Part 4 out of 9
But that is why I did not see Margaret Seddon again for five years.
CHAPTER THE SECOND
MARGARET IN LONDON
I was twenty-seven when I met Margaret again, and the intervening
five years had been years of vigorous activity for me, if not of
very remarkable growth. When I saw her again, I could count myself
a grown man. I think, indeed, I counted myself more completely
grown than I was. At any rate, by all ordinary standards, I had
"got on" very well, and my ideas, if they had not changed very
greatly, had become much more definite and my ambitions clearer and
I had long since abandoned my fellowship and come to London. I had
published two books that had been talked about, written several
articles, and established a regular relationship with the WEEKLY
REVIEW and the EVENING GAZETTE. I was a member of the Eighty Club
and learning to adapt the style of the Cambridge Union to larger
uses. The London world had opened out to me very readily. I had
developed a pleasant variety of social connections. I had made the
acquaintance of Mr. Evesham, who had been attracted by my NEW RULER,
and who talked about it and me, and so did a very great deal to make
a way for me into the company of prominent and amusing people. I
dined out quite frequently. The glitter and interest of good London
dinner parties became a common experience. I liked the sort of
conversation one got at them extremely, the little glow of duologues
burning up into more general discussions, the closing-in of the men
after the going of the women, the sage, substantial masculine
gossiping, the later resumption of effective talk with some pleasant
woman, graciously at her best. I had a wide range of houses;
Cambridge had linked me to one or two correlated sets of artistic
and literary people, and my books and Mr. Evesham and opened to me
the big vague world of "society." I wasn't aggressive nor
particularly snobbish nor troublesome, sometimes I talked well, and
if I had nothing interesting to say I said as little as possible,
and I had a youthful gravity of manner that was liked by hostesses.
And the other side of my nature that first flared through the cover
of restraints at Locarno, that too had had opportunity to develop
along the line London renders practicable. I had had my experiences
and secrets and adventures among that fringe of ill-mated or erratic
or discredited women the London world possesses. The thing had long
ago ceased to be a matter of magic or mystery, and had become a
question of appetites and excitement, and among other things the
excitement of not being found out.
I write rather doubtfully of my growing during this period. Indeed
I find it hard to judge whether I can say that I grew at all in any
real sense of the word, between three and twenty and twenty-seven.
It seems to me now to have been rather a phase of realisation and
clarification. All the broad lines of my thought were laid down, I
am sure, by the date of my Locarno adventure, but in those five
years I discussed things over and over again with myself and others,
filled out with concrete fact forms I had at first apprehended
sketchily and conversationally, measured my powers against my ideals
and the forces in the world about me. It was evident that many men
no better than myself and with no greater advantages than mine had
raised themselves to influential and even decisive positions in the
worlds of politics and thought. I was gathering the confidence and
knowledge necessary to attack the world in the large manner; I found
I could write, and that people would let me write if I chose, as one
having authority and not as the scribes. Socially and politically
and intellectually I knew myself for an honest man, and that quite
without any deliberation on my part this showed and made things easy
for me. People trusted my good faith from the beginning--for all
that I came from nowhere and had no better position than any
But the growth process was arrested, I was nothing bigger at twenty-
seven than at twenty-two, however much saner and stronger, and any
one looking closely into my mind during that period might well have
imagined growth finished altogether. It is particularly evident to
me now that I came no nearer to any understanding of women during
that time. That Locarno affair was infinitely more to me than I had
supposed. It ended something--nipped something in the bud perhaps--
took me at a stride from a vague, fine, ignorant, closed world of
emotion to intrigue and a perfectly definite and limited sensuality.
It ended my youth, and for a time it prevented my manhood. I had
never yet even peeped at the sweetest, profoundest thing in the
world, the heart and meaning of a girl, or dreamt with any quality
of reality of a wife or any such thing as a friend among womanhood.
My vague anticipation of such things in life had vanished
altogether. I turned away from their possibility. It seemed to me
I knew what had to be known about womankind. I wanted to work hard,
to get on to a position in which I could develop and forward my
constructive projects. Women, I thought, had nothing to do with
that. It seemed clear I could not marry for some years; I was
attractive to certain types of women, I had vanity enough to give me
an agreeable confidence in love-making, and I went about seeking a
convenient mistress quite deliberately, some one who should serve my
purpose and say in the end, like that kindly first mistress of mine,
"I've done you no harm," and so release me. It seemed the only wise
way of disposing of urgencies that might otherwise entangle and
wreck the career I was intent upon.
I don't apologise for, or defend my mental and moral phases. So it
was I appraised life and prepared to take it, and so it is a
thousand ambitious men see it to-day. . . .
For the rest these five years were a period of definition. My
political conceptions were perfectly plain and honest. I had one
constant desire ruling my thoughts. I meant to leave England and
the empire better ordered than I found it, to organise and
discipline, to build up a constructive and controlling State out of
my world's confusions. We had, I saw, to suffuse education with
public intention, to develop a new better-living generation with a
collectivist habit of thought, to link now chaotic activities in
every human affair, and particularly to catch that escaped, world-
making, world-ruining, dangerous thing, industrial and financial
enterprise, and bring it back to the service of the general good. I
had then the precise image that still serves me as a symbol for all
I wish to bring about, the image of an engineer building a lock in a
swelling torrent--with water pressure as his only source of power.
My thoughts and acts were habitually turned to that enterprise; it
gave shape and direction to all my life. The problem that most
engaged my mind during those years was the practical and personal
problem of just where to apply myself to serve this almost innate
purpose. How was I, a child of this confusion, struggling upward
through the confusion, to take hold of things? Somewhere between
politics and literature my grip must needs be found, but where?
Always I seem to have been looking for that in those opening years,
and disregarding everything else to discover it.
The Baileys, under whose auspices I met Margaret again, were in the
sharpest contrast with the narrow industrialism of the Staffordshire
world. They were indeed at the other extreme of the scale, two
active self-centred people, excessively devoted to the public
service. It was natural I should gravitate to them, for they seemed
to stand for the maturer, more disciplined, better informed
expression of all I was then urgent to attempt to do. The bulk of
their friends were politicians or public officials, they described
themselves as publicists--a vague yet sufficiently significant term.
They lived and worked in a hard little house in Chambers Street,
Westminster, and made a centre for quite an astonishing amount of
political and social activity.
Willersley took me there one evening. The place was almost
pretentiously matter-of-fact and unassuming. The narrow passage-
hall, papered with some ancient yellowish paper, grained to imitate
wood, was choked with hats and cloaks and an occasional feminine
wrap. Motioned rather than announced by a tall Scotch servant
woman, the only domestic I ever remember seeing there, we made our
way up a narrow staircase past the open door of a small study packed
with blue-books, to discover Altiora Bailey receiving before the
fireplace in her drawing-room. She was a tall commanding figure,
splendid but a little untidy in black silk and red beads, with dark
eyes that had no depths, with a clear hard voice that had an almost
visible prominence, aquiline features and straight black hair that
was apt to get astray, that was now astray like the head feathers of
an eagle in a gale. She stood with her hands behind her back, and
talked in a high tenor of a projected Town Planning Bill with Blupp,
who was practically in those days the secretary of the local
Government Board. A very short broad man with thick ears and fat
white hands writhing intertwined behind him, stood with his back to
us, eager to bark interruptions into Altiora's discourse. A slender
girl in pale blue, manifestly a young political wife, stood with one
foot on the fender listening with an expression of entirely puzzled
propitiation. A tall sandy-bearded bishop with the expression of a
man in a trance completed this central group.
The room was one of those long apartments once divided by folding
doors, and reaching from back to front, that are common upon the
first floors of London houses. Its walls were hung with two or
three indifferent water colours, there was scarcely any furniture
but a sofa or so and a chair, and the floor, severely carpeted with
matting, was crowded with a curious medley of people, men
predominating. Several were in evening dress, but most had the
morning garb of the politician; the women were either severely
rational or radiantly magnificent. Willersley pointed out to me the
wife of the Secretary of State for War, and I recognised the Duchess
of Clynes, who at that time cultivated intellectuality. I looked
round, identifying a face here or there, and stepping back trod on
some one's toe, and turned to find it belonged to the Right Hon. G.
B. Mottisham, dear to the PUNCH caricaturists. He received my
apology with that intentional charm that is one of his most
delightful traits, and resumed his discussion. Beside him was
Esmeer of Trinity, whom I had not seen since my Cambridge days. . . .
Willersley found an ex-member of the School Board for whom he had
affinities, and left me to exchange experiences and comments upon
the company with Esmeer. Esmeer was still a don; but he was
nibbling, he said, at certain negotiations with the TIMES that might
bring him down to London. He wanted to come to London. "We peep at
things from Cambridge," he said.
"This sort of thing," I said, "makes London necessary. It's the
"Every one comes here," said Esmeer. "Mostly we hate them like
poison--jealousy--and little irritations--Altiora can be a horror at
times--but we HAVE to come."
"Things are being done?"
"Oh!--no doubt of it. It's one of the parts of the British
machinery--that doesn't show. . . . But nobody else could do it.
"Two people," said Esmeer, "who've planned to be a power--in an
original way. And by Jove! they've done it!"
I did not for some time pick out Oscar Bailey, and then Esmeer
showed him to me in elaborately confidential talk in a corner with a
distinguished-looking stranger wearing a ribbon. Oscar had none of
the fine appearance of his wife; he was a short sturdy figure with a
rounded protruding abdomen and a curious broad, flattened, clean-
shaven face that seemed nearly all forehead. He was of Anglo-
Hungarian extraction, and I have always fancied something Mongolian
in his type. He peered up with reddish swollen-looking eyes over
gilt-edged glasses that were divided horizontally into portions of
different refractive power, and he talking in an ingratiating
undertone, with busy thin lips, an eager lisp and nervous movements
of the hand.
People say that thirty years before at Oxford he was almost exactly
the same eager, clever little man he was when I first met him. He
had come up to Balliol bristling with extraordinary degrees and
prizes capturned in provincial and Irish and Scotch universities--
and had made a name for himself as the most formidable dealer in
exact fact the rhetoricians of the Union had ever had to encounter.
From Oxford he had gone on to a position in the Higher Division of
the Civil Service, I think in the War Office, and had speedily made
a place for himself as a political journalist. He was a
particularly neat controversialist, and very full of political and
sociological ideas. He had a quite astounding memory for facts and
a mastery of detailed analysis, and the time afforded scope for
these gifts. The later eighties were full of politico-social
discussion, and he became a prominent name upon the contents list of
the NINETEENTH CENTURY, the FORTNIGHTLY and CONTEMPORARY chiefly as
a half sympathetic but frequently very damaging critic of the
socialism of that period. He won the immense respect of every one
specially interested in social and political questions, he soon
achieved the limited distinction that is awarded such capacity, and
at that I think he would have remained for the rest of his life if
he had not encountered Altiora.
But Altiora Macvitie was an altogether exceptional woman, an
extraordinary mixture of qualities, the one woman in the world who
could make something more out of Bailey than that. She had much of
the vigour and handsomeness of a slender impudent young man, and an
unscrupulousness altogether feminine. She was one of those women
who are waiting in--what is the word?--muliebrity. She had courage
and initiative and a philosophical way of handling questions, and
she could be bored by regular work like a man. She was entirely
unfitted for her sex's sphere. She was neither uncertain, coy nor
hard to please, and altogether too stimulating and aggressive for
any gentleman's hours of ease. Her cookery would have been about as
sketchy as her handwriting, which was generally quite illegible, and
she would have made, I feel sure, a shocking bad nurse. Yet you
mustn't imagine she was an inelegant or unbeautiful woman, and she
is inconceivable to me in high collars or any sort of masculine
garment. But her soul was bony, and at the base of her was a vanity
gaunt and greedy! When she wasn't in a state of personal untidiness
that was partly a protest against the waste of hours exacted by the
toilet and partly a natural disinclination, she had a gypsy
splendour of black and red and silver all her own. And somewhen in
the early nineties she met and married Bailey.
I know very little about her early years. She was the only daughter
of Sir Deighton Macvitie, who applied the iodoform process to
cotton, and only his subsequent unfortunate attempts to become a
Cotton King prevented her being a very rich woman. As it was she
had a tolerable independence. She came into prominence as one of
the more able of the little shoal of young women who were led into
politico-philanthropic activities by the influence of the earlier
novels of Mrs. Humphry Ward--the Marcella crop. She went
"slumming" with distinguished vigour, which was quite usual in those
days--and returned from her experiences as an amateur flower girl
with clear and original views about the problem--which is and always
had been unusual. She had not married, I suppose because her
standards were high, and men are cowards and with an instinctive
appetite for muliebrity. She had kept house for her father by
speaking occasionally to the housekeeper, butler and cook her mother
had left her, and gathering the most interesting dinner parties she
could, and had married off four orphan nieces in a harsh and
successful manner. After her father's smash and death she came out
as a writer upon social questions and a scathing critic of the
Charity Organisation Society, and she was three and thirty and a
little at loose ends when she met Oscar Bailey, so to speak, in the
CONTEMPORARY REVIEW. The lurking woman in her nature was fascinated
by the ease and precision with which the little man rolled over all
sorts of important and authoritative people, she was the first to
discover a sort of imaginative bigness in his still growing mind,
the forehead perhaps carried him off physically, and she took
occasion to meet and subjugate him, and, so soon as he had
sufficiently recovered from his abject humility and a certain panic
at her attentions, marry him.
This had opened a new phase in the lives of Bailey and herself. The
two supplemented each other to an extraordinary extent. Their
subsequent career was, I think, almost entirely her invention. She
was aggressive, imaginative, and had a great capacity for ideas,
while he was almost destitute of initiative, and could do nothing
with ideas except remember and discuss them. She was, if not exact,
at least indolent, with a strong disposition to save energy by
sketching--even her handwriting showed that--while he was
inexhaustibly industrious with a relentless invariable caligraphy
that grew larger and clearer as the years passed by. She had a
considerable power of charming; she could be just as nice to people--
and incidentally just as nasty--as she wanted to be. He was always
just the same, a little confidential and SOTTO VOCE, artlessly rude
and egoistic in an undignified way. She had considerable social
experience, good social connections, and considerable social
ambition, while he had none of these things. She saw in a flash her
opportunity to redeem his defects, use his powers, and do large,
novel, rather startling things. She ran him. Her marriage, which
shocked her friends and relations beyond measure--for a time they
would only speak of Bailey as "that gnome"--was a stroke of genius,
and forthwith they proceeded to make themselves the most formidable
and distinguished couple conceivable. P. B. P., she boasted, was
engraved inside their wedding rings, Pro Bono Publico, and she meant
it to be no idle threat. She had discovered very early that the
last thing influential people will do is to work. Everything in
their lives tends to make them dependent upon a supply of
confidently administered detail. Their business is with the window
and not the stock behind, and in the end they are dependent upon the
stock behind for what goes into the window. She linked with that
the fact that Bailey had a mind as orderly as a museum, and an
invincible power over detail. She saw that if two people took the
necessary pains to know the facts of government and administration
with precision, to gather together knowledge that was dispersed and
confused, to be able to say precisely what had to be done and what
avoided in this eventuality or that, they would necessarily become a
centre of reference for all sorts of legislative proposals and
political expedients, and she went unhesitatingly upon that.
Bailey, under her vigorous direction, threw up his post in the Civil
Service and abandoned sporadic controversies, and they devoted
themselves to the elaboration and realisation of this centre of
public information she had conceived as their role. They set out to
study the methods and organisation and realities of government in
the most elaborate manner. They did the work as no one had ever
hitherto dreamt of doing it. They planned the research on a
thoroughly satisfying scale, and arranged their lives almost
entirely for it. They took that house in Chambers Street and
furnished it with severe economy, they discovered that Scotch
domestic who is destined to be the guardian and tyrant of their
declining years, and they set to work. Their first book, "The
Permanent Official," fills three plump volumes, and took them and
their two secretaries upwards of four years to do. It is an
amazingly good book, an enduring achievement. In a hundred
directions the history and the administrative treatment of the
public service was clarified for all time. . . .
They worked regularly every morning from nine to twelve, they
lunched lightly but severely, in the afternoon they "took exercise"
or Bailey attended meetings of the London School Board, on which he
served, he said, for the purposes of study--he also became a railway
director for the same end. In the late afternoon Altiora was at
home to various callers, and in the evening came dinner or a
reception or both.
Her dinners and gatherings were a very important feature in their
scheme. She got together all sorts of interesting people in or
about the public service, she mixed the obscurely efficient with the
ill-instructed famous and the rudderless rich, got together in one
room more of the factors in our strange jumble of a public life than
had ever met easily before. She fed them with a shameless austerity
that kept the conversation brilliant, on a soup, a plain fish, and
mutton or boiled fowl and milk pudding, with nothing to drink but
whisky and soda, and hot and cold water, and milk and lemonade.
Everybody was soon very glad indeed to come to that. She boasted
how little her housekeeping cost her, and sought constantly for
fresh economies that would enable her, she said, to sustain an
additional private secretary. Secretaries were the Baileys' one
extravagance, they loved to think of searches going on in the
British Museum, and letters being cleared up and precis made
overhead, while they sat in the little study and worked together,
Bailey with a clockwork industry, and Altiora in splendid flashes
between intervals of cigarettes and meditation. "All efficient
public careers," said Altiora, "consist in the proper direction of
"If everything goes well I shall have another secretary next year,"
Altiora told me. "I wish I could refuse people dinner napkins.
Imagine what it means in washing! I dare most things. . . . But as
it is, they stand a lot of hardship here."
"There's something of the miser in both these people," said Esmeer,
and the thing was perfectly true. For, after all, the miser is
nothing more than a man who either through want of imagination or
want of suggestion misapplies to a base use a natural power of
concentration upon one end. The concentration itself is neither
good nor evil, but a power that can be used in either way. And the
Baileys gathered and reinvested usuriously not money, but knowledge
of the utmost value in human affairs. They produced an effect of
having found themselves--completely. One envied them at times
extraordinarily. I was attracted, I was dazzled--and at the same
time there was something about Bailey's big wrinkled forehead, his
lisping broad mouth, the gestures of his hands and an uncivil
preoccupation I could not endure. . . .
Their effect upon me was from the outset very considerable.
Both of them found occasion on that first visit of mine to talk to
me about my published writings and particularly about my then just
published book THE NEW RULER, which had interested them very much.
It fell in indeed so closely with their own way of thinking that I
doubt if they ever understood how independently I had arrived at my
conclusions. It was their weakness to claim excessively. That
irritation, however, came later. We discovered each other
immensely; for a time it produced a tremendous sense of kindred and
Altiora, I remember, maintained that there existed a great army of
such constructive-minded people as ourselves--as yet undiscovered by
"It's like boring a tunnel through a mountain," said Oscar, "and
presently hearing the tapping of the workers from the other end."
"If you didn't know of them beforehand," I said, "it might be a
rather badly joined tunnel."
"Exactly," said Altiora with a high note, "and that's why we all
want to find out each other. . . ."
They didn't talk like that on our first encounter, but they urged me
to lunch with them next day, and then it was we went into things. A
woman Factory Inspector and the Educational Minister for New
Banksland and his wife were also there, but I don't remember they
made any contribution to the conversation. The Baileys saw to that.
They kept on at me in an urgent litigious way.
"We have read your book," each began--as though it had been a joint
function. "And we consider--"
"Yes," I protested, "I think--"
That was a secondary matter.
"They did not consider," said Altiora, raising her voice and going
right over me, that I had allowed sufficiently for the inevitable
development of an official administrative class in the modern
"Nor of its importance," echoed Oscar.
That, they explained in a sort of chorus, was the cardinal idea of
their lives, what they were up to, what they stood for. "We want to
suggest to you," they said--and I found this was a stock opening of
theirs--"that from the mere necessities of convenience elected
bodies MUST avail themselves more and more of the services of expert
officials. We have that very much in mind. The more complicated
and technical affairs become, the less confidence will the elected
official have in himself. We want to suggest that these expert
officials must necessarily develop into a new class and a very
powerful class in the community. We want to organise that. It may
be THE power of the future. They will necessarily have to have very
much of a common training. We consider ourselves as amateur unpaid
precursors of such a class." . . .
The vision they displayed for my consideration as the aim of public-
spirited endeavour, seemed like a harder, narrower, more specialised
version of the idea of a trained and disciplined state that
Willersley and I had worked out in the Alps. They wanted things
more organised, more correlated with government and a collective
purpose, just as we did, but they saw it not in terms of a growing
collective understanding, but in terms of functionaries, legislative
change, and methods of administration. . . .
It wasn't clear at first how we differed. The Baileys were very
anxious to win me to co-operation, and I was quite prepared at first
to identify their distinctive expressions with phrases of my own,
and so we came very readily into an alliance that was to last some
years, and break at last very painfully. Altiora manifestly liked
me, I was soon discussing with her the perplexity I found in placing
myself efficiently in the world, the problem of how to take hold of
things that occupied my thoughts, and she was sketching out careers
for my consideration, very much as an architect on his first visit
sketches houses, considers requirements, and puts before you this
example and that of the more or less similar thing already done. . . .
It is easy to see how much in common there was between the Baileys
and me, and how natural it was that I should become a constant
visitor at their house and an ally of theirs in many enterprises.
It is not nearly so easy to define the profound antagonism of spirit
that also held between us. There was a difference in texture, a
difference in quality. How can I express it? The shapes of our
thoughts were the same, but the substance quite different. It was
as if they had made in china or cast iron what I had made in
transparent living matter. (The comparison is manifestly from my
point of view.) Certain things never seemed to show through their
ideas that were visible, refracted perhaps and distorted, but
visible always through mine.
I thought for a time the essential difference lay in our relation to
beauty. With me beauty is quite primary in life; I like truth,
order and goodness, wholly because they are beautiful or lead
straight to beautiful consequences. The Baileys either hadn't got
that or they didn't see it. They seemed at times to prefer things
harsh and ugly. That puzzled me extremely. The esthetic quality of
many of their proposals, the "manners" of their work, so to speak,
were at times as dreadful as--well, War Office barrack architecture.
A caricature by its exaggerated statements will sometimes serve to
point a truth by antagonising falsity and falsity. I remember
talking to a prominent museum official in need of more public funds
for the work he had in hand. I mentioned the possibility of
enlisting Bailey's influence.
"Oh, we don't want Philistines like that infernal Bottle-Imp running
us," he said hastily, and would hear of no concerted action for the
end he had in view. "I'd rather not have the extension.
"You see," he went on to explain, "Bailey's wanting in the
"What essentials?" said I.
"Oh! he'd be like a nasty oily efficient little machine for some
merely subordinate necessity among all my delicate stuff. He'd do
all we wanted no doubt in the way of money and powers--and he'd do
it wrong and mess the place for ever. Hands all black, you know.
He's just a means. Just a very aggressive and unmanageable means.
This isn't a plumber's job. . . ."
I stuck to my argument.
"I don't LIKE him," said the official conclusively, and it seemed to
me at the time he was just blind prejudice speaking. . . .
I came nearer the truth of the matter as I came to realise that our
philosophies differed profoundly. That isn't a very curable
difference,--once people have grown up. Theirs was a philosophy
devoid of FINESSE. Temperamentally the Baileys were specialised,
concentrated, accurate, while I am urged either by some Inner force
or some entirely assimilated influence in my training, always to
round off and shadow my outlines. I hate them hard. I would
sacrifice detail to modelling always, and the Baileys, it seemed to
me, loved a world as flat and metallic as Sidney Cooper's cows. If
they had the universe in hand I know they would take down all the
trees and put up stamped tin green shades and sunlight accumulators.
Altiora thought trees hopelessly irregular and sea cliffs a great
mistake. . . . I got things clearer as time went on. Though it
was an Hegelian mess of which I had partaken at Codger's table by
way of a philosophical training, my sympathies have always been
Pragmatist. I belong almost by nature to that school of Pragmatism
that, following the medieval Nominalists, bases itself upon a denial
of the reality of classes, and of the validity of general laws. The
Baileys classified everything. They were, in the scholastic sense--
which so oddly contradicts the modern use of the word "Realists."
They believed classes were REAL and independent of their
individuals. This is the common habit of all so-called educated
people who have no metaphysical aptitude and no metaphysical
training. It leads them to a progressive misunderstanding of the
world. It was a favourite trick of Altiora's to speak of everybody
as a "type"; she saw men as samples moving; her dining-room became a
chamber of representatives. It gave a tremendously scientific air
to many of their generalisations, using "scientific" in its
nineteenth-century uncritical Herbert Spencer sense, an air that
only began to disappear when you thought them over again in terms of
actuality and the people one knew. . . .
At the Baileys' one always seemed to be getting one's hands on the
very strings that guided the world. You heard legislation projected
to affect this "type" and that; statistics marched by you with sin
and shame and injustice and misery reduced to quite manageable
percentages, you found men who were to frame or amend bills in grave
and intimate exchange with Bailey's omniscience, you heard Altiora
canvassing approaching resignations and possible appointments that
might make or mar a revolution in administrative methods, and doing
it with a vigorous directness that manifestly swayed the decision;
and you felt you were in a sort of signal box with levers all about
you, and the world outside there, albeit a little dark and
mysterious beyond the window, running on its lines in ready
obedience to these unhesitating lights, true and steady to trim
And then with all this administrative fizzle, this pseudo-scientific
administrative chatter, dying away in your head, out you went into
the limitless grimy chaos of London streets and squares, roads and
avenues lined with teeming houses, each larger than the Chambers
Street house and at least equally alive, you saw the chaotic clamour
of hoardings, the jumble of traffic, the coming and going of
mysterious myriads, you heard the rumble of traffic like the noise
of a torrent; a vague incessant murmur of cries and voices, wanton
crimes and accidents bawled at you from the placards; imperative
unaccountable fashions swaggered triumphant in dazzling windows of
the shops; and you found yourself swaying back to the opposite
conviction that the huge formless spirit of the world it was that
held the strings and danced the puppets on the Bailey stage. . . .
Under the lamps you were jostled by people like my Staffordshire
uncle out for a spree, you saw shy youths conversing with
prostitutes, you passed young lovers pairing with an entire
disregard of the social suitability of the "types" they might blend
or create, you saw men leaning drunken against lamp-posts whom you
knew for the "type" that will charge with fixed bayonets into the
face of death, and you found yourself unable to imagine little
Bailey achieving either drunkenness or the careless defiance of
annihilation. You realised that quite a lot of types were
underrepresented in Chambers Street, that feral and obscure and
altogether monstrous forces must be at work, as yet altogether
unassimilated by those neat administrative reorganisations.
Altiora, I remember, preluded Margaret's reappearance by announcing
her as a "new type."
I was accustomed to go early to the Baileys' dinners in those days,
for a preliminary gossip with Altiora in front of her drawing-room
fire. One got her alone, and that early arrival was a little sign
of appreciation she valued. She had every woman's need of followers
"I'm going to send you down to-night," she said, "with a very
interesting type indeed--one of the new generation of serious gals.
Middle-class origin--and quite well off. Rich in fact. Her step-
father was a solicitor and something of an ENTREPRENEUR towards the
end, I fancy--in the Black Country. There was a little brother
died, and she's lost her mother quite recently. Quite on her own,
so to speak. She's never been out into society very much, and
doesn't seem really very anxious to go. . . . Not exactly an
intellectual person, you know, but quiet, and great force of
character. Came up to London on her own and came to us--someone had
told her we were the sort of people to advise her--to ask what to
do. I'm sure she'll interest you."
"What CAN people of that sort do?" I asked. "Is she capable of
Altiora compressed her lips and shook her head. She always did
shake her head when you asked that of anyone.
"Of course what she ought to do," said Altiora, with her silk dress
pulled back from her knee before the fire, and with a lift of her
voice towards a chuckle at her daring way of putting things, "is to
marry a member of Parliament and see he does his work. . . .
Perhaps she will. It's a very exceptional gal who can do anything
by herself--quite exceptional. The more serious they are--without
being exceptional--the more we want them to marry."
Her exposition was truncated by the entry of the type in question.
"Well!" cried Altiora turning, and with a high note of welcome,
"HERE you are!"
Margaret had gained in dignity and prettiness by the lapse of five
years, and she was now very beautifully and richly and simply
dressed. Her fair hair had been done in some way that made it seem
softer and more abundant than it was in my memory, and a gleam of
purple velvet-set diamonds showed amidst its mist of little golden
and brown lines. Her dress was of white and violet, the last trace
of mourning for her mother, and confessed the gracious droop of her
tall and slender body. She did not suggest Staffordshire at all,
and I was puzzled for a moment to think where I had met her. Her
sweetly shaped mouth with the slight obliquity of the lip and the
little kink in her brow were extraordinarily familiar to me. But
she had either been prepared by Altiora or she remembered my name.
"We met," she said, "while my step-father was alive--at Misterton.
You came to see us"; and instantly I recalled the sunshine between
the apple blossom and a slender pale blue girlish shape among the
daffodils, like something that had sprung from a bulb itself. I
recalled at once that I had found her very interesting, though I did
not clearly remember how it was she had interested me.
Other guests arrived--it was one of Altiora's boldly blended
mixtures of people with ideas and people with influence or money who
might perhaps be expected to resonate to them. Bailey came down
late with an air of hurry, and was introduced to Margaret and said
absolutely nothing to her--there being no information either to
receive or impart and nothing to do--but stood snatching his left
cheek until I rescued him and her, and left him free to congratulate
the new Lady Snape on her husband's K. C. B.
I took Margaret down. We achieved no feats of mutual expression,
except that it was abundantly clear we were both very pleased and
interested to meet again, and that we had both kept memories of each
other. We made that Misterton tea-party and the subsequent
marriages of my cousins and the world of Burslem generally, matter
for quite an agreeable conversation until at last Altiora, following
her invariable custom, called me by name imperatively out of our
duologue. "Mr. Remington," she said, "we want your opinion--" in
her entirely characteristic effort to get all the threads of
conversation into her own hands for the climax that always wound up
her dinners. How the other women used to hate those concluding
raids of hers! I forget most of the other people at that dinner,
nor can I recall what the crowning rally was about. It didn't in
any way join on to my impression of Margaret.
In the drawing-room of the matting floor I rejoined her, with
Altiora's manifest connivance, and in the interval I had been
thinking of our former meeting.
"Do you find London," I asked, "give you more opportunity for doing
things and learning things than Burslem?"
She showed at once she appreciated my allusion to her former
confidences. "I was very discontented then," she said and paused.
"I've really only been in London for a few months. It's so
different. In Burslem, life seems all business and getting--without
any reason. One went on and it didn't seem to mean anything. At
least anything that mattered. . . . London seems to be so full of
meanings--all mixed up together."
She knitted her brows over her words and smiled appealingly at the
end as if for consideration for her inadequate expression,
appealingly and almost humorously.
I looked understandingly at her. "We have all," I agreed, "to come
"One sees so much distress," she added, as if she felt she had
completely omitted something, and needed a codicil.
"What are you doing in London?"
"I'm thinking of studying. Some social question. I thought perhaps
I might go and study social conditions as Mrs. Bailey did, go
perhaps as a work-girl or see the reality of living in, but Mrs.
Bailey thought perhaps it wasn't quite my work."
"Are you studying?"
"I'm going to a good many lectures, and perhaps I shall take up a
regular course at the Westminster School of Politics and Sociology.
But Mrs. Bailey doesn't seem to believe very much in that either."
Her faintly whimsical smile returned. "I seem rather indefinite,"
she apologised, "but one does not want to get entangled in things
one can't do. One--one has so many advantages, one's life seems to
be such a trust and such a responsibility--"
"A man gets driven into work," I said.
"It must be splendid to be Mrs. Bailey," she replied with a glance
of envious admiration across the room.
"SHE has no doubts, anyhow," I remarked.
"She HAD," said Margaret with the pride of one who has received
"You've met before?" said Altiora, a day or so later.
I explained when.
"You find her interesting?"
I saw in a flash that Altiora meant to marry me to Margaret.
Her intention became much clearer as the year developed. Altiora
was systematic even in matters that evade system. I was to marry
Margaret, and freed from the need of making an income I was to come
into politics--as an exponent of Baileyism. She put it down with
the other excellent and advantageous things that should occupy her
summer holiday. It was her pride and glory to put things down and
plan them out in detail beforehand, and I'm not quite sure that she
did not even mark off the day upon which the engagement was to be
declared. If she did, I disappointed her. We didn't come to an
engagement, in spite of the broadest hints and the glaring
obviousness of everything, that summer.
Every summer the Baileys went out of London to some house they hired
or borrowed, leaving their secretaries toiling behind, and they went
on working hard in the mornings and evenings and taking exercise in
the open air in the afternoon. They cycled assiduously and went for
long walks at a trot, and raided and studied (and incidentally
explained themselves to) any social "types" that lived in the
neighbourhood. One invaded type, resentful under research,
described them with a dreadful aptness as Donna Quixote and Sancho
Panza--and himself as a harmless windmill, hurting no one and
signifying nothing. She did rather tilt at things. This particular
summer they were at a pleasant farmhouse in level country near
Pangbourne, belonging to the Hon. Wilfrid Winchester, and they asked
me to come down to rooms in the neighbourhood--Altiora took them for
a month for me in August--and board with them upon extremely
reasonable terms; and when I got there I found Margaret sitting in a
hammock at Altiora's feet. Lots of people, I gathered, were coming
and going in the neighbourhood, the Ponts were in a villa on the
river, and the Rickhams' houseboat was to moor for some days; but
these irruptions did not impede a great deal of duologue between
Margaret and myself.
Altiora was efficient rather than artistic in her match-making. She
sent us off for long walks together--Margaret was a fairly good
walker--she exhumed some defective croquet things and incited us to
croquet, not understanding that detestable game is the worst
stimulant for lovers in the world. And Margaret and I were always
getting left about, and finding ourselves for odd half-hours in the
kitchen-garden with nothing to do except talk, or we were told with
a wave of the hand to run away and amuse each other.
Altiora even tried a picnic in canoes, knowing from fiction rather
than imagination or experience the conclusive nature of such
excursions. But there she fumbled at the last moment, and elected
at the river's brink to share a canoe with me. Bailey showed so
much zeal and so little skill--his hat fell off and he became
miraculously nothing but paddle-clutching hands and a vast wrinkled
brow--that at last he had to be paddled ignominiously by Margaret,
while Altiora, after a phase of rigid discretion, as nearly as
possible drowned herself--and me no doubt into the bargain--with a
sudden lateral gesture of the arm to emphasise the high note with
which she dismissed the efficiency of the Charity Organisation
Society. We shipped about an inch of water and sat in it for the
rest of the time, an inconvenience she disregarded heroically. We
had difficulties in landing Oscar from his frail craft upon the ait
of our feasting,--he didn't balance sideways and was much alarmed,
and afterwards, as Margaret had a pain in her back, I took him in my
canoe, let him hide his shame with an ineffectual but not positively
harmful paddle, and towed the other by means of the joined painters.
Still it was the fault of the inadequate information supplied in the
books and not of Altiora that that was not the date of my betrothal.
I find it not a little difficult to state what kept me back from
proposing marriage to Margaret that summer, and what urged me
forward at last to marry her. It is so much easier to remember
one's resolutions than to remember the moods and suggestions that
Marrying and getting married was, I think, a pretty simple affair to
Altiora; it was something that happened to the adolescent and
unmarried when you threw them together under the circumstances of
health, warmth and leisure. It happened with the kindly and
approving smiles of the more experienced elders who had organised
these proximities. The young people married, settled down, children
ensued, and father and mother turned their minds, now decently and
properly disillusioned, to other things. That to Altiora was the
normal sexual life, and she believed it to be the quality of the
great bulk of the life about her.
One of the great barriers to human understanding is the wide
temperamental difference one finds in the values of things relating
to sex. It is the issue upon which people most need training in
charity and imaginative sympathy. Here are no universal standards
at all, and indeed for no single man nor woman does there seem to be
any fixed standard, so much do the accidents of circumstances and
one's physical phases affect one's interpretations. There is
nothing in the whole range of sexual fact that may not seem
supremely beautiful or humanly jolly or magnificently wicked or
disgusting or trivial or utterly insignificant, according to the eye
that sees or the mood that colours. Here is something that may fill
the skies and every waking hour or be almost completely banished
from a life. It may be everything on Monday and less than nothing
on Saturday. And we make our laws and rules as though in these
matters all men and women were commensurable one with another, with
an equal steadfast passion and an equal constant duty. . . .
I don't know what dreams Altiora may have had in her schoolroom
days, I always suspected her of suppressed and forgotten phases, but
certainly her general effect now was of an entirely passionless
worldliness in these matters. Indeed so far as I could get at her,
she regarded sexual passion as being hardly more legitimate in a
civilised person than--let us say--homicidal mania. She must have
forgotten--and Bailey too. I suspect she forgot before she married
him. I don't suppose either of them had the slightest intimation of
the dimensions sexual love can take in the thoughts of the great
majority of people with whom they come in contact. They loved in
their way--an intellectual way it was and a fond way--but it had no
relation to beauty and physical sensation--except that there seemed
a decree of exile against these things. They got their glow in high
moments of altruistic ambition--and in moments of vivid worldly
success. They sat at opposite ends of their dinner table with so
and so "captured," and so and so, flushed with a mutual approval.
They saw people in love forgetful and distraught about them, and
just put it down to forgetfulness and distraction. At any rate
Altiora manifestly viewed my situation and Margaret's with an
abnormal and entirely misleading simplicity. There was the girl,
rich, with an acceptable claim to be beautiful, shiningly virtuous,
quite capable of political interests, and there was I, talented,
ambitious and full of political and social passion, in need of just
the money, devotion and regularisation Margaret could provide. We
were both unmarried--white sheets of uninscribed paper. Was there
ever a simpler situation? What more could we possibly want?
She was even a little offended at the inconclusiveness that did not
settle things at Pangbourne. I seemed to her, I suspect, to reflect
upon her judgment and good intentions.
I didn't see things with Altiora's simplicity.
I admired Margaret very much, I was fully aware of all that she and
I might give each other; indeed so far as Altiora went we were quite
in agreement. But what seemed solid ground to Altiora and the
ultimate footing of her emasculated world, was to me just the
superficial covering of a gulf--oh! abysses of vague and dim, and
yet stupendously significant things.
I couldn't dismiss the interests and the passion of sex as Altiora
did. Work, I agreed, was important; career and success; but deep
unanalysable instincts told me this preoccupation was a thing quite
as important; dangerous, interfering, destructive indeed, but none
the less a dominating interest in life. I have told how flittingly
and uninvited it came like a moth from the outer twilight into my
life, how it grew in me with my manhood, how it found its way to
speech and grew daring, and led me at last to experience. After
that adventure at Locarno sex and the interests and desires of sex
never left me for long at peace. I went on with my work and my
career, and all the time it was like--like someone talking ever and
again in a room while one tries to write.
There were times when I could have wished the world a world all of
men, so greatly did this unassimilated series of motives and
curiosities hamper me; and times when I could have wished the world
all of women. I seemed always to be seeking something in women, in
girls, and I was never clear what it was I was seeking. But never--
even at my coarsest--was I moved by physical desire alone. Was I
seeking help and fellowship? Was I seeking some intimacy with
beauty? It was a thing too formless to state, that I seemed always
desiring to attain and never attaining. Waves of gross sensuousness
arose out of this preoccupation, carried me to a crisis of
gratification or disappointment that was clearly not the needed
thing; they passed and left my mind free again for a time to get on
with the permanent pursuits of my life. And then presently this
solicitude would have me again, an irrelevance as it seemed, and yet
a constantly recurring demand.
I don't want particularly to dwell upon things that are disagreeable
for others to read, but I cannot leave them out of my story and get
the right proportions of the forces I am balancing. I was no
abnormal man, and that world of order we desire to make must be
built of such stuff as I was and am and can beget. You cannot have
a world of Baileys; it would end in one orderly generation.
Humanity is begotten in Desire, lives by Desire.
"Love which is lust, is the Lamp in the Tomb;
Love which is lust, is the Call from the Gloom."
I echo Henley.
I suppose the life of celibacy which the active, well-fed, well-
exercised and imaginatively stirred young man of the educated
classes is supposed to lead from the age of nineteen or twenty, when
Nature certainly meant him to marry, to thirty or more, when
civilisation permits him to do so, is the most impossible thing in
the world. We deal here with facts that are kept secret and
obscure, but I doubt for my own part if more than one man out of
five in our class satisfies that ideal demand. The rest are even as
I was, and Hatherleigh and Esmeer and all the men I knew. I draw no
lessons and offer no panacea; I have to tell the quality of life,
and this is how it is. This is how it will remain until men and
women have the courage to face the facts of life.
I was no systematic libertine, you must understand; things happened
to me and desire drove me. Any young man would have served for that
Locarno adventure, and after that what had been a mystic and
wonderful thing passed rapidly into a gross, manifestly misdirected
and complicating one. I can count a meagre tale of five illicit
loves in the days of my youth, to include that first experience, and
of them all only two were sustained relationships. Besides these
five "affairs," on one or two occasions I dipped so low as the inky
dismal sensuality of the streets, and made one of those pairs of
correlated figures, the woman in her squalid finery sailing
homeward, the man modestly aloof and behind, that every night in the
London year flit by the score of thousands across the sight of the
observant. . . .
How ugly it is to recall; ugly and shameful now without
qualification! Yet at the time there was surely something not
altogether ugly in it--something that has vanished, some fine thing
One such occasion I recall as if it were a vision deep down in a
pit, as if it had happened in another state of existence to someone
else. And yet it is the sort of thing that has happened, once or
twice at least, to half the men in London who have been in a
position to make it possible. Let me try and give you its peculiar
effect. Man or woman, you ought to know of it.
Figure to yourself a dingy room, somewhere in that network of
streets that lies about Tottenham Court Road, a dingy bedroom lit by
a solitary candle and carpeted with scraps and patches, with
curtains of cretonne closing the window, and a tawdry ornament of
paper in the grate. I sit on a bed beside a weary-eyed, fair-
haired, sturdy young woman, half undressed, who is telling me in
broken German something that my knowledge of German is at first
inadequate to understand. . . .
I thought she was boasting about her family, and then slowly the
meaning came to me. She was a Lett from near Libau in Courland, and
she was telling me--just as one tells something too strange for
comment or emotion--how her father had been shot and her sister
outraged and murdered before her eyes.
It was as if one had dipped into something primordial and stupendous
beneath the smooth and trivial surfaces of life. There was I, you
know, the promising young don from Cambridge, who wrote quite
brilliantly about politics and might presently get into Parliament,
with my collar and tie in my hand, and a certain sense of shameful
adventure fading out of my mind.
"Ach Gott!" she sighed by way of comment, and mused deeply for a
moment before she turned her face to me, as to something forgotten
and remembered, and assumed the half-hearted meretricious smile.
"Bin ich eine hubsche?" she asked like one who repeats a lesson.
I was moved to crave her pardon and come away.
"Bin ich eine hubsche?" she asked a little anxiously, laying a
detaining hand upon me, and evidently not understanding a word of
what I was striving to say.
I find it extraordinarily difficult to recall the phases by which I
passed from my first admiration of Margaret's earnestness and
unconscious daintiness to an intimate acquaintance. The earlier
encounters stand out clear and hard, but then the impressions become
crowded and mingle not only with each other but with all the
subsequent developments of relationship, the enormous evolutions of
interpretation and comprehension between husband and wife. Dipping
into my memories is like dipping into a ragbag, one brings out this
memory or that, with no intimation of how they came in time or what
led to them and joined them together. And they are all mixed up
with subsequent associations, with sympathies and discords, habits
of intercourse, surprises and disappointments and discovered
misunderstandings. I know only that always my feelings for Margaret
were complicated feelings, woven of many and various strands.
It is one of the curious neglected aspects of life how at the same
time and in relation to the same reality we can have in our minds
streams of thought at quite different levels. We can be at the same
time idealising a person and seeing and criticising that person
quite coldly and clearly, and we slip unconsciously from level to
level and produce all sorts of inconsistent acts. In a sense I had
no illusions about Margaret; in a sense my conception of Margaret
was entirely poetic illusion. I don't think I was ever blind to
certain defects of hers, and quite as certainly they didn't seem to
matter in the slightest degree. Her mind had a curious want of
vigour, "flatness" is the only word; she never seemed to escape from
her phrase; her way of thinking, her way of doing was indecisive;
she remained in her attitude, it did not flow out to easy,
I saw this quite clearly, and when we walked and talked together I
seemed always trying for animation in her and never finding it. I
would state my ideas. "I know," she would say, "I know."
I talked about myself and she listened wonderfully, but she made no
answering revelations. I talked politics, and she remarked with her
blue eyes wide and earnest: "Every WORD you say seems so just."
I admired her appearance tremendously but--I can only express it by
saying I didn't want to touch her. Her fair hair was always
delectably done. It flowed beautifully over her pretty small ears,
and she would tie its fair coilings with fillets of black or blue
velvet that carried pretty buckles of silver and paste. The light,
the faint down on her brow and cheek was delightful. And it was
clear to me that I made her happy.
My sense of her deficiencies didn't stand in the way of my falling
at last very deeply in love with her. Her very shortcomings seemed
to offer me something. . . .
She stood in my mind for goodness--and for things from which it
seemed to me my hold was slipping.
She seemed to promise a way of escape from the deepening opposition
in me between physical passions and the constructive career, the
career of wide aims and human service, upon which I had embarked.
All the time that I was seeing her as a beautiful, fragile, rather
ineffective girl, I was also seeing her just as consciously as a
shining slender figure, a radiant reconciliation, coming into my
darkling disorders of lust and impulse. I could understand clearly
that she was incapable of the most necessary subtleties of political
thought, and yet I could contemplate praying to her and putting all
the intricate troubles of my life at her feet.
Before the reappearance of Margaret in my world at all an unwonted
disgust with the consequences and quality of my passions had arisen
in my mind. Among other things that moment with the Lettish girl
haunted me persistently. I would see myself again and again sitting
amidst those sluttish surroundings, collar and tie in hand, while
her heavy German words grouped themselves to a slowly apprehended
meaning. I would feel again with a fresh stab of remorse, that this
was not a flash of adventure, this was not seeing life in any
permissible sense, but a dip into tragedy, dishonour, hideous
degradation, and the pitiless cruelty of a world as yet uncontrolled
by any ordered will.
"Good God!" I put it to myself, "that I should finish the work those
Cossacks had begun! I who want order and justice before everything!
There's no way out of it, no decent excuse! If I didn't think, I
ought to have thought!" . . .
"How did I get to it?" . . . I would ransack the phases of my
development from the first shy unveiling of a hidden wonder to the
last extremity as a man will go through muddled account books to
find some disorganising error. . . .
I was also involved at that time--I find it hard to place these
things in the exact order of their dates because they were so
disconnected with the regular progress of my work and life--in an
intrigue, a clumsy, sensuous, pretentious, artificially stimulated
intrigue, with a Mrs. Larrimer, a woman living separated from her
husband. I will not go into particulars of that episode, nor how we
quarrelled and chafed one another. She was at once unfaithful and
jealous and full of whims about our meetings; she was careless of
our secret, and vulgarised our relationship by intolerable
interpretations; except for some glowing moments of gratification,
except for the recurrent and essentially vicious desire that drew us
back to each other again, we both fretted at a vexatious and
unexpectedly binding intimacy. The interim was full of the quality
of work delayed, of time and energy wasted, of insecure precautions
against scandal and exposure. Disappointment is almost inherent in
illicit love. I had, and perhaps it was part of her recurrent
irritation also, a feeling as though one had followed something fine
and beautiful into a net--into bird lime! These furtive scuffles,
this sneaking into shabby houses of assignation, was what we had
made out of the suggestion of pagan beauty; this was the reality of
our vision of nymphs and satyrs dancing for the joy of life amidst
incessant sunshine. We had laid hands upon the wonder and glory of
bodily love and wasted them. . . .
It was the sense of waste, of finely beautiful possibilities getting
entangled and marred for ever that oppressed me. I had missed, I
had lost. I did not turn from these things after the fashion of the
Baileys, as one turns from something low and embarrassing. I felt
that these great organic forces were still to be wrought into a
harmony with my constructive passion. I felt too that I was not
doing it. I had not understood the forces in this struggle nor its
nature, and as I learnt I failed. I had been started wrong, I had
gone on wrong, in a world that was muddled and confused, full of
false counsel and erratic shames and twisted temptations. I learnt
to see it so by failures that were perhaps destroying any chance of
profit in my lessons. Moods of clear keen industry alternated with
moods of relapse and indulgence and moods of dubiety and remorse. I
was not going on as the Baileys thought I was going on. There were
times when the blindness of the Baileys irritated me intensely.
Beneath the ostensible success of those years, between twenty-three
and twenty-eight, this rottenness, known to scarcely any one but
myself, grew and spread. My sense of the probability of a collapse
intensified. I knew indeed now, even as Willersley had prophesied
five years before, that I was entangling myself in something that
might smother all my uses in the world. Down there among those
incommunicable difficulties, I was puzzled and blundering. I was
losing my hold upon things; the chaotic and adventurous element in
life was spreading upward and getting the better of me, over-
mastering me and all my will to rule and make. . . . And the
strength, the drugging urgency of the passion!
Margaret shone at times in my imagination like a radiant angel in a
world of mire and disorder, in a world of cravings, hot and dull red
like scars inflamed. . . .
I suppose it was because I had so great a need of such help as her
whiteness proffered, that I could ascribe impossible perfections to
her, a power of intellect, a moral power and patience to which she,
poor fellow mortal, had indeed no claim. If only a few of us WERE
angels and freed from the tangle of effort, how easy life might be!
I wanted her so badly, so very badly, to be what I needed. I wanted
a woman to save me. I forced myself to see her as I wished to see
her. Her tepidities became infinite delicacies, her mental
vagueness an atmospheric realism. The harsh precisions of the
Baileys and Altiora's blunt directness threw up her fineness into
relief and made a grace of every weakness.
Mixed up with the memory of times when I talked with Margaret as one
talks politely to those who are hopelessly inferior in mental
quality, explaining with a false lucidity, welcoming and encouraging
the feeblest response, when possible moulding and directing, are
times when I did indeed, as the old phrase goes, worship the ground
she trod on. I was equally honest and unconscious of inconsistency
at each extreme. But in neither phase could I find it easy to make
love to Margaret. For in the first I did not want to, though I
talked abundantly to her of marriage and so forth, and was a little
puzzled at myself for not going on to some personal application, and
in the second she seemed inaccessible, I felt I must make
confessions and put things before her that would be the grossest
outrage upon the noble purity I attributed to her.
I went to Margaret at last to ask her to marry me, wrought up to the
mood of one who stakes his life on a cast. Separated from her, and
with the resonance of an evening of angry recriminations with Mrs.
Larrimer echoing in my mind, I discovered myself to be quite
passionately in love with Margaret. Last shreds of doubt vanished.
It has always been a feature of our relationship that Margaret
absent means more to me than Margaret present; her memory distils
from its dross and purifies in me. All my criticisms and
qualifications of her vanished into some dark corner of my mind.
She was the lady of my salvation; I must win my way to her or
I went to her at last, for all that I knew she loved me, in
passionate self-abasement, white and a-tremble. She was staying
with the Rockleys at Woking, for Shena Rockley had been at Bennett
Hall with her and they had resumed a close intimacy; and I went down
to her on an impulse, unheralded. I was kept waiting for some
minutes, I remember, in a little room upon which a conservatory
opened, a conservatory full of pots of large mauve-edged, white
cyclamens in flower. And there was a big lacquer cabinet, a Chinese
thing, I suppose, of black and gold against the red-toned wall. To
this day the thought of Margaret is inseparably bound up with the
sight of a cyclamen's back-turned petals.
She came in, looking pale and drooping rather more than usual. I
suddenly realised that Altiora's hint of a disappointment leading to
positive illness was something more than a vindictive comment. She
closed the door and came across to me and took and dropped my hand
and stood still. "What is it you want with me?" she asked.
The speech I had been turning over and over in my mind on the way
vanished at the sight of her.
"I want to talk to you," I answered lamely.
For some seconds neither of us said a word.
"I want to tell you things about my life," I began.
She answered with a scarcely audible "yes."
"I almost asked you to marry me at Pangbourne," I plunged. "I
didn't. I didn't because--because you had too much to give me."
"Too much!" she echoed, "to give you!" She had lifted her eyes to
my face and the colour was coming into her cheeks.
"Don't misunderstand me," I said hastily. "I want to tell you
things, things you don't know. Don't answer me. I want to tell
She stood before the fireplace with her ultimate answer shining
through the quiet of her face. "Go on," she said, very softly. It
was so pitilessly manifest she was resolved to idealise the
situation whatever I might say. I began walking up and down the
room between those cyclamens and the cabinet. There were little
gold fishermen on the cabinet fishing from little islands that each
had a pagoda and a tree, and there were also men in boats or
something, I couldn't determine what, and some obscure sub-office in
my mind concerned itself with that quite intently. Yet I seem to
have been striving with all my being to get words for the truth of
things. "You see," I emerged, "you make everything possible to me.
You can give me help and sympathy, support, understanding. You know
my political ambitions. You know all that I might do in the world.
I do so intensely want to do constructive things, big things
perhaps, in this wild jumble. . . . Only you don't know a bit what
I am. I want to tell you what I am. I'm complex. . . . I'm
I glanced at her, and she was regarding me with an expression of
blissful disregard for any meaning I was seeking to convey.
"You see," I said, "I'm a bad man."
She sounded a note of valiant incredulity.
Everything seemed to be slipping away from me. I pushed on to the
ugly facts that remained over from the wreck of my interpretation.
"What has held me back," I said, "is the thought that you could not
possibly understand certain things in my life. Men are not pure as
women are. I have had love affairs. I mean I have had affairs.
Passion--desire. You see, I have had a mistress, I have been
She seemed about to speak, but I interrupted. "I'm not telling
you," I said, "what I meant to tell you. I want you to know clearly
that there is another side to my life, a dirty side. Deliberately I
say, dirty. It didn't seem so at first--"
I stopped blankly. "Dirty," I thought, was the most idiotic choice
of words to have made.
I had never in any tolerable sense of the word been dirty.
"I drifted into this--as men do," I said after a little pause and
She was looking at me with her wide blue eyes.
"Did you imagine," she began, "that I thought you--that I expected--"
"But how can you know?"
"I know. I do know."
"But--" I began.
"I know," she persisted, dropping her eyelids. "Of course I know,"
and nothing could have convinced me more completely that she did not
"All men--" she generalised. "A woman does not understand these
I was astonished beyond measure at her way of taking my confession.
. . .
"Of course," she said, hesitating a little over a transparent
difficulty, "it is all over and past."
"It's all over and past," I answered.
There was a little pause.
"I don't want to know," she said. "None of that seems to matter now
in the slightest degree."
She looked up and smiled as though we had exchanged some acceptable
commonplaces. "Poor dear!" she said, dismissing everything, and put
out her arms, and it seemed to me that I could hear the Lettish girl
in the background--doomed safety valve of purity in this intolerable
world--telling something in indistinguishable German--I know not
what nor why. . . .
I took Margaret in my arms and kissed her. Her eyes were wet with
tears. She clung to me and was near, I felt, to sobbing.
"I have loved you," she whispered presently, "Oh! ever since we met
in Misterton--six years and more ago."
CHAPTER THE THIRD
MARGARET IN VENICE
There comes into my mind a confused memory of conversations with
Margaret; we must have had dozens altogether, and they mix in now
for the most part inextricably not only with one another, but with
later talks and with things we discussed at Pangbourne. We had the
immensest anticipations of the years and opportunities that lay
before us. I was now very deeply in love with her indeed. I felt
not that I had cleaned up my life but that she had. We called each
other "confederate" I remember, and made during our brief engagement
a series of visits to the various legislative bodies in London, the
County Council, the House of Commons, where we dined with Villiers,
and the St. Pancras Vestry, where we heard Shaw speaking. I was
full of plans and so was she of the way in which we were to live and
work. We were to pay back in public service whatever excess of
wealth beyond his merits old Seddon's economic advantage had won for
him from the toiling people in the potteries. The end of the Boer
War was so recent that that blessed word "efficiency" echoed still
in people's minds and thoughts. Lord Roseberry in a memorable
oration had put it into the heads of the big outer public, but the
Baileys with a certain show of justice claimed to have set it going
in the channels that took it to him--if as a matter of fact it was
taken to him. But then it was their habit to make claims of that
sort. They certainly did their share to keep "efficient" going.
Altiora's highest praise was "thoroughly efficient." We were to be
a "thoroughly efficient" political couple of the "new type." She
explained us to herself and Oscar, she explained us to ourselves,
she explained us to the people who came to her dinners and
afternoons until the world was highly charged with explanation and
expectation, and the proposal that I should be the Liberal candidate
for the Kinghamstead Division seemed the most natural development in
I was full of the ideal of hard restrained living and relentless
activity, and throughout a beautiful November at Venice, where
chiefly we spent our honeymoon, we turned over and over again and
discussed in every aspect our conception of a life tremendously
focussed upon the ideal of social service.
Most clearly there stands out a picture of ourselves talking in a
gondola on our way to Torcella. Far away behind us the smoke of
Murano forms a black stain upon an immense shining prospect of
smooth water, water as unruffled and luminous as the sky above, a
mirror on which rows of posts and distant black high-stemmed, swan-
necked boats with their minutely clear swinging gondoliers, float
aerially. Remote and low before us rises the little tower of our
destination. Our men swing together and their oars swirl leisurely
through the water, hump back in the rowlocks, splash sharply and go
swishing back again. Margaret lies back on cushions, with her face
shaded by a holland parasol, and I sit up beside her.
"You see," I say, and in spite of Margaret's note of perfect
acquiescence I feel myself reasoning against an indefinable
antagonism, "it is so easy to fall into a slack way with life.
There may seem to be something priggish in a meticulous discipline,
but otherwise it is so easy to slip into indolent habits--and to be
distracted from one's purpose. The country, the world, wants men to
serve its constructive needs, to work out and carry out plans. For
a man who has to make a living the enemy is immediate necessity; for
people like ourselves it's--it's the constant small opportunity of
"Frittering away," she says, "time and strength."
"That is what I feel. It's so pleasant to pretend one is simply
modest, it looks so foolish at times to take one's self too
seriously. We've GOT to take ourselves seriously."
She endorses my words with her eyes.
"I feel I can do great things with life."
"I KNOW you can."
"But that's only to be done by concentrating one's life upon one
main end. We have to plan our days, to make everything subserve our
"I feel," she answers softly, "we ought to give--every hour."
Her face becomes dreamy. "I WANT to give every hour," she adds.
That holiday in Venice is set in my memory like a little artificial
lake in uneven confused country, as something very bright and
skylike, and discontinuous with all about it. The faded quality of
the very sunshine of that season, the mellow discoloured palaces and
places, the huge, time-ripened paintings of departed splendours, the
whispering, nearly noiseless passage of hearse-black gondolas, for
the horrible steam launch had not yet ruined Venice, the stilled
magnificences of the depopulated lagoons, the universal autumn, made
me feel altogether in recess from the teeming uproars of reality.
There was not a dozen people all told, no Americans and scarcely any
English, to dine in the big cavern of a dining-room, with its vistas
of separate tables, its distempered walls and its swathed
chandeliers. We went about seeing beautiful things, accepting
beauty on every hand, and taking it for granted that all was well
with ourselves and the world. It was ten days or a fortnight before
I became fretful and anxious for action; a long tranquillity for
such a temperament as mine.
Our pleasures were curiously impersonal, a succession of shared
aesthetic appreciation threads all that time. Our honeymoon was no
exultant coming together, no mutual shout of "YOU!" We were almost
shy with one another, and felt the relief of even a picture to help
us out. It was entirely in my conception of things that I should be
very watchful not to shock or distress Margaret or press the
sensuous note. Our love-making had much of the tepid smoothness of
the lagoons. We talked in delicate innuendo of what should be
glorious freedoms. Margaret had missed Verona and Venice in her
previous Italian journey--fear of the mosquito had driven her mother
across Italy to the westward route--and now she could fill up her
gaps and see the Titians and Paul Veroneses she already knew in
colourless photographs, the Carpaccios, (the St. George series
delighted her beyond measure,) the Basaitis and that great statue of
Bartolomeo Colleoni that Ruskin praised.
But since I am not a man to look at pictures and architectural
effects day after day, I did watch Margaret very closely and store a
thousand memories of her. I can see her now, her long body drooping
a little forward, her sweet face upraised to some discovered
familiar masterpiece and shining with a delicate enthusiasm. I can
hear again the soft cadences of her voice murmuring commonplace
comments, for she had no gift of expressing the shapeless
satisfaction these things gave her.
Margaret, I perceived, was a cultivated person, the first cultivated
person with whom I had ever come into close contact. She was
cultivated and moral, and I, I now realise, was never either of
these things. She was passive, and I am active. She did not simply
and naturally look for beauty but she had been incited to look for
it at school, and took perhaps a keener interest in books and
lectures and all the organisation of beautiful things than she did
in beauty itself; she found much of her delight in being guided to
it. Now a thing ceases to be beautiful to me when some finger points
me out its merits. Beauty is the salt of life, but I take my beauty
as a wild beast gets its salt, as a constituent of the meal. . . .
And besides, there was that between us that should have seemed more
beautiful than any picture. . . .
So we went about Venice tracking down pictures and spiral staircases
and such-like things, and my brains were busy all the time with such
things as a comparison of Venice and its nearest modern equivalent,
New York, with the elaboration of schemes of action when we returned
to London, with the development of a theory of Margaret.
Our marriage had done this much at least, that it had fused and
destroyed those two independent ways of thinking about her that had
gone on in my mind hitherto. Suddenly she had become very near to
me, and a very big thing, a sort of comprehensive generalisation
behind a thousand questions, like the sky or England. The judgments
and understandings that had worked when she was, so to speak, miles
away from my life, had now to be altogether revised. Trifling
things began to matter enormously, that she had a weak and easily
fatigued back, for example, or that when she knitted her brows and
stammered a little in talking, it didn't really mean that an
exquisite significance struggled for utterance.
We visited pictures in the mornings chiefly. In the afternoon,
unless we were making a day-long excursion in a gondola, Margaret
would rest for an hour while I prowled about in search of English
newspapers, and then we would go to tea in the Piazza San Marco and
watch the drift of people feeding the pigeons and going into the
little doors beneath the sunlit arches and domes of Saint Mark's.
Then perhaps we would stroll on the Piazzetta, or go out into the
sunset in a gondola. Margaret became very interested in the shops
that abound under the colonnades and decided at last to make an
extensive purchase of table glass. "These things," she said, "are
quite beautiful, and far cheaper than anything but the most ordinary
looking English ware." I was interested in her idea, and a good
deal charmed by the delightful qualities of tinted shape, slender
handle and twisted stem. I suggested we should get not simply
tumblers and wineglasses but bedroom waterbottles, fruit- and sweet-
dishes, water-jugs, and in the end we made quite a business-like
afternoon of it.
I was beginning now to long quite definitely for events. Energy was
accumulating in me, and worrying me for an outlet. I found the
TIMES and the DAILY TELEGRAPH and the other papers I managed to get
hold of, more and more stimulating. I nearly wrote to the former
paper one day in answer to a letter by Lord Grimthorpe--I forget now
upon what point. I chafed secretly against this life of tranquil
appreciations more and more. I found my attitudes of restrained and
delicate affection for Margaret increasingly difficult to sustain.
I surprised myself and her by little gusts of irritability, gusts
like the catspaws before a gale. I was alarmed at these symptoms.
One night when Margaret had gone up to her room, I put on a light
overcoat, went out into the night and prowled for a long time
through the narrow streets, smoking and thinking. I returned and
went and sat on the edge of her bed to talk to her.
"Look here, Margaret," I said; "this is all very well, but I'm
"Restless!" she said with a faint surprise in her voice.
"Yes. I think I want exercise. I've got a sort of feeling--I've
never had it before--as though I was getting fat."
"My dear!" she cried.
"I want to do things;--ride horses, climb mountains, take the devil
out of myself."
She watched me thoughtfully.
"Couldn't we DO something?" she said.
"I don't know. Couldn't we perhaps go away from here soon--and walk
in the mountains--on our way home."
I thought. "There seems to be no exercise at all in this place."
"Isn't there some walk?"
"I wonder," I answered. "We might walk to Chioggia perhaps, along
the Lido." And we tried that, but the long stretch of beach
fatigued Margaret's back, and gave her blisters, and we never got
beyond Malamocco. . . .
A day or so after we went out to those pleasant black-robed, bearded
Armenians in their monastery at Saint Lazzaro, and returned towards
sundown. We fell into silence. "PIU LENTO," said Margaret to the
gondolier, and released my accumulated resolution.
"Let us go back to London," I said abruptly.
Margaret looked at me with surprised blue eyes.
"This is beautiful beyond measure, you know," I said, sticking to my
point, "but I have work to do."
She was silent for some seconds. "I had forgotten," she said.
"So had I," I sympathised, and took her hand. "Suddenly I have
She remained quite still. "There is so much to be done," I said,
She looked long away from me across the lagoon and at last sighed,
like one who has drunk deeply, and turned to me.
"I suppose one ought not to be so happy," she said. "Everything has
been so beautiful and so simple and splendid. And clean. It has
been just With You--the time of my life. It's a pity such things
must end. But the world is calling you, dear. . . . I ought not to
have forgotten it. I thought you were resting--and thinking. But
if you are rested.--Would you like us to start to-morrow?"
She looked at once so fragile and so devoted that on the spur of the
moment I relented, and we stayed in Venice four more days.
CHAPTER THE FOURTH
THE HOUSE IN WESTMINSTER
Margaret had already taken a little house in Radnor Square,
Westminster, before our marriage, a house that seemed particularly
adaptable to our needs as public-spirited efficients; it had been
very pleasantly painted and papered under Margaret's instructions,
white paint and clean open purples and green predominating, and now
we set to work at once upon the interesting business of arranging
and--with our Venetian glass as a beginning--furnishing it. We had
been fairly fortunate with our wedding presents, and for the most
part it was open to us to choose just exactly what we would have and
just precisely where we would put it.
Margaret had a sense of form and colour altogether superior to mine,
and so quite apart from the fact that it was her money equipped us,
I stood aside from all these matters and obeyed her summons to a
consultation only to endorse her judgment very readily. Until
everything was settled I went every day to my old rooms in Vincent
Square and worked at a series of papers that were originally
intended for the FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW, the papers that afterwards
became my fourth book, "New Aspects of Liberalism."
I still remember as delightful most of the circumstances of getting
into 79, Radnor Square. The thin flavour of indecision about
Margaret disappeared altogether in a shop; she had the precisest
ideas of what she wanted, and the devices of the salesman did not
sway her. It was very pleasant to find her taking things out of my
hands with a certain masterfulness, and showing the distinctest
determination to make a house in which I should be able to work in
that great project of "doing something for the world."
"And I do want to make things pretty about us," she said. "You
don't think it wrong to have things pretty?"
"I want them so."
"Altiora has things hard."
"Altiora," I answered, "takes a pride in standing ugly and
uncomfortable things. But I don't see that they help her. Anyhow
they won't help me."
So Margaret went to the best shops and got everything very simple
and very good. She bought some pictures very well indeed; there was
a little Sussex landscape, full of wind and sunshine, by Nicholson,
for my study, that hit my taste far better than if I had gone out to
get some such expression for myself.
"We will buy a picture just now and then," she said, "sometimes--
when we see one."
I would come back through the January mire or fog from Vincent
Square to the door of 79, and reach it at last with a quite childish
appreciation of the fact that its solid Georgian proportions and its
fine brass furnishings belonged to MY home; I would use my latchkey
and discover Margaret in the warm-lit, spacious hall with a
partially opened packing-case, fatigued but happy, or go up to have
tea with her out of the right tea things, "come at last," or be told
to notice what was fresh there. It wasn't simply that I had never
had a house before, but I had really never been, except in the most
transitory way, in any house that was nearly so delightful as mine
promised to be. Everything was fresh and bright, and softly and
harmoniously toned. Downstairs we had a green dining-room with
gleaming silver, dark oak, and English colour-prints; above was a
large drawing-room that could be made still larger by throwing open
folding doors, and it was all carefully done in greys and blues, for
the most part with real Sheraton supplemented by Sheraton so
skilfully imitated by an expert Margaret had discovered as to be
indistinguishable except to a minute scrutiny. And for me, above
this and next to my bedroom, there was a roomy study, with specially
thick stair-carpet outside and thick carpets in the bedroom overhead
and a big old desk for me to sit at and work between fire and
window, and another desk specially made for me by that expert if I
chose to stand and write, and open bookshelves and bookcases and
every sort of convenient fitting. There were electric heaters
beside the open fire, and everything was put for me to make tea at
any time--electric kettle, infuser, biscuits and fresh butter, so
that I could get up and work at any hour of the day or night. I
could do no work in this apartment for a long time, I was so
interested in the perfection of its arrangements. And when I
brought in my books and papers from Vincent Square, Margaret seized
upon all the really shabby volumes and had them re-bound in a fine
I can remember sitting down at that desk and looking round me and
feeling with a queer effect of surprise that after all even a place
in the Cabinet, though infinitely remote, was nevertheless in the
same large world with these fine and quietly expensive things.
On the same floor Margaret had a "den," a very neat and pretty den
with good colour-prints of Botticellis and Carpaccios, and there was
a third apartment for sectarial purposes should the necessity for
them arise, with a severe-looking desk equipped with patent files.
And Margaret would come flitting into the room to me, or appear
noiselessly standing, a tall gracefully drooping form, in the wide
open doorway. "Is everything right, dear?" she would ask.
"Come in," I would say, "I'm sorting out papers."
She would come to the hearthrug.
"I mustn't disturb you," she would remark.
"I'm not busy yet."
"Things are getting into order. Then we must make out a time-table
as the Baileys do, and BEGIN!"
Altiora came in to see us once or twice, and a number of serious
young wives known to Altiora called and were shown over the house,
and discussed its arrangements with Margaret. They were all
tremendously keen on efficient arrangements.
"A little pretty," said Altiora, with the faintest disapproval,
It was clear she thought we should grow out of that. From the day
of our return we found other people's houses open to us and eager
for us. We went out of London for week-ends and dined out, and
began discussing our projects for reciprocating these hospitalities.
As a single man unattached, I had had a wide and miscellaneous
social range, but now I found myself falling into place in a set.
For a time I acquiesced in this. I went very little to my clubs,
the Climax and the National Liberal, and participated in no bachelor
dinners at all. For a time, too, I dropped out of the garrulous
literary and journalistic circles I had frequented. I put up for
the Reform, not so much for the use of the club as a sign of serious
and substantial political standing. I didn't go up to Cambridge, I
remember, for nearly a year, so occupied was I with my new
The people we found ourselves among at this time were people, to put
it roughly, of the Parliamentary candidate class, or people already
actually placed in the political world. They ranged between very
considerable wealth and such a hard, bare independence as old
Willersley and the sister who kept house for him possessed. There
were quite a number of young couples like ourselves, a little
younger and more artless, or a little older and more established.
Among the younger men I had a sort of distinction because of my
Cambridge reputation and my writing, and because, unlike them, I was
an adventurer and had won and married my way into their circles
instead of being naturally there. They couldn't quite reckon upon
what I should do; they felt I had reserves of experience and
incalculable traditions. Close to us were the Cramptons, Willie
Crampton, who has since been Postmaster-General, rich and very
important in Rockshire, and his younger brother Edward, who has
specialised in history and become one of those unimaginative men of
letters who are the glory of latter-day England. Then there was
Lewis, further towards Kensington, where his cousins the Solomons
and the Hartsteins lived, a brilliant representative of his race,
able, industrious and invariably uninspired, with a wife a little in
revolt against the racial tradition of feminine servitude and
inclined to the suffragette point of view, and Bunting Harblow, an
old blue, and with an erratic disposition well under the control of
the able little cousin he had married. I had known all these men,
but now (with Altiora floating angelically in benediction) they
opened their hearts to me and took me into their order. They were
all like myself, prospective Liberal candidates, with a feeling that
the period of wandering in the wilderness of opposition was drawing
near its close. They were all tremendously keen upon social and
political service, and all greatly under the sway of the ideal of a
simple, strenuous life, a life finding its satisfactions in
political achievements and distinctions. The young wives were as
keen about it as the young husbands, Margaret most of all, and I--
whatever elements in me didn't march with the attitudes and habits
of this set were very much in the background during that time.
We would give little dinners and have evening gatherings at which
everything was very simple and very good, with a slight but
perceptible austerity, and there was more good fruit and flowers and
less perhaps in the way of savouries, patties and entrees than was
customary. Sherry we banished, and Marsala and liqueurs, and there
was always good home-made lemonade available. No men waited, but
very expert parlourmaids. Our meat was usually Welsh mutton--I
don't know why, unless that mountains have ever been the last refuge
of the severer virtues. And we talked politics and books and ideas
and Bernard Shaw (who was a department by himself and supposed in
those days to be ethically sound at bottom), and mingled with the
intellectuals--I myself was, as it were, a promoted intellectual.
The Cramptons had a tendency to read good things aloud on their less
frequented receptions, but I have never been able to participate
submissively in this hyper-digestion of written matter, and
generally managed to provoke a disruptive debate. We were all very
earnest to make the most of ourselves and to be and do, and I wonder
still at times, with an unassuaged perplexity, how it is that in
that phase of utmost earnestness I have always seemed to myself to
be most remote from reality.
I look back now across the detaching intervention of sixteen crowded
years, critically and I fancy almost impartially, to those
beginnings of my married life. I try to recall something near to
their proper order the developing phases of relationship. I am
struck most of all by the immense unpremeditated, generous-spirited
insincerities upon which Margaret and I were building.
It seems to me that here I have to tell perhaps the commonest
experience of all among married educated people, the deliberate,
shy, complex effort to fill the yawning gaps in temperament as they
appear, the sustained, failing attempt to bridge abysses, level
barriers, evade violent pressures. I have come these latter years
of my life to believe that it is possible for a man and woman to be
absolutely real with one another, to stand naked souled to each
other, unashamed and unafraid, because of the natural all-glorifying
love between them. It is possible to love and be loved untroubling,
as a bird flies through the air. But it is a rare and intricate
chance that brings two people within sight of that essential union,
and for the majority marriage must adjust itself on other terms.
Most coupled people never really look at one another. They look a
little away to preconceived ideas. And each from the first days of
love-making HIDES from the other, is afraid of disappointing, afraid
of offending, afraid of discoveries in either sense. They build not
solidly upon the rock of truth, but upon arches and pillars and
queer provisional supports that are needed to make a common
foundation, and below in the imprisoned darknesses, below the fine
fabric they sustain together begins for each of them a cavernous
hidden life. Down there things may be prowling that scarce ever
peep out to consciousness except in the grey half-light of sleepless
nights, passions that flash out for an instant in an angry glance
and are seen no more, starved victims and beautiful dreams bricked
up to die. For the most of us there is no jail delivery of those
inner depths, and the life above goes on to its honourable end.
I have told how I loved Margaret and how I came to marry her.
Perhaps already unintentionally I have indicated the quality of the
injustice our marriage did us both. There was no kindred between us
and no understanding. We were drawn to one another by the
unlikeness of our quality, by the things we misunderstood in each
other. I know a score of couples who have married in that fashion.
Modern conditions and modern ideas, and in particular the intenser
and subtler perceptions of modern life, press more and more heavily
upon a marriage tie whose fashion comes from an earlier and less
discriminating time. When the wife was her husband's subordinate,
meeting him simply and uncritically for simple ends, when marriage
was a purely domestic relationship, leaving thought and the vivid
things of life almost entirely to the unencumbered man, mental and
temperamental incompatibilities mattered comparatively little. But
now the wife, and particularly the loving childless wife,
unpremeditatedly makes a relentless demand for a complete
association, and the husband exacts unthought of delicacies of
understanding and co-operation. These are stupendous demands.
People not only think more fully and elaborately about life than
they ever did before, but marriage obliges us to make that ever more
accidented progress a three-legged race of carelessly assorted
couples. . . .
Our very mental texture was different. I was rough-minded, to use
the phrase of William James, primary and intuitive and illogical;
she was tender-minded, logical, refined and secondary. She was
loyal to pledge and persons, sentimental and faithful; I am loyal to
ideas and instincts, emotional and scheming. My imagination moves
in broad gestures; her's was delicate with a real dread of
extravagance. My quality is sensuous and ruled by warm impulses;
hers was discriminating and essentially inhibitory. I like the
facts of the case and to mention everything; I like naked bodies and
the jolly smells of things. She abounded in reservations, in
circumlocutions and evasions, in keenly appreciated secondary
points. Perhaps the reader knows that Tintoretto in the National
Gallery, the Origin of the Milky Way. It is an admirable test of
temperamental quality. In spite of my early training I have come
to regard that picture as altogether delightful; to Margaret it has
always been "needlessly offensive." In that you have our
fundamental breach. She had a habit, by no means rare, of damning
what she did not like or find sympathetic in me on the score that it
was not my "true self," and she did not so much accept the universe
as select from it and do her best to ignore the rest. And also I
had far more initiative than had she. This is no catalogue of
rights and wrongs, or superiorities and inferiorities; it is a
catalogue of differences between two people linked in a relationship
that constantly becomes more intolerant of differences.
This is how we stood to each other, and none of it was clear to
either of us at the outset. To begin with, I found myself reserving
myself from her, then slowly apprehending a jarring between our
minds and what seemed to me at first a queer little habit of
misunderstanding in her. . . .
It did not hinder my being very fond of her. . . .
Where our system of reservation became at once most usual and most
astounding was in our personal relations. It is not too much to say
that in that regard we never for a moment achieved sincerity with
one another during the first six years of our life together. It
goes even deeper than that, for in my effort to realise the ideal of
my marriage I ceased even to attempt to be sincere with myself. I
would not admit my own perceptions and interpretations. I tried to
fit myself to her thinner and finer determinations. There are
people who will say with a note of approval that I was learning to
conquer myself. I record that much without any note of approval. . . .
For some years I never deceived Margaret about any concrete fact
nor, except for the silence about my earlier life that she had
almost forced upon me, did I hide any concrete fact that seemed to
affect her, but from the outset I was guilty of immense spiritual
concealments, my very marriage was based, I see now, on a spiritual
subterfuge; I hid moods from her, pretended feelings. . . .
The interest and excitement of setting-up a house, of walking about
it from room to room and from floor to floor, or sitting at one's
own dinner table and watching one's wife control conversation with a
pretty, timid resolution, of taking a place among the secure and
free people of our world, passed almost insensibly into the interest
and excitement of my Parliamentary candidature for the Kinghamstead
Division, that shapeless chunk of agricultural midland between the
Great Western and the North Western railways. I was going to "take
hold" at last, the Kinghamstead Division was my appointed handle. I
was to find my place in the rather indistinctly sketched
constructions that were implicit in the minds of all our circle.
The precise place I had to fill and the precise functions I had to
discharge were not as yet very clear, but all that, we felt sure,
would become plain as things developed.
A few brief months of vague activities of "nursing" gave place to
the excitements of the contest that followed the return of Mr.
Camphell-Bannerman to power in 1905. So far as the Kinghamstead
Division was concerned it was a depressed and tepid battle. I went
about the constituency making three speeches that were soon
threadbare, and an odd little collection of people worked for me;
two solicitors, a cheap photographer, a democratic parson, a number
of dissenting ministers, the Mayor of Kinghamstead, a Mrs. Bulger,
the widow of an old Chartist who had grown rich through electric
traction patents, Sir Roderick Newton, a Jew who had bought
Calersham Castle, and old Sir Graham Rivers, that sturdy old
soldier, were among my chief supporters. We had headquarters in
each town and village, mostly there were empty shops we leased
temporarily, and there at least a sort of fuss and a coming and
going were maintained. The rest of the population stared in a state
of suspended judgment as we went about the business. The country
was supposed to be in a state of intellectual conflict and
deliberate decision, in history it will no doubt figure as a
momentous conflict. Yet except for an occasional flare of bill-
sticking or a bill in a window or a placard-plastered motor-car or
an argumentative group of people outside a public-house or a
sluggish movement towards the schoolroom or village hall, there was
scarcely a sign that a great empire was revising its destinies. Now
and then one saw a canvasser on a doorstep. For the most part
people went about their business with an entirely irresponsible
confidence in the stability of the universe. At times one felt a
little absurd with one's flutter of colours and one's air of saving
My opponent was a quite undistinguished Major-General who relied
upon his advocacy of Protection, and was particularly anxious we
should avoid "personalities" and fight the constituency in a
gentlemanly spirit. He was always writing me notes, apologising for
excesses on the part of his supporters, or pointing out the
undesirability of some course taken by mine.
My speeches had been planned upon broad lines, but they lost touch
with these as the polling approached. To begin with I made a real
attempt to put what was in my mind before the people I was to supply
with a political voice. I spoke of the greatness of our empire and
its destinies, of the splendid projects and possibilities of life
and order that lay before the world, of all that a resolute and
constructive effort might do at the present time. "We are building
a state," I said, "secure and splendid, we are in the dawn of the
great age of mankind." Sometimes that would get a solitary "'Ear!
'ear!" Then having created, as I imagined, a fine atmosphere, I
turned upon the history of the last Conservative administration and