The Good Soldier
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
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 everlasting souls?
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
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
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 here?
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
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 womankind?
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 with indifference.
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 story?
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, but 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
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 closing
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 doubt.
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 Edward Ashburnham.
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,
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 Florence saying:
"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
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 concerned. 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 Welter Stakes.
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
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
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 Thirtieth.
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
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 Talk.
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
flocks 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 clutching it:
"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 with me.
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
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 abuse. 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 bent.
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
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
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
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 him.
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
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
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
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 childless
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 remorse.
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 technically Nonconformists.
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
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 strong.
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 kitchenmaid.
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, she 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 obligations.
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
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
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
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 containing
fifteen different sizes of scissors, 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 play up.
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
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 the
"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 like:
"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
"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, Domine, 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. It 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
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
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,
"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
"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
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 out 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 be 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 afterwards.
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 marry me.
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 Florence to her aunt's
"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
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
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 for Florence.
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 burnt
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—and 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
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
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
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 her.
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 Fordingbridge.
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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 it all.
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 calmness:
"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
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
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
"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 pectoris.
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 inconceivable.
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 walking dead.
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
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 fine fellow.
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
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
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 footling 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.—O, 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 me.
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
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
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 her.
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 say:
"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
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
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 vigilance.
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 Leonora
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
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
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 world.
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 hazard.
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
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 judgements, 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 about it.
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 period.
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
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 a 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 have 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 gentle 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 Ashburnham.
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
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
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
"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
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 well.
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
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 Basil 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 longer."
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 situation.
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 better
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
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 him 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 Leonora, 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
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 heart
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
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-battle 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 Nauheim 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
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 his
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
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
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
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 said:
"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
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 good stirrup.
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
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 Florence.
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! My God!
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
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 herself.
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 affair,
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 Teleragh.
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
Foulkes 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
"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
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,
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
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 harm.
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 as
her uncle and her aunt. It was a conviction that came very slowly.
It began with Edward's giving an oldish horse to a young fellow called
Selmes. Selmes' father had been ruined by a 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 said
"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
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
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 pleasure 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
Well, she left a lasting wheal, and her words cut deeply into the girl's
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 me!" 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
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 Leonora
"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
"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 hand.
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
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
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
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
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 fireplace.
"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
"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
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
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
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 fallen mother.
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 again:
"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
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
"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 that 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
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 Ashburnham.
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
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 your life."
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
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 might 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 said:
"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
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
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.
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