Part 4 out of 4
at drawing the handle at the same moment toward her, so as to cut
deep into the flesh and to leave a lasting wheal.
Well, she left a lasting wheal, and her words cut deeply into the
girl's mind. . . .
They neither of them spoke about that again. A fortnight went
by--a fortnight of deep rains, of heavy fields, of bad scent.
Leonora's headaches seemed to have gone for good. She hunted
once or twice, letting herself be piloted by Bayham, whilst
Edward looked after the girl. Then, one evening, when those three
were dining alone, Edward said, in the queer, deliberate, heavy
tones that came out of him in those days (he was looking at the
"I have been thinking that Nancy ought to do more for her father.
He is getting an old man. I have written to Colonel Rufford,
suggesting that she should go to him."
Leonora called out:
"How dare you? How dare you?"
The girl put her hand over her heart and cried out: "Oh, my sweet
Saviour, help mel" That was the queer way she thought within her
mind, and the words forced themselves to her lips. Edward said
And that night, by a merciless trick of the devil that pays attention
to this sweltering hell of ours, Nancy Rufford had a letter from her
mother. It came whilst Leonora was talking to Edward, or Leonora
would have intercepted it as she had intercepted others. It was an
amazing and a horrible letter. . . .
I don't know what it contained. I just average out from its effects
on Nancy that her mother, having eloped with some worthless sort
of fellow, had done what is called "sinking lower and lower".
Whether she was actually on the streets I do not know, but I rather
think that she eked out a small allowance that she had from her
husband by that means of livelihood. And I think that she stated as
much in her letter to Nancy and upbraided the girl with living in
luxury whilst her mother starved. And it must have been horrible
in tone, for Mrs Rufford was a cruel sort of woman at the best of
times. It must have seemed to that poor girl, opening her letter, for
distraction from another grief, up in her bedroom, like the laughter
of a devil.
I just cannot bear to think of my poor dear girl at that moment. . . .
And, at the same time, Leonora was lashing, like a cold fiend, into
the unfortunate Edward. Or, perhaps, he was not so unfortunate;
because he had done what he knew to be the right thing, he may
be deemed happy. I leave it to you. At any rate, he was sitting in
his deep chair, and Leonora came into his room--for the first time
in nine years. She said:
"This is the most atrocious thing you have done in your atrocious
life." He never moved and he never looked at her. God knows
what was in Leonora's mind exactly.
I like to think that, uppermost in it was concern and horror at the
thought of the poor girl's going back to a father whose voice made
her shriek in the night. And, indeed, that motive was very strong
with Leonora. But I think there was also present the thought that
she wanted to go on torturing Edward with the girl's presence. She
was, at that time, capable of that.
Edward was sunk in his chair; there were in the room two candles,
hidden by green glass shades. The green shades were reflected in
the glasses of the book-cases that contained not books but guns
with gleaming brown barrels and fishing-rods in green baize
over-covers. There was dimly to be seen, above a mantelpiece
encumbered with spurs, hooves and bronze models of horses, a
dark-brown picture of a white horse.
"If you think," Leonora said, "that I do not know that you are in
love with the girl . . ." She began spiritedly, but she could not find
any ending for the sentence. Edward did not stir; he never spoke.
And then Leonora said:
"If you want me to divorce you, I will. You can marry her then.
She's in love with you."
He groaned at that, a little, Leonora said. Then she went away.
Heaven knows what happened in Leonora after that. She certainly
does not herself know. She probably said a good deal more to
Edward than I have been able to report; but that is all that she has
told me and I am not going to make up speeches. To follow her
psychological development of that moment I think we must allow
that she upbraided him for a great deal of their past life, whilst
Edward sat absolutely silent. And, indeed, in speaking of it
afterwards, she has said several times: "I said a great deal more to
him than I wanted to, just because he was so silent." She talked, in
fact, in the endeavour to sting him into speech.
She must have said so much that, with the expression of her
grievance, her mood changed. She went back to her own room in
the gallery, and sat there for a long time thinking. And she thought
herself into a mood of absolute unselfishness, of absolute
self-contempt, too. She said to herself that she was no good; that
she had failed in all her efforts--in her efforts to get Edward back
as in her efforts to make him curb his expenditure. She imagined
herself to be exhausted; she imagined herself to be done. Then a
great fear came over her.
She thought that Edward, after what she had said to him, must
have committed suicide. She went out on to the gallery and
listened; there was no sound in all the house except the regular
beat of the great clock in the hall. But, even in her debased
condition, she was not the person to hang about. She acted. She
went straight to Edward's room, opened the door, and looked in.
He was oiling the breech action of a gun. It was an unusual thing
for him to do, at that time of night, in his evening clothes. It never
occurred to her, nevertheless, that he was going to shoot himself
with that implement. She knew that he was doing it just for
occupation--to keep himself from thinking. He looked up when
she opened the door, his face illuminated by the light cast
upwards from the round orifices in the green candle shades.
"I didn't imagine that I should find Nancy here." She thought that
she owed that to him. He answered then:
"I don't imagine that you did imagine it." Those were the only
words he spoke that night. She went, like a lame duck, back
through the long corridors; she stumbled over the familiar tiger
skins in the dark hall. She could hardly drag one limb after the
other. In the gallery she perceived that Nancy's door was half open
and that there was a light in the girl's room. A sudden madness
possessed her, a desire for action, a thirst for self-explanation.
Their rooms all gave on to the gallery; Leonora's to the east, the
girl's next, then Edward's. The sight of those three open doors,
side by side, gaping to receive whom the chances of the black
night might bring, made Leonora shudder all over her body. She
went into Nancy's room.
The girl was sitting perfectly still in an armchair, very upright, as
she had been taught to sit at the convent. She appeared to be as
calm as a church; her hair fell, black and like a pall, down over
both her shoulders. The fire beside her was burning brightly; she
must have just put coals on. She was in a white silk kimono that
covered her to the feet. The clothes that she had taken off were
exactly folded upon the proper seats. Her long hands were one
upon each arm of the chair that had a pink and white chintz back.
Leonora told me these things. She seemed to think it extraordinary
that the girl could have done such orderly things as fold up the
clothes she had taken off upon such a night--when Edward had
announced that he was going to send her to her father, and when,
from her mother, she had received that letter. The letter, in its
envelope, was in her right 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
It was one of those moments when thinking was impossible,
Leonora said. It was as if stones were being thrown at her from
every direction and she could only run. She heard herself exclaim:
"Edward's dying--because of you. He's dying. He's worth more than
either of us. . . ."
The girl looked past her at the panels of the half-closed door.
"My poor father," she said, "my poor father." "You must stay
here," Leonora answered fiercely. "You must stay here. I tell you
you must stay here."
"I am going to Glasgow," Nancy answered. "I shall go to Glasgow
tomorrow morning. My mother is in Glasgow."
It appears that it was in Glasgow that Mrs Rufford pursued her
disorderly life. She had selected that city, not because it was more
profitable but because it was the natal home of her husband to
whom she desired to cause as much pain as possible.
"You must stay here," Leonora began, "to save Edward. He's dying
for love of you."
The girl turned her calm eyes upon Leonora. "I know it," she said.
"And I am dying for love of him."
Leonora uttered an "Ah," that, in spite of herself, was an "Ah" of
horror and of grief.
"That is why," the girl continued, "I am going to Glasgow--to take
my mother away from there." She added, "To the ends of the
earth," for, if the last months had made her nature that of a
woman, her phrases were still romantically those of a schoolgirl.
It was as if she had grown up so quickly that there had not been
time to put her hair up. But she added: "We're no good--my
mother and I."
Leonora said, with her fierce calmness:
"No. No. You're not no good. It's I that am no good. You can't let
that man go on to ruin for want of you. You must belong to him."
The girl, she said, smiled at her with a queer, far-away smile--as if
she were a thousand years old, as if Leonora were a tiny child.
"I knew you would come to that,' she said, very slowly. "But we
are not worth it--Edward and I."
NANCY had, in fact, been thinking ever since Leonora had made
that comment over the giving of the horse to young Selmes. She
had been thinking and thinking, because she had had to sit for
many days silent beside her aunt's bed. (She had always thought of
Leonora as her aunt.) And she had had to sit thinking during many
silent meals with Edward. And then, at times, with his bloodshot
eyes and creased, heavy mouth, he would smile at her. And
gradually the knowledge had come to her that Edward did not love
Leonora and that Leonora hated Edward. Several things
contributed to form and to harden this conviction. She was
allowed to read the papers in those days--or, rather, since Leonora
was always on her bed and Edward breakfasted alone and went out
early, over the estate, she was left alone with the papers. One day,
in the papers, she saw the portrait of a woman she knew very well.
Beneath it she read the words: "The Hon. Mrs Brand, plaintiff in
the remarkable divorce case reported on p. 8." Nancy hardly knew
what a divorce case was. She had been so remarkably well
brought up, and Roman Catholics do not practise divorce. I don't
know how Leonora had done it exactly. I suppose she had always
impressed it on Nancy's mind that nice women did not read these
things, and that would have been enough to make Nancy skip
She read, at any rate, the account of the Brand divorce
case--principally because she wanted to tell Leonora about it. She
imagined that Leonora, when her headache left her, would like to
know what was happening to Mrs Brand, who lived at
Christchurch, and whom they both liked very well. The case
occupied three days, and the report that Nancy first came upon was
that of the third day. Edward, however, kept the papers of the
week, after his methodical fashion, in a rack in his gun-room, and
when she had finished her breakfast Nancy went to that quiet
apartment and had what she would have called a good read. It
seemed to her to be a queer affair. She could not understand why
one counsel should be so anxious to know all about the
movements of Mr Brand upon a certain day; she could not
understand why a chart of the bedroom accommodation at
Christchurch Old Hall should be produced in court. She did not
even see why they should want to know that, upon a certain
occasion, the drawing-room door was locked. It made her laugh; it
appeared to be all so senseless that grown people should occupy
themselves with such matters. It struck her, nevertheless, as odd
that one of the counsel should cross-question Mr Brand so
insistently and so impertinently as to his feelings for Miss Lupton.
Nancy knew Miss Lupton of Ringwood very well--a jolly girl, who
rode a horse with two white fetlocks. Mr Brand persisted that he
did not love Miss Lupton. . . . Well, of course he did not love Miss
Lupton; he was a married man. You might as well think of Uncle
Edward loving . . . loving anybody but Leonora. When people were
married there was an end of loving. There were, no doubt, people
who misbehaved--but they were poor people--or people not like
those she knew. So these matters presented themselves to Nancy's
mind. But later on in the case she found that Mr Brand had to
confess to a "guilty intimacy" with some one or other. Nancy
imagined that he must have been telling some one his wife's
secrets; she could not understand why that was a serious offence.
Of course it was not very gentlemanly--it lessened her opinion of
Mrs Brand. But since she found that Mrs Brand had condoned that
offence, she imagined that they could not have been very serious
secrets that Mr Brand had told. And then, suddenly, it was forced
on her conviction that Mr Brand--the mild Mr Brand that she had
seen a month or two before their departure to Nauheim, playing
"Blind Man's Buff" with his children and kissing his wife when he
caught her--Mr Brand and Mrs Brand had been on the worst
possible terms. That was incredible.
Yet there it was--in black and white. Mr Brand drank; Mr Brand
had struck Mrs Brand to the ground when he was drunk. Mr Brand
was adjudged, in two or three abrupt words, at the end of columns
and columns of paper, to have been guilty of cruelty to his wife
and to have committed adultery with Miss Lupton. The last words
conveyed nothing to Nancy--nothing real, that is to say. She knew
that one was commanded not to commit adultery--but why, she
thought, should one? It was probably something like catching
salmon out of season--a thing one did not do. She gathered it had
something to do with kissing, or holding some one in your arms. .
And yet the whole effect of that reading upon Nancy was
mysterious, terrifying and evil. She felt a sickness--a sickness that
grew as she read. Her heart beat painfully; she began to cry. She
asked God how He could permit such things to be. And she was
more certain that Edward did not love Leonora and that Leonora
hated Edward. Perhaps, then, Edward loved some one else. It was
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
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
"I thought," Nancy said, "I never imagined. . . . Aren't marriages
sacraments? Aren't they indissoluble? I thought you were married .
. . and . . ." She was sobbing. "I thought you were married or not
married as you are alive or dead." "That," Leonora said, "is the
law of the church. It is not the law of the land. . . ."
"Oh yes," Nancy said, "the Brands are Protestants." She felt a
sudden safeness descend upon her, and for an hour or so her mind
was at rest. It seemed to her idiotic not to have remembered Henry
VIII and the basis upon which Protestantism rests. She almost
laughed at herself.
The long afternoon wore on; the flames still fluttered when the
maid made up the fire; the St Bernard awoke and lolloped away
towards the kitchen. And then Leonora opened her eyes and said
"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 me."
"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 married."
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
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 comfort Leonora.
Then came the desperate shock of the letter from her mother. Her
mother said, I believe, something like: "You have no right to go
on living your life of prosperity and respect. You ought to be on
the streets with me. How do you know that you are even Colonel
Rufford's daughter?" She did not know what these words meant.
She thought of her mother as sleeping beneath the arches whilst
the snow fell. That was the impression conveyed to her mind by
the words "on the streets". A Platonic sense of duty gave her the
idea that she ought to go to comfort her mother--the mother that
bore her, though she hardly knew what the words meant. At the
same time she knew that her mother had left her father with
another man--therefore she pitied her father, and thought it
terrible in herself that she trembled at the sound of her father's
voice. If her mother was that sort of woman it was natural that her
father should have had accesses of madness in which he had struck
herself to the ground. And the voice of her conscience said to her
that her first duty was to her parents. It was in accord with this
awakened sense of duty that she undressed with great care and
meticulously folded the clothes that she took off. Sometimes, but
not very often, she threw them helter-skelter about the room.
And that sense of duty was her prevailing mood when Leonora,
tall, clean-run, golden-haired, all in black, appeared in her
doorway, and told her that Edward was dying of love for her. She
knew then with her conscious mind what she had known within
herself for months--that Edward was dying--actually and
physically dying--of love for her. It seemed to her that for one
short moment her spirit could say: "Domine, nunc dimittis, . . .
Lord, now, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace." She imagined
that she could cheerfully go away to Glasgow and rescue her
AND it seemed to her to be in tune with the mood, with the hour,
and with the woman in front of her to say that she knew Edward
was dying of love for her and that she was dying of love for
Edward. For that fact had suddenly slipped into place and become
real for her as the niched marker on a whist tablet slips round with
the pressure of your thumb. That rubber at least was made.
And suddenly Leonora seemed to have become different and she
seemed to have become different in her attitude towards Leonora.
It was as if she, in her frail, white, silken kimono, sat beside her
fire, but upon a throne. It was as if Leonora, in her close dress of
black lace, with the gleaming white shoulders and the coiled
yellow hair that the girl had always considered the most beautiful
thing in the world--it was as if Leonora had become pinched,
shrivelled, blue with cold, shivering, suppliant. Yet Leonora was
commanding her. It was no good commanding her. She was going
on the morrow to her mother who was in Glasgow.
Leonora went on saying that she must stay there to save Edward,
who was dying of love for her. And, proud and happy in the
thought that Edward loved her, and that she loved him, she did not
even listen to what Leonora said. It appeared to her that it was
Leonora's business to save her husband's body; she, Nancy,
possessed his soul--a precious thing that she would shield and
bear away up in her arms--as if Leonora were a hungry dog, trying
to spring up at a lamb that she was carrying. Yes, she felt as if
Edward's love were a precious lamb that she were bearing away
from a cruel and predatory beast. For, at that time, Leonora
appeared to her as a cruel and predatory beast. Leonora, Leonora
with her hunger, with her cruelty had driven Edward to madness.
He must be sheltered by his love for her and by her love--her love
from a great distance and unspoken, enveloping him, surrounding
him, upholding him; by her voice speaking from Glasgow, saying
that she loved, that she adored, that she passed no moment
without longing, loving, quivering at the thought of him.
Leonora said loudly, insistently, with a bitterly imperative tone:
"You must stay here; you must belong to Edward. I will divorce
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
"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 his voice:
"Give me Glasgow . . . Glasgow, in Scotland . . I want the number
of a man called White, of Simrock Park, Glasgow . . . Edward
White, Simrock Park, Glasgow . . . ten minutes . . . at this time of
night . . ." His voice was quite level, normal, and patient. Alcohol
took him in the legs, not the speech. "I can wait," his voice came
again. "Yes, I know they have a number. I have been in
communication with them before."
"He is going to telephone to your mother," Leonora said. "He will
make it all right for her." She got up and closed the door. She
came back to the fire, and added bitterly: "He can always make it
all right for everybody, except me--excepting me!"
The girl said nothing. She sat there in a blissful dream. She
seemed to see her lover sitting as he always sat, in a round-backed
chair, in the dark hall--sitting low, with the receiver at his ear,
talking in a gentle, slow voice, that he reserved for the
telephone--and saving the world and her, in the black darkness.
She moved her hand over the bareness of the base of her throat, to
have the warmth of flesh upon it and upon her bosom.
She said nothing; Leonora went on talking. . . .
God knows what Leonora said. She repeated that the girl must
belong to her husband. She said that she used that phrase because,
though she might have a divorce, or even a dissolution of the
marriage by the Church, it would still be adultery that the girl and
Edward would be committing. But she said that that was
necessary; it was the price that the girl must pay for the sin of
having made Edward love her, for the sin of loving her husband.
She talked on and on, beside the fire. The girl must become an
adulteress; she had wronged Edward by being so beautiful, so
gracious, so good. It was sinful to be so good. She must pay the
price so as to save the man she had wronged.
In between her pauses the girl could hear the voice of Edward,
droning on, indistinguishably, with jerky pauses for replies. It
made her glow with pride; the man she loved was working for her.
He at least was resolved; was malely determined; knew the right
thing. Leonora talked on with her eyes boring into Nancy's. The
girl hardly looked at her and hardly heard her. After a long time
Nancy said--after hours and hours:
"I shall go to India as soon as Edward hears from my father. I
cannot talk about these things, because Edward does not wish it."
At that Leonora screamed out and wavered swiftly towards the
closed door. And Nancy found that she was springing out of her
chair with her white arms stretched wide. She was clasping the
other woman to her breast; she was saying:
"Oh, my poor dear; oh, my poor dear." And they sat, crouching
together in each other's arms, and crying and crying; and they lay
down in the same bed, talking and talking, all through the night.
And all through the night Edward could hear their voices through
the wall. That was how it went. . . . Next morning they were all
three as if nothing had happened. Towards eleven Edward came to
Nancy, who was arranging some Christmas roses in a silver bowl.
He put a telegram beside her on the table. "You can uncode it for
yourself," he said. Then, as he went out of the door, he said: "You
can tell your aunt I have cabled to Mr Dowell to come over. He
will make things easier till you leave." The telegram when it was
uncoded, read, as far as I can remember: "Will take Mrs Rufford
to Italy. Undertake to do this for certain. Am devotedly attached to
Mrs Rufford. Have no need of financial assistance. Did not know
there was a daughter, and am much obliged to you for pointing out
my duty.--White." It was something like that. Then the household
resumed its wonted course of days until my arrival.
V 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,
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
Colonel Rufford said the doctor did not anticipate that there was
any chance of his child's recovery. It was, nevertheless, possible
that if she could see someone from Branshaw it might soothe her
and it might have a good effect. And he just simply wrote to
Leonora: "Please come and see if you can do it."
I seem to have lost all sense of the pathetic; but still, that simple,
enormous request of the old colonel strikes me as pathetic. He was
cursed by his atrocious temper; he had been cursed by a half-mad
wife, who drank and went on the streets. His daughter was totally
mad--and yet he believed in the goodness of human nature. He
believed that Leonora would take the trouble to go all the way to
Ceylon in order to soothe his daughter. Leonora wouldn't. Leonora
didn't ever want to see Nancy again. I daresay that that, in the
circumstances, was natural enough. At the same time she agreed,
as it were, on public grounds, that someone soothing ought to go
from Branshaw to Ceylon. She sent me and her old nurse, who
had looked after Nancy from the time when the girl, a child of
thirteen, had first come to Branshaw. So off I go, rushing through
Provence, to catch the steamer at Marseilles. And I wasn't the
least good when I got to Ceylon; and the nurse wasn't the least
good. Nothing has been the least good. The doctors said, at
Kandy, that if Nancy could be brought to England, the sea air, the
change of climate, the voyage, and all the usual sort of things,
might restore her reason. Of course, they haven't restored her
reason. She is, I am aware, sitting in the hall, forty paces from
where I am now writing. I don't want to be in the least romantic
about it. She is very well dressed; she is quite quiet; she is very
beautiful. The old nurse looks after her very efficiently.
Of course you have the makings of a situation here, but it is all
very humdrum, as far as I am concerned. I should marry Nancy if
her reason were ever sufficiently restored to let her appreciate the
meaning of the Anglican marriage service. But it is probable that
her reason will never be sufficiently restored to let her appreciate
the meaning of the Anglican marriage service. Therefore I cannot
marry her, according to the law of the land.
So here I am very much where I started thirteen years ago. I am the
attendant, not the husband, of a beautiful girl, who pays no
attention to me. I am estranged from Leonora, who married
Rodney Bayham in my absence and went to live at Bayham.
Leonora rather dislikes me, because she has got it into her head
that I disapprove of her marriage with Rodney Bayham. Well, I
disapprove of her marriage. Possibly I am jealous. Yes, no doubt I
am jealous. In my fainter sort of way I seem to perceive myself
following the lines of Edward Ashburnham. I suppose that I
should really like to be a polygamist; with Nancy, and with
Leonora, and with Maisie Maidan and possibly even with
Florence. I am no doubt like every other man; only, probably
because of my American origin I am fainter. At the same time I am
able to assure you that I am a strictly respectable person. I have
never done anything that the most anxious mother of a daughter or
the most careful dean of a cathedral would object to. I have only
followed, faintly, and in my unconscious desires, Edward
Ashburnham. Well, it is all over. Not one of us has got what he
really wanted. Leonora wanted Edward, and she has got Rodney
Bayham, a pleasant enough sort of sheep. Florence wanted
Branshaw, and it is I who have bought it from Leonora. I didn't
really want it; what I wanted mostly was to cease being a
nurse-attendant. Well, I am a nurse-attendant. Edward wanted
Nancy Rufford, and I have got her. Only she is mad. It is a queer
and fantastic world. Why can't people have what they want? The
things were all there to content everybody; yet everybody has the
wrong thing. Perhaps you can make head or tail of it; it is beyond
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
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
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
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
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.
VI MY coming on the scene certainly calmed things down--for the
whole fortnight that intervened between my arrival and the girl's
departure. I don't mean to say that the endless talking did not go
on at night or that Leonora did not send me out with the girl and,
in the interval, give Edward a hell of a time. Having discovered
what he wanted--that the girl should go five thousand miles away
and love him steadfastly as people do in sentimental novels, she
was determined to smash that aspiration. And she repeated to
Edward in every possible tone that the girl did not love him; that
the girl detested him for his brutality, his overbearingness, his
drinking habits. She pointed out that Edward in the girl's eyes, was
already pledged three or four deep. He was pledged to Leonora
herself, to Mrs Basil, and to the memories of Maisie Maidan and
to Florence. Edward never said anything.
Did the girl love Edward, or didn't she? I don't know. At that time I
daresay she didn't though she certainly had done so before Leonora
had got to work upon his reputation. She certainly had loved him
for what I call the public side of his record--for his good
soldiering, for his saving lives at sea, for the excellent landlord
that he was and the good sportsman. But it is quite possible that
all those things came to appear as nothing in her eyes when she
discovered that he wasn't a good husband. For, though women, as
I see them, have little or no feeling of responsibility towards a
county or a country or a career--although they may be entirely
lacking in any kind of communal solidarity--they have an
immense and automatically working instinct that attaches them to
the interest of womanhood. It is, of course, possible for any
woman to cut out and to carry off any other woman's husband or
lover. But I rather think that a woman will only do this if she has
reason to believe that the other woman has given her husband a
bad time. I am certain that if she thinks the man has been a brute
to his wife she will, with her instinctive feeling for suffering
femininity, "put him back", as the saying is. I don't attach any
particular importance to these generalizations of mine. They may
be right, they may be wrong; I am only an ageing American with
very little knowledge of life. You may take my generalizations or
leave them. But I am pretty certain that I am right in the case of
Nancy Rufford--that she had loved Edward Ashburnham very
deeply and tenderly.
It is nothing to the point that she let him have it good and strong as
soon as she discovered that he had been unfaithful to Leonora and
that his public services had cost more than Leonora thought they
ought to have cost. Nancy would be bound to let him have it good
and strong then. She would owe that to feminine public opinion;
she would be driven to it by the instinct for self-preservation,
since she might well imagine that if Edward had been unfaithful
to Leonora, to Mrs Basil and to the memories of the other two, he
might be unfaithful to herself. And, no doubt, she had her share of
the sex instinct that makes women be intolerably cruel to the
beloved person. Anyhow, I don't know whether, at this point,
Nancy Rufford loved Edward Ashburnham. I don't know whether
she even loved him when, on getting, at Aden, the news of his
suicide she went mad. Because that may just as well have been for
the sake of Leonora as for the sake of Edward. Or it may have
been for the sake of both of them. I don't know. I know nothing. I
am very tired. Leonora held passionately the doctrine that the girl
didn't love Edward. She wanted desperately to believe that. It was
a doctrine as necessary to her existence as a belief in the personal
immortality of the soul. She said that it was impossible that Nancy
could have loved Edward after she had given the girl her view of
Edward's career and character. Edward, on the other hand,
believed maunderingly that some essential attractiveness in
himself must have made the girl continue to go on loving him--to
go on loving him, as it were, in underneath her official aspect of
hatred. He thought she only pretended to hate him in order to save
her face and he thought that her quite atrocious telegram from
Brindisi was only another attempt to do that--to prove that she had
feelings creditable to a member of the feminine commonweal. I
don't know. I leave it to you. There is another point that worries
me a good deal in the aspects of this sad affair. Leonora says that,
in desiring that the girl should go five thousand miles away and
yet continue to love him, Edward was a monster of selfishness. He
was desiring the ruin of a young life. Edward on the other hand
put it to me that, supposing that the girl's love was a necessity to
his existence, and, if he did nothing by word or by action to keep
Nancy's love alive, he couldn't be called selfish. Leonora replied
that showed he had an abominably selfish nature even though his
actions might be perfectly correct. I can't make out which of them
was right. I leave it to you.
it is, at any rate, certain that Edward's actions were perfectly--were
monstrously, were cruelly--correct. He sat still and let Leonora
take away his character, and let Leonora damn him to deepest
hell, without stirring a finger. I daresay he was a fool; I don't see
what object there was in letting the girl think worse of him than
was necessary. Still there it is. And there it is also that all those
three presented to the world the spectacle of being the best of
good people. I assure you that during my stay for that fortnight in
that fine old house, I never so much as noticed a single thing that
could have affected that good opinion. And even when I look
back, knowing the circumstances, I can't remember a single thing
any of them said that could have betrayed them. I can't remember,
right up to the dinner, when Leonora read out that telegram--not
the tremor of an eyelash, not the shaking of a hand. It was just a
pleasant country house-party.
And Leonora kept it up jolly well, for even longer than that--she
kept it up as far as I was concerned until eight days after Edward's
funeral. Immediately after that particular dinner--the dinner at
which I received the announcement that Nancy was going to leave
for India on the following day--I asked Leonora to let me have a
word with her. She took me into her little sitting-room and I then
said--I spare you the record of my emotions--that she was aware
that I wished to marry Nancy; that she had seemed to favour my
suit and that it appeared to be rather a waste of money upon tickets
and rather a waste of time upon travel to let the girl go to India if
Leonora thought that there was any chance of her marrying me.
And Leonora, I assure you, was the absolutely perfect British
matron. She said that she quite favoured my suit; that she could
not desire for the girl a better husband; but that she considered
that the girl ought to see a little more of life before taking such an
important step. Yes, Leonora used the words "taking such an
important step". She was perfect. Actually, I think she would have
liked the girl to marry me enough but my programme included the
buying of the Kershaw's house about a mile away upon the
Fordingbridge road, and settling down there with the girl. That
didn't at all suit Leonora. She didn't want to have the girl within a
mile and a half of Edward for the rest of their lives. Still, I think
she might have managed to let me know, in some periphrasis or
other, that I might have the girl if I would take her to Philadelphia
or Timbuctoo. I loved Nancy very much--and Leonora knew it.
However, I left it at that. I left it with the understanding that Nancy
was going away to India on probation. It seemed to me a perfectly
reasonable arrangement and I am a reasonable sort of man. I
simply said that I should follow Nancy out to India after six
months' time or so. Or, perhaps, after a year. Well, you see, I did
follow Nancy out to India after a year. . . . I must confess to
having felt a little angry with Leonora for not having warned me
earlier that the girl would be going. I took it as one of the queer,
not very straight methods that Roman Catholics seem to adopt in
dealing with matters of this world. I took it that Leonora had been
afraid I should propose to the girl or, at any rate, have made
considerably greater advances to her than I did, if I had known
earlier that she was going away so soon. Perhaps Leonora was
right; perhaps Roman Catholics, with their queer, shifty ways, are
always right. They are dealing with the queer, shifty thing that is
human nature. For it is quite possible that, if I had known Nancy
was going away so soon, I should have tried making love to her.
And that would have produced another complication. It may have
been just as well.
It is queer the fantastic things that quite good people will do in
order to keep up their appearance of calm pococurantism. For
Edward Ashburnham and his wife called me half the world over
in order to sit on the back seat of a dog-cart whilst Edward drove
the girl to the railway station from which she was to take her
departure to India. They wanted, I suppose, to have a witness of
the calmness of that function. The girl's luggage had been already
packed and sent off before. Her berth on the steamer had been
taken. They had timed it all so exactly that it went like clockwork.
They had known the date upon which Colonel Rufford would get
Edward's letter and they had known almost exactly the hour at
which they would receive his telegram asking his daughter to
come to him. It had all been quite beautifully and quite
mercilessly arranged, by Edward himself. They gave Colonel
Rufford, as a reason for telegraphing, the fact that Mrs Colonel
Somebody or other would be travelling by that ship and that she
would serve as an efficient chaperon for the girl. It was a most
amazing business, and I think that it would have been better in the
eyes of God if they had all attempted to gouge out each other's
eyes with carving knives. But they were "good people". After my
interview with Leonora I went desultorily into Edward's gun-room.
I didn't know where the girl was and I thought I mind find her
there. I suppose I had a vague idea of proposing to her in spite of
Leonora. So, I presume, I don't come of quite such good people as
the Ashburnhams. Edward was lounging in his chair smoking a
cigar and he said nothing for quite five minutes. The candles
glowed in the green shades; the reflections were green in the
glasses of the book-cases that held guns and fishing-rods. Over the
mantelpiece was the brownish picture of the white horse. Those
were the quietest moments that I have ever known. Then,
suddenly, Edward looked me straight in the eyes and said:
"Look here, old man, I wish you would drive with Nancy and me
to the station tomorrow."
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
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
The train was five minutes late and they imagined that that was
because it was market-day at Swindon or wherever the train came
from. That was the sort of thing they talked about. The train came
in; Edward found her a first-class carriage with an elderly woman
in it. The girl entered the carriage, Edward closed the door and
then she put out her hand to shake mine. There was upon those
people's faces no expression of any kind whatever. The signal for
the train's departure was a very bright red; that is about as
passionate a statement as I can get into that scene. She was not
looking her best; she had on a cap of brown fur that did not very
well match her hair. She said:
"So long," to Edward.
Edward answered: "So long."
He swung round on his heel and, large, slouching, and walking
with a heavy deliberate pace, he went out of the station. I
followed him and got up beside him in the high dog-cart. It was
the most horrible performance I have ever seen.
And, after that, a holy peace, like the peace of God which passes
all understanding, descended upon Branshaw Teleragh. Leonora
went about her daily duties with a sort of triumphant smile--a very
faint smile, but quite triumphant. I guess she had so long since
given up any idea of getting her man back that it was enough for
her to have got the girl out of the house and well cured of her
infatuation. Once, in the hall, when Leonora was going out,
Edward said, beneath his breath--but I just caught the words:
"Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean." It was like his
sentimentality to quote Swinburne. But he was perfectly quiet and
he had given up drinking. The only thing that he ever said to me
after that drive to the station was:
"It's very odd. I think I ought to tell you, Dowell, that I haven't any
feelings at all about the girl now it's all over. Don't you worry
about me. I'm all right." A long time afterwards he said: "I guess it
was only a flash in the pan." He began to look after the estates
again; he took all that trouble over getting off the gardener's
daughter who had murdered her baby. He shook hands smilingly
with every farmer in the market-place. He addressed two political
meetings; he hunted twice. Leonora made him a frightful scene
about spending the two hundred pounds on getting the gardener's
daughter acquitted. Everything went on as if the girl had never
existed. It was very still weather.
Well, that is the end of the story. And, when I come to look at it I
see that it is a happy ending with wedding bells and all. The
villains--for obviously Edward and the girl were villains--have
been punished by suicide and madness. The heroine--the perfectly
normal, virtuous and slightly deceitful heroine--has become the
happy wife of a perfectly normal, virtuous and slightly deceitful
husband. She will shortly become a mother of a perfectly normal,
virtuous slightly deceitful son or daughter. A happy ending, that is
what it works out at.
I cannot conceal from myself the fact that I now dislike Leonora.
Without doubt I am jealous of Rodney Bayham. But I don't know
whether it is merely a jealousy arising from the fact that I desired
myself to possess Leonora or whether it is because to her were
sacrificed the only two persons that I have ever really
loved--Edward Ashburnham and Nancy Rufford. In order to set
her up in a modern mansion, replete with every convenience and
dominated by a quite respectable and eminently economical
master of the house, it was necessary that Edward and Nancy
Rufford should become, for me at least, no more than tragic
I seem to see poor Edward, naked and reclining amidst darkness,
upon cold rocks, like one of the ancient Greek damned, in
Tartarus or wherever it was.
And as for Nancy . . . Well, yesterday at lunch she said suddenly:
And she repeated the word "shuttlecocks" three times. I know what
was passing in her mind, if she can be said to have a mind, for
Leonora has told me that, once, the poor girl said she felt like a
shuttlecock being tossed backwards and forwards between the
violent personalities of Edward and his wife. Leonora, she said,
was always trying to deliver her over to Edward, and Edward
tacitly and silently forced her back again. And the odd thing was
that Edward himself considered that those two women used him
like a shuttlecock. Or, rather, he said that they sent him backwards
and forwards like a blooming parcel that someone didn't want to
pay the postage on. And Leonora also imagined that Edward and
Nancy picked her up and threw her down as suited their purely
vagrant moods. So there you have the pretty picture. Mind, I am
not preaching anything contrary to accepted morality. I am not
advocating free love in this or any other case. Society must go on, I
suppose, and society can only exist if the normal, if the virtuous,
and the slightly deceitful flourish, and if the passionate, the
headstrong, and the too-truthful are condemned to suicide and to
madness. But I guess that I myself, in my fainter way, come into
the category of the passionate, of the headstrong, and the
too-truthful. For I can't conceal from myself the fact that I loved
Edward Ashburnham--and that I love him because he was just
myself. If I had had the courage and virility and possibly also the
physique of Edward Ashburnham I should, I fancy, have done
much what he did. He seems to me like a large elder brother who
took me out on several excursions and did many dashing things
whilst I just watched him robbing the orchards, from a distance.
And, you see, I am just as much of a sentimentalist as he was. . . .
Yes, society must go on; it must breed, like rabbits. That is what
we are here for. But then, I don't like society--much. I am that
absurd figure, an American millionaire, who has bought one of the
ancient haunts of English peace. I sit here, in Edward's gun-room,
all day and all day in a house that is absolutely quiet. No one visits
me, for I visit no one. No one is interested in me, for I have no
interests. In twenty minutes or so I shall walk down to the village,
beneath my own oaks, alongside my own clumps of gorse, to get
the American mail. My tenants, the village boys and the
tradesmen will touch their hats to me. So life peters out. I shall
return to dine and Nancy will sit opposite me with the old nurse
standing behind her. Enigmatic, silent, utterly well-behaved as far
as her knife and fork go, Nancy will stare in front of her with the
blue eyes that have over them strained, stretched brows. Once, or
perhaps twice, during the meal her knife and fork will be
suspended in mid-air as if she were trying to think of something
that she had forgotten. Then she will say that she believes in an
Omnipotent Deity or she will utter the one word "shuttle-cocks",
perhaps. It is very extraordinary to see the perfect flush of health
on her cheeks, to see the lustre of her coiled black hair, the poise
of the head upon the neck, the grace of the white hands--and to
think that it all means nothing--that it is a picture without a
meaning. Yes, it is queer.
But, at any rate, there is always Leonora to cheer you up; I don't
want to sadden you. Her husband is quite an economical person of
so normal a figure that he can get quite a large proportion of his
clothes ready-made. That is the great desideratum of life, and that
is the end of my story. The child is to be brought up as a
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
"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
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
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
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.