poor Edward; she deteriorated, hopelessly, the miserable Leonora. There
is no doubt that she caused Leonora's character to deteriorate. If there
was a fine point about Leonora it was that she was proud and that she
was silent. But that pride and that silence broke when she made that
extraordinary outburst, in the shadowy room that contained the Protest,
and in the little terrace looking over the river. I don't mean to say
that she was doing a wrong thing. She was certainly doing right in
trying to warn me that Florence was making eyes at her husband. But, if
she did the right thing, she was doing it in the wrong way. Perhaps she
should have reflected longer; she should have spoken, if she wanted to
speak, only after reflection. Or it would have been better if she had
acted--if, for instance, she had so chaperoned Florence that private
communication between her and Edward became impossible. She should have
gone eavesdropping; she should have watched outside bedroom doors. It is
odious; but that is the way the job is done. She should have taken
Edward away the moment Maisie was dead. No, she acted wrongly. . . . And
yet, poor thing, is it for me to condemn her--and what did it matter in
the end? If it had not been Florence, it would have been some other . .
. Still, it might have been a better woman than my wife. For Florence
was vulgar; Florence was a common flirt who would not, at the last,
lacher prise; and Florence was an unstoppable talker. You could not stop
her; nothing would stop her. Edward and Leonora were at least proud and
reserved people. Pride and reserve are not the only things in life;
perhaps they are not even the best things. But if they happen to be your
particular virtues you will go all to pieces if you let them go. And
Leonora let them. go. She let them go before poor Edward did even.
Consider her position when she burst out over the Luther-Protest. . . .
Consider her agonies. . . .
You are to remember that the main passion of her life was to get Edward
back; she had never, till that moment, despaired of getting him back.
That may seem ignoble; but you have also to remember that her getting
him back represented to her not only a victory for herself. It would, as
it appeared to her, have been a victory for all wives and a victory for
her Church. That was how it presented itself to her. These things are a
little inscrutable. I don't know why the getting back of Edward should
have represented to her a victory for all wives, for Society and for her
Church. Or, maybe, I have a glimmering of it.
She saw life as a perpetual sex-baffle between husbands who desire to be
unfaithful to their wives, and wives who desire to recapture their
husbands in the end. That was her sad and modest view of matrimony. Man,
for her, was a sort of brute who must have his divagations, his moments
of excess, his nights out, his, let us say, rutting seasons. She had
read few novels, so that the idea of a pure and constant love succeeding
the sound of wedding bells had never been very much presented to her.
She went, numbed and terrified, to the Mother Superior of her
childhood's convent with the tale of Edward's infidelities with the
Spanish dancer, and all that the old nun, who appeared to her to be
infinitely wise, mystic and reverend, had done had been to shake her
head sadly and to say:
"Men are like that. By the blessing of God it will all come right in the
That was what was put before her by her spiritual advisers as her
programme in life. Or, at any rate, that was how their teachings came
through to her--that was the lesson she told me she had learned of them.
I don't know exactly what they taught her. The lot of women was patience
and patience and again patience--ad majorem Dei gloriam--until upon the
appointed day, if God saw fit, she should have her reward. If then, in
the end, she should have succeeded in getting Edward back she would have
kept her man within the limits that are all that wifehood has to expect.
She was even taught that such excesses in men are natural, excusable--as
if they had been children.
And the great thing was that there should be no scandal before the
congregation. So she had clung to the idea of getting Edward back with a
fierce passion that was like an agony. She had looked the other way; she
had occupied herself solely with one idea. That was the idea of having
Edward appear, when she did get him back, wealthy, glorious as it were,
on account of his lands, and upright. She would show, in fact, that in
an unfaithful world one Catholic woman had succeeded in retaining the
fidelity of her husband. And she thought she had come near her desires.
Her plan with regard to Maisie had appeared to be working admirably.
Edward had seemed to be cooling off towards the girl. He did not hunger
to pass every minute of the time at Nauheirn beside the child's
recumbent form; he went out to polo matches; he played auction bridge in
the evenings; he was cheerful and bright. She was certain that he was
not trying to seduce that poor child; she was beginning to think that he
had never tried to do so. He seemed in fact to be dropping back into
what he had been for Maisie in the beginning--a kind, attentive,
superior officer in the regiment, paying gallant attentions to a bride.
They were as open in their little flirtations as the dayspring from on
high. And Maisie had not appeared to fret when he went off on excursions
with us; she had to lie down for so many hours on her bed every
afternoon, and she had not appeared to crave for the attentions of
Edward at those times. And Edward was beginning to make little advances
to Leonora. Once or twice, in private--for he often did it before
people--he had said: "How nice you look!" or "What a pretty dress!" She
had gone with Florence to Frankfurt, where they dress as well as in
Paris, and had got herself a gown or two. She could afford it, and
Florence was an excellent adviser as to dress. She seemed to have got
hold of the clue to the riddle.
Yes, Leonora seemed to have got hold of the clue to the riddle. She
imagined herself to have been in the wrong to some extent in the past.
She should not have kept Edward on such a tight rein with regard to
money. She thought she was on the right tack in letting him--as she had
done only with fear and irresolution--have again the control of bis
income. He came even a step towards her and acknowledged, spontaneously,
that she had been right in husbanding, for all those years, their
resources. He said to her one day:
"You've done right, old girl. There's nothing I like so much as to have
a little to chuck away. And I can do it, thanks to you."
That was really, she said, the happiest moment of her life. And he,
seeming to realize it, had ventured to pat her on the shoulder. He had,
ostensibly, come in to borrow a safety-pin of her. And the occasion of
her boxing Maisie's ears, had, after it was over, riveted in her mind
the idea that there was no intrigue between Edward and Mrs Maidan. She
imagined that, from henceforward, all that she had to do was to keep him
well supplied with money and his mind amused with pretty girls. She was
convinced that he was coming back to her. For that month she no longer
repelled his timid advances that never went very far. For he certainly
made timid advances. He patted her on the shoulder; he whispered into
her ear little jokes about the odd figures that they saw up at the
Casino. It was not much to make a little joke--but the whispering of it
was a precious intimacy. . . .
And then--smash--it all went. It went to pieces at the moment when
Florence laid her hand upon Edward's wrist, as it lay on the glass
sheltering the manuscript of the Protest, up in the high tower with the
shutters where the sunlight here and there streamed in. Or, rather, it
went when she noticed the look in Edward's eyes as he gazed back into
Florence's. She knew that look.
She had known--since the first moment of their meeting, since the moment
of our all sitting down to dinner together--that Florence was making
eyes at Edward. But she had seen so many women make eyes at
Edward--hundreds and hundreds of women, in railway trains, in hotels,
aboard liners, at street corners. And she had arrived at thinking that
Edward took little stock in women that made eyes at him. She had formed
what was, at that time, a fairly correct estimate of the methods of, the
reasons for, Edward's loves. She was certain that hitherto they had
consisted of the short passion for the Dolciquita, the real sort of love
for Mrs Basil, and what she deemed the pretty courtship of Maisie
Maidan. Besides she despised Florence so haughtily that she could not
imagine Edward's being attracted by her. And she and Maisie were a sort
of bulwark round him. She wanted, besides, to keep her eyes on
Florence--for Florence knew that she had boxed Maisie's ears. And
Leonora desperately desired that her union with Edward should appear to
be flawless. But all that went. . . .
With the answering gaze of Edward into Florence's blue and uplifted
eyes, she knew that it had all gone. She knew that that gaze meant that
those two had had long conversations of an intimate kind--about their
likes and dislikes, about their natures, about their views of marriage.
She knew what it meant that she, when we all four walked out together,
had always been with me ten yards ahead of Florence and Edward. She did
not imagine that it had gone further than talks about their likes and
dislikes, about their natures or about marriage as an institution. But,
having watched Edward all her life, she knew that that laying on of
hands, that answering of gaze with gaze, meant that the thing was
unavoidable. Edward was such a serious person.
She knew that any attempt on her part to separate those two would be to
rivet on Edward an irrevocable passion; that, as I have before told you,
it was a trick of Edward's nature to believe that the seducing of a
woman gave her an irrevocable hold over him for life. And that touching
of hands, she knew, would give that woman an irrevocable claim--to be
seduced. And she so despised Florence that she would have preferred it
to be a parlour-maid. There are very decent parlour-maids.
And, suddenly, there came into her mind the conviction that Maisie
Maidan had a real passion for Edward; that this would break her
heart--and that she, Leonora, would be responsible for that. She went,
for the moment, mad. She clutched me by the wrist; she dragged me down
those stairs and across that whispering Rittersaal with the high painted
pillars, the high painted chimney-piece. I guess she did not go mad
She ought to have said:
"Your wife is a harlot who is going to be my husband's mistress . . ."
That might have done the trick. But, even in her madness, she was afraid
to go as far as that. She was afraid that, if she did, Edward and
Florence would make a bolt of it, and that, if they did that, she would
lose forever all chance of getting him back in the end. She acted very
badly to me.
Well, she was a tortured soul who put her Church before the interests of
a Philadelphia Quaker. That is all right--I daresay the Church of Rome
is the more important of the two.
A week after Maisie Maidan's death she was aware that Florence had
become Edward's mistress. She waited outside Florence's door and met
Edward as he came away. She said nothing and he only grunted. But I
guess he had a bad time.
Yes, the mental deterioration that Florence worked in Leonora was
extraordinary; it smashed up her whole life and all her chances. It made
her, in the first place, hopeless--for she could not see how, after
that, Edward could return to her--after a vulgar intrigue with a vulgar
woman. His affair with Mrs Basil, which was now all that she had to
bring, in her heart, against him, she could not find it in her to call
an intrigue. It was a love affair--a pure enough thing in its way. But
this seemed to her to be a horror--a wantonness, all the more detestable
to her, because she so detested Florence. And Florence talked. . . .
That was what was terrible, because Florence forced Leonora herself to
abandon her high reserve--Florence and the situation. It appears that
Florence was in two minds whether to confess to me or to Leonora.
Confess she had to. And she pitched at last on Leonora, because if it
had been me she would have had to confess a great deal more. Or, at
least, I might have guessed a great deal more, about her "heart", and
about Jimmy. So she went to Leonora one day and began hinting and
hinting. And she enraged Leonora to such an extent that at last Leonora
"You want to tell me that you are Edward's mistress. You can be. I have
no use for him."
That was really a calamity for Leonora, because, once started, there was
no stopping the talking. She tried to stop--but it was not to be done.
She found it necessary to send Edward messages through Florence; for she
would not speak to him. She had to give him, for instance, to understand
that if I ever came to know of his intrigue she would ruin him beyond
repair. And it complicated matters a good deal that Edward, at about
this time, was really a little in love with her. He thought that he had
treated her so badly; that she was so fine. She was so mournful that he
longed to comfort her, and he thought himself such a blackguard that
there was nothing he would not have done to make amends. And Florence
communicated these items of information to Leonora.
I don't in the least blame Leonora for her coarseness to Florence; it
must have done Florence a world of good. But I do blame her for giving
way to what was in the end a desire for communicativeness. You see that
business cut her off from her Church. She did not want to confess what
she was doing because she was afraid that her spiritual advisers would
blame her for deceiving me. I rather imagine that she would have
preferred damnation to breaking my heart. That is what it works out at.
She need not have troubled.
But, having no priests to talk to, she had to talk to someone, and as
Florence insisted on talking to her, she talked back, in short,
explosive sentences, like one of the damned. Precisely like one of the
damned. Well, if a pretty period in hell on this earth can spare her any
period of pain in Eternity--where there are not any periods--I guess
Leonora will escape hell fire.
Her conversations with Florence would be like this. Florence would
happen in on her, whilst she was doing her wonderful hair, with a
proposition from Edward, who seems about that time to have conceived the
naïve idea that he might become a polygamist. I daresay it was Florence
who put it into his head. Anyhow, I am not responsible for the oddities
of the human psychology. But it certainly appears that at about that
date Edward cared more for Leonora than he had ever done before--or, at
any rate, for a long time. And, if Leonora had been a person to play
cards and if she had played her cards well, and if she had had no sense
of shame and so on, she might then have shared Edward with Florence
until the time came for jerking that poor cuckoo out of the nest.
Well, Florence would come to Leonora with some such proposition. I do
not mean to say that she put it baldly, like that. She stood out that
she was not Edward's mistress until Leonora said that she had seen
Edward coming out of her room at an advanced hour of the night. That
checked Florence a bit; but she fell back upon her "heart" and stuck out
that she had merely been conversing with Edward in order to bring him to
a better frame of mind. Florence had, of course, to stick to that story;
for even Florence would not have had the face to implore Leonora to
grant her favours to Edward if she had admitted that she was Edward's
mistress. That could not be done. At the same time Florence had such a
pressing desire to talk about something. There would have been nothing
else to talk about but a rapprochement between that estranged pair. So
Florence would go on babbling and Leonora would go on brushing her hair.
And then Leonora would say suddenly something like:
"I should think myself defiled if Edward touched me now that he has
That would discourage Florence a bit; but after a week or so, on another
morning she would have another try.
And even in other things Leonora deteriorated. She had promised Edward
to leave the spending of his own income in his own hands. And she had
fully meant to do that. I daresay she would have done it too; though, no
doubt, she would have spied upon his banking account in secret. She was
not a Roman Catholic for nothing. But she took so serious a view of
Edward's unfaithfulness to the memory of poor little Maisie that she
could not trust him any more at all .
So when she got back to Branshaw she started, after less than a month,
to worry him about the minutest items of his expenditure. She allowed
him to draw his own cheques, but there was hardly a cheque that she did
not scrutinize--except for a private account of about five hundred a
year which, tacitly, she allowed him to keep for expenditure on his
mistress or mistresses. He had to have his jaunts to Paris; he had to
send expensive cables in cipher to Florence about twice a week. But she
worried him about his expenditure on wines, on fruit trees, on harness,
on gates, on the account at his blacksmith's for work done to a new
patent Army stirrup that he was trying to invent. She could not see why
he should bother to invent a new Army stirrup, and she was really
enraged when, after the invention was mature, he made a present to the
War Office of the designs and the patent rights. It was a remarkably
I have told you, I think, that Edward spent a great deal of time, and
about two hundred pounds for law fees on getting a poor girl, the
daughter of one of his gardeners, acquitted of a charge of murdering her
baby. That was positively the last act of Edward's life. It came at a
time when Nancy Rufford was on her way to India; when the most horrible
gloom was over the household; when Edward himself was in an agony and
behaving as prettily as he knew how. Yet even then Leonora made him a
terrible scene about this expenditure of time and trouble. She sort of
had the vague idea that what had passed with the girl and the rest of it
ought to have taught Edward a lesson--the lesson of economy. She
threatened to take his banking account away from him again. I guess that
made him cut his throat. He might have stuck it out otherwise--but the
thought that he had lost Nancy and that, in addition, there was nothing
left for him but a dreary, dreary succession of days in which he could
be of no public service . . . Well, it finished him.
It was during those years that Leonora tried to get up a love affair of
her own with a fellow called Bayham--a decent sort of fellow. A really
nice man. But the affair was no sort of success. I have told you about
it already. . . .
WELL, that about brings me up to the date of my receiving, in Waterbury,
the laconic cable from Edward to the effect that he wanted me to go to
Branshaw and have a chat. I was pretty busy at the time and I was half
minded to send him a reply cable to the effect that I would start in a
fortnight. But I was having a long interview with old Mr Hurlbird's
attorneys and immediately afterwards I had to have a long interview with
the Misses Hurlbird, so I delayed cabling.
I had expected to find the Misses Hurlbird excessively old--in the
nineties or thereabouts. The time had passed so slowly that I had the
impression that it must have been thirty years since I had been in the
United States. It was only twelve years. Actually Miss Hurlbird was just
sixty-one and Miss Florence Hurlbird fifty-nine, and they were both,
mentally and physically, as vigorous as could be desired. They were,
indeed, more vigorous, mentally, than suited my purpose, which was to
get away from the United States as quickly as I could. The Hurlbirds
were an exceedingly united family--exceedingly united except on one set
of points. Each of the three of them had a separate doctor, whom they
trusted implicitly--and each had a separate attorney. And each of them
distrusted the other's doctor and the other's attorney. And, naturally,
the doctors and the attorneys warned one all the time--against each
other. You cannot imagine how complicated it all became for me. Of
course I had an attorney of my own--recommended to me by young Carter,
my Philadelphia nephew.
I do not mean to say that there was any unpleasantness of a grasping
kind. The problem was quite another one--a moral dilemma. You see, old
Mr Hurlbird had left all his property to Florence with the mere request
that she would have erected to him in the city of Waterbury, Ill., a
memorial that should take the form of some sort of institution for the
relief of sufferers from the heart. Florence's money had all come to
me-- and with it old Mr Hurlbird's. He had died just five days before
Well, I was quite ready to spend a round million dollars on the relief
of sufferers from the heart. The old gentleman had left about a million
and a half; Florence had been worth about eight hundred thousand--and as
I figured it out, I should cut up at about a million myself. Anyhow,
there was ample money. But I naturally wanted to consult the wishes of
his surviving relatives and then the trouble really began. You see, it
had been discovered that Mr Hurlbird had had nothing whatever the matter
with his heart. His lungs had been a little affected all through his
life and he had died of bronchitis. It struck Miss Florence Hurlbird
that, since her brother had died of lungs and not of heart, his money
ought to go to lung patients. That, she considered, was what her brother
would have wished. On the other hand, by a kink, that I could not at the
time understand, Miss Hurlbird insisted that I ought to keep the money
all to myself. She said that she did not wish for any monuments to the
Hurlbird family. At the time I thought that that was because of a New
England dislike for necrological ostentation. But I can figure out now,
when I remember certain insistent and continued questions that she put
to me, about Edward Ashburnham, that there was another idea in her mind.
And Leonora has told me that, on Florence's dressing-table, beside her
dead body, there had lain a letter to Miss Hurlbird--a letter which
Leonora posted without telling me. I don't know how Florence had time to
write to her aunt; but I can quite understand that she would not like to
go out of the world without making some comments. So I guess Florence
had told Miss Hurlbird a good bit about Edward Ashburnham in a few
scrawled words--and that that was why the old lady did not wish the name
of Hurlbird perpetuated. Perhaps also she thought that I had earned the
Hurlbird money. It meant a pretty tidy lot of discussing, what with the
doctors warning each other about the bad effects of discussions on the
health of the old ladies, and warning me covertly against each other,
and saying that old Mr Hurlbird might have died of heart, after all, in
spite of the diagnosis of his doctor. And the solicitors all had
separate methods of arranging about how the money should be invested and
entrusted and bound. Personally, I wanted to invest the money so that
the interest could be used for the relief of sufferers from the heart.
If old Mr Hurlbird had not died of any defects in that organ he had
considered that it was defective. Moreover, Florence had certainly died
of her heart, as I saw it. And when Miss Florence Hurlbird stood out
that the money ought to go to chest sufferers I was brought to thinking
that there ought to be a chest institution too, and I advanced the sum
that I was ready to provide to a million and a half of dollars. That
would have given seven hundred and fifty thousand to each class of
invalid. I did not want money at all badly. All I wanted it for was to
be able to give Nancy Rufford a good time. I did not know much about
housekeeping expenses in England where, I presumed, she would wish to
live. I knew that her needs at that time were limited to good
chocolates, and a good horse or two, and simple, pretty frocks. Probably
she would want more than that later on. But even if I gave a million and
a half dollars to these institutions I should still have the equivalent
of about twenty thousand a year English, and I considered that Nancy
could have a pretty good time on that or less. Anyhow, we had a stiff
set of arguments up at the Hurlbird mansion which stands on a bluff over
the town. It may strike you, silent listener, as being funny if you
happen to be European. But moral problems of that description and the
giving of millions to institutions are immensely serious matters in my
country. Indeed, they are the staple topics for consideration amongst
the wealthy classes. We haven't got peerage and social climbing to
occupy us much, and decent people do not take interest in politics or
elderly people in sport. So that there were real tears shed by both Miss
Hurlbird and Miss Florence before I left that city. I left it quite
abruptly. Four hours after Edward's telegram came another from Leonora,
saying: "Yes, do come. You could be so helpful." I simply told my
attorney that there was the million and a half; that he could invest it
as he liked, and that the purposes must be decided by the Misses
Hurlbird. I was, anyhow, pretty well worn out by all the discussions.
And, as I have never heard yet from the Misses Hurlbird, I rather think
that Miss Hurlbird, either by revelations or by moral force, has
persuaded Miss Florence that no memorial to their names shall be erected
in the city of Waterbury, Conn. Miss Hurlbird wept dreadfully when she
heard that I was going to stay with the Ashburnhams, but she did not
make any comments. I was aware, at that date, that her niece had been
seduced by that fellow Jimmy before I had married her--but I contrived
to produce on her the impression that I thought Florence had been a
model wife. Why, at that date I still believed that Florence had been
perfectly virtuous after her marriage to me. I had not figured it out
that she could have played it so low down as to continue her intrigue
with that fellow under my roof. Well, I was a fool. But I did not think
much about Florence at that date. My mind was occupied with what was
happening at Branshaw. I had got it into my head that the telegrams had
something to do with Nancy. It struck me that she might have shown signs
of forming an attachment for some undesirable fellow and that Leonora
wanted me to come back and marry her out of harm's way. That was what
was pretty firmly in my mind. And it remained in my mind for nearly ten
days after my arrival at that beautiful old place. Neither Edward nor
Leonora made any motion to talk to me about anything other than the
weather and the crops. Yet, although there were several young fellows
about, I could not see that any one in particular was distinguished by
the girl's preference. She certainly appeared illish and nervous, except
when she woke up to talk gay nonsense to me. Oh, the pretty thing that
she was. . . .
I imagined that what must have happened was that the undesirable young
man had been forbidden the place and that Nancy was fretting a little.
What had happened was just Hell. Leonora had spoken to Nancy; Nancy had
spoken to Edward; Edward had spoken to Leonora--and they had talked and
talked. And talked. You have to imagine horrible pictures of gloom and
half lights, and emotions running through silent nights--through whole
nights. You have to imagine my beautiful Nancy appearing suddenly to
Edward, rising up at the foot of his bed, with her long hair falling,
like a split cone of shadow, in the glimmer of a night-light that burned
beside him. You have to imagine her, a silent, a no doubt agonized
figure, like a spectre, suddenly offering herself to him--to save his
reason! And you have to imagine his frantic refusal--and talk. And talk!
And yet, to me, living in the house, enveloped with the charm of the
quiet and ordered living, with the silent, skilled servants whose mere
laying out of my dress clothes was like a caress--to me who was hourly
with them they appeared like tender, ordered and devoted people,
smiling, absenting themselves at the proper intervals; driving me to
meets--just good people! How the devil--how the devil do they do it?
At dinner one evening Leonora said--she had just opened a telegram:
"Nancy will be going to India, tomorrow, to be with her father."
No one spoke. Nancy looked at her plate; Edward went on eating his
pheasant. I felt very bad; I imagined that it would be up to me to
propose to Nancy that evening. It appeared to me to be queer that they
had not given me any warning of Nancy's departure--But I thought that
that was only English manners--some sort of delicacy that I had not got
the hang of. You must remember that at that moment I trusted in Edward
and Leonora and in Nancy Rufford, and in the tranquility of ancient
haunts of peace, as I had trusted in my mother's love. And that evening
Edward spoke to me.
What in the interval had happened had been this:
Upon her return from Nauheim Leonora had completely broken down--because
she knew she could trust Edward. That seems odd but, if you know
anything about breakdowns, you will know that by the ingenious torments
that fate prepares for us, these things come as soon as, a strain having
relaxed, there is nothing more to be done. It is after a husband's long
illness and death that a widow goes to pieces; it is at the end of a
long rowing contest that a crew collapses and lies forward upon its
oars. And that was what happened to Leonora.
From certain tones in Edward's voice; from the long, steady stare that
he had given her from his bloodshot eyes on rising from the dinner table
in the Nauheim hotel, she knew that, in the affair of the poor girl,
this was a case in which Edward's moral scruples, or his social code, or
his idea that it would be playing it too low down, rendered Nancy
perfectly safe. The girl, she felt sure, was in no danger at all from
Edward. And in that she was perfectly right. The smash was to come from
She relaxed; she broke; she drifted, at first quickly, then with an
increasing momentum, down the stream of destiny. You may put it that,
having been cut off from the restraints of her religion, for the first
time in her life, she acted along the lines of her instinctive desires.
I do not know whether to think that, in that she was no longer herself;
or that, having let loose the bonds of her standards, her conventions
and her traditions, she was being, for the first time, her own natural
self. She was torn between her intense, maternal love for the girl and
an intense jealousy of the woman who realizes that the man she loves has
met what appears to be the final passion of his life. She was divided
between an intense disgust for Edward's weakness in conceiving this
passion, an intense pity for the miseries that he was enduring, and a
feeling equally intense, but one that she hid from herself--a feeling of
respect for Edward's determination to keep himself, in this particular
And the human heart is a very mysterious thing. It is impossible to say
that Leonora, in acting as she then did, was not filled with a sort of
hatred of Edward's final virtue. She wanted, I think, to despise him. He
was, she realized gone from her for good. Then let him suffer, let him
agonize; let him, if possible, break and go to that Hell that is the
abode of broken resolves. She might have taken a different line. It
would have been so easy to send the girl away to stay with some friends;
to have taken her away herself upon some pretext or other. That would
not have cured things but it would have been the decent line, . . . But,
at that date, poor Leonora was incapable of taking any line whatever.
She pitied Edward frightfully at one time--and then she acted along the
lines of pity; she loathed him at another and then she acted as her
loathing dictated. She gasped, as a person dying of tuberculosis gasps
for air. She craved madly for communication with some other human soul.
And the human soul that she selected was that of the girl.
Perhaps Nancy was the only person that she could have talked to. With
her necessity for reticences, with her coldness of manner, Leonora had
singularly few intimates. She had none at all, with the exception of the
Mrs Colonel Whelen, who had advised her about the affair with La
Dolciquita, and the one or two religious, who had guided her through
life. The Colonel's wife was at that time in Madeira; the religious she
now avoided. Her visitors' book had seven hundred names in it; there was
not a soul that she could speak to. She was Mrs Ashburnham of Branshaw
She was the great Mrs Ashburnham of Branshaw and she lay all day upon
her bed in her marvellous, light, airy bedroom with the chintzes and the
Chippendale and the portraits of deceased Ashburnhams by Zoffany and
Zucchero. When there was a meet she would struggle up--supposing it were
within driving distance--and let Edward drive her and the girl to the
cross-roads or the country house. She would drive herself back alone;
Edward would ride off with the girl. Ride Leonora could not, that
season--her head was too bad. Each pace of her mare was an anguish.
But she drove with efficiency and precision; she smiled at the Gimmers
and Ffoulkes and the Hedley Seatons. She threw with exactitude pennies
to the boys who opened gates for her; she sat upright on the seat of the
high dog-cart; she waved her hands to Edward and Nancy as they rode off
with the hounds, and every one could hear her clear, high voice, in the
chilly weather, saying:
"Have a good time!"
Poor forlorn woman! . . .
There was, however, one spark of consolation. It came from the fact that
Rodney Bayham, of Bayham, followed her always with his eyes. It had been
three years since she had tried her abortive love-affair with him. Yet
still, on the winter mornings he would ride up to her shafts and just
say: "Good day," and look at her with eyes that were not imploring, but
seemed to say: "You see, I am still, as the Germans say, A. D.--at
It was a great consolation, not because she proposed ever to take him up
again, but because it showed her that there was in the world one
faithful soul in riding-breeches. And it showed her that she was not
losing her looks.
And, indeed, she was not losing her looks. She was forty, but she was as
clean run as on the day she had left the convent--as clear in outline,
as clear coloured in the hair, as dark blue in the eyes. She thought
that her looking-glass told her this; but there are always the doubts. .
. . Rodney Bayham's eyes took them away.
It is very singular that Leonora should not have aged at all. I suppose
that there are some types of beauty and even of youth made for the
embellishments that come with enduring sorrow. That is too elaborately
put. I mean that Leonora, if everything had prospered, might have become
too hard and, maybe, overbearing. As it was she was tuned down to
appearing efficient--and yet sympathetic. That is the rarest of all
blends. And yet I swear that Leonora, in her restrained way, gave the
impression of being intensely sympathetic. When she listened to you she
appeared also to be listening to some sound that was going on in the
distance. But still, she listened to you and took in what you said,
which, since the record of humanity is a record of sorrows, was, as a
rule, something sad.
I think that she must have taken Nancy through many terrors of the night
and many bad places of the day. And that would account for the girl's
passionate love for the elder woman. For Nancy's love for Leonora was an
admiration that is awakened in Catholics by their feeling for the Virgin
Mary and for various of the saints. It is too little to say that the
girl would have laid her life at Leonora's feet. Well, she laid there
the offer of her virtue--and her reason. Those were sufficient
instalments of her life. It would today be much better for Nancy Rufford
if she were dead.
Perhaps all these reflections are a nuisance; but they crowd on me. I
will try to tell the story.
You see--when she came back from Nauheim Leonora began to have her
headaches--headaches lasting through whole days, during which she could
speak no word and could bear to hear no sound. And, day after day, Nancy
would sit with her, silent and motionless for hours, steeping
handkerchiefs in vinegar and water, and thinking her own thoughts. It
must have been very bad for her--and her meals alone with Edward must
have been bad for her too--and beastly bad for Edward. Edward, of
course, wavered in his demeanour, What else could he do? At times he
would sit silent and dejected over his untouched food. He would utter
nothing but monosyllables when Nancy spoke to him. Then he was simply
afraid of the girl falling in love with him. At other times he would
take a little wine; pull himself together; attempt to chaff Nancy about
a stake and binder hedge that her mare had checked at, or talk about the
habits of the Chitralis. That was when he was thinking that it was rough
on the poor girl that he should have become a dull companion. He
realized that his talking to her in the park at Nauheim had done her no
But all that was doing a great deal of harm to Nancy. It gradually
opened her eyes to the fact that Edward was a man with his ups and downs
and not an invariably gay uncle like a nice dog, a trustworthy horse or
a girl friend. She would find him in attitudes of frightful dejection,
sunk into his armchair in the study that was half a gun-room. She would
notice through the open door that his face was the face of an old, dead
man, when he had no one to talk to. Gradually it forced itself upon her
attention that there were profound differences between the pair that she
regarded a her uncle and her aunt. It was a conviction that came very
It began with Edward's giving an oldish horse to a young fellow called
Selmes. Selmes' father had been ruined by fraudulent solicitor and the
Selmes family had had to sell their hunters. It was a case that had
excited a good deal of sympathy in that part of the county. And Edward,
meeting the young man one day, unmounted, and seeing him to be very
unhappy, had offered to give him an old Irish cob upon which he was
riding. It was a silly sort of thing to do really. The horse was worth
from thirty to forty pounds and Edward might have known that the gift
would upset his wife. But Edward just had to comfort that unhappy young
man whose father he had known all his life. And what made it all the
worse was that young Selmes could not afford to keep the horse even.
Edward recollected this, immediately after he had made the offer, and
"Of course I mean that you should stable the horse at Branshaw until you
have time to turn round or want to sell him and get a better."
Nancy went straight home and told all this to Leonora who was lying
down. She regarded it as a splendid instance of Edward's quick
consideration for the feelings and the circumstances of the distressed.
She thought it would cheer Leonora up--because it ought to cheer any
woman up to know that she had such a splendid husband. That was the last
girlish thought she ever had. For Leonora, whose headache had left her
collected but miserably weak, turned upon her bed and uttered words that
were amazing to the girl:
"I wish to God," she said, "that he was your husband, and not mine. We
shall be ruined. We shall be ruined. Am I never to have a chance?" And
suddenly Leonora burst into a passion of tears. She pushed herself up
from the pillows with one elbow and sat there--crying, crying, crying,
with her face hidden in her hands and the tears falling through her
The girl flushed, stammered and whimpered as if she had been personally
"But if Uncle Edward . . ." she began.
"That man," said Leonora, with an extraordinary bitterness, "would give
the shirt off his back and off mine--and off yours to any . . ." She
could not finish the sentence.
At that moment she had been feeling an extraordinary hatred and contempt
for her husband. All the morning and all the afternoon she had been
lying there thinking that Edward and the girl were together--in the
field and hacking it home at dusk. She had been digging her sharp nails
into her palms.
The house had been very silent in the drooping winter weather. And then,
after an eternity of torture, there had invaded it the sound of opening
doors, of the girl's gay voice saying:
"Well, it was only under the mistletoe." . . . And there was Edward's
gruff undertone. Then Nancy had come in, with feet that had hastened up
the stairs and that tiptoed as they approached the open door of
Leonora's room. Branshaw had a great big hall with oak floors and tiger
skins. Round this hall there ran a gallery upon which Leonora's doorway
gave. And even when she had the worst of her headaches she liked to have
her door open--I suppose so that she might hear the approaching
footsteps of ruin and disaster. At any rate she hated to be in a room
with a shut door.
At that moment Leonora hated Edward with a hatred that was like hell,
and she would have liked to bring her riding-whip down across the girl's
face. What right had Nancy to be young and slender and dark, and gay at
times, at times mournful? What right had she to be exactly the woman to
make Leonora's husband happy? For Leonora knew that Nancy would have
made Edward happy.
Yes, Leonora wished to bring her riding-whip down on Nancy's young face.
She imagined the pleasure she would feel when the lash fell across those
queer features; the plea sure she would feel at drawing the handle at
the same moment toward her, so as to cut deep into the flesh and to
leave a lasting wheal.
Well, she left a lasting wheal, and her words cut deeply into the girl's
mind. . . .
They neither of them spoke about that again. A fortnight went by--a
fortnight of deep rains, of heavy fields, of bad scent. Leonora's
headaches seemed to have gone for good. She hunted once or twice,
letting herself be piloted by Bayham, whilst Edward looked after the
girl. Then, one evening, when those three were dining alone, Edward
said, in the queer, deliberate, heavy tones that came out of him in
those days (he was looking at the table):
"I have been thinking that Nancy ought to do more for her father. He is
getting an old man. I have written to Colonel Rufford, suggesting that
she should go to him."
Leonora called out:
"How dare you? How dare you?"
The girl put her hand over her heart and cried out: "Oh, my sweet
Saviour, help mel" That was the queer way she thought within her mind,
and the words forced themselves to her lips. Edward said nothing.
And that night, by a merciless trick of the devil that pays attention to
this sweltering hell of ours, Nancy Rufford had a letter from her
mother. It came whilst Leonora was talking to Edward, or Leonora would
have intercepted it as she had intercepted others. It was an amazing and
a horrible letter. . . .
I don't know what it contained. I just average out from its effects on
Nancy that her mother, having eloped with some worthless sort of fellow,
had done what is called "sinking lower and lower". Whether she was
actually on the streets I do not know, but I rather think that she eked
out a small allowance that she had from her husband by that means of
livelihood. And I think that she stated as much in her letter to Nancy
and upbraided the girl with living in luxury whilst her mother starved.
And it must have been horrible in tone, for Mrs Rufford was a cruel sort
of woman at the best of times. It must have seemed to that poor girl,
opening her letter, for distraction from another grief, up in her
bedroom, like the laughter of a devil.
I just cannot bear to think of my poor dear girl at that moment. . . .
And, at the same time, Leonora was lashing, like a cold fiend, into the
unfortunate Edward. Or, perhaps, he was not so unfortunate; because he
had done what he knew to be the right thing, he may be deemed happy. I
leave it to you. At any rate, he was sitting in his deep chair, and
Leonora came into his room--for the first time in nine years. She said:
"This is the most atrocious thing you have done in your atrocious life."
He never moved and he never looked at her. God knows what was in
Leonora's mind exactly.
I like to think that, uppermost in it was concern and horror at the
thought of the poor girl's going back to a father whose voice made her
shriek in the night. And, indeed, that motive was very strong with
Leonora. But I think there was also present the thought that she wanted
to go on torturing Edward with the girl's presence. She was, at that
time, capable of that.
Edward was sunk in his chair; there were in the room two candles, hidden
by green glass shades. The green shades were reflected in the glasses of
the book-cases that contained not books but guns with gleaming brown
barrels and fishing-rods in green baize over-covers. There was dimly to
be seen, above a mantelpiece encumbered with spurs, hooves and bronze
models of horses, a dark-brown picture of a white horse.
"If you think," Leonora said, "that I do not know that you are in love
with the girl . . ." She began spiritedly, but she could not find any
ending for the sentence. Edward did not stir; he never spoke. And then
"If you want me to divorce you, I will. You can marry her then. She's in
love with you."
He groaned at that, a little, Leonora said. Then she went away.
Heaven knows what happened in Leonora after that. She certainly does not
herself know. She probably said a good deal more to Edward than I have
been able to report; but that is all that she has told me and I am not
going to make up speeches. To follow her psychological development of
that moment I think we must allow that she upbraided him for a great
deal of their past life, whilst Edward sat absolutely silent. And,
indeed, in speaking of it afterwards, she has said several times: "I
said a great deal more to him than I wanted to, just because he was so
silent." She talked, in fact, in the endeavour to sting him into speech.
She must have said so much that, with the expression of her grievance,
her mood changed. She went back to her own room in the gallery, and sat
there for a long time thinking. And she thought herself into a mood of
absolute unselfishness, of absolute self-contempt, too. She said to
herself that she was no good; that she had failed in all her efforts--in
her efforts to get Edward back as in her efforts to make him curb his
expenditure. She imagined herself to be exhausted; she imagined herself
to be done. Then a great fear came over her.
She thought that Edward, after what she had said to him, must have
committed suicide. She went out on to the gallery and listened; there
was no sound in all the house except the regular beat of the great clock
in the hall. But, even in her debased condition, she was not the person
to hang about. She acted. She went straight to Edward's room, opened the
door, and looked in.
He was oiling the breech action of a gun. It was an unusual thing for
him to do, at that time of night, in his evening clothes. It never
occurred to her, nevertheless, that he was going to shoot himself with
that implement. She knew that he was doing it just for occupation--to
keep himself from thinking. He looked up when she opened the door, his
face illuminated by the light cast upwards from the round orifices in
the green candle shades.
"I didn't imagine that I should find Nancy here." She thought that she
owed that to him. He answered then:
"I don't imagine that you did imagine it." Those were the only words he
spoke that night. She went, like a lame duck, back through the long
corridors; she stumbled over the familiar tiger skins in the dark hall.
She could hardly drag one limb after the other. In the gallery she
perceived that Nancy's door was half open and that there was a light in
the girl's room. A sudden madness possessed her, a desire for action, a
thirst for self-explanation.
Their rooms all gave on to the gallery; Leonora's to the east, the
girl's next, then Edward's. The sight of those three open doors, side by
side, gaping to receive whom the chances of the black night might bring,
made Leonora shudder all over her body. She went into Nancy's room.
The girl was sitting perfectly still in an armchair, very upright, as
she had been taught to sit at the convent. She appeared to be as calm as
a church; her hair fell, black and like a pall, down over both her
shoulders. The fire beside her was burning brightly; she must have just
put coals on. She was in a white silk kimono that covered her to the
feet. The clothes that she had taken off were exactly folded upon the
proper seats. Her long hands were one upon each arm of the chair that
had a pink and white chintz back.
Leonora told me these things. She seemed to think it extraordinary that
the girl could have done such orderly things as fold up the clothes she
had taken off upon such a night--when Edward had announced that he was
going to send her to her father, and when, from her mother, she had
received that letter. The letter, in its envelope, was in her right
Leonora did not at first perceive it. She said:
"What are you doing so late?"
The girl answered: "Just thinking."
They seemed to think in whispers and to speak below their breaths. Then
Leonora's eyes fell on the envelope, and she recognized Mrs Rufford's
It was one of those moments when thinking was impossible, Leonora said.
It was as if stones were being thrown at her from every direction and
she could only run. She heard herself exclaim:
"Edward's dying--because of you. He's dying. He's worth more than either
of us. . . ."
The girl looked past her at the panels of the half-closed door.
"My poor father," she said, "my poor father."
"You must stay here," Leonora answered fiercely. "You must stay here. I
tell you you must stay here."
"I am going to Glasgow," Nancy answered. "I shall go to Glasgow tomorrow
morning. My mother is in Glasgow."
It appears that it was in Glasgow that Mrs Rufford pursued her
disorderly life. She had selected that city, not because it was more
profitable but because it was the natal home of her husband to whom she
desired to cause as much pain as possible.
"You must stay here," Leonora began, "to save Edward. He's dying for
love of you."
The girl turned her calm eyes upon Leonora.
"I know it," she said. "And I am dying for love of him."
Leonora uttered an "Ah," that, in spite of herself, was an "Ah" of
horror and of grief.
"That is why," the girl continued, "I am going to Glasgow--to take my
mother away from there." She added, "To the ends of the earth," for, if
the last months had made her nature that of a woman, her phrases were
still romantically those of a schoolgirl. It was as if she had grown up
so quickly that there had not been time to put her hair up. But she
added: "We're no good--my mother and I."
Leonora said, with her fierce calmness:
"No. No. You're not no good. It's I that am no good. You can't let that
man go on to ruin for want of you. You must belong to him."
The girl, she said, smiled at her with a queer, far-away smile--as if
she were a thousand years old, as if Leonora were a tiny child.
"I knew you would come to that,' she said, very slowly. "But we are not
worth it--Edward and I."
NANCY had, in fact, been thinking ever since Leonora had made that
comment over the giving of the horse to young Selmes. She had been
thinking and thinking, because she had had to sit for many days silent
beside her aunt's bed. (She had always thought of Leonora as her aunt.)
And she had had to sit thinking during many silent meals with Edward.
And then, at times, with his bloodshot eyes and creased, heavy mouth, he
would smile at her. And gradually the knowledge had come to her that
Edward did not love Leonora and that Leonora hated Edward. Several
things contributed to form and to harden this conviction.
She was allowed to read the papers in those days--or, rather, since
Leonora was always on her bed and Edward breakfasted alone and went out
early, over the estate, she was left alone with the papers. One day, in
the papers, she saw the portrait of a woman she knew very well. Beneath
it she read the words: "The Hon. Mrs Brand, plaintiff in the remarkable
divorce case reported on p. 8." Nancy hardly knew what a divorce case
was. She had been so remarkably well brought up, and Roman Catholics do
not practise divorce. I don't know how Leonora had done it exactly. I
suppose she had always impressed it on Nancy's mind that nice women did
not read these things, and that would have been enough to make Nancy
skip those pages.
She read, at any rate, the account of the Brand divorce
case--principally because she wanted to tell Leonora about it. She
imagined that Leonora, when her headache left her, would like to know
what was happening to Mrs Brand, who lived at Christchurch, and whom
they both liked very well. The case occupied three days, and the report
that Nancy first came upon was that of the third day. Edward, however,
kept the papers of the week, after his methodical fashion, in a rack in
his gun-room, and when she had finished her breakfast Nancy went to that
quiet apartment and had what she would have called a good read. It
seemed to her to be a queer affair. She could not understand why one
counsel should be so anxious to know all about the movements of Mr Brand
upon a certain day; she could not understand why a chart of the bedroom
accommodation at Christchurch Old Hall should be produced in court. She
did not even see why they should want to know that, upon a certain
occasion, the drawing-room door was locked. It made her laugh; it
appeared to be all so senseless that grown people should occupy
themselves with such matters. It struck her, nevertheless, as odd that
one of the counsel should cross-question Mr Brand so insistently and so
impertinently as to his feelings for Miss Lupton. Nancy knew Miss Lupton
of Ringwood very well--a jolly girl, who rode a horse with two white
fetlocks. Mr Brand persisted that he did not love Miss Lupton. . . .
Well, of course he did not love Miss Lupton; he was a married man. You
might as well think of Uncle Edward loving . . . loving anybody but
Leonora. When people were married there was an end of loving. There
were, no doubt, people who misbehaved--but they were poor people--or
people not like those she knew.
So these matters presented themselves to Nancy's mind. But later on in
the case she found that Mr Brand had to confess to a "guilty intimacy"
with some one or other. Nancy imagined that he must have been telling
some one his wife's secrets; she could not understand why that was a
serious offence. Of course it was not very gentlemanly--it lessened her
opinion of Mrs Brand. But since she found that Mrs Brand had condoned
that offence, she imagined that they could not have been very serious
secrets that Mr Brand had told. And then, suddenly, it was forced on her
conviction that Mr Brand--the mild Mr Brand that she had seen a month or
two before their departure to Nauheim, playing "Blind Man's Buff" with
his children and kissing his wife when he caught her--Mr Brand and Mrs
Brand had been on the worst possible terms. That was incredible.
Yet there it was--in black and white. Mr Brand drank; Mr Brand had
struck Mrs Brand to the ground when he was drunk. Mr Brand was adjudged,
in two or three abrupt words, at the end of columns and columns of
paper, to have been guilty of cruelty to his wife and to have committed
adultery with Miss Lupton. The last words conveyed nothing to
Nancy--nothing real, that is to say. She knew that one was commanded not
to commit adultery--but why, she thought, should one? It was probably
something like catching salmon out of season--a thing one did not do.
She gathered it had something to do with kissing, or holding some one in
your arms. . . .
And yet the whole effect of that reading upon Nancy was mysterious,
terrifying and evil. She felt a sickness--a sickness that grew as she
read. Her heart beat painfully; she began to cry. She asked God how He
could permit such things to be. And she was more certain that Edward did
not love Leonora and that Leonora hated Edward. Perhaps, then, Edward
loved some one else. It was unthinkable.
If he could love some one else than Leonora, her fierce unknown heart
suddenly spoke in her side, why could it not be herself? And he did not
love her. . . . This had occurred about a month before she got the
letter from her mother. She let the matter rest until the sick feeling
went off; it did that in a day or two. Then, finding that Leonora's
headaches had gone, she suddenly told Leonora that Mrs Brand had
divorced her husband. She asked what, exactly, it all meant.
Leonora was lying on the sofa in the hall; she was feeling so weak that
she could hardly find the words. She answered just:
"It means that Mr Brand will be able to marry again."
"But . . . but . . ." and then: "He will be able to marry Miss Lupton."
Leonora just moved a hand in assent. Her eyes were shut.
"Then . . ." Nancy began. Her blue eyes were full of horror: her brows
were tight above them; the lines of pain about her mouth were very
distinct. In her eyes the whole of that familiar, great hall had a
changed aspect. The andirons with the brass flowers at the ends appeared
unreal; the burning logs were just logs that were burning and not the
comfortable symbols of an indestructible mode of life. The flame
fluttered before the high fireback; the St Bernard sighed in his sleep.
Outside the winter rain fell and fell. And suddenly she thought that
Edward might marry some one else; and she nearly screamed.
Leonora opened her eyes, lying sideways, with her face upon the black
and gold pillow of the sofa that was drawn half across the great
"I thought," Nancy said, "I never imagined. . . . Aren't marriages
sacraments? Aren't they indissoluble? I thought you were married . . .
and . . ." She was sobbing. "I thought you were married or not married
as you are alive or dead."
"That," Leonora said, "is the law of the church. It is not the law of
the land. . . ."
"Oh yes," Nancy said, "the Brands are Protestants." She felt a sudden
safeness descend upon her, and for an hour or so her mind was at rest.
It seemed to her idiotic not to have remembered Henry VIII and the basis
upon which Protestantism rests. She almost laughed at herself.
The long afternoon wore on; the flames still fluttered when the maid
made up the fire; the St Bernard awoke and lolloped away towards the
kitchen. And then Leonora opened her eyes and said almost coldly:
"And you? Don't you think you will get married?"
It was so unlike Leonora that, for the moment, the girl was frightened
in the dusk. But then, again, it seemed a perfectly reasonable question.
"I don't know," she answered. "I don't know that anyone wants to marry
"Several people want to marry you," Leonora said.
"But I don't want to marry," Nancy answered. "I should like to go on
living with you and Edward. I don't think I am in the way or that I am
really an expense. If I went you would have to have a companion. Or,
perhaps, I ought to earn my living. . . ."
"I wasn't thinking of that," Leonora answered in the same dull tone.
"You will have money enough from your father. But most people want to be
I believe that she then asked the girl if she would not like to marry
me, and that Nancy answered that she would marry me if she were told to;
but that she wanted to go on living there. She added:
"If I married anyone I should want him to be like Edward."
She was frightened out of her life. Leonora writhed on her couch and
called out: "Oh, God! . . ."
Nancy ran for the maid; for tablets of aspirin; for wet handkerchiefs.
It never occurred to her that Leonora's expression of agony was for
anything else than physical pain.
You are to remember that all this happened a month before Leonora went
into the girl's room at night. I have been casting back again; but I
cannot help it. It is so difficult to keep all these people going. I
tell you about Leonora and bring her up to date; then about Edward, who
has fallen behind. And then the girl gets hopelessly left behind. I wish
I could put it down in diary form. Thus: On the 1st of September they
returned from Nauheim. Leonora at once took to her bed. By the 1st of
October they were all going to meets together. Nancy had already
observed very fully that Edward was strange in his manner. About the 6th
of that month Edward gave the horse to young Selmes, and Nancy had cause
to believe that her aunt did not love her uncle. On the 20th she read
the account of the divorce case, which is reported in the papers of the
18th and the two following days. On the 23rd she had the conversation
with her aunt in the hall--about marriage in general and about her own
possible marriage, her aunt's coming to her bedroom did not occur until
the 12th of November. . . .
Thus she had three weeks for introspection--for introspection beneath
gloomy skies, in that old house, rendered darker by the fact that it lay
in a hollow crowned by fir trees with their black shadows. It was not a
good situation for a girl. She began thinking about love, she who had
never before considered it as anything other than a rather humorous,
rather nonsensical matter. She remembered chance passages in chance
books--things that had not really affected her at all at the time. She
remembered someone's love for the Princess Badrulbadour; she remembered
to have heard that love was a flame, a thirst, a withering up of the
vitals--though she did not know what the vitals were. She had a vague
recollection that love was said to render a hopeless lover's eyes
hopeless; she remembered a character in a book who was said to have
taken to drink through love; she remembered that lovers' existences were
said to be punctuated with heavy sighs. Once she went to the little
cottage piano that was in the corner of the hall and began to play. It
was a tinkly, reedy instrument, for none of that household had any turn
for music. Nancy herself could play a few simple songs, and she found
herself playing. She had been sitting on the window seat, looking out on
the fading day. Leonora had gone to pay some calls; Edward was looking
after some planting up in the new spinney. Thus she found herself
playing on the old piano. She did not know how she came to be doing it.
A silly lilting wavering tune came from before her in the dusk--a tune
in which major notes with their cheerful insistence wavered and melted
into minor sounds, as, beneath a bridge, the high lights on dark waters
melt and waver and disappear into black depths. Well, it was a silly old
tune. . . .
It goes with the words--they are about a willow tree, I think:
Thou art to all lost loves the best The only true plant found.
--That sort of thing. It is Herrick, I believe, and the music with the
reedy, irregular, lilting sound that goes with Herrick, And it was dusk;
the heavy, hewn, dark pillars that supported the gallery were like
mourning presences; the fire had sunk to nothing--a mere glow amongst
white ashes, . . . It was a sentimental sort of place and light and
hour. . . .
And suddenly Nancy found that she was crying. She was crying quietly;
she went on to cry with long convulsive sobs. It seemed to her that
everything gay, everything charming, all light, all sweetness, had gone
out of life. Unhappiness; unhappiness; unhappiness was all around her.
She seemed to know no happy being and she herself was agonizing. . . .
She remembered that Edward's eyes were hopeless; she was certain that he
was drinking too much; at times he sighed deeply. He appeared as a man
who was burning with inward flame; drying up in the soul with thirst;
withering up in the vitals. Then, the torturing conviction came to
her--the conviction that had visited her again and again--that Edward
must love some one other than Leonora. With her little, pedagogic
sectarianism she remembered that Catholics do not do this thing. But
Edward was a Protestant. Then Edward loved somebody. . . .
And, after that thought, her eyes grew hopeless; she sighed as the old
St Bernard beside her did. At meals she would feel an intolerable desire
to drink a glass of wine, and then another and then a third. Then she
would find herself grow gay. . . . But in half an hour the gaiety went;
she felt like a person who is burning up with an inward flame;
desiccating at the soul with thirst; withering up in the vitals. One
evening she went into Edward's gun-room--he had gone to a meeting of the
National Reserve Committee. On the table beside his chair was a decanter
of whisky. She poured out a wineglassful and drank it off.
Flame then really seemed to fill her body; her legs swelled; her face
grew feverish. She dragged her tall height up to her room and lay in the
dark. The bed reeled beneath her; she gave way to the thought that she
was in Edward's arms; that he was kissing her on her face that burned;
on her shoulders that burned, and on her neck that was on fire.
She never touched alcohol again. Not once after that did she have such
thoughts. They died out of her mind; they left only a feeling of shame
so insupportable that her brain could not take it in and they vanished.
She imagined that her anguish at the thought of Edward's love for
another person was solely sympathy for Leonora; she determined that the
rest of her life must be spent in acting as Leonora's
handmaiden--sweeping, tending, embroidering, like some Deborah, some
medieval saint--I am not, unfortunately, up in the Catholic hagiology.
But I know that she pictured herself as some personage with a depressed,
earnest face and tightly closed lips, in a clear white room, watering
flowers or tending an embroidery frame. Or, she desired to go with
Edward to Africa and to throw herself in the path of a charging lion so
that Edward might be saved for Leonora at the cost of her life. Well,
along with her sad thoughts she had her childish ones.
She knew nothing--nothing of life, except that one must live sadly. That
she now knew. What happened to her on the night when she received at
once the blow that Edward wished her to go to her father in India and
the blow of the letter from her mother was this. She called first upon
her sweet Saviour--and she thought of Our Lord as her sweet
Saviour!--that He might make it impossible that she should go to India.
Then she realized from Edward's demeanour that he was determined that
she should go to India. It must then be right that she should go. Edward
was always right in his determinations. He was the Cid; he was
Lohengrin; he was the Chevalier Bayard.
Nevertheless her mind mutinied and revolted. She could not leave that
house. She imagined that he wished her gone that she might not witness
his amours with another girl. Well, she was prepared to tell him that
she was ready to witness his amours with another young girl. She would
stay there --to comfort Leonora.
Then came the desperate shock of the letter from her mother. Her mother
said, I believe, something like: "You have no right to go on living your
life of prosperity and respect. You ought to be on the streets with me.
How do you know that you are even Colonel Rufford's daughter?" She did
not know what these words meant. She thought of her mother as sleeping
beneath the arches whilst the snow fell. That was the impression
conveyed to her mind by the words "on the streets". A Platonic sense of
duty gave her the idea that she ought to go to comfort her mother--the
mother that bore her, though she hardly knew what the words meant. At
the same time she knew that her mother had left her father with another
man--therefore she pitied her father, and thought it terrible in herself
that she trembled at the sound of her father's voice. If her mother was
that sort of woman it was natural that her father should have had
accesses of madness in which he had struck herself to the ground. And
the voice of her conscience said to her that her first duty was to her
parents. It was in accord with this awakened sense of duty that she
undressed with great care and meticulously folded the clothes that she
took off. Sometimes, but not very often, she threw them helter-skelter
about the room.
And that sense of duty was her prevailing mood when Leonora, tall,
clean-run, golden-haired, all in black, appeared in her doorway, and
told her that Edward was dying of love for her. She knew then with her
conscious mind what she had known within herself for months--that Edward
was dying--actually and physically dying--of love for her. It seemed to
her that for one short moment her spirit could say: "Domine, nunc
dimittis, . . . Lord, now, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace."
She imagined that she could cheerfully go away to Glasgow and rescue her
AND it seemed to her to be in tune with the mood, with the hour, and
with the woman in front of her to say that she knew Edward was dying of
love for her and that she was dying of love for Edward. For that fact
had suddenly slipped into place and become real for her as the niched
marker on a whist tablet slips round with the pressure of your thumb.
That rubber at least was made.
And suddenly Leonora seemed to have become different and she seemed to
have become different in her attitude towards Leonora. It was as if she,
in her frail, white, silken kimono, sat beside her fire, but upon a
throne. It was as if Leonora, in her close dress of black lace, with the
gleaming white shoulders and the coiled yellow hair that the girl had
always considered the most beautiful thing in the world--it was as if
Leonora had become pinched, shrivelled, blue with cold, shivering,
suppliant. Yet Leonora was commanding her. It was no good commanding
her. She was going on the morrow to her mother who was in Glasgow.
Leonora went on saying that she must stay there to save Edward, who was
dying of love for her. And, proud and happy in the thought that Edward
loved her, and that she loved him, she did not even listen to what
Leonora said. It appeared to her that it was Leonora's business to save
her husband's body; she, Nancy, possessed his soul--a precious thing
that she would shield and bear away up in her arms--as if Leonora were a
hungry dog, trying to spring up at a lamb that she was carrying. Yes,
she felt as if Edward's love were a precious lamb that she were bearing
away from a cruel and predatory beast. For, at that time, Leonora
appeared to her as a cruel and predatory beast. Leonora, Leonora with
her hunger, with her cruelty had driven Edward to madness. He must be
sheltered by his love for her and by her love--her love from a great
distance and unspoken, enveloping him, surrounding him, upholding him;
by her voice speaking from Glasgow, saying that she loved, that she
adored, that she passed no moment without longing, loving, quivering at
the thought of him.
Leonora said loudly, insistently, with a bitterly imperative tone:
"You must stay here; you must belong to Edward. I will divorce him."
The girl answered:
"The Church does not allow of divorce. I cannot belong to your husband.
I am going to Glasgow to rescue my mother."
The half-opened door opened noiselessly to the full. Edward was there.
His devouring, doomed eyes were fixed on the girl's face; his shoulders
slouched forward; he was undoubtedly half drunk and he had the whisky
decanter in one hand, a slanting candlestick in the other. He said, with
a heavy ferocity, to Nancy:
"I forbid you to talk about these things. You are to stay here until I
hear from your father. Then you will go to your father."
The two women, looking at each other, like beasts about to spring,
hardly gave a glance to him. He leaned against the door-post. He said
"Nancy, I forbid you to talk about these things. I am the master of this
house." And, at the sound of his voice, heavy, male, coming from a deep
chest, in the night with the blackness behind him, Nancy felt as if her
spirit bowed before him, with folded hands. She felt that she would go
to India, and that she desired never again to talk of these things.
"You see that it is your duty to belong to him. He must not be allowed
to go on drinking."
Nancy did not answer. Edward was gone; they heard him slipping and
shambling on the polished oak of the stairs. Nancy screamed when there
came the sound of a heavy fall. Leonora said again:
The sounds went on from the hall below; the light of the candle Edward
held flickered up between the hand rails of the gallery. Then they heard
"Give me Glasgow . . . Glasgow, in Scotland . . I want the number of a
man called White, of Simrock Park, Glasgow . . . Edward White, Simrock
Park, Glasgow . . . ten minutes . . . at this time of night . . ." His
voice was quite level, normal, and patient. Alcohol took him in the
legs, not the speech. "I can wait," his voice came again. "Yes, I know
they have a number. I have been in communication with them before."
"He is going to telephone to your mother," Leonora said. "He will make
it all right for her." She got up and closed the door. She came back to
the fire, and added bitterly: "He can always make it all right for
everybody, except me--excepting me!"
The girl said nothing. She sat there in a blissful dream. She seemed to
see her lover sitting as he always sat, in a round-backed chair, in the
dark hall--sitting low, with the receiver at his ear, talking in a
gentle, slow voice, that he reserved for the telephone--and saving the
world and her, in the black darkness. She moved her hand over the
bareness of the base of her throat, to have the warmth of flesh upon it
and upon her bosom.
She said nothing; Leonora went on talking. . . .
God knows what Leonora said. She repeated that the girl must belong to
her husband. She said that she used that phrase because, though she
might have a divorce, or even a dissolution of the marriage by the
Church, it would still be adultery that the girl and Edward would be
committing. But she said that that was necessary; it was the price that
the girl must pay for the sin of having made Edward love her, for the
sin of loving her husband. She talked on and on, beside the fire. The
girl must become an adulteress; she had wronged Edward by being so
beautiful, so gracious, so good. It was sinful to be so good. She must
pay the price so as to save the man she had wronged.
In between her pauses the girl could hear the voice of Edward, droning
on, indistinguishably, with jerky pauses for replies. It made her glow
with pride; the man she loved was working for her. He at least was
resolved; was malely determined; knew the right thing. Leonora talked on
with her eyes boring into Nancy's. The girl hardly looked at her and
hardly heard her. After a long time Nancy said--after hours and hours:
"I shall go to India as soon as Edward hears from my father. I cannot
talk about these things, because Edward does not wish it."
At that Leonora screamed out and wavered swiftly towards the closed
door. And Nancy found that she was springing out of her chair with her
white arms stretched wide. She was clasping the other woman to her
breast; she was saying:
"Oh, my poor dear; oh, my poor dear." And they sat, crouching together
in each other's arms, and crying and crying; and they lay down in the
same bed, talking and talking, all through the night. And all through
the night Edward could hear their voices through the wall. That was how
it went. . . .
Next morning they were all three as if nothing had happened. Towards
eleven Edward came to Nancy, who was arranging some Christmas roses in a
silver bowl. He put a telegram beside her on the table. "You can uncode
it for yourself," he said. Then, as he went out of the door, he said:
"You can tell your aunt I have cabled to Mr Dowell to come over. He will
make things easier till you leave." The telegram when it was uncoded,
read, as far as I can remember: "Will take Mrs Rufford to Italy.
Undertake to do this for certain. Am devotedly attached to Mrs Rufford.
Have no need of financial assistance. Did not know there was a daughter,
and am much obliged to you for pointing out my duty.--White." It was
something like that. Then the household resumed its wonted course of
days until my arrival.
IT is this part of the story that makes me saddest of all. For I ask
myself unceasingly, my mind going round and round in a weary, baffled
space of pain--what should these people have done? What, in the name of
God, should they have done?
The end was perfectly plain to each of them--it was perfectly manifest
at this stage that, if the girl did not, in Leonora's phrase, "belong to
Edward," Edward must die, the girl must lose her reason because Edward
died--and, that after a time, Leonora, who was the coldest and the
strongest of the three, would console herself by marrying Rodney Bayham
and have a quiet, comfortable, good time. That end, on that night,
whilst Leonora sat in the girl's bedroom and Edward telephoned down
below--that end was plainly manifest. The girl, plainly, was half-mad
already; Edward was half dead; only Leonora, active, persistent,
instinct with her cold passion of energy, was "doing things". What then,
should they have done? worked out in the extinction of two very splendid
personalities--for Edward and the girl were splendid personalities, in
order that a third personality, more normal, should have, after a long
period of trouble, a quiet, comfortable, good time.
I am writing this, now, I should say, a full eighteen months after the
words that end my last chapter. Since writing the words "until my
arrival", which I see end that paragraph, I have seen again for a
glimpse, from a swift train, Beaucaire with the beautiful white tower,
Tarascon with the square castle, the great Rhone, the immense stretches
of the Crau. I have rushed through all Provence--and all Provence no
longer matters. It is no longer in the olive hills that I shall find my
Heaven; because there is only Hell. . . .
Edward is dead; the girl is gone--oh, utterly gone; Leonora is having a
good time with Rodney Bayham, and I sit alone in Branshaw Teleragh. I
have been through Provence; I have seen Africa; I have visited Asia to
see, in Ceylon, in a darkened room, my poor girl, sitting motionless,
with her wonderful hair about her, looking at me with eyes that did not
see me, and saying distinctly: "Credo in unum Deum omnipotentem. . . .
Credo in unum Deum omnipotentem." Those are the only reasonable words
she uttered; those are the only words, it appears, that she ever will
utter. I suppose that they are reasonable words; it must be
extraordinarily reasonable for her, if she can say that she believes in
an Omnipotent Deity. Well, there it is. I am very tired of it. all. . .
For, I daresay, all this may sound romantic, but it is tiring, tiring,
tiring to have been in the midst of it; to have taken the tickets; to
have caught the trains; to have chosen the cabins; to have consulted the
purser and the stewards as to diet for the quiescent patient who did
nothing but announce her belief in an Omnipotent Deity. That may sound
romantic--but it is just a record of fatigue.
I don't know why I should always be selected to be serviceable. I don't
resent it--but I have never been the least good. Florence selected me
for her own purposes, and I was no good to her; Edward called me to come
and have a chat with him, and I couldn't stop him cutting his throat.
And then, one day eighteen months ago, I was quietly writing in my room
at Branshaw when Leonora came to me with a letter. It was a very
pathetic letter from Colonel Rufford about Nancy. Colonel Rufford had
left the army and had taken up an appointment at a tea-planting estate
in Ceylon. His letter was pathetic because it was so brief, so
inarticulate, and so business-like. He had gone down to the boat to meet
his daughter, and had found his daughter quite mad. It appears that at
Aden Nancy had seen in a local paper the news of Edward's suicide. In
the Red Sea she had gone mad. She had remarked to Mrs Colonel Luton, who
was chaperoning her, that she believed in an Omnipotent Deity. She
hadn't made any fuss; her eyes were quite dry and glassy. Even when she
was mad Nancy could behave herself.
Colonel Rufford said the doctor did not anticipate that there was any
chance of his child's recovery. It was, nevertheless, possible that if
she could see someone from Branshaw it might soothe her and it might
have a good effect. And he just simply wrote to Leonora: "Please come
and see if you can do it."
I seem to have lost all sense of the pathetic; but still, that simple,
enormous request of the old colonel strikes me as pathetic. He was
cursed by his atrocious temper; he had been cursed by a half-mad wife,
who drank and went on the streets. His daughter was totally mad--and yet
he believed in the goodness of human nature. He believed that Leonora
would take the trouble to go all the way to Ceylon in order to soothe
his daughter. Leonora wouldn't. Leonora didn't ever want to see Nancy
again. I daresay that that, in the circumstances, was natural enough. At
the same time she agreed, as it were, on public grounds, that someone
soothing ought to go from Branshaw to Ceylon. She sent me and her old
nurse, who had looked after Nancy from the time when the girl, a child
of thirteen, had first come to Branshaw. So off I go, rushing through
Provence, to catch the steamer at Marseilles. And I wasn't the least
good when I got to Ceylon; and the nurse wasn't the least good. Nothing
has been the least good.
The doctors said, at Kandy, that if Nancy could be brought to England,
the sea air, the change of climate, the voyage, and all the usual sort
of things, might restore her reason. Of course, they haven't restored
her reason. She is, I am aware, sitting in the hall, forty paces from
where I am now writing. I don't want to be in the least romantic about
it. She is very well dressed; she is quite quiet; she is very beautiful.
The old nurse looks after her very efficiently.
Of course you have the makings of a situation here, but it is all very
humdrum, as far as I am concerned. I should marry Nancy if her reason
were ever sufficiently restored to let her appreciate the meaning of the
Anglican marriage service. But it is probable that her reason will never
be sufficiently restored to let her appreciate the meaning of the
Anglican marriage service. Therefore I cannot marry her, according to
the law of the land.
So here I am very much where I started thirteen years ago. I am the
attendant, not the husband, of a beautiful girl, who pays no attention
to me. I am estranged from Leonora, who married Rodney Bayham in my
absence and went to live at Bayham. Leonora rather dislikes me, because
she has got it into her head that I disapprove of her marriage with
Rodney Bayham. Well, I disapprove of her marriage. Possibly I am
jealous. Yes, no doubt I am jealous. In my fainter sort of way I seem to
perceive myself following the lines of Edward Ashburnham. I suppose that
I should really like to be a polygamist; with Nancy, and with Leonora,
and with Maisie Maidan and possibly even with Florence. I am no doubt
like every other man; only, probably because of my American origin I am
fainter. At the same time I am able to assure you that I am a strictly
respectable person. I have never done anything that the most anxious
mother of a daughter or the most careful dean of a cathedral would
object to. I have only followed, faintly, and in my unconscious desires,
Edward Ashburnham. Well, it is all over. Not one of us has got what he
really wanted. Leonora wanted Edward, and she has got Rodney Bayham, a
pleasant enough sort of sheep. Florence wanted Branshaw, and it is I who
have bought it from Leonora. I didn't really want it; what I wanted
mostly was to cease being a nurse-attendant. Well, I am a
nurse-attendant. Edward wanted Nancy Rufford, and I have got her. Only
she is mad. It is a queer and fantastic world. Why can't people have
what they want? The things were all there to content everybody; yet
everybody has the wrong thing. Perhaps you can make head or tail of it;
it is beyond me.
Is there any terrestial paradise where, amidst the whispering of the
olive-leaves, people can be with whom they like and have what they like
and take their ease in shadows and in coolness? Or are all men's lives
like the lives of us good people--like the lives of the Ashburnhams, of
the Dowells, of the Ruffords--broken, tumultuous, agonized, and
unromantic, lives, periods punctuated by screams, by imbecilities, by
deaths, by agonies? Who the devil knows?
For there was a great deal of imbecility about the closing scenes of the
Ashburnham tragedy. Neither of those two women knew what they wanted. It
was only Edward who took a perfectly clear line, and he was drunk most
of the time. But, drunk or sober, he stuck to what was demanded by
convention and by the traditions of his house. Nancy Rufford had to be
exported to India, and Nancy Rufford hadn't to hear a word of love from
him. She was exported to India and she never heard a word from Edward
It was the conventional line; it was in tune with the tradition of
Edward's house. I daresay it worked out for the greatest good of the
body politic. Conventions and traditions, I suppose, work blindly but
surely for the preservation of the normal type; for the extinction of
proud, resolute and unusual individuals.
Edward was the normal man, but there was too much of the sentimentalist
about him; and society does not need too many sentimentalists. Nancy was
a splendid creature, but she had about her a touch of madness. Society
does not need individuals with touches of madness about them. So Edward
and Nancy found themselves steamrolled out and Leonora survives, the
perfectly normal type, married to a man who is rather like a rabbit. For
Rodney Bayham is rather like a rabbit, and I hear that Leonora is
expected to have a baby in three months' time.
So those splendid and tumultuous creatures with their magnetism and
their passions--those two that I really loved--have gone from this
earth. It is no doubt best for them. What would Nancy have made of
Edward if she had succeeded in living with him; what would Edward have
made of her? For there was about Nancy a touch of cruelty--a touch of
definite actual cruelty that made her desire to see people suffer. Yes,
she desired to see Edward suffer. And, by God, she gave him hell.
She gave him an unimaginable hell. Those two women pursued that poor
devil and flayed the skin off him as if they had done it with whips. I
tell you his mind bled almost visibly. I seem to see him stand, naked to
the waist, his forearms shielding his eyes, and flesh hanging from him
in rags. I tell you that is no exaggeration of what I feel. It was as if
Leonora and Nancy banded themselves together to do execution, for the
sake of humanity, upon the body of a man who was at their disposal. They
were like a couple of Sioux who had got hold of an Apache and had him
well tied to a stake. I tell you there was no end to the tortures they
inflicted upon him.
Night after night he would hear them talking; talking; maddened,
sweating, seeking oblivion in drink, he would lie there and hear the
voices going on and on. And day after day Leonora would come to him and
would announce the results of their deliberations.
They were like judges debating over the sentence upon a criminal; they
were like ghouls with an immobile corpse in a tomb beside them.
I don't think that Leonora was any more to blame than the girl--though
Leonora was the more active of the two. Leonora, as I have said, was the
perfectly normal woman. I mean to say that in normal circumstances her
desires were those of the woman who is needed by society. She desired
children, decorum, an establishment; she desired to avoid waste, she
desired to keep up appearances. She was utterly and entirely normal even
in her utterly undeniable beauty. But I don't mean to say that she acted
perfectly normally in this perfectly abnormal situation. All the world
was mad around her and she herself, agonized, took on the complexion of
a mad woman; of a woman very wicked; of the villain of the piece. What
would you have? Steel is a normal, hard, polished substance. But, if you
put it in a hot fire it will become red, soft, and not to be handled. If
you put it in a fire still more hot it will drip away. It was like that
with Leonora. She was made for normal circumstances--for Mr Rodney
Bayham, who will keep a separate establishment, secretly, in Portsmouth,
and make occasional trips to Paris and to Budapest.
In the case of Edward and the girl, Leonora broke and simply went all
over the place. She adopted unfamiliar and therefore extraordinary and
ungraceful attitudes of mind. At one moment she was all for revenge.
After haranguing the girl for hours through the night she harangued for
hours of the day the silent Edward. And Edward just once tripped up, and
that was his undoing. Perhaps he had had too much whisky that afternoon.
She asked him perpetually what he wanted. What did he want? What did he
want? And all he ever answered was: "I have told you". He meant that he
wanted the girl to go to her father in India as soon as her father
should cable that he was ready to receive her. But just once he tripped
up. To Leonora's eternal question he answered that all he desired in
life was that--that he could pick himself together again and go on with
his daily occupations if--the girl, being five thousand miles away,
would continue to love him. He wanted nothing more, He prayed his God
for nothing more. Well, he was a sentimentalist.
And the moment that she heard that, Leonora determined that the girl
should not go five thousand miles away and that she should not continue
to love Edward. The way she worked it was this:
She continued to tell the girl that she must belong to Edward; she was
going to get a divorce; she was going to get a dissolution of marriage
from Rome. But she considered it to be her duty to warn the girl of the
sort of monster that Edward was. She told the girl of La Dolciquita, of
Mrs Basil, of Maisie Maidan, of Florence. She spoke of the agonies that
she had endured during her life with the man, who was violent,
overbearing, vain, drunken, arrogant, and monstrously a prey to his
sexual necessities. And, at hearing of the miseries her aunt had
suffered--for Leonora once more had the aspect of an aunt to the
girl--with the swift cruelty of youth and, with the swift solidarity
that attaches woman to woman, the girl made her resolves. Her aunt said
incessantly: "You must save Edward's life; you must save his life. All
that he needs is a little period of satisfaction from you. Then he will
tire of you as he has of the others. But you must save his life."
And, all the while, that wretched fellow knew--by a curious instinct
that runs between human beings living together--exactly what was going
on. And he remained dumb; he stretched out no finger to help himself.
All that he required to keep himself a decent member of society was,
that the girl, five thousand miles away, should continue to love him.
They were putting a stopper upon that.
I have told you that the girl came one night to his room. And that was
the real hell for him. That was the picture that never left his
imagination--the girl, in the dim light, rising up at the foot of his
bed. He said that it seemed to have a greenish sort of effect as if
there were a greenish tinge in the shadows of the tall bedposts that
framed her body. And she looked at him with her straight eyes of an
unflinching cruelty and she said: "I am ready to belong to you--to save
He answered: "I don't want it; I don't want it; I don't want it."
And he says that he didn't want it; that he would have hated himself;
that it was unthinkable. And all the while he had the immense temptation
to do the unthinkable thing, not from the physical desire but because of
a mental certitude. He was certain that if she had once submitted to him
she would remain his for ever. He knew that.
She was thinking that her aunt had said he had desired her to love him
from a distance of five thousand miles. She said: "I can never love you
now I know the kind of man you are. I will belong to you to save your
life. But I can never love you."
It was a fantastic display of cruelty. She didn't in the least know what
it meant--to belong to a man. But, at that Edward pulled himself
together. He spoke in his normal tones; gruff, husky, overbearing, as he
would have done to a servant or to a horse.
"Go back to your room," he said. "Go back to your room and go to sleep.
This is all nonsense."
They were baffled, those two women.
And then I came on the scene.
MY coming on the scene certainly calmed things down--for the whole
fortnight that intervened between my arrival and the girl's departure. I
don't mean to say that the endless talking did not go on at night or
that Leonora did not send me out with the girl and, in the interval,
give Edward a hell of a time. Having discovered what he wanted--that the
girl should go five thousand miles away and love him steadfastly as
people do in sentimental novels, she was determined to smash that
aspiration. And she repeated to Edward in every possible tone that the
girl did not love him; that the girl detested him for his brutality, his
overbearingness, his drinking habits. She pointed out that Edward in the
girl's eyes, was already pledged three or four deep. He was pledged to
Leonora herself, to Mrs Basil, and to the memories of Maisie Maidan and
to Florence. Edward never said anything.
Did the girl love Edward, or didn't she? I don't know. At that time I
daresay she didn't though she certainly had done so before Leonora had
got to work upon his reputation. She certainly had loved him for what I
call the public side of his record--for his good soldiering, for his
saving lives at sea, for the excellent landlord that he was and the good
sportsman. But it is quite possible that all those things came to appear
as nothing in her eyes when she discovered that he wasn't a good
husband. For, though women, as I see them, have little or no feeling of
responsibility towards a county or a country or a career--although they
may be entirely lacking in any kind of communal solidarity--they have an
immense and automatically working instinct that attaches them to the
interest of womanhood. It is, of course, possible for any woman to cut
out and to carry off any other woman's husband or lover. But I rather
think that a woman will only do this if she has reason to believe that
the other woman has given her husband a bad time. I am certain that if
she thinks the man has been a brute to his wife she will, with her
instinctive feeling for suffering femininity, "put him back", as the
saying is. I don't attach any particular importance to these
generalizations of mine. They may be right, they may be wrong; I am only
an ageing American with very little knowledge of life. You may take my
generalizations or leave them. But I am pretty certain that I am right
in the case of Nancy Rufford--that she had loved Edward Ashburnham very
deeply and tenderly.
It is nothing to the point that she let him have it good and strong as
soon as she discovered that he had been unfaithful to Leonora and that
his public services had cost more than Leonora thought they ought to
have cost. Nancy would be bound to let him have it good and strong then.
She would owe that to feminine public opinion; she would be driven to it
by the instinct for self-preservation, since she might well imagine that
if Edward had been unfaithful to Leonora, to Mrs Basil and to the
memories of the other two, he might be unfaithful to herself. And, no
doubt, she had her share of the sex instinct that makes women be
intolerably cruel to the beloved person. Anyhow, I don't know whether,
at this point, Nancy Rufford loved Edward Ashburnham. I don't know
whether she even loved him when, on getting, at Aden, the news of his
suicide she went mad. Because that may just as well have been for the
sake of Leonora as for the sake of Edward. Or it may have been for the
sake of both of them. I don't know. I know nothing. I am very tired.
Leonora held passionately the doctrine that the girl didn't love Edward.
She wanted desperately to believe that. It was a doctrine as necessary
to her existence as a belief in the personal immortality of the soul.
She said that it was impossible that Nancy could have loved Edward after
she had given the girl her view of Edward's career and character.
Edward, on the other hand, believed maunderingly that some essential
attractiveness in himself must have made the girl continue to go on
loving him--to go on loving him, as it were, in underneath her official
aspect of hatred. He thought she only pretended to hate him in order to
save her face and he thought that her quite atrocious telegram from
Brindisi was only another attempt to do that--to prove that she had
feelings creditable to a member of the feminine commonweal. I don't
know. I leave it to you.
There is another point that worries me a good deal in the aspects of
this sad affair. Leonora says that, in desiring that the girl should go
five thousand miles away and yet continue to love him, Edward was a
monster of selfishness. He was desiring the ruin of a young life. Edward
on the other hand put it to me that, supposing that the girl's love was
a necessity to his existence, and, if he did nothing by word or by
action to keep Nancy's love alive, he couldn't be called selfish.
Leonora replied that showed he had an abominably selfish nature even
though his actions might be perfectly correct. I can't make out which of
them was right. I leave it to you.
it is, at any rate, certain that Edward's actions were perfectly--were
monstrously, were cruelly--correct. He sat still and let Leonora take
away his character, and let Leonora damn him to deepest hell, without
stirring a finger. I daresay he was a fool; I don't see what object
there was in letting the girl think worse of him than was necessary.
Still there it is. And there it is also that all those three presented
to the world the spectacle of being the best of good people. I assure
you that during my stay for that fortnight in that fine old house, I
never so much as noticed a single thing that could have affected that
good opinion. And even when I look back, knowing the circumstances, I
can't remember a single thing any of them said that could have betrayed
them. I can't remember, right up to the dinner, when Leonora read out
that telegram--not the tremor of an eyelash, not the shaking of a hand.
It was just a pleasant country house-party.
And Leonora kept it up jolly well, for even longer than that--she kept
it up as far as I was concerned until eight days after Edward's funeral.
Immediately after that particular dinner--the dinner at which I received
the announcement that Nancy was going to leave for India on the
following day--I asked Leonora to let me have a word with her. She took
me into her little sitting-room and I then said--I spare you the record
of my emotions--that she was aware that I wished to marry Nancy; that
she had seemed to favour my suit and that it appeared to be rather a
waste of money upon tickets and rather a waste of time upon travel to
let the girl go to India if Leonora thought that there was any chance of
her marrying me.
And Leonora, I assure you, was the absolutely perfect British matron.
She said that she quite favoured my suit; that she could not desire for
the girl a better husband; but that she considered that the girl ought
to see a little more of life before taking such an important step. Yes,
Leonora used the words "taking such an important step". She was perfect.
Actually, I think she would have liked the girl to marry me enough but
my programme included the buying of the Kershaw's house about a mile
away upon the Fordingbridge road, and settling down there with the girl.
That didn't at all suit Leonora. She didn't want to have the girl within
a mile and a half of Edward for the rest of their lives. Still, I think
she might have managed to let me know, in some periphrasis or other,
that I might have the girl if I would take her to Philadelphia or
Timbuctoo. I loved Nancy very much--and Leonora knew it.
However, I left it at that. I left it with the understanding that Nancy
was going away to India on probation. It seemed to me a perfectly
reasonable arrangement and I am a reasonable sort of man. I simply said
that I should follow Nancy out to India after six months' time or so.
Or, perhaps, after a year. Well, you see, I did follow Nancy out to
India after a year. . . .
I must confess to having felt a little angry with Leonora for not having
warned me earlier that the girl would be going. I took it as one of the
queer, not very straight methods that Roman Catholics seem to adopt in
dealing with matters of this world. I took it that Leonora had been
afraid I should propose to the girl or, at any rate, have made
considerably greater advances to her than I did, if I had known earlier
that she was going away so soon. Perhaps Leonora was right; perhaps
Roman Catholics, with their queer, shifty ways, are always right. They
are dealing with the queer, shifty thing that is human nature. For it is
quite possible that, if I had known Nancy was going away so soon, I
should have tried making love to her. And that would have produced
another complication. It may have been just as well.
It is queer the fantastic things that quite good people will do in order
to keep up their appearance of calm pococurantism. For Edward Ashburnham
and his wife called me half the world over in order to sit on the back
seat of a dog-cart whilst Edward drove the girl to the railway station
from which she was to take her departure to India. They wanted, I
suppose, to have a witness of the calmness of that function. The girl's
luggage had been already packed and sent off before. Her berth on the
steamer had been taken. They had timed it all so exactly that it went
like clockwork. They had known the date upon which Colonel Rufford would
get Edward's letter and they had known almost exactly the hour at which
they would receive his telegram asking his daughter to come to him. It
had all been quite beautifully and quite mercilessly arranged, by Edward
himself. They gave Colonel Rufford, as a reason for telegraphing, the
fact that Mrs Colonel Somebody or other would be travelling by that ship
and that she would serve as an efficient chaperon for the girl. It was a
most amazing business, and I think that it would have been better in the
eyes of God if they had all attempted to gouge out each other's eyes
with carving knives. But they were "good people".
After my interview with Leonora I went desultorily into Edward's
gun-room. I didn't know where the girl was and I thought I mind find her
there. I suppose I had a vague idea of proposing to her in spite of
Leonora. So, I presume, I don't come of quite such good people as the
Ashburnhams. Edward was lounging in his chair smoking a cigar and he
said nothing for quite five minutes. The candles glowed in the green
shades; the reflections were green in the glasses of the book-cases that
held guns and fishing-rods. Over the mantelpiece was the brownish
picture of the white horse. Those were the quietest moments that I have
ever known. Then, suddenly, Edward looked me straight in the eyes and
"Look here, old man, I wish you would drive with Nancy and me to the
I said that of course I would drive with him and Nancy to the station on
the morrow. He lay there for a long time, looking along the line of his
knees at the fluttering fire, and then suddenly, in a perfectly calm
voice, and without lifting his eyes, he said:
"I am so desperately in love with Nancy Rufford that I am dying of it."
Poor devil--he hadn't meant to speak of it. But I guess he just had to
speak to somebody and I appeared to be like a woman or a solicitor. He
talked all night.
Well, he carried out the programme to the last breath.
It was a very clear winter morning, with a good deal of frost in it. The
sun was quite bright, the winding road between the heather and the
bracken was very hard. I sat on the back-seat of the dog-cart; Nancy was
beside Edward. They talked about the way the cob went; Edward pointed
out with the whip a cluster of deer upon a coombe three-quarters of a
mile away. We passed the hounds in the level bit of road beside the high
trees going into Fordingbridge and Edward pulled up the dog-cart so that
Nancy might say good-bye to the huntsman and cap him a last sovereign.
She had ridden with those hounds ever since she had been thirteen.
The train was five minutes late and they imagined that that was because
it was market-day at Swindon or wherever the train came from. That was
the sort of thing they talked about. The train came in; Edward found her
a first-class carriage with an elderly woman in it. The girl entered the
carriage, Edward closed the door and then she put out her hand to shake
mine. There was upon those people's faces no expression of any kind
whatever. The signal for the train's departure was a very bright red;
that is about as passionate a statement as I can get into that scene.
She was not looking her best; she had on a cap of brown fur that did not
very well match her hair. She said:
"So long," to Edward.
Edward answered: "So long."
He swung round on his heel and, large, slouching, and walking with a
heavy deliberate pace, he went out of the station. I followed him and
got up beside him in the high dog-cart. It was the most horrible
performance I have ever seen.
And, after that, a holy peace, like the peace of God which passes all
understanding, descended upon Branshaw Teleragh. Leonora went about her
daily duties with a sort of triumphant smile--a very faint smile, but
quite triumphant. I guess she had so long since given up any idea of
getting her man back that it was enough for her to have got the girl out
of the house and well cured of her infatuation. Once, in the hall, when
Leonora was going out, Edward said, beneath his breath--but I just
caught the words:
"Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean."
It was like his sentimentality to quote Swinburne.
But he was perfectly quiet and he had given up drinking. The only thing
that he ever said to me after that drive to the station was:
"It's very odd. I think I ought to tell you, Dowell, that I haven't any
feelings at all about the girl now it's all over. Don't you worry about
me. I'm all right." A long time afterwards he said: "I guess it was only
a flash in the pan." He began to look after the estates again; he took
all that trouble over getting off the gardener's daughter who had
murdered her baby. He shook hands smilingly with every farmer in the
market-place. He addressed two political meetings; he hunted twice.
Leonora made him a frightful scene about spending the two hundred pounds
on getting the gardener's daughter acquitted. Everything went on as if
the girl had never existed. It was very still weather.
Well, that is the end of the story. And, when I come to look at it I see
that it is a happy ending with wedding bells and all. The villains--for
obviously Edward and the girl were villains--have been punished by
suicide and madness. The heroine--the perfectly normal, virtuous and
slightly deceitful heroine--has become the happy wife of a perfectly
normal, virtuous and slightly deceitful husband. She will shortly become
a mother of a perfectly normal, virtuous slightly deceitful son or
daughter. A happy ending, that is what it works out at.
I cannot conceal from myself the fact that I now dislike Leonora.
Without doubt I am jealous of Rodney Bayham. But I don't know whether it
is merely a jealousy arising from the fact that I desired myself to
possess Leonora or whether it is because to her were sacrificed the only
two persons that I have ever really loved--Edward Ashburnham and Nancy
Rufford. In order to set her up in a modern mansion, replete with every
convenience and dominated by a quite respectable and eminently
economical master of the house, it was necessary that Edward and Nancy
Rufford should become, for me at least, no more than tragic shades.
I seem to see poor Edward, naked and reclining amidst darkness, upon
cold rocks, like one of the ancient Greek damned, in Tartarus or
wherever it was.
And as for Nancy . . . Well, yesterday at lunch she said suddenly:
And she repeated the word "shuttlecocks" three times. I know what was
passing in her mind, if she can be said to have a mind, for Leonora has
told me that, once, the poor girl said she felt like a shuttlecock being
tossed backwards and forwards between the violent personalities of
Edward and his wife. Leonora, she said, was always trying to deliver her
over to Edward, and Edward tacitly and silently forced her back again.
And the odd thing was that Edward himself considered that those two
women used him like a shuttlecock. Or, rather, he said that they sent
him backwards and forwards like a blooming parcel that someone didn't
want to pay the postage on. And Leonora also imagined that Edward and
Nancy picked her up and threw her down as suited their purely vagrant
moods. So there you have the pretty picture. Mind, I am not preaching
anything contrary to accepted morality. I am not advocating free love in
this or any other case. Society must go on, I suppose, and society can
only exist if the normal, if the virtuous, and the slightly deceitful
flourish, and if the passionate, the headstrong, and the too-truthful
are condemned to suicide and to madness. But I guess that I myself, in
my fainter way, come into the category of the passionate, of the
headstrong, and the too-truthful. For I can't conceal from myself the
fact that I loved Edward Ashburnham--and that I love him because he was
just myself. If I had had the courage and virility and possibly also the
physique of Edward Ashburnham I should, I fancy, have done much what he
did. He seems to me like a large elder brother who took me out on
several excursions and did many dashing things whilst I just watched him
robbing the orchards, from a distance. And, you see, I am just as much
of a sentimentalist as he was. . . .
Yes, society must go on; it must breed, like rabbits. That is what we
are here for. But then, I don't like society--much. I am that absurd
figure, an American millionaire, who has bought one of the ancient
haunts of English peace. I sit here, in Edward's gun-room, all day and
all day in a house that is absolutely quiet. No one visits me, for I
visit no one. No one is interested in me, for I have no interests. In
twenty minutes or so I shall walk down to the village, beneath my own
oaks, alongside my own clumps of gorse, to get the American mail. My
tenants, the village boys and the tradesmen will touch their hats to me.
So life peters out. I shall return to dine and Nancy will sit opposite
me with the old nurse standing behind her. Enigmatic, silent, utterly
well-behaved as far as her knife and fork go, Nancy will stare in front
of her with the blue eyes that have over them strained, stretched brows.
Once, or perhaps twice, during the meal her knife and fork will be
suspended in mid-air as if she were trying to think of something that
she had forgotten. Then she will say that she believes in an Omnipotent
Deity or she will utter the one word "shuttle-cocks", perhaps. It is
very extraordinary to see the perfect flush of health on her cheeks, to
see the lustre of her coiled black hair, the poise of the head upon the
neck, the grace of the white hands--and to think that it all means
nothing--that it is a picture without a meaning. Yes, it is queer.
But, at any rate, there is always Leonora to cheer you up; I don't want
to sadden you. Her husband is quite an economical person of so normal a
figure that he can get quite a large proportion of his clothes
ready-made. That is the great desideratum of life, and that is the end
of my story. The child is to be brought up as a Romanist.
It suddenly occurs to me that I have forgotten to say how Edward met his
death. You remember that peace had descended upon the house; that
Leonora was quietly triumphant and that Edward said his love for the
girl had been merely a passing phase. Well, one afternoon we were in the
stables together, looking at a new kind of flooring that Edward was
trying in a loose-box. Edward was talking with a good deal of animation
about the necessity of getting the numbers of the Hampshire territorials
up to the proper standard. He was quite sober, quite quiet, his skin was
clear-coloured; his hair was golden and perfectly brushed; the level
brick-dust red of his complexion went clean up to the rims of his
eyelids; his eyes were porcelain blue and they regarded me frankly and
directly. His face was perfectly expressionless; his voice was deep and
rough. He stood well back upon his legs and said: .
"We ought to get them up to two thousand three hundred and fifty." A
stable-boy brought him a telegram and went away. He opened it
negligently, regarded it without emotion, and, in complete silence,
handed it to me. On the pinkish paper in a sprawled handwriting I read:
"Safe Brindisi. Having rattling good time. Nancy."
Well, Edward was the English gentleman; but he was also, to the last, a
sentimentalist, whose mind was compounded of indifferent poems and
novels. He just looked up to the roof of the stable, as if he were
looking to Heaven, and whispered something that I did not catch.
Then he put two fingers into the waistcoat pocket of his grey, frieze
suit; they came out with a little neat pen-knife--quite a small
pen-knife. He said to me:
"You might just take that wire to Leonora." And he looked at me with a
direct, challenging, brow-beating glare. I guess he could see in my eyes
that I didn't intend to hinder him. Why should I hinder him?
I didn't think he was wanted in the world, let his confounded tenants,
his rifle-associations, his drunkards, reclaimed and unreclaimed, get on
as they liked. Not all the hundreds and hundreds of them deserved that
that poor devil should go on suffering for their sakes.
When he saw that I did not intend to interfere with him his eyes became
soft and almost affectionate. He remarked:
"So long, old man, I must have a bit of a rest, you know."
I didn't know what to say. I wanted to say, "God bless you", for I also
am a sentimentalist. But I thought that perhaps that would not be quite
English good form, so I trotted off with the telegram to Leonora. She
was quite pleased with it.