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Title:      Random Harvest (1941)
Author:     James Hilton
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Language:   English
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Title:      Random Harvest (1941)
Author:     James Hilton





"According to a British Official Report, bombs fell at Random."

--GERMAN OFFICIAL REPORT



PART ONE


On the morning of the eleventh of November, 1937, precisely at
eleven o'clock, some well-meaning busybody consulted his watch and
loudly announced the hour, with the result that all of us in the
dining-car felt constrained to put aside drinks and newspapers and
spend the two minutes' silence in rather embarrassed stares at one
another or out of the window.  Not that anyone had intended
disrespect--merely that in a fast-moving train we knew no rules for
correct behaviour and would therefore rather not have behaved at
all.  Anyhow, it was during those tense uneasy seconds that I first
took notice of the man opposite.  Dark-haired, slim, and austerely
good-looking, he was perhaps in his early or middle forties; he
wore an air of prosperous distinction that fitted well with his
neat but quiet standardized clothes.  I could not guess whether he
had originally moved in from a third- or a first-class compartment.
Half a million Englishmen are like that.  Their inconspicuous
correctness makes almost a display of concealment.

As he looked out of the window I saw something happen to his eyes--
a change from a glance to a gaze and then from a gaze to a glare, a
sudden sharpening of focus, as when a person thinks he recognizes
someone fleetingly in a crowd.  Meanwhile a lurch of the train
spilt coffee on the table between us, providing an excuse for
apologies as soon as the two minutes were over; I got in with mine
first, but by the time he turned to reply the focus was lost, his
look of recognition unsure.  Only the embarrassment remained, and
to ease it I made some comment on the moorland scenery, which was
indeed sombrely beautiful that morning, for overnight snow lay on
the summits, and there was one of them, twin-domed, that seemed to
keep pace with the train, moving over the intervening valley like a
ghostly camel.  "That's Mickle," I said, pointing to it.

Surprisingly he answered:  "Do you know if there's a lake--quite a
small lake--between the peaks?"

Two men at the table across the aisle then intervened with the
instant garrulousness of those who overhear a question put to
someone else.  They were also, I think, moved by a common desire to
talk down an emotional crisis, for the entire dining-car seemed
suddenly full of chatter.  One said there WAS such a lake, if you
called it a lake, but it was really more of a swamp; and the other
said there wasn't any kind of lake at all, though after heavy rain
it might be "a bit soggy" up there, and then the first man agreed
that maybe that was so, and presently it turned out that though
they were both Derbyshire men, neither had actually climbed Mickle
since boyhood.

We listened politely to all this and thanked them, glad to let the
matter drop.  Nothing more was said till they left the train at
Leicester; then I leaned across the table and said:  "It doesn't
pay to argue with local inhabitants, otherwise I'd have answered
your question myself--because I was on top of Mickle yesterday."

A gleam reappeared in his eyes.  "YOU were?"

"Yes, I'm one of those eccentric people who climb mountains for fun
all the year round."

"So you saw the lake?"

"There wasn't a lake or a swamp or a sign of either."

"Ah. . . ."  And the gleam faded.

"You sound disappointed?"

"Well, no--hardly that.  Maybe I was thinking of somewhere else.
I'm afraid I've a bad memory."

"For mountains?"

"For names too.  MICKLE, did you say it was?"  He spoke the word as
if he were trying the sound of it.

"That's the local name.  It isn't important enough to be on maps."

He nodded and then, rather deliberately, held up a newspaper
throughout a couple of English counties.  The sight of soldiers
marching along a Bedfordshire lane gave us our next exchange of
remarks--something about Hitler, the European situation, chances of
war, and so on.  It led to my asking if he had served in the last
war.

"Yes."

"Then there must be things you wish you HAD forgotten?"

"But I have--even THEM--to some extent."  He added as if to deflect
the subject from himself:  "I imagine you were too young?"

"Too young for the last, but not for the next, the way things are
going."

"Nobody will be either too young or too old for the next."

Meanwhile men's voices were uprising further along the car in talk
of Ypres and Gallipoli; I called his attention and commented that
thousands of other Englishmen were doubtless at that moment
reminiscing about their war experiences.  "If you've already
forgotten yours, you're probably lucky."

"I didn't say I'd forgotten EVERYTHING."

He then told me a story which I shall summarize as follows:  During
the desperate months of trench warfare in France an English staff
officer reasoned that if some spy whom the Germans had learned to
trust were to give them false details about a big attack, it might
have a better chance of success.  The first step was to establish
the good faith of such a spy, and this seemed only possible by
allowing him, over a considerable period, to supply true
information.  Accordingly, during several weeks before the planned
offensive, small raiding parties crawled across no-man's-land at
night while German machine-gunners, having been duly tipped off as
to time and place, slaughtered them with much precision.  One of
these doomed detachments was in charge of a youth who, after
enlisting at the beginning of the war, had just begun his first
spell in the front line.  Quixotically eager to lead his men to
storybook victory, he soon found that his less inspiring task was
to accompany a few wounded and dying survivors into a shell-hole so
close to the enemy trenches that he could pick up snatches of
German conversation.  Knowing the language fairly well, he
connected something he heard with something he had previously
overheard in his commanding officer's dugout; so that presently he
was able to deduce the whole intrigue of plot and counterplot.  It
came to him as an additional shock as he lay there, half drowned in
mud, delirious with the pain of a smashed leg, and sick with
watching the far greater miseries of his companions.  Before dawn a
shell screamed over and burst a few yards away, killing the others
and wounding him in the head so that he saw, heard, and could think
no more.

"What happened to him afterwards?"

"Oh, he recovered pretty well--except for partial loss of
memory. . . .  He's still alive.  Of course, when you come to think
about it logically, the whole thing was as justifiable as any other
piece of wartime strategy.  The primary aim is to frustrate the
enemy's knavish tricks.  Anything that does so is the thing to do,
even if it seems a bit knavish itself."

"You say that defensively, as if you had to keep on convincing
yourself about it."

"I wonder if you're right."

"I wonder if you're the survivor who's still alive?"

He hesitated a moment, then answered with an oblique smile:  "I
don't suppose you'd believe me even if I said no."  I let it go at
that, and after a pause he went on:  "It's curious to reflect that
one's death was planned by BOTH sides--it gives an extra flavour to
the life one managed to sneak away with, as well as a certain irony
to the mood in which one wears a decoration."

"So I should imagine."

I waited for him to make some further comment but he broke a long
silence only to summon the waiter and order a whiskey-and-soda.
"You'll have one with me?"

"No, thanks."

"You don't drink?"

"Not very often in the morning."

"Neither do I, as a rule.  Matter of fact, I don't drink much at
all."

I felt that these trivial exchanges were to cover an inner stress
of mind he was trying to master.  "Coming back to what you were
saying," I coaxed, eventually, but he interrupted:  "No, let's NOT
come back to it--no use raking over these things.  Besides,
everybody's so bored with the last war and so scared of the next
that it's almost become a social gaffe to bring up the matter at
all."

"Except on one day of the year--which happens to be today.  Then
the taboos are lifted."

"Thanks to the rather theatrical device of the two minutes'
silence?"

"Yes, and 'thanks' is right.  Surely we English need some release
from the tyranny of the stiff upper lip."

He smiled into his drink as the waiter set it before him.  "So you
think it does no harm--once a year?"

"On the contrary, I think it makes a very healthy purge of our
normal--which is to say, our ABNORMAL--national inhibitions."

Another smile.  "Maybe--if you like psycho-analyst's jargon."

"Evidently YOU don't."

"Sorry.  If you're one of them, I apologize."

"No, I'm just interested in the subject, that's all."

"Ever studied it--seriously?"

I said I had, which was true, for I had written several papers on
it for the Philosophical Society.  He nodded, then read again for a
few score miles.  The train was travelling fast, and when next he
looked up it was as if he realized that anything he still had to
say must be hurried; we were already streaking past the long rows
of suburban back gardens.  He suddenly resumed, with a touch of his
earlier eagerness:  "All right then--listen to this--and don't
laugh . . . it may be up your street. . . .  Sometimes I have a
feeling of being--if it isn't too absurd to say such a thing--of
being HALF SOMEBODY ELSE.  Some casual little thing--a tune or a
scent or a name in a newspaper or a look of something or somebody
will remind me, just for a second--and yet I haven't time to get
any grip of what it DOES remind me of--it's a sort of wisp of
memory that can't be trapped before it fades away. . . .  For
instance, when I saw that mountain this morning I felt I'd been
there--I almost KNEW I'd been there. . . .  I could see that lake
between the summits--why, I'd BATHED in it--there was a slab of
rock jutting out like a diving-board--and the day I was there I
fell asleep in the shade and woke up in the sun . . . but I suppose
I've got to believe the whole thing never happened, just because
you say there isn't a lake there at all. . . .  Does all this
strike you as the most utter nonsense?"

"By no means.  It's not an uncommon experience."

"Oh, it ISN'T?"  He looked slightly dismayed, perhaps robbed of
some comfort in finding himself not unique.

"Dunne says it's due to a half-remembered dream.  You should read
his book An Experiment with Time.  He says--this, of course, is
condensing his theory very crudely--that dreams DO foretell the
future, only by the time they come true, we've forgotten them--all
except your elusive wisp of memory."

"So I once dreamed about that mountain?"

"Perhaps.  It's an interesting theory even if it can't be proved.
Anyhow, the feeling you have is quite a normal one."

"I don't feel that it IS altogether normal, the way I have it."

"You mean it's beginning to worry you?"

"Perhaps sometimes--in a way--yes."  He added with a nervous smile:
"But that's no reason why I should worry YOU.  I can only plead
this one-day-a-year excuse--the purging of the inhibitions, didn't
you call it?  Let's talk about something else--cricket--the Test
Match. . . .  Wonder what will happen to England . . . ?"

"Somehow today that doesn't sound like cricket talk."

"I know.  After the silence there ARE overtones . . . but all I
really wanted to prove was that I'm not a complete lunatic."

"Most people have a spot of lunacy in them somewhere.  It's
excusable."

"Provided they don't inflict it on strangers."

"Why not, if you feel you want to?"

"I don't want to--not consciously."

"Unconsciously then.  Which makes it worst of all.  Not that in
your case it sounds very serious."

"You don't think so?  You don't think these--er--peculiarities of
memory--are--er--anything to worry about?"

"Since you ask me, may I be perfectly frank?"

"Of course."

"I don't know what your work is, but isn't it possible you've been
overdoing things lately--not enough rest--relaxation?"

"I don't need a psycho-analyst to tell me that.  My doctor does--
every time I see him."

"Then why not take his advice?"

"THIS is why."  He pulled a small notebook from his vest pocket.
"I happen to be in what is vaguely called public life--which means
I'm on a sort of treadmill I can't get off until it stops--and it
won't stop."  He turned over the pages.  "Just to show you--a
sample day of my existence. . . .  Here, you can read it--it's
typed."  He added, as I took the book:  "My secretary--very neat.
SHE wouldn't let me forget anything."

"But she can't spell 'archaeological.'"

"Why does she have to?"  He snatched the book back for scrutiny and
I had the feeling he was glad of the excuse to do so and keep it.
"Calderbury Archaeological and Historical Society? . . .  Oh,
they're my constituents--I have to show them round the House--guide-
book stuff--an awful bore . . . that's this afternoon.  This
evening I have an Embassy reception; then tomorrow there's a board
meeting, a lunch party, and in the evening I'm guest speaker at a
dinner in Cambridge."

"Doesn't look as if there's anything you could cut except possibly
tomorrow's lunch."

"I expect I'll do that, anyway--even though it's at my own house.
There'll be a crowd of novelists and actors and titled people who'd
think me surly because I wouldn't talk to them half as freely as
I'm talking to you now."

I could believe it.  So far he had made no move towards an exchange
of names between us, and I guessed that, on his side, the anonymity
had been not only an encouragement to talk, but a temptation to
reveal himself almost to the point of self-exhibition.  And there
had been a certain impish exhilaration in the way he had allowed me
to glance at his engagement book for just those few seconds, as if
teasing me with clues to an identity he had neither wish nor
intention to disclose.  Men in whom reticence is a part of good
form have fantastic ways of occasional escape, and I should have
been the last to embarrass an interesting fellow traveller had he
not added, as the train began braking into St. Pancras:  "Well,
it's been a pleasant chat.  Some day--who knows?--we might run into
each other again."

Spoken as if he sincerely half meant it, the remark merely
emphasized the other half sense in which he did not mean it at all;
and this, because I already liked him, irked me to the reply:  "If
it's the Swithin's Dinner tomorrow night we may as well introduce
ourselves now as then, because I'll be there too.  My name's
Harrison.  I'm on the Reception Committee."

"Oh, really?"

"And I don't know what your plans are, but after the show I'd be
delighted if you'd come up to my rooms and have some coffee."

"Thanks," he muttered with sudden glumness, gathering up his
newspapers and brief-case.  Then I suppose he realized it would be
pointless, as well as discourteous, to refuse the name which I
should inevitably discover so soon.  He saved it for a last
unsmiling afterthought as he jumped to the platform.  "My name's
Rainier . . . Charles Rainier."

                    *    *    *    *    *

Rainier nodded rather coldly when I met him again the following
day.  In his evening clothes and with an impressive array of
decorations he looked what he was--a guest of honour about to
perform his duties with the touch of apathy that so effectively
disguises the British technique of authority.  Not necessarily an
aristocratic technique.  I had already looked him up in reference
books and found that he was the son of a longish line of
manufacturers--no blue blood, no title (I wondered how he had
evaded that), a public school of the second rank, Parliamentary
membership for a safe Conservative county.  I had also mentioned
his name to a few people I knew; the general impression was that he
was rich and influential, and that I was lucky to have made such a
chance encounter.  He did not, however, belong to the small group
of well-known personalities recognizable by the man-in-the-street
either in the flesh or in Low cartoons.  On the contrary, he seemed
neither to seek nor to attract the popular sort of publicity, nor
yet to repel it so markedly as to get in reverse; it was as if he
deliberately aimed at being nondescript.  A journalist told me he
would be difficult to build up as a newspaper hero because his
personality was "centripetal" instead of "centrifugal"; I was not
quite certain what this meant, but Who's Who was less subtle in
confiding that his recreations were mountaineering and music.

On the whole I secured a fair amount of information without much
real enlightenment; I hoped for more from a second meeting and
travelled to Cambridge in a mood of considerable anticipation.  It
was the custom of the secretary and committee of the Swithin's
Society to receive guests informally before dining in the College
Hall; so we gathered first in the Combination Room, where we made
introductions, drank sherry, and exchanged small talk.  It is
really hard to know what to say to distinguished people when you
first meet them--that is, it is hard to think of talk small enough
to be free from presumption.  Rainier, for instance, had lately
been in the financial news in connection with a proposed merger of
cement companies, a difficult achievement for which negotiations
were still proceeding; but it was impossible to say "How is your
merger getting on?" as one might say "How are your chrysanthemums?"
to a man whom you knew to be an enthusiastic gardener.  Presently,
to my relief, some other guests arrived whom I had to attend to,
and it was perhaps a quarter of an hour before I saw him edging to
me through the crowd.  "Sorry," he began, "but I've got to let you
down--awful toothache--where's the nearest dentist?"  I hustled him
out as inconspicuously as possible and at the door of the taxi
received his promise to return to the dinner if he felt equal to
it.  Then I went back and explained to the company what had
happened.  Somehow it did not sound very convincing, and none of us
really expected to see him again.  But we did.  An hour later he
took the vacant place we had left at the High Table and was just in
time to reply to the toast with one of the best after-dinner
speeches I had ever heard.  Maybe the escape from physical pain
plus the Cambridge atmosphere, with its mingling of time-honoured
formality and youthful high spirits, suited a mood in which he
began with badinage about toothache and ended with a few graceful
compliments to the College and University.  Among other things I
remember him recalling that during his undergraduate days he had
had an ambition to live at Cambridge all his life, as a don of some
sort (laughter), but exactly what sort he hadn't stayed long enough
to decide (laughter), because fate had called him instead to be
some sort of business-man politician, but even what sort of THAT he
hadn't yet entirely made up his mind (more laughter). . . .  "So
because of this fundamental indecision, I still hope that some day
I shall throw off the cares of too many enterprises and seek the
tranquillity of a room overlooking a quadrangle and an oak that can
be sported against the world."  (Prolonged laughter in which the
speaker joined.)  After he had finished, we all cheered
uproariously and then, relaxing, drank and argued and made a night
of it in the best Swithin's tradition; when eventually the affair
broke up, it was Rainier himself who asked if my invitation to
coffee still held good.

"Why, of course--only I thought maybe after the dentist you'd
feel--"

"My dear boy, don't ever try to imagine what my feelings are."

But he smiled in saying it, and I gathered he had forgiven not so
much me as himself for having taken part in our train conversation.
A few friends adjourned to my rooms near by, where we sat around
and continued discussions informally.  Again he charmed us by his
talk, but even more by his easy manners and willingness to laugh
and listen; long after most of the good-nights he still lingered
chatting, listening, and smoking cigarette after cigarette.  I
didn't know then that he slept badly and liked to stay up late,
that he enjoyed young company and jokes and midnight argument, that
he had no snobbisms, and that public speaking left him either very
dull and listless or very excitable and talkative, according to the
audience.  Towards three in the morning, when we found ourselves
sole survivors, I suggested more coffee, and at that he sank into
an armchair with a sigh of content and put his feet against the
mantelpiece as if the place belonged to him--which, in a sense, it
did, as to any Swithin's man since the reign of Elizabeth the
Foundress.  "I've been in these rooms before--often.  Fellow with
the disarming name of Pal had them in my time--'native of Asia or
Africa not of European parentage,' as the University regulations so
tactfully specify.  High-caste Hindoo.  Mathematician--genius in
his own line--wonder what he's doing now?--probably distilling salt
out of sea-water or lying down in front of trains or some other
blind-alley behaviour.  Used to say he felt algebra emotionally--
told me once he couldn't read through the Binomial Theorem without
tears coming into his eyes--the whole concept, he said, was so
shatteringly beautiful. . . .  Wish I could have got into his
world, somehow or other.  And there are other worlds, too--wish
sometimes I could get into any of them--out of my own."

"What's so wrong about your own?"

He laughed defensively.  "Now there you've got me. . . .  Maybe, as
you hinted yesterday, just a matter of overwork.  But it's true
enough that talking to all you young fellows tonight made me feel
terribly ancient and envious."

"Not ENVIOUS, surely?  It's we who are envious of you--because
you've made a success of life.  We're a pretty disillusioned crowd
when we stop laughing--we know there won't be jobs for more than a
minority of us unless a war comes to give all of us the kind of job
we don't want."

He mused over his coffee for a moment and then continued:  "Yes,
that's true--and that's probably why I feel how different
everything is here instead of how much the same--because my
Cambridge days WERE different.  The war was just over then, and our
side had won, and we all of us thought that winning a great war
ought to mean something, either towards making our lives a sort of
well-deserved happy-ever-after--a long golden afternoon of
declining effort and increasing reward--or else to give us chances
to rebuild the world this way or that.  It all depended whether one
were tired or eager after the strain.  Most of us were both--tired
of the war and everything connected with it, eager to push ahead
into something new.  We soon stopped hating the Germans, and just
as soon we began to laugh at the idea of anyone caring enough about
the horrid past to ask us that famous question on the recruiting
posters--'What did you do in the Great War?'  But even the most
cynical of us couldn't see ahead to a time when the only logical
answer to that question would be another one--'WHICH Great War?'

"There was a room over a fish shop in Petty Cury where some of us
met once a week to talk our heads off--we called ourselves the
Heretics, but I can't remember anything said at those meetings half
so well as I can remember the smell of fish coming up from the shop
below.  And J. M. Keynes was lecturing in the Art School, politely
suggesting that Germany mightn't be able to pay off so many
millions in reparations, or was it billions?--in those days one
just thought of a number and stuck as many naughts as one fancied
after it.  And there were Holland Rose on Napoleon and Pigou on
Diminishing Returns, and Bury still explaining the Decline and Fall
of the Roman Empire, and one evening Pal and I--sounds sentimental,
doesn't it, Pal and I?--lined up in a queue that stretched half-way
round Trinity Great Court to hear a lecture by a fellow named
Eddington about some new German fellow named Einstein who had a
theory about light bending in the middle--that brought the house
down, of course--roars of laughter--just as you heard tonight only
more so--good clean undergraduate fun at its best.  And behind us
on the wall the portrait of Catholic Mary scowled down on this
modern audience that scoffed at science no less than at religion.
Heretics indeed--and laughing heretics!  But my pal Pal didn't
laugh--he was transfixed with a sort of ecstasy about the whole
thing.

"I did a good deal of reading on the river, and also at the Orchard
at Grantchester--you remember Rupert Brooke's poem?  Brooke would
be fifty today, if he'd lived--think of that. . . .  Still stands
the clock at ten to three, but Rupert Brooke is late for tea--
confined to his bed with rheumatism or something--that's what poets
get for not dying young.  The woman at the Orchard who served the
teas remembered Brooke--she was a grand old chatterbox and once I
got to know her she'd talk endlessly about undergraduates and
professors past and present--many a yarn, I daresay, that I've
forgotten since and that nobody else remembered even then. . . .
Trivial talk--just as trivial as the way I'm talking to you now.
Nineteen-twenty, that was--Cambridge full of demobilized old-young
men still wearing dyed officers' overcoats--British warms sent up
to Perth and returned chocolate-brown--full of men still apt to go
suddenly berserk in the middle of a rag and turn it into a riot, or
start whimpering during a thunderstorm--after-effects of shell-
shock, you know.  Plenty of us had had that--including myself."

"As a result of the head injury you mentioned yesterday?"

"I suppose so."

"You had a pretty bad time?"

"No, I was one of the lucky ones--comparatively, that is.  But
when you're blown up, even if you're not physically smashed to
bits . . ."  He broke off awkwardly.  "I'm sorry.  It isn't
Armistice Day any more.  These confessions are out of place."

"Not at all.  I'm interested.  It's so hard for my generation to
imagine what it was like."

"Don't worry--you'll learn soon enough."

"How long was it before you were rescued?"

"Haven't the faintest idea.  I suppose I was unconscious."

"But you must have recovered consciousness later?"

"Presumably.  I don't remember when or where or any of the details.
But I've some reason to believe I was taken prisoner."

"Reason to believe?  That's a guarded way of putting it."

"I know--but it happens to be just about all I can say.  You see, I
literally don't remember.  From that moment of being knocked out my
memory's a complete blank till years later when I found myself
lying on a park seat in Liverpool."

"YEARS later?"

"Getting on for three years, but of course I didn't know that at
first.  And it was a wet day, as luck would have it."  He smiled.
"You don't find my story very plausible?"

"I might if you'd tell me the whole of it--without gaps."

"But there ARE gaps--that's just the trouble."

"What were you doing in Liverpool?"

"Once again, I haven't the faintest idea.  I didn't even know it
was Liverpool at first.  The main thing was to know WHO I was--
where and when were easy enough to find out later."

"Do you mean you'd been going by some other name until then?"

"Maybe.  I suppose so.  That's another of the things I don't know.
It's as if . . . well, I've sometimes worked it out this way--there
were different rooms in my mind, and as soon as the light came on
in one it had to go out in the other."

"Well, what did you do when you realized who you were?"

"What anybody else would do.  I went home.  I felt in my pockets
and found I had a small sum in cash, so I bought a new outfit of
clothes, took a bath at a hotel, and then went to the railway
station.  It was as simple as that, because along with knowing my
own name it had come to me without apparent effort that I lived at
Stourton, that my father owned the Rainier Steelworks and all the
other concerns, that we had a butler named Sheldon, and any other
details I cared to recall.  In fact I knew all about myself in a
perfectly normal way up to the moment of that shell-burst near
Arras in 1917."

"Your father must have got a very pleasant shock."

"He was too ill to be allowed it, but the family got one all right.
Of course, since I'd been reported missing in the casualty lists,
they'd long since given me up for dead."

"It's a very remarkable story."

"Remarkable's a well-chosen word.  It doesn't give you away."

I thought for a moment; then I said:  "But the Army authorities
must have had some record of your coming back to England?"

"None--not under the name of Rainier."

"But wasn't there a disc or something you had to wear all the time
on active service?"

"There was, but if you'd ever experienced levitation by high
explosive you wouldn't put much faith in a bit of metal tied round
your neck.  It's quite possible there was nothing the Germans could
identify me by when they took me prisoner."

"What makes you think you were ever in Germany at all?"

"Surely if I'd been dragged in by my own men they'd have known who
I was?"

"H'm, yes, I suppose so."

He went on, after a pause:  "I don't blame you at all if you don't
believe a word of all this.  And it's just as well you're the first
person I've confided in for years--just as well for my reputation
as a sober citizen."  He laughed with self-protective cynicism.
"It's been a conspiracy of events to make me talk like this--
Armistice Day--our meeting on the train--and then something the
dentist said tonight when I came out of his nitrous oxide."

"The dentist?  What's he got to do with it?"

"He was making polite conversation while I spat blood.  One of the
things he said was, 'So you were a prisoner in Germany?' I asked
him what gave him that idea, and he answered, 'Because I notice you
have a tooth filled with a substitute metal German dentists were
having to use during the latter part of the war'--apparently he'd
come across other instances of it."

We were silent for a moment.  I could hear the first stir of early
morning traffic beginning along King's Parade.  Rainier heard it
too, and as at a signal rose to go.  "A strange business, the war.
The English told the Germans exactly where I was, so that the
Germans could kill me . . . then the Germans did half kill me,
patched me up, and saw that my teeth were properly cared for . . .
after which the English gave me a medal for having displayed what
they called 'conspicuous gallantry in the field.'"  He fingered it
on his lapel, adding:  "I wear it at shows like this, along with
the Most Noble Order of Something-or-Other which the Greeks gave me
for arranging a loan on their currant crop in 1928."  He began
putting on his overcoat, heedless of my assurance that there was no
hurry and that I often sat up till dawn myself.  "Please don't
bother to see me out--I'll take a bath at my hotel and be in time
for the first train."

On his way across the room he paused at my shelves of books and
asked what tripos I was taking.

"Economics.  I took the first part of the History last year."

"Really?  I did the same when I was here.  But where does the
psycho-analysis come in?"

"Oh, that's only a side-line."

"I see.  Made any plans for when you go down?"

"I'd like to be a journalist."

He nodded, shaking hands at the door.  "Well, I've got a few
contacts in Fleet Street.  Write to me when you're ready for a job--
I might be able to do something for you."

                    *    *    *    *    *

Early the following year I took a Ph.D. and began looking around
for the post which, it seemed to me then, ought to drop snugly into
the lap of any bright young man who had written a two-hundred-page
thesis on "The Influence of Voltaire on the English Laissez-Faire
Economists."  Cambridge had deemed this worthy of a doctorate;
nobody in Fleet Street, however, held it worth a regular job.  I
had a very small private income and could therefore afford to cadge
snippets of highbrow reviewing from some of the more illustrious
and penurious weeklies, reckoning myself well-paid if the books
themselves were expensive and could be sold for more cash to Mr.
Reeves of the Strand; but the newspaper world at that time was full
of journalists out of work through amalgamations, and the chance of
getting on the staffs of any of the big dailies was not
encouraging.  Of course I remembered Rainier's offer, but apart
from my reluctance to bother him, he was abroad--in South America
on some financial business.  But by the time he returned I had been
disappointed often enough to feel I should take him at his word.
He replied instantly to my note, asking me to lunch the next day.

Thus I made my first trip to Kenmore.  "Near the World's End pub,"
Rainier used to say, and it was the fashion among certain guests to
pretend it was at some actual world's end if not beyond it--the
world in this super-sophisticated sense being that part of London
within normal taxi range.  I went by bus, which puts you down at
the corner of the road with only a hundred yards or so to walk.  I
had no idea how notable, not to say notorious, those Kenmore
lunches were; indeed, since the invitation had come so promptly, I
had beguiled myself with visions of an intimate foursome composed
of host and hostess with perhaps a press magnate summoned
especially to meet me.  I did not know then that Mrs. Rainier gave
lunches for ten or twelve people two or three times a week,
enticing every temporary or permanent celebrity to meet other
temporary or permanent celebrities at her house, and that these
affairs were as frequently joked about as they were infrequently
declined.  She functioned, in fact, as a kind of liaison officer
between Society and Bohemia, with a Maecenas glance at moneyless
but personable young men; and though there is no kind of social
service I would less willingly undertake myself, there are few that
I respect more when competently performed by someone else.

Searching my memory for impressions of that first arrival, I find I
cannot put Mrs. Rainier into the picture at all.  She was there,
she must have been; but she was so busy making introductions that
she could not have given me more than a few words, and those
completely unimportant.  I came a little late and found myself
ushered into a drawing-room full of initiates, all talking with
great gusto, and all--so it seemed to me (quite baselessly, of
course)--resentful of intrusion by a stranger who had neither
written a banned novel nor flown somewhere and back in an
incredibly short time.  I say this because one of the guests HAD
written such a novel, and another HAD made such a flight, and it
was my fate to be seated between them while they talked either to
their outside neighbours or across me to each other.  There was an
empty place at the head of the table, and presently I gathered from
general conversation that Rainier often arrived late and sometimes
not at all, so that he was never on any account waited for.  I had
already written off the whole affair as a rather profitless bore
when the guests rose, murmured hasty good-byes, and dashed out to
waiting cars and taxis.  (Mrs. Rainier's lunches were always like
that--one-fifteen sharp to two-fifteen sharp and not too much to
drink, so that you did not kill your afternoon.)  Just as I was
following the crowd, a touch on my arm accompanied the whisper:
"Stay a moment if you aren't in a hurry."

Mrs. Rainier led me a few paces back along the hall after the
others had gone.  "I didn't quite catch your name--"

"Harrison."

"Oh yes. . . .  You're a friend of Charles's--it's too bad he
couldn't get here--he's so busy nowadays."

I murmured something vague, polite, and intended to be reassuring.

"It's a pity people who can fly half-way round the world haven't
any manners," she went on, and I answered:  "Well, I suppose there
are quite a number of people who have manners and couldn't fly half-
way round the world."

"But having manners is so much more important," she countered.
"Tell me . . . what . . . er . . . I mean, are you a . . . let me
see . . . HARRISON . . ."

I smiled--suddenly and rather incomprehensibly at ease with her.
"You're trying to recall a Harrison who's written something,
married somebody, or been somewhere," I said.  "But it's a waste of
time--I'm not THAT Harrison, even if he exists.  I'm just--if I
call myself anything--a journalist."

"Oh . . . then you must come again when we have really LITERARY
parties," she replied, with an eagerness I thought charming though
probably insincere.  I promised I would, with equal eagerness, and
every intention of avoiding her really LITERARY parties like the
plague.  Then I shook hands, left the house, and on the bus back to
Fleet Street suddenly realized that it had been a very good lunch
from one point of view.  I had never tasted better eggs Mornay.



The next afternoon Rainier telephoned, profuse in apologies for his
absence from the lunch, and though the matter could hardly have
been important to him, I thought I detected a note of sincerity.
"I gather you didn't have a very good time," he said, and before I
could reply went on:  "I'm not keen on the mob, either, but Helen's
a born hostess--almost as good as an American--she can take in
twenty new names all in a row and never make a mistake."

"She didn't take in mine.  In fact it was pretty clear she didn't
know me from Adam."

"My fault, I expect.  Must have forgotten to tell her."

"So a perfect stranger could walk into your house and get a free
lunch?"

"They're doing that all the time--though most of 'em have
invitations. . . .  Look here, if you're not busy just now, why not
come over to the House for tea?"

I said I would, and took the bus again to Chelsea.  But at Kenmore
the maid told me that Rainier hadn't been in since morning and
never by any chance took tea at home; and just then, while we were
arguing on the doorstep (I insisting I had been invited less than
twenty minutes ago), Mrs. Rainier came up behind me and began to
laugh.  "He meant the House of Commons," she said, passing into the
hall.  "You'd better let my car take you there."

Extraordinary how stupid one can be when one would prefer to
impress by being knowledgeable.  I knew quite well that the House
of Commons, along with the Stock Exchange and Christ Church,
Oxford, was called "the House," yet somehow, when Rainier had used
the phrase over the telephone, I could only think of Kenmore.  Most
of the way to Westminster in the almost aggressively unostentatious
Daimler (so impersonal you could believe it part of an undertaker's
fleet), I cursed my mistake as a poor recommendation for any kind
of job.  I had feared Rainier might be waiting for me, and was
relieved when, after sending in my name, I had to kill time for
half an hour before a policeman led me through devious passages to
the Terrace, where Rainier greeted me warmly.  But his appearance
was slightly disconcerting; there was a twitch about his mouth and
eyes as he spoke, and a general impression of intense nervous
energy in desperate need of relaxation.  During tea he talked about
his South American trip, assuming far too modestly that I had read
nothing about it in the papers.  Presently the division bell rang
and only as we hurried across the Smoking Room did he broach the
matter I had really come about.  "I inquired from a good many
people after I got your letter, Harrison, but there doesn't seem to
be a thing doing in Fleet Street just now."

"That was my own experience too."

"So I wondered if you'd care for a secretary's job until something
else turns up?"

I hadn't really thought about such a thing, and maybe hesitation
revealed my disappointment.

He said, patting my arm:  "Well, think it over, anyway.  I've had a
girl up to now, but she's due to get married in a few weeks--time
enough to show you the ropes . . . that is, of course, if you feel
you'd like the job at all. . . ."

                    *    *    *    *    *

So I became Rainier's secretary, and Miss Hobbs showed me the
ropes.  It had been flattery to call her a girl.  She was thin, red-
faced, middle-aged, and so worshipful of Rainier that no husband
could hope to get more than a remnant of any emotion she was
capable of; indeed, I felt that the chance of marriage was tempting
her more because she feared it might be her last than because she
was certain she wanted it.  She hinted this much during our first
meeting.  "I almost feel I'm deserting HIM," she said, and the
stress on "him" was revealing.  Presently, showing me how she filed
his correspondence, she added:  "I'm so relieved he isn't going to
have another LADY secretary.  I'd be afraid of some awful kind of
person coming here and--perhaps--INFLUENCING him."

I said I didn't imagine Rainier was the type to be influenced by
that kind of woman.

"Oh, but you never know what kind of a woman will influence a man."

We went on inspecting the filing system.  "The main thing is to see
he doesn't forget his appointments.  He doesn't do much of his
correspondence here--he has another secretary at his City office.
So it won't matter a great deal if you don't know shorthand and
typewriting."

I said I did know shorthand and typewriting.

"Well, so much the better, of course.  You'll find him wonderful to
work with--at least _I_ always have, though of course we're more
like old friends than employer and secretary.  I call him Charles,
you know, when we're alone together.  And he always calls me Elsie,
whether we're alone or not.  We've been together now for nearly
fifteen years, so it's really quite natural, don't you think?"

During the next few hours she gave me her own version of the entire
Rainier ménage.  "Of course the marriage never has been all it
should be--I daresay you can imagine that.  Mrs. Rainier isn't the
right kind of wife for a man like Charles.  He's so tired of all
those parties she gives, especially the house-parties at Stourton--
that's their big place in the country, you know . . . they have no
children--that's another thing, because he'd love children, and I
don't know why they don't have them, maybe there's a reason.  When
you've worked with him for a time you'll feel how restless he is--I
do blame her for THAT--she doesn't give him a proper home--
Kenmore's just a hotel with different guests every day.  I do
believe there's only one room he feels really comfortable in, and
that's this one--with his poor little secretary slaving away while
he smokes--and he shouldn't smoke either, so he's been told. . . .
D'you know, he often locks himself in when he wants to work,
because the rest of the house is so full of Goyas and Epsteins and
what not that people wander in and out of all the rooms as if it
were a museum.  Of course there really are priceless things in it--
why not?--he gives her the money to spend, and I suppose she has
taste--that is if you LIKE a house that's like a museum.  I
sometimes wonder if Charles does."

After a pause during which I made no comment she turned to the
writing-desk.  "Charles gets hundreds of letters from complete
strangers--about one thing and another, you know.  If they're
abusive we take no notice--in fact, whatever they are, HE doesn't
bother much about them, but I'll let you into a secret--something
he doesn't suspect and never will unless you tell him, and I'm sure
you won't--I always write a little note of thanks to anyone who
sends a NICE letter . . . of course I write as if he'd dictated
it. . . .  I really think a good secretary SHOULD do little things
like that on her own, don't you?"

I said nothing.

"Really, if he were to ask me to stay, I believe I would, marriage
or no marriage--I mean, it would be so hard to refuse him anything--
but then, he's too fine and generous to ask--as soon as he knew
about it he urged me not to delay my happiness on his account--just
as if his own marriage had brought HIM happiness. . . .  Not that
Charles would be an easy man to MAKE happy, even if he HAD got the
right woman.  But he isn't happy NOW--that I DO know--there's
always a look in his eyes as if he were searching for something and
couldn't find it."

For two or three days Miss Hobbs continued to show me the ropes;
Rainier was away in Lancashire.  During this time Mrs. Rainier gave
several lunch parties to which I was not invited, though I was in
the house at the time and was even privileged to give assistance to
a foreign plenipotentiary who spoke little English and had strayed
into the study in search of a humbler apartment.  I could better
understand after that why Rainier sometimes locked the door.

Then he returned, having wired me to meet his train at Euston.  As
soon as we had found a taxi and were driving out of the station he
asked me how I'd been getting on, and added, without waiting for an
answer:  "I don't suppose you'll find it hard to be as good as your
predecessor."

I said I should certainly hope to be.

"Then you've already found out a few of the things I've been
putting up with?"

"Yes, but not why you HAVE put up with them, for so many years."

"Pure sentiment, plus the fact that I've always had a submerged
sympathy with crazy people, and Elsie's crazy enough.  She used to
work at Stourton in my father's time, then she worked for my
brother, and when he naturally wanted to get rid of her there was
no one fool enough to take her but me.  I made her my social
secretary--because in those days I had no social life and it didn't
matter.  But after I married there were social things for her to do
and she did them with a peculiar and fascinating idiocy.  D'you
know, I've found out she writes long letters to people I've never
heard of and signs my name to them? . . .  And by the way, did she
tell you I'm not happy with my wife?"

"Well--er--"

"Don't believe it.  My wife and I are the best of friends.  I
suppose she also hinted it was a marriage of convenience?"

I felt this was incriminating Miss Hobbs too much and was beginning
a non-committal answer when he interrupted:  "Well, THAT happens to
be true.  I married her because it seemed to me she'd be just the
person to turn a tired business man into a thumping success.  She
WAS and she DID. . . .  Can you think of a better reason?"

"There's generally considered to be ONE better reason."

He switched the subject suddenly, pointing out of the window to a
news placard that proclaimed, in letters a foot high:  "Collapse of
England."  At that moment I felt that one thing Miss Hobbs had said
about him WAS true--that look in his eyes as if he were searching
for something and couldn't find it.  He began to talk rapidly and
nervously, apropos of the placard:  "Odd to think of some foreigner
translating without knowing it's only about cricket . . . it was
something you said about that on a train that first made me want to
know you better--but really, in a sense, it doesn't refer to
cricket at all, but to how God-damned sure we are of ourselves--you
can't imagine the same phrase in the streets of Paris or Berlin--it
would begin panic or riots or something. . . .  Just think of it--
'Débâcle de la France' or 'Untergang Deutschlands.' . . .
Impossible . . . but here it means nothing because we don't believe
it could ever happen--and that's not wishful thinking--it's neither
wishing nor thinking, but a kind of inbreathed illusion. . . .
Reminds me of that last plenary session of the London Conference
when it was quite clear there was to be no effective disarmament by
anybody and we were all hard at work covering up the failure of
civilization's last hope with a mess of smeary platitudes . . .
Lord, how tired I was, listening to strings of words that meant
nothing in any language and even less when you had to wait for an
interpreter to turn 'em into two others . . . and all the time the
dusty sunlight fell in slabs over the pink bald heads--godheads
from the power entrusted to them and gargoyles from the way I hated
'em . . . and during all that morning, full of the trapped sunlight
and the distant drone of traffic past the Cenotaph, there was only
one clean eager thing that happened--young Drexel whispering to me
during a tepid outburst of applause:  'See the old boy in the third
row--fifth from the end--Armenia or Irak or some place . . . but
did you ever see anybody more like Harry Tate?' . . . And by Jove,
he WAS like Harry Tate, and Drexel and I lived on it for the rest
of the session--lived on it and on our own pathetic fancy that
foreigners were strange and at best amusing creatures, rather like
music-hall comedians or one's French master at school--tolerable if
they happen to be musicians or dancers or ice-cream sellers--but
definitely to be snubbed if they venture on the really serious
business of governing the world. . . .  Look--there's another!"  It
was a later placard, proclaiming in letters equally large, "England
Now Without Hope."  Rainier laughed.  "Maybe some fussy
archaeologist of the twenty-fifth century--a relative of Macaulay's
sketching New Zealander--will dig this up from a rubbish-heap and
say it establishes definite proof that we'd all been well warned in
advance . . . .  Has my wife got a party tonight?"

"Yes."

"What sort of a crowd?"

"Mostly sporting and dramatic, I think."

"Then I'll dine and sleep at the Club.  Borotra's the only dramatic
sportsman I care about, and he probably won't come."

He put his head out of the cab window, giving the change of
address, and also telling the man to drive more slowly.  I could
see he was nervously excited, and I was beginning to know by now
that when he was in such a mood he talked a good deal in an attempt
to race his thoughts--an attempt which usually failed, leaving a
litter of unfinished sentences, mixed metaphors, and unpolished
epigrams, with here and there some phrase worthy of one of his
speeches, but flung off so carelessly that if the hearer did not
catch it at the time Rainier himself could never recall it
afterwards.  I have tried to give an impression of this kind of
talk, but even the most faithful reportage would miss a curious
excitement of voice and gesture, the orchestration of some inner
emotion turbulent under the surface.  Nor, one felt, would such
emotion wear out in fatigue, but rather increase to some
extinguishing climax as an electric globe burns brighter before the
final snapping of the filament.  It was of this I felt suddenly
afraid, and he noticed the anxious look I gave him.

"Sorry to be a chatterer like this, Harrison, but it's after a bout
of public speech-making--I always feel I have to use up the words
left over, or perhaps the words I couldn't use. . . .  I suppose
you'd call me a rather good speaker?"

I said I certainly should.

"And you'd guess that it comes easily to me?"

"It always sounds like it."

He laughed.  "That's what practice can do.  I LOATHE speaking in
public--I'm always secretly afraid I'm going to break down or
stammer or something.  Stammering especially . . . of course I
never do. . . .  By the way, you remember that mountain in
Derbyshire I thought I recognized?"

"Yes."

"The same sort of thing happened in Lancashire, only it wasn't
quite so romantic.  Just a house in a row.  I was helping Nixon in
the Browdley by-election--we held meetings at street corners, then
Nixon dragged me round doing the shake-hands and baby-kissing stuff--
that's the way his father got into the Gladstone Parliaments, so
Nixon still does it.  I admit I'm pretty cynical about elections--
the very look of the voting results, with two rows of figures
adding neatly up to a third one, gives me the same itch as a
company balance-sheet, exact to the last penny . . . whose penny?
Was there ever a penny? . . .  My own majority in Lythamshire, for
instance--precisely twelve--but who WERE the twelve?  Twelve good
men and true, maybe, or twelve drunken illiterates . . . ?  Don't
you sometimes feel how FALSE it all is, and how falsely reassuring--
this nineteenth-century gloss of statistical accuracy, as if
the flood tide of history could run in rivulets tidy enough for
garden irrigation, safe enough for a million taps in suburban
bathrooms . . . but when the storm does come, who'll give a damn if
the rows of little figures still add up--who'll care if the sums are
all wrong provided one man knows a right answer?"

"You were talking about a house."

"Oh yes. . . .  Just an ordinary four-room working-man's house--
tens of thousands like it.  A cold day, and as we stood waiting at
the door I could see a great yellow glow of firelight behind the
lace curtains of the parlour window.  Nothing extraordinary in
that, either, and yet . . . it's hard to describe the feelings I
had, as if that house were waiting for me--a welcome--out of the
wintry dusk and into the warm firelight . . . a welcome home."

His eyes were full of eagerness, and I said, trying to hasten his
story before we reached the end of the journey:  "Did the feeling
disappear when a stranger answered the door?"

"I'm coming to that. . . .  There were three of us, Nixon, myself,
and Ransome, the local party secretary, nice little man.  We
knocked and knocked and nobody came.  Then I, saw Ransome fumbling
in his pocket.  'Can't think where she is,' he said, 'but I expect
she'll be back in a jiffy.'  I realized then that it was HIS house,
and that we were being invited in.  He found a key, unlocked the
door, and we entered.  No lobby or hall--straight into the warmth
and firelight.  There was a kettle steaming on the hob, cups and
saucers set out, plates of bread and butter.  Everything spotlessly
neat, furniture that shone, a clock ticking loudly somewhere.  It
was all so beautiful, this warm small room.  The man kept talking
about his wife--how proud she'd been at the thought of having two
such men as Nixon and myself to tea in her home--such an honour--
she'd never forget it--and how embarrassed she'd be when she came
back and found us already there.  'I'll bet she's gone round the
corner for a Dundee cake,' he laughed.  But as time passed he began
to be a bit embarrassed himself, and presently suggested having tea
ourselves without waiting for his wife.  So we did--I sat in a
rocking-chair by the fireside, and the flames were still leaping up
so brightly we didn't need any other light, even though it was
quite dark outside by the time we left."

"So you never saw his wife at all?"

"No, she didn't come back in time. . . .  But that room--the
feeling I had in it--of comfort, of being WANTED there . . . It's
just another thing of the same kind.  That part of my life--well,
you remember what I told you at Cambridge."

"Why do you worry about it so much?"

"I wouldn't if it would leave me alone.  But it keeps on teasing me--
with clues.  So what can I do?"

"I still say--more rest and less work."

He patted my arm.  "It's good to know I can talk to you whenever
I'm in this mood.  Watson to my Sherlock, eh?  Or perhaps that's
not much of a compliment?"

"Not to yourself, anyhow.  Watson was at least an HONEST idiot."

He smiled.  "That must be the Higher Criticism.  Of course you were
born too late to feel as I did--Sherlock's in Baker Street, all's
right with the world."

"Since we now realize that most things are wrong with the world--"

"I know--that was part of the illusion.  I remember Sheldon taking
me on a trip to London when I was six or seven years old . . .  The
first place I asked to see was Baker Street, and being a
sympathetic fellow he didn't tell me that the stories were just
stories.  We walked gravely along the pavement one afternoon early
in the century--a small boy and his father's butler--looking up at
the tall houses with respectful hero worship.  Distant thrones
might totter, anarchists might throw bombs, a few lesser breeds
might behave provokingly in odd corners of the world, but when all
was said and done, there was nothing to fear while the stately
Holmes of England, doped and dressing-gowned for action, readied
his wits for the final count with Moriarty!  And who the deuce WAS
this Moriarty?  Why, just a big-shot crook whom the honest idiot
romanticized in order to build up his hero's reputation!  Nothing
but a middle-aged stoop-shouldered Raffles!  And that, mind you,
was the worst our fathers' world could imagine when it talked about
Underground Forces and Powers of Evil! . . .  Ah, well, happy days.
You'd better keep the cab to go home in.  Good night!"

                    *    *    *    *    *

I hadn't taken Rainier's problem very seriously till then.  For one
thing, loss of memory is normal.  We all forget things, and are
equally likely to be reminded of them long after we think they have
been forgotten for good.  Often, too, the reminder is faint enough
to be no more than a clue which we fail to follow up because the
matter does not seem important.  The unusual part of Rainier's
experience was that he DID think it important, so that from
something merely puzzling it was already on the way to becoming an
obsession.

Some part of his story could doubtless be verified, and I already
felt enough curiosity to make the attempt.  I said nothing to him,
but the next time the chance occurred I led Miss Hobbs to talk in a
general way about her employer's early life and career.  She was
more than willing--except for a continual tendency to drift into
later and somewhat disparaging gossip about Mrs. Rainier.  "Wasn't
he in the war?" I began, putting the leading question that anyone
might have asked.

"Oh yes.  He got a medal--didn't you know that?  And the strange
thing was--they thought he was dead.  So it was given post--post--"

"Posthumously."

"Yes, that's it.  But you couldn't blame them, because after the
attack he was reported missing and nothing was heard about him till--
oh, it was years later, when he suddenly arrived home without any
warning.  And then it turned out he'd lost his memory."

"Seems to me the sort of story for headlines."

"You mean in the papers?  Oh no, it was kept out--the family didn't
want any publicity."

"That wouldn't have been enough reason for most of the journalists
I know."

"Ah, but Sheldon arranged it."

"Sheldon?"

"He's the butler at Stourton.  You haven't been to Stourton yet,
have you?"

"No."

"It's really a marvellous place."

"Sheldon sounds a marvellous butler if he knows how to stop
journalists from getting a good story and editors from printing
it."

"Well, he IS rather marvellous, and I don't suppose there's much he
doesn't know--not about the family, anyhow.  He really rules
Stourton--lives there all the year round, even during the winter
when the family never go out of town.  I really owe him a good deal--
I was only just a local girl in those days, I used to do
bookkeeping and secretarial work at the house, and that brought me
into contact with Sheldon constantly."  She added, rather coyly:
"You know--or perhaps you don't know--how difficult it can be for a
girl employed in a big house if the butler isn't all he should be."

I said I could imagine it.

"Sheldon was always a gentleman.  Never a word--or a gesture--that
anyone could object to."

I said nothing.

"And later, when Mr. Charles took over Stourton, Sheldon personally
asked him if he could do anything for me, otherwise I don't suppose
I'd be here."

"I see. . . .  But coming back to the time when Mr. Rainier--OUR
Mr. Rainier, I mean--suddenly returned to Stourton.  Were you
working there then?"

"Not JUST then.  It was Christmas and as old Mr. Rainier was ill
they cancelled the usual parties and gave me a holiday.  It was
parties that always kept me busy--writing out invitations and place
cards and things."

"What was Mr. Rainier like when he returned?"

"I didn't see him till a good while afterwards, but I do know there
was a lot of trouble about it, one way and another--Sheldon would
never tell us half that went on."

So there the trail ended; she didn't know much of what had actually
happened; and since then a great many years had passed, old Mr.
Rainier was dead, and probably the same fate had overtaken most of
the personnel from whom any elucidating inquiries might have been
made at the time.  Perhaps there were traces somewhere, a dossier
preserved in forgotten files, memoranda hidden away in official
archives; but there seemed small chance of unearthing them, or even
of finding if they existed at all.

"Quite a mystery," I commented.  "Didn't Mr. Rainier himself ever
try to solve it?"

"You mean, did he try to remember things?"

"Well, more than that--didn't he ever consult anybody--specialists,
psycho-analysts, or anyone?"

"You don't know him, or you wouldn't ask that.  The last thing he'd
ever do is to go to anybody and tell them things about himself.
The only person he ever did talk to was someone he'd known at
Cambridge, some professor--Freeman, I think his name was."

"You mean DR. Freeman--THE Dr. Freeman?"

"Maybe he was a doctor."

"A tall white-haired man with a stoop?"

"Yes, that was him--he used to visit Charles a good deal before the
marriage.  You know him?"

"Slightly.  Why not since the marriage?"

"He didn't like parties, and I don't think he liked Mrs. Rainier
for beginning all that sort of life for Charles.  She's very
ambitious, you know.  People say she'll make him Prime Minister
before she's finished."

I laughed--having heard similar remarks myself, followed as a rule
by some ribald comment on her party-giving technique.  Miss Hobbs
added:  "Not that she isn't a good hostess--that I WILL say."

Since the point was raised, it seemed to me that Mrs. Rainier was
TOO good, and that for this reason she might miss the secret
English bull's-eye that can only be hit by guns sighted to a 97 or
98 per cent degree of accuracy.  Anything more than that, even if
achievable, is dangerous in England, because English people
mistrust perfection, regarding it in manners as the stigma of
foreigners, just as they suspect it in teeth to be the product of
dentistry.  All this, of course, I did not discuss with Miss Hobbs.

I saw Freeman a few days later.  He had been a rather impressive
figure at Cambridge, in my time as well as Rainier's, but had
recently retired to live at Richmond with an unmarried sister.  It
was probably a lonely life, and he seemed glad to hear my voice on
the telephone and to accept an invitation to dinner.  I had known
him fairly well, since he had long been president of the
Philosophical Society and I in my last year its vice-president, and
though he had written several standard works on psychology he was
not psychologist enough to suspect an ulterior motive behind my
apparent eagerness to look him up and talk over old times.

We met at Boulestin's that same evening.

After waiting patiently till the inevitable question as to what I
was doing with myself nowadays, I said that I had become Rainier's
secretary.

"Ah, Rainier--yes," he muttered, as if raking over memories.  And
he added, with a thin cackle:  "Well, history won't repeat itself."

"How do you mean?"

"He married one of them."

"You mean MRS. Rainier?  You mean she was his secretary before Miss
Hobbs?"

"Oh, the Hobbs woman was with him all the time--a family heirloom.
Must be forty now, if she's a day.  What did she do at last--
retire?"

"She's leaving to get married."

"Heavens--I never thought her turn would come.  Who's the lucky
man? . . .  But I can answer that myself--Rainier is, to get rid of
her."

"You know her then?"

"Hardly at all, I'm glad to say.  But she used to write me the most
ridiculous notes whenever Rainier made an appointment to see me.
They were supposed to be from him, but I found out quite casually
afterwards that she forged his name to 'em. . . .  ABSURD notes--it
interested me, as a psychologist, that she should have thought them
appropriate."

"But to come back to Mrs. Rainier--"

"Oh, she worked in his CITY office, I think.  A different dynasty.
These great magnates have platoons of secretaries."

"Queer Miss Hobbs never mentioned it.  I should have thought it was
something she'd have liked to drive home."

"On a point of psychology I think you're wrong.  She'd prefer to
conceal the fact that though they were both, so to say, equal at
the starting-post, the other woman won."

"Maybe.  I gather you know Rainier rather well?"

"I used to.  You see, I began with the initial advantage of meeting
him anonymously."

"I'm not quite clear what you mean."

He expanded over a further glass of brandy.  "Rainier's a peculiar
fellow.  He has a curious fear of his own identity.  He lets you
get to know him best when he doesn't think you know who he is. . . .
It's an interesting kink, psychologically.  I first met him
through Werneth, who was his tutor at St. Swithin's.  Apparently he
told Werneth about--er--well, perhaps I ought not to discuss it,
but it was something interesting to me--as a psychologist--but not
particularly to Werneth, who was a mere historian."  Again the
cackle.  "Anyhow, Werneth could only get his permission to pass it
on to me by promising not to divulge his name, and on hearing what
it was all about I was so interested that we actually arranged a
meeting--again anonymously--I wasn't supposed to know who he
was. . . .  But I'll let you into a, secret--Werneth HAD told me,
privately, beforehand--unscrupulous fellow, Werneth.  And then one
morning several months later I couldn't find my bicycle outside the
college gate after a lecture, but in its place was a similar model
with the name 'Charles Rainier' on it.  I made his mistake an
excuse to call on him--and I must say--after the opening
embarrassment--we very soon became friends."  He added:  "And now,
of course, I know what you're going to ask me, but being less
unscrupulous than Werneth I can't tell you."

"I don't think you need, because I already know about Rainier's--er--
peculiarity.  I suppose it WAS that."

"Suppose you tell me first of all what THAT is."

"The blank patch in his life that he can't remember."

"A rather inexact description."

"No doubt, and that's why I'd very much like to hear your own."

He smiled.  "It was an unusual case--but I've heard of several
similar ones.  They're recorded, you know, in technical journals.
Rainier had--if one might so put it--certain threads of
recollection about the blank period, though they were so faint as
to be almost non-existent at first.  After he left Cambridge we
didn't meet again for ten years--by that time the threads had
become a little less faint.  It was my aim, when I came to know
Rainier again after the ten-year interval, to sort out those
threads, to disentangle them--to expand them, as it were, into a
complete corpus of memory."

"I understand.  But you didn't succeed."

"Are you asking me that or telling me?"

"Both, in a way."

He said, smiling:  "My expectation all along had been that his full
memory would eventually return--a little bit here, a little bit
there--till finally, like a key turning in a lock, or like the last
few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the whole thing would slip into
position.  But I gather that it hasn't yet happened?"

"The bits are still being assembled, but nowhere near to
completion."

"Tell me, Harrison, if I may ask the question--why are you taking
such a keen interest in this matter?  Hardly within the scope of
secretarial duties. . . .  Or IS it?"

"I like him and I hate to see him bothered by it as he still is.
That's the only reason."

"A good one."

"Now YOU tell ME something--have you any theories about the blank
patch?"

"Theories?  I can only guess it was a pretty bad time.  He was
injured, if I remember rightly, just above the left parietal bone
of the . . ."  He went off into a medical survey that conveyed
nothing to me.  "It was an injury that would require operative
treatment--perhaps a series of operations.  That's why it's perhaps
a pity that he still bothers, as you say he does.  Even if complete
recollection were to return to him now, it would probably be only
of pain, unhappiness, boredom."

"On the other hand, even such memories might be better than an
increasing obsession about the loss of them?"

"Possibly."

We were silent for a time after that.  Presently I said:  "You know
he was taken prisoner by the Germans?"

"Oh yes.  But German or English--all hospitals are unhappy places,
especially for a man who can't tell anyone who he is.  I imagine
the Germans treated him namelessly or by error under someone else's
name, and eventually returned him to England under the same
condition.  Then there would be other hospitals in England, full of
experiences nobody would wish to remember.  There were a great many
shell-shock and loss-of-memory cases that took years--some of them
are still taking years, God help them.  The whole thing happened so
long ago I don't see how we can ever expect to know all the
details.  Tell me YOUR theory, if you have one."

"That's the trouble, I haven't."

"The real trouble, of course, is Mrs. Rainier."

Curious, the way people sooner or later led the talk to her.
Freeman, reticent at first about a former friend, saw no reason now
to conceal his opinion of a former friend's wife.  "She's an
unusual sort of woman, Harrison."

"Well, he's not so usual, either."

"They get on well together?  Is that your impression?"

I answered guardedly:  "I think she makes a good politician's
wife."

"And I suppose, by the same token, you think he makes a good
politician?"

"He has some of the attributes.  Clever speaker and a good way with
people."

"When he's in the mood.  He isn't always. . . .  Did you ever hear
about the Bridgelow Antiquarian Dinner?"

I shook my head.

"It was--oh, several years ago.  He was supposed to be helping the
candidate, and during the campaign we asked him to our annual beano--
strictly non-party--just a semi-learned society, with the accent
on the semi.  I was president at the time, and Rainier was next to
me at the table.  Half-way through his speech, which began pretty
well, there was a bit of a disturbance caused by old General Wych-
Furlough fumbling in late and apologizing--his car had broken down
or something.  He talked rather loudly, like most deaf people, and
of course it WAS annoying to a speaker, but the whole incident was
over in a minute, most people would have passed it off.  Rainier,
however, seemed to freeze up suddenly, couldn't conceal the way he
felt about it, finished his speech almost immediately and left the
table rather sooner than he decently could.  I went out with him
for a moment, told him frankly I thought his behaviour had been
rather childish--surely age and infirmity entitled people to some
latitude--it wasn't as if there'd been any intentional discourtesy.
He said then, in a rather panicky way:  'It wasn't that--it was
something in the fellow himself--something chemical, maybe, in the
way we react to each other.'  I thought his explanation even more
peculiar than his behaviour."

I checked myself from commenting, and Freeman, noticing it, said:
"Go on--what was it you were going to ask?"

"I was just wondering--is it possible he had one of those submerged
memories--of having met the General before?"

"I thought of that later on, but it didn't seem likely they could
ever have met.  He didn't even know the General's name.  And if
they HAD met before, I still can't think of any reason for
antagonism--the old boy was just a fussy, simple-minded, stupid
fellow with a distinguished military career and a repertoire of
exceptionally dull stories about hunting."

"Was Mrs. Rainier at the dinner?"

"No, she wouldn't come to anything _I_ was president of--that's
very certain."  He added, as if glad to get back to the subject:
"A strange woman.  I'm not sure I altogether trust her--and that
isn't because I don't particularly like her.  It's something deeper.
She always seems to me to be hiding something.  I suppose it's part
of my job to have these psychic feelings about people. . . .  You
know about her famous parties?"

"Who doesn't?  I've sampled them."

"Mind you, let's be fair.  She's not a snob in the ordinary sense--
I mean about birth or money.  Of course it would be too ridiculous
if she were--since she began with neither herself.  But what
exactly IS it that she goes for?  Brains?  Celebrity?  Notoriety?
I went to Kenmore once, and I must admit she plays the game
loathsomely well.  But all this relentless celebrity-hunting and
party-giving doesn't make a home--and I'm damned if I know what it
DOES make."

"Some people say it's made Rainier's career."

"I've heard that too--from people who don't like him.  The people
who don't like HER will tell you her methods have actually held him
back.  Still, I don't deny she's a good mate for a man of affairs.
The real point is whether Rainier's life ought to be cluttered up
with business and politics at all."

"What do you mean?"

"Simply that I've always considered him--abstractly--one of the
rare spirits of our time, so that success of the kind he has
attained and may yet attain becomes a detestable self-betrayal."

"So you think the marriage was a mistake?"

"Not at all, if he felt he had to have that sort of life."

"What other sort of life COULD he have had?"

"Out of my province to say.  I'm talking about the QUALITY of the
man, not his opportunities.  I suppose it wasn't his fault his
father left him a small industrial empire to look after--steelworks
and newspapers and interlocking holding companies and what not--all
more or less bankrupt, though people didn't know it at the time.
Even the seat in Parliament was a sort of family inheritance he had
to take over."

"Like Miss Hobbs?"

"Yes, like HER--just as idiotic but not so loyal.  He only scraped
in by twelve votes last time. . . .  But since you mention the
Hobbs woman, let me assure you she's a modernistic jewel compared
with the old butler they keep at Stourton . . . Sheldon, I think
his name is."

"You don't like him either?"

Freeman shrugged.  "It isn't that I mind his eccentric
impertinences--Scottish servants are like that and one takes it
from them--even Queen Victoria had to.  What makes me really
uncomfortable is the same feeling I have about Mrs. Rainier--that
he's hiding something."

"Maybe they're hiding something together?"

His smile was of another kind and did not answer mine.  "You
haven't been to Stourton yet, have you?  It's an amazing hiding-
place for anything they've got to hide."



Miss Hobbs left during the week that followed and I settled down to
the task of becoming her successor.  It was not quite as simple as
she had led me to believe.  Rainier's interests were manifold;
besides holding directorships of important companies he was a
member of many societies and organizations--all this, of course, on
top of his political work.  I had plenty to do, and he expected it
done quickly and efficiently.  We had little chance to talk on
other than business matters, and for the time he seemed to have
dropped completely the preoccupation that had begun to interest me.
One thing happened that I had not after Freeman's remarks
anticipated: Mrs. Rainier invited me to another of her lunch
parties.  This time it was really LITERARY, as she had promised
(Maurice Baring, Charles Morgan, Louis Bromfield, Henry Bernstein,
Mrs. Belloc Lowndes, H. G. Wells, and a pale young man whose name I
have forgotten who wrote highbrow detective novels whose names I
have also forgotten), and despite initial misgivings I found the
whole affair quite pleasant.  Once more there was the empty chair
for Rainier, if he should turn up, but he failed to, and nobody
seemed surprised.  Again also Mrs. Rainier asked me to stay a
moment after the others had gone, but now the request was less
remarkable, since I had work in the same house.  "Can you spare
time to look at my garden?" she said, leading me to the back of the
hall where the French windows were open.

We sauntered across the lawn to a door in the high surrounding
wall; unlocking it, she watched my face as I showed surprise, for
within was a second garden, not much bigger than a large room, but
so enclosed by trees and carpeted with flowers that one could
hardly have believed it to exist in the middle of a London borough.
"It's a secret," she confided.  "I only show it to close friends--
or to those who I hope are going to be."

I murmured something polite that might equally have referred to her
last remark or to the garden itself.

"You see," she went on, "I never cared for Miss Hobbs.  I don't
think Charles did, either, but he was too kind to get rid of her.
If she told you things against me, and I'm sure she did, just
suspend judgment till you know me better."

I went on saying polite things.

"You and Charles first met on a train, didn't you?"  She stooped to
a vase.  "One of those chance meetings--I've had them myself--when
you tell all your secrets to a perfect stranger because you're
certain you'll never meet him again. . . .  Something like that?"

I said guardedly:  "I don't know about secrets, but we certainly
found it easy to talk."

"And you like your work here?"

"Very much."

"I'm glad.  It will be wonderful if you can really help Charles--
apart from just office work.  He needs the right sort of
companionship sometimes--he has difficult moods, you know.  Or
perhaps you don't know--YET.  Anyhow, the thing to do is not to
take him too seriously when he has them."  I waited for her to
continue, knowing that she too was waiting for me; even if I were
willing to suspend judgment I was also, like Freeman, unwilling to
trust her completely.  She suddenly smiled.  "Well, now you know MY
secret.  Keep it for me."  And she added, leading me back through
the doorway:  "THIS, I mean.  It used to be the place where the
gardener threw all the rubbish.  I planned it myself--I do most of
the work here still.  Charles never looks in--hasn't time.  Hasn't
time for my lunches either--not that I mind that so much, but I do
wish--sometimes--I'd find him sitting here--quietly--alone--like
men you sometimes see outside their cottages in the country--at
peace.  He never is, you know."

I felt she would like to tell me something if I already knew enough
to make it advisable, but she wasn't certain I did know, so she
hesitated.  I asked her why she thought he was never at peace.

"For one thing, he's so terribly overworked."

"Yes, I know, but apart from that?"

"Oh, well, it's hard for anyone to feel at peace these days.  Don't
you think so?"

"What about the men you sometimes see outside their cottages in the
country?"

She smiled, suddenly on the defensive, sure now that I didn't know
as much as she had half suspected, and for that reason anxious not
to give me any further opening.  "They're probably not really at
peace at all--just too old and tired to worry about things any
more."  As we entered the house the social manner closed about her
like the fall of a curtain.  "Now that we're becoming friends you
must come to Stourton for week-ends as soon as we open it up.
There's a REAL secret garden there--I mean one that everybody knows
about."

                    *    *    *    *    *

I hadn't expected Stourton to be quite so overwhelming.  We drove
there a few weeks later in four Daimlers--"like a high-speed
funeral," said Rainier, who was in a macabre mood altogether; three
of them packed with luggage and servants from Kenmore, the first
one containing ourselves and an elegant young man named Woburn, who
was coming to catalogue the Stourton library.  Most guests would
arrive the following day--perhaps twenty-odd: politicians, peers,
actors, novelists, crack tennis-players, celebrities of all kinds.
It was a warm morning and as we drove through Reading and Newbury
the sun broke through the haze and kindled the full splendour of an
English summer, with its ever-changing greens under a dappled sky.

Presently we turned off the main road and curved for a mile between
high hedges; then suddenly, in a distant fold of the downs, a
vision in cream-coloured stone broke through heavy parkland trees.
Woburn, who had not seen it before, joined me in a little gasp of
admiration.  "You were intended to do that," said Rainier.  "In
fact the architect and road-builder conspired about it two hundred
years ago.  My brother Julian, who fancied himself as a phrase-
maker, once called it 'a stucco prima donna making a stage
entrance.'  Now, you see, it goes out of sight."  Intervening
upland obscured the house for another mile or so until, at a new
turn of the road, it reappeared so much more intimately that one
could only give it a nod of respectful recognition.  "But here we
are again, and for the rest of the way we simply have to give it
all the stars in Baedeker."  We swooped into the final half-mile
stretch that ended in a wide Palladian portico.  "A house like this
is like some kinds of women--too expensive even to cast off.  Of
course what you really pay for isn't the thing itself, but the
illusion--the sense of ownership, the intangible Great I Am.
Nowadays a bankrupt illusion--the farms don't pay, the hills that
belong to me are just as free for anyone else to roam over, the
whole idea of POSSESSING this place is just a legal fiction
entitling me to pay bills.  I think it would sooner possess me, if
I'd let it. . . .  Hello, Sheldon."

Sheldon was waiting on the top step to welcome us.  Neither plump
nor cadaverous, obsequious nor pompous, he shook the hand that
Rainier offered him, bowed to Mrs. Rainier, and gave Woburn and
myself a faintly appraising scrutiny until Rainier made the
introductions.  Then he said:  "Well, Mr. Harrison, if this is your
first visit to Stourton it probably won't be your last.  Mr.
Rainier keeps his secretaries a long time."  The remark struck me
as rather offhandedly familiar as well as a somewhat gauche
reminder of Mrs. Rainier's former position, but there was a general
laugh, from which I gathered that Sheldon enjoyed privileges of
this kind, perhaps on account of age.  He was certainly a well-
preserved antiquity, with an air of serene yet somehow guarded
responsibility; in different clothes he might have looked a cabinet
minister, in contradistinction to those cabinet ministers who, even
in their own clothes, look like butlers.

By the time I had been shown to my room in the East Wing (Stourton,
like every grand house of its period, had to have wings) the sun
was almost down over the rim of the hills and the slow magic of a
summer twilight was beginning to unfold; through my window the
vista of formal gardens and distant skyline was entrancingly
beautiful.  I was admiring it as Rainier entered with Woburn, whom
he had been showing round the library.  "I hope you don't object to
views," he said.  "I know it's the latest artistic fad to consider
them rather vulgar.  I put in these large windows myself, against
all the advice of architects who said this sort of house shouldn't
have them.  Otherwise, except for a few extra bathrooms, I haven't
touched the place."

Behind the two of them stood Sheldon, announcing that our baths
were ready; Rainier turned then and led us across the corridor into
an extraordinary room of Moorish design embellished with fluted
columns and Arabic gargoyles and a high domed ceiling.  He watched
our faces and seemed to derive a certain satisfaction.  "My father
built this," he explained, "as what he called an extra billiard-
room.  He made the bulk of his fortune during the Edwardian era,
when the social hallmark was to have a billiard-room, and during
the last year of the war, when money was coming in so fast he
didn't know what to do with it, he conceived the idea of an EXTRA
billiard-room as a symbol of utter superfluity. . . .  At least,
that's the only theory I can imagine.  I don't think a single game
of billiards was ever played in it, and I turned it into a
bathhouse without any feeling of impiety."  We passed through the
room, which was furnished with divans and sun-ray lamps, into a
further apartment containing a row of small but quite modern
cubicle bathrooms, three of which Sheldon was already preparing for
our use.  "There were only four bathrooms in the entire house
before I made these," Rainier continued.  "One was in the servants'
quarters and Sheldon had actually paid for it out of his own
pocket.  That gives you some idea of the times, even as late as
1919."  He added, after a pause and another glance at our faces:
"And of my father too--I know that's what you're thinking.  But it
wasn't really niggardliness.  He gave a great deal during his
lifetime to the more orthodox charities.  What he mostly suffered
from were a few strikingly wrong notions.  One of them was
doubtless that servants didn't need bathrooms.  Another was that he
was really an English gentleman.  And another was that the
remaining saga of mankind would be largely a matter of tidying up
the jungle and making the whole earth a well-administered English
colony under a Liberal government.  I think when the war ended he
assumed that's what was going to be done to Germany."

"Maybe it should have been," said Woburn quietly.  He had done
little but smile until then, and I noticed Rainier give him a look
of sharpened interest.  Then we went into our respective cubicles,
but the walls were only neck-high and conversation rose easily with
the steam.  I could hear Rainier and Woburn veering on to a
political argument, while in my own cubicle Sheldon, arranging
towels, saw me notice the slightly brown colour of the water as it
filled the tub.  "Won't harm you," he remarked.  "We tell some of
our guests it's due to mineral springs that are good for
rheumatism, but as you're one of the family I'll let you into a
family secret--IT'S JUST THE RUST IN THE PIPES."

He was going out chuckling when I retorted, quite without secondary
meaning:  "I hope all the family secrets are as innocent."

The chuckle ended sharply as he turned on me a look that evidently
reassured him, for his mouth slanted into a slow smile as he
resumed his exit.  "I trust you will find them so, Mr. Harrison."

Meanwhile Rainier had come back to the subject of Stourton, and I
heard him saying to Woburn:  "My father bought it after it had
bankrupted the Westondales, and the Westondales inherited it from
ancestors who had built it out of profits from the African slave
trade.  This made my father's purchase almost appropriate, since my
great-great-grandfather made his pile out of the first steam-driven
cotton mills in Lancashire.  You may imagine Stourton, therefore,
peopled with the ghosts of Negroes and little children."



A short while later we dressed and dined in the vast room that
would have seated fifty with ease, instead of our four selves.
Mrs. Rainier, I noticed, was particularly gracious to Woburn, whom
she probably felt to be shy in surroundings of such unaccustomed
grandeur.  There was talk of how he would set about the library-
cataloguing job; most of the books, it appeared, had been taken
over from the Westondales along with the house.  "My father was not
a great reader, but he had a curious knack of reading the right
things.  One day he read that some pine forests in Hampshire were
supposed to be healthy to live amongst, so he promptly bought
several hundred acres of them--on which part of Bournemouth now
stands.  Quite an interesting man, my father.  He played the
cornet, and he also cried over all Dickens's deathbed scenes--
Little Nell and Paul Dombey, especially.  He liked to have them
read to him, for preference, and his favourite reader was an old
governess of mine named Miss Ponsonby, who hated him and used to
come out of one of those tearful séances muttering 'The old
humbug!'  But he WASN'T altogether a humbug--at least no more than
most of us are.  I'm not quite certain WHAT he was. . . .  Somebody
ought to write a really good biography of him some day.  He did
have one written just before he died, but it was a commissioned job
and made him into a not very convincing plaster saint--and, of
course, it would be easy to write the other sort, showing him as a
sinister capitalistic villain. . . .  But in between, somewhere, is
probably the truth--if anyone thought it worth while to make the
search."

"Why shouldn't Mr. Woburn try?" asked Mrs. Rainier.

"Not a bad idea, if he wants to.  But let him finish the
cataloguing first.  Ever write anything, Woburn?"

"A few stories, Mr. Rainier.  You read one of them--probably you've
forgotten it--"

"Ah yes, of course.  The one about the unfortunate Russian?"

Woburn nodded, and the somewhat mysterious reference was not
explained.  After coffee Mrs. Rainier said she was tired and would
go to bed; Rainier mentioned letters he had to write; so there
seemed nothing left for Woburn and me but to pass the evening
together, somehow or other.

Sheldon suggested the library, ushering us into the fine sombre
room with a touch of evident pride, and obligingly switching on a
radio in time for the news summary of a Hitler speech delivered in
Berlin earlier that day.  We listened awhile, then Woburn snapped
off the machine with a gesture--the meagre residuum of protest to
which modern man has been reduced.  "I hope there isn't a war this
year," he remarked, as one hoping the weather would stay fine.
"You see, as soon as I finish this job I have another with the
Kurtzmayers--they have a big collection at Nice and I daresay I
shall spend all the autumn there--unless," he added with a half-
smile, "Mr. Hitler's plans interfere with mine."  I smiled back
with a touch of the uncomfortableness that afflicts me when some
facetious travel-film commentator refers to "Mr. and Mrs.
Hippopotamus" and waits for the laugh.  I was thinking of this, and
also wondering how a youngster like Woburn (at least ten years my
junior) had managed to establish this cataloguing racket amongst
the rich and eminent, when he disarmingly told me all about it.
"It was the Rainiers who gave me an introduction to the Kurtzmayers--
they've been rather good at putting things in my way."

I asked him how long he had known the Rainiers.

"Only a few months.  And you?"

"About two years.  I met him first--quite by accident--in a train."

"I met him first in a public library."

"By accident?"

"No, I had a job there and he came to see me.  Mrs. Rainier sent
him."

"MRS. Rainier?"

"Yes, I met her before him.  It was her idea I should do the
Stourton job--that's why she sent him to see me."

"I should have thought she'd have asked you to see him."

"So should I, but it seems he had a queer idea he wanted to see me
first without either of us knowing who the other was, so that if he
didn't like me the whole thing could be dropped."

"I see."

"Haven't you ever noticed that for all his glib speech and ease of
manner he's really shy of meeting new people--in a rather odd way?"

I said perhaps I had, and asked him how his own meeting had
happened.

"He didn't have far to come--the library was only just across the
river in Lambeth.  Of course I took him for just an ordinary
visitor.  He first of all asked at the counter if we had any
illustrated books on English villages.  It's the sort of vague
request you fairly often get from people, so I picked a few books
off the shelves and left him at a table with them.  Presently he
handed them back with a few words of thanks, and out of politeness
I then asked if he'd found what he'd been looking for.  He said,
well, no, not exactly--he'd just thought the pictures and
photographs in some illustrated book might happen to include one of
a place he'd once seen but had forgotten the name of.  They hadn't
though, and it didn't matter."

"You must have thought it curious."

"Yes, but the really curious thing was that I'd just written a
short story based on a similar idea.  He seemed quite interested
when I told him this and we talked on for a while--then finally he
stared round rather vaguely and said, 'I'm supposed to see a man
who works here called Woburn.'  I said I was Woburn and he
pretended to be surprised and pleased, but somehow I felt he had
known all the time, though his pleasure seemed genuine.  He then
said his wife had talked about me and thought I might do some
cataloguing, and of course he had to say then who he was.  I told
him I'd be very glad, and he said that was fine, he'd let me know;
then he shook hands hurriedly and left."

"Did he let you know?"

"Not immediately.  After a few weeks I wrote to him, because I
really wanted the job if I could get it--I was only earning three
pounds a week.  Of course I'd found out all about him in the
interval--about his Fleet Street interests--that's really why I
sent him that short story I'd written, because I thought maybe he'd
pass it on to one of his editors."  Woburn smiled.  "He returned it
a few days later, without comment, but said I could begin the
cataloguing any time I liked."

"Tell me about the story."

"Oh, it was nothing much--just a rather feeble yarn about a Russian
soldier returning from the front after the Revolution."

"What happened to him?"

"Nothing exciting.  He just roamed about the country trying to find
where he lived."

"Had he--had he lost his memory?"

"No, he was just a simple fellow--couldn't read and write--all he
could give was the name of the village and a description of it that
might equally have applied to ten thousand other Russian villages.
The government officials wouldn't bother with him, because he
couldn't fill out the proper forms, so he just had to go on
wandering vaguely about trying to find the place."

"And did he--eventually?"

"He was run over by a train and carried to a neighbouring village
where he died without knowing that it actually was the one he'd
been looking for . . . of course you might have guessed that."

"Having read Gogol and Chekhov, I think I might."

"I know, it was just an imitation.  I haven't any real originality--
only a technique.  I suppose Rainier realized that.  So I'd better
stick to the catalogues."

It seemed to me a courageous, but also a rather desolate thing for
a young writer to admit.

"Why not try the biography, if they give you the chance?"

"I might, but I doubt if it would work out.  You can't be sure
they'd really WANT anyone to be impartial.  That's why it's an
affectation of Rainier's to run down his ancestors.  A sort of
inverted snobbery put on to impress people because the direct kind
isn't fashionable anymore. . . .  Mind you, I like him IMMENSELY."

"And her?"

"Oh, she's marvellous, isn't she?  The way she can remember dozens
of names when she introduces people. . . ."  I remembered Rainier
had once commented on that too.  But Woburn added:  "Rather a
mistake, though, in English life--never to make a mistake.  Like
knowing too much--such as the names of all the states in America.
Stamps one as a bit of an outsider."

"You seem to have sized things up pretty well."

"Probably because I AM an outsider."

"So am I.  So are most of the people who come here.  So are half
the names in Debrett.  Come to think about it, that's one healthy
symptom of English so-called society--its inside is full of
outsiders."

"I suppose the Rainiers are outsiders--in a sense."

"Well, they haven't a title, but that makes no difference.  Owning
Stourton's almost a title in itself."

"Yes, it's a wonderful place.  There's an odd atmosphere here,
though, don't you think?"

"Do YOU think so?"

"You don't know everything, you don't know everything--that's what
the place seems to say."

"Maybe those ghosts of Negroes and little children?"

"They haven't got any children, have they?"

"No."

"Did they ever have?"

"I don't know.  One somehow doesn't get to know things like that."

"Do you think they're happy?"

Before I could attempt an answer we both turned sharply to see
Sheldon carrying in a tray with siphon, glasses, and whiskey
decanter.  "I thought perhaps you two gentlemen might like to help
yourselves, either now or later."  Without offering to serve us he
placed the tray on a table and walked out of the room, pausing at
the door to deliver a quizzical good-night.

We returned the salutation and then, as soon as the door closed,
looked at each other rather uneasily.  "I didn't hear him come in,"
said Woburn, after a pause.  "He didn't knock."

"Good servants don't--except at bedroom doors."

"Oh?  I don't know things like that.  My mother never had a
servant."

"Now who's being an inverted snob?  My mother had ONE servant, whom
we called the skivvy.  That sets us both pretty equal so far as
Stourton's concerned."

"You probably went to a good school, though."

I mentioned the name of my school and agreed that it was generally
considered fairly good.  "As good as Netherton, which is where
Rainier went.  Anyhow, from a social angle, the main thing is the
accent--which you and I both seem to have.  Nobody's going to ask
us where we picked it up."

"I don't mind if they do.  I was at a board school up to the age of
twelve--then I won a scholarship to a suburban grammar school.  I
took a London degree last year, working in the evenings.  I never
try to conceal the truth."

"CONCEAL it?  I should think you'd boast about it."

"I suppose that's really what I AM doing.  Will you have a drink?"

"Yes, please."

He began to mix them and presently, while working off a certain
embarrassment, added:  "How does that fellow Sheldon strike you?"

I said I thought he was the kind of person one could avoid a
decision about by calling him a character.  "Maybe the keeper of
the family skeleton," I added.

"No--because if there were one, Rainier would take a perverse
delight in dragging it out of the cupboard for everyone to stare
at."

We laughed and agreed that that might well be so.

It was past eleven before we yawned our way upstairs.  When I
reached my room I found it full of cool air and moonlight; in the
vagrant play of moving curtain shadows I did not at first see
Rainier sitting by the window in an armchair.  He spoke as I
approached:  "Don't let me scare you--I'm only admiring your view.
It's exactly the same as mine, so that isn't much of an excuse. . . .
How did you and Woburn get along?"

"Quite well.  I like him.  An intelligent young fellow."

"Spoken with all the superiority of thirty to twenty?"

"No, I don't think so.  I DO like him, anyhow."

"He's my wife's protégé.  She wants to see him get on in the world--
made me root him out of a municipal library to do this card-
indexing job. . . .  Yes, he might go far, as they say, if there's
anywhere far to go these days."

"That's the trouble, and he probably realizes it as much as we do."

"Well, we can't change the world for him, but it's nice to have him
around--company for Helen, if nothing else.  I like him too, for
that matter.  I like most boys of his age--and of your age.  Wish I
had an army of 'em."

"What would you do with an army of them?"

"Something better, I hope, than have them catalogue books or write
biographies of my ancestors."  He read my thoughts enough to
continue:  "I daresay you're rather surprised at my lack of
enthusiasm for the family tree.  That may be because I didn't have
a very satisfactory home life.  When I was a small boy my father
was just something distant and booming and Olympian--a bit of a
bully in the house, or at least a bit of a Bultitude (if you
remember your Vice-Versa)--all of which made it fortunate for the
family that he wasn't much in the home at all.  My mother died when
I was ten."

"But you liked HER?"

"I loved her very dearly.  She was a delicate, soft-voiced, kind-
hearted, sunny-minded, but rather helpless woman--but then most
women would have been helpless against my father.  HE loved her,
I've no doubt, in his own possessive way.  Perhaps a less loving
and more thoughtful husband would have sent her to a warmer climate
during the winters, but my father wasn't thoughtful--at best his
thoughtlessness became comradely, as when he insisted on taking her
for brisk walks over the hills on January days.  It was a cherished
saying of his that fresh air would blow the cobwebs out of your
lungs.  It also blew the life out of my mother's lungs, for it was
after one of those terrible walks, during which she gasped and
panted while my father shouted Whitmanesque encouragement, that she
called in Sanderstead, our local doctor, who diagnosed t.b.  My
father was appalled from that moment and spent a small fortune on
all kinds of cures, but it was too late--she died within the year,
and my father, I have since felt, promptly did something about her
in his mind that corresponded to winding up or writing off or some
other operation that happens even in the best financial circles."

He suddenly stood up and moved to the open window, staring out as
if facing something that challenged him.  "Those are the hills
where he made her walk.  You can see the line of them against the
sky."  Then he turned abruptly and said he was sure I was tired and
would want to go to bed.

I assured him I wasn't sleepy at all.

"But you came in yawning."

"Maybe, but I'm wide-awake now.  The breeze is so fresh . . .  You
must have hated your father."

He answered slowly:  "Yes, I suppose I did.  Freud would say so,
anyhow.  But of course when I was a boy and even up to my
undergraduate days people only admitted the politer emotions."

"The war changed all that."

"Yes, indeed, and so many other things too."

He was silent for a moment; then I went on:  "You once told me
about a certain day, sometime after the war ended, when you found
yourself on a park seat in Liverpool."

"When did I tell you that?"  He controlled a momentary alarm, then
added with a smile:  "Ah yes, I remember--in your rooms at St.
Swithin's.  I'm always garrulous after public speeches. . . .
Well, if I told you, you know.  That's how it was.  And don't ask
me about anything BEFORE the park seat because I can't answer."

"But how about AFTER the park seat?"

He seemed relieved.  "AFTER?  Oh I can stand any amount of cross-
examination there--I'm on safe ground from about noon on December
27, 1919."

"I wish you'd begin your story there, then, and bring it up to
date."

"But there IS no story--except my life story."

"That's what I'd like to hear."

"How I Made Good?  From Park Seat to Parliament?"

"If you like to call it that."

He laughed.  "It's mostly a lot of sordid business details and
family squabbles.  You don't know the family, either."

"All the same, I wish you'd tell me.  The effort of setting it all
out might even help you towards the other memory--if you're still
anxious for it."

I could see the response to that in his eyes as he entered the
light again.

"So you really think memory's like an athlete--keep it in training--
take it for cross-country runs?  H'm, might be something in the
idea.  When do we start?"

"Now, if you're not too sleepy.  I'm not. . . .  Go back to that
park seat in Liverpool."

"But I told you about that once."

"Tell me again.  And then go on."

So he began, and as it makes a fairly long story, it goes better in
the third person.



PART TWO


He found himself lying on that park seat.  He had opened his eyes
to see clouds and drenched trees, and to feel the drops splashing
on his face.  After a while his position began to seem more and
more odd, so he raised himself to a sitting angle, and was
immediately aware of sodden clothes, stiff limbs, a terrific
headache, and a man stooping over him.  His first thought was that
he must have been drunk the night before, but he soon rejected it,
partly because he could not remember the night before at all,
partly because he somehow did not think he was the sort of young
man to have had that sort of night, but chiefly because of a
growing interest in what the man stooping over him was saying.  It
was a kind of muttered chorus--"That's right, mister--take it
easy.  Didn't 'ardly touch yer--it was the wet roadway, you sort o'
slipped.  Cheer up, mister, no bones broke--you'll be all right--
wouldn't leave you 'ere, I wouldn't, if I didn't know you'd be all
right. . . ."

Presently, suggested by the muttered chorus and supported by the
fact that his clothes were not only sopping wet but also muddied
and torn, another hypothesis occurred to him--that he had been run
down by a car whose driver had brought him into the park and was
now leaving him there.

But WHERE?  His brain refused an answer, and when pressed offered a
jumble of memories connected only with war--shell-fire for
headaches, a smashed leg for stiffness, no-man's-land for all the
mud and rain in the world.

He stood up, feeling dizzy, swayed and almost fell.  The man had
gone, was now nowhere to be seen.  Then he noticed he had been
lying down on sheets of newspaper.  He stooped to peel one off the
seat, hoping it might afford some clue, but the top of the page
that would have contained a name and date was an unreadable mush,
and the rest was rapidly softening under the heavy rain.  He peered
at it, nevertheless, searching for some helpful word or phrase
before the final disintegration.  Most of the letterpress seemed to
be news about floods and flood damage--rescues from swollen rivers,
people stranded in upper floors, rowboats in streets, and so on.

Then suddenly his eyes caught a paragraph headed "Rainier Still in
Germany"--one of those mock-cheerful items that tired sub-editors
put in to fill an odd corner--something about soaked holiday crowds
taking comfort from the thought that somebody somewhere was faring
even worse.

Now it is curious how one's own name, or the name of one's home, or
a word like "cancer," will sometimes leap out of a page as if it
were printed in red ink.  It was like that for the young man as he
staggered through the deserted park towards a gate he could see in
the distance.  Rainier Still in Germany--Rainier Still in Germany.
It was a challenge, something he had to answer; and the answer
came.  "IMPOSSIBLE--I'm HERE, reading a newspaper, and the
newspaper's in English--therefore this can't be Germany."

Presently he passed through the park gate into a busy thoroughfare.
A tram came along, mud-splashed to its upper windows and sluicing
swathes of water from the rails to the gutters.  It was difficult
to see through the spray of mud and rain, but on the side of the
tram as it passed by he could just read the inscription--"Liverpool
City Corporation."

He walked along by the high railings till the park came to an end
and shops began.  Meanwhile he had been feeling in his pockets,
finding money--coins and several treasury notes, amounting in all
to over four pounds.  Reaching a newsagent's shop he went inside
and asked for a paper.

"Post or Courier, sir?"

"Doesn't matter."

A paper was handed over.  "Looks like you've had a fall, sir?
Terribly slippery after all this rain. . . .  Like me to give you a
bit of a brush?"

"Er . . . thanks."

"Why, you're wet through--if I was you I'd get home and to bed as
quick as I could.  Like me to get you a cab?"

"No, that wouldn't help.  I don't live here.  But if there's a
tailor nearabouts--"

"Two doors ahead, sir.  He'll fix you up.  Say I sent you."

"Thanks."

He walked out, glancing at the paper as he did so.  He saw that the
date was December 27, 1919.

So now he knew three important things:  Who, Where, and When.



Two hours later Charles Rainier was in a train to London.  He had
had a hot bath and a meal; his clothes did not fit well, but were
dry; and after a lightning headache-cure across a chemist's counter
he felt somewhat drowsily relieved.

Beside him were several more newspapers and magazines.  As it was
the end of December, some contained résumés of the events of 1919;
and these at first he had found very astonishing.  Biggest of all
surprises was to find that the war had been over for more than a
year and had ended in complete victory for the Allies; this was
surprising because his last recollected idea on the subject had
been that the Allies were just as likely to lose.  But that dated
back to a certain night in 1917 when he lay in a shell-hole near
Arras, half delirious with the pain of a smashed leg, watching
shell after shell dig other holes round about him, until finally
one came that seemed to connect by a long dark throbbing corridor
with his headache that morning.

Charles arrived in London towards dusk, in time to catch the last
train that would get him to Stourton that night.  The train was
late in reaching Fiveoaks, which is the station for Stourton, and
three miles away from it, as anyone knows who has ever received a
letter on Stourton notepaper.  From Fiveoaks he walked, because all
the cabs were taken before he reached the station yard, and also
because he hoped the cold air might clear that still-surviving
headache.  He was glad they were putting out the lamps as he gave
up his ticket at the barrier, so that the collector did not
recognize him.

He realized that his return was bound to come as a shock, and he
hardly knew what reason he could give anyone for his long and
peculiar absence; he hardly knew yet what reason he could give
himself.  He was puzzled, too, by an absence of joy in his heart at
the prospect of home and familiar faces; more than by any
excitement he was possessed by a deep and unutterable numbness of
spirit, a numbness so far without pain yet full of the hint of pain
withdrawn and waiting.

Presently he turned off the main road.  He remembered that turn,
and the curve of the secondary road over the hill to the point
where suddenly, in daylight, the visitor caught his first glimpse
of the house.  Often, as a boy, he had met such visitors at
Fiveoaks, hoping that when they reached that particular point of
the drive they would not be so immersed in conversation as to miss
the view.

Now when he came to the view there was nothing to see, nothing to
hear but an owl hooting, nothing to feel but the raw air blowing
from the uplands.

He was glad he had sent no wire to tell them of his arrival.  He
had refrained because he felt the shock might be greater that way
than if he were to see Sheldon first, and also because he hardly
knew how much or how little to say in a wire; but now he perceived
another advantage in not having sent any message--it preserved for
a few extra minutes the curious half-way comfortableness of being
alive only in the first person singular.

Towards midnight he reached the wrought-iron gates of the main
entrance; they were closed and locked, of course, but there was a
glow in one of the adjacent windows, and as he approached the small
square-built lodge a gap in a curtain revealed a lighted Christmas
tree.  Odd, because he remembered Parsloe as a tight-fisted
bachelor unlikely to spend money on that sort of thing--unless, of
course, he had married in the interval; but that was odder still to
contemplate--Parsloe married!

It was not Parsloe, however, who opened the door to his persistent
ringing, but a half-dressed stranger--middle-aged, suspicious,
challenging.

"Well, young man?"

"I'd like to go up to the house, if you'll let me through."

"We don't admit anyone, not without you give your name and
business."

"I know, but you see . . ."  He hesitated, realizing the
difficulties ahead--his story, told cold with no corroborations,
would sound sheerly incredible.  Eventually he added, rather
weakly:  "If Parsloe were here, he'd know me."

"Maybe he would, but he ain't here--having been dead these fifteen
months.  You'd better be off, sir, dragging people out of bed at
this hour."

The "sir" was some progress anyway; a social acknowledgment that,
drunk or sober, honest or fraudulent, at least one had the right
accent.

"Perhaps I could see Sheldon, then--"

"You can't disturb Mr. Sheldon either--especially now."

"You mean there's a party?"  (Of course there would be--there were
always big parties at Stourton through Christmas and New Year.)

Suddenly the question:  "You wouldn't be Dr. Astley, by any
chance?"

Charles was about to ask who Dr. Astley was when he thought better
of it and replied hastily, perhaps too hastily:  "Yes, that's who I
am."

But the lodge-keeper was still suspicious.  Moving over to a
telephone just inside the door, he wound up the instrument,
listened, then began muttering something inaudible.  Afterwards he
turned to beckon Charles inside.  "Mr. Sheldon says he'd like a
word with you first, sir."

"Certainly.  I'll be glad of one with him, too."

Good old Sheldon--taking no chances.  The voice at the other end
was impersonally wary.  "Dr. Astley?  Have you come alone?"

No need to say anything but:  "Sheldon, it isn't Dr. Astley--
whoever he is.  It's Charles--you know, CHARLES."

"CHARLES?"

"Charles who was . . .  Oh, God, I don't want to have to go into
all that, but remember the Left-Handed Room? . . .  THAT Charles."

"Mr. Charles?"

"Yes--Yes!"

Long pause.  Then:  "I'll--I'll come along--immediately--if--if
you'll wait there--for me."

"Good--but first of all say something to this fellow--he thinks I'm
a fake.  Don't tell him anything--just say it's all right."

He handed the receiver to the lodge-keeper, who took it, listened a
moment, then hung up with more puzzlement than satisfaction.
"Well, sir, you'd better wait here, seeing as how Mr. Sheldon says
so."

"Thanks.  And please understand that I don't blame you in the
least.  One can't be too careful."

Somewhat mollified, the man brought forward a chair, then accepted
a cigarette that Charles proffered.  "Marsh is my name, sir.  If
you're a friend of the family, you'll know of course there's no
parties this year on account of old Mr. Rainier being ill."

"ILL?  No, I--er--I didn't know that."

"That's why I thought you might be Dr. Astley.  He's a London
doctor they're expecting."

"But what about Sanderstead?"

"Dr. Sanderstead wanted to consult with Dr. Astley, sir."

"Sounds serious."

"Yes, sir, I'm afraid so.  Of course he's an old man, getting to
be.  It's his heart."

"Where's the family?"

"They're all here, sir, except Mrs. Jill and Mr. Julian."

"Where are they?"

"On their way back from abroad, I think, sir."

Strange to be edging one's way into such realizations.  The sick
man was his father, and yet, somehow, the springs of his emotion
were dried up, could offer nothing in response to the news but an
intensification of that feeling of numbness.  He went on smoking
thoughtfully.  Really, when he came to think of it, Sheldon was the
person he came nearest to any warm desire to see. . . .  Marsh
continued after a pause:  "I could get you a nip of something, sir,
if you wanted.  It'll take Mr. Sheldon twenty minutes at least to
come down--all the cars are locked up, and it's a good mile to
walk."

(As if he didn't know it was a good mile to walk!)  He answered:
"That's not a bad idea."

Marsh went to an adjoining room and came back with two stiff
drinks.  "Thought you looked a bit pale, sir, that's why I
suggested it."

"DO I look pale?"

"Just a bit, sir.  Or maybe it's the light."

Charles walked over to a near-by mirror and stood for a moment
examining himself.  Yes--there was a queer look; one could call it
pallor, for want of an exacter word.  Actually, he felt
overwhelmingly tired, tired after the long and troubled journey,
tired after that knock on the head in the early morning, tired
after something else that was difficult--impossible--to analyse.
He sipped the whiskey and relaxed as he felt it warming him.  "By
the way, Marsh--it's some time since I was here last . . . any
particular changes?  You told me of one of them just now, for
instance--Parsloe dead.  Anything else?"

"You mean among the staff, sir?  I've only been here fifteen
months."

"Well, the staff or--oh, anything."  He hardly liked to ask direct
questions.

"There's been a few changes in the house, sir--maybe you'll notice.
Mr. Rainier pulled down the old billiard-room and built two new
ones."

"TWO new billiard-rooms?  Good God!"

"Well, one of them isn't much used.  There's just a table in it, in
case anyone wants to play.  And of course since Mr. Rainier took
ill--"

"He's been ill a long time?"

"Six months, sir, just about.  Sort of gradual, it's been . . ."

And so on; so that when, eventually, the knock came at the door and
Marsh opened it, recognition was silent, tight-lipped, almost
wordless till they were alone together.  Just "Hello, Sheldon"--and
"Good evening!"

Leaving Marsh more puzzled than before, they turned into the
darkness of the long curving drive.  Out of earshot Charles stopped
a moment, feeling for the other's hand and shaking it rather
clumsily.

"Sorry to be sentimental, Sheldon, but that's how glad I am to see
you.  Matter of fact, it's too dark to see you, but I've a feeling
you look exactly the same."

"I--I can't quite collect myself yet, Mr. Charles--but--I--I'd like
to be the first to--to congratulate you!"

"Thanks--though I don't know whether congratulation's quite the
word."

"It's so--extraordinary--to have you back with us.  I can hardly
believe it--"

"Neither can I, Sheldon, so don't press me for details.  All I can
tell you is that I was in Liverpool this morning--and don't ask why
Liverpool, because I don't know any more than you.  But I had some
money as well as the devil of a headache from having been run down
by a car, maybe . . . that's all the evidence, so help me God.
Before that I can't remember a thing since--since all sorts of
things I don't WANT to remember--the war--lying between the lines
with shells bursting . . . years ago, I realize.  There's a sort of
dark corridor between then and this morning--don't ask me about
that, either.  What you and I've got to decide now is how to go
about the job of reintroducing me, as it were. . . .  Any ideas?"

"If you'll give me a little time, Mr. Charles--I'm still rather--"

"I know--bumfoozled is the word old Sarah used to use."

"Fancy you remembering that."

"What's happened to her?"

"She's still living in the village.  Of course she's very feeble."

"Poor old girl. . . .  And too bad about Parsloe--how did that
happen?"

"Pneumonia after the flu.  Very sudden.  We had quite an epidemic
about a year ago."

"The new man seems all right."

"Marsh?  Oh yes.  Used to be one of the gardeners."

"Don't remember him. . . .  God, what are we gossiping like this
for?"

"Just what I was thinking, sir, because there ARE more important
things I must tell you about.  I'm afraid you'll find the house in
a rather disturbed condition--"

"I know.  I realize I couldn't have turned up at a more awkward
moment--in some ways.  Much rather have come when it's quiet--
nobody here--"

"You mean the family?"

"Well, yes--bit of a problem, how to let them know."

"We have to face it, sir."

"THEY have to face it, you mean."

"Naturally they'll be delighted to see you once they get over the--
the surprise."

"The surprise of finding I'm still alive?"

"Well, after such an interval, and with no news--"

"I know.  For God's sake don't think I'm blaming anybody."

"May I say, sir, speaking for myself--"

"I know, I know, and I'm grateful--think it was marvellous the way
you kept your head in front of Marsh.  Of course he'll have to know
soon, like everybody else, but I was glad you postponed the--er--
the sensation.  Funny . . . when I wanted to say something over the
telephone that would make you know I was genuine and yet wouldn't
mean a thing to him, the only thing I could think of was the Left-
Handed Room--remember how we used to call it that because the door
opened the other way?"

"You remember those days very clearly, sir."

"So clearly it's like--like head-lamps along a road on a dark
night.  TOO clearly, that is--everything a bit out of focus.  It'll
all come right, I daresay."

"I hope so, sir."

"Well, let's not talk about it. . . .  We've got this other problem
to settle, and my suggestion is what we always used to say when we
were kids--leave it to Sheldon."

"I was about to suggest that too."

"Well, go ahead--any way you like.  And in the meantime if you'll
find me a bedroom that's a bit off the map I'll get a good night's
sleep before making my bow at the breakfast table."

"I'm afraid--er--Mr. Rainier doesn't come down to breakfast
nowadays."

"I know, Marsh said he was ill.  I'm sorry.  You'd better go easy
when you tell him--the shock, I mean."  He caught Sheldon's glance
and interpreted it.  "Don't worry about me, Sheldon--I know you're
thinking I'm not behaving according to formula, but I can't help it--
I'm too dead tired to face any reunions tonight."

After a pause Sheldon answered:  "I doubt if there IS any formula
for what you must be feeling, Mr. Charles.  I could give you a bed
in my own apartments if that would suit."

"Excellent. . . .  Thank heaven something's settled. . . .  Been
having decent weather here lately?"

"Fairly, sir, for the time of the year.  I noticed the barometer's
rising."

"Good.  It was raining in Liverpool this morning."



He slept a heavy troubled sleep, full of dreams he could not
clarify, but which left him vaguely restless, unsatisfied.
December sunlight waked him by pouring on to his bed; he stared
round, wondering where he was, then remembering.  But he could not
recognize the room--somewhere in the servants' wing, he supposed,
and he confirmed this by leaning up to the window.  The central
block of Stourton faced him grandly across the courtyard--there was
the terrace, the big curving windows of the dining-room, the East
Wing with its corner turret.  The spectacle found and fitted into a
groove of his mind--somehow like seeing a well-known place and
deciding it was reasonably like its picture postcards. . . .  He
was still musing when Sheldon came in with a tray.

"Good morning, Mr. Charles.  I brought you some tea."

"Thanks."

"The barometer's still rising.  Did you sleep well?"

"Pretty well.  What time is it?"

"Eight o'clock.  The family usually begin to come down about nine,
but perhaps this morning--we stayed up rather late, you see . . .
on the other hand, they may be anxious. . . ."

"I understand.  You can't ever be certain how people will react,
can you?"

"No, sir."

"You should have brought an extra cup for yourself.  Sit down and
tell me all about it.  What time did YOU go to bed?  You look
fagged out."

"To tell you the truth, I haven't been to bed at all.  There were
so many things to do--I had to talk to Dr. Sanderstead--and then
your clothes--you'd hardly wish to wear them again, I think."

"No?"

"I took the liberty of borrowing a suit from Mr. Chetwynd--"

"Look here, never mind about all that--let's have first things
first.  You told them all?"

"Not your father, sir--but I told the others."

"How did they take it?"

"They were naturally surprised--in fact they could hardly believe
me at first."

"And then?"

"Well, I suppose they DID believe me--eventually.  They expect to
see you at breakfast."

"Good . . . but you say you haven't yet told my father?"

"That was why I went to see Dr. Sanderstead--to ask his advice."

"Ah yes, of course.  You always think of the sensible things,
Sheldon."

"He was rather troubled about the danger of giving the old
gentleman a shock--he says he'd like to have a talk with you about
it first."

"All right, if he says so."

"I also took the liberty of telephoning to Mr. Truslove."

"Truslove?"

"It seemed to me that--er--he ought to be informed also, as soon as
possible."

"Well, maybe that's sensible too, though it hadn't occured to
me. . . .  How about a bath?"

"Already waiting for you--if you'll follow me."

"What about the servants, if I meet any of them?"

"They don't know yet, except Wilson and Lucas--I shall call the
others together during the morning and tell them.  And Mr. Truslove
will be here for lunch--along with Dr. Sanderstead and Dr. Astley
from London."

By that time they were at the door of the bathroom.  "Quite
elegant, Sheldon--new since I was here, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir."

"From which I gather the family income remains--er--not so bad?"

A wrinkled smile.  "Like the barometer, sir--still rising. . . ."

He bathed, smoked a cigarette, and put on the clothes Sheldon had
laid out for him.  Brown tweeds--Chet had always favoured them, and
they fitted pretty well--as children he and Chet could generally
wear each other's suits.  And a Netherton tie--trust Sheldon to
think of details.  NETHERTON; and a whole cloud of memories
assailed him suddenly: strapping on cricket pads in front of the
pavilion; strawberries and cream in the tuckshop; the sunlight
slanting into the chapel during Sunday services; hot cocoa steaming
over the study gas-ring in wintertime; the smell of mud and human
bodies in a Rugby scrum. . . .  Netherton.  And then Cambridge.
And then the cadet school.  And then France.  And then . . . the
full stop. . . .  He controlled himself, leading his thoughts back
from the barrier, gently insinuating them into the immediate
future.  He found he could best do this by adopting a note of
sardonic self-urging: come along--trousers, waistcoat, tie, shoes,
coat--button up for the great family reunion.  "All aboard for the
Skylark"--which set him recollecting holidays with his mother as a
small boy--never with his father; his father had always been too
busy.  They used to rent a house at Brighton, in Regency Square,
taking servants with them--Miss Ponsonby and a maid named Florrie,
and every morning they would walk along the front not quite as far
as Portslade, turning back so inevitably that Portslade became for
him a sort of mysterious place beyond human access--until, one
afternoon while his mother was having a nap, he escaped from the
house and reached Portslade a dauntless but somewhat disappointed
explorer.

"I hope the clothes will do for the time being, Mr. Charles."

"Fine--just a bit loose in front.  Chet must be putting on weight."

"I'll have a talk with Mr. Masters sometime today.  He has your old
measurements, but it might be safer to have him visit you again."

"Much safer, I'm sure.  You think I've changed a lot, Sheldon?"

"Not in appearance, sir.  You look very fit."

"And yet there IS a difference?"

"In your manner, perhaps.  But that's natural.  It's a nervous
strain one can well understand after all you've been through."

"I'd understand it better if I knew what I HAVE been through.  But
never mind that.  Time for breakfast."

He walked across the courtyard, entering the house from the
terrace.  No one had yet appeared; the usual new-lit fire was
burning, the usual blue flames distilling a whiff of methylated
spirit from under the copper dishes.  The Morning Post and Times on
the little table.  A cat on the hearthrug--a new cat, who looked up
indifferently and then resumed a comprehensive toilet.  Wilson was
standing by the dishes, trying hard to behave as if the return of a
long-lost son were one of the ordinary events of an English
household.

"Good morning, Mr. Charles."

"Morning, Wilson."

"What can I get you, sir?  Some kedgeree--or ham and eggs--kipper--
kidneys--"

"Suppose I have a look."

He eased a little of his embarrassment by the act of serving
himself.  He knew Wilson must be staring at him all the time.  As
he carried his plate back to the table he said:  "Well, it's good
to be back."  It was a remark without meaning--a tribute to a
convention that did not perfectly fit, like Chetwynd's clothes, but
would do for the time being.

"Yes, indeed, sir.  Very glad to see you again."

"Thanks."  And he opened The Times, the dry and crinkly pages
engaging another memory.  "You still warm the paper in front of the
fire, Wilson?"

"Yes, sir.  I always had to when Mr. Rainier used to come down--
it's got to be a sort of habit, I suppose."

"Queer how one always associates big things with little things.  I
get the whole picture of my childhood from the smell of toasted
printer's ink."

"Yes, sir."

He ate his ham and eggs, scanning the inside news page.  Trouble in
Europe--the usual Balkan mix-up.  Trouble in Ireland, and that was
usual too--British officers assassinated.  Not much of a paper after
the holiday--never was.  The usual chatty leader about Christmas,
full of Latin quotations and schoolmasterly facetiousness--dear old
Times.  A long letter from somebody advocating simplified spelling--
God, were they still at that?  Now that the war was over, it seemed
both reassuring and somehow disappointing that England had picked up
so many old threads and was weaving them into the same pattern.

Then Chetwynd, eldest of the brothers, began the procession.

"Hello, old chap, how are you?"

(What a thing to say!  But still, what else?)

(Miss Ponsonby, his old governess, had once adjured him:  When
people say "How are you?" the correct answer is "How are YOU?"  If
you tell them how you are, you show yourself a person of inferior
breeding. . . .  "But suppose, Miss Ponsonby," he had once asked,
"you really WANT to know how somebody else is, mustn't they ever
tell you?")

However, he answered:  "Hello, Chet.  How are YOU?"

"Want you to meet my wife, Lydia. . . .  Lydia . . . this is
Charlie."

An oversized good-looking woman with small, rather hostile eyes.

And then Julia, plumper than when he had seen her last, but still
the same leathery scarecrow--red-complexioned, full of stiff
outdoor heartiness.

"Hel-LO, Charles!  Sheldon told us ALL about it, and it's just too
wonderful.  I can't TELL you how--"

But then, as he kissed her, the fire went out like a damp match and
they neither of them knew what to say to each other.  He and Chet
almost collided in their eagerness to serve her with food; Chet
beat him to it; he slipped back into his chair.

"Kidneys, Julia?"

"Only scrambled eggs, please, Chet."

"Not even a little piece of bacon?"

"No, really, Chet."

"Any news of Father this morning?"

"I saw one of the nurses as I came down--she said he'd had a fairly
good night and was about the same."

"Oh, good. . . .  Quite sure about the bacon, Julia?"

"Quite sure."

"Charles, what about you while I'm here?  You don't seem to have
much on your plate."

"Nothing more for me, thanks."

"Well, must be my turn then, and I don't mind admitting I'm hungry.
Thrilling events always take me that way. . . .  Too bad Father's
ill--we'd have had a party or something to celebrate."

"I'm sorry he's ill, but not for that reason, I assure you."

"No?  Well . . ."  Chet came to the table with his plate, having
deliberately delayed at the sideboard till he heard the voices of
others approaching.  Now he looked up as if in surprise.  "Morning,
George. . . .  Morning, Bridget. . . ."

George, a nervous smile on his plump moustached face; Bridget, the
youngest of the family, sweet and shy, always ready to smile if you
looked at her or she thought you were likely to look at her.
George's wife Vera, and Julia's husband . . . an introduction
necessary here--"Charles, this is Dick Fontwell"--"Ahdedoo,
ahdedoo"--a tall, long-nosed fellow who threw all his embarrassment
into a fierce handshake.

Breakfast at Stourton was a hard meal at the best of times, only
mitigated by ramparts of newspapers and unwritten permission to be
as morose as one wished.  But this morning they all felt that such
normal behaviour must be reversed--everybody had to talk and go on
talking.  Charles guessed that they were all feeling as
uncomfortable as he, with the additional drawback of having had
less sleep.  During the interchange of meaningless remarks about
the weather, the news in the paper, Christmas, and so on, he
meditated a little speech which he presently made to them when
Wilson had left to bring in more coffee.

He began, clearing his throat to secure an audience:  "Er . . . I
really do feel I owe you all sorts of explanations, but the fact
is, this whole business of coming back here is in many ways as big
a mystery to me as it must be to you--I suppose loss of memory's
like that--but what I DO want to tell you is that in spite of all
the mystery I'm a perfectly normal person so far as everyday things
are concerned--I'm not ill, you don't have to be afraid of me or
treat me with any special consideration. . . .  So just carry on
here as usual--I'm anxious not to cause any additional upset at a
moment when we're all of us bound to be upset anyhow."

He hoped that was a helpful thing to have said, but for a moment
after he had finished speaking he caught some of their eyes and
wondered if it had been wise to say anything at all.  Then Bridget
leaned over and touched his hand.

"That's all right, Charles."

Chet called out huskily from the far end of the table:  "Quite
understand, old chap.  We're all more pleased than we can say, God
bless.  Of course with the old man being ill we can't exactly kill
the fatted calf, but--but--"

"I'll consider it killed," he interrupted, just as Wilson arrived
with more coffee.  They all smiled or laughed, and the situation
seemed eased.

Dr. Sanderstead had been expected for lunch, but he arrived a good
deal earlier, along with Dr. Astley.  Sanderstead was a wordy,
elderly, fairly efficient general practitioner who could still make
a good living out of his private patients, leaving a more efficient
junior partner to take care of the rest.  He had been the Stourton
doctor ever since the family were children.  Accompanied by the
London heart specialist, whose herringbone tweeds for a country
visit were almost too formally informal, he spent over an hour in
the sickroom, after which Astley left and gave him a chance to talk
to Charles alone.

They shook hands gravely, then at the doctor's suggestion began
walking in the garden.  Five minutes were occupied by a see-saw
of congratulations, expressions of pleasure, thanks, and
acknowledgments.  Charles became more and more silent as these
proceeded, eventually leading to a blank pause which Sanderstead
broke by exclaiming:  "Don't be afraid I'm going to ask you
questions--none of my business, anyhow.  Sheldon told me all that
you told him--it's a very peculiar case, and I know very little
about such things.  There are some who claim to, and if you wished
to consult--"

"At the moment, no."

"Well, I don't blame you--get settled down first, not a bad idea.
All the same, though, if ever you want--"

"That's very kind of you, but I'd rather you tell me something
about my father."

"I was coming to that.  I'm afraid he's quite ill."

They walked on a little way in silence; then Sanderstead continued:
"I'm sure the first thing you wished to do on coming back to us in
this--er--remarkable way was to see him, and for that reason I'm
grateful to you for deferring the matter at my request."

Charles did not think there was any particular cause for gratitude.
He said:  "Tell me frankly how things are."

"That's what I want to talk to you about.  In a man of his age, and
suffering from his complaint, complete recovery can't exactly be
counted on--but we can all hope for some partial improvement that
will enable him to--to--face a situation which will undoubtedly
give him a great deal of pleasure once the initial shock has been--
er--overcome."

Charles was beginning to feel irritated.  "You don't have to break
things gently with ME, Sanderstead.  What you're hinting at, I take
it, is that my father shouldn't learn of my existence till he's a
good deal better than he is at present."

"Well--er--perhaps--"

"To save you the trouble of arguing the point, I may as well tell
you I entirely agree and I'm willing to wait as long as you think
fit."

"I don't know how to express my appreciation--"

"You don't have to.  Naturally I'd like to see my father, but if
you say he's not well enough, that settles it.  After all this time
I daresay we can both wait a bit longer."

They did not talk much after that.  Charles was aware he had
rumpled the doctor's feelings by not living up to the conventional
pattern of a dutiful son; but he began to feel increasingly that he
could not live up to any conventional pattern, still less could he
be "himself," whatever that was; all he could do was to cover his
inner numbness with a façade of slightly cynical objectivity.  It
was the only attitude that didn't seem a complete misfit.

A further problem arose later in the morning, but Sheldon broached
it, and somehow he found it easier to talk to HIM.

"Dr. Sanderstead tells me you've agreed to his suggestion that for
the time being--"

"Yes, I agreed."

"I'm afraid that opens up another matter, sir.  Now that the
servants know--which of course is inevitable--I don't see how we
can prevent the story from leaking out."

"I don't suppose you can, nor do I see why you should.  I'm not
breaking any local by-laws by being alive, am I?"

"It isn't that, Mr. Charles, but your father sometimes asks to see
a paper, and I'm afraid that once the story gets around it'll
attract quite a considerable amount of attention."

"Headlines, you mean?"

"Yes, sir."

"I wouldn't like that for my own sake, let alone my father's."

"It would doubtless be very unpleasant.  A young man from the Daily
Post was on the telephone just now."

"ALREADY?  Well, if they think they're going to make a national
hero of me, they're damn well mistaken.  I won't see ANYBODY."

"I'm afraid that might not help, sir.  It's their job to get the
news and they usually manage it somehow or other."

"Well, what do you suggest?"

"I was thinking that if somebody were to explain the matter
personally on the telephone, giving the facts and using Mr.
Rainier's state of health as ground for the request--"

"You mean get in touch with all the editors?"

"No, not the editors, sir--the owners.  You see, Mr. Rainier has a
large newspaper interest himself, and that makes for a certain--"

"Owns a paper, does he?  I never knew that."

"It was acquired since your time, sir.  The Evening Record."

"Well, if you think it'll do any good, let's try.  Who do you think
should do the talking--George or Chet?  Better Chet, I'd say."

"Well, yes, Mr. Chetwynd would perhaps explain it more convincingly
than Mr. George.  But what I really had in mind--"

"Yes?"

"Lord Borrell has stayed here several times, sir--bringing his
valet, a very intelligent man named Jackson.  So I thought perhaps
if I were to telephone Jackson--"

An hour later Chet came up to Charles with a beaming smile.

"Everything fixed, old boy.  Sheldon wangled it through Borrell of
the International Press--there won't be a word anywhere.
Censorship at source.  Borrell was puzzled at first, but eventually
he said he'd pass the word round.  All of which saves me a job, God
bless."

So the story, which became one for curious gossip throughout the
local countryside as well as in many a London club, was never
hinted at by Fleet Street.  The only real difficulty was with the
editor of the Stourton and District Advertiser, a man of
independent mind who did not see why he should not offer as news an
item of local interest that was undoubtedly true and did not libel
anybody.  A personal visit by Chetwynd to the landlord of the
premises in which the Advertiser housed its printing plant was
necessary before the whole matter could be satisfactorily cleared
up.

Charles spent the morning in a wearying and, he knew, rather
foolish attempt to play down the congratulations.  Every servant
who had known him from earlier days sought him out to say a few
halting, but demonstrably sincere words.  It rather surprised as
well as pleased him to realize that he had been remembered so well;
but the continual smiling and handshaking became a bore.  There
were new faces too, recent additions to the Stourton staff, whom he
caught staring at him round corners and from doorways.  They all
knew his story by now and wished to see the hero of it; the whole
thing was doubtless more exciting than a novel because more
personal in their lives, something to save up for relatives when
they wrote the weekly letter or took their next day off.

Once, on his way through the house, he passed the room on the first
floor where his father lay ill.  It was closed, of course, but the
door of an adjoining room was open, and through it he could see two
young nurses chatting volubly over cups of tea.  They stared as he
went by, and from that he knew that they too had heard and were
excited over the news.

When he appeared at lunch, he found Sanderstead and Truslove in the
midst of what was evidently a sharp argument.  Truslove was the
family solicitor, a sallow sharp-faced man in his late fifties.
During the little hiatus of deferential how-d'ye-dos and
handshaking, the doctor and the lawyer continued to glare at each
other as if eager to make an end of the truce.  It came as soon as
Charles said:  "Don't let me interrupt your talk."

"What I was saying, Mr. Charles," resumed Truslove, eager for an
ally, "is that the problem has a legal as well as a medical side.
Naturally one would prefer to spare your father any kind of shock,
but can we be certain that he himself would wish to be spared--when
the alternatives are what they are?"

"All I can say," Sanderstead growled, "is that in his present state
a shock might kill him."

"But we have Mr. Charles to think about," urged Truslove; which
made Charles interject:  "Oh, for heaven's sake don't bother about
ME."

"Very natural of you to say that, Mr. Charles, but as a lawyer I'm
bound to take a somewhat stricter viewpoint.  There's the question
of the WILL."  He spoke the word reverentially, allowing it to sink
in before continuing:  "None of us should forget that we're dealing
with an estate of very considerable value.  We should bear in mind
what would be your father's wishes if he were to know that you were
so--so happily restored to us."

"We should also bear in mind that he's a very sick man," retorted
Sanderstead.

"Precisely--and all the more reason that his desire, which I am
sure would be to make certain adjustment necessary for the fair and
equal division--"

Charles drummed his fingers on the table.  "I get your point,
Truslove, but I'm really not interested in that side of it."

"But it's my duty, Mr. Charles--my duty to your father and to the
family quite as much as to you.  If I feel morally sure that a
client of mine--"

Sanderstead interrupted:  "If changing his will is what you're
thinking about, he could no more do that than address a board
meeting!  And that's apart from the question of shock!"

"Isn't it possible that a shock caused by good news might give him
sudden strength--just enough to do what he would feel at once to be
necessary?"

"Thanks for the interesting theory, Truslove.  When you want any
advice about law, just come to ME."

Charles intervened with a slightly acid smile.  "I don't know why
you two should quarrel.  You may be right, either of you--but
suppose I claim the casting vote?  I don't want to see my father if
there's any chance the shock might be bad for him, and I don't give
a damn whether I'm in or out of his will. . . .  Now are you both
satisfied?"

But of course they were not, and throughout lunch, which was a
heavy affair with nobody quite knowing what to talk about, he was
aware that the two men were engrossed in meditations of further
argument.

During the afternoon he tried for a little quiet in the library,
but Chet found him there and seemed anxious to express HIS point of
view.  "You see, old chap, I can understand how Truslove feels.
Legally you're--well, I won't say DEAD exactly--but not normally
alive.  He's bound to look at things from that angle.  What I mean
is, if anything were to happen to the old man--let's hope it won't,
but you never can tell--you wouldn't get a look in.  Now that's not
fair to you, especially as there's plenty for everybody, God bless.
That's why I think Truslove's right--surely there must be a way of
breaking good news gently--Sheldon, for instance--"

"Yes, we all think of Sheldon in emergencies.  But I do hope, Chet,
you won't press the matter.  Truslove tells me there'll be no
difficulty about my resuming the income we all had from Mother--"

"But good God, man, you can't live on five hundred a year!"

"Oh, I don't know.  Quite a number of people seem to manage on it."

"But--my dear chap--WHERE?  What would you DO?"

"Don't know exactly.  But I daresay I should find something."

"Of course if you fancied a salaried job in one of the firms--"

"I rather feel that most jobs in firms wouldn't appeal to me."

"You wouldn't have to take it very seriously."

"Then it would probably appeal to me even less. . . .  But we don't
have to decide it now, do we?"

"No, of course not.  Have a drink?"

"No, thanks."

"I think I will.  Tell you the truth, all this is just about
wearing me down.  Gave me an appetite at first, but now I feel sort
of--"

"You mean all the fuss connected with my return?"

"Oh, not YOUR fault, old chap.  After all, what else could you do?
But you know what families are like--and wives.  Argue a man off
his head."

"But what could there have been any argument about?"

"Well, Truslove and Sanderstead--like cat and dog all day.
Personally, as I told you, I back Truslove--but Lydia--well, she's
never seen you before--she can't help feeling there's something a
bit fishy about it--and of course, old chap, you must admit you
haven't explained everything down to the last detail."

"I'm aware of that.  If the last detail were available, I should be
very glad to know it myself."

"Don't misunderstand me, though.  Far more things in heaven and
earth than--than something or other--know what I mean?  I accept
your statement ABSOLUTELY."

"But I haven't made any statement."

"Well, at breakfast you did--you said you were all right--NORMAL, I
mean.  And I'm prepared to take your word for it whatever anyone
else thinks."

"Meaning that your wife believes I'm a fake?"

"A fake or else . . .  Well, if she does, she's wrong, that's all I
can tell her."

"I hope you won't bother to."

"Nice of you to put it that way, but still . . . Sure you won't
have a drink?"

"No, thanks."

"Cheerio, then.  God bless. . . ."



By evening he had decided to leave.  It was not that anyone had
been unkind to him--quite the contrary, but he felt that he was
causing a disturbance, and the disturbance disturbed him just as
much as the others.  He had given Truslove and Sanderstead his
decision; it merely irritated him that they continued to wrangle.
"The fact is, Sheldon, my remaining here is just an added
complication at the moment, affording no pleasure either to myself
or anyone else--so I'll just fold my tent and silently steal away.
But I won't go far and I'll leave you my address so that you can
get in touch with me if there's any need--if, for instance,
Sanderstead decides my father's well enough to see me.  Don't tell
Truslove where I am--I don't want any messages from HIM--and as for
what you say to the others, I simply leave it to you, except that
I'd rather they didn't take my departure as a sign of either
disgust or--er--abdication. . . .  Perhaps you could think of
something casual enough?  And while I'm in Brighton I'll warm your
heart by buying a few good suits of clothes."

"BRIGHTON, sir?"

"Yes, I always did like Brighton.  I'll be all right alone--don't
worry.  If you could pack a bag for me, and get hold of a little
pocket-money from the family vault or archives or wherever it's
kept--I suppose the hardest thing is to find any spare cash in a
rich man's house. . . ."

"I can advance it, sir, with pleasure."

"Good . . . and put a few books in the bag, some of my old college
books if you can find them."

"Maybe you oughtn't to overtax your mind, sir?"

"On the contrary, I feel rather inclined to treat my mind as one
does a clock when it won't go--give it a shake-up and see what
happens. . . .  Oh, and one other thing--I'd prefer to have the car
drive me to Scoresby for the train.  I'm so tired of shaking hands
with people, and most of the station staff at Fiveoaks--"

"I understand."  Sheldon hesitated a moment and then said:  "You
really ARE going to Brighton?  I mean, you're not--er--thinking of--
er--"

Charles laughed.  "Not a bit of it, Sheldon.  Put detectives on me
if you like.  And to show you it's all open and aboveboard, you can
send a wire booking a room for me at the Berners Hotel."

"BERNERS?  I don't think that's one of the--"

"I know, but I looked it up in the back of the railway guide and
it's in Regency Square--where my mother and Miss Ponsonby used to
rent a house for the summer when I was a small boy."



So much for sentiment; actually when he got there he found the
Berners Hotel in Regency Square not quite comfortable enough, and
moved to a better one the next day, notifying Sheldon of the
change.  It teased him to realize that though he did not care for
grandeur and did not insist on luxury, he yet inclined to a certain
standard in hotels--a standard above that of the clothes in which
he had arrived at Stourton.  He wished he hadn't told the Liverpool
tailor to throw away his original torn and rain-sodden suit; it
might have afforded some clue to the mystery.  He pondered over it
intermittently, but the effort merely tired him and brought nearer
to the surface an always submerged sadness, that sense of
bewildering, pain-drenched loss.  He was afraid of that, and found
relief in recollecting earlier clear-seen days of childhood and
boyhood, the pre-war years during which he had grown up to be--as
Miss Ponsonby would have said (only a governess could say such a
thing outright)--an English gentleman.

Sheldon had packed a few books, chosen almost at random; a further
selection, more carefully made, arrived from Stourton two days
later.  They included several he remembered studying in preparation
for Cambridge--Stubbs's Constitutional History of England, Bryce's
Holy Roman Empire, Gibbon's Decline and Fall.  Good meaty reading,
a little tough in places, suitable for whole mornings on the
Promenade in one of the glass shelters; equally suitable for wet
days in the hotel lounge.  One morning, walking along the cliffs
towards Rottingdean, he met an elderly man with a dog; interest in
a wreck on the beach below drew them into a conversation which
presently veered to books and politics.  For three successive
mornings afterwards he took the same walk, met the same man, and
continued the same conversation, each time more interestingly; but
on the fourth morning the man didn't appear, nor on any subsequent
morning when Charles took the same walk.  He didn't particularly
mind; indeed, it almost comforted him to think of such mutual
contacts as possible without the foolish establishment of names and
identities.

Sheldon wrote to him regularly, giving him news of Stourton, but
there wasn't much to relate: Mr. Rainier kept about the same;
Sanderstead and Truslove were still quarrelling; while the family
chafed more restively, finding Stourton rather dull to do nothing
in, and wondering how long they must wait before they could
decently decide to return to their respective homes.  Not, of
course, that they wanted the old man to die, but they clearly felt
they shouldn't have been sent for so soon; on top of which
Charles's return had somehow disturbed their equilibrium, for if
there is one thing more mentally upsetting to a family than death,
it must be (on account of its rarity) resurrection.  All of which
Charles either deduced from or read between the lines of Sheldon's
direct reportage of facts--such as that Truslove had had an
unsatisfactory interview with Dr. Astley, that Chet's wife was no
longer on speaking terms with Bridget, that Chet had taken to
spending most of his time practising shots in the billiard-room,
that the local vicar had paid a discreet visit hoping to see
Charles, and that the weather was still fine, but the barometer
beginning to fall.

One morning at breakfast, while he was in the midst of reading
Sheldon's latest assurance that things were still about the same, a
page-boy brought a wire informing him at a glance that things were
no longer the same at all.  His father had died suddenly a few
hours before.

He packed his bag and left for Stourton by the next train, arriving
at Fiveoaks towards late afternoon.  There he acknowledged the
greetings of several of the station staff (noting with relief that
the sensation value of his own existence had considerably
diminished), and hurried into the waiting car.  This time the skies
were darkening as the moment of the "view" appeared, but the great
house still made its bow impressively.

Sheldon was waiting at the open door to receive him; within the
house, in the deliberately half-lit hall, Chet stood holding a
whiskey and soda.

"Hello, old chap.  Had a good time?  Sheldon says you've been
dosing yourself with sea air--don't blame you. . . .  Turned chilly
these last few hours--what about a drink?"

Charles said he would have one, so Chet marched him into the dining-
room, where the liquor was kept.  "You know, I once went to see a
man in London--somewhere in Campden Hill, I think it was--sort of
artist's studio--but the chap had built a regular bar, like a pub,
at one end of his dining-room--awfully good idea, don't you
think? . . .  Well, God bless."

Charles asked for details of his father's death and received them;
then, alone, he went upstairs and entered the room where the old
man lay.  The numbness in his heart almost stirred; he touched the
dead hand, feeling a little dead himself as he did so.  Then he
went downstairs to meet the others of the family, among them three
recent arrivals, Jill with Kitty, and Julian.  Jill was a heavily
built, smartly dressed woman in her late forties, the eldest of the
family and the widow of a civil servant who had left her with a
daughter by an earlier marriage of his own.  Kitty was fourteen and
generally described, even by those who did not dislike her, as "a
bit of a handful."  Julian, back from Cannes, where he had been
spending the winter, gave Charles a languid salutation and a remark
evidently well prepared in advance.  "How charming to see you
again, Charles!  I understand that when you regained your memory
you found yourself in Liverpool on a wet day!  Your only
consolation must have been that it wasn't Manchester!"

Epigrams of this kind had established Julian's reputation as the
family wit, but they lacked spontaneity and his opening remark in
any conversation was generally on a level, however disputable, to
which he did not afterwards attain.  In appearance he was tall,
lean, and handsome in a rather saturnine, over-elegant way; he
lived most of his life in fashionable resorts where he played a
little tennis, indulged in little friendships, and painted little
pictures of scenery which his friends said were "not so bad."

So now they were all gathered together, the Rainier family, in
descending order of age, as follows: Jill, Chetwynd, George, Julia,
Charles, Julian, and Bridget.  It was a stale family joke to say
that they were seven.  Like many families who have dispersed, they
found conversation hard except in exchanges of news about their own
affairs--troubles with servants, new houses, business squabbles,
and so on.  During the difficult interval between death and the
funeral it was Sheldon who took control like some well-built
machine slipping into a particularly silent but effective gear.
Charles was grateful for this, and especially, too, that Sheldon
had arranged a quiet room for him, his old turret room, in which he
could rest and read a good deal of the time.  He was aware that all
the family viewed him with curiosity and some with suspicion, and
that intimacy with any of them would probably lead to questions
about himself that he could not answer.

A minor but on the whole welcome diversion was caused by the
revelation that during the last twelve months of his life old Mr.
Rainier had been having his biography written.  The author was a
young and unknown man named Seabury, who had apparently made a
business of persuading rich men that posterity would regret the
absence of any definitive story of their lives.  Rainier, usually a
shrewd detector of flattery, had in this case succumbed, so that
the book had been commissioned, a sum paid to Seabury there and
then, and a further sum promised "on completion" and "if approved."
When the old man's state of health became serious, Seabury had
evidently begun to fear for the balance of his payment, and so had
hurried his manuscript into final shape, hoping perhaps to impress
the assembled relatives by a certain fulsomeness of treatment that
might be considered additionally appropriate in the circumstances.

The manuscript, neatly typed and with a covering letter, was
brought to Stourton by special messenger on the evening before the
funeral; Sheldon accepted it and placed it on the hall table;
Charles, passing by an hour later, opened it at random.  He
happened to light on a description of Cowderton, where the Rainier
steelworks were situated, and read:--


But what has been sacrificed in the sylvan peace of its
surroundings has been gained in the town's prevalent atmosphere of
optimism and prosperity; and for these gifts, connected so visibly
with the firm of Rainier, Cowderton must thank the dreams of a lad
who was himself born in the heart of rural England.


Charles smiled slightly and did not read any more.  He felt that
the book, if it were all in such a vein, would probably have
pleased his father, while at the same time affording him the
additional pleasure of not being taken in by it.

Others of the family, however, got hold of the manuscript and read
enough of it to decide it was rather good, though of course they
had to be a little patronizing about a mere writer, especially an
unknown one, while at the same time nourishing the secret
wonderment of all healthy-minded Philistines that the act of
writing can be protracted throughout three hundred pages.  But the
manuscript's chief value lay in its usefulness as a subject for
conversation during the rather hard-going lunch-party that
assembled towards half-past two the following afternoon.  Those who
had just seen old Mr. Rainier's remains lowered into their final
resting-place in Stourton Churchyard were relaxing after the strain
of the ordeal while steeling themselves for another--the reading of
the will; and there, at the table, with all the secrets in his
pocket, sat Truslove, somehow larger now than life, munching saddle
of mutton in full awareness that his moment was about to arrive,
and striking the exact professional balance between serious-
mindedness and good-humour--prepared to respond to a joke if one
were offered, or to commiserate with a tear if one were let fall.

It seemed to be a family convention--unwritten, unspoken, even in a
sense not consciously thought about--that Sheldon was one of them
at such moments, and that as soon as the other servants had left
the dining-room his own remaining presence need impose no
censorship.  Chetwynd had been talking business optimism with
Truslove.  "What we've got to do now, old chap, is to plan for
peace as efficiently as we planned for war, because there's going
to be no limit to what British industry can do in the future--why,
only during the last few weeks one of our war factories turned to
making motor-cycles--we're snowed under with orders already, simply
can't cope with them."  This was vaguely pleasant news to the
family, though business was always tiresome--and yet, what else was
there to talk about?  Then somebody thought of the biography, and
George asked Sheldon his opinion of it.

"I looked it over, sir, and it seemed quite respectably written."

"Respectably--or respectfully?" put in Julian, staking out his
epigram rather faster than usual.

"Both, I think, sir."

Sheldon smiled, and then all of them, except Charles, began to
laugh, as if suddenly realizing that there was no reason why they
shouldn't.  In the midst of the laughter Chetwynd glanced across
the table and caught a ready eye.  "How about an adjournment to the
library, Truslove?"

Half an hour later the secrets were known, and there was nothing
very startling about them.  The bulk of Henry Rainier's fortune,
amounting after payment of death duties to over one million eight
hundred thousand pounds, was divided equally between six of the
children enumerated by name, except that Chetwynd, because of
seniority and closer contacts with the industrial firms, took over
a few additional controlling interests.  Stourton was also left to
him, as well as the town house in London.  A few heirlooms went to
various members of the family; there were bequests to servants and
a few small gifts to charity.  Charles, of course, was not
mentioned.

The whole revelation was so unspectacular that when Truslove had
folded up the will and replaced it in his pocket there was a
general feeling of relief and anticlimax.  Any faint fears the
family might have entertained (and there always are such faint
fears where money is concerned) could now be disbanded; they were
all going to stay comfortably rich for the rest of their lives--
even richer than most of them had anticipated.

Sheldon had not been present during the actual will-reading, but
when he next entered Chetwynd was the first to address him, almost
jauntily:  "Well, Sheldon, he remembered you.  You get a thousand."

"That was very generous of Mr. Rainier."

"And if you take my advice you'll put it back in the firm--
wonderful chance to double or treble it. . . .  However, we can
discuss that later.  By the way, I'm taking it for granted you'll
stay with me here?"

"I shall be very pleased to do so, Mr. Chetwynd."

Chet, it was clear, was already seeing himself an Industrial
Magnate, Master of Stourton, and Supreme Arbiter of Family Affairs.
There was a touch of childishness in his attitude that prevented it
from being wholly unpleasant.  Having made his gesture, he now
turned to Truslove, whose eye still watchfully waited.  "Now, old
chap, before we close the meeting, I think you've something else to
say."

Truslove rose, cleared his throat, and began by remarking that it
was perhaps appropriate at such a moment to turn from a sad event
to one which, by being almost contemporaneous, had undoubtedly
served to balance pleasure against pain, gain against loss.
Indeed, had the late Mr. Rainier been permitted to learn of it, who
knows but what . . .  However, they knew his views about THAT,
and the differences that had arisen between himself and Dr.
Sanderstead; death had put an end to them, so it was perhaps
unnecessary to refer to them again.  What he did feel was
undoubtedly what they all felt--a desire to welcome Mr. Charles to
their midst and to assure him of their unbounded joy at the
extraordinary good fortune that had befallen him.  "We don't
pretend to understand exactly how it happened, Mr. Charles, but a
very famous hymn informs us that God moves in a mysterious way."  A
little titter all around the room.  "And if our congratulations may
have seemed either belated or lacking in expression, I am sure you
will make allowances at this troubled time."

Charles bowed slightly.  He did not think their congratulations
either belated or lacking in expression--indeed, his chief
complaint was that there had been so many of them so many times
repeated.

The lawyer continued:  "Now I come to a matter nearer to my own
province, and one that I must deal with directly and briefly.  It
has seemed both to Mr. Chetwynd, as the future head of the family
concerns, and to myself, as representing in some sense the wishes
which I feel would have been those of the late Mr. Rainier, a man
whom it was my privilege to know for over forty years, and
whose probable intentions I can therefore speak of with some
justification . . ."

And so on.  What had happened, clearly, was that Truslove, having
lost his battle with the doctors, had talked the family into an
equity settlement--each of them agreeing to sacrifice a seventh
part of his or her bequest in order that Charles should acquire an
equal share.  Dressed up in legal jargon, and with a good deal of
smooth talk about "justice" and "common fairness," the matter took
ten minutes to enunciate, during which time Charles sat back in his
chair, glancing first at one face and then at another, feeling that
nothing could have been less enthusiastic than (except for Chet's
and Bridget's) their occasional smiles of approval.  Chet was
expansive, like Santa Claus basking in an expected popularity;
Bridget was sweet and ready with a smile, as always.  But the
others were grimly resigned to doing their duty in the most trying
possible circumstances--each of them saying goodbye to forty
thousand pounds with a glassy determination and a stiff upper lip.
They were like boys at a good English school curbing their natural
inclinations in favour of what had been successfully represented to
them as "the thing to do."  Truslove must have given them a
headmasterly pi-jaw, explaining just where their duty lay and how
inevitably they must make up their minds to perform it; Chet had
probably backed him up out of sheer grandiloquence--"Damn it all,
we MUST give the fellow a square deal"; begun under such auspices
the campaign could not have failed.  But when Charles looked at
George, and Julia, and Jill, and Julian, and Lydia, he knew they
were all desperately compelling themselves to swallow something
unpleasant and get it over; which gave him a key to the mood in
which he felt most of them regarded him: he was just a piece of bad
luck, like the income tax or a horse that comes in last.

Suddenly he found himself on his feet and addressing them; it was
almost as if he heard his own voice, spoken by another person.
"I'm sure I thank you all very much, and you too, Truslove.  The
proposal you've outlined is extremely generous--TOO generous, in
fact.  I'm a person of simple tastes--I need very little to live
comfortably on--in fact the small income I already have is ample.
So I'm afraid I can't accept your offer, though I do once again
thank you for making it."

He looked round their faces again, noting the sudden amazement and
relief in the eyes of some of them--especially Chet's wife, Lydia.
Clearly they had never contemplated the possibility of his
refusing.  That began to amuse him, and then he wondered whether
his refusal had not been partly motivated by a curiosity to see how
they would take it.  He really hadn't any definite inclination,
either to have the money or not; but his lack of desire for it
himself was certainly not balanced by any particular wish that they
should be enriched.

Truslove and Chetwynd were on their feet with an instant chorus of
objections.  Truslove's were doubtless sincere--after all, he had
nothing to lose.  But Chet--was it possible that HIS protests were
waging sham war against an imperceptible hope that had dawned in
him, a hope quite shamelessly reflected in the eyes of his wife?
Was he seeking to employ just a featherweight too little persuasion
to succeed?  Charles did not believe that Chet would have attempted
this balancing act if left to himself, but there was Lydia by his
side, and he was undoubtedly afraid of her.  Nevertheless he kept
up the protesting, and Charles kept up the refusal; the whole
family then began to argue about it, with more vehement generosity
now that they felt the issue was already decided; but they made the
mistake of keeping it up too long, for Charles suddenly grew tired
and exclaimed:  "All right then, if you all insist, I'll agree to
take it."

Truslove beamed on what he imagined to be his own victory; Chet,
after a second's hesitation, came across the room and shook Charles
by the hand.  "Fine, old chap. . . .  Now we're all set and
Truslove can do the rest."  But the others could only stare in
renewed astonishment as they forced deadly smiles into the
supervening silence.

There were papers they all had to sign; then Charles escaped
upstairs.  His room was the one he had slept in as a boy, though it
had since been refurnished more opulently; it expanded at one
corner into a sort of turret, windowed for three-fourths of the
circle, and from this viewpoint the vista of gardens and skyline
was beautiful even towards dusk on a gray day.  He was staring at
it when Kitty entered.  "Oh, Uncle Charles, I MUST show you this--
it's in today's Times. . . ."  She held out the paper, folded at
the column of obituary appreciations.  The item she pointed to
ended as follows:--


A lifelong individualist, there was never any wavering in his
political and economic outlook, while his contributions to the
cause of Free Trade, both financially and by utterance, were
continual and ungrudging.  A man whose character more easily won
him the respect of his foes than the applause of the multitude, he
rightly concentrated on an industrial rather than a political
career, and though his representation of West Lythamshire in the
Conservative interest had been in the strictest sense uneventful,
his influence behind the political scene was never entirely
withdrawn, nor did his advice go long unsought.


"Uncle Charles, what does it mean?"

"It's just something--that somebody's written."

"But I can't understand it--at least, I can understand some of the
words, but they don't seem to mean anything.  It's about HIM, isn't
it?"

He answered then, forgetting whom he was addressing:  "It's a
charming letter about my father from a man who probably knew him
slightly and disliked him intensely."

"Why did he dislike him?"

He tried to undo the remark.  "Stupid of me to say that--maybe he
didn't dislike him at all. . . .  Run along--haven't you had tea?"

When he had been her age there had been a schoolroom high tea, with
Miss Ponsonby dispensing bread and jam and cakes.

"They're serving it now on the terrace.  Aren't you coming down?"

Self-possessed little thing; not quite spoilt yet.

"I'll probably miss tea today."

"Don't you feel well?"

"Oh, I'm all right."

"Did it upset you, going to the funeral?"

"Funerals are always rather upsetting."

She still stood by, as if she wanted to be friendly.  Suddenly she
said:  "Julian's very funny, isn't he?"

"Yes, he's quite the humorist of the family."

"He's going back to Cannes tonight."

"Oh, is he?"

"Do you mind if I smoke a cigarette?"

"A cigarette?  Well--"

"I do smoke, you know--most of the girls at Kirby do as soon as
they get into the sixth."  She had taken a cigarette out of her bag
and was already lighting it.  "You don't mind, do you?"

"Not particularly."

"I knew you wouldn't.  You don't give a damn about anything."

"Do they also say 'damn' in the sixth?"

"No--that's what Mother said to Uncle Chet about you."

"I see. . . .  Well . . ."

"But I've got to stay here now till I finish it. . . .  Don't you
think Sheldon's rather marvellous?"

"Not only rather, but quite."

"I think he's the one who really ought to write a book about
Grandfather."

"Not a bad idea--why don't you tell him?"

"I did, but he only smiled.  He's so nice to everybody, isn't he?
We had a wonderful Christmas party here last year, before
Grandfather was ill--we had charades and one of them was his name--
SHELL, you know, and then DONE--but of course everybody guessed it--
it was far too easy.  Then we had Buffalo--BUFF, the colour, and
then a Frenchman answering the telephone--and then the whole word
BUFFALO in America. . . .  No, it wasn't Christmas, it was New
Year, because Bridget and I had an argument about who had the
darkest hair to let the New Year in with . . . but I did it."

"You would, I'm sure."

"Will Uncle Chet have any New Year's party this year?"

"I shouldn't think so. . . .  Here's an ash-tray."

"What I really came for was to say good-bye.  Mother wants to get
away this evening."  She held out her hand.

"Good-bye, Kitty--nice of you to come up."

He led her to the door.  Then:--

"Uncle Charles, is it true you don't remember a thing that's
happened to you for over two years?"

"Perfectly true."

"But how marvellous.  Then ANYTHING might have happened to you?"

He laughed at that and patted her on the shoulder.  "Yes, and
forgetfulness may have its points.  For instance, I daresay you'd
rather I forgot that you smoked a cigarette--or don't you mind?"

"Perhaps I'm like you--I don't give a damn," she answered,
scampering out of the room.  "Good-bye, Uncle Charles!"

When she had gone he decided he had behaved pretty badly,
encouraging her to smoke and swear; there was some imp of mischief
in him that drove him to such things, except that "imp" and
"mischief" were far too cheerful words for it.

Dinner, a little later, proved another difficult meal.  Julian,
Jill, and Kitty had already left; others were planning a departure
the following day.  Julia and her husband had agreed to stay over
the New Year, "helping" Chet and Lydia.  Lydia said:  "Jill and
Julian were anxious to say good-bye to you, Charles, but they felt
you mightn't want to be disturbed, especially as Kitty said you
weren't coming down for tea."

He smiled and said he perfectly understood.  Chet talked business
again with Truslove, who was staying the night; Chet also drank too
much and said that British business was headed for the biggest boom
in history, by Jove, always provided the government would keep off
their backs.  Which led to politics and the family constituency of
West Lythamshire:  "I'm no politician, old chap, but still if the
local association were to make the suggestion . . . of course it's
too early yet even to think of it."

But Chet evidently WAS thinking of it, readying himself for the
doing of his duty, wherever it might lead him.

The following morning, when George and his wife had left
immediately after breakfast, taking Bridget with them, Charles
suddenly decided to return to London with Truslove, who had a car.
They drove away together, amidst noisy farewells from Chet and a
few quiet words from Sheldon as the latter stowed away the bags.

"Do you propose to stay in London, Mr. Charles?"

"I'll let you know, Sheldon.  I'll be all right, anyway."

"I hope so."

During the journey through Reading and Maidenhead he told Truslove
he had been quite sincere in his original refusal of the equity
settlement, and had only agreed to it because it was what the
family said they wanted, so if they now cared to go back on the
decision; it would still be all right with him.

Truslove, of course, replied that that was out of the question.
"In fact, Mr. Charles, you seem to have given this matter far too
little thought.  A quarter of a million pounds is not to be treated
lightly."

"That's just the point.  I don't know HOW to treat it."

Truslove assured him, entirely without irony, that there would be
no trouble attaching to the inheritance.  "The bulk of it's
invested in shares of the company--you'll merely receive the
regular dividends."

"That leads me to what I wanted to say.  I'd rather not be
connected with the family business at all.  I'm not a business man.
If I HAVE to have the money, I'd like to sell the shares
immediately and invest the proceeds in government stock."

"But, Mr. Charles, I--I really don't advise--"

"Why not?  Isn't it possible to do that?"

"POSSIBLE, of course--the shares command a very ready market.  But
I couldn't ADVISE it--not as things are."

"That's odd--I always thought you lawyers had a passion for
government stocks.  Aren't they supposed to be safer than anything
else?  What about consols?"

Truslove seemed disturbed at the prospect of having to assess the
relative merits of consols and Rainier ordinaries.  "Naturally I've
nothing against government securities--no one CAN have, and I
should be the first to advise such prudence in investment, but
for . . . well, perhaps I may let you into a secret--of course the
whole matter's very technical and hasn't been settled yet, but it
was on the cards when your father passed away and I think events
will go forward a little quicker now . . . it's a question of
refloating the entire group of Rainier companies on terms that
would of course be very favourable to present holders.  I can't
give you any details, but you'll realize why it would be unwise to
dispose of anything at the present moment."

"Still, I'd rather you sell.  I'm not interested in speculation and
share movements.  I really mean what I say, so don't wait for me to
change my mind."

"Of course if you give me direct instructions, I can't refuse.  But
you realize that, in addition to any question of capital value, the
income from government stocks will be very much less?"

"I don't mind that, either.  I'll probably live very well on a
fraction of it.  Matter of fact, you might as well know my plans.
I'm going to Cambridge."

"Cambridge?"

"I was going to go there, you know, when war broke out--I'd already
taken the entrance examination.  Not a bad idea to go on where you
left off, especially if you can't think of anything else to do."

                    *    *    *    *    *

His rooms at St. Swithin's overlooked the river and the Backs, and
from the first January day when he settled in, he felt peace
surrounding him.  It was not that he himself was at peace--often
the contrary; but he always felt the rooms and the college weighing
WITH him, as it were, in the silent pressures of his mind.  His
rooms were rather austerely furnished when he took possession; he
made them less so by books, pictures, and a couple of easy-chairs,
yet they still remained--as Herring, his gyp, remarked--a READING
gentleman's rooms.  After half a century of experience as a college
servant, Herring counted himself fortunate whenever a newcomer to
his staircase entered that category.

Charles had visited Cambridge for a week during his last term at
Netherton; he had then put up in back-street lodgings while taking
the Little-go, which had left him no time to make acquaintances or
get much impression of the place except that he thought he was
going to like it.  He was glad of this now, for it meant that no
one remembered him and that his past life was neither known nor
inquired about.  To be a younger son of a rich industrialist
counted for nothing among dons and fellow undergraduates; that he
had served in the war merely placed him among the vast majority;
and that he made few friends and liked to be left alone was, after
all, the not unusual characteristic of reading gentlemen.

He told his Senior Tutor, a harassed little man named Bragg, that
he would like to take history; and a further interview with
Werneth, the history don, decided him to try for the tripos instead
of an ordinary degree.  So he acquired the necessary books, began
to attend recommended lectures, and dined in Hall for the required
nights each week--which is about all a Cambridge life need consist
of structurally, until the scaffolding is removed later and one
sees how much else there must have been.

Sheldon sent him news from Stourton fairly often, generally to say
there wasn't any news.  Still reading, however, between the lines,
Charles gathered that Chet and Lydia were failing to evolve a well-
controlled household, and that Sheldon was less comfortable than in
the earlier days of despotism.  Truslove also wrote, reporting
progress in his own sphere; transfers of property took time, and it
was March before the lawyer could notify him that he no longer
possessed any financial interest in the Rainier enterprises.  The
shares had been sold for seventy shillings (fifteen more than the
price at Christmas), and the purchaser had been none other than
Chetwynd, who had apparently been glad to add to his own already
large holding.  Truslove added that he regarded the price as
satisfactory, though he still thought the sale unwise in view of a
probably much higher price eventually.

Charles wrote back that he was perfectly satisfied, and that if his
"unwise" action had been the means of obliging Chet, so much the
better.  Just about then came the Easter vacation; he did not visit
Stourton or see any of the family, but spent the three weeks in an
unplanned trip around northern France, visiting Chartres, Lisieux,
Caen, and Rouen.  Returning to London the day before the Cambridge
summer term began, he bought an evening paper at Victoria Station
and glanced through what had come to be the almost usual news of
famine and revolution somewhere or other on the Continent; not till
late at night, in his hotel room, did he happen to notice a
headline on the financial page--"Rainier's Still Soaring: Reported
Terms of Bonus."  He read that the shares had topped five pounds
and that there was talk of an issue of new stock to existing
shareholders in the proportion of two for one.  It wasn't all very
clear to him, for he never studied the financial columns and did
not understand their jargon; but he realized that, from the point
of view of immediate profit, Truslove and Chet had been right, and
he himself wrong; which didn't trouble him at all.  He was almost
glad for his own sake, as well as Chet's, for he would have had no
use for the extra money, whereas Chet enjoyed both spending and the
chance to say "I told you so, old chap."  In fact he felt so
entirely unregretful about what had happened that he sent both Chet
and Truslove short notes of congratulation.

The next day he went to Cambridge and completely lost track of
financial news amidst the many more interesting pursuits of term-
time.  He still did not make friends easily, but he joined the
"Heretics" and sometimes attended the weekly debating sessions over
the fish shop in Petty Cury; he also came to know the occupant of
the rooms next to his on the same staircase--a high-caste Hindoo
named Pal who was a mathematician and perhaps also a genius.  Pal
claimed to feel numerals emotionally and to find them as
recognizable as human faces; Charles took him first as an oddity,
then as a personality, later as a friend.  He formed a habit of
having coffee in Pal's rooms once or twice a week.

As summer came, he did most of his reading on the river, generally
on the Upper Cam at Grantchester, and sometimes he would portage
the canoe across the roadway to the deep tranquil reach beyond the
Old Mill.  One morning, having done this, he turned to the right,
along a tributary; the going was difficult, for he had to slide
over sunken logs and push away branches that trailed in the water,
but after an arduous yard-by-yard struggle he was suddenly able to
paddle into a dark pool overhung with willows; and there, as he
rested, a feeling of discovery came over him, as if it were the
Congo or the Amazon instead of a little English stream; he felt
strangely happy and stayed there all day till it was time to return
for tea at the Orchard, which was the Grantchester resort
patronized by undergraduates.  He was on friendly terms with the
old lady there who served strawberries and cream under the apple
trees, and when he showed his scratched arms and said where he had
been, she answered very casually:  "Oh, you must have been up the
Bourne--Rupert Brooke used to say how beautiful it was there--HE
got his arms scratched too."  Somehow the whole incident, with its
hint of something seen by no human eye between Brooke's and his own
(highly unlikely, but tempting to contemplate), gave him a curious
pleasure which he felt he would spoil by ever going there again; so
he never did.

He got on well with lecturers and tutors, and soon acquired one of
those intangible reputations, breathed in whispers across High
Tables, that rest on anything except past achievement; he lived
retiringly and took hardly any part in University activities, yet
it had already become expected that he would do well.  Werneth had
even consented to his taking the first part of the history tripos
in July--after two terms of preparation for an examination for
which most students took three, and some even six.  "But you have a
good background of knowledge," he told Charles, adding with a
smile:  "And also a good memory."

On an impulse he could not check quickly enough Charles answered:
"It's odd you should compliment me on my memory, because--"  And
then he told Werneth about his war injury, and the strange gap of
years which he had christened in his own mind the Dark Corridor.

Werneth listened with an abstract attention beyond the range of
mere inquisitiveness.  After the brief account was finished, he
tore a sheet of paper from a pad on his desk and drew a large
rectangle.  "Not exactly my province, as a historian, but
nevertheless quite a teasing problem, Rainier.  Your life, from
what you say, appears to be divided into three parts--like Caesar's
Gaul?"

"Or like Regent Street," Charles interjected, beginning to be
amused.

"Or like a Victorian novel," capped Werneth, delightedly.

"Or like an artichoke," recapped Charles.

That put them both in a highly agreeable mood.  "Let us call the
parts A, B, and C," resumed Werneth, drawing verticals across the
rectangle and lettering the segments.  "A is your life before the
war injury; B is your life between that injury and the moment in
Liverpool last December 27 when, according to your statement, you
suddenly remembered your name and identity; C is your life since
then.  Now it is demonstrably true that during Period C--that is to
say, at the present time--you enjoy a normally clear recollection
of both Period C and Period A, but not of Period B.  Am I right?"

"Perfectly."

"And it must also be inferentially clear that during Period B you
could not have had any recollection at all of Period A?"

"Naturally not."

"Thank you. . . .  There's only one thing more I should like to ask--
and that is if I might send this diagram to my friend Dr. Freeman,
of St. Jude's, along with a brief résumé of the facts which it
illustrates?"

When Charles hesitated before replying Werneth added:  "I won't
mention your name if you'd prefer not."

Charles then consented.  The matter was not referred to at his next
meeting with Werneth, but some weeks later the history don asked
Charles to stay behind after a lecture.  "As I expected, my friend
Freeman found my notes on your case extremely teasing.  In fact
he'd very much like to meet you if you haven't any objection.  You
probably know his reputation as a philosopher and psychologist."

Again Charles was reluctant, and again consented on the
understanding that his name was not to be divulged; so the curious
meeting took place in Werneth's rooms.  The eminent authority
talked to Charles for over an hour in a completely detached and
anonymous way, stating as his opinion that Period B would probably
return, though there could be no certainty about it or prophecy as
to the time required.  Charles had several further interviews with
Freeman, and began to take a certain pleasure in consulting an
expert thus obliquely; he thought it typical of the amenities of
Cambridge civilization that such a plan could have been worked out
to suit him.  At the same time he came to like Freeman personally,
so that when his own identity became later revealed through an
accident, it did not bother him much.

Charles took a First Class in the first part of the history tripos,
which was quite a brilliant achievement in the circumstances.
After consultations with Bragg and Werneth, he decided to switch
over to economics during the following year--an effective piece of
specialization, for he had already gone a certain way in economic
history.  He was increasingly interested in the background of
knowledge and theory behind the lives of men, and the astounding
clumsiness of world behaviour compared with the powers of the
planning mind.  To use Werneth's favourite word, he found the
paradox teasing.

During the Long Vacation he stayed in Cambridge, putting in
mornings and evenings of study interspersed with afternoons on the
river or walks to Granchester through the meadows; he liked
Cambridge during vacation time--the quieter streets, the air of
perpetual Sunday, the August sunlight bleaching the blinds in many
a shop that would not pull them up until term-time.  Most of the
bookshops remained open, however, and there were a few good
concerts.  The two months passed very quickly.

Sheldon wrote to him every week, but with no news except of
domestic trouble at Stourton--an outbreak of petty thefts due
(Charles could judge) to Chet's refusal to back up Sheldon in some
earlier trouble with one of the gardeners.  Now that it was too
late, Chet seemed to be handling the matter rather unfortunately,
dealing out wholesale dismissals to servants who had given years of
service, and leaving a staff both too small and too disgruntled to
work well.  Chet also wrote, giving his side of the question,
casting doubts on Sheldon's efficiency, and asking how Charles, as
one of the family, would feel about selling the place.  Charles
replied instantly that Chet should sell by all means; Stourton was
far too big for any modern uses, and family sentiment should not
weigh against common sense.  Chet did not reply to that, but a few
weeks later, at Cambridge, Charles heard from Truslove that
Stourton was on the market, but wouldn't be easy to sell "in these
days."

Then one Saturday, returning to his rooms from a lecture, he found
Kitty sprawled on a sofa and Herring teetering doubtfully in the
pantry.  "Hello, Uncle Charles," she cried loudly, and then added
in a whisper:  "That's for HIS benefit.  He didn't believe me--I
could see that."

"But why didn't you tell me you were coming?" Charles began, trying
to infuse a note of mild pleasure into his astonishment.

"Because you'd probably have told me not to," she answered
promptly.

He admitted he probably would, and then asked why she HAD come.

"It's my birthday."

"Is it?  But--well, many happy returns--but--"

"Uncle Chet promised me a big party at Stourton, but he cancelled
it at the last moment because he said Aunt Lydia wasn't very well,
and as I'd already got leave of absence from Kirby I didn't feel I
could WASTE the week-end."

"But you're not intending to stay here for the whole week-end, are
you?"

"Oh yes, I've taken a room at the Bull.  Surprising what a girl can
do by herself these days."

"But if they find out--at Kirby--"

"That I've been visiting one uncle instead of another?  Will it
matter?  And I don't really care if they DO find out--I'm tired of
school anyway.  I'd like to go to Newnham."

"Anything wrong with Somerville at Oxford?"

"Oh, how you'd loathe to have me anywhere around, wouldn't you?"

He began to laugh and suggested taking her to lunch.

"Can't I have lunch here--in the college?"

"No."

"Well, that's better than the little German at our school who
pretends to be French and gives us art lessons--he gets in an awful
temper and then says, 'In one word I vill not have it.'"

They lunched at Buol's, in King's Parade, and afterwards he said:
"Now, young lady, having invited yourself here, you'll have to take
the consequences.  My usual way of spending an afternoon is to punt
up the river, and I don't care how dull you find it, it's either
that or off you go on your own."

"But I don't mind at all--I can punt awfully well."

"You won't get the chance--I'LL do the punting."

But she lazed quite happily during the hour-long journey, chatting
all the time about school, life, the family, herself, and himself.
"It's made a great difference, you passing that examination, Uncle
Charles.  I believe the family had an idea you were a bit queer
till you did that--now they still think you're queer, but a marvel
too.  You've quite pushed Uncle Julian off the shelf as the one in
the family with brains."

He made no comment; the effort of digging the pole in and out of
the river-bed gave him an easy excuse for silence.  He didn't
dislike Kitty, indeed there were certain qualities in her--or
perhaps there was only one quality--that definitely attracted him.

She went on:  "Of course the family don't really RESPECT brains--
they just have a scared feeling that brains might come in handy
some day."

"What makes you say that?"

"Oh, I don't know--just the general atmosphere before Mother went
away.  She's at Cannes, you know--staying with Uncle Julian."

They had tea at the Orchard and then returned to her hotel for
dinner.  "I'm glad you're showing up with me here," she said, as
they entered the lobby, he in cap and gown as prescribed by
University regulations for all undergraduates after dark.  "It lets
them know I'm respectable even if I AM only fifteen. . . .  By the
way, how old are YOU?"

"Twenty-six."

"Do you FEEL twenty-six?"

"Sometimes I feel ninety-six--so I try not to bother about how I
feel."

"Are you HAPPY?"

"Oh, happy enough."

"Can you remember ever being TERRIBLY happy?"

He pondered.  "Once when I was a small boy and Sheldon visited us
at Brighton for some reason, and HE took me for a walk along the
Promenade instead of Miss Ponsonby."  He laughed.  "Such a thrill."

She laughed also.  "And I was happiest once when I'd had a
toothache and it began to stop.  Before it FINISHED stopping.  I
really enjoyed the last bit of the pain."

"Morbid creature."

"But pain is part of love, isn't it?"

He was studying the menu.  "At the moment I'm rather more concerned
with the question of steak versus lamb chops."

"You WOULD say that, but you don't really mean it. . . .  Oh, and
another time I was happy was Armistice Night, at school.  So
wonderful, to think the war was all over, wasn't it?  Like waking
up on end-of-term morning and realizing it's really come.  But
somehow everything's been a bit of a let-down since, don't you
think?  I mean, if you stop now and say to yourself, the war's
over, the war's over, it can't keep on making you happy as it did
that first night, can it?"

"I've practically decided on steak.  What about you?"

"Uncle Charles, are you sorry I came here to see you?"

"Well, I'm a little puzzled about what to do with you tomorrow."

"I'd like to do whatever you were going to do."

"That's well meant, but I don't think it would work.  I intended to
read most of the day and go to a concert in the afternoon."

"I'd love the concert."

"I don't expect you would.  Beethoven Quartets make no attempt to
be popular."

"Neither do you, Uncle Charles, but _I_ don't mind."

He smiled, appreciating the repartee whilst resolute to make no
concessions throughout the rest of the evening and the following
day; he would teach her to play truant from school and fasten
herself on him like that.  After a long and, he hoped, exhausting
walk on Sunday morning, he took her to the concert in the
afternoon, and in the evening saw her off on the train with much
relief and a touch of wry amusement.

"Uncle Charles, you've been so SWEET to me."

"I haven't been aware of it."

"Would you really mind if I were to come to Newnham?"

"It isn't in my power to stop you.  But don't imagine you'd see
much of me--the Newnham rules wouldn't allow it, for one thing."

"Do you think Newnham would be good for me?"

"Another question is would you be good for Newnham?"

"Won't you be serious a moment?  I wish you'd write to Mother and
tell her it would be good for me."

"Oh, I don't know that I could do that.  It's for her and you to
decide."

"She says she doesn't think she can afford it these days."

"Not AFFORD it?  Surely--"  But that, after all, wasn't his
business either.  If Jill thought she could afford expensive
cruises and winterings abroad, and yet decided to economize on her
daughter's education--well, it still remained outside his province.

The girl added, as the train came in:  "It's because trade's not so
good, or something.  I think that's really why Uncle Chet cancelled
my party, not because of Aunt Lydia."  She mimicked Chet as she
added:  "Time for economies, old chap."

"I don't think you really know anything about it.  After all, a
party wouldn't cost--"

"I know, but Uncle Chet wouldn't think of that.  There's nobody
worse than a scared optimist."  She gave him a look, then added:
"I suppose you think I heard somebody say that?  Well, I didn't--I
thought it out myself.  I'm not the fool you think I am."

"I don't think you're a fool at all.  But I don't see how you can
know much about financial matters."

"Oh, can't I?  Uncle Chet used to rave so much about Rainier shares
whenever I saw him that I and a lot of other girls at Kirby clubbed
together and bought some.  We look at the price every morning."

He said sternly:  "I think you're very foolish.  You and your
friends should have something better to spend your time on--and
perhaps your money, too. . . .  Good-bye."

The train was moving.  "Good-bye, Uncle Charles."

Returning to St. Swithin's in the mellow October twilight he
pondered on that phrase "in these days."  Truslove had used it in
connection with the possible sale of Stourton, and now Jill also,
about the expense of sending Kitty to college.  Always popular as
an excuse for action or inaction, and uttered by Englishmen in 1918
and 1919 with a hint of victorious pride, it had lately--during
1920--turned downwards from the highest notes.  There was nothing
gloomy yet, nothing in the nature of a dirge; just an allegro
simmering down to andante among business men and stockbrokers.
Trade, of course, had been so outrageously and preposterously good
that there was nothing for the curve to do except flatten; the wild
boom on the markets could not continue indefinitely.  Charles
looked up Rainier shares in The Times when he got back to his
rooms; he found they stood at four pounds after having been higher--
which, allowing for the bonus, really meant that the shares he had
sold to Chet for seventy shillings were now more than twice the
price.  Chet shouldn't worry--and yet, according to Kitty, he WAS
worrying--doubtless because there had been a small fall from the
peak.  Her comment had been shrewd--nobody like a scared optimist.

The next morning at breakfast his thoughts were enough on the
subject for him to glance at the later financial news, which
informed him by headline that Rainier's had announced an interim
dividend of 10 per cent, as against 15 the previous year.  It
seemed to him good enough, and nothing for anyone to worry about,
but by evening as he walked along Petty Cury the newsboys were
carrying placards, "Slump on 'Change" and "Rainier Jolts Markets."
He found that the reduced dividend had tipped over prices rather as
an extra brick on a child's toy tower will send half of it
toppling.  Rainier's had fallen thirty shillings during the day's
trading, and other leading shares proportionately.  It had been
something that sensational journalism delighted to call a "Black
Monday."

Still he did not think there was anything much to worry about.  The
theoretical study of economics was far removed from the practical
guesswork of Throgmorton Street, and his reading of Marshall and
Pigou had given him no insight into the psychology of speculation.
For a week afterwards he ignored the financial pages, being
temperamentally as well as personally disinterested in them; not
till he received an alarming letter from Sheldon did he search the
financial lists again to discover that in the interval Rainier
ordinaries had continued their fall from two pounds ten to
seventeen shillings.  And even then his first thought was a
severely logical one--that they were either worth more than that,
or else had never been worth the higher prices at all.

Sheldon wrote that Chet was terribly worried, had been having long
consultations with bank and Stock Exchange people, and had stayed
all night in his City office on several occasions.  Charles could
not understand that; what had bank or Stock Exchange people got to
do with the firm?  Surely the Rainier business was principally
carried on at Cowderton and other places, not in the City of
London; and as for the falling price of the shares, what did it
matter what the price of something was, if you didn't have either
to buy or to sell?  He replied to Sheldon somewhat on these lines,
half wishing he could write a similar note to Chet, but as Chet had
not approached him, he did not care to offer comment or advice.

But towards the beginning of December a letter from Chet did
arrive; and it was, when one reached the last page, an appeal for a
loan.  He didn't say how much, but no sum, it appeared, would be
either too small or too great; he left the choice to Charles with a
touch of his vague expansiveness, assuring him that it was a merely
temporary convenience and would soon be repaid.  Charles was
puzzled, unable to imagine how much Chet needed--surely it couldn't
be a small sum, a few hundreds, and if it were a matter of
thousands, what could he possibly want it for?  He felt he had a
right to inquire, and did so.  Back came a franker, longer, and
much more desperate appeal, again saving its pith until the last
page, wherein Chet admitted he had been speculating heavily in the
shares of the firm, borrowing from banks in order to do so.  At
first the result had been highly successful; his own constant
buying on a rising market had given him huge profits, and with
those (uncashed, of course) as security he had borrowed and
purchased more.  Then the inevitable had happened.  Chet didn't put
it in this way; he seemed to think that a conjunction of bad trade,
falling share prices, and a request by the bank for him to begin
repayment of loans was some malign coincidence instead of a series
of causes and effects.  If only Charles could help him out with ten
or twelve thousand--he'd pay interest, let's call it a short-term
investment, old chap, the badness of trade could only be
exceptional, Rainier shares were destined to far higher levels
eventually--hadn't they once been "talked" to twenty pounds?  And
Chet added that he hated making such a request, and only did so
because there was much more at stake than his own personal affairs;
Rainier's was a family concern, there were Julian and Jill and
Bridget and Julia and all the others to think about.  If he threw
his own shares on the market, it would make for a further fall in
the price, and that would be bad for the firm itself and so affect
the stability of the family property and livelihood.

The letter arrived on a Friday; Charles answered it that same
evening, enclosing a cheque for as large a round figure as he
happened to have on hand, and promising more in a few days.  But by
the following morning the affairs of Rainier's had already broken
out of the financial columns and were invading the news pages of
all the daily papers.  Apparently the shares had crashed in the
"Street" after the Stock Exchange closed the previous evening, the
final price being a very nominal half-crown.  Accompanying the
collapse were wild rumours--some of them, according to a discreet
reporter, "of a serious nature."

That sent him to Bragg to ask for leave of absence; he then wired
Sheldon and left immediately for Stourton, reaching the house in
the late afternoon.  From the cars outside he guessed there was a
family conclave before Sheldon told him who had arrived.  He found
them assembled in the library, already in the midst of stormy
argument.  Bridget, who was near the door, said "Hello, Charlie,"
but the others were too preoccupied to hear this, even to see him
at first.  It was curious to note the utter disintegration of
formal manners in face of such a crisis; to watch a favoured few,
long accustomed to regard the family business as a rock of ages
cleft for them, suddenly contemplating phenomena so normal in most
people's lives--the uncertainties of the future.  Charles stayed
close to the door, reluctant to intervene; so far as he could make
out, the family had been heckling Chet for some time, for his
temper was considerably frayed, and at one question he suddenly
lost it and shouted:  "Look here, I'm not going to shoulder the
blame for everything!  You were all damned glad to leave things in
my hands as long as you thought they were going well--"

"As long as we thought you knew what you were up to--we never
guessed you were monkeying like this--"

"God damn it, Jill--what did YOU ever do except draw dividends and
spend 'em on Riviera gigolos?"

"How DARE you say that!"

"Well, if you can suggest there's been anything crooked in the way
I've--"

Jill was on the verge of hysteria.  "I know my life isn't stuffy
and narrow-minded like yours--but did I have to travel all the way
here just to be insulted?  Julian knows what a lie it is--he LIVES
there--he's been at Cannes all the season except when we went to
Aix for a month--Julian, I appeal to you--are you going to stay
here and allow things like this to be said--JULIAN--"

George interposed feebly:  "Steady now, steady--both of you."

Julia said, with cold common sense:  "I think we might as well
stick to the point, which isn't Jill's morals, but our money."

Jill was still screaming:  "Julian can tell you--JULIAN--"

Everybody stared at Julian, who couldn't think of a sufficiently
clever remark and was consequently silent.  Meanwhile Chet's anger
rose to white heat.  "Look at ME--don't look at Julian!  _I_
haven't had a decent sleep for weeks, while you've all been
gallivanting about in Cannes or Aix or God knows where!  LOOK at
me!  I've put on ten years--that's what they say at the office!"
And he added, pathetically:  "To say nothing of it giving Lydia a
breakdown."

It was also pathetic that he should have asked them to look at him,
for his claim was a clear exaggeration; he certainly looked tired--
perhaps also in need of a Turkish bath and a shave; but his hair
had failed to turn white after any number of sleepless nights.  He
was still expansive, even in self-pity.  Charles felt suddenly
sorry for him, as much because as in spite of this.

Julian, having now thought of something, intervened in his sly,
high-pitched voice:  "I'm afraid it wasn't your looks we were all
relying on, Chet . . ."

Then Julia, glancing towards the door, spotted Charles.  "Ah,
here's the mystery man arrived!  Hello, darling!  How wise you were
to sell Rainier's at three pounds ten and buy War Loan, you shrewd
man!  Come to gloat over us?"

It was the interpretation Charles had feared.  He stepped forward,
nodded slightly to the general assembly.  "You're quite wrong,
Julia. . . .  How are you, Chet?"

Chet, on the verge of tears after his outburst, put out his hand
rather as a dog extends an interceding paw; he murmured abjectly:
"Hello, old chap--God bless.  Caught us all at a bad moment. . . .
And thanks for your letter--damn nice of you, but I'm afraid it's a
bit late--a sort of tide in the affairs of men, you know--"

Charles, not fully aware what Chet was talking about, answered for
want of anything else to say:  "I should have come earlier, but I
just missed a train."

"You missed Chet's news, too," Jill cried, still half-hysterical.
"Such SPLENDID news!  I've been travelling all night to hear it--so
has Julian--would somebody mind repeating it for Charles's
benefit?"

"I'LL tell him," Julia interrupted, venomously.  "We're all on the
rocks, and Chet's just the most wonderful financier in the world!"

"Except," added Julian, "a certain undergraduate who thoughtfully
added a quarter of a million to Chet's bank loan by demanding
cash."

Charles swung round on him.  "What on earth do you mean by that?"

"Well, you sold your stuff to Chet, didn't you?"

"He wanted to buy--I didn't ask him to."

"But he paid you in cash."

"Naturally--what else?"

"Well, where d'you suppose he found the cash?  In his pocket?"

"You mean he had to borrow from the bank to pay me?"  Charles then
turned on Chet.  "Is this true?"

"'Fraid it is, Charlie.  After all, you WANTED the cash."

"Well, YOU wanted the shares."

"Wasn't exactly that I wanted 'em, old chap, but I had to take
'em."

"But--I don't see that--surely I could have sold them to someone
else?"

"Not at that price.  You try dumping sixty thousand on the market
and see what happens.  I had to take 'em to keep the price firm.
Isn't that right, Truslove?"

Charles peered beyond the faces; Truslove was standing in the
shadows, fingering the embroidery at the back of a chair; leaning
forward he answered:  "That was your motive, undoubtedly, Mr.
Chetwynd.  But I think we can hardly blame Mr. Charles for--"

"Is it a matter for blaming anybody?" Charles interrupted, with
tightened lips.  "I can only say that I--I--"

And then he stopped.  What COULD he say?  That he was sorry?  That
had he known Chet was having to borrow he would have insisted on
selling in the market?  That if he could have forecast a crisis
like this, he would have held on to his shares, just to be one of
the family in adversity?  None of these things was true, except the
first.  He said, lamely:  "I feel at a disadvantage--not having
known of these things before."

"Well, whose fault was that?" Jill shouted at him.

"My own, I'm perfectly well aware.  I took no interest in them."

"It doesn't cost you anything to admit it now, does it?"

There was such bitterness in her voice that he stared with
astonishment.  "I--I don't know what you mean, Jill."

"Oh, don't put on that Cambridge air--we're not all fools!  And we
haven't all got queer memories either!  If you want my opinion, you
can have it--you're morally liable to return that cash--"

Truslove stepped forward with unexpected sprightliness.  "I must
say I consider that a most unfair and prejudiced remark--"

Jill screamed on:  "I said MORALLY, Truslove, not LEGALLY!  Isn't
that the way you argued us all into the equity settlement with
Charles after Father died?  We didn't HAVE to do it then!  He
doesn't HAVE to do it now!  But what he OUGHT is another matter!"

Nobody said anything to that, but Julian stroked his chin
thoughtfully, while Julia stared across at Jill with darkly shining
eyes.  It was as if the family were at last converging on a more
satisfying emotion than that of blaming Chet, who, after all, was
only one of themselves.  But Charles was different.  He took in
their various glances, accepting--even had he never done so before--
the position of utter outsider.  His own glance hardened as he
answered quietly:  "I'm still rather hazy about what's happened.
Can't I talk to somebody:--alone, for preference, and without all
this shouting?  How about you, Chet? . . .  Or you, Julian?"  Chet
shifted weakly; Julian did not stir.  "Truslove, then?"

The room was silent as he and the lawyer passed through the French
windows on to the terrace.  They did not speak till they were well
away from the house, half-way to the new and expensive tennis-
courts that Chet had had installed just before he decided to sell
Stourton if he could.  Truslove began by saying how distressed he
was at such a scene, as well as at the events leading up to it; in
all his experience with the family, over forty years . . .  Charles
cut him short.  "I don't think this is an occasion for sentiment,
Truslove."

"But perhaps, Mr. Charles, you'll allow me to say that I warned Mr.
Chetwynd a great many times during recent months, but in vain--he
fancied he had the Midas touch--there was no arguing with him. . . .
I only wish he had more of your own level-headedness."

"No compliments either, please.  I want facts, that's all.  First,
is the firm bankrupt?"

"That's hard to say, Mr. Charles.  Many a firm would be bankrupt if
its creditors all jumped at the same moment, and that's just what
often happens when things begin to go wrong.  I daresay the firm's
still making profits, but there are loans of various kinds and if
they're called in just now, as they may be with the shares down to
half a crown--"

"Is that a fair price for what they're worth?"

"Well, there again it's hard to say--always hard to separate price
from worth."

"What will happen if the loans are called in?"

"The company will have to look for new money--if it can find any."

"And if it can't?"

"Then, of course, there'd be nothing for it but a receivership, or
at any rate some sort of arrangement with creditors."

"May I ask you, though you needn't answer if you don't want--did
Chet speculate with any of the firm's money?"

"Again, it's hard to draw a line between speculation and legitimate
business practice.  Mr. Chetwynd bought rather large quantities of
raw materials, thinking prices would continue to rise.  In that he
made the same mistake as a great many very shrewd and reputable
people."

"Will HE be forced into bankruptcy?"

"A good deal depends on what happens to the firm.  If it weathers
the storm the bank would probably give him a chance--subject, of
course, to mortgaging Stourton and cutting down personal expenses
to the bone.  That applies to the others also."

"I see. . . .  Now may I ask you one final question?  You were
saying just now that the firm will need new money.  You know how
much I have myself.  Would such a sum be any use in weathering the
storm, as you put it?"

"That also is hard to say, Mr. Charles.  I hardly care to advise
you in--"

"I'm not asking for advice.  I want to know how much the firm
needs, so that I can judge whether it's even possible for me to
save the situation at all."

"I--I can't say, Mr. Charles.  The whole matter's very complicated.
We should have to see accountants, and find out certain things from
the banks--it's quite impossible for me to make an estimate
offhand."

"Well, thanks for telling me all you can.  Perhaps we could return
by the side gate--I'd like to escape any more of the family wrangle
if it's still in progress. . . ."

He drove away from Stourton an hour later, without seeing the
family again; but he left a note for Chet with Sheldon, saying he
would get in touch within a day or two.  After a dash across London
he was just in time to catch the last train from Liverpool Street
and be in his rooms at St. Swithin's by midnight.  He had already
decided to help if his help could do any vital amount of good.  He
couldn't exactly say why he had come to this decision; it certainly
wasn't any sense of the moral obligation that Jill had tried to
thrust on him.  And he didn't think it could be any sentimental
feeling about the family, whom (except for Chet and Bridget) he
didn't particularly like, and whose decline to the status of those
who had to earn their own living would not wring from him a tear.
If sentiment touched him at all it was more for Sheldon and other
servants whom he knew, as well as for the thousands of Rainier
employees whom he didn't know, but whom he could imagine in their
little houses sleeping peacefully without knowledge that their
future was being shaped by one man's decision in a Cambridge
college room.  That aspect of the thing was fantastic, but it was
true, nevertheless.  But perhaps strongest of all the arguments was
the fact that the money didn't matter to him; even the income from
it was more than he could ever spend; if he could put it to some
act, however debatable, at least it would not be useless, as it was
and always would be in his possession.  For his own personal future
had already begun to mould itself; he would probably stay at
Cambridge after obtaining a degree.  Werneth had once hinted at a
fellowship, and if this should happen, he would be enabled to live
frugally but quite comfortably on his own earnings.

End of term came a couple of days later; he returned to London and
took a room at a hotel.  Having conveyed his conditional decision
to Chet and to Truslove, he had now only to discover if his money
had any chance to perform the necessary miracle.  This meant
interviews in City offices with bank officials and chartered
accountants, long scrutinies of balance-sheets and many wearisome
hours in the Rainier Building, demanding documents and statements
that took so long to unearth and were frequently so confusing that
he soon realized how far Chet's slackness had percolated downwards
into all departments.

One of the accountants took him aside after an interview.  "It's no
business of mine, Mr. Rainier, but I know something of the
situation and what you're thinking of doing, and my advice to you
would be to keep out of it--don't send good money after bad!"

"Thanks for the tip," Charles answered, with no other comment.

During the next two weeks it became a matter of some absorption to
him to discover exactly what Chet had been up to.  So far he hadn't
detected any actual crookedness--only the grossest negligence and
the most preposterous--well, EXPANSIVENESS was perhaps again the
word.  Chet had not only bought shares at absurd prices and in
absurd quantities; he had done the same with office desks, with
electric lamps, even with pen nibs.  A small change, apparently
fancied by him, in the firm's style of notepaper heading had
condemned enormous stacks of the original kind to waste-paper.  An
ugly marble mantelpiece in Chet's private office had cost six
hundred pounds.  And so far as Charles could judge from his
somewhat anomalous position of privileged outsider, every
department was staffed by well-paid sycophants whose most pressing
daily task was to convince their immediate superior that they were
indispensable.

By Christmas Charles had almost reached the same opinion as the
accountant--that it would be folly to send good money after bad.
Even a total repayment of loans would not alone suffice to lift the
firm from the trough of depression into which the entire trade of
the country was rapidly sinking; nothing could save an enterprise
of such complexity but completely centralized and economical
control.  Without that a cash loan could only stave off the
inevitable for a few months.

On one of those oddly unbusinesslike days between Christmas and the
New Year he lunched with Chet and Truslove in Chet's office and
told them this.  "I must be frank, Chet.  I've spent a fortnight
looking into every corner I could find, and I'm not much of an
optimist as a result.  It isn't only new MONEY that the firm needs,
it's new--well, new other things."

Chet nodded with an air of magnanimous comprehension.  "You're
probably right, old chap.  How about a new boss?  Suppose I were to
swap round with George on the board?"  Charles smiled gently.  "I
know my faults," Chet ran on.  "I'm a fair-weather pilot--good when
everything's on the up-and-up.  Nobody can act and think bigger
when times are right for it.  But these days you want a chap who
can act and think SMALL.  That's what put George in my mind."

Charles was quite willing to subscribe to a theory that left Chet
holding all the laurels, but he felt he had to say more.  "I'm
afraid it isn't just a matter of changing the pilot.  You've got to
change a good deal of the ship.  And you also may have to change
the voyage--or perhaps even lie up in harbour for a time and make
no voyages at all."

"Just a figure of speech, old chap--don't press it too far."

"All right, I won't . . . but take this lunch as an example.
Although I'm a guest, you'll perhaps forgive me for saying it's a
pretty bad lunch.  And I know where it comes from--the canteen, as
they call it, downstairs.  And I've seen the prices on the menu, so
I know your canteen is either badly managed or a swindle or both."

"Well, maybe--but surely it's not so important--"

"It's one thing with another.  The whole place wants reorganizing
from top to bottom, and I can't exactly see George as the new
broom."

"Well, let's assume you're right--but the more urgent issue still
remains.  The banks don't give a damn whether the canteen serves
good food or not.  They just won't wait for their money.  What do
YOU say, Truslove?"

Truslove temporized as usual.  "I think we owe Mr. Charles a deep
debt of gratitude for devoting two weeks of his Christmas vacation
to making this inquiry.  I'm sure everything he has said is very
valuable."

"But some of his cash would be more valuable still--don't we agree,
old chap?"

"That, I understand, is why Mr. Charles has met us here--to give us
his decision."

Both of them looked to Charles, who answered, rather hesitantly:
"I was hoping you'd see what I'm driving at without forcing me to a
direct reply.  In my opinion a loan or even a gift wouldn't help
unless you completely reorganize the firm.  That's all I can say."

"You mean your answer's a definite 'no'?"

"If you insist on putting it that way, but you've heard my
reasons."

"Well, I'm damned."  Chet stared gloomily at the tablecloth for a
moment, while the waitress came in with coffee.  Transferring his
stare to the cup, he suddenly turned on her with a vehemence that
almost made her drop the tray.  "Call this COFFEE?  Take it back
and bring something worth drinking.  And what's the cause of the
rotten meals we get here?  Send up the canteen manager to my office
afterwards . . . and let me look at your hands!  Why . . . damn it,
I won't have this sort of thing--get your week's wages and don't
come here again!"

Throughout all this Truslove and Charles had looked on
uncomfortably.  As soon as the girl, too startled and upset to make
any reply, had left the room, Charles said quietly:  "I'm not sure
that was very fair of you, Chet.  She wasn't responsible."

"What more can I do?  Her hands--you should have seen them."

"Yes, yes . . . I daresay."

There was a long silence.  Then Chet exploded:--

"Well, have I done anything WRONG?  You talk about reorganization--
what do you MEAN by it?  If it isn't just a word, TELL me.  Unless
it's merely that you haven't got the courage to say outright that
you're not going to risk your precious cash.  I'd respect you more
for saying that than for hiding behind all this reorganization pi-
jaw."

("Pi-jaw"--that was the word they used at Netherton for interviews
with the head master.  It stirred in him a little instant pity for
Chet.)

"I'm not hiding behind anything."

"You mean you'd lend the money if we DID reorganize?"

Charles was silent a moment; Chet went on:  "That's a fair
question, isn't it, Truslove?  Let him answer, then we'll know
where we stand.  Let's have a straight 'yes' or 'no,' for God's
sake."

"Very well, then . . . probably I would."

Chet beamed.  "Fine, old chap.  I take back any aspersions, God
bless.  NOW all you've got to tell us is what you'd call
reorganizing.  What have I got to do?  Or what's anybody got to do?
And for that matter, who's got to be the fellow to do it?"

"I--I can't easily answer those questions, Chet.  I'm not a
business expert.  It's hardly possible for me to suggest a new
board, new managers, new heads of departments--all out of the blue--
in a couple of minutes."

"You think we ought to have new ones--all of them?"

"I do."

"You mean you've seen enough during these last two weeks to get an
idea who's not pulling his weight?"

"To some extent, yes."

Then Chet, beaming again, played his trump card.  "Well, all I've
got to say, old chap, is--come here and do the job yourself."  He
kept on beaming throughout their stare of immediate astonishment.
"Why not?  Lend the money, then come and look after it.  What could
give you a better safeguard?  You say you're not a business man,
but you know enough to have found out what's wrong--that's a good
deal of the way to knowing what's right.  Truslove, arrange a board
meeting or whatever there has to be and get it all fixed up.  I'll
resign, and then--"

Charles got up from the table and strode to the window,
interrupting as he stared over the City rooftops.  "But I don't
WANT such a job--can't you understand that?  I've got my work at
Cambridge--"

"You could go back there afterwards--putting things straight
mightn't take you more than a few weeks, once you got down to it."

"But I've no desire to get down to it!"

"Then it's damnably selfish of you!  Worse than that, it's nothing
but hypocrisy the way you've led us on into thinking you'd help us!
First you make terms for getting us all out of a hole--then we
agree to the terms--then you go back on them--"

"But I never made such terms!  I never hinted at tackling a job
like this myself!  I don't even know that I could do it, anyhow."

Chet shrugged his shoulder, turning round to the lawyer.  "Well,
that's his second 'no'--I suppose we'll just have to let the little
tick go back to his study books."

("Tick"--the worst term of Netherton opprobrium, and one that
Charles had never used, even at school, because he had always
considered it childish.)  Afterwards, walking disconsolately along
Cheapside and through Paternoster Row to Ludgate Hill and his hotel
in the Strand, he felt he had considerably bungled the entire
interview.  He should have said "no" from the first; then there
would have had to be only one "no."



Charles took over control of the Rainier firms in January 1921.  To
do so he obtained a term's leave of absence from St. Swithin's,
smiling at the tense in Bragg's remark:  "You would have done very
well here, you know."

"WOULD have?  I still intend to."

"Well, we shall see, we shall see."

He practically lived in Chet's office in Old Broad Street--no
longer Chet's, of course, but he refused to put his own name on the
door.  At a special board meeting he had been appointed managing
director with the consent of the bank creditors, to whom he had
turned over his own government securities.  The bank men doubtless
smiled over the arrangement, since it was one by which they could
not possibly lose; while the family, faced with even a thousand-to-
one chance, grabbed it gladly if not gratefully.  They could not
get it out of their minds that Charles was somehow taking advantage
of them, instead of they of him; but if (as Kitty had said) they
had ever had a scared feeling that brains might come in handy some
day, this was undoubtedly the day.  The scared feeling developed
until they actually believed in him a little, but without reasoned
conviction and certainly without affection--rather as if he were
some kind of astrologer whose abracadabra might, after all, perform
some miracle of market manipulation.  That, of course, was their
only criterion of success; and it so happened that the mere closing
of bear accounts sent up the price of Rainier shares from half a
crown to six shillings within a month of his taking control, a rise
that considerably helped his prestige though he made no attempt to
claim any.  Less popular was his early insistence on economies in
their personal lives, but after one or two suggestions had been
badly taken, he contented himself with sending each member of the
family a personal note, merely conveying advance information that
the preference dividend that year would not be paid.  (The
preference shares were all held by the family.)  Expected protests
came in the form of a personal visit from Chet, telephone calls
from Jill, Julia, and George, and a strong letter from Julian in
Cannes.  He took no notice of any of them, his only concession
being an offer to Jill to pay for Kitty's college education, if she
still wanted one.

Kitty came to his office to thank him.  "Sweet of you, Uncle
Charles.  But of course you don't mind my going to Newnham now
you're not at St. Swithin's--isn't that it?"

"Not altogether.  Besides, I hope I'll be back there soon."

"You mean you haven't taken on this as a life-work?"

"Good heavens, no!"

"I hear you're dismissing everybody."

"Not EVERYBODY."

"And nobody wants to buy Stourton."

"That doesn't surprise me."

"Where do you live?"

"In a little apartment near the British Museum."

"How appropriate!  Can I visit you there?"

"You wouldn't find me in.  I work late most evenings."

"Won't you take me to lunch?"

"I was just going to ask you.  But there's no TAKING--we have it
here--on my desk.  And it's pretty bad--though not so bad as it
used to be."

She chattered on about her personal affairs, the new and smaller
house Jill and she had had to move into--a little suburban villa at
Hendon, with only one maid--"and there's a house further along the
road where a little man kisses his wife on the doorstep every
morning at three minutes past eight and comes running past our
house to catch the eight-seven--just like you read about in the
comic papers."

"I'm glad you live so near a station.  It must be very convenient."

"I know--you think I'm a snob."

"Not exactly."

"Then what?"

"I'm not quite certain."

"You mean you haven't made up your mind?"

"That would be too flattering to your sense of importance."

"I believe you DO think about me, sometimes."

"Obviously--that's why it occurred to me you might go to college."

"Uncle Charles . . . what's going to happen to everybody . . .
whether they go to college or not?"

"I don't think I know what you mean."

"I get terribly upset thinking about it sometimes.  The little man
who runs for the train every day--I'm not really a snob about him,
I think he's wonderful, and it's beautiful the way you can always
tell the time by him, and the way he always catches the train--at
least I hope he does, in case somebody like you goes round his firm
dismissing everyone who's late. . . .  Oh, but what's going to
happen, Uncle Charles--eventually?"

"You mean will he stop running?"

"Yes, or will the train stop running, or will he stop kissing his
wife, or will you stop being able to dismiss people?--I don't know,
it all seems so fragile--the least touch--"

"I've had that feeling."

"Oh, you HAVE?"  Then pleadingly:  "Don't make a joke about too
much to drink, or lobster for supper.  Please don't make a joke."

"I wasn't going to.  There isn't any joke."

She said sombrely:  "I know that too, and I'm only seventeen."

A tap came at the door and a young man entered with a sheaf of
papers.  When he had gone Charles scanned them through, then
apologized perfunctorily for having done so.  "But you see, Kitty,
I'm terribly busy."

"Perhaps I'd better leave you to it then?"

"If you wouldn't mind."  He smiled, escorting her to the door and
saying as she left him:  "I'm really glad you're going to Newnham.
Write to me when you're there and tell me what it's like."

Then he went back to his desk.  The papers included a list of
names, over a hundred, of employees who would have to go that week.
He glanced down the list, initialed his approval of it, and passed
on to another job.

(But what would happen to them?  And yet, on the other hand, what
else could he do?)

By Easter he had made economies everywhere, yet the continuing
malaise of trade kept up a tragic pace.  There were few positive
signs that his job could be regarded as approaching an end, and it
was small satisfaction to know that without his efforts the whole
concern would have already foundered like a waterlogged ship.  As
it was, the pumps were just a few gallons ahead of the still-
encroaching ocean.  Even the very energies he devoted to the task,
his frequent feelings of thanklessness and exasperation, fought for
a continuance of effort; he was giving the job so much that he had
to give it more, because "if you work hard enough at something, it
begins to make itself part of you, even though you hate it and the
part isn't real."  He wrote that in a letter to Kitty, explaining
why he would have to postpone returning to Cambridge for another
term.  He found he could write to her more freely than he could
talk to her, and more freely than he could talk to anyone except
Sheldon.



He was still at his desk in the Rainier office when Kitty left
Newnham in 1924.  The desk was the same, one of Chet's fantastic
purchases that were really more economical to keep and use than to
sell in exchange; but the office was different--no longer opulent
in Old Broad Street within a few yards of the Stock Exchange, but
tucked away in an old shabby building off St. Mary Axe.
Convenient, though--within easy reach of Mark Lane Station, and
near enough to the river to get the smell of the tide and an
occasional whiff of tobacco from the big bonding warehouses.

Much had happened since 1921.  He had pulled Rainier's out of the
depths into shallow water; there had even, during the second half
of 1923 and first few months of 1924, been a few definite pointers
to dry land.  The preference dividend was now being paid again,
while the ordinary shares, dividendless and without sign of any,
stood at twelve shillings and were occasionally given a run up to
sixteen or seventeen.  Chet had a continuing order with a broker to
sell a couple of thousand at the higher figure and buy back at the
lower; it was the only speculation Charles would allow, but Chet
derived a good deal of pleasure from it, imagining himself a titan
of finance whenever he made the price of a new car.  Chet still
lived at Stourton, though part of the place was closed up; it was
really cheaper to live in a house one couldn't sell than rent
another.

The rest of the family had had to make similar economies, but the
real pressure had been relaxed by the resumption of the preference
dividend, and they were all comfortably off by any standards except
those of the really rich.  Jill could afford once more her cruises
and flirtations, with no handicaps to the latter except advancing
middle age and none to the former save an increasing difficulty in
finding new places to cruise to.  Julia and her husband lived in
Cheltenham, playing golf and breeding Sealyhams; George and Vera
preferred town life and had taken a newly built maisonnette in
Hampstead.  Julian was at Cannes, doing nothing in particular with
his usual slightly sinister elegance; once or twice a year he
turned up in London, took Charles for lunch to the Reform Club, and
worked off a few well-polished epigrams.  Bridget had married an
officer in an Irish regiment and lived in a suburb of Belfast.  She
had had one child, a boy, and was expecting another.  With George's
girl and Julia's boy and girl, this made a problematical five as
against seven of the previous generation, unless (as Chet put it)
Charles hurried up.  They were not, however, at all anxious for
Charles to hurry up; and as both Lydia and Jill were past the age
when any amount of hurry might be expected to yield result, and as
Vera was sickly and Julia (so she boasted) had nothing to do with
her husband any more, the ratio really depended on Bridget--plus,
of course, an outside chance from Charles.  Nobody even considered
Julian in such a connection.

Much more, though, had happened between 1921 and 1924.  The ancient
Irish problem had apparently been settled; a conference at
Washington had arranged limitation of naval armaments between
England, Japan, France, and the United States; someone had almost
climbed Everest; the German mark had collapsed and French troops
had entered the Ruhr; Mussolini was rebuilding Italy and had
already bombarded Corfu; there had been an earthquake in Japan,
there had almost been another war with Turkey, there was still a
war in Morocco, and there was going to be an exhibition at Wembley.

By 1924 Charles also had changed a little.  It was not so much that
he looked older--rather that he seemed to have reached the
beginnings of a certain agelessness that might last indefinitely.
He kept himself fit with careful living and week-ends by the sea;
faithful to memories, he had bought a small house in Portslade that
was not too expensive to keep up in addition to his London
apartment--no longer the one near the British Museum, but a service
flat in Smith Square.  He worked long office hours, and had to make
frequent journeys to Rainier factories throughout England; there
were certain hotels where he always stayed, and to the staffs of
these he was satisfyingly known as the kind of man who gave no
trouble, drank little, tipped generously but not lavishly, and
always appeared to be wearing the same perfectly neat but
nondescript suit of clothes.  The fact that he was head of the
Rainier firm merely added, if it added at all, to the respect they
would have felt for such a man in any case.

In 1924 Charles was thirty and Kitty nineteen.  She had done well
at Newnham, obtaining a second in the men's tripos examination, but
of course she could not take a degree.  On the day that she finally
left the college she went direct from Liverpool Street Station to
the Rainier offices, hoping Charles might be free for lunch; he was
out, but found her still waiting in his private room on his return
during the late afternoon.

"Oh, Uncle Charles, did you mind?  I felt I must call--I feel so
sad, I don't know what to do with my life--I've said good-bye to so
many people there seems nobody left in the world but you!"

He laughed and telephoned for tea.  "I'm glad I never had the
experience of leaving Cambridge knowing it would be for good.  It
was only going to be for a term, and then two terms, and then a
year . . ."

"And what now?  Don't say you've given it up altogether."

"It must have given me up, anyway."

"But that's so awful to think of.  You fitted Cambridge life,
somehow.  Remember that day I came from Kirby and waited in your
rooms at St. Swithin's--just like this, except that the chair was
more comfortable?"

"I don't hold with too comfortable chairs in offices."

"But you DO remember that day?"

"Yes--and so does Herring, I'm sure."

"God, I always thought it was a shame to drag you from what you
wanted to do to run a business, but I must say you've done it
pretty well--even Mother admits that, but I'll tell you something
that'll amuse you--just because YOU'VE done it she thinks it
couldn't have been so very hard and probably other people could
have done it just as well."

"Probably they could.  Anyhow, if it releases your mother from any
embarrassment of gratitude, it's a thought worth thinking.  Where
is she now, by the way?"

"Somewhere in mid-Mediterranean, drinking cocktails.  Chet asked me
down to Stourton for the week-end.  Why don't you come?"

"To be quite frank, because when I do go there, I'm usually bored."

"You mightn't be if I were there too."

He laughed and said he'd think about it, and after thinking about
it several times during the next twenty-four hours he rang up Chet
and said he was coming.  Chet was delighted.  Apparently Kitty was
in the same room with him when the conversation took place, because
he heard her excited voice in the background, then a scuffle to
grab the instrument, and finally a torrent of enthusiasm which he
cut short by asking to speak to Chet again.

He enjoyed himself at Stourton that week-end, and his lack of
boredom was not entirely due to Kitty, for there was another guest,
a man who had travelled in China and was interesting to listen to
if difficult to talk to--a division of labour which suited Charles;
and there were also local people, agreeable enough, who played
tennis in the afternoons and stayed to dinner.  Actually he did not
see much of Kitty, who seemed generally to be surrounded by
handsome young men in white flannels, and when chances came to join
her group he did not do so.  He wondered why he did not, and with a
touch of quizzical self-scrutiny was prepared to diagnose even a
twinge of jealousy; he would really have liked to, just for the
chance to laugh at himself, but honestly he could not.  Naturally
the girl liked people of her own age; but there was another sense
in which he had to realize now how old as well as young she was;
those youths treated her with such obvious worship, it would not be
fair for him to come along with his usual offhand badinage as to a
child, and so deflate her adult prestige.  And yet that was the
only way he knew HOW to treat her--casually, unsparingly, never
very politely.  Perhaps that made up the chief reason he kept out
of her way.

As soon as the dinner guests had left on the Sunday evening, he
began to make his own farewells, for he intended to drive off early
in the morning to reach his office by nine.  Leaving Chet, Lydia,
and Kitty in the drawing-room, he sidestepped into the library for
something to read in bed.  It was a superb July night; he did not
feel sleepy, yet he knew he must sleep--he had a busy day tomorrow.
One of the library windows was open to admit the warm breeze; there
was a full moon, and the illumination, tricked by flapping
curtains, played over the books like something alive and restless.
He was fumbling along the wall for a switch when he heard a sound
behind him.  "Uncle Charles--don't put on any lights."  He turned
round, startled.  She went on:  "Why have you been avoiding me?
And don't say you haven't."

"Of course I won't.  I have.  I know I have.  And this is why.  I
can tell you very clearly, because I've been thinking it out
myself."

He made his point about her age, and the young men, and his own
offhand manner.  When he had finished she said:  "It's TOO clear,
too INGENIOUS."

"But don't you think one's subconscious mind does work ingeniously?"

"Maybe yours does.  I'll bet it would."

"You see, Kitty, you're no longer a child."

"Oh, God--for YOU to tell me that!"

Suddenly the wind dropped, the curtains ceased flapping, the
moonlight seemed to focus in a stilled and breathless glare upon
her face.  It was not exactly a beautiful face, but he knew at that
moment it held something for him, touched a chord somewhere, very
distantly.  He said, smiling:  "I'll try to practise company
manners for a future occasion."

"No, NEVER do that.  Be yourself--as you were in all those letters.
And if you'd rather have the Cambridge life than run the firm, then
give it up--before it's too late!"

"NOW what are you talking about?"

"You--YOU--because I'm always thinking about you.  You're not happy--
you're not REAL!  But those letters you wrote were real--when you
felt crushed and hopeless and things had gone wrong all day, and
you used to sit in your office when everyone had gone home and type
them yourself, with all the mistakes. . . .  I suppose I'm being
sentimental.  The little college girl, treasuring letters from the
beloved uncle who saved the family from ruin. . . .  But haven't
you FINISHED that yet?  Haven't you done enough for us?  You pulled
the firm through the worst years--now trade's improving, Chet says,
so NOW'S your time to get free!  Don't you realize that?  You still
hanker after the other kind of life, don't you--study, books, all
that sort of thing?  When I came in just now and saw you in the
moonlight peering along the shelves I could have cried."

"I don't see why.  I was only looking for the lights and hoping
there was a detective novel I hadn't read."

"But--but don't you want--Cambridge--any more?"

"I wonder, sometimes, if I do. . . .  To grow old in a cultured
groove, each year knowing more and more about less and less, as
they say about those specialist dons, till at last one's mental
equipment becomes an infinitely long and narrow strip leading
nowhere in particular--"

"Like the Polish Corridor!"

He laughed.  "How do you think of such things?"

"My subconscious--like yours--ingenious.  But never mind that--what
DO you want to do?"

"You talk as if I'd been complaining.  Far from it.  I'm quite
satisfied to go on doing what I am."

"Managing the firm, increasing the dividends, refloating the
companies, a regular Knight of the Prospectus, Saviour of the Mites
of Widows and Orphans--"

"Now you're being sarcastic."

"Can't you think of anything you've ever wanted passionately and
still--would like?"

He said after a pause:  "Yes, I can, but it's rather trivial.  When
I was at school I had a great ambition to paddle down the Danube in
a canoe, but my father didn't approve of the idea and wouldn't let
me have the money for it."

"Oh, but that's not trivial--it's wonderful.  And you can afford it
now all right."

"The money, perhaps, but not the time."

"You ought to MAKE the time."

He laughed.  "If I can steal a quiet fortnight at Portslade I'll be
lucky this year."  He took her arm and led her towards the door.
"And now, I'm afraid, since I have to leave so early in the
morning--"

"I know.  You want to look for a book."  She suddenly took his hand
and pressed it over the switch.  "Good night, Uncle Charles."

As he went back to the shelves he heard her footsteps fading
through the house--no longer a child, that was true, but she still
scampered like one.  He searched for a while without finding
anything he wanted to read.



Nineteen twenty-five was another improving year, the year of
Locarno, the false dawn.  It was a year perhaps typical of the
twenties in its wishful optimism backed by no growth of overtaking
realism; another sixpence off the income tax, another attempt to
harness a vague shape of things to come with the even vaguer shapes
of things that had been.  For the public would not yet look
squarely into that evil face (publishers were still refusing "war
books") and few also were those who feared the spectre might
return.  The England hoped for by the majority of Englishmen was a
harking back to certain frugalities of the past (lower and lower
income tax, smaller and smaller government expenditure) in order to
enjoy more and more the pleasures of the present; the Europe they
dreamed of was a continent in which everybody placidly "saw
reason," while cultivating summer schools, youth hostels, and
peasant-costume festivals in the best tradition of Hampstead Garden
Suburb; in exchange for which the City would make loans, trade
would thus be encouraged, and taxes fall still further.  Mixed up
with this almost mystic materialism was the eager, frightened
idealism of the Labour Party (both the eagerness and the fright
came to a head a year later, in the General Strike); the spread of
the belief that the League of Nations never would be much good but
was probably better than nothing, a belief that effectively
converted Geneva into a bore and anyone who talked too much about
it into a nuisance.  Meanwhile a vast and paralysing absence of
hostility gripped Englishmen from top to bottom of the social
scale, not a toleration on principle but a muteness through
indifference; they were not AGAINST the League of Nations, they
were not AGAINST Russia, they were not AGAINST disarmament, or the
Treaty of Versailles, or the revision of the Treaty of Versailles,
or the working classes, or Mussolini--who had, after all, made the
Italian trains run on time.  Their favourite gesture was to give
credit to an opponent ("You'll find a good many of those Labour
chaps are quite decent fellows"); their favourite conclusion to an
argument the opinion that, "Ah, well, these things'll probably
right themselves in time."

And amidst such gestures and opinions the post-war England took
physical shape and permitted itself limited expression.  By 1925
the main features were apparent: arterial roads along which the
speculative builder was permitted to put up his £600 houses and re-
create the problem the roads themselves had been designed to solve;
the week-end trek to the coasts and country through the bottle-
necks of Croydon and Maidenhead; the blossoming of the huge motor
coach, and the mushrooming of outer suburbs until London almost
began where the sprawling coast towns left off--while in bookshops
and theatres the rage was for Michael Arlen and Noel Coward, two
men whose deft orchestrations of nerves without emotions, cynicism
without satire, achieved a success that must have increased even
their own disillusionment.

In this same year 1925 Rainier's made a profit that could have paid
a small dividend on the ordinary shares; but Charles chose not to
do so, despite appeals and protests from the family.  And in that
same year Lydia died of pneumonia, and Bridget had another baby,
and Kitty got herself engaged to a young man named Walter
Haversham, who preached Communism at London street corners and had
been to Russia.  For six months she was swept by an enthusiasm
which considerably shocked the family, but somehow did not
especially disturb Charles.  He saw her once carrying a pictorial
banner with Wal (they called him Wal) in a May Day procession; when
he met her some weeks later he chaffed her gently about it, saying
that workmen on banners always had enormous fists, whether for
fraternization or for assault and battery he could never be quite
certain--maybe both.  He smiled as he said it, but she suddenly
flew into a rage, accusing him of being a coward who took refuge in
cynicism from the serious issues of the world.  "And don't tell me
I've lost my sense of humour.  I have--I KNOW I have.  There isn't
any room for humour in the world as it is today.  And it's that
English sense of humour, which everybody boasts about, that really
prevents things from being done."

"You're probably right.  But think of all the things that are
better left undone."

"The day will come when men may be KILLED for laughing."

"And that will also be the day when men laugh at killing."

She went out of his office, banging the door.  He did not see her
again for several months--till after the General Strike in 1926.
One day she rang him up on the telephone.  "Uncle Charles, may I
come and talk to you?"

"Of course."  He was about to add an invitation to lunch when the
receiver was banged down at the other end.  Two minutes later she
came bounding into his office.

"I rang up from just outside.  I thought you might not want to see
me after our last meeting."

"I don't think I should ever not want to see you.  What's been
happening to you all this while?"

"Not much.  But I've got my sense of humour back."

"Where's Wal?"

"He's gone to Russia--for good.  You know, I really ADMIRE him.  He
has the courage of what he believes, he's going to become a Russian
citizen if they let him.  He wanted me to go with him--as his wife,
but I just couldn't.  I'm weak--I couldn't live in a little cubicle
and learn a new language and wear rough clothes--I'd die of misery,
even if I really loved him--which I'm beginning to doubt, now that
he's gone.  I saw him off at Tilbury and felt awful, and then I
went into a little pub near the docks and a fellow was standing in
the doorway, playing a mandolin and singing with his mouth all
crooked,--you know the way they do,--and inside the bar there was a
workman sitting over a glass of beer and looking up at the other
man with a funny sort of adoring expression, same as you see people
looking up at the Madonna in Catholic pictures, and presently he
said to me, quite casual, as if he'd known me for years--'Gawd, I
wish I could do that'. . . and I wanted to laugh and cry together.
I know I'll never leave England as long as I live, so here I am--
and Wal's in Moscow."



Nineteen twenty-six went by, the year of the General Strike, and
Germany's admission to the League of Nations; of an Imperial
Conference and trouble in Shanghai; of large Socialist gains in
municipal polls throughout England, and of Hitler's climb towards
power in Germany.  Trade remained good; the stock market pushed up
Rainier's to twenty-five shillings in anticipation of a dividend
which Charles again declined to pay.  Nineteen twenty-seven brought
riots in Vienna and executions in Russia; while for once Englishmen
found themselves suddenly and astonishingly AGAINST something--they
were against the Revised Prayer Book, proposed by the Church
Assembly and sent to the House of Commons to be voted on, according
to the curious English custom by which a political majority decides
the dogmatic beliefs of a religious minority.  And during the next
year, 1928, the House of Commons again turned down the Revised
Prayer Book, as if it tremendously mattered.  But this flurry of
against-ness was soon exhausted, and Englishmen, including Members
of Parliament, resumed their benevolence towards most things that
continued to happen throughout the world.

And in that same year 1928 Bridget had another baby, her fourth,
and Kitty got herself engaged again, to a young man named Roland
Turner, who had advanced ideas about the "cinema," and was
understood to be working on a scenario or something or other that
he hoped to sell for a fabulous price to somebody or other, but was
otherwise romantically out of a job--romantically, because he
wasn't eligible for the dole yet managed to run a car.

"And I suppose if he DID draw the dole and COULDN'T run a car, that
would be prosaic?" Charles queried, when she told him.

"You still think I'm a snob, don't you?  But I'm not--it isn't that
at all--I'm just lost in amazement, because he always dresses well
and goes to the best restaurants, and has a sweet little studio off
Ebury Street--I don't know WHERE he gets the money from, but I do
wish you could find him something to do."

"But I don't want any scenarios today, thank you."

"Not THAT, of course, but he can do all kinds of other things--
write and paint, for instance--he does marvellous frescoes, at
least they say the one he did was marvellous, but most of it came
off during the damp weather. . . .  He can paint machinery, too."

"Unfortunately we don't paint our machinery."

"Pictures of machinery, I mean--he did one for an exhibition,
symbolizing something--but I'm sure he could do a serious one, if
you wanted it.  Don't you ever have illustrated catalogues?"

Charles smiled.  "Suppose you bring him to lunch?"

They met at the Savoy Grill; Roland Turner proved to be rather tall
and thin ("lissom" was almost the word); his clothes were
impeccable, with just a faintly artistic note in his silk bow tie;
his manners were perfect and his choices of food delicate; even his
talk was sufficiently intelligent and modulated to what Charles
felt to be an exactly determined mean between independence and
obsequiousness in the presence of Big Business.  Immediately after
coffee the youth mentioned an afternoon appointment and decorously
bowed himself out, leaving Kitty and Charles together.

Laughing, she said:  "He's got no appointment, he's just being
tactful--giving me a chance to do the Don't-you-think-he's-
wonderful stuff."  She paused for a few seconds, then added:
"Well, DON'T you?"

"He's a very personable young man, and if you like him, that's the
main thing."

"PERSONABLE?  What exactly do you mean by that?"

"Attractive."

"Are you sure it's not something nice to say about someone you
don't care for?"

"Not at all.  I like him all right, and if there's anything he
could do that I wanted done, I'd be glad to give him the job."

"He was wondering about Stourton--do you think I could take him
down there to see Uncle Chet?"

"With what in mind?"

"You're so suspicious, aren't you?  Well, he has ideas about
landscape gardening. . . .  Of course he knows Chet and you aren't
my real uncles."

"I don't see how he knows that, unless you told him, and I don't
see that it matters, anyway."

"I had to tell him--indirectly.  You see, Mother discovered him
first of all--in Mentone.  He was staying with somebody there and
they danced a lot--Mother and him, I mean.  I think she rather fell
for him, because when he came on to London she had him to stay at
the house, with me as a sort of chaperon.  We weren't attracted at
all in the beginning, but I began to be awfully sorry for him when
I saw how bored he was with Mother.  He has nice feelings, you know--
I don't think he'd have found it easy to switch over if she'd
REALLY been my mother."

"I'm afraid the point is too subtle for me to grasp."

"Well--like The Vortex, you know. . . .  Of course Mother was
furious."

"The whole situation must have amused you a good deal."

"Well, it had its funny side. . . .  Of course his friends don't
like me--they never thought he'd pick up a girl."

"Are you in love with him?"

"Yes, I think I am. . . .  By the way, he's having an exhibition of
paintings at the Coventry Galleries--you WILL come, won't you, and
buy something?"

He promised he would, and went to the private view the following
week.  He didn't think much of the pictures, but his private view
of Roland Turner was worth the journey--that suave young man, again
impeccably dressed, saying the impeccably correct things about his
own paintings to patrons who greeted him as they walked around,
striking another exactly determined mean, Charles felt--this time
between modesty and self-esteem.  To please Kitty he bought a
picture for five guineas--a view of an English country house as
Botticelli might have painted it if he had painted English country
houses rather badly.

"It's really very odd, Mr. Rainier," said the young man, as Kitty
proudly stuck the red star on the corner of the canvas, "but you've
chosen the best thing I've ever done!"

"Very odd indeed," Charles answered, "because I know almost nothing
about painting."

Afterwards he took them both to dinner at Kettner's, encouraging
them in a rather vulgar way to choose all the expensive items--
caviare and quail and plenty of champagne.  Of course the young man
was a poseur, but half-way through the meal he became aware that he
himself was posing just as artificially as the Philistine
industrialist and champagne uncle.  When Turner talked about
Stourton (Kitty had evidently taken him there) and how wonderful it
was to own such a place, Charles answered:  "Oh, it's an awfully
white elephant, really.  The house is uneconomical and the farms
don't pay.  If it were nearer London my brother could carve it up
into building plots, but as it's only England's green and pleasant
land nobody wants it and nobody can afford it and nobody will pay a
decent price for anything that grows on it."

"But it's a privilege, all the same, to keep up these old family
possessions."

"It isn't an old family possession--at least not of OUR family.  My
father bought it cheap because the other family couldn't afford
it."

"Well, he must have admired the place or he wouldn't have wanted to
buy it at any price."

"Oh, I don't know.  He liked buying things cheap.  He once bought a
shipload of diseased sharkskins because they were cheap and he
thought he could make a profit."

"And did he?"

"You bet he did."

"A business man, then?"

"Yes--like myself.  But rather more successful because he had a
better eye for a bargain and also because he lived most of his life
during a rising market."

Turner gave a somewhat puzzled sigh.  "Well, well, I suppose that's
the system."

"Except in Russia," Kitty interposed.  Then brightly:  "Roland's
been to Russia too."  She must have been remembering Wal.

With a slight awakening of interest as he also remembered Wal,
Charles said:  "Oh, indeed?  And what made YOU go there, Mr.
Turner?"

"I wanted to see what it was like."

"And what WAS it like?"

The young man smiled defensively.  "I don't think I could answer
that in a single sentence."

"Many people do.  They say it's all marvellous or else it's all
horrible."

"I didn't see all of it, Mr. Rainier, and I didn't think what I did
see was either."

"So you don't believe in the coming Revolution?"

"I daresay it's coming, but I don't particularly believe in it."
And he added, with a gulp of champagne:  "Just as you, Mr. Rainier,
don't particularly believe in capitalism, though you go on trying
to make it work."

"I wonder if that's true."

"The fact is, Mr. Rainier--perhaps we can both admit it after a few
drinks--we neither of us believe in a damn thing."

Afterwards Charles regretted the conversation and his own pose
throughout it, but he remained vaguely troubled whenever he thought
of Roland Turner and Kitty; he slightly disapproved of that young
man, and felt avuncular in so doing.  He did not see them again
that year, for they were abroad most of the time, and he himself
had many other things to worry about.  By April of 1929 he was so
exhausted from overwork that, after settling an especially
troublesome labour dispute at the Cowderton works, he went to
Switzerland for a holiday, despite the fact that it was not a good
time of the year--past the snow season, and before the end of the
thaw.  He stayed at Interlaken, in an almost empty hotel, and while
he was there a letter came from Kitty, forwarded from an address in
Provence through London.  He wondered what she was doing in
Provence until he read that she was with Roland Turner, who was
engaged in painting a portrait of an Indian rajah.  "He's a very
fat rajah," she reported, "and he's given Roland five hundred
pounds to go on with, which I expect will be all he'll get out of
it, because the picture gets less and less like the rajah every
sitting."  Charles replied from Interlaken, expressing pleasure
that her fiancé had found such profitable employment--to which he
could not help adding that the fee was much higher than the Rainier
firm could ever have paid for catalogue illustrations.  Two days
later came a wire from Avignon: COMING TO INTERLAKEN DON'T GO AWAY
EXPECT ME TEN TOMORROW MORNING.

During the intervening day he wondered at the possible cause of her
visit, though capricious changes of plan were really nothing to
wonder at where Kitty was concerned; the theory he considered
likeliest was that the portrait commission had fallen through, and
that she and Roland had decided to touch him, as it were, for a
Swiss holiday.  (He had already discovered, from other sources,
that Turner's never-failing affluence was bound up with his never-
failing debts and geared by his skill and charm in cadging.)  He
did not mind, particularly; after all, he could always go back to
London if the situation became tiresome.

It was a cold bright day when he waited on the Interlaken platform.
There was still a litter of shovelled snow in the gutters and
against the railings, and the train came in white-roofed from fresh
falls in the Simplon-Lötschberg.  She was dressed in a long
mackintosh with a little fur hat, like a fez, and as she jumped
from the train before it quite stopped, it was as if something in
his heart jumped also before it quite stopped.

"Oh, Uncle Charles, I'm so happy--I was afraid you'd take fright
and leave before I got here!  It seems ages since I saw you.  How
ARE you?"

"I'm fine."  (Breaking Miss Ponsonby's old rule.)  "And it IS ages
since you saw me--nearly a year.  Where's Roland?"

"Not with me.  I've left him.  Take me somewhere for a drink--there
was no diner on the train."

In a deserted restaurant-café opposite the station she told him
more about it.  "I found myself getting SILLY--saying silly things
to all his silly crowd--there's a regular colony of them wherever
he goes.  But more than that--after all, I don't mind so much
saying silly things myself, but it got to the point where I didn't
notice when things THEY said were silly.  Softening of the brain--"
She tapped her head.  "I simply HAD to take it in time.  And I felt
sorry for the poor old rajah.  He was pretty awful to look at, but
at least he knew what's what with women--which is more than most of
Roland's friends do."

"So I rather imagined."

"Of course YOU really fixed it--that night at Kettner's."

"_I_ fixed it?"

"I could see you didn't like him."

"On the contrary, I think I began to like him then--just slightly--
and for the first time.  He has his wits about him."

"He'd better have--they're what he lives by.  But it's no good
denying it--you DON'T like him.  I could feel that."

"Well, I'm not as keen on him as you are."

"WERE."

"Oh, is it WERE?  Well, in that case there couldn't be a better
reason for breaking off the engagement."

"But it never pleased you to think of me marrying him.  Did it
now?"

"Why should that matter to you?"

"Because it DOES matter!  I can't bear to do things you don't want,
except when you don't want them to my face--like forcing myself on
you here, I don't mind THAT--"  She suddenly lowered her head into
her hands and looked up a few seconds later with eyes streaming.
"Can't you see you've spoilt me for other men?"

"But, my dear--that's ridiculous!"

She went on:  "I'm not asking for anything.  I can go back by the
next train if you'd prefer it.  I'll probably marry someone
eventually and be quite happy, but it'll have to be a man whom you
like fairly well, and who doesn't sneer because you do an honest
job of work instead of battening on rich people."

"Battening on poor people is more in my line--according to your
former fiancé."

"Poor Wal--I often wonder what's happened to him--I really liked
him more than Roland. . . .  By the way, I saw the papers--you've
been having strikes at Cowderton, haven't you?  Was it very
serious?"

"While it lasted.  That's really why I came out here--for a rest."

"Oh God, why don't you give the whole thing up?  You've got enough
money, haven't you?"

"For what?"

"To live on, for the rest of your life, at about a thousand a
year."

"Depends on several things--how long I live, how much a thousand a
year will continue to be worth, and how long people will pay me
anything at all for not working. . . .  But that's not the whole
point, in any case."

"You mean you WANT to stay with the firm?  It's still a game, as
you said in one of those letters--a game you want to win even if it
isn't worth playing?  Haven't you won enough? . . .  Or maybe it's
more than a game now--it's become the life-work?"

He smiled.  "Perhaps it's somewhere between the two--more than a
game, but not quite a life-work yet.  You know, when I first took
over the job it was with all kinds of reluctance--because I'd been
more or less jockeyed into it by the family crying out to be saved.
Well, that was the idea, originally--to save 'em and then be off
quick, before they needed more saving.  Rainier's was just
something that kept the family going, and I didn't respect it
enormously for that.  But then, when I began to look into things
personally, I found it kept a good many other families going.  Over
three thousand, to be precise."

"I see.  Responsibility.  Uncle Atlas."

"You can laugh at me if you like, provided you believe me sincere.
I'm not a sentimentalist.  I don't call the firm the House of
Rainier, or myself a Captain of Industry, or any of that nonsense.
But there IS a responsibility, no use denying it, in owning a three-
thousand-family business.  If I can contrive a little security for
those people--"

"But there ISN'T any security--as you said yourself when I asked
you about your thousand a year.  It's an illusion put up by banks
and insurance companies and lawyers and building societies and
everybody who goes without what he wants today because he thinks
he'll enjoy it more later on.  Supposing some day we all find out
there isn't any 'later on'?"

"Then, my dear, will come Wal's revolution."

"And we shall all make a grab for what we can get?"

"Provided there IS anything to get by then.  If the whole thing's
an illusion, then the rewards may fade equally."

"Then you try to comfort those three thousand families by
encouraging them to believe in a future that doesn't exist?"

"They don't believe in it.  Every street-corner speaker warns them
not to at the top of his voice.  What I DO comfort them with, since
you put it that way, is enough of a regular wage to buy food and
pay their rent and smoke cigarettes and go to the local cinema.
That keeps them satisfied to go on waiting."

"For the big grab?"

"Or for the discovery that there isn't anything left to grab."

"Which makes you one degree more cynical than they are.  They don't
believe in the security they accept because they're looking to the
revolution, but YOU don't believe in either the security of the
present or the revolution of the future!"

"Your other ex-fiancé put it even more simply, my dear, when he
said I didn't believe in a damn thing."

"Well, don't you?"

"That's what I've been asking myself very carefully and for a long
time, and I still can't find an answer."

"Probably because you've been asking it TOO long and TOO carefully.
The answer to that sort of question ought to FLY out--like a child
when he's asked what he wants for his birthday--he always knows
instantly without having to think--either a bicycle or a toy-train
or something. . . .  Oh, I'm quite happy again now.  I don't miss
Roland a bit.  Just talking to you freely like this makes the
difference, though you don't talk to ME freely--there always seems
a brake on--I can hardly believe you once sent me those letters."

"Curious--I don't remember much about them.  If you kept any, I'd
like to--"

"Oh, no, NEVER!  That would be a really awful thing to do!  And of
course I know why you were so free in THEM--because you thought I
was too young to understand.  I was only the vehicle--the letter-
box, so to speak--where you posted them to another address."

A gleam came into his eyes.  "What on earth are you talking about?"

"Well, what more could I have been in those days?  Letters to a
schoolgirl. . . .  Of course I was crazy about you--always have
been ever since that time at Stourton when I came up to your room
and smoked a cigarette.  Remember? . . .  It might be fun if you
loved me now--we'd have a good deal in common.  I sometimes wonder
why you don't."

"In my slow and careful way I've been wondering that too--ever
since you stepped off the train."

"Well, why don't you--just to be curious?"

"I haven't said I don't."

"Oh NO!"

"Would it be so very incredible?"

"It would be FANTASTIC!"

"Then it IS fantastic."

"Darling, you don't mean--"  She seized his hand across the table.
"You're not saying it just to be kind?"

"I don't feel a bit kind.  I fed--well, let's stick to fantastic."

"But I--I--I don't know what else to say for the moment."

"You don't have to say anything."

They sat in silence, his hand changing places over hers.  A train
entered the station opposite; the tick of its electric engine was
like a clock measuring the seconds.  Presently she said:  "There's
the oddest thing in my mind for us to do--if it's all real and not
a dream.  Let's go down the Danube in a canoe, as you always
wanted."

"Yes, we'll do that.  And up the Amazon too, if you like."  His
face was very pale.  "I'll take a year off--from the firm and the
City and the three thousand families and everything else.  Let
someone else have his turn. . . ."



Back at his hotel that night he could hardly believe in the changed
future; it was almost as if he had been another person during the
day and was now perusing with amazement a report of what had
happened to someone else.  He was not regretful--far from it--but a
little bemused at so many decisions made all at once, somewhat
startled that they must all have been his own, yet ready to accept
them with a loyalty that might well become more enthusiastic when
he had had a chance to think them over.

At breakfast he compared notes and found that her emotions had been
similar only as far as a doubt as to whether he could really have
meant what he said enough to go on meaning it; he assured her
laughingly that he had and did, and immediately happiness blazed
across the rolls and honey between them as they planned the trivial
details of the day.  The future was still fantastic to talk about,
even to think about, and they agreed for the time being not to give
themselves the even heavier task of explaining it to others.  No
one expected him in London before the end of the month (the Rainier
board meeting was on the thirtieth), and no one knew she was not
still in Provence, except Roland and his crowd, who did not count.
Jill was in the Aegean, cruising among the antiquities but taking
(one suspected) very little notice of them.  He and Kitty could
have at least two weeks in Switzerland before returning to announce
the astonishing news to the family and to the world.  Of course
they could send the news by letter, but somehow to pull the lever
that would release all the commotion even at a distance required a
certain fortitude; they decided to enjoy those two weeks first of
all.

And so began an interlude that might have been in another world,
and almost was.  They stayed for the first week in Interlaken,
making it a centre for mountain trips into the high Oberland.  The
weather improved after the last big snowfall of the year; the sun
dried the drenched meadows, so that they were able to walk by the
lakeside to Giessbach, and up the Lauterbrunnen Valley as far as
the lower slopes of the Roththal.  It was pleasant to see the
industrious Swiss polishing up their ballrooms and cocktail bars
and funicular railways in readiness for what was to come; but
pleasanter still to tramp along the cleared roadways in face of the
sun and snow.  During the second week they discovered the hotel on
the two-mile-high Jungfraujoch, where there was nothing to do but
talk and absorb the physical atmosphere of being above and beyond
the earth.  They liked it enough to stay there till the last day
before the necessary return to England.

That last day came, and with it the descent to natural levels--a
curious deflation of mood that was easy to interpret as sadness at
leaving a place where they had been so happy.  Throughout the long
rail journey through Berne and Basle to Boulogne the mood persisted--
seemed impossible to shake off, being perhaps a physical effect of
the changed altitude, they both agreed.  They reached London amidst
driving rain and had dinner in a restaurant near Victoria Station,
saying all the time and over and over again how wonderful it had
been in Switzerland and how sorry they were to have returned.  The
Rainier board meeting was four days away, and it was understood
that no announcement of future plans should be hinted at to anyone
until then.

The board meeting came, and with it all the commotion.  He had not
guessed how considerable it would be.  He had suspected that the
family would not be altogether pleased, but he hadn't realized they
would have so many reasons for being displeased.  He soon found
that they regarded his year's absence from Rainier's as a form of
abdication amounting almost to desertion--in spite of the fact that
they had long been jealous of what they called his "domineering"
over the firm's affairs.  Then also, those who had hoped their
children would inherit his personal fortune strongly resented his
marriage to anybody at all; he hadn't anticipated that, even
remotely.  And finally, all except Jill (and in one sense even
including Jill) were manifestly and desperately jealous of his
choice.  Only Chet seemed to have any genuine tolerance of the idea--
a tolerance not quite reaching the point of enthusiasm.  He had so
long joked about the need for Charles to "hurry up" that now
Charles WAS hurrying up he could not withhold somewhat rueful good
wishes.

The party at Stourton to celebrate the engagement was not a
successful affair.

Then, in June, quite suddenly, Chet died after a heart attack, and
plans for the marriage in July were postponed till autumn; it would
have been impossible, in any event, to leave England during all the
legal complications that ensued.

The marriage was finally fixed for October.  Charles took Kitty to
dine at Kettner's again one night in late September, and for some
reason the same mood came upon them as during the journey back from
Switzerland five months before.  She suggested that, on his side,
it was due to news in the evening paper--a big stock-market crash
in New York, with inevitable repercussions in London.

He was too honest with her to accept that as a reason.  "I'm not a
speculator.  Rainier's dropped five shillings today, I notice, but
it doesn't affect me or the firm--they can go down ten times as
much before it'll begin to worry me.  Matter of fact, everything's
been pushed too high lately, especially in America.  I could make a
lot of money now if I backed my opinion."

"What opinion?"

"That the fall will go much further."

"How would you make money by backing your opinion?"

"Selling short, as they call it.  That means--"

"I know--I learnt all about it at Kirby when we used to gamble in
Rainier shares.  Remember?"

"You must have lost everything."

"Nearly everything.  About thirty-two pounds all together."  She
laughed.  "Well, why DON'T you sell short?"

"I will, if it amuses you.  But I'd have no other reason."

"Yes, do it--to amuse me.  Please, Charles."

"Then there's two things I have to do at the office tomorrow
morning."  He took out his notebook and made a pretence of writing
something down.  "Sell short to amuse Kitty.  Also get Miss
Hanslett to send out the wedding invitations."

"Who's Miss Hanslett?"

"My new secretary.  You saw her last time you called."

"Oh, that quiet girl?"

"I suppose she's quiet.  I certainly wouldn't want her to be
noisy."

"Darling, how soon can we leave--afterwards?"

"You mean for our world tour?  Maybe next month.  It'll be too late
for the Danube, though, this year.  We'd better do the Amazon
first.  Or the Nile."

"No, not the Nile--Jill's there."

"What's she doing?"

"Looking at the tombs, I suppose, and having a good time."

But the laugh they rallied themselves into failed to shift the mood
that made him, as soon as dinner was over, confess that he felt
tired and would prefer an early night in bed.  He dropped her at
Jill's new house in St. John's Wood, where she was living with a
cook-housekeeper, and kept the taxi for his own journey to Smith
Square.  But his apartment seemed so inexplicably cheerless that
after a drink and an attempt to feel sleepy, he called another cab
and drove round the West End till he found a film that looked
tolerable enough for whiling away the rest of the evening.  He
stayed in the cinema less than an hour, his restlessness increasing
all the time, so that at last he walked out and paced up and down
the thronged pavements till past midnight, longing suddenly for the
sun and snow of the Jungfraujoch, yet knowing that it was only a
mirage of what he would still long for if by some miracle he were
to be transplanted there.

Usually when he could not sleep he was quite satisfied to stay up
reading, often until dawn; but that night he felt he would be far
too restless to concentrate on any book, so he bought tablets and
took several on his return to Smith Square.  They gave him a heavy
unrefreshing sleep, from which he woke about noon to find a
pencilled letter from Kitty at his bedside.  It had been delivered
by hand early that morning, and contained, in effect, the breaking
of their engagement and an announcement that she was leaving
immediately to join her stepmother in Luxor.



PART THREE


The first gray smudge was peering over the hills and it seemed that
we both saw it together.

"Well, we've talked all night--and for the second time.  Aren't you
sleepy yet?"

"No. . . .  You were telling me about that letter, the one Kitty
left for you.  Didn't it give any reasons?"

"Plenty.  But I really think we'd better go to bed if we're to be
in any decent condition tomorrow.  The crowd will soon be on us,
worse luck."

"Then why do you have them here?"

"That's part of another story.  Well, I must have a nightcap, even
if it IS morning.  Have one with me?"

We went down to the library, feeling our way in the dim dawn
shadows without switching on any of the house lights.  Meanwhile he
continued:  "I'd show you that letter if I had it here, but it's
locked up in my safe in the City.  I admit I'm sentimental about it--
a little puzzled also.  It's the last word I ever had from her,
except picture postcards from all kinds of places.  What happened
to her afterwards is what she said would happen--except that it
didn't last for long.  She married a man she met in Egypt--she was
quite happy--and he was a man I liked when I met him, but I didn't
meet him till after she was dead.  He had plantations in the F.M.S.
and she went out with him there and died of malaria within six
months."

He bent over the decanter, his shape and movements ghostly against
the gray pallor from the windows.  The moon had gone down, and it
was darker than at midnight.

"And then?" I said.

He handed me a drink and raised his own.

"The rest," he declaimed half-mockingly, "is a simple saga of
success.  I flung myself into business with renewed but disciplined
abandon: I sold short and made more money out of the slump than I'd
ever done out of ordinary trading; I accepted directorships in
other companies and became what they call 'a figure in the City'--I
even assumed the burden of two other family heritages, by taking
over Stourton and by allowing myself to stand for my father's old
Parliamentary seat of West Lythamshire.  And a few years later, my
affairs having more than survived the storms of 1931 and the
doldrums of 1932, I married a lady who had become quite
indispensable to me in this struggle for fresh fame and fortune--
Miss Hanslett, the quiet girl.  That again turned out to be an
astonishing success.  You never know what these quiet girls can do.
From being quiet, she became one of the busiest and cleverest of
London's hostesses--and the miracle is, she's STILL quiet--you'd
hardly know the machine's running at all."

"So different from Miss Hobbs--but that, I suppose, is because you
chose her yourself."

"Or else SHE chose HERSELF.  She was just a girl in the general
office first of all, until one evening I was working late and she
invaded my private office to ask outright if she could work for me
personally.  Said she knew the other girl was leaving and she was
certain she'd be better than anyone else.  After that I simply had
to give her either the sack or the job."

"Anyhow, YOU made the right choice there."

He laughed.  "Oh yes, and I soon knew it.  She was everything she
promised.  I've nothing but praise for her.  I'd never have made so
much money or acquired such style in after-dinner oratory but for
her.  She's intensely loyal, tremendously ambitious for me, and
personally charming.  I love her more than most men love their
wives.  She's guided my career--in fact she's almost made a
personally conducted tour of it.  I never do anything, in politics
or business, without seeking her advice.  She runs Stourton and
Kenmore like a pair of clocks--she doesn't care if I'm in or out to
lunch or dinner, or if I go to India or South America for six
months or merely to Brighton for a week-end.  She's everything a
man like me could wish for in a wife--always provided--"  He paused
and took a drink, then added:  "Always provided he's completely
satisfied to be a man like me."

"And aren't you?"

He took my arm.  "Let's save up something for another night.  I'm
going to bed, and after all this, I really think I shall sleep.
Tell Sheldon not to wake me till the guests begin to arrive."

The guests began to arrive in groups during the following
afternoon, but I did not see Rainier till tea-time, when he
appeared on the terrace to greet the assembly; and from then
throughout the week-end I had no chance to talk with him alone.
Nor with Woburn either, for that young man, after initial shyness,
turned into a considerable social success.  Observing him from time
to time I felt there was a certain scientific detachment in his
obvious effort to make good at his first fashionable house-party
(he had told me it was his first, and that he had never mixed in
that class of society before); it was as if he were exploring
himself, discovering his own powers; experimenting with the
careless flatteries, the insincere attentions that make up the
small change of such occasions; finding that he could do it just as
well as people born to it, perhaps even a little better after
practice.  He was clearly a very adaptable and cool-headed young
man, and the whole party was a good deal pleasanter for his being
always at hand to pass interesting conversational cues, to make up
a bridge four, to play a not offensively good game of tennis, and
to dance with otherwise unpartnered matrons.  One could almost read
in his face the question, too wondering to be smug:  Is this all
there is to it?

Mrs. Rainier was the perfect hostess as usual, and I should have
been lost in admiration at everything she did had it not been a
repetition on a larger scale of what she habitually did at Kenmore.
All, in fact, was as gay and brilliant and smooth-running as usual,
but something else was not QUITE as usual--and I don't know how to
describe it except as a faint suspicion that the world was already
swollen with destiny and that Stourton was no longer the world--a
whiff of misgiving too delicate to analyse, as when, in the
ballroom of an ocean liner, some change of tempo in the engines far
below communicates itself to the revellers for a phantom second and
then is lost behind the rhythms of the orchestra.

The simile was Rainier's as we drove back to London on Monday
evening, leaving Woburn and Mrs. Rainier at Stourton.  Within a few
weeks the same misgiving, many times magnified, had become a
headline commonplace; trenches were being dug in the London parks;
the curve of the September crisis rose to its monstrous peak.
Rainier lived at his Club during those fateful days and we were
both kept busy at all hours transcribing reports, telephoning
officials, and listening to the latest radio bulletins.  Diplomatic
machinery had swung into the feverish gear of guesswork and
divination:  Was Hitler bluffing?  What sort of country was this
new Germany?  Would Russia support the Czechs?  When would the
bombers come over?  Every chatterer could claim an audience;
journalists back from Europe were heard more eagerly than
ambassadors; the fact that all seemed to depend on the workings of
one abnormal human mind gave every amateur psychologist an equal
chance with politicians and crystal-gazers.  And behind this
mystery came fear, fear of a kind that had brought earlier peoples
to their knees before eclipses and comets--fear of the unknown,
based on an awareness that the known was no longer impregnable.
The utter destruction of civilization, which had seemed a fantastic
thing to our grandfathers, had become a commonplace of schoolboys'
essays, village debating societies, and after-dinner small talk;
for the first time in human history a sophisticated society faced
its own extinction not theoretically in the future, but by physical
death perhaps tomorrow.  There was a dreadful acceptance of doom in
all our eyes as we sat around, in restaurants and at conference
tables and beside innumerable radios, listening and talking and
drinking, the only three things to do that one could go on doing--
paralysed as we were into a belief that it was too late to act, and
clinging to a last desperate hope that somehow the negation of an
act might serve as well.

That negation was performed, if performed is the word; talking,
listening, and drinking then merged into a sigh of exhausted
relief, and only a few Cassandra voices, among whom was Rainier's,
murmured that no miracle had really happened at all.  But national
hysteria urged that it had, and that one must not say otherwise,
even if it hadn't.  Anyhow, the crisis passed, the rains of autumn
soaked into half-dug trenches, and as the days shortened and
darkened the Kenmore lamplight glowed again in the faces of
diseuses and diplomats--Sir Somebody This and the Maharanee of
That, the successful novelist and the Wimbledon winner, delegates
from somewhere-or-other to the something-or-other conference, as
well as visiting Americans who thought they were experiencing a
real pea-souper fog because the sun of a November midday had turned
red over the roofs.

I went to a good many of those lunches, and somehow, I don't
remember exactly when, it became a recognized thing that I should
have a place at all of them unless my duties with Rainier called me
elsewhere.

Often they did.  Many days during that strange, almost somnambulist
winter of 1938-1939 I sat in the Gallery of the House of Commons,
listening to dull debates and hearing Big Ben chime the quarters
till I saw Rainier get up and push his way through the swing doors
with that casualness which is among the specialties of House
procedure--a form of self-removal that implies neither rudeness nor
even indifference to the speech in progress.  Then he would dictate
letters in a Committee Room, or order tea, or we might stroll along
the usually empty Terrace, watching the last spears of sunset fade
from the windows of St. Thomas's Hospital, or staring over the
parapet at a train of coal barges on their way upstream.  It was at
such moments that I came to know him most intimately, and to feel,
more from his presence than from words, that the years he no longer
talked about were still haunting; that he was still, as two women
had said, vainly searching for something and never at rest.  Yet
outwardly, and to others, there were few signs of it.  Indeed, the
disfavour into which he fell as a result of his attitude towards
official policy seemed to come rather as a release than as a
suppression.  It was not that he blamed the government for what had
happened at Munich; such blame, he said, when history assessed it,
would doubtless be spread over many years and many personages, of
which the men of 1938 were but last in a tragic line.  He did,
however, blame those who had stepped out of panic only to sink back
into hypnosis.  "These are the last days," he said to me once.  "We
are like people in a trance--even those of us who can see the
danger ahead can do nothing to avert it--like the dream in which
you drive a car towards a precipice and your foot is over the brake
but you have no physical power to press down.  We should be arming
now, if we had sense,--arming day and night and seven days of the
week,--for if the Munich pact had any value at all it was not as a
promise of peace to come, but as a last-minute chance to prepare
for the final struggle.  And we are doing NOTHING--caught in the
net of self-delusion and self-congratulation.  We don't realize the
skill and magnitude of the conspiracy--the attempt to reverse, by
lightning strokes, the whole civilized verdict of two thousand
years."

Such talk, during the winter of 1938-1939, was heresy in a country
that permitted heresy, but could not regard it as in good taste.
People began to remark, in advance of any argument about him, that
they LIKED Rainier--this also was a bad sign in a society where
likings are rarely expressed except by way of fair-minded prelude
to disparagement.  And one reflected that there had always been
something against his chances of attaining high office--something
expressed by his political enemies when they praised him as
"brilliant," and by his political friends when they doubted if he
were altogether "safe."  Such doubts were now running high.

In the City, however, safety and brilliance were not held as
incompatibles by gatherings of grateful shareholders at annual
meetings in the Rainier Building.  Here also it was my duty to
accompany him, handing out appropriate documents and keeping his
memory jogged against forgetfulness of such things as--"You will be
glad to know that during the past year we have opened a new factory
at West Bromwich where we are now manufacturing a model especially
designed for the Colonies."  He made such announcements with a
solemnity in which only I, perhaps, detected any ironic note;
similarly there seemed to me a touch of disdain in his bent for
handling complicated masses of figures, a touch that did not
detract from the enormous confidence reposed in him by enriched but
usually mystified investors.  Nor was that confidence misplaced.
Once I said to him:  "Leaving sentiment out of it, you haven't done
so badly.  You saved the family inheritance, you rescued the money
of hundreds of outsiders, and you kept intact the jobs of a whole
army of workpeople.  You did, in fact, everything you set out to
do."

"There's only one thing more important," he answered, "and that is,
after you've done what you set out to do, to feel that it's been
worth doing."

That was the day when he took me down to the sub-basement of the
Rainier Building to show me the result of certain constructional
work that had been in progress there for several weeks.  "I've
allowed it to be supposed that these are new storage vaults," he
told me, as we entered the first of a series of empty catacombs,
"but actually I had another thought in mind--and one that it would
be too bad to thrust on a group of happy dividend collectors.  But
the fact is--and entirely at my own personal expense--I've made
this place bombproof.  So you see, SOMETHING'S been worth doing."
He walked me round like an estate agent.  "Comfort, as well as
safety,--there's an independent heating plant,--because it's no
good saving people from high explosive just to have them die of
influenza.  And another reason--the greatest man of the twentieth
century may have to be born in a place like this, so let's make it
as decent as we can for him.  A steel and concrete Manger--sixty
feet below ground . . . that's why I've had to keep it a big
secret, because you couldn't expect the investing public to swallow
THAT."



But we liked the City--"the City of Meticulous Nonsense," he called
it once, after an annual meeting at which somebody had used the
adjective in praise of his own attention to the firm's affairs.
"METICULOUS," he echoed, afterwards, "really meaning TIMID--and
how right that it should nowadays be used as a compliment, since so
many of the most complimented people nowadays deserve it!
Meticulous little people attending meticulous meetings, passing
meticulous votes of thanks for meticulous behaviour!"

One rainy Saturday we waited several minutes while the homeward
rush-hour crowd swarmed in front of the car, taking no notice of
the horn until a man, just an ordinary mackintoshed fellow with (I
remember) a piece of garden trellis under his arm, called out:
"'Ere, give the bloke a chawnce!"--whereat the crowd, heeding just
as casually as they had been heedless before, made way for us to
pass.  There was no resentment in their faces because we had an
expensive car or because we kept them waiting a few seconds longer
in the rain, no social significance in the appeal to give the bloke
a chance, no indication of who the bloke was--I or Rainier or the
chauffeur.  The very absence of all these things was English,
Rainier said--something offhand but good-humoured, free but
obedient, careless but never heartless.

"But tell that," he added, "to the Indians in Amritsar, to the
Chinese who read the notice in a Shanghai park, 'No Dogs or Chinese
Allowed,' to the tribesmen in Irak, to the peasant in County Cork,
to the . . ."  But then he laughed.  "God, how we're hated!  It
isn't so much because we really deserve it.  Even at the bottom of
the charge-sheet I could quote Santayana's remark that the world
never had sweeter masters.  SWEET--a curious adjective--and yet
there IS a sweetness in the English character, something that's
almost perfect when it's just ripe--like an apple out of an English
orchard.  No, we're not hated altogether by logic.  It's more
because the world is TIRED of us--BORED with us--sickened by a
taste that to some already seems oversweet and hypocritical, to
others sour and stale.  I suppose the world grew tired of the
Romans like that, till at last the barbarians were excused for
barbarism more readily than the Caesars were forgiven for being
tough.  There come such moments in the lives of nations, as of
persons, when they just can't do anything right, and the world
turns on them with the awful ferocity of a first-night audience
rejecting, not so much a play it doesn't want, as a playwright it
doesn't want any more. . . .  But wait till they've experienced the
supplanters--if we are supplanted.  A time may come when a cowed
and brutalized world may look back on the period of English
domination as one of the golden ages of history. . . ."

I remember that afternoon particularly because as we were waiting
for the traffic lights in Whitehall we saw Nixon at the kerbside
vainly signalling a taxi and Rainier had the car stopped to offer
him a lift.  Bound for Victoria to catch a train, he chattered all
the time during the short drive, finally and quite casually
remarking:  "Oh, you remember that fellow Ransome who took us to
tea at his house in Browdley that day when his wife wasn't there?"

Rainier looked up sharply.

"Rather sad business," Nixon continued.  "She'd gone out to buy
a cake, as Ransome thought--must have been hurrying back,
because she was carrying it as she ran into the bus . . . killed
instantly . . . poor chap was in a terrible state, so I heard.
Only been married about a year."

We drove on in silence after dropping Nixon in the station yard;
Rainier's face was strained, tense, as if he had suffered a
personal blow.  Half-way to Kenmore he tapped on the window and
ordered the chauffeur to turn and drive back.  "Let's hear somebody
play the piano," he said.  "That's the best cure for the mood I'm
in."

We drove to the West End, while I searched the Telegraph for
recital announcements.  The only one I could find was of the first
and only appearance in London of Casimir Navoida, who would give a
mixed programme of Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, and Ravel at the
Selsdon Hall.  I had never heard of Navoida, and the fact that
Rainier hadn't either lent no optimism to my expectations.  We
found a photograph on the rain-sodden posters outside the Hall--the
conventionally sombre, heavy-lidded profile brooding over the keys.
That too was not encouraging, nor was the obviously "paper"
audience of only a few score.  Nor, for that matter, were the
explanatory notes in the printed programme--composed, Rainier
grimly suggested, by some schoolgirl in a mood of bibulous
Schwärmerei.  With less distaste we read a paragraph about the
performer, though even that was vague enough--merely mentioning a
Continental reputation, tuition under Leschetizky (misspelt), a
prix-de-somewhere, and an ancient press-agent anecdote beginning--
"One morning, at the So-and-so Conservatoire . . ."  Then the door
at the rear of the platform opened and this fellow Navoida walked
to the piano, gave a hinge-like bow to half-hearted applause, and
began.  He did not look much like his photograph, though a
description could not have omitted the same points--the gloomy
profile, wrinkled nape, and upflung hair.  We listened with
tolerance, soon aware that his playing was not exactly bad.  When
the interval came I noticed a woman in the seat beyond Rainier's
fumbling for a dropped programme; presently he stooped and
retrieved it for her.  She thanked him with a foreign accent and
added:  "You think he plays well?"

Rainier answered:  "He might be good if he weren't out of
practice."

"You are a critic?"

"Only to myself."

"You are not on one of the newspapers?"

"Oh dear, no."

She seemed both relieved and disappointed.  "I thought you might
be.  I suppose they ARE here."

Rainier looked round and included me in the conversation by saying:
"Notice anybody?  _I_ don't . . .  I'm afraid Saturday afternoon's
a bad time in London."

Then Navoida came on again and played the Chopin group.  At the
next interval she said:  "You are quite right.  He is out of
practice.  He played cards till four this morning."

Rainier laughed.  "Stupid of him, surely?"

"Oh, he doesn't care.  He lost much money, also.  If only people
would realize that he CAN play so much better than this--"

"Why SHOULD they?  If he chooses to drink and gamble the night
before a concert--"

"Oh no, not DRINK.  He NEVER drinks."

"No?"

"But gambling is in his blood.  It is in the blood of all the
Navoidas.  If he travels by autobus he will bet on how many people
get in at each stop."

Rainier looked slightly interested.  "How do you know all this
about him?"

She had just time to reply, as the piano began again:  "I am his
wife."

I could judge that throughout the Brahms Sonata Rainier was feeling
somewhat embarrassed at having discussed the pianist so frankly,
but when the next interval came she gave him no time to apologize.
"Oh, I could KILL him for being so bad!  The foolish boy. . . .
Maybe it was a mistake to come to England at all."

Rainier answered:  "Oh, no need to feel that.  But your husband's
concert agent ought to have chosen a better day for a first
appearance.  Londoners like to get away to the country at week-
ends."

"Even when it rains?"

"My goodness, we never bother about rain."

"Ach, yes, your London climate . . . when it is not rain, it is
fog. . . .  I understand."

I winked at him, apropos of this foreign belief that English
weather is the worst in the world; it is not, Rainier had once
said, but the convention is useful in that it enables an Englishman
to appear modest by conceding something that, whether true or
false, is of little consequence.  All the time that Madame Navoida
was bemoaning London rain and fog I was glancing at her sideways
and judging her to be forty-five or so--younger, at any rate in
looks, than her husband.  The light in the concert hall was not
particularly kind, and her make-up had either been put on hurriedly
or else had got blurred by raindrops; her eyes were brown and
rather small, but her forehead had a generous width that somehow
compensated; it was an interesting face.

During the Ravel I whispered this to Rainier and received his
reply:  "I don't give a damn about her face.  And I don't give a
damn about this Ravel either.  I only know she amuses me and I'm
more cheerful than I was an hour ago. . . ."

For the next few minutes I heard the two of them in whispered
conversation; then he turned to me.  "They're Hungarians, but she
lived for a long time in Singapore--hence the English.  She also
speaks French and German--besides, of course, Hungarian.  Writes
poetry in all four, so she'd have you believe.  Also worships
Romance with a capital R.  Reads Dekobra and D' Annunzio, but
prefers Dekobra--so do I, for that matter. . . .  Altogether rather
like a female spy in a magazine story--every minute I expect her to
say 'Hein' and produce a bundle of stolen treaties out of her
corsage.  And she says such delicious things--like--'Ach, your
English climate--' and that bit about gambling being in the blood
of all the Navoidas. . . .  I'm trying to think of something half
as good as what she'll say next--remember that game we used to
play?"

That was one of the fooleries we would sometimes indulge in during
our morning car journeys to the City.  There was a certain
newspaper shop at a street corner in Pimlico, and outside it, every
Tuesday, appeared a picture poster advertising that week's issue of
a publication called Judy's Paper; and this poster always showed an
evening-clothed couple in some highly dramatic situation, captioned
by such a sentence as "He refused her a ring" or "She lied to save
him."  Most Tuesdays, before we reached the shop, Rainier and I
would try to invent something even triter than what we should
presently discover, but we never succeeded, so hard is it for the
sophisticated mind to think in the natural idiom of the ingenuous.
But it made an amusing diversion, for all that.

After further whispering he turned to me excitedly.  "She's SAID
it!  I KNEW she would!  She's just told me that we English are so
COLD!"  At that moment Navoida finished the Ravel and Rainier was
able to answer her amidst the applause.  I heard him say:  "Madame,
we are NOT cold--it's merely that we have to be warmed up,
especially on wet Saturdays.  So I beg you to make allowances for
us during the rest of your stay here."

"We are leaving tomorrow."

"So soon?"

"Casimir has a concert in Ostend on Wednesday."

"You'd better take care of him there.  It's a great place for
gambling."

"Oh, that will be all right.  We shall go to the Casino and have
champagne and Casimir will be lucky--he always is at roulette.  It
is cards he is no good at--especially poker."  (She pronounced it
"pokker.")  "When I saw him playing poker with some Americans at
the hotel last night, I knew he would be a bad boy today."

"I thought you said he didn't drink?"

"Only champagne.  But of course it is so expensive in England.
When we were in Singapore we drank nothing but Heidsieck all the
time.  A bottle every meal.  It prevented him from being
dysenteric."

"Probably it also prevented him from being Paderewski."

"You mean it is not good for him?  But consider--if it pleases him,
is he not entitled to it?  What is the life of a concert artist
nowadays?  Nobody cares--there is no musical life as it used to be--
in Berlin, in Leipzig, in Wien.  Only in America they pay an
artist well, but I do not want him to go there again."

"Why not?"

She whispered something in Rainier's ear and then added:  "Of
course I forgave him afterwards.  He was faithful according to his
fashion."

Rainier let out a shout of sheer glee.  "What's that?  WHAT?"

She repeated the sentence.  "Do you not know the poem by one of
your English poets, Ernest Dowson?"  And she began to recite the
whole thing from beginning to end, while Casimir, in whom I was
beginning to feel a deeper interest after these varied revelations,
appeared on the platform to play the Chopin "Black Key Study" as an
encore, muffing the final octaves and finishing on a triumphantly
wrong note in the bass.  "Perhaps you would now like to meet him?"
she concluded.

So we trooped round to the little room at the back of the platform
where a few mournfully mackintoshed women were loitering while the
pianist scrawled his signature across their programmes in a mood of
equal mournfulness.  The entrance of Madame Navoida brought a touch
of life to these proceedings, and I noticed then a certain vital
quality that made her still an attractive woman, despite sagging
lines and the bizarre make-up.  As soon as the autograph-seekers
left she approached Casimir as one making a stage entrance, kissed
him resoundingly on both cheeks, and cried:  "Casimir, mon cher, tu
étais magnifique!"  Then, for a moment, she gabbled something
incomprehensible and turned to Rainier.  "He speaks Hungarian best.
I have to tell him he is wonderful now, but soon I shall tell him
he was awful--ATROCIOUS!  Poor boy, he is always tired after a
concert--please excuse him.  He says he has a headache."

Rainier answered:  "That's too bad!  I was about to suggest that
you both had dinner with us somewhere--that is, if you had nothing
else to do."

Her face lit up.  "Oh, but we should be ENCHANTED!  It is so kind
of you.  I am sure his headache will get better.  But there is one
thing I must tell you beforehand--he will not dress.  Not even a
smoking.  Only for the casinos where they will not admit him
otherwise--and then he curses all the time.  So if you do not mind--"

"Not at all.  We probably wouldn't dress ourselves, anyway."

"Then he will be delighted."  She turned to her husband.  "Casimir,
this is--"  And of course another turn.  "But I do not know your
name?"

I had guessed it would come to that, and I remembered that moment
on Armistice Day when all Rainier's pleasure had disappeared at the
enforced disclosure of his identity.  I wondered if it would be
different with foreigners to whom his name would almost certainly
be unknown.

But he answered, with a sort of gleeful solemnity:  "Lord Frederic
Verisopht--and this"--with a bow to me--"is Sir Mulberry Hawk. . . ."



Having arranged to meet them at seven at Poldini's we spent the
interval at Rainier's club, where his spirits soared fantastically.
When I reminded him of an engagement to speak that evening at the
Annual Dinner of the Gladstone Society he told me to wire them a
cancellation on account of urgent political business.  "That's all
very well," I answered, "but then somebody will see us dining at
Poldini's with a couple who look like a rather seedy croupier and a
soubrette out of a pre-war musical comedy."

He laughed.  "Not if we do what nobody else does nowadays--engage a
private room."

"And what was the idea of introducing me as Sir Somebody or other?"

"To find out whether she reads Dickens.  YOU evidently don't. . . .
Well, that was PARTLY the reason.  The other was to give her a
thrill.  I'm sure titles do.  Poldini's will too--it's got that air
of having seen better and more romantic days.  I rarely go there,
so the waiters don't know me, and I've never been in one of their
private rooms since my uncle took me when I was twelve years old.
That's a story in itself.  I don't think I ever told you about him--
he was a charming and very shortsighted archdeacon, and the only
one out of my large collection of uncles whom I really liked.  He
liked me too, I think--we often used to spend a day together.  One
evening during the Christmas holidays, we felt hungry after a
matinée of Jack and the Beanstalk, so as we were walking to the
nearest Underground station he said, 'Let's go in here for a snack'--
and it was Poldini's.  I think he mistook it for some sort of
cheap but respectable tea-shop--anyhow, we walked in, all among the
pretty ladies and the young men-about-town; we were the cynosure of
every eye, as novelists in those days used to write--because it
wasn't at all the kind of place a Church of England dignitary would
normally take his schoolboy nephew to, and my uncle, with his white
hair and flashing eyes (the drops he had to put in them made them
flash), must have looked rather like Hall Caine's Christian about
to create a disturbance. . . .  Anyhow, old Poldini,--he's dead
now,--scenting something funny about us, pretended all his tables
were booked and asked if we'd mind dining upstairs--so up we went,
my uncle blinking his way aloft without a word of protest, and
presently Poldini showed us into a cosy little room furnished in
blue and gold, with a very thick carpet and a convenient chaise-
longue against the wall and gilt cupids swarming in a suggestive
manner all over the ceiling--in fact, Poldini took charge of us
completely, recommending à la carte dishes and serving them
himself, and as the meal progressed my uncle grew more and more
surprised and delighted--still under the impression it was an
A.B.C. or some such place; and when the bill came I snatched it up
and said I'd stand treat, and he said, 'My boy, that's very
generous of you'--and by God, it was, for it took all the money
he'd just given me as a Christmas present.  But I never let him
know, and to the end of his life he always used to tell people he'd
never enjoyed a better meal than at that eating-house off the
Strand . . . EATING-HOUSE, mind you!"  He took a long breath and
added:  "So that's where we'll dine tonight--among the ghosts of
the past--a couple of milords entertaining the toast of the town--
and rather battered toast, if you'll pardon two bad puns at once."

When I look back on that evening I remember chiefly, of course, the
incident that crowned it; but I can see now that the entire
masquerade was somehow Rainier's last and rather preposterous
effort to tease a way into self-knowledge, and that the climax,
though completely accidental, was yet a fitting end to the attempt.
I realized also, even if never before, how near he was to some
catastrophic breakdown--partly from overwork, but chiefly from the
fret of things that could not be forgotten because they had never
been remembered.  And all that day, ever since meeting Nixon, the
fret had strengthened behind an increasing randomness of acts and
words.

We drove to Poldini's through the rain, and were glad to find the
place reasonably unchanged--still with its private rooms upstairs,
little used by a generation that no longer needs such an apparatus
of seduction, and therefore slightly melancholy until gardenias and
ice-buckets revived a more festive spirit.  Then, with some
commotion, the Navoidas arrived, the pianist rather pale and glum
in a long overcoat with an astrakhan collar, and Madame very florid
and voluble with heavy gold bangles and ancient but good-quality
furs, obviously bewitched (but by no means ill-at-ease) at the
prospect of dining intimately with English nobility.  We soon
discovered that both of them were equally accomplished champagne-
bibbers, but whereas Madame grew livelier and gayer with every
glass, her husband sank after the first half-dozen into a settled
gloom from which he could only stir himself at intervals to murmur
to the waiter a demand for "trouts"--for there had been some
confusion over his order, due perhaps to the waiter's reluctance to
believe that anyone in 1939 would ask for truites bleues in
addition to Beluga caviare, steak tartare, and English rosbif.  But
all that too, and to Rainier's feverish delight, was in the halcyon
tradition--the age of monstrous dinners and fashionable
appendicitis, the one most often the result of the others.

Presently, after the popping of the fourth magnum, Madame grew
sentimental and talked of her romantic adventures in all parts of
the world--a recital garnished with copious quotations from the
poets, of whom she knew so many in various languages that I began
to think it really must be a passion with her quite as genuine as
that for Heidsieck; she liked amorous poetry best, and there was
something perhaps a little charming in the way she obviously did
not know which was too hackneyed to quote, so that from a worn-out
tag of Shakespeare she would swerve into a line from Emily Brontë
or Beddoes.  A few words she wrongly pronounced or did not
understand; she would then ask us to correct her, quite simply and
with an absence of self-consciousness that made almost piquant her
theatrical gestures and overstudied rhythms.  Suddenly I realized,
in the mood of half-maudlin pity that comes after a few drinks yet
is none the less percipient, that she was a sadly disappointed
woman, getting little out of later life that she really craved for,
without a home, a wanderer between hotels and casinos, listening to
the same old Brahms and Beethoven in half-empty concert halls, tied
for the rest of her days to a flabby maestro, yet alive in her
illusion that the world was still gay and chivalrous as a
novelette.

After Rainier had called for more cognac he asked if she had any
ideas for spending the rest of the evening, because he'd be glad to
go on to a show if she fancied any particular play.  She answered,
with enthusiasm:  "Oh yes, it is so kind of you--there is one place
I have always wanted to go because I have heard so much about it--
your famous old English music-hall!"

Rainier said how unfortunate that was, because the famous old
English music-hall no longer existed; there were only assortments
of vaudeville turns and dance bands.

"Then perhaps we could go to see Berty Lowe."

"Berty Lowe?"

"A man at the hotel told me this morning he was acting in London
somewhere, and I should like to see him because I once knew an
Englishman in Budapest who used to do imitations of him.  He always
said Berty Lowe was the greatest comedian of the famous old English
music-hall."

Rainier had asked the waiter for an evening paper and was now
glancing down the list.  "Yes, he used to be quite funny, but I
haven't heard of him in London for years--he's a bit passé, you
know . . . well, he's not at the Coliseum or the Holborn Empire
. . . that rather limits the possibilities . . . wait a minute,
though--'Berty Lowe in Salute the Flag Twice Nightly at the Banford
Hippodrome'--"

She clapped her hands ecstatically.  "Oh, I should love to go
there!"

"But it's miles away in the suburbs--" he was beginning, but
suddenly then I could see the mere caprice of the idea seize hold
of him; to drive out to Banford to see Berty Lowe at the local
Hippodrome was in the right key of fantasy for such an evening.  He
handed me the paper.  "They call it a riot of rip-roaring rib-
tickling--doesn't that sound awful?  Wish you'd ring 'em up and
book a box for four at the second house."

"Salute the Flag," echoed Madame, with hands clasped.  "Oh, I know
I am going to love it if it is about soldiers.  The Englishman I
knew in Budapest was a soldier.  It was during the war, but he
wasn't interned at first, because the Hungarians always liked the
English, but when he began to send me flowers every day with little
notes hidden in them--written in English, of course--the police
arrested him for espionage, but when they translated the notes--oh,
mon dieu, you should have seen their faces--and HIS--and MINE--
because, you see, he was crazily in love with me--CRAZILY--not a
bit like an Englishman!  Oh, how I wish I had made them give me
back those notes. . . .  Casimir, of course, was mad with
jealousy."

Casimir, no longer capable of being mad with jealousy, looked up as
a dog will on hearing his name mentioned, then shook his head with
a bemused belch over his unfinished crêpes Suzette.

I went out to telephone.

An hour later we were sitting on four very uncomfortable cane
chairs as the curtain rose on Salute the Flag.  It had been a
mistake, I could see, to have engaged a box; the orchestra seats
would have been much more comfortable, and further away from
certain plush hangings which, on being merely touched, shook out
clouds of dubious-looking dust.  I gathered from the way we were
escorted to our seats, and also from the fact that the other boxes
were empty, that our arrival had created a little stir; it would be
odd, I thought, but perhaps not absolutely catastrophic, if some
member of the audience were to recognize Rainier.  However, no one
did, despite the fact that some of the actors played at us
outrageously--even, by the end of the show, making jokes about "the
gentleman in the box who's fast asleep."  It was true; Casimir was
fast asleep.  Madame awakened him several times, but he slumped
forward again almost immediately; soon she gave it up as a bad job.

As for the play, it had been (I guessed) an originally serious
melodrama on a wartime theme, dating probably from 1914 or 1915;
its villains had then been Germans of impossible villainy and its
heroes English soldiers of equally impossible saintliness.  A
quarter of a century of lucrative adaptation, however, had merged
both the villainy and the saintliness into a common mood of broad
comedy burlesque; such patriotic speeches as remained were spoken
now only to be laughed at, while the hero's first appearance was in
the always comic uniform of a scoutmaster.

But Madame was puzzled.  During the intermission she said:  "I
cannot understand why they laugh at some of the lines.  When the
recruiting sergeant made that speech about the British Empire, what
was funny about it?"

"It's just our English sense of humour," Rainier explained.  "We
think recruiting sergeants ARE funny.  We think long speeches are
also funny.  The British Empire has its funny side too.  So put
them all together and you can't help making an Englishman laugh."

"But it was a PATRIOTIC speech!"

"Englishmen think them the funniest of all."

"But in Austria, if anyone laughed at a patriotic speech there
would be a riot and the man would be arrested."

"That just proves something I have long suspected--that Austria
isn't England."

"You know Austria?"

"I once spent a few days in Vienna on business."

"Ah, you should have stayed longer and gone to the Semmering and
then to Pressburg down the Danube in a steamboat."

"Curious you should mention it, but that was one of my boyhood
ambitions.  But in a canoe, not a steamboat."

"Oh, but that would be more wonderful still!  Why did you not do
it?"

"Because when I first wanted to, I hadn't enough money--then later,
when I had enough money, I hadn't the time . . . and today,
whatever I have, there isn't any Austria."

"Ah, yes, it is so sad.  But let us not think about it--see, the
curtain rises!"

She said that so much like a musical-comedy cue that I almost
expected to see her jump down to the stage and begin a song.
However, Salute the Flag was doubtless better entertainment.  It
continued to be equally hilarious during its second half, though
Berty Lowe, as the heavily moustached German general, was actually
less funny than some of the smaller parts; there was one especially
that had the audience holding their sides--when an English
subaltern entered his colonel's tent (the colonel being a German
spy in disguise) to exclaim, between chattering teeth and amidst
paroxysms of stammering--"The enemy advances--give the order to
attack, or, by heaven, sir, I will myself!"  As a rule I do not
care for jokes based on any physical defect, but I must admit that
this particular player brought the house down by some of the most
ludicrous facial contortions I have ever seen--the whole episode
being topped by the final gag of a door-knob coming off and rolling
across the stage when he banged his exit.

It was difficult to keep up or down to such a level, but the play
romped on with a good deal of vulgar gusto until the last scene,
evidently the dramatic high-spot of the original play, when the
heroine, threatened by the villain with a revolver, cried:  "You
cannot fire on helpless womankind!"--whereat another woman, of
suggestive male appearance and elephantine proportions, invaded the
stage from the wings brandishing weapons of all kinds from tomahawk
to Mills bomb.  Crude, undoubtedly; but the Banford audience loved
it, and were still laughing throughout the perfunctory finale in
which all the cast rushed on to the stage to chase off the villain
and line up for a closing chorus.

As we left the theatre I saw that Rainier's mood had changed.  He
almost bundled Madame and her husband into the car, and spoke very
little during the ride back to London; she chattered to me for a
while, but Rainier's moods had a queer way of enforcing their
atmosphere upon others, and she also was somewhat subdued by the
time we reached their hotel in Russell Square and set the two of
them down on the pavement.

"Good-bye, my lord," she said to Rainier, evidently remembering her
manners but not the name.  But she remembered mine.  "Good-bye, Sir
Hawk."

Casimir nodded grumpily as she took his arm to help him up the
hotel steps.  The last we saw was her effort to get him through the
revolving door.  It should have been funny, but perhaps we had had
enough laughter for one evening; it wasn't funny, therefore, it was
somehow rather sad.

"Of course she's ruined him," Rainier commented, as we drove away
towards Chelsea.

"What makes you think that?"

"His playing.  I could tell he was good once."

"Well, he's ruined her too.  She can't get much fun out of life,
watching over him wherever they go.  Incidentally, I think she was
rather shocked by our rough island humour."

"Probably it was too unsanitary and not sexy enough for her."

"And then that fellow's stammer.  I suppose on the Vienna stage you
couldn't have an officer stammering--only a private."

"God, yes--that stammer . . . they kept it in--and the door-knob
coming off as well. . . .  But the gag at the end was new."

"Sounds as if you've seen the show before."

He was thoughtful.  "Yes, I think I have."

"Not surprising.  It's been played up and down everywhere for
years."

"But more than that--more than SEEING it before--I--I--"  He turned
to me with a curious abrupt eagerness.  "Do you mind if we drive
around for a while before going home?"

"Of course not. . . .  But what's happened?  You look--"  I
stopped, but he cut in sharply:  "Yes, TELL me--what's the matter
with me--HOW do I look?"

I said, meeting his eyes and speaking with as little excitement as
I could:  "You look as you did when I first saw you staring at a
mountain because you thought you recognized it--through the train
windows that Armistice Day."

"ARMISTICE DAY," he repeated.  Then he added, quietly, almost
casually:  "I was in hospital . . . I mean on that first Armistice
Day--the first one of all.  The REAL one."  He suddenly clutched my
sleeve.  "Yes, I remember--I was at Melbury!"

I said nothing, anxious not to break any thread of recollection he
was about to unravel, and afraid of the tension in my voice were I
to speak at all.

"There were so many hospitals," he went on.  "I was at Sennelager
first--then Hanover.  Then they exchanged the shell-shock and t.b.
cases through Switzerland.  So back home--Birmingham for a time--
then Hastings--and another place near Manchester . . . then
Melbury.  That was the last of them. . . .  I'd like to go to
Melbury."

I still couldn't answer; I was afraid of breaking some kind of
spell.  He seemed to read this into my silence, for he went on, in
a kindly voice:  "Do you mind?  Or are you very tired?"

"No, I'm not tired."  My voice was all right, but I was still
apprehensive, and more so than ever when I realized he wanted to go
to Melbury that very night, immediately.  I added something about
Hanson being probably tired, even if we weren't--after all he'd
driven us to Banford and back, and to ask him now to make another
excursion into the distant suburbs . . .

"Yes, of course--glad you thought of it."  He was always
considerate to servants.  "We'll drop him here and send him home by
taxi.  Then I'll drive--or perhaps you'd better if you think I've
had too much to drink."  He was already reaching for the speaking-
tube, and had given the new instructions before I could think of
anything else to say at all, much less frame an objection.  Hanson
pulled up at the kerb, showing no more curiosity than a good
servant should.  But it was still pouring with rain, and he must
have thought it odd to choose such a night for a pleasure drive.

Rainier moved next to me in the chauffeur's seat; as I drove off he
said he hoped I knew the way.

"Through Stepney and Stratford, isn't it?"

"Don't ask me--I've never been there since--since the morning I
left."

"You remember it was a MORNING?"

He turned to me excitedly.  "Did I say morning?  Yes, it WAS . . .
and if I can only SEE the place again--"

"You won't see much tonight, I'm afraid."

"I didn't see much last time, either--it was too foggy.  God--
that's something else. . . .  Just let me talk on anyhow.  Don't
feel you have to answer--I know it's hard to drive these
juggernauts on a wet night--why does my wife always buy such
monsters?--and we have four of them."

"Nothing to stop you buying a small car yourself if you wanted."

"But I'm not interested in buying cars."

I laughed and said:  "Well, you can't have it both ways.  If you're
not interested in cars, you can't blame Mrs. Rainier for buying the
kind she thinks is suitable for a rich man who isn't interested in
cars."

"True, true. . . ."  The side issue had lowered the tension.

We drove through the almost deserted City, past Aldgate and along
the wide, brilliant, rococo Mile End Road.  It was midnight as we
crossed Bow Bridge, five minutes past as we reached the fork of the
road in Stratford Broadway; I had to drive slowly because of the
slippery tram-rails.  Once I stopped to inquire from some men
drinking at a coffee-stall; they waved us on into the deepening
hinterland of the suburbs.  The slums here lost their sinister
picturesqueness, became more and more drably respectable: long
vistas of lamplit roads, with here and there a block of elementary
schools rising like a fortress over the rooftops, and at every
shopping centre the same names in a different order--Woolworth,
Maypole, Sainsbury, Home and Colonial, Lyons.  We passed an old-
fashioned church with a new-fashioned sign outside it, proclaiming
the subject of next Sunday's sermon--"Why Does God Permit War?"--
and that set Rainier improvising on the kind of sermon it would be--
"very cheerful and chummy, proving that God isn't such a bad sort
when you get to know Him"; and then abruptly, in the tangential way
so characteristic when he was inwardly excited, he talked again of
his favourite uncle the archdeacon.  "HE never preached a sermon on
'Why Does God Permit War?'  To begin with, I don't suppose he ever
thought about it, and if he had, he'd probably have answered 'Why
shouldn't He?'  He took it for granted that the Deity minded His
own business, and that 'God's in His Heaven' was just Browning's
way of putting it.  All this craze for bringing Him down to earth
and appealing to Him at every turn would have struck my uncle as
weak-kneed as well as in appallingly bad taste.  And yet, in his
way, and on the outskirts of Cheltenham, he lived an almost saintly
life.  He would never kill insects that strayed into the house, but
would trap them in match-boxes and set them free in the garden.  He
approved of hunting, though, and thought the smearing of a girl's
face with fox blood after her first ride to hounds was a rather
charming custom.  All in all, I don't suppose he was any more
inconsistent than the modern parson who tries to combine Saint
Francis, Lenin, and Freud into one all-embracing muddle."

We drove on through Leytonstone; there the tram-lines ended and we
could put on a little speed.  It was just after one o'clock when we
reached the market square in the centre of Melbury; I pulled up and
looked to him for further instructions.  He was peering through the
window and after a moment I wound the window down on my side.  The
rain had increased to the dimensions of a storm, and a solitary
policeman sheltering under a shop awning called out to us:
"Looking for somewhere?"

Rainier turned at the sound of the stranger's voice.

"Yes, the hospital," he answered.  "Where's the hospital?"

"You mean the new one or the old one, sir?"

"The old one, I think."  Then in a sudden rush:  "It's on a hill--
has big gates and a high wall all round it."

The policeman looked puzzled.  "That don't sound much like either
of 'em."  Then, as I was about to thank him and drive off, he came
towards the car, leaned in, and said, with a glance across me to
Rainier:  "You wouldn't be meanin' the ASYLUM, would you, sir?"



PART FOUR


He was so tired of stammering out to a succession of doctors all he
knew about himself that eventually he jotted it down on a single
sheet of notepaper for them to refer to at will.  He had recently
been transferred to Melbury from another military hospital, and the
change had somewhat upset him, because it meant beginning
everything all over again--contacts with new doctors, nurses, and
patients, the effort to find another corner of existence where
people would presently leave him alone.  Besides, he didn't like
the place--it was too big, too crowded, and altogether too
permanent-looking.  Overworked psychiatrists gave him treatments
that were supposed to have done well in similar cases, but perhaps
it was part of his own case that he didn't feel any similar cases
existed, though he admitted there were many worse ones; he also
felt that the doctors--grand fellows all of them, he had no
specific complaints--aimed at raising a statistical average of
success rather than his own individual cure.

That particular morning in November he began the regulation mile
along the cinder paths, glad that the fog had kept most of his
fellow victims indoors.  Only alone did his various symptoms ever
approach vanishing point, and amidst the fog this sense of
aloneness was intensified so reassuringly that as he continued to
walk he began to feel a curious vacuum of sensation that might
almost be called contentment.  Walking was part of the encouraged
regimen at Melbury; extensive grounds surrounded by a fifteen-foot
spiked wall permitted it, while an army greatcoat kept the cold air
from penetrating his thinnish hospital uniform.

Suddenly, as he neared the main entrance where the name had been
painted over (though it was still readable in burnt letters on
brooms and garden tools--"Property of the So-and-so County Asylum")--
suddenly, as the heavily scrolled ironwork of the gates loomed
through the fog, a siren screamed across the emptiness beyond--a
factory siren, already familiar at certain hours, but this was not
one of them, nor did the sound stay on the single level note, but
began soaring up and down in wild flurries.  A few seconds later
another siren chimed in, and then a third; by that time he was near
enough to the gates to see two uniformed porters rush hatless out
of the lodge, shouting excitedly as they raced up the shrouded
driveway.  For the moment--and he realized it without any answering
excitement--there was no one left on guard, no one to stop him as
he passed through the lodge into the outer world, no one to notice
him as he walked down the lane towards the town.  Behind his mute
acceptance of things done to him, there was a slow-burning
inclination to do things for himself, an inclination fanned now
into the faint beginnings of initiative; but they were only faint,
he had no will for any struggle, and if anyone ran after him to say
"Come back" he would go back.

Nobody ran after him.  The lane turned into the main road at the
tram terminus; a small crowd was already gathering there in groups,
chattering, laughing, greeting each newcomer with eager questions.
Nor had the sirens stopped; they were louder now, and joined by
tram bells, train whistles, a strange awakening murmur out of the
distance.  He walked on, still downhill, edging into the roadway to
avoid people, glad that the fog was thickening as he descended.
Soon he was aware of some approaching vortex of commotion, of
crowds ahead that might cover all the roadway and envelop him
completely; he felt as well as heard them, and a nagging pinpoint
of uneasiness expanded until, to relieve it even momentarily, he
turned into a shop at the corner of a street.

The inside was dark, as he had hoped, revealing only vague shapes
of counter, shelves, and merchandise; it seemed to be a small
neglected general store, smelling of its own shabbiness.  The
opening door had tinkled a bell, and presently, as his eyes grew
used to the dimness, he saw an old woman watching from behind the
counter--thin-faced, gray-haired, rather baleful.  He tried to ask
for cigarettes and began to stammer.  He always did when he talked
to others, though he could chatter to himself without much trouble--
that was one of the points he had noted for the doctors, though he
suspected they didn't believe him, and of course it was something
he couldn't prove.  Just now, with all the extra excitement, his
stammer was worse than ever--not a mere tongue-tie, but a nervous
tic that convulsed his entire head and face.  He stood there,
trembling and straining for speech, at last managing to explode a
word; the woman said nothing in answer, but after a long scrutiny
began sidling away.  He relaxed when she had gone, hoping she would
just return with the cigarettes and not oblige him to say more,
wondering if she would think it odd if he stayed to smoke one of
them in the shop.  Anyhow, it was good to be alone again.  Then
suddenly he realized he was not alone.  A girl had entered, or else
had been there all the time and he hadn't noticed; she too was
waiting at the counter, but now she turned to him and began
urgently whispering.  "She's gone to fetch somebody--she knows
where you're from."

He stared hard, trying to isolate her face from the surrounding
shadows.

"You ARE, aren't you?"

He nodded.

"She knows you're not supposed to be out."

He nodded again.

"Not that I'd blame anybody for anything today.  The war's over--
you know that?  Isn't it wonderful . . . ?  And you certainly don't
LOOK as if you'd do any harm."  She smiled to soften the phrase.

He shook his head and smiled back.

"Well, if you HAVE given them the slip, I wouldn't stay here, old
boy, that's all."

He smiled again, a little bewildered; somebody was talking to him
normally, casually, yet personally too.  It was a pleasant
experience, he wished it could go on longer, but then he heard the
old woman's footsteps returning from some inner room behind the
shop; with a final smile he summoned enough energy to walk away.  A
few seconds later he stood on the pavement, blinking to the light,
aware of the prevalent atmosphere as something pungent, an air he
could not breathe, a spice too hot for his palate.  Shouts were now
merging into a steady sequence of cheers, and through the pale fog
he saw a tram approach, clanging continuously as it discharged a
load of yelling school-children.  He turned away from the clamour
into a side street where two rows of small houses reached upwards
like flying buttresses astride a hill; presently he came to a house
with a dingy brass plate outside--"H. T. Sheldrake, Teacher of
Music."  He spoke the name, Sheldrake, to himself--he always tested
names like this, hoping that some day one of them would fit snugly
into an empty groove in his mind.  No, not Sheldrake.  There was
the sound of a piano playing scales; he listened, calming himself
somewhat, till the playing stopped and shrill voices began.  That
made him move on up the hill, but he felt tired after a short
distance and held to a railing for support.  Just then the same
girl caught up with him.

"What's the matter?"

He smiled.

"I followed you.  Thought you looked a bit off-colour."

He shook his head valiantly, observing her now for the first time.
She was dressed in a long mackintosh and a little fur hat, like a
fez, under which brown straight hair framed a face of such friendly
eagerness that he suddenly felt it did not matter if she saw and
heard his struggles for speech; rather that than have her think him
worse than he was.  He wanted to say:  You should see some of the
other fellows up there--what's wrong with me is NOTHING--just a
stammer and not being able to remember things.

While he was planning to say all this she took his arm.  "Lean on
me if you like.  And talk or not, whichever you want.  Don't be
nervous."

After that he decided to say merely that he was not really ill, but
only tired after walking further than usual; he began bracing
himself to make the effort, smiling beforehand to console her for
the ordeal of watching and listening.  Then a curious thing
happened; it was like taking a rush at a door to break through when
all the time the door was neither locked nor even latched.  He just
opened his mouth and found that he could speak.  Not perfectly, of
course, but almost as easily as if he were talking to himself.  It
made him gasp with an astonishment so overwhelming that for the
moment he expected her to share it.

"Did you hear THAT?  I wasn't so bad THEN, was I?"

"Of course you weren't.  Didn't I tell you not to be nervous?"

"But you don't know what a job I have, as a rule."

"Oh yes, I do.  I heard you in the shop.  But that old woman would
scare anybody.  Where d'you want to go?"

"I don't know."

"Well, this street doesn't lead anywhere."

"I was just--walking."

"But weren't you trying to get away?"

"Not--not exactly.  I hadn't any real plans.  I just came out
because--well, because there was nobody at the gate."

"Do they look after you all right?"

"Oh yes."

"I've heard they're a bit rough with some."

"Not with me."

"All the same, you don't really LIKE the place?"

"Not--not very much."

"Then you oughtn't to be in it, surely?"

"There's nowhere else, until I get all right again."

"How can you get all right again when you're not happy in a place?"

He had often asked himself the same question, but he answered,
parrying the idea:  "Perhaps I wouldn't be very happy anywhere--
just now."

"But the war's over--doesn't that make any difference?"  She came
near to abrupt tears, then dashed a hand to her eyes and began to
laugh.  "Silly, that's what I am--everybody's gone silly today.
Seems an awful morning to end the war on, doesn't it?--I mean,
you'd almost think the sun ought to shine--blue skies--like a
picture. . . ."  She almost cried again.  "Shall we stroll down?"

She gripped his arm as they slowly descended the hill.  His walk
was pretty good, and he was suddenly proud of it--just the faintest
shuffle, nobody would notice.  When they reached the piano-
teacher's house he hesitated.  "I'd rather not get mixed up with
the crowd--if you don't mind."

"Righto--we'll keep well away."  She added:  "So you don't like
crowds?"

"Not very much."

"Or hospitals?"

He smiled and shook his head.

"Well, that's fine.  If I keep on trying I'll really get to know
you."

They both laughed; then she said:  "There's a place where we could
get some hot coffee, if you like THAT."

The Coronation Café was a cheap little place along the Bockley
Road, patronized mostly by tramway men on duty who stopped their
vehicles outside and dashed in with empty jugs, leaving them to be
filled in readiness for the return trip.  All day long these swift
visitations continued, with barely time for an exchange of words
across the counter.  But today, the eleventh of November, 1918,
drivers and conductors chatted boisterously as if they were in no
hurry at all, and passed cheery remarks to the couple who sat at
the marble-topped table in the window alcove.  They could see the
man was a soldier by his greatcoat, and it was a good day for
saying cheery things to soldiers.  "Wonder 'ow long it'll take to
git the rest of you boys 'ome, mate?" . . . "Maybe they'll march
'em to Berlin now and shoot the Old Kaiser." . . . "Seems queer to
'ave the war end up like this--right on the dot, as you might
say." . . . "Wouldn't surprise me if it's just a rumour, like them
Russians comin' through." . . . "But it's all in the papers, see--
it sez the Germans 'ave signed a what's-a-name--means PEACE, don't
it?"  All this and much else in snatches of news and comment.  The
proprietor always answered: "You're right there, mister"--"That's
just what I always said meself," or, if the remark had been
especially emphatic:  "You 'it the nail straight on the 'ead that
time, mister."  Towards noon the fog grew very thick indeed and
drivers reported crowds still increasing at the busy centres;
workpeople had been sent home from offices and factories, as well
as children from all the schools.  Then the trams stopped running,
impeded by fog and crowds equally, and as there were no more
customers at the Coronation Café the proprietor set to work behind
his counter, polishing a large tea-urn till it glowed in the gloom
like a copper sun.  Presently he came over to the table.  He was a
little man, pale-faced, bald, with watery eyes and a drooping
moustache.

"Wouldn't you two like a bite o' somethin'?"

The girl looked to her companion, saw him frame a word and then
begin to struggle with it; she intervened quickly:  "Sounds a good
idea.  What have you got?"

"Eggs, that's about all.  'Ow d'yer like 'em--soft or 'ard?"

Again she looked across the table before answering.  "Oh,
middling'll do."

"That's the ticket.  That's 'ow I like 'em meself.  And two more
coffees?"

"Righto."

"Keep yer warmed-up a day like this.  War's over, they say, but
anybody can die of pewmonia."

"That's a fact, so bring those coffees quick."

He went away chuckling; then the girl leaned across the table and
said:  "Don't look so scared.  He won't bite."

"I know.  But I'm always like that with strangers--at first.  And
besides--I don't think I've enough money."

"Well, who cares about that?  I have."

"But--"

"Now don't start being the gentleman.  You were telling me about
yourself when that fellow came up.  Go on with the story."  He
stared at her rather blankly till she added:  "Unless you'd rather
not.  Your mind's on something else, I can see."

"I'd just noticed that sign outside."  He pointed through the
window to a board overhanging the pavement above the café doorway--
the words "Good Pull-Up for Carmen" were dimly readable through the
fog.  "CARMEN," he muttered.  "That gives me something--why,
yes . . . MELBA."

"MELBA?  Oh, you mean the opera?"  She began to laugh.  "And Melba
gives me peaches.  What IS this--a game?"

"Sort of.  I have to keep on doing it, one of the doctors says--
part of his treatment.  You see, I've lost my memory about certain
things.  It's like being blind and having to feel around for shapes
and sizes."

"I'm terribly sorry.  I didn't realize, or I wouldn't have
laughed."

"Oh, that's all right--I'd rather you laugh.  I wish everybody
would laugh. . . .  Now what was it you were asking me before?"

"Well, I was wondering why you had to be in a hospital at all, but
now of course I understand."

"Yes--till I get thoroughly better.  I daresay I will--eventually."

"And then your memory'll come back?"

"That's what they think."

"But in the meantime what are you going to do?"

"Just wait around till it happens, I suppose."

"Isn't there some way of tracing any of your relatives and friends?
Advertising for them, or something like that?"

"They've tried.  Some people did come to see me at the hospital
once, but--I wasn't their son."

"I'll bet they were disappointed.  You'd make a nice son for
somebody."

"Well, _I_ was disappointed too.  I'd like to have belonged to them--
to have had a home somewhere."

He then gave her some of the facts he had written out for the
doctors--that he had been blown up by a shell during 1917, and that
when he recovered consciousness he was in a German hospital
somewhere, unidentified and unidentifiable.  Later there had been
an exchange of wounded and shell-shocked prisoners through
Switzerland, and by this means the problem had been passed on to
the English--but with no more success.  He had been a pretty bad
case at first, with loss of speech and muscular co-ordination, but
those things had gradually returned--perhaps the memory would
follow later.  Altogether he had spent over a year in various
hospitals, of which he liked the one at Melbury least of all.
"Mind you," he added, seizing the chance to say what he thought of
saying before, "I'm miles better than some of the others.  You'd
think so too if you saw them."

"And that's why YOU shouldn't see them at all.  Doesn't exactly
help you, does it?"

"No, but I suppose all the hospitals are so crowded--there's no
chance to separate us properly."

The proprietor, coming up with the coffee and eggs, saw them break
off their conversation suddenly.  "Gettin' a bit dark in 'ere--I'll
give yer a light," he murmured, to satisfy a dawning curiosity.
Standing on a bench he pulled the chain under a single incandescent
burner in the middle of the ceiling; it sent a pale greenish glow
over their faces.  He stared at them both.  "You don't look so
chirpy, mite.  Feelin' bad?"

"He's just tired, that's all."  And then, to get the fellow out:
"Bring a packet of cigarettes, will you?"

When he had gone she leaned across.  "That's what you were trying
to ask for in the shop, wasn't it?"

"Yes, but I didn't really need them."

"Oh, come, I know what you need more than you do yourself.  Don't
be scared of that little chap--he means all right."

The proprietor returned to their table with the cigarettes.  "Looks
to me as if 'e might 'ave the flu, miss.  Lots o' flu abart 'ere.
Dyin' like flies, they was, up at the 'orspital a few weeks ago."

When he had gone again she comforted:  "There now, don't worry.  If
you don't like it here, let's eat and then we'll be off."

"It isn't that I don't like it, only--only I'd rather them not come
after me, that's all."

"Why should they?"

"He mentioned the hospital.  He knows I'm from there, just as you
did when you first saw me.  It's in my face--the way I look at
people.  I haven't a chance--even if I knew where to go.  They come
round the wards every night at six.  If I get back by then there'll
be no trouble."

"You really mean to go back?"

"There's nothing else to do."  He smiled wanly.  "You've been very
kind to bring me here."

"Oh, don't talk like that."

"But you have.  I'm grateful.  Maybe I'll be more satisfied now,
because I shall know I'm not really well enough to be on my own--
YET."

They ate in silence for a few moments after that; then she went up
to the counter and paid the bill.  "One and tenpence, miss.  Can't
make it any more or I would.  An' if I were you, I'd get your pal
'ome pretty quick.  'E don't look as if 'e ought to be aht, an'
that's a fact."

A moment later the fog was curling round them in swathes, fanning
the sound of cheers over distant invisible roofs.  She took his arm
again as they walked to the next corner, then turned through quiet
residential roads away from the centre of the town.  But at one
place jubilant householders were dancing round a bonfire, and to
avoid passing through the blaze of light they made a second detour,
along alleys that twisted more and more confusingly till, with a
sudden rush of sound, they were back in the main street, caught in
a madder, wilder throng.  Already the war had been over for several
hours, and the first shock of exultation was yielding to a hysteria
that disguised an anticlimax.  The war was over . . . but now what?
The dead were still dead; no miracle of human signature could
restore limbs and sight and sanity; the grinding hardships of those
four years could not be wiped out by a headline.  Emotions were
numb, were to remain half-numbed for a decade, and relief that
might have eased them could come no nearer than a fret to the
nerves.  A few things were done, symbolically; men climbed street-
lamps to tear away the shades that had darkened them since the
first air raids in human history; shop windows suddenly blazed out
with new globes in long-empty sockets.  The traffic centre at
Melbury was like a hundred others in and around London that day;
the crowds, the noise, the light, the fog.  Beyond a certain limit
of expression there was nothing to say, nothing much even to do;
yet the urge to say and to do was self-torturing.  So, as the day
and the night wore on, throngs were swayed by sharp caprices--
hoisting shoulder-high some chance-passing soldier on leave,
smashing the windows of tradesmen rumoured to have profiteered,
making a fire of hoardings that proclaimed slogans for winning the
now-extinct war, booing the harassed police who tried to keep such
fires in check.  From cheers to jeers, from applause to anger, were
but a finger touch of difference in the play of events on taut
nerves.

Presently a girl summoning help for a soldier in hospital uniform
who had fainted provided a new thrill--compassion; within a few
seconds the crowd was entirely swept by it, pressing in on the two
donors with cries of pity, indignation, and advice to do this and
that.

"Give 'im air!  Keep back there!  Pick 'im up and carry 'im inside--
I got some whiskey--give the poor chap a nip. . . .  No, 'e
shouldn't 'ave no alco'ol, not without a doctor. . . .  Phone the
'orspital, they'll send an amberlance. . . .  Christ, I wouldn't
let 'im go there if 'e was my boy--they kill 'em, that's what they
do up there."

Presently a few men carried the soldier from the pavement into a
grocery, whose owner nervously unbarred his front door to repeated
knockings.  Inside the shop the stream of advice would have
continued indefinitely, but for the girl, who kept saying she would
take him home.

"Better 'ave a doctor first, miss."

"I'll get a doctor when he's home."

"Where's 'e live?"

"Not far away."

"Wounded badly, was 'e?"

"No, he's all right--just fainted, that's all.  See, he's coming
round now--if I can get him home--"

"Your 'usband, lidy?"

"That make any difference?"

"Come to think of it, I seem to 'ave seen your face before."

"Maybe you have, old boy, but that doesn't mean I'll stand any of
your lip.  Come on now, and give me a hand.  If I could get a cab--"

"Not much chance o' that, miss, not on a night like this."

But the shopkeeper, anxious to get them all off his premises,
whispered to her, while the others were still arguing the point:
"I've got a van and my son'll drive you.  Think your friend can
walk to it?"

"Oh yes, I'm certain he can.  Let's try."

It proved to be a large van, smelling of miscellaneous foods and
soaps; its driver was a thin youth who easily made room for them on
the front seat.  After he had inched his way out of the yard he lit
a cigarette and began proudly:  "You ain't supposed to drive these
vans till you're eighteen, but Dad don't tell nobody.  Where to,
miss?"

"D'you know the Owl--the other side of Bockley?"

"You bet I do.  Biffer's place?"

"That's it.  But stop in the lane just before you get there."

"Right you are.  Won't arf be a journey though, in this fog.  'Ow's
the patient?"

"Fine.  You keep your eye on the road."

"That's all right.  I could drive round 'ere blindfold.  Aren't you
on at the Empire this week?"

"If there's any show at all.  They said there wouldn't be tonight."

"I saw the show in Bockley last week.  Jolly good."

"Think so?  I thought it was rotten.  Look where you're driving."

"Sorry."

"Good of you to take us, anyhow, even if we do get killed on the
way."

"Don't mention it.  Be in the army meself next year."

"Not now the war's over, will you?"

"Won't they 'ave me because of that?"  He looked puzzled and rather
disappointed.

"Maybe they will--if you live that long."

"Pretty quick, ain't you, miss?  Reminds me of that scene you 'ad
in the play, when you kept tellin' orf that fat old gent with the
moustaches.  I could 'ave larfed."

"Why the devil didn't you then?  You were supposed to."

"My dad'll stare when I tell 'im it was Paula Ridgeway.  'E didn't
recognize you.  Went to the show same as I did, only 'e don't see
so well lately."

They drove on, slowly, gropingly, chattering meanwhile, avoiding
the main streets as far as possible, and especially the road
junctions and shopping centres where crowds were likely.  Melbury
and Bockley were adjacent suburbs, completely built over in a
crisscross of residential roads that afforded an infinity of
routes; but once beyond Bockley the rows of identical houses came
to an end with the abruptness of an army halted, and the wider
highways narrowed and twisted into lanes.  They pulled up
eventually at the side of a hedge.

"'Ere y'are, miss.  The Owl's just rahnd the corner.  Sure I can't
tike yer no further?"

"This'll do fine.  We can walk now."

He helped them out.  "Sure you know where y'are?"

"Yes--and thanks."  She was fishing in her bag for a coin when he
stopped her.  "No, miss--you send me a signed picture of yourself,
that's what I'd rather 'ave. . . .  'Is nibs feelin' better?
That's good.  Well, it's bin a pleasure.  Good luck to both of you.
Good night, miss."

She waved to him and he drove off, leaving them alone.

"Where are we going?"

"Home--at least it'll do for one."

"But--I--I have to get back to the hospital!"

"We'll see about that tomorrow."

"But this place--I don't understand--"

"It's the Owl Hotel if you like the word.  Call it a pub to be on
the safe side.  I know the landlord."

"Will he mind?"

"The odds are he won't even know, old boy, not in the state he'll
be in tonight."

She guided him a little way along the lane, then through a side
gate into a garden where the shapes of trees loomed up at regular
intervals.  "Lovely here when the summer comes--they serve teas and
there's a view."

"What name was it he called you?"

"Paula Ridgeway.  It's not my real name, though.  What's yours?"

"Smith--but that's not real either."

"You don't remember your real name?"

He shook his head.

"Well, Smith's good enough.  Come on, Smithy."

As they found their way along a path, the silent blanket of fog was
pierced by a murmur and then by a paleness ahead, the two presently
merging into a vague impression of the Owl on this night of
November the eleventh, 1918.  A two-storied, ivy-clustered, steep-
roofed building, ablaze with light from every downstairs room, and
already packed with shouting celebrants of victory; a friendly pub,
traditional without being self-consciously old-world.  Established
in the forties, when neighbouring Bockley was a small country town,
it had kept its character throughout an age that had seen the vast
obliterating spread of the suburbs and the advent of motor traffic;
it had kept, too, the sacred partitions between "private" and
"public" bars--divisions rooted in the mythology of London life,
and still acceptable because they no longer signify any snobbish
separation, but merely an etiquette of occasion, dress, and a penny
difference in the price of a pint of beer.  Even the end of a great
war could not shatter this etiquette; but with the sacred
partitions still between, the patrons of both bars found community
in songs that were roared in unison above the shouting and laughter
and clatter of glasses.  They were not especially patriotic songs;
most were from the music-halls of the nineties, a few were catchy
hits from the recent West End revues.  But by far the most popular
of all was "Knees Up, Mother Brown," a roaring chorus that set the
whole crowd stamping into the beer-soaked sawdust.

On the threshold of the Owl Smith felt a renewal of nervousness,
especially as the girl's entry was the signal for shouts of welcome
from within.  She pushed him into a chair in an unlighted corner of
the lobby.  "Stay there, Smithy--I won't be long."  A group of men
pressed out of the bar towards her, dragging her back with them; he
could hear their greetings, and her own in answer.  He sat there,
waiting, trying to collect his thoughts, to come to terms with the
strange sequence of events that had brought him to a noisy public-
house in company with a girl who was something on the stage.  A few
people passed without noticing him; that was reassuring, but he
suspected it was only because they were drunk.  He decided that if
anyone spoke to him he would pretend to be drunk also, and with the
safeguarding decision once made the waiting became easier.  He
watched the door into the bar, expecting her to emerge amidst a
corresponding roar of farewells, but when she did come, it was
quietly, silently, and from another direction.  "I managed to get
away, old boy, and believe me it wasn't easy.  Come on--let's go
before they find us."

She led him through another door close by, and up a back staircase
to the first floor, turning along a corridor flanked by many rooms;
she opened one of them and put a match to a gas-jet just inside.
It showed up a square simple apartment, containing an iron bed and
heavy Victorian furniture.  He stared around, then began to
protest:  "But how can I stay here?  I can't afford--"

"Listen, Smithy--the war stopped this morning.  If that's possible,
anything else ought to be.  And you've got to stay somewhere."  She
began to laugh.  "You're safe here--nobody's going to bother you.
I told you I know the man who runs this place--Biffer Briggs--used
to be a prize-fighter, but don't let that frighten you. . . .  It's
cold, though--wish there was a fire."

She suddenly knelt at his feet and began to unlace his boots.
Again he protested.

"Well, you MUST take your boots off--that's only civil, on a clean
bed.  I'll come up again soon and bring you some tea."

He took off his boots as soon as she had gone, but the effort tired
him more than he could have imagined.  The day's strains and
stresses had utterly exhausted him, in fact; he almost wished he
were back at the hospital, because that at least promised the
likelihood of a known routine, whereas here, in this strange place
. . . but he fell asleep amidst his uneasiness.  When he woke he
saw her standing in front of him, carrying a cup of tea.  She
placed the cup on the side table, then fixed the blankets here and
there to cover him more warmly.  She was about to tiptoe away when
he reached out his hand in a wordless gesture of thanks.

"Awake, Smithy?"

"Have I been asleep?"

"I should think you have.  Four solid hours, and this is the third
cup of tea I've made for you, just in case. . . .  God, I'm tired--
tell you what, old boy, I've had just about enough of it
downstairs."

"It's late, I suppose."

"One A.M. and they're still hard at it."

"Do you live here?"

"Not me--I just know the Biffer, that's all.  I reckon EVERYBODY'S
living here tonight, though.  Hope the noise won't keep you awake--
it'll probably go on till morning."

"I shan't mind."

"You sleep well?"

"Sometimes."

"Lie awake thinking about things?"

"Sometimes."

"About who you are and all that?"

"Sometimes."

Her voice softened with curiosity as she looked down at him.
"Drink it up, Smithy.  What does it feel like--to think of the time
before--before you can remember?"

"Like trying to remember before I was born."

She gave his hand an answering touch.  "Well, you're born again
now.  So's everybody.  So's the whole world.  That's the way to
look at it.  That's why there's all this singing and shouting.
That's why I'm drunk."

"Are you?"

"Well, not really with drinks, though I have had a few.  It's just
the thought of it all being over--I've seen so many nice boys like
yourself, having a good time one week and then by the next . . .
Oh, well, mustn't talk about THAT--better not talk any more about
anything; you're too sleepy, and so am I.  How about making a bit
of room?"

Without undressing, except to slip off her shoes, she lifted the
blankets and lay down beside him.  He felt her nearness slowly,
luxuriously, a relaxation of every nerve.  "Tell you what, old boy,
I'm just like a mother tonight, so cuddle up close as you like and
keep warm . . .  Good night, Smithy."

"Good night."

"And Paula's the name, in case you've forgotten that as well."

But he felt no need to answer, except by a deeper tranquillity he
drew from her, feeling that she was offering it.  The crowd were
still singing "Knees Up, Mother Brown" in the bars below.  It
sounded new to him, both words and tune, and he wondered if it were
something else he had forgotten.  He did not know that no one
anywhere had heard it before--that in some curious telepathic way
it sprang up all over London on Armistice Night, in countless
squares and streets and pubs; the living improvisation of a race to
whom victory had come, not with the trumpet notes of a Siegfried,
but as a common earth touch--a warm bawdy link with the mobs of the
past, the other victorious Englands of Dickens, Shakespeare,
Chaucer.

Presently, as he lay listening, he fell asleep in her arms.



In the morning he had a temperature of 103.  He didn't know it; all
he felt was a warm, almost cosy ache of all his limbs, as well as a
trance-like vagueness of mind.  She didn't know it either, but his
flushed face and incoherent speech made her telephone for a doctor.
A majority of the other occupants of the Owl on that first morning
of Peace were also flushed and incoherent, though from a different
cause.  The Biffer himself, sprawling, dishevelled, and half
undressed, snored loudly on a sofa in the little room behind the
private bar; Frank, the bar-tender, boastful of never having
touched a drop, languished in sober but melancholy stupor on the
bench in the public bar, watching the maids sweep sawdust and
broken glasses into heaps.  Other persons, including a second bar-
tender, a waiter, and several dilatory patrons who had either
declined or been unable to go home, were not only fast asleep in
various rooms and corridors, but likely to remain so till many more
hours were past.  It had been a night in the history of the Owl, as
of the world.

The only doctor who heeded the call proved, on arrival, to be
extremely bad-tempered.  As she met him in the lobby he took a
sharp look round, eyeing distastefully the prostrate figures
visible through doorways.  "Daresay you know how busy I am--three
Bockley doctors down with the flu--I'm trying to do the work of
five men myself, so I hope you haven't brought me here for nothing.
I know Briggs--known him for years--he drinks too much and I've
told him he'll die of it--what more can I do?  A man has a right to
die as well as live the way he chooses--anyhow, a doctor can't stop
him."  By this time she had led him upstairs and into the bedroom.
He walked across to the bed, took one look, and swung round
angrily.  "What's the idea?  Who is he?"

"He's been a soldier.  He's ill."

"But I thought it was Briggs. . . .  You had no right to drag me
out here--who ARE you?"

"A friend of the Biffer--like yourself."

"Well, I've no time for new cases."

"But he's ILL.  Can't you see that?"

"How much did he drink?"

"Nothing.  It isn't that."

"How do you know?"

"I was with him."

"You're his wife?"

"No."

"Well, what IS he to you?  And what's he doing here?  You call me
away from my regular patients--you tell me it's urgent--I hurry
here because Briggs is an old friend--"  But by this time he had
drawn back the blankets.  "Why, God bless my soul, the man's in his
uniform. . . ."

"I told you--he's been a soldier."

"He's still a soldier--he belongs to a hospital."

"Aren't you going to help him at all?"

"Can't interfere in a military case--all I can do is notify the
authorities.  What's the fellow's name? . . .  Ah, here it is--"

"But he's TERRIBLY ill."

"He'll be sent for."

"But you can't leave him like this!"

"You don't need to instruct me in my duty."

Smith half heard all this as he lay on the bed, his mind tremulous
with fever and his body drenched in perspiration; he heard the door
close and then saw her face coming towards him out of a mist.

"I bungled that, Smithy.  I'm afraid the old boy's gone back to
tell 'em you're here."

He smiled.  He didn't care.  She seemed to read that in his face.
She went on:  "Yes, you think it doesn't matter, you'd just as soon
go back--but WOULD you, when you once got there?  You don't really
WANT to be in a hospital again. . . .  Or DO you?"

He smiled again, more faintly.  He was too ill to speak.

"Well, if you die, it'll be pretty hard to explain you being here,
but if you weren't going to die I wouldn't be so pleased at having
let you go.  So you'd just better stay here and not die, Smithy."

He kept smiling as if the whole thing increasingly amused him.

Thus it happened that when, towards twilight, the doctor revisited
the Owl, striding into the lobby in an even greater hurry and
temper than before, she met him there with answers rehearsed and
ready.

"Well, young lady, I've made arrangements about that man.  The
Melbury Hospital will send an ambulance this evening."

"But he's gone!"

"WHAT?"

She repeated:  "He's gone."

The doctor flushed and seemed on the verge of an outburst, then
suddenly began to cough.  She thought he looked rather ill himself.
When he could regain breath he said more quietly:  "You'd better do
some explaining.  Where has he gone?  How did he get away?"

She offered him a chair.  "Maybe he wasn't so ill.  Perhaps he was
just drunk, as you said."

"Nonsense!  He's a shell-shock case, if you know what that is--has
delusions that people are against him.  Men like that can be
dangerous--might have a crazy fit or something."  He began to cough
again.  "Now come on, don't waste any more of my time.  Tell me
where he is."

She was facing him steadily when all at once his coughing became
worse; he struggled with it for a while and then gasped:  "Where's
Briggs?  Let me talk to HIM about this."

"He's out."

"Well, I'll call again later when I've finished my round."  He
seemed to have a renewal of both energy and anger as he stalked out
of the room, for he shouted from the doorway:  "It's all a pack of
lies you've been telling--I know that much!"

But he did not call back later when he had finished his round.  In
fact he never did finish his round.  He collapsed over the wheel of
his car half an hour later, summoning just enough final strength to
pull up by the roadside.  It was a lonely road and they did not
find him till he was dead.  The flu of 1918 was like that.

Later in the evening a military ambulance drove up to the Owl and
drove away again after a few minutes.  The Biffer was emphatic in
his assurance that there must have been some mistake--nobody on his
premises was ill.  But he called the driver and the two attendants
into the private bar and hospitably stood them drinks.

The flu had other victims: Biffer Briggs himself, Frank the bar-
tender, Annie the maid; they recovered.  But an old man named Tom
who for decades had odd-jobbed in the Owl garden died quietly, like
ten millions more throughout Europe; indeed the war during all its
years had not taken so many.  But because the larger claims were
made without horror they were surrendered without concern, and the
Owl was far less perturbed when three-fourths of its occupants were
ill and near to death than on a night some months before when a
German air raider had dropped a solitary bomb in a meadow miles
away.

Meanwhile Lloyd George was organizing his khaki election; the world
grew loud with promises; the ex-Kaiser was to be hanged; the losers
must pay the whole cost of the war; the armies of the victors were
all to come home and find work waiting for them; the new world was
to be one of peace and plenty for Englishmen.  Among all the
promises a few things were real and immediate: a vote for the
women, and gratuities to the men as they put off their uniforms--
sums in cash that ranged from the field-marshal's fortune to the
private soldier's pittance.  The morning these were announced Paula
took the newspaper upstairs along with the breakfast tray, but said
nothing till she was holding a thermometer to the light.  "Well,
Smithy, you're down to nearly normal, so I reckon I can tell you
the other good news--the government owes you some money."  She read
him the details and added: "So stop worrying--you'll be able to pay
for everything soon."

"But in the meantime?"

"NOW what's bothering you?"

"I hate to seem inquisitive, but--I mean--you--you probably aren't
so well off as--as to be able to afford--to help me--"

"Darling, I'm not well off at all, but helping you isn't bankrupting
me, either.  And why should you hate to seem inquisitive?"

She sat on the bed waving the thermometer happily.  "I'm afraid
you're too much of a gentleman, old boy.  After all, you don't know
WHAT you are, do you?  Maybe you're a lord or an earl or something.
Can't you remember going to Eton?  You talked a good bit lately
while you were in a delirium, but it was all war stuff--not very
helpful.  You've been pretty bad, incidentally--know that?  This
morning's the first time you've dropped below a hundred."  She
poured out a cup of tea.  "All the others caught it too--good job
_I_ didn't."

"You've been living here?"

"Living and life-saving.  The flu closed the theatre so I'd have
had nothing else to do, anyway."

"I still don't see how you can afford to help me like this."

"Darling, I'll let you into a secret--I'm not paying for your room,
but if it makes you feel better, you can turn over anything you
like as soon as the government gives you the money."

"That's another trouble.  I can't be demobilized till I'm officially
discharged from hospital."

"Well, hurry up and get better, then they'll discharge you quick
enough."

"But--in the meantime--don't you see?--I can't HIDE--like this--in
somebody else's house!"

"But you don't have to hide.  I've talked to the Biffer about you
already."

"You mean he knows I'm here--and where I come from?"

"Yes, and he doesn't mind.  Doesn't give a damn, in fact.  I knew I
could fix it."

"But--why does he think you're doing all this for me?"

"Well, why do YOU think I am?"  She laughed.  "It's just a hobby of
mine.  Now listen to this--it's the Biffer's idea, not mine.  He
says for the time being--when you've got over this flu and are
strong enough--why don't you do a bit in the garden same as old Tom
used to?  If you LIKE, that is.  Might be good for you to have a
quiet job in the fresh air--you wouldn't have to talk to people
much.  And it's lovely here when the summer comes."

Something flicked against his memory.  "You said that once before."

"Did I?"

"The night we came here--as we walked through the garden in the
fog.  You said--'It's lovely here when the summer comes.'"

"Well, it certainly is, but I don't remember saying it.  And you're
the one who's supposed to forget things!"

"That's why I'm always trying to remember them--things that have
happened before."

The Biffer's not minding was a mild way of expressing his
willingness to co-operate.  He was, in truth, delighted to join in
any outwitting of authority, which he visualized as the same malign
power that had placed so many restrictions on his wartime
management of the Owl.  Jovial, obese, and somewhat thick-witted
after the hundreds of collisions his skull had withstood in years
gone by, he remained the product of an early education that had
taught him to read printed words with difficulty and to believe
them with ease; so that he did indeed believe the things he could
read with least difficulty--which included the sporting pages of
the daily papers, Old Moore's predictions, and "powerful articles"
by the more down-writing journalists of the day.  He had a few
fierce hatreds (for such things as red tape, government
interference, and Mrs. Grundy) and a few equally fierce affections,
such as for Horatio Bottomley, "good old Teddy" (meaning the late
King Edward the Seventh), and Oxford in the Boat Race.  He took
pride in the oft-repeated claim that "there ain't a more
gentlemanly House than the Owl in all London," and that it should
shelter a victim of the things he most hated added zest to a
naturally generous impulse.  "Pack of Burercratic busybodies," he
exclaimed, during his first meeting with the victim.  "Just let 'em
come 'ere, that's all.  I've still got strength to give 'em what I
gave the Gunner!"  What he had given the Gunner (at Shoreditch on
May 17, 1902) was a straight left in the fourteenth round--this
being the peak of his career, and one which, in money and fame, he
had never afterwards approached.  But he had bought the Owl with
the money, and the fame, carefully husbanded too, had survived
pretty well within a ten-mile radius of his own brass-bound beer
engines.

So Smith began to work in the garden of the Owl; and in the
meantime President Wilson crossed the Atlantic to be cheered as a
new Messiah in the streets of London, Rome, and Paris; English,
French, and American troops held the Rhine bridgeheads; the first
trains crept again through the defiles of the Brenner; and in the
great cities of central and eastern Europe revolution and famine
stalked together.

It was the Biffer's second-favourite boast that from the garden of
the Owl you could see "the Palace" on a clear day--the Alexandra
Palace, that was, seven miles west across the Lea Valley; in the
other direction the trees of Epping Forest made a darkly etched
panorama that grew brown, and then suddenly green, as spring
advanced.  There was only preparatory gardening to be done until
that time, but then the grass grew long in a single week and a line
of daffodils flowered in every window-box.  Hardly anyone visited
the garden during the daytime, and by evening, when a few already
preferred to take their drinks out of doors, Smith was in bed and
asleep, except on Sundays, when Paula would generally pay a visit
if her show were playing in or near London.

Of course he knew she didn't come to see him only, but chiefly the
Biffer and the crowd in the bar, who all seemed to be her friends
and greeted her with vociferous cordiality; naturally she spent a
good deal of the time with them, and it wasn't easy to get away for
a solitary chat with a semi-invalid.  She managed it, though, as a
rule, meeting him in the garden and walking with him along the
Forest paths as far as the big beech trees.  He enjoyed such walks,
because it was dark and he still shrank from meeting people; but he
also shrank from the thought that he might be dragging her away
from much livelier company in the bar.  He tried to tell her this.

"Don't you worry, Smithy.  I won't let you bore me."

"But you have such a good time with the crowd."

"I know--that's because I like people.  Can't help it.  But don't
think so little of yourself--you're included.  Gives me plenty of
fun to see you getting better like this, week by week."

"Yes, I think I AM getting better."

"You only THINK you are?"

"I still don't like to talk to people, though."  He tried to
explain.  "It isn't so much fear of them as a sort of uneasiness--
as if I really oughtn't to be alive, and everybody knows it and
wonders why I still am.  I know that's foolish, but it isn't enough
to know--I've got to FEEL, before I can free myself."

"You will, Smithy.  You'll suddenly feel you're free as air one of
these days."

"If I do, I'll have you to thank--chiefly.  You've given me so much
of your time."

"Oh God, don't start being grateful.  Listen, I'll tell you
something.  If you oughtn't to be here, neither should I, and I
wouldn't be, but for luck.  A house I was living in was hit by a
bomb--I was asleep in one room and two people were killed in the
next.  I wasn't going to tell you that--thought it might upset you
to be reminded of the war, but now maybe it'll cheer you up to
think we're both like that.  They did their best to finish us off,
Smithy, but we managed to trick 'em somehow or other.  That's the
way to feel, and it's easier now the war's over and there's a
future."

"I'd like to feel that, if I could."

"You will.  You'll go on getting better, and then one night I'll
see you in the front row of the stalls, watching the show."

"Yes, I'd like to see you act."

"Oh, don't come for that reason.  I don't act--I'm just a comic."

"I WILL come, when I'm better."

"That's a promise, now!"

There wasn't only the question of his reluctance to meet strangers.
Any prospective employer, no matter how sympathetic, would ask for
details of his history, his army discharge papers and so on, and if
it came out that he'd escaped from a mental hospital, the
authorities would certainly send him back there, at least for tests
and observation, and if he WERE sent back, even for a short time,
he felt terribly certain he would get worse again.  There was
nothing for it but to stay where he was and be thankful for such a
sanctuary; it was really an astounding piece of good fortune ever
to have found it.  So he stayed, pottering about the Owl garden and
gradually returning to the world of ordinary awareness.  There came
a day when he could open a newspaper and face whatever catastrophe
the turn of a page might reveal; another day when he could pick up
an exciting novel without perilously identifying himself with one
or other of the characters.  He was recovering.

Sometimes while he was busy in the garden the landlord, puffing and
sweating in his shirt-sleeves, would bring out a couple of pints of
beer.  He took a naïve, childlike interest in his protégé.  "Easy
does it, mate--don't work your head off.  Seen the paper?  They
'aven't 'anged the old Kaiser yet, but it looks like they'll do for
this chap Landru--supposed to have murdered twenty women--what
d'you think of that?"

Smith didn't have to answer much, because the Biffer was always
glad to talk, especially about his favourite diversion, which was a
word competition in a well-known weekly paper.  He usually sent in
several entries; they consisted of some supposedly apt comment on a
selected phrase.  The prize-winning comment generally had wit, or
at least a double meaning; but the Biffer could never grasp that,
and his hard-wrought efforts were invariably trite, and just as
invariably failed to score.  But every night in the private bar he
would discuss them with his regular customers, and in the daytime
he was glad enough to add the new gardener to his list of
consultants.  The latter, encouraged to take a rest from work and
study the weekly contest, soon developed an inkling of what might
stand a chance, and from time to time made suggestions that the
Biffer dutifully incorporated into his own efforts.  Suddenly one
of them won a prize of a hundred pounds, and never since his epic
fight with the Gunner had anything happened to give the Biffer a
greater feeling of elation.  His first response was to insist on an
equal split, paid over there and then in five-pound notes, for he
believed (more truly than he realized) that the gardener's
emendation might have helped.  But that was not all.  In the
Owl bar that same evening, under stress of many drinks and
congratulations, he could not withhold credit as well as cash from
his collaborator.  "Quiet well-spoken sort of chap--stammers a bit--
been shell-shocked in the war.  Matter of fact, they 'ad 'im
locked up in that big guv'ment hospital at Melbury till the poor
chap got away.  I reckon that's a fine joke on them guv'ment
busybodies--a feller they make out is off 'is chump goes and thinks
up something that wins a hundred quid!"  And the more the Biffer
contemplated this extremely ironic circumstance, the more he
repeated and elaborated it over a period of several hours and
before changing audiences.

A few evenings later Smith was tidying up in the greenhouse; but it
was a Sunday and there had not been much to do.  It was hardly time
for Paula to come yet, even if she did come; he knew she was at
Selchester that week--perhaps it was too far away.  The uncertainty
as to whether she would come or not made a curious little fret
inside him; it didn't matter so much if she wasn't coming provided
he hadn't looked forward to it in advance.  That brought him to a
realization of how much he did look forward to her visits.  Of
course, now that he was getting better he didn't expect to see her
so much; she had been kind while he was ill, he mustn't trade on
that.  And another thing was curious--his memory of the night she
had brought him to the Owl, every word she had said, little
intimacies of physical presence, details that swung like lamps
amidst the background of fever and delirium.  He could hardly
believe that certain things had happened at all, that she had so
comforted him throughout that long night of Armistice.  There had
been no other nights like that, there never would be, neither in
his life nor in the world's.  He could not expect it; and it was
natural that their relationship, begun in such a wild vacuum of
despair and ecstasy, should by now have become a more normal one.

Suddenly the greenhouse door opened and she stood there in the
sunlight, breathless.  "Oh, Smithy, you've got to go--immediately!
Drop those things and don't stay here a moment longer.  I'll pack
your bag--I'll find where everything is--meet me in the Forest by
the beech trees in half an hour!  But go NOW--don't waste any time--"

"But what's the matter?  What on earth's happened?"

"Two men from Melbury Hospital talking to Biffer in the bar.
They've come for you."

"For ME?"  He stared at her, bewildered at first, then enraged and
indignant.  "They want to take me BACK?  They STILL want to get
me?"

She ran to him, holding him, trying to stop his cries.  "Don't
shout--and don't argue--just go as I tell you!"  She pulled him out
of the greenhouse and across the garden to the side gate.  "Wait
for me--you know where--I shan't be long."

They met again, under the trees.  He was calmer; he had waited,
smoking cigarettes and thinking things out.  The day had been hot
and pockets of warm air lingered amidst the fast-cooling shades.
The Forest was very beautiful, and something in him was beginning
to respond to beauty, as to anger and indignation also.  He sprang
to eagerness as he saw her approach, carrying bags and parcels.
They stood still for a moment, while she regained her breath.
"It's all right--nobody saw you--we're safe so far.  The men have
gone--the Biffer got mad and said he'd give 'em what he gave the
Gunner."  She laughed.  "But of course that wouldn't help--they've
got the law on their side--the law and the doctors. . . .  I didn't
say much to Biffer.  He means well, but as soon as he's had a few
drinks he tells all he knows, which isn't much as a rule, but it's
too much just now.  So he'd better not know about us till he finds
out."

"US?"

"Well, of course.  We're going together, aren't we?"

"But how can--I mean--"

"Are you being the little gentleman again?"

"It's not that, but isn't it time--"

"Listen, Smithy, I'm only trying to help you--"

"I know that, but it's time I began helping myself."

"What a moment to think of it!"

"It isn't that I'm not grateful, but--"

"I know, you feel independent.  Well, go on your own then, but
where will it take you?  You haven't an idea.  One place is as good
as another, what's wrong with Selchester then?  I'm there for the
week and after I've gone you can do as you like. . . .  You've got
those ten fivers in your pocket, haven't you?"

"Yes."

"Then hand over half to me."

He did so, willingly and seriously; she took them with a laugh.
"Thanks, Smithy--you'll feel better now."



They reached Selchester late at night, after a confused journey by
various trains and buses; but all the way he had been aware of a
barrier rising between them, so that at Selchester Station she
summoned a cab and did not suggest that he accompany her.  "You'll
be all right, Smithy--the town's full of pubs and lodgings--I
reckon you'd rather choose one yourself.  I lodge with the company,
of course.  Well, good night--you're safe here if you look after
yourself, and you will, won't you?"  She leaned up and gave him a
sudden kiss--the first she had ever given him, but he knew it meant
less than her hand touch the first time they had met.  "Good night,
old boy," she repeated.

"Good night, Paula."

When her cab turned the corner and he was left alone with the crowd
of strangers in the station yard, he felt suddenly, hopelessly
lost.  It was a sensation of sheer panic for the moment, but he
conquered it--as if he had seen a loathed insect and shudderingly
ground it with his heel.  He walked into a near-by hotel and
engaged a cheap room under the name of Smith.  They gave him a very
small attic with dormer windows and a view over the railway goods
yard; throughout the night he kept waking up with a start whenever
express trains screamed by, but somehow he did not mind that kind
of panic; it was the inner kind that paralysed him--or rather,
could not quite paralyse him any more, since he had fought it,
alone and so terribly, after she had gone.  How comforting, as well
as fearful, that word ALONE was; he wanted aloneness, because it
was the hardest training ground for the kind of strength he also
wanted; and yet, once he had that strength, he knew he would not
wish to be alone.  And he knew, too, that his feeling for Paula was
no longer an eagerness to submit, like a child; but something
positive, strong enough to demand equality, if there were ever to
be any further relationship between them at all.  He knew there
probably could not be.  That warm outpouring pity had saved his
life, but he could only keep his life from now on by refusing it.
Lying awake that night in the Station Hotel, he made up his mind
that he would not try to see her in Selchester that week; she would
be busy, no doubt, with rehearsals and performances; and he, too,
ought to be busy--looking for a job if the town offered any, and if
not, deciding where else to go.

For five days he walked about Selchester alone.  He visited the
Cathedral, sat for hours in the Close under the trees, spent an
afternoon in a very dull municipal museum, watched the trains in
and out of the railway station, read the papers in the free
library.  None of these pursuits involved conversation, and--except
to waitresses and the maid at the hotel--he did not utter a word
for anyone to hear.  Sometimes, however, during walks in the
surrounding country, he talked to himself a little--not from
eccentricity, but to reassure himself of the power of speech.
There were a few factories also that he scouted around, wondering
if he should ask for a job, but sooner or later he always found a
door with a notice "No Hands Wanted."  He knew that subconsciously
he was glad, because he still feared the ordeal of cross-
examination by strangers.

One rainy afternoon he sat in the refreshment room at the railway
station, drinking a third cup of tea that he did not want and
staring at an old magazine that he was not reading.  Curious how
one had to simulate some normal activity or purpose in life, even
if one hadn't one, or especially if one had a secret one; in a town
café he could not have stayed so long without attracting attention,
but at the station it was merely supposed he was waiting for a
train.  Trains were things people waited hours for; one did not,
unless one were peculiar, wait hours for a desire to clarify
itself.  But that was what HE was waiting for.  It was Saturday; he
had been in Selchester almost a week.  He had a definite desire to
go to the theatre and see the show, but he could not decide until
he felt certain what his desire signified.  If it were weakness, an
urge to go back on his pledge to himself, he would not give way; he
could endure plenty more of the aloneness, it would not break him.
But, on the other hand, supposing it were not weakness but strength--
supposing it meant that he could now walk into a theatre as
normally as into a library or museum, could face the crowd and the
lights and the excitement without a qualm?

He had walked past the theatre several times and had judged the
kind of show it was from bills and photographs; nothing very
uplifting, but probably good entertainment, and it would be
interesting to see what she was capable of.  Thus, he made his
desire seem casual, normal, almost unimportant, until suddenly he
decided he was strong and not weak enough to go.  He got up and
walked briskly to the counter to pay for the tea.  "Gettin' tired
of waitin'?" remarked the girl, with mild interest.  "The Winton
train's late today."

"Yes," he said, smiling.  "I think I'll get a breath of fresh air."

He left the station and walked through the rain to the centre of
the city, feeling more and more confident.

It was an odd thing, this loss of memory; he could not remember
personal things about himself, yet he had a background of
experience that gave him a certain maturity of judgment.  He had
probably been to many theatres before, just as he had probably been
to schools and received a decent education.  There were things he
knew that he could only have picked up from school books, other
things that he could only have learned from some forgotten event.
It was as if his memory existed, but was submerged; as if he could
lower a net and drag something up, but only blindfold, haphazardly,
without the power of selection.  He could not stare into the past;
he could only grope.  But by some kind of queer compensation, his
eyes for the present were preternaturally bright; like a child's
eyes, naïve, ingenuous, questioning.

In such a mood he sat in the third row at the first house of the
Selchester Hippodrome that night and looked upon a show called
Salute the Flag, described on the programme as "a stirring heart-
gripping drama, pulsating with patriotism and lit by flashes of
sparkling comedy."  Actually it was a hangover from wartime, having
begun in 1914 as a straight melodrama with no comedy at all, but
with many rousing speeches that audiences in those days had liked
to cheer.  Then, as the war progressed and the popular mood changed
from that of Rupert Brooke to that of Horatio Bottomley, the
patriotic harangues were shortened to make room for the writing in
of a comic part, which speedily became such a success that by 1918
the show had developed into a series of clowning episodes behind
which the dramatic structure of what had once been a very bad play
appeared only intermittently.  Nobody knew the authorship of the
original, or of any of the later accretions; successive actors had
added a gag here and a gag there; every now and then the show
became too long, and the parts left out were naturally those that
elicited neither laughs nor cheers, no matter how essential they
were to the original plot.  But nobody minded that--least of all
the audiences who paid their ninepences and shillings in the few
remaining small-town English theatres that had so far escaped
conversion into cinema houses.  Salute the Flag had certainly
helped to preserve the very existence of such a minority; it had
also made a great deal of money for a great many people.  Probably,
in the aggregate, it had been more profitable than many a better-
known and well-advertised West End success.

Smith found it endurable, even before the moment when Paula
appeared.  Her part in the play was trivial, that of an impudent
girl at a hotel desk who got people's bedrooms mixed up, but in one
of the other scenes she stepped out of the part for a few
impersonations in front of the drop-curtain; he thought them pretty
good, not from any definite competence to judge, but because of the
warm vitality that came over the footlights with them, her own rich
personality, full of giving--even to a twice-nightly audience.
Evidently the audience too were aware of this, for they cheered
uproariously, despite the likelihood that few had seen the
originals, which included Gerald du Maurier, Gladys Cooper, Mrs.
Pat Campbell, and the ex-Kaiser.  They cheered so much that she
came on again to give an impression of a society woman telephoning
her lover, all smiles and simperings, in the midst of grumbling at
her maid, all scowls and snarls--a bit of broad unsubtle farce that
demanded, however, a sure technique of changed accents and facial
expressions.  She did not appear again till the final scene in the
last act, when the heroine, a nurse, unfolded a huge and rather
dirty flag in front of her, and with the words "You kennot fahr on
helpless womankind" defied the villain, who wore the uniform of a
German army officer, until such time as the entire rest of the
company rushed on to the stage to hustle him off under arrest and
to bring down the curtain with the singing of a patriotic chorus.
Smith was half-way down the aisle on his way out of the theatre
when an usher touched him on the arm.  "Excuse me, sir, one of the
artists would like you to go behind, if you'd care to.  She says
you'd know who it was."

He hesitated a moment, then answered:  "Why, of course."

"This way, sir."

He was led back towards the stage, stooping under the brass rail
into the orchestra, stepping warily amidst music-stands and
instruments, then stooping again to descend a narrow staircase
leading under the stage into an arena of ropes and canvas.  The
usher piloted him beyond all this into a corridor lined by doors;
on one of them he tapped.  "The gentleman's here, miss."  A
moment's pause.  "I expect she's dressing, sir--you'll excuse me,
I've got to get back."

Again, after the usher had left him, he felt the beginnings of
panic, but it was different now--an excitement that he fought only
as much as he wanted to fight it.  And the door opened before he
could either yield or conquer to any extent.

"Oh, Smithy--Smithy--you kept your promise!"

She dragged him into the room with both hands and closed the door.
It was a shabby little dressing-room, with one fierce light over a
mirrored table littered with paints and cosmetics; playbills and an
old calendar on the wall; clothes thrown across a chair; a mixture
of smells--grease-paint, burnt hair, cigarettes, cheap perfume,
lysol.  She wore a dressing-gown over the skimpy costume in which
she was soon to appear again.

"I didn't see you till the end--glad I didn't--I'd have been so
excited I'd have ruined the show."

He said, smiling:  "I enjoyed it very much--especially your part."

"Oh no, Smithy, you don't have to say things like that. . . .  Tell
me how you are!  Better, I can see--or you wouldn't be here.  But
what have you been doing with yourself all week?"

"Oh, just looking around.  Have to find some sort of a job, you
know."

"Any luck?"

"Not so far.  I somehow don't feel Selchester's a very good place
to try."

"We're going on to Rochby next week.  More chance in a place like
that, maybe."

"I daresay I'll get something somewhere."

"And you FEEL better?"

"Oh yes--fine."

The call-boy shouted through the door, "Five minutes, miss."

"That means I've only got five minutes."  She paused, then laughed.
"I do say intelligent things, don't I?"

He laughed also.  "They keep you pretty busy--two shows a night."

"Yes, but this is Saturday, thank heaven.  You'd be surprised what
a rest Sunday is, even if you spend most of it in trains."

"You leave in the morning?"

"Ten o'clock."

"But it isn't far."

"About three hours.  We have a long wait at Bletchley.  Somehow
that always happens.  I seem to have spent days of my life waiting
at Bletchley."

"I don't think I know Bletchley."

"Well, you haven't missed much.  There's nothing outside the
station except a pub that never seems to be open.  Oh God, what are
we talking about Bletchley for? . . .  I've got some money of
yours, you know that?  Or did you forget?"

"No, but--"

"Well, I'd better give it back since I'm off in the morning."  She
began to fumble in her dress.  "I carry it about with me--doesn't
do to leave fivers lying loose."

"Oh, but you mustn't--"

"Well, you don't think I'm going to KEEP it, do you?"

"I--I--never thought about it, but--"

"DID you think I was going to keep it?"

"Well--I don't know--it would have been quite fair--after all,
you'd done so much--"

"Listen, you little gentleman--I kept it because I thought I'd have
to help you again, and I thought you'd feel better if I was
spending your own money!  But now you ARE better, thank God, and
you don't need my help, so here you are!"  She pushed the notes
into his pocket.  "I've got to go on again in two minutes, so don't
make me angry!  You'll need that cash if you're looking for a
job. . . .  What sort are you looking for?"

"Any kind, really--"

"Outdoor or indoor?"

"I'm not particular about that, provided--well, you know some of
the difficulties--"

"You're scared they'll ask you too many questions?  What you'd
really like is for someone to stop you in the street and say--'I
don't know who you are, or what you've been, and I don't care
either, but if you want a job, come with me.'  Isn't that the
idea?"

He laughed.  "Yes, that's exactly the idea, if anyone would."

"You wouldn't mind what the job turned out to be, though?"

"I think I could do anything that I'd have even the faintest chance
of getting."

"Figures?  Keeping books?"

"Oh yes."

"A bit of talk now and again--even to strangers--in that charming
way you have?"

"I wouldn't CHOOSE that sort of job, but of course--"

"You mean you're still bothered about meeting people?"

He hesitated.  She went on:  "Well, leave that out.  What about a
bit of carpentry mixed up with the bookkeeping?"

"Why carpentry?"

"Why not? . . .  Back at the intelligent conversation, aren't we?"
The call-boy knocked again.  "Well . . . I suppose it's got to be
good-bye till we meet again--unless you want to see the show
through twice--you'd be a fool if you did."

"Perhaps I could meet you somewhere afterwards?"

"We always have supper together on Saturday nights--all the
company, I mean--it's a sort of regular custom, wherever we are.
Of course I could take you as my guest, but there'd be a crowd of
strangers."  Abruptly her manner changed.  "Smithy, would you
really come?"

"Do you WANT me to come?"

"_I_ wouldn't mind a bit, it's what YOU want that matters.  You're
free as air now--that's how you always hoped to be.  And they can
be a rowdy gang sometimes.  So please yourself, I'm not inviting
you anywhere any more . . . but if you ARE coming, say so now, then
I can tell them."

He felt suddenly bold, challenging, almost truculent.  "I'll come,
and I don't care how rowdy they are."

She flashed him a smile as she slipped off the dressing-gown and
put final touches to her make-up.  "Number 19, Enderby Road--that's
near the cattle market--about eleven-thirty.  You don't need to
hang around here for me--just go straight to the house at the time.
I'll come sharp--ahead of the others.  See you then."

The rain had stopped; he took a long walk in the washed evening
air, then sat on a seat in the Cathedral Close and smoked
cigarettes till the chime of eleven.  He could not quell his
nervousness at the thought of meeting so many strange people for
the sort of evening party that was a weekly custom of theirs--that
in itself made him an outsider.  He half wished he hadn't said he
would go, and it occurred to him that of course he didn't have to--
if he failed to turn up, that would be the end of it.  But the
reflection, though tantalizing up to a point, had the stinging
afterthought that he would then not see her again.

Enderby Road was a quiet cul-de-sac of Edwardian houses, most of
them let to boarders; Number 19 looked no different from the
others, but had a gas lamp outside the front gate.  He waited
there, watching for her after the Cathedral clock chimed the half-
hour; it was comforting to reflect that nobody knew him yet--he was
just an anonymous man standing under a lamp-post.  Presently she
turned the corner, her walk breaking into a scamper as she saw him.
"On time, Smithy--I mean YOU are, I'M not.  But I hurried to be
ahead of the others--I didn't even stop to clean off the make-up."

She led him into the house.  "Wait in the hall while I go up and
finish."

He waited about ten minutes; the hall was dark and smelt of floor
polish with an added flavour--which he took practically the entire
time to detect--of pickled walnuts.  Near him stood a bamboo hall-
stand overloaded with hats and coats; the staircase disappeared
upwards into the gloom with thin strips of brass outlining the
ascent.  Voices came from a downstairs room.  He wondered what he
should say if anyone came out of one of the rooms and accosted him,
but when the thing happened it turned out to be no problem at all;
the voices stopped, a thin old man with a high domed forehead
suddenly emerged through one of the doors, collided with him,
murmured "Pardon," and disappeared along the passage.  After a
moment, he returned, collided again, murmured "Pardon" again, and
re-entered the room.  Then the voices were resumed.

Soon after that she came down the stairs two at a time, to whisper
excitedly:  "Now I'm ready."

They entered the room, in which--despite the voices--there was only
one person, the thin old dome-headed man; he was sitting at the
dining-table with a large book open before him, propped against the
cruet.  The domed head rose over the book as from behind a rampart.

"Mr. Lanvin--this is Mr. Smith."

"A pleasure to meet you, my dear sir."  He smiled, but did not
offer to shake hands.  Then he closed the book slowly, and Smith
could see it was a Braille edition.  Somehow that gave him peculiar
confidence; Lanvin could not SEE him, could only judge him by his
voice; so for the time being he had only one thing to concentrate
on.

Lanvin was placing the book exactly in its place on a shelf; it was
clear he knew by touch and feeling every inch of the geography of
the room.  "So you are to join the weekly celebration, Mr. Smith?"

"That seems to be the idea.  I hope you don't mind."

"Mind?  I'm a guest like yourself, though I've been one before.  I
warn you--they're a noisy lot--though no noisier than I used to be
in my young days.  If they weary you later on, come over and talk
to me."

Smith said he certainly would, and Mr. Lanvin began to talk about
Shakespeare.  It seemed he had been reading The Merchant of Venice,
taking the various parts in various voices.  "I used to be quite a
good Shylock, though I say it myself--and of course it's a fine
acting part, and the trial scene has wonderful moments.  But taking
it all in all, you know, it's a bad play--a bad play.  Why do they
always choose it for school use?  The pound of flesh--gruesome.
The Jewish villain--disgustingly anti-Semitic.  And a woman lawyer--
stark feminism. . . .  Oh, a bad play, my dear sir.  You're not a
schoolmaster, by any chance?"

"I'm afraid not."

"Because if you were, I should like to . . . but never mind that.
Since my eyes compelled me to retire from the stage I've spent a
great deal of my time reading, and do you know, the Braille system
gives one a really new insight into literature.  You see, you can't
skip--you have to read every word, and that gives you time to think
for yourself, to criticize, to revalue--"

Meanwhile the door had reopened and a heavily built, red-faced,
pouchy-eyed man stood in the entrance, waiting till he was quite
sure he had been seen before stepping further into the room.
Eventually he did so, exclaiming:  "Paula, my angel, so THIS is the
friend you spoke of?"

She completed the introduction; the red-faced man's name was
Borley.  He lost no time in dominating the scene.  "Fine to have
you with us, old chap."  And then, dropping his voice to an almost
secret parenthesis and leaning over the table with the gesture of
one about to unveil something:  "I don't know if you've ever
noticed, but the food in English boarding-houses is always in
inverse proportion to the size of the cruet.  The larger the cruet,
that is, the worse the food.  Now this is a perfectly ENORMOUS
cruet."  He gave it a highly dramatic long-range scrutiny.  "You'd
think it ought to light up or play music or something--it's really
more like a municipal bandstand than a receptacle for Mrs.
Gregory's stale condiments."

Just late enough to miss these remarks the landlady entered with a
trayful of small meat pies.  Smith had to be introduced to her
also, and it was Mr. Borley who made haste to do this.  "Mrs.
Gregory, I was just remarking on the quality of your food, and I
perceive from yonder succulent morsels that all I have said will
soon be amply demonstrated!"  Whereupon Mr. Borley delivered a
portentous wink all round the room while Mrs. Gregory bounced the
tray on the table without much response.  She looked so completely
indifferent to the bogus compliment that Mr. Borley's joke was
somewhat dulled.  "Glad to serve you all," she muttered.  "I do my
best, as the saying goes--consequently is, I keep my reg'lars."

"You not only keep us, Mrs. Gregory, but WE keep YOU--and proud to
do it!"

She shuffled out of the room, leaving Mr. Borley to proffer the
dish of pies with an air of controlled distaste.  "Well, the risk's
yours, Smithy.  Don't mind if I call you Smithy, do you?  That's
what SHE calls you."

Rather to his surprise, after all this, Smith found the pies
excellent.  He said so to Mr. Borley, adding that he was even
hungry enough to have another.

"Right you are, then--and fortified by your example I'll even try
one myself."  Mr. Borley then began eating and hardly stopped
throughout the entire rest of the evening.  He added, with his
mouth full:  "But if you're a hungry man, God help you at Mrs.
Beagle's!"

Smith did not see how the food at Mrs. Beagle's, whoever and
wherever she was, could be any concern of his, but he had no time
to explore the point because another member of the party had just
arrived--a young man in tweeds, puffing at a pipe, almost like a
magazine advertisement of either the tweeds or the pipe; he had a
pink, over-handsome, rather weak face to which only premature
dissipation had begun to lend some interest.  Once again Mr. Borley
officiated at the introduction, and while he was still performing
two other persons entered, one a pale thin girl with a large nose
and spotty complexion, the other an elderly silver-haired man of
such profoundly sorrowful appearance that the beholder could not
keep back a first response of sympathy.  Mr. Borley had to summon
all his technical powers to hold attention against such
competition, but he did his best by shouting the further
introductions.

The silver-haired man smiled and bowed, while the girl marched on
Smith, delivered a crunching handshake, strode to the window,
stared out for a moment as if deeply meditating, then swung round
with husky intensity.  "Oh, Mr. Smith, hasn't it been a wonderful
day?  I'm SURE you're a rain-lover like me!"

Smith felt somewhat cheered by a feeling that in this encounter all
the others were standing round to see fair play, especially when
the tweedy youth nudged him in the ribs.  "Don't worry about her--
she's always like that.  Why Tommy married her nobody can imagine--
not even Tommy any more . . . can you, Tommy?"

Here a sharp-nosed, jockey-sized man with bloodshot blue eyes and
straw-coloured hair came across the room to be introduced, shook
hands wordlessly and continued to do so while he glanced around
with concentrated expressionlessness.  Presently, turning his eyes
on Smith, he whispered:  "What made you first take an interest in
slumming?"  He went on, before Smith could think of any reply:
"We're just a low vulgar crowd.  Rogues and vagabonds, they called
us in Shakespeare's time--am I right, Lanvin?  We have no homes, we
live in dingy lodging-houses in every middle-sized town in England,
we know which landlady counts the potatoes, which theatre's full of
fleas, and which has a roof that leaks on the stage when it rains.
None of your high-class West End stuff for us--we lure the coppers,
the orange peel, and the monkey-nuts, and we spend our one-day-a-
week holiday chewing stale sandwiches in Sunday trains."

Mrs. Gregory then came in with what was evidently the main dish--
quantities of fried fish, chip potatoes, and hot peas; meanwhile
Mr. Borley had been out and now reappeared carrying a crate of
bottled beer.  The party began to find places at the table while
the sorrowful-looking man, whose name was Margesson and whom one
would have expected to speak like an archbishop, boomed across the
table, quite unsorrowfully and with the zest and accent of an
auctioneer:  "Ladies and gentlemen, may I remind you that we shall
soon be at the mercy of Mrs. Beagle."  Here followed a chorus of
groans and catcalls.  "So I'm not going to keep you from the really
serious business of the evening, which is to eat the last decent
meal we shall have for a week.  Before we begin, though, and
speaking as the senior member of this company,--bar Lanvin, who's a
permanent resident,--may I offer you a welcome, Mr. Smith, and beg
you to take no further notice of that truncated nitwit Tommy
Belden, nor of that moon-faced stew-pan, Richard Borley, nor
of . . ."  He had an insult for each of them, culminating in the
arrival of a fat over-powdered woman with a large smile she bestowed
upon everyone from the doorway, whereupon Margesson turned on her
and exclaimed:  "Now, Miss Donovan, you old bag of bones, don't
stand there ogling the men--come and meet our guest, Mr. Smith,
commonly called Smithy--"

And so it went on.  Not till weeks later, when he had got to know
them as human beings, did he realize that they had behaved with
extra extravagance that evening in order to put him at his ease,
and that the insults were a convention in which they took
particular pride--the more horrific and ingenious, the warmer the
note of friendliness indicated.  A climax came when Margesson, at
the end of dinner, rose to make an appeal on behalf of an actor
whom they had formerly known and who had fallen on bad times.
Margesson's speech began:  "Ladies and gentlemen, if such there
still are among this depraved and drink-sodden gathering--some of
you, even in your cups, may remember Dickie Mason, one of the
dirtiest dogs who ever trod the boards of a provincial hippodrome--"

The party lasted till after three in the morning, and was only then
dissolved at the energetic request of Mrs. Gregory, who said the
neighbours were being disturbed.  Towards the end of it, Margesson
took Smith aside and said:  "Well?  Can you stand us?"

Smith answered with a laugh:  "I think so.  I'm having quite a good
time, anyhow."

"The train's at ten tomorrow morning."

"Yes, Paula told me."

"Some people sleep late, that's all."

That seemed another odd remark, but he didn't begin to grasp its
significance till later on when several people shook hands or
clapped him on the back with the remark:  "See you tomorrow,
Smithy."

Paula walked with him to the corner of the road.  He said: "I'm
really glad I came--they're a warm-hearted lot, and it's nice of
them to expect me to see them off in the morning."

"I'd better tell you what else they expect.  They think you're
coming with us--to Rochby and all the other places."

"But--"

"Now don't begin to argue.  Maybe I've bungled again--you've only
got to say so, and the whole idea's dropped.  But there's a job for
you if you want it.  In fact it's just about a hundred jobs rolled
into one--you'll find that out, if you take it on, and if you don't
like it or something better turns up, then you're free to go like a
shot."

He said quietly:  "What did you tell them about me?"

"Just part of the truth.  I said you'd been ill, that you were
better now, that you were a friend of mine, and that you wanted a
job. . . .  But all that didn't get it for you--don't worry."

"What did, then?"

She laughed in his face.  "I may as well go on telling the truth,
even if you hate me for it.  I think it was probably because they
could all see you were such a gentleman."



Afterwards he realized the meaning behind the remark.  The other
members of the company were NOT gentlemen, nor ladies either, in
the restricted sense of the word.  They could act the part,
successfully--even terrifically; no duke or baronet ever wore an
opera cloak or swung a gold-knobbed cane with such superb
nonchalance as Mr. Borley--indeed, it is extremely probable that
many a duke and baronet never possessed an opera cloak, or swung a
gold-knobbed cane at all.  And that, of course, was the point.  The
gentlemen in Salute the Flag lived up to the ninepenny-seat idea of
gentlemen; they were much realer than the real thing.  So also in
speech and accent nobody could approach Paula for aristocratic
hauteur: when, in her impersonation of a duchess, she exclaimed to
a footman, "Do my bidding, idiot!" the blue blood became almost as
translucent in her veins as in those of Mr. Borley when the latter
addressed the German officer--"You contemptible hound--you
unmitigated cur--you spawn of a degenerate autocracy!"

In private life, so far as members of a second-rate touring company
could enjoy any, they tended to keep up the manners and moods of
their professional parts, combining them with a loud geniality
expressed by a profusion of "old boys" and hearty back-slappings;
yet behind all that they well knew the difference between the real
and the too real, and how the same difference was apt to be
recognized by others.  Hence the usefulness of Smith.  He had a way
with him, despite--or perhaps BECAUSE of--his shyness, diffidence,
embarrassments, hesitations.  Where Mr. Borley's loud and
overconfident "Trust me till the end of the week, old chap" failed
to impress a country tradesman, Smith could enter a shop where he
wasn't known and ask for what he wanted to be sent to his hotel
without even mentioning payment.  And where even Mr. Margesson
could not, with all his sorrowful glances, persuade a small-town
editor to print as news a column of disguised and badly composed
puffery, Smith could rewrite the stuff and have the newspapers
eager for it.

No doubt it was for somewhat similar reasons that Nicholas Nickleby
became a success with the company of Vincent Crummles--except, of
course, that Nicholas graduated as an actor.  Smith did not aspire
to that, but he speedily became almost everything else--advance
press agent, scene-painter, bookkeeper, copy-writer, toucher-up of
scenes that were either too long or too short or not wholly
successful, general handy man, odd-jobber, negotiator, public
representative, and private adviser.  He was always busy, yet never
hurried; always pleasant, yet never effusive; always reserved, yet
never disdainful.  In short, a perfect gentleman.

There certainly could not have been devised a more likely cure for
all that remained of his mental and temperamental difficulties.
The constant meetings with strangers, the continual handling of new
problems and thinking out of extempore solutions, the travelling
from one town to another, the settlement in new lodgings--all
combined to break down the pathological part of his shyness; yet
shyness still remained, and with it there developed an almost
ascetic enjoyment of certain things--of rainy hours on railway
platforms with nothing to do but watch the manoeuvres of shunting
in a goods yard, of reading the numbers on houses in a strange town
late at night, knowing that one of them hid a passing and
unimportant destiny.  His work also brought him into contact with
average citizens of these many provincial towns--the barber, the
tobacconist, the stationmaster, the shopkeepers who were given a
couple of free seats in exchange for a playbill exhibited in their
windows, the parson who sometimes preached a sermon attacking the
show as indecent (good publicity if you could get it), sometimes
the parson who came himself with his wife and children, but most
often the parson who neither attacked nor patronized, but just
passed by in the street with a preoccupied air, recognizing the
smartly dressed strangers as "theatricals" and therefore in some
vaguely opposite but no longer warring camp.  One of these clerics,
with whom Smith got into conversation, commented that the Church
and the theatre were now potential allies, being both sufferers
from the same public indifference--"Your leaky roof and my leaky
roof are the price paid for the new cathedrals of Mammon."
Whereupon he pointed across the street to a new cinema advertising
a film which, so it turned out after further conversation, they had
both of them recently enjoyed.

Smith saw a good deal of Paula during these busy days and even
busier evenings, but somehow their relationship did not seem to
progress to anything warmer or more intimate.  Outwardly he became
just as friendly with a few of the others, especially with young
Ponderby, the tweedy youth, whom he grew to like.  Ponderby was not
much of an actor; his job depended entirely on the possessing of
astoundingly conventional good looks.  In Salute the Flag all he
had was a couple of lines; he rushed into the general's
headquarters with the cry, "The enemy are attacking!  Give the
order to advance!"--whereupon the general, who was a spy in
disguise, was supposed to look sinister while Ponderby backed
towards the door, delivering his second line as an exit:  "Or if
you don't, sir, then, by heaven, I will myself!"  This was designed
to bring a round of applause, and by careful attention to timing
and movement Ponderby usually got one.  Margesson, who managed the
company, was very strict about everyone getting his "round."  There
was a technique about such things: you stood in the doorway, hand
on the door-knob, staring hard and throwing your voice up to the
farthest corner of the gallery--if the "round" didn't come, or came
too sluggishly, you rattled the door-knob and repeated the final
line with greater emphasis.

One Saturday, in the town of Fulverton, Ponderby spent the morning
drinking in an attempt to destroy the effect of too much drinking
the night before; by mid-afternoon, when he and Smith happened to
be alone together in the lodging-house, it was clear that he could
perform in the evening only with extreme hazard, if at all.  He had
done this sort of thing several times before, so Smith neither
believed nor disbelieved a story of bad news from home; but he felt
some sympathy for the youth, especially as he knew this latest
offence would probably cost him his job.  Ponderby knew this too,
and as the hour approached for the first show he took quantities of
aspirin and pick-me-ups, all of which only added to his symptoms of
physical illness.  By six o'clock he was begging Smith to take over
his part, as the only way by which Margesson might be placated;
after all, provided the show wasn't interfered with, Margesson
might not care--the part was so small, and the clothes would fit
too.  Smith was reluctant to agree; he didn't feel he would be any
good as an actor, even in the least possible part; but then
Ponderby wasn't good either, so that argument didn't carry far.
And it was undoubtedly true that the part, though small, was
structurally important, so that a last-minute cut would be
extremely awkward; and Saturday, also, was the best night for
Fulverton audiences.  Everything forced him to an eventual consent,
subject to Margesson's approval; but he still did not like the
idea.

He went to the theatre earlier than usual and found Margesson in
the midst of some trouble with scene-shifters; when he said that
Ponderby was ill and he himself could take his part, Margesson
merely answered in a hurry:  "Had too much to drink again, I
suppose. . . .  All right then--mind you get your round."

He did not have any chance to tell Paula about it, but the news
that he was taking Ponderby's part caused little surprise; he was
such a handy man, and the part was only two lines--there seemed
nothing very remarkable about the arrangement.

He was a trifle nervous as he changed into the uniform of a British
second lieutenant, but not more so than he often was at times when
people would never guess it.  Quite a natural nervousness too; he
knew that many actors and public speakers were always like that, it
was really abnormal not to be.  Something in the look of himself in
the mirror struck a half-heard chord in his submerged memory; he
did not come on till the middle of the last act, so he had time to
smoke cigarettes and try to catch the chord again, but that was
stupid; the more he stared at himself in the mirror, the less he
could remember anything at all.  Then suddenly, with a frightening
stab of panic, he asked himself what Ponderby's lines were--he had
never thought of memorizing them, because he assumed he knew them
so well; he practically knew the whole show by heart, for that
matter--they all did.  But now, when he sought to speak them to
himself, what the devil were they?  He tried to visualize that part
of the play: the general at his desk, twirling his moustaches and
muttering "Hein" under his breath--that was to show he was a spy in
disguise; then Ponderby rushing in--"The enemy are attacking!  Give
the order to advance!"  Now why should a second lieutenant tell a
general what to do?  Never mind--that was part of the play.
Anyhow, Ponderby backed across the stage--not too quick, though--
give the general time to give some more twirls and look suspicious;
then on the exit--"Or if you don't, sir, then, by heaven, I will
myself!"  That was it; and wait for the round. . . .  He said it
all over again to himself:  "The enemy are attacking--give the
order to advance--or, if you don't, sir, then, by heaven, I will
myself!"  Twenty words--the smallest part in the show.  Saying them
over a third time, he heard the call-boy's "Ready, sir."

He went out into the wings, standing where he could see the general
at his desk.  The general (little Tommy made up with comic
moustaches) was rifling drawers with a terrific amount of noise
(exactly as a spy wouldn't do), glancing through piles of paper in
search of a stolen treaty--even if it were there, he was going
through them so fast that he couldn't possibly find it; but that
again had to be done or nobody would get the point--anything else
was what Margesson called "this damsilly West End pansy-stuff where
you come on the stage and light a cigarette with your back to the
audience and call it acting."  Smith stood there, waiting for the
cue, which was the word "Hein."  He felt a little queer; he was
going to do something he had never done before; it would be awful
if he did it badly, or didn't get his round; the only comfort was
that Ponderby did it pretty badly himself.

Suddenly he heard the general say "Hein."  It electrified him, like
a word spoken inside his own head; he felt his feet as items of
luggage that didn't belong to him as he marshalled them for the
forward rush.  His first impression was of a dazzling brilliance
and of the curious fact that there was no audience at all; then, as
he stared to verify this, faces swam out of the darkness towards
him: row upon row, stalls, boxes, circle, balcony, all were
returning his stare from tens of thousands of eyes--quizzically, he
thought at first, as if they were aware that this was the supreme
moment of all drama and were anxious to compare his performance
with previous ones by Irving, Coquelin, and Forbes-Robertson . . .
but then, with a flash of uneasiness, he saw malevolence too, as if
they hated him for not being Irving, even for not being Ponderby.
He knew he had to conquer this uneasiness or it would conquer him,
just as he knew he had to rush up to the general's desk and say
"The enemy are attacking--give the order to advance!"  He saw Tommy
eyeing him watchfully--that was part of the play, but Tommy's eye
held an extra watchfulness, as if he were hating him too--for not
being somebody else.

And then a very dreadful thing happened; he began to stammer.  It
was the old, the tragic stammer--the one that made his face twist
and twitch as if he were in a dentist's chair; he stood there,
facing the general, facing the audience, facing God, it almost
seemed, and all he could do was wrestle with the words until they
came, one after the other, each one fighting to the last.

The audience began to titter, and when he crossed the stage to
struggle with the rest of the words they were already yelling with
laughter.  "Or if y-y-you d-d-don't, sir, then, b-b-by G-g-god, I 
w-w-will m-m-myself!"  The laughter rose to a shriek as he still
stood there, waiting, trembling, with lips curving grotesquely and
hand fumbling at the door; and when he finally rattled at the knob
till it broke off and rolled across the stage into the footlights,
the whole house burst into hilarious shouting while the lads in the
gallery stamped their feet and whistled through two fingers for
over a minute.

He got his "round" all right.

He left the stage in a daze, somehow finding himself in the wings,
passing faces he knew without a word, yet noting for agonized
recollection later that some looked anxious, others puzzled, a few
were actually convulsed with laughter.  Alone at last in the
dressing-room he closed the door, locked it, and for several
minutes fought down an ancient resurrected hell of fear, mental
darkness, and humiliation.  Several knocks came at the door, but he
did not answer them.  Later, when the wave had passed over and he
knew he was not drowned but merely swimming exhausted in an angry
sea, he summoned enough energy to change his clothes.  By that time
the play had reached the final scene in which all the company would
later be on the stage--he waited for the cue, "You cannot fire on
helpless womankind," followed by the cheers and rough-and-tumble of
the rescue party.  Back-stage would be deserted now; he unlocked
his way into the corridor and escaped through the stage door into
an alley by the side of the fire staircase.  As he turned the
corner he could see a long queue already forming for the second
performance, which reminded him that Ponderby's part must be played
by someone else in that; Margesson would have to arrange it;
anyhow, that was a trifle to worry about, a mere pinhole of trouble
compared with the abyss of despair that he himself was facing.

Of course he must leave; they would not wish him to stay; he could
offer no explanation, because there was none that would not repeat
his humiliation a hundredfold.

Hurrying across Fulverton that night, across the brightly lit
Market Street full of shoppers, through the side roads where happy
people lived, it seemed to him that someone was always following,
footsteps that hastened under dark trees and dodged to avoid street-
lamps; an illusion, perhaps, but one that stirred the nag and throb
of countless remembered symptoms, till it was not so much the
ignominy of what had happened that weighed him down as the
awareness of how thinly the skin had grown across the scar, of how
near his mind still was to the chaos from which it had barely
emerged.  He hurried on--eager to pack his bag and be off, away
from Fulverton and the troubled self he hoped to leave by the same
act of movement; for surely place and self had some deep
association, so that he could not now think of Melbury without . . .
and then the renascent fear in his soul took shape; they were
STILL trying to get him back to Melbury--they had been trying all
the time, while he, falsely confident during those few weeks of
respite, had gone about with an increasing boldness until that very
night of self-betrayal.  And such stupid, unnecessary self-betrayal
before a thousand onlookers, among whom was one, perhaps, who did
not laugh, but rose from his seat and quietly left the theatre,
taking his stand on the pavement where he could watch every
exit. . . .  Suddenly Smith began to run.  They should not get him--
never again.  He stopped abruptly in the next patch of darkness, and
surely enough the footsteps that had been following at a scamper
then also stopped abruptly.  He ran on again, dodging traffic at a
corner and almost colliding with several passers-by.  It was man to
man, as yet--the enemy were attacking, give the order to advance!
He turned into the short cut that led directly to his lodgings--a
paved passage-way under a railway viaduct.  Then he saw there was a
rope stretched across the entrance and a man standing in front of
it.

"Sorry, sir--can't get by this way tonight."

"But--I--what's the idea?  Why not?"

"Can't be helped, sir--it's the law--one day a year we have to keep
it closed, otherwise the railway company loses title."

"But I must go--I'm in a hurry!"

"Now come on, sir, I'm only doing my duty--don't give me no
trouble--"

Suddenly he realized that there was more than one enemy; this man
was another; there were thousands of them, everywhere; they
probably had the district surrounded already. . . .

"Come along, sir, act peaceable--"

"PEACEABLE?  Then why are you carrying that gun?"

"GUN?  Why, you're off your chump--I've got no gun!  D'you mean
this pipe?"

But he wasn't taken in by that, any more than by the nonsense about
the railway company and its title; he jumped the rope, hurling the
fellow aside, and ran along the passage-way; in a couple of minutes
he had reached the lodging-house, whereas it would have taken ten
by the road.

He had hoped to have the place to himself, knowing that on Saturday
nights most landladies did their week-end shopping.  But he had
forgotten Ponderby, who shouted a slurred greeting from the sitting-
room as he passed by to climb the stairs.  "Hello, Smithy--get
along all right?  Knew you would--nothing to it--damn nice of you,
though, to help me out. . . ."

He heard Ponderby staggering into the lobby and beginning to follow
him upstairs, but the youth was very drunk and made long pauses at
each step, continuing to shout meanwhile:  "Was Margie wild?  I'll
bet he would have been but for you.  Why don't you come down and
have a drink with me--you deserve it. . . .  Friend indeed and a
friend in need--that's what you are--no, I'M the friend in need and
YOU'RE the . . . oh, well, never could understand the thing
properly.  What're you doing up there?  Not going to bed yet
surely?  What time is it?  Maybe I'D better go to bed, then they'll
all know I've been ill. . . .  What's that?  Can't hear what you
say. . . ."

Smith repeated:  "No, don't come up, I'm coming down."

"All right, Smithy--I'll go down too and get you a little drink.
Must have a little drink--you deserve it."

By this time Smith had packed; he was naturally a tidy person, and
having to do so regularly had made him expert and the job almost
automatic.  As he descended the stairs he felt calmer, readier to
do battle with the forces arrayed against him; and that made him
feel a little warm towards the weak healthy boy who never did
battle at all, but just drank and debauched himself in a bored,
zestless way.  He turned into the sitting-room, where Ponderby lay
sprawled again on the sofa, head buried in the cushions.

"Hello, old boy--was just mixing you a drink when this awful
headache came on again.  Don't mind me--sit down and give me all
the news."

Smith did not sit down, but he took the tumbler, which was almost
half full of neat whiskey, poured most of it back into the bottle,
and sipped the remainder.  He did not usually drink, but he hoped
now it might help to steady his nerves, might give him greater
calmness for the journey, wherever that was to be.

"Tell me all the news, Smithy.  Don't mind me--I've got an awful
head, but I'm listening."

Smith said there was no particular news to tell.

"Oh, I don't mean the theatre--damn the theatre--I mean NEWS.
Heard the paper-boy in the street an hour ago--shouting something--
went out and bought one--there it is--couldn't read it, though--my
eyes gave out on me.  What's been happening in the world?"

Smith stooped to pick up the paper with momentary excitement; was
it possible that already . . . no, of course not--an hour ago was
actually before the thing happened, apart from the time it would
take to make a report and get it printed.  He glanced at the
headlines.  "Seems those two fellows have flown across the Atlantic--
Alcock and Brown."

"Flown across the Atlantic?  That's a damn silly thing to do--but
I'll tell you what, it's better than being an actor.  Well, drink a
toast to 'em, old boy--what d'you say their names are?"

"Alcock and Brown."

"Alcock, Brown, Smith, and Ponderby--drink to the lot of us.
Sounds like a lawyer's office--that's the job I used to have--in a
lawyer's office.  Damn good lawyers, too--wouldn't touch anything
dirty.  That's why they got so they wouldn't touch me.  Rude health
like mine in a lawyer's office--out of place, old boy--sheer bad
taste--frightens the clients.  So one fine day I did a skedaddle
from all that messuage.  Know what a messuage is?  Lawyer's
word. . . ."

Smith said he must go, if Ponderby would excuse him.

"GO?  Not yet, surely--wait till the others come--don't like to be
left alone, Smithy."

"I'm sorry, but I really must go now."

Then Ponderby raised his head and stared.

"Right you are, then . . . but, good God, what's the matter?  Been
in a fight or something?"

"I've got to go.  Good night, Ponderby."

"Nighty night, Smithy.  And don't think I'll ever forget what
you've done."

You won't and neither will anyone else, Smith reflected, picking up
his bag and hat in the lobby and walking out of the house.  Nobody
saw him.  The night was warm and dark.  He wondered why Ponderby
had asked if he had been in a fight, and at the first shop window
he stopped and tried to catch his reflection in the glass.  He
smiled--he had forgotten to comb his hair; it showed even under his
hat, rumpled as if--well, yes, as if he had been in a fight.  That
was easy to repair, since he carried a pocket comb, and at the same
time he took out his handkerchief to wipe the perspiration from his
forehead.  Then he did more than smile, he actually laughed,
because of the colour of the handkerchief afterwards.  He had
forgotten to clean off the makeup.  All the way across Fulverton,
then, he must have been looking like that--if anyone had seen him,
but nobody had--until Ponderby.  Oh yes, there was the man with the
gun--but it had been very dark just there, under the viaduct.  He
wiped off the makeup and threw the handkerchief over a fence.

He knew they would go to Fulverton Station first of all, especially
for the night train to London; but he was not such a fool as to do
anything so obvious.  There was a station about twelve miles away,
on a different line--Crosby Magna it was called; if he walked
throughout the night he would be near the place by dawn and could
take the first train wherever it went.  He did not feel
particularly tired; the whiskey had fortified him, and a certain
rising exultation as he left the outskirts of Fulverton kept him
tramping at a steady three miles an hour.  It must be just about
the close of the second performance by now; they would be taking
curtain calls, then chattering in the dressing-rooms, looking
forward to the usual Saturday supper at the lodging-house.  A
decent crowd; he had been happy with them.  He began to look back
upon that life with a certain historic detachment; it was all over,
and it would have had to be over soon, anyway, for a reason that
now, for the first time, he admitted to himself.  He had been
growing too fond of that girl; gradually but insidiously the
feeling had been growing in him, so that soon the only freedom he
could have found would have been either away from her or with her
altogether; it would soon have become impossible to keep on seeing
her continually and meaninglessly in trains, dining-rooms, theatre
back-stages: impossible much longer to have suppressed the
anxieties he had already begun to feel about all the chance
contacts of their daily lives--whether she would be in or out at a
certain hour, or would happen to sit next to him here or there, or
who the man was who met and talked with her so long after the show.
Such things had not mattered to him at first, partly because he had
been so humble about himself--why should she bother about him at
all, what had he to offer?  She loved life, she loved people--be
honest about it, she loved men.  He had even, at first, experienced
a sardonic pleasure in seeing her warm to the chance encounters
that fill the spare moments of stage life--his look, as he said
good-night to her when he was going home to bed and she to a party
somewhere, had often contained the message--Have a good time,
you've done all you can for me, the rest I must do myself; so thank
you again and good luck.

That was his message to her now, as he walked from Fulverton to
Crosby Magna and heard the chime of midnight from a distant clock.
But he knew that it could not have been so had he stayed with the
company, so that actually his leaving was well timed, an escape
from bondage that would soon have become intolerable.

He reached Crosby Magna towards dawn--a small deserted country
station on a single line.  There was a time-table pasted up from
which he discovered that the first train was a local to Fellingham
at ten minutes past five.  He had over an hour to wait, and spent
it leaning against his bag on the station platform.  He felt rather
drowsy; it was pleasant to rest there, with the sunrise on his
face.  Presently he realized that a man was staring down at him.

"Waiting for the train, sir?"

"Yes."

"It's due in now.  I'll get you a ticket.  Where to, sir?"

"Er . . . Fellingham . . . single . . ."

He dragged himself to his feet and followed the man into the small
booking-hall.

"Fellingham, there you are, sir.  Not travelling with the company
this time?"

"WHAT?"

"Couldn't help recognizing you, sir--I was at the theatre in
Fulverton last night.  Very funny indeed you was, sir--funniest bit
in the whole show.  Well, here's your train, sir."

He insisted on carrying Smith's bag and choosing a compartment for
him, though the train was practically empty.  It was, indeed, one
of those trains that seem to exist for no reason at all except to
wander through the English countryside at hours when no one wants
to travel, stopping here and there at places where no one could
possibly have any business, especially on a Sunday morning, and all
with an air of utter vagrancy, like that of cattle browsing or a
woman polishing her nails--a halt here for several minutes, then an
interval of movement, even a burst of speed, then a slow-down to
hardly a pace at all, and so on.  Fellingham was only forty-odd
miles from Crosby Magna, but the journey, according to the time-
table, would take over two hours.  But it was pleasant enough to
look out of the window on field and farmstead in the early morning,
the lonely roads disappearing into a hazy distance, a stop for the
guard to throw out a parcel to a man who stood by a crossing gate
waiting for it, long manoeuvres of shunting in and out of sidings
to detach various empty wagons.  No sound when the train stopped
save that of the brakes creaking off the wheels and the breeze
rippling the grasses in near-by fields.  Whenever he put his head
out of the window at a station, another head, red-haired and a
boy's, was leaning out three coaches in front, and this somehow
began to suggest that he and the boy were alone on the train--final
survivors of something or else first pioneers of something else.

Presently the horizon began to show a long, low-lying cloud, but a
few further miles revealed it as a line of hills--rather high
hills, they looked, but he knew they could not be, because there
were no high hills in that part of England.

Of course he would not go all the way to Fellingham; that would
make the trail too easy, especially after the porter at Crosby
Magna had recognized him--unfortunate, that had been.  He would get
out at some intermediate station and make his way elsewhere across
country.

The train had stopped again by the time the hills became clear--a
station called Worling.  He thought this would do as well as any
other, and was just about to jump down to the platform when his bag
flew open, spilling some of the contents on to the compartment
floor; by the time he had them repacked the train was off again.
But it did not really matter; one place was as good as another.

The train cantered on, like horses now more than cattle, steadily,
at a good pace, as if anxious to reach some friendly stable; the
track wound more closely into the uplands and soon entered a long
shallow valley under a ridge that rose rather steeply at one point
into two rounded summits; you could not tell which was the higher,
but neither was very high--maybe seven or eight hundred feet, with
a saucer-shaped hollow between.  Just under the hill the roofs of a
village showed amongst the trees, but the train turned capriciously
away from it, choosing to stop at a station called Rolyott that was
nothing but a shed in the middle of fields.  He got out there,
handing his ticket to the solitary porter, who stared at it for a
moment and then said something about Fellingham being three
stations further on; Smith smiled and said that was all right, and
as the train moved off again the red-headed boy who was always
looking out of the window saw him smiling and smiled back.  That
made him feel suddenly cheerful.  And besides, the air was warm,
blended with scents of hay and flowers, and the tree-hidden village
looked tempting even at the end of a long road; he set out, walking
briskly.  A few hundred yards from the station, withdrawn into a
hedge so that no one could see it save by search or chance, a
broken signpost pointed to the ground, and he had to climb through
nettles to decipher its stained and weather-worn letters:  "To
Beachings Over, 1 Mile."

He walked on, murmuring the name to himself, as he always did with
names--Beachings Over, Beachings Over; and then Beachings Over came
into view--a group of gray old cottages fronting a stream over
which slabs of stone made bridges.  There was a square-towered
church as well, a public-house called for some undiscoverable
reason the "Reindeer"--a ledge in the stream where the water
sparkled as it curled over green reeds.  And beyond the village
rose the sunlit ridge--one hill now quite clearly higher than the
other, but only a little higher, and between them that gentle turfy
hollow.

He crossed one of the stone bridges.  A man coming out of a house
stared with friendly curiosity and said "Good morning."  A fluff of
wind blew a line of hollyhocks towards him.  An old man was
clipping a yew hedge along the vicarage wall.  A sheep-dog stirred
in the shade and opened a cautious eye as he passed.  He felt:
This is home; if they will let me stay here, I shall be at peace.
He turned off the road by a path towards an open field that climbed
steeply.  Near at hand was a cottage, with a buxom elderly woman
tending the garden.  "There'll be a nice view from the top this
morning," she said knowingly as he came near.  "Five counties they
say you can see, on a clear day."  He smiled and then she said:
"Leave your bag here if you like--it'll be quite safe."

"Good idea. . . .  Thanks very much.  And could I--perhaps--trouble
you for a glass of water?"

"Water if you like, sir, but cider if you prefer."

"Well, yes, indeed, if it's no trouble."

"No trouble at all, sir--I'll just have to go round to the
stillage."

"STILLAGE?"

"That's where we keep it, sir, being that cool off the stone,
you'll be surprised."

She came back with a pint-sized mug, which he drained gratefully.

"Glad you're enjoying it, sir--it's good cider, that I do say,
though I brewed it myself."

He wondered if he should offer to pay her, but she saw his look of
hesitation and added with swift tact:  "Don't you worry, sir--
you're very welcome.  Maybe when you've climbed up and down again
you'll feel like some cold beef and pickles and a nice raspberry
tart--we serve meals, you know, all day on Sundays."

"You get many visitors?"

"Hardly a one, but we're ready for 'em if they come.  Gentleman
once told me this was the prettiest village in all England."

"Certainly it might be. . . .  Well, thank you again--perhaps I
will want that meal."

He resumed the climb, feeling glowingly free after the drink and
without his bag.  The sky was dappled with clouds like sails, the
smell of earth and grass rose in a hot sweetness.  He walked
steadily, stopping only to look back when a chime floated upwards
from the church tower; Beachings Over, its gardens and roofs, lay
in the fold of the valley as if planted there.  He climbed on till
the ridge was close at hand, beyond the next field and the next
stone wall, the two hills curving against the sky.  After a little
time he reached the saddle between, and there, hidden till the last
moment, lay a pool of blue water, blown into ripples under passing
cloud shadows.  It looked so cool he took his clothes off and
bathed--there in sight of all the five counties, so it amused him
to think.  Then he lay in the sun till he was dry, feeling the
warmth of sun and cider soaking into every nerve.  Presently he
dressed, found a shady spot under a tree, and closed his eyes.

The sun on his face woke him; it had moved round the sky but was
near the horizon and no longer hot.  His glance followed the curve
of the hill and came to rest on the already graying pool; he was
surprised to see a girl there, perched on a jutting rock and
paddling her feet.  He watched her for a moment, quietly fitting
the picture into his mind before recognition came, and with it a
curious mounting anger because he suddenly knew why it was he had
grown so desperately in love with her; it was because she had made
him so, because she followed him about everywhere, because, from
the moment of their first meeting, she had never let him go--
despite all acting and casual behaviour and false appearances.  And
she had followed him even to Beachings Over.

Aware that he was watching her, she turned and then came towards
him, high-stepping barefoot over the grass.

"Smithy--you're really awake?  Why did you run off like that?  Were
you ill?  What's been the matter? . . .  The woman at the cottage
said you were here--said you'd left your bag, so you'd have to come
down, but I didn't want to wait, and yet I have waited--hours--
while you've been asleep. . . ."

"I'm--I'm--sorry."

"For keeping me waiting?  It's MY fault--I could have wakened you
any time, but you looked so tired and you hadn't shaved--I guessed
you'd been out all night somewhere."

"But I'm so terribly sorry--no, not for that--for what happened
before then--at the theatre--"

"Oh, THAT?  Darling, you shouldn't ever have taken it on, but it
didn't matter--got the biggest laugh in the whole show--Margie even
said he'd change the part if Ponderby could do it that way, but he
was afraid he couldn't.  Anyhow, he's going to keep in the bit
where the door-knob comes off--that's good for a laugh any time."

"But do they think I did it DELIBERATELY?"

"I told them you did--I swore you fixed the whole thing with
Ponderby just for a gag; Ponderby said you had too, I made him--
they all thought it was marvellous, but then they think you ARE
marvellous, anyhow."

"MARVELLOUS?"

"Well, you know--unpredictable.  One of those shy ones who suddenly
blaze out and startle everybody and then go shy again.  What'll you
do next?  Maybe fly the Atlantic like those two fellows.  Maybe
murder somebody or elope with a duchess.  It's all part of being a
gentleman.  You're privileged--like the boys on Boat Race Night."

"Paula--why do you talk like that?"

"Well, it's true, isn't it?"  She bent over him.  "There's such an
indefinable je ne sais quoi about you, darling."

"What did you follow me here for?"

"To bring you back, of course."

"But I'm not coming back."

"Oh, it's only Sunday evening--there's no show-till six tomorrow
night in Polesby--you don't have to make up your mind till tomorrow
afternoon."

"I'm not coming back.  I CAN'T go back.  Don't you realize how I
felt--"

"I know--don't try to tell me--I saw you on the stage and I was the
only person who knew for certain you weren't acting--because I'd
seen you like that before, in the shop at Melbury.  Remember?"

He said grimly:  "It wouldn't be very easy to forget--any more than
last night."

"Except that you're not BOUND to go on the stage, ever again, so
what does it matter?  Whereas at Melbury you were like that all the
time--except with me."

"Yes, except with you."

"Maybe there's something about me too--so far as you're concerned."

He moved restlessly.  "There was something then, but there's a
barrier between us now, compared with how we were in those days."

"There's only this between us, Smithy--I remember when you needed
me, and I'm sure I'm not going to hang around when you don't need
me any more.  But I thought you might need me today--that's why I'm
here."

"_I_ feel just the opposite--you were so generous when I DID need
you I've hated to feel you could still do things out of pity as
you're doing now."

"That's not just the opposite--it's the same."

"It's why I've kept away from you, anyhow, because I CAN do without
you, I know I can, I MUST."

"Oh God, don't boast.  I can do without you too, for that matter.
Let's be independent as hell.  Let's each fly in different
directions and wonder why for the rest of our lives."  She began to
pull on her stockings.  "Aren't you hungry?"

"Now you mention it."

"Let's go down.  The woman at the cottage said she could give us--"

He interrupted, laughing:  "I know.  Cold beef and pickles and
raspberry tart."

"I said we'd have it."

"You're right about that."

He helped her to her feet and they stared about them for a moment.

"Smithy, how DID you manage to find such a heavenly place?"

"As so many things happen--pure chance.  My bag flew open as I was
going to get out of the train somewhere else.  How did you find I
was here?"

"Darling, it was so EASY.  I asked at Fulverton Station, and they
said you hadn't been there, so of course I thought of Crosby Magna--"

"OF COURSE?  Why of course?"

"Well, it was pretty obvious you'd think it WASN'T so obvious--and
then the porter there remembered you, and the guard remembered
you'd walked towards the village, and the woman at the cottage said
you were up here staring at the five counties,--it IS five, isn't
it?--everybody remembered you, old boy.  You aren't terribly good
at making people forget you."

"They certainly won't forget my performance last night."

"Back again on the same old subject?  I told you they all thought
it was marvellous."

"Then why did they think I didn't stay for the second show?"

"I told them it was because you suddenly got scared of how Margie
would take it--I said it was just like you, to put on a gag like
that and then get scared about it."

"Seems to me you thought of EVERYTHING."

They began the descent amidst the gathering twilight, striding down
upon Beachings Over as from the sky.  A curl of blue smoke rose
from the huddle of roofs, the church bell was ringing for evening
service.  Something in the calm of that darkening panorama kept
them silent till they were within sight of the cottage; then she
said:  "Oh, by the way--I told the woman you were my husband."

"Why?"

"Because she'd have thought it queer for me to be chasing up a hill
after any man who wasn't."

"Is there anything ELSE you've told anybody about me?"

"There isn't yet, Smithy, but there might have to be.  I'm always
ready."

She took his arm as he unlatched the gate that led through an
avenue of hollyhocks to the cottage.  It was small and four-square,
with windows on either side of the front door; at one side of the
porch a board announced "Good Accommodation for Cyclists."  The
woman who had given him the cider led them smilingly into a room
that opened off the flagged lobby; it was evidently the parlour,
crowded with old-fashioned furniture, pictures, and photographs.  A
yellow piano with a fretwork front lined with faded silk occupied
most of one wall; an oval mahogany table stood in the centre.  The
single window was tightly closed, yet the room smelt fresh and
pleasant.  He opened the piano and struck a few of the yellow keys;
the strings twanged almost inaudibly.  Inside the closed space of
the room they felt embarrassed to begin a conversation, especially
while the woman kept chattering in and out as she prepared the
table.  She told them her name was Mrs. Deventer and that her
husband had been a sailor, so badly injured at Jutland, poor man,
it was a mercy he died.  "But there, there, that's all over now and
never no more, as the saying is. . . .  You'll take some nice ripe
tomatoes with your beef, perhaps, sir?  And how about a drop of
something to drink?--there's my own cider, but if you'd prefer
anything else my girl can run over to the Reindeer and fetch
it. . . .  'Tain't far, you know--nothing's very far in the
village--that's what I always feel when I go into Chelt'nam--
that's our nearest town, you know--I go there oncet a year, or maybe
twice--it's a wonderful place, but my, it does so make you tired
walking through all them streets--we ain't got only the one street
here, and that's plenty when you're gettin' old. . . ."

She talked and talked, bringing in everything she could think of
till the table was crowded with tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, a huge
loaf of bread, a pot of tea in case they wanted it, and a jar of
chutney, her own special make.  At length there could not possibly
be anything else to bring in, and she left them reluctantly, with a
slow smile from the doorway.

He said:  "Well?"

"Well, Smithy?"

"You look thoughtful, that's all."

"Darling, I was just wondering what you had against me."

But the door opened again--Mrs. Deventer bringing in a lighted
lamp.  "I thought you'd maybe want it.  Longest day of the year,
round about, but it still gets dark. . . .  Maybe you'll be stayin'
the night?  You've missed the last train either way by now, I
suppose you know that.  Of course there's rooms at the Reindeer,
but mine's as good, I always say, and cheaper too."

The yellow lamplight glowed between their faces after she had gone.

"Possessive woman," he remarked.  "MY cider, MY girl, MY chutney,
MY rooms."

"Room, she SAID.  Didn't you see the notice outside--'Good
Accommodation for Cyclists'?  But I don't suppose one has to be a
cyclist."

He said, after a pause:  "I don't know why you should wonder about
me like that.  How could I have anything against you?  Except for
the same reason that I couldn't."

"Too subtle, darling, unless you tell me what the reason is."

"I love you."

Her voice leapt to the reply:  "Smithy, you DO?  You do REALLY?
I've loved you ever since I first set eyes on you--as soon as I saw
you in that shop I thought--there's my man.  Because I'm possessive
too--MY man, MY chutney, MY room--all mine."  And suddenly she took
his hand and leaned down with her cheek close to it.  "I could have
killed you, though, while you lay on top of that hill, fast asleep.
KILLED you. . . .  Oh, God, I'm so happy. . . .  What's the name of
this place?"

"Beachings Over."

"Beachings Over. . . .  I'll get US from THAT--for ever.  Remember
the game you used to play with names?"

Later, in a room so consecrated to cyclism that even the pictures
were of groups of pioneer free-wheelers, he asked her if--when he
had fully recovered--if he did fully recover, of course--and if he
found a job that could support them both--if and when all those
things happened--would she marry him?

She said she would, of course, but without the delay.  "I think
it's only two weeks they make you wait."

"But--"  He seemed bewildered by her having stolen, as usual, the
initiative.  Then he said, slowly and with difficulty:  "I'm not
RIGHT yet.  I'm not even as near to it as I thought I was.  For
half an hour last night I felt the return of everything bad again--
black--terrifying.  I'm better now, but less confident."

She said she didn't mind, she would look after him, because she had
just as much confidence as ever.

"And there's another thing--"

"ANOTHER, Smithy?"  She was trying to mock him out of his mood.

"Wouldn't they ask me a lot of questions at the registry office?"

"You mean questions about yourself that you couldn't answer?"

"Yes."

"They might ask you one question _I_ never have--and that is if
you've been married before."

"Of course I haven't."

"How can you be certain, old boy, with that awful memory of yours?"

He pondered to himself--yes, how COULD he be certain?  He hadn't
any logical answer, and yet he felt fairly certain.  When people
had visited him in those hospitals, relatives of missing men who
hoped he might turn out to be someone belonging to them, HE had
similar hopes, but only of finding a home, parents--never a wife.
Did that prove anything?

She watched the look on his face, then added with a laugh:  "Don't
worry--I'll take a chance on it if you will."

Eventually it was agreed that they should go to Polesby the next
day, announce their plans to the company, and ask for a few weeks'
holiday.  She was sure Margesson would agree, if they approached
him fairly and squarely; he liked both of them, and the slack
season was on.  They rose early and took a walk to the end of the
village, discussing a future of which Beachings Over seemed already
to have become a part.  "Oh, Smithy, isn't it beautiful?  I didn't
see it like this yesterday--I was so worried about finding you--but
it's just the sort of place I've always dreamed of.  I know that's
sentimental--but stage people are--they love the sweet little
cottage idea, though most of them would be bored to death if they
ever got one--mercifully they don't, as a rule--they either die
in the poorhouse or save enough to buy a pub on the Brighton
Road. . . ."

She chattered on, and soon it was time to walk back to the cottage
for Mrs. Deventer's excellent breakfast, pay their bill, and assure
her they would return soon for a longer stay.  The old lady was
delighted, keeping up the farewell greetings all the way down the
avenue of hollyhocks to the front gate.  By the time they passed
the post-office the morning papers were just being unloaded; Smith
bought one and scanned the front page during the mile-long tramp to
the railway station.  Mostly about Brown and Alcock, he told her,
summarizing the newly announced details of the first Atlantic
flight in history.  Not till they were settled in the train did she
glance at the paper herself.  Then, after a few moments' desultory
reading, she looked up with a suddenly changed expression.
"SMITHY!"

"What's the matter?"

"I don't want it to come as a shock to you, but there's something
here that looks as if--" she hesitated and then gave a short laugh--
"as if they can't come up to you . . . for being crazy."

"Who can't?"

"Brown and Alcock."

"But I don't know what you mean."

"Better read this--and don't let it upset you--probably it's not
anything serious."

She handed him the paper, pointing to a small paragraph on an
inside page.  It was headed "Assault under Viaduct--Fulverton Man
Injured," and ran:--


That he was assaulted by an unknown man was the story told to the
Fulverton police last night by Thomas Atwill, railway policeman,
who was found unconscious under the Marshall Street viaduct at a
late hour.  Taken to the Cottage Hospital, Atwill stated that he
had been on plain-clothes duty to prevent pedestrians from using
the footpath under the viaduct, it being necessary to do this for
one day each year in order to preserve the company's legal title to
the right of way.  Shortly after nine o'clock a man endeavoured to
break through the temporary barrier erected for this purpose, and
when Atwill sought to remonstrate with him, he received a severe
blow on the head.  Describing his assailant as young, rather tall,
and clean-shaven, Atwill said he was a gentleman, not a "rough."
The police are investigating the unexplained disappearance of a
member of a local theatrical touring company.


He put aside the paper, stared at her for a moment, then let his
head fall slowly into his hands.  When he looked up he was very
pale.  The train was stopping at Worling, where a crowd of farm
workers waited on the platform.  She had only time to say:
"Darling, if anyone gets in, don't look like that."

Nobody got in, and his controlled features relaxed.

"Oh, Smithy . . . you don't remember?"

"I remember jumping over--it wasn't a barrier--just a rope.  And if
I hit the fellow, it was accidental--a push that made him fall,
maybe with his head on the pavement--I didn't look back, I was
running."  He added, leaning forward with both hands on her knees:
"I do want you to know that I'm not a homicidal maniac rushing
about committing crimes and then forgetting about them.  When I
said that last night for half an hour I felt the return of all the
bad things, I meant things in my own mind--fears that I had to
fight down . . . but they were in my own mind, and I DID fight them
down, I NEVER lost control.  I want you to believe that--no matter
who else disbelieves it."

"I believe it, Smithy.  But there are--as you say--people who
wouldn't."

"I know that."

"We mustn't go to Polesby."

"_I_ mustn't.  YOU can.  You're in no danger--on your own."  He
cried out, with sharp bitterness:  "Perhaps you'll stay clear of me
after this."

Ignoring that, she said:  "Probably the man isn't seriously injured
if he recovered consciousness so soon--"

"You don't need to comfort me."

"But it's true--the whole thing'll blow over if he's not badly hurt--
and also if we don't go to Polesby.  London's a better idea.  If
we change at Saxham we can get a London train from there.  We'll
find somewhere to stay--where no one will know who we are.
London's the best place for that.  We both have enough money to
last for a time."

"But what about you--your job?  They'll expect you at Polesby
tonight.  They'll know we're together."

"They'd be fools not to know that, anyway.  I swore I'd never come
back unless I brought you with me. . . .  Darling, don't look so
anxious.  _I_ believe you.  This is just bad luck--it somehow
doesn't count. . . ."  She took his troubled head in her arms and
rocked it gently against her.  "I can't help laughing, though, at
one thing."  She picked up the paper and re-read, crooningly, as to
a child:  "'Atwill said he was a gentleman, not a rough.'  That's
you all over, Smithy--I always said so."

They left the train at Saxham, but had just missed the best London
train of the day; four hours to wait for the next.  The interval
was pleasantly spent in strolling about the ancient town.  The
second London train came in late, and they were told to change
again at Santley Junction--"but it all helps," she said, "if anyone
were trying to follow us."  They reached Santley towards dusk and
had to cross a platform crowded with waiting passengers.  When the
next train came in, also late, it was already so full that only
tussling and scrimmaging could make further room; but eventually
this was accomplished and they found themselves in a compartment
occupied by an uncountable number of shouting children, all in
nominal charge of an elderly, shabby, but bright-eyed clergyman who
gestured apologies for his own inability to subdue the din.  "It's
been their great day," he explained, forcing a way for the
newcomers.  Then he helped them, quite unnecessarily, to put up
their bags and parcels on the rack, adding with a smile:  "Not
hostile--only heedless."  As soon as the train re-started the
children shouted with renewed abandon, leaning out of the windows,
jumping on the seats, breaking into song choruses that were taken
up by other children in adjacent compartments until the whole
train, nearing London, became one long pandemonium streaking
through suburb after suburb, over bridges across blazing highways,
through smoke-filled tunnels, past rows of back gardens from which
shirt-sleeved householders watering their flowers looked up to wave
good-humouredly, alongside commons where lovers did not stir as the
sudden crescendo engulfed them.  At short range, however, it was
harder to ignore, a sheer wall of sound behind which three adults,
lips to ear and then ear to lips, could only contrive an
intermittent mouthing of words.

"It's their annual outing," said the parson, still feeling some
need to apologize.  "We aim at discipline but--"  He gave a little
wrinkled smile.

Smith nodded, and Paula, from the other side, whispered loudly in
his ear:  "If this bothers you, let's get out at the next station
and find another compartment."

"No, no, it's all right."

And later, from the parson:  "I hope you don't find their high
spirits too exhausting."

"THEY don't, evidently," she answered.

"I know--amazing, isn't it?  Don't believe I ever shouted like that
when I was a boy.  TERRIFIC!"

"Good thing you keep a sense of humour about it."

"Oh yes.  I don't mind the row so much, but I'm scared when they
lean out like that--I've warned them over and over again but I
can't make them listen."

Smith suddenly intervened:  "Do you think _I_ could?  Perhaps
coming from someone else--a stranger? . . .  Now, boys, supposing
you stand away from those windows!"

The different voice, pitched over the wall of sound, somehow
reached its goal; the swarming clusters turned, sharply
disconcerted, nonplussed, ready for rebellion but sensing control;
then the different voice continued, releasing them a little:
"That's right, sit down--plenty of room for all of us.  What about
another song?"

From further along the train came the chorus of "Keep the Home
Fires Burning"; they joined in it, one by one, a gradual deafening
surrender, while the stations flashed by more frequently and the
suburbs merged into the slums.  She whispered in his ear
exultantly:  "Smithy, how marvellous!  And to think I was afraid
they were bothering you!"

The parson was also pleased.  "I really am extremely obliged to
you, sir."

"Not at all."

"ASTONISHING!"

"Just as much to me, I assure you.  I didn't know I could deal with
'em."

"You must have a knack. . . .  I haven't any--with children.
You're going to London?"

"Yes."

"In a great hurry when you arrive?"

"Not particularly."

"I wonder whether you could spare, then--say five minutes?  I
always have trouble with them at railway stations, and the
Mission's only across the street.  If you would . . ."

"Certainly--if I can.  The magic may not work the second time."

"Let's have faith that it will."

At the terminus it was as if the whole train burst open, a human
explosion on to the platform, yells and bangings of doors while the
parson watched Smith bring gradual order out of the chaos.  Then
began the slow marshalling of two hundred youngsters into line,
their realization that a new personality was in command, and their
acceptance of the inevitable--truculent at first, then indifferent,
finally quite cheerful.  But the operation took considerably more
than five minutes; it was over a quarter of an hour before the
children had all been escorted through the busy station precincts
to a side street whence they could be safely dismissed to their
homes.

The parson stood beaming on the pavement.  "I really cannot express
my gratitude.  I hope you haven't been too much delayed."

"Oh no."

"You mean you had no plans for--the evening?"

"Well--er--nothing special."

"Then I wonder--if you REALLY have nothing else to do--it would
give me great pleasure if you'd both dine with me--"

It was Paula who answered, in the instant way in which she decided
everything:  "Why, yes, we'd be glad."

The parson wrinkled another smile and began fumbling his way
through a passage running by the side of the Mission building into
an unkempt garden; beyond it stood a large ugly soot-black three-
story house.  He unlocked the front door, admitting them into a
lofty hall-way totally unfurnished down to the bare boards of the
floor.  "I don't think names are at all important," he said,
ushering them further into a room, "but mine is Blampied."

"Smith," said Paula.

He offered them chairs, following their glances round the room with
a perverse pride.  "Isn't this a terrible house?  It was built in
1846, when parsons were supposed to live in style.  Twenty rooms--I
only use five.  Kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, this, and my
housekeeper's.  This is the best.  We live in squalor punctuated by
small simple meals of excellent quality--onion soup tonight, if you
happen to like it."

Meanwhile an elderly gaunt-faced woman was preparing the table,
showing neither surprise nor any other emotion at the presence of
guests, and needing no instructions from the parson.  Presently the
three were sitting down before big bowls of the soup; there was
nothing else but cheese, he warned them, but they could have more
soup if they wanted.  It was so good that they did, and asked for
it with enthusiasm.  Meanwhile the parson chattered on, a cordial,
increasingly inquisitive host.

"You two people have much further to go?"

Smith said:  "No, not very far."

"You live here in London?"

"Er . . . yes."

"Don't let me keep you, but don't go till you want to."

She said:  "Oh, there's plenty of time."  It was as if she were
reluctant to leave.

"Yes, the buses and trams run late.  I expect you can get to your
home that way."

"I--I think so."

"You only THINK so?"

"Matter of fact, we haven't got a home--yet.  We've got to look for
one."

Smith flashed her a warning glance, but she went on:  "I don't
suppose it'll be very hard."

The parson's curiosity seemed to become less rather than more as he
responded:  "If it's the slightest help to you, please stay here
for the night.  My housekeeper can find you bedding, and there are
fifteen rooms to choose from."

"That's awfully kind of you, but--"

"Just as you please, of course.  Only I thought your husband looked
tired."

"He's not my husband--yet."

The parson smiled.  "To be sure . . . but after all--fifteen rooms?
Enough--one would think."

Then suddenly she said:  "Maybe, as you've got a sense of humour,
you can help us. . . .  We want to get married, but it has to be
quiet--we don't want anyone to know--"

"Runaway?"

"Yes, that's it . . . maybe you know of a registry office somewhere
near?"

"There's an office nearly across the street, but for sheer
quietness, why don't you allow me to marry you in my own church?
Hardly anyone ever comes to any of the services--it would be the
most unnoticed marriage I could possibly imagine. . . ."



So they were married at St. Clement's, Vale Street, London, N.W.,
and as they left the church after the ceremony newsboys were racing
down the street offering extra editions--"Peace Treaty Signed at
Versailles."  It was June 28, 1919.  The bridegroom bought one of
the papers on his way with his bride to their home further along
Vale Street--a tall Victorian house that possessed the initial
advantage of being owned by a deaf old woman who lived in the
basement and offered the higher floors for rent.  She had agreed to
let them have two big furnished rooms, plus bath and kitchenette,
for a pound a week; there was also an oblong walled garden they
could share with other tenants, but of course they never did.
After several weeks of living in the house they still hadn't said
more than "Good morning" and "Good evening" to the people who
occupied the floors above and below; and an especially odd thing
was that the man who lived above was a policeman.

But they were happy.  It was strange, in a way; they had hardly any
money and so far no jobs, and they were half scared of every knock
on the door, because a daily visit to the newsroom of the free
library revealed that the police were still probing what had
already attained some small renown as "the Fulverton case."  The
victim was said to be "still improving," but that began to seem
almost ominous, since anything short of recovery showed how
seriously he had been hurt; and one morning there was an even worse
sound in the news item:  "Hospital authorities at Fulverton report
no change in the condition of Thomas Atwill, who is still suffering
from head injuries as a result of an assault by an unknown man
under a railway viaduct three weeks ago."

The unknown man felt sincere remorse over the fate of the innocent
Atwill, but even that could not dim the joys of a partnership that
was half fun, half fear, so that every falling asleep was like an
unspoken prayer for safety and every waking up a miracle of
survival.  Sometimes they would hear the policeman clumping down
the stairs and back again in his heavy boots, and she would run to
the window to look out and come back saying--"It's all right,
Smithy--it's there--go to sleep."  That was a joke between them,
because they had once agreed that nothing in the world could be
more reassuring than a London policeman, half dressed, going
downstairs at midnight to put out an empty milk-bottle on a front
doorstep--a symbol that no harm would come, that God was somewhere
over the policeman's roof and theirs.

They felt their chief danger might come from a chance recognition
in the streets, and for this reason they avoided the better-known
parts of London where country visitors might be expected to sight-
see; they also kept indoors most of the day, discovering almost
with surprise how quickly the time passed and how little the
restrictions bothered them, provided they were together.  They
would do most of their shopping late at night, economy combining
then with prudence, for just before closing time in those
unfashionable districts the butcher and greengrocer and fishmonger
would sell off cheap what was left of their day's supplies.  While
she was bargaining Smith would often stop to listen to some street-
corner orator haranguing the multitude--the multitude consisting,
as a rule, of a few apathetic onlookers, working-men with one hand
round the bowl of a pipe and the other in a trouser pocket.  "The
typical English attitude," Blampied commented afterwards, "good-
humoured, tolerant, vaguely sceptical--sceptical just as much of
the truth as of lies.  What a lot it will take to move men like
that, but when they DO move--IF they ever move--what a cataclysm!"

They were beginning to feel a friendly intimacy with the parson,
all the friendlier because his attitude was such a quaint mixture
of particular inquisitiveness and general incuriosity.  He could
put the most intimate questions--once he asked:  "Are you and your
wife so united that you could use the same toothbrush?"  Yet he
never mentioned or fished for information about Smith's background
or parentage, until one day, when they were having dinner with him
as they had come to do rather often, he suddenly asked:  "What
shall I say if somebody traces you here and questions me about
you?"

They stared at him with such disconcerted blankness that he added:
"Didn't you say it was a runaway marriage?"

They knew him so well by then that they did not particularly mind
having betrayed themselves by the startled stare; and the fact that
his later remark gave them an easy cue for evasion tempted them all
the more to tell him nothing but the truth.  Paula looked across
the table to Smith, caught and exchanged a glance, then began:
"Yes, it was certainly runaway, but probably not the kind you're
imagining.  We aren't likely to be troubled by objecting parents.
Mine are both dead, and his are . . ."  She looked again at Smith.

Blampied nodded, as if satisfied, but Smith addressed him with a
smile:  "There wouldn't be much point in deceiving you, would
there?"

"Depends what you want me to do.  If you want me to lie about you
to others, at least you must tell me the truth about yourself."

"That sounds a rather unusual standpoint--for a clergyman."

"Perhaps I'm a rather unusual clergyman."

"Well, here's an unusual story."

"Good . . . go ahead."

Smith then spoke briefly of his war injury and resultant lack of
memory.  He called it a LACK now, not LOSS--"because I don't FEEL
any loss.  It doesn't really bother me any more--there are days and
nights when I never even think about it . . . but there it is, all
the same.  Perhaps I ought to have told you when you married us."

"Why?"

"Well, signing my name in the register.  Smith may not be the true
one."

The parson, sitting at the head of the table, half rose and
extended his arms over their shoulders.  "But it was YOU I
married," he said, "not your names."

"So it doesn't matter?"

"Not a bit.  And it's perfectly legal and binding.  Is that all you
have on your conscience?"

"Not quite all."  Encouraged by a further look from Paula, Smith
went on to relate the incongruous mishap to Thomas Atwill under the
railway viaduct.  Blampied listened with increasing interest; once
or twice his face twisted into a smile; they were so accustomed to
his taking the oddest possible view of things that it did not
surprise, although it considerably relieved them when at the end of
the recital he began to laugh.  "It's the idea of a RAILWAY COMPANY
having a right of way that tickles me!  Know anything about rights
of way?"

This seemed a side issue, but most of Blampied's conversations
avoided anything in the direct line of argument.  Smith said no,
not very much.

"They're trying to close them all over England.  You must come with
me sometime on one of my crusades.  I make a nuisance of myself on
village greens every now and again--just by way of a holiday from
London.  I inform the villagers of their ancient heritage--the
commons and the pastures and the paths across the fields that the
landlords have stolen and will go on stealing, whenever they get
the chance.  A clerical predecessor of mine, John Ball by name,
made a similar nuisance of himself six hundred years ago or
thereabouts--but I think he must have been much more of an
oratorical spellbinder."  He added, coming back to the point, "So
THAT'S why you two children are in hiding?  You're afraid that if
anything should happen to Thomas Atwill--"

"Oh, he'll get better all right," Paula intervened hastily, "but
even when he does it could be troublesome if we were traced because--
because--"  She looked across the table, adding:  "We've told you
so much we may as well finish--don't you think so, Smithy?"

Smith said:  "I mentioned that the war injury affected my memory.
It also--at one time--had other effects.  They sent me to Melbury--
the big hospital for shell-shock cases.  I was on their dangerous
list."

"You mean liable to die?"

"Well, no--liable to live--but dangerously."

Again Blampied laughed.  "I see.  I really begin to see."

They both joined him in laughing, glad to ease their embarrassment
by so doing.  Then the parson came behind Smith, putting his arm
affectionately round the young man's shoulders.  "You needn't
worry.  The reputation of crank and misfit gives me a certain
freedom of reply.  If, for instance, I'm asked if I know anyone
named Smith, and I say I never heard the name before, it'll merely
give rise to an extra legend. . . ."



The more they came to know Blampied the more they realized his
remarkableness and the less they felt they completely understood
him.  At their first meeting in the train he had seemed just the
timid, unworldly parson of fiction, almost of caricature, bearing
his cross in the form of Mission boys he could not control and
summer outings he must have loathed.  Later he showed himself more
perplexingly as a mixture of ascetic and gourmet--only onion soup
for dinner, but how good it had to be.  Later still, when he
described "crusades" that had sometimes led to rough-and-tumble
fights on village greens and once at least to his own imprisonment,
he almost became the conventionally unconventional "fighting
parson."  And beyond that, but by no means finally, there was the
visionary, the mystic.  It was not easy to analyse or estimate the
sum-total, and many persons with whom he came into contact had long
since given up the task as either hopeless or unprofitable.  But
one could not meet and talk to him for ten minutes, in any one of
his moods, without an impression of stature--mental, moral,
psychic, or perhaps some blending of all three.  And he had also
(as Smith found out when he came to work for him) an astoundingly
various collection of intimate friends.

Most of these friends lived abroad, so that occasions for
personal meetings were rare; but he corresponded, regularly and 
voluminously, and it was this task that had lately made him aware
of failing eyesight, and so of the need for someone to help him
with it.  Smith gladly volunteered, and it became a habit that two
or three mornings a week Blampied would dictate slowly while the
other took down in a longhand that soon developed into a private
shorthand, marked by curious abbreviations and a general
meaninglessness to the outsider.  Afterwards, at his leisure, Smith
would rewrite or type the letters in full.  They went to most of
the corners of the world--a hotelkeeper in Yokohama, a university
professor in Idaho, a train conductor on the Orient Express, an
Austrian soldier lying wounded in a hospital in Salzburg, an editor
in Liverpool, a rubber planter in Johore, a woman head of an
advertising agency in Brisbane . . . these were a few out of the
twenty-odd.  All, it appeared, were people whom Blampied had met at
one time or another.  "I used to travel a good deal, before the war
put an end to it, and now, I fear, I have neither the zest nor the
money to resume.  But for a few shillings' worth of stamps each
week, I can almost achieve the same object. . . .  This morning,
for instance, I shall write to M'sieur Gaston Auriac, Rue Henri
Quatre, Antananarivo, Madagascar.  We met only once--on a steamer
between Capetown and Durban, but we talked for long enough to make
the discovery of each other.  Maybe you were surprised when I asked
you whether you and Paula could use the same toothbrush?  You see,
I have never married, so I don't know whether physical oneness goes
as far as that--but I do know that in the realm of mental and
spiritual things there can be a similar oneness--the knowledge that
yours and mine are no longer yours and mine, but OURS for every
possible use.  And this awareness, once acknowledged by both
parties, lasts for ever.  Gaston and I may disagree about this and
that, but because our thought processes are in the same world,
there's a sense in which we can use each other's minds.  We're both
impervious to sentimentality and mob optimism, and both of us also,
if I may so express it, are accustomed to think proudly. . . .  We
found that out during our three-hour talk seven years ago, and
though we have never met since, we both know that it must still be
true, despite all the changes that have taken place in the world
about us. . . .  Just now, we're in the midst of an argument as to
the right way to treat Germany now the war's over.  Gaston thinks
the Allied armies should have pushed on to Berlin, even at the cost
of an extra year of fighting, and then have broken Germany into
fragments, acting with ruthless severity on the lines of delenda
est Carthago. . . .  I, on the other hand, would have offered terms
of simply astounding generosity--lifting the blockade the day after
the Armistice, forbearing to ask for meaningless and uncollectable
reparations, and inviting all the defeated countries into an
immediate conference on equal terms to discuss the disarmament and
rehabilitation of Europe.  As you can imagine, we're enjoying as
violent a discussion as the somewhat intermittent mails to
Madagascar will permit.  But the point is: both of us are still
thinking proudly.  Gaston is no frenzied sadist wishing to destroy
for the sake of destroying; I am no milk-and-water humanitarian
yearning over a defeated enemy merely because he is defeated and
has been an enemy.  Both of us have the same aim in view--the cure
of the thousand-year-old European disease; both methods have
succeeded at various times throughout history--his, I admit, more
often than mine.  Either might succeed today.  But what will NOT
succeed, and what we both know will not succeed, is the unhappy
mean between the two--the half-way compromise between sentiment and
vengeance--the policy of SAFE men playing for SAFETY."  He added,
smiling:  "So you see, Mr. Smith, why it did not shock me the other
day to hear that you had been classed at one time as a dangerous
man.  All my friends are dangerous men."

Smith came to enjoy the work of transcribing these letters, and
sometimes also he helped with Church and Mission activities,
especially those for which Blampied had little ability, such as
children's organizations.  He found that his experience on the
train had been no fluke, but the result of an apparently inborn
aptitude for handling youngsters.  Even the most stubborn, and from
the worst slum homes, responded to his instinctive offering of ease
and discipline; in fact it was the most stubborn who liked him and
whom he liked the most.  He began holding classes in the Mission
building, classes that did not invade the religious field (which he
did not feel either the inclination or the authority to enter), but
touched it variously and from neglected angles--classes on civics,
on local history, on London and English traditions.  He was so
happy over all this that it came to him with a sense of
retrospective discovery that he must LIKE children--not
sentimentally, but with a simple, almost casual affection.  "You'd
have made a good schoolmaster," Blampied once said, and then, when
Smith replied he wasn't sure he'd care to spend all his time with
children, the other added:  "Exactly.  Good schoolmasters don't.
Anyhow, you can help to make up for the fact that I'm a bad
parson."

"Do you really think you are?"

"Oh yes.  Ask anybody round here.  People don't take to me.  I
haven't an ounce of crowd magnetism.  And then I'm lazy.  Only
physically, I think, but then that's the only kind of laziness most
people recognize."

"I think you're old enough, if you don't mind my saying so, to be
forgiven a certain amount of physical laziness."

"Yes, but I'm not lazy in the forgivable ways.  If I went to Lord's
to watch the cricket they'd think I was a sweet old clergyman who
deserved his afternoon off, but as I'm only lazy enough sometimes
to go without a shave--"

Smith laughed, knowing what he meant, for while it could not be
said that the parson neglected his professional duties, it was
certainly true that he made no effort to make himself either a
worldly success or a beloved failure--the two classifications that
claim a roughly equal number of adherents among the clergy.  Nor,
despite the fact that he inclined to High Church fashions, did he
join the fanatical brotherhood of those who systematically disobey
their bishops; his own disobediences were personal, casual, almost
careless--wherefore his bishop disliked him all the more.  So did
various influential parishioners to whom he refused to toady; while
the poor, to whom he also refused to toady, rewarded him with a
vast but genial indifference.  A few devoted lay workers ran the
adjacent Mission, but they were not devoted to HIM, and when they
pushed on him such tasks as the supervision of the annual outing it
was with the knowledge and hope that he would have a bad time.  Nor
did they care for his church services, which they thought cold and
formal; they realized, correctly, that he was not the kind of
cleric to "drag the people in," and from time to time they plotted,
more or less openly, to have him supplanted by some energetic slum
parson who would unite both Church and Mission into a single
buzzing hive.  But it is by no means easy to dislodge a parson of
the Church of England, and Blampied had suffered no more than a
gradual reduction of dues and stipend during his twelve years of
office.

He was, in fact, though he hardly realized it because his wants
were so few, very close to the poverty line.  He wore the shabbiest
clothes; he lived on the simplest and cheapest of foods, though
always well cooked; he paid cash to tradespeople, but owed large
sums to local authorities for taxes and bills of various kinds.
About a month after his first meeting with Smith, his housekeeper
fell suddenly ill and died within a few days; he was a good deal
upset by that, but admitted that it had saved him from having to
get rid of her, since he could no longer afford the few weekly
shillings for her part-time services.  It was then he suggested to
Smith and Paula that they should move into the house and live rent-
free in return for similar help; they were glad to consent, since
their own money was rapidly dwindling.

Out of the unused fifteen they chose two large attic rooms with a
view over roof-tops northward as far as Hampstead and Highgate, and
it was fun to begin buying the bare necessities of furniture and
utensils, searching the Caledonian Market for broken-down chairs
that could be repaired and re-upholstered, discarded shop fittings
usable as bookshelves, an old school desk that showed mahogany
under its coating of ink and dirt.  Gradually the rooms became a
home, and the entirely vacant floor beneath encouraged a kinship
with roofs and sky rather than with the walls and pavements of the
streets.

Towards the end of September Blampied received a quarterly payment
which he chose to devote to a crusading holiday rather than to
paying arrears of his borough council rates; having invited Smith
and Paula to join the expedition, he took them for a week into
rural Oxfordshire "making trouble wherever we go," as the parson
put it, though that was an exaggeration.  The question of country
footpaths was, he admitted, his King Charles's Head--every man, he
added, should have some small matter to which he attaches undue
importance, always provided that he realizes the undueness.
Realizing it all the time, Blampied would puzzle over ancient maps
in bar parlours, inquiring from villagers whether it was still
possible to make the diagonal way across the fields from Planter's
End to Marsh Hollow, and generally receiving the answer that no one
ever did--it was much quicker to go round by the road, and so on.
"I reckon you could if you tried, mister, but you'd 'ave a rare
time gettin' through them nettles."  A few more pints of beer would
perhaps elicit the information that "I remember when I was a kid I
used to go to school that way, but 'twouldn't be no help now, not
with the new school where it is."  Yet those, as the parson
emphasized, drinking his beer as copiously as the rest, were the
paths their forefathers had trod, the secret short cuts across hill
and valley, the ways by which the local man could escape or
intercept while the armed stranger tramped along the high roads.
All of which failed to carry much weight with the Oxfordshire men
of 1919, many of whom, as armed strangers, had tramped the high
roads of other countries.  They obviously regarded the parson as an
oddity, but being country people they knew that men, like trees and
unlike suburban houses, were never exactly the same, and this idea
of unsameness as the pattern of life meant that (as Blampied put
it) they didn't think there was anything VERY odd in anyone being a
LITTLE odd.

Several times the parson spoke on village greens to small, curious,
unenthusiastic audiences, most of whom melted away when he
suggested that there and then they should march over the ancient
ground, breaking down any barriers that might have been erected
during the past century or so; but in one village there was a more
active response, due to the fact that the closing of a certain path
had been recent and resented.  It was then that Blampied showed a
certain childlike pugnacity; he clearly derived enormous enjoyment
from leading a crowd of perhaps fifty persons, many of them
youngsters out for a lark, through Hilltop Farm and up Long Meadow
to the gap in the hedge that was now laced with fresh barbed wire.
Smith found he could best be useful in preventing the children from
destroying crops or tearing their clothes; he thought the whole
expedition a trifle silly but pleasingly novel.  Actually this
particular onslaught had quite an exciting finish; the owner of the
property, a certain General Sir Richard Hawkesley Wych-Furlough,
suddenly appeared on the scene, backed by a menacing array of
servants and gamekeepers.  Everything pointed to a battle, but all
that finally developed was a long and wordy argument between the
General and the parson, culminating in retirement by both sides and
a final shout from the General:  "What the hell's it got to do with
YOU, anyway?  You don't live here!"

"And that," as Blampied said afterwards, "from a man who used to be
Governor of so many islands he could only visit a few of them once
a year--so that any islander might have met his administrative
decisions with the same retort--'What's it got to do with YOU?  You
don't live here!'"

The notion continued to please him as he added:  "I was a
missionary on one of those islands--till I quarrelled with the
bosses.  I always quarrel with bosses. . . ."



Gradually Smith and Paula began to piece together Blampied's
history.  Born of a wealthy family whom he had long ago given up no
less emphatically than they had him, he had originally entered the
Church as a respectable and sanctioned form of eccentricity for
younger sons.  Later, even more eccentrically and with a good deal
more sincerity, he had served as a missionary in the South Seas
until his employers discovered him to be not only heretical, but a
bad compiler of reports.  After that he had come home to edit a
religious magazine, resigning only when plunging circulation led to
its bankruptcy.  For a time after that he had dabbled in politics,
joining the early Fabians, with whom he never quarrelled at all,
but from whom he became estranged by a widening gulf of mutual
exasperation.  "The truth is, Smith," he confessed, "I never could
get along with all the Risers-to-Second-That and the On-a-Point-of-
Orderers.  If I were God, I'd say--Let there be Light.  But as I'm
not God, I'd rather spend my time plotting for Him in the dark than
in holding committee meetings in a man-made blaze of publicity!"

He formed the habit of talking with the two of them for an hour or
so most evenings, especially as summer lagged behind and coal began
to burn in a million London grates.  To roof-dwellers it was a
rather dirty but strangely comforting transition--the touch of
smoke-laden fog drifting up from the river, the smell of
smouldering heaps in parks and gardens, the chill that seemed the
perfect answer to a fire, as the fire was to the chill.  For
London, Blampied claimed, was of all cities in the world the most
autumnal--its mellow brickwork harmonizing with fallen leaves and
October sunsets, just as the etched grays of November composed
themselves with the light and shade of Portland stone.  There was a
charm, a deathless charm, about a city whose inhabitants went about
muttering, "The nights are drawing in," as if it were a spell to
invoke the vast, sprawling creature-comfort of winter.  Indeed no
phrase, he once said, better expressed the feeling of curtained
enclosure, of almost stupefying cosiness, that blankets London
throughout the dark months--a sort of spiritual central heating,
warm and sometimes weepy, but not depressing--a Dickensian, never a
Proustian fug.

Those were the happy days when Smith began to write.  As most real
writers do, he wrote because he had something to say, not because
of any specific ambition to be a writer.  He turned out countless
articles and sketches that gave him pleasure only because they
contained a germ of what was in his mind; but he was never fully
satisfied with them himself and consequently never more than
slightly disappointed when editors promptly returned them.  He did
not grasp that, because he was a person of no importance, nobody
wanted to read his opinions at all.  Presently, by sheer accident,
he wrote something that fitted a formula; it was promptly accepted
and--even more important for him at the time--paid for.

After he had worked all morning he would often set out in the
afternoon with Paula on a planless excursion decided by some chance-
met bus; or sometimes they would tramp haphazardly first to the
left, then to the right, mile after mile, searching for books or
furniture in old, gas-lit shops, and returning late at night
through the narrow defiles of the City.  They liked the City, the
City with a capital C, and especially at dusk, when all the tea-
shops filled with men, a curious democracy within a plutocracy--
silk-hatted stockbrokers buying twopenny cups while at the same
table two-pounds-a-week clerks drank similar cups and talked of
wireless or motor bicycles or their suburban back gardens.  And
afterwards, as Paula took his arm on the pavement outside, they
would be caught in the human current sweeping along Old Broad
Street in a single eastward stream, then crossing Liverpool Street
like a flood tide into the vast station delta.  He loved to see
those people, so purposeful and yet so gentle, so free and yet so
disciplined, hurrying towards the little moving boxes that would
carry them home to secret suburbs--secret because they were so
unknown to one another, so that a bus shuttling all day between
Putney and Homerton gave one a mystical curiosity about all the
people in Homerton who had never seen Putney, and all the people in
Putney for whom Homerton was as strange as--perhaps stranger than--
Paris or New York.  There was something fantastic, too, in that
morning and evening migration, huger in man-miles than any movement
of the hordes of Tamerlane, something that might well be
incomprehensible to the urban masses of the future, schooled to
garden cities and decentralization.  But there could never be such
romance as in the pull of steam through the Bishopsgate tunnels, or
faces that stared in friendly indifference as trains raced parallel
out of Waterloo.

He wrote of such things, and he wrote as he saw--a little naïvely,
as if things had never been seen before--like the line drawings of
a child, with something of the same piercing simplicity.  It
probably helped him, as Blampied said, to have forgotten so much
about himself, because into that absence came an awareness far
beyond the personal reach--the idea of the past as something to be
apprehended in vision rather than explored in memory.  He wrote,
too, of the countryside as he had seen it: of the men in the pubs
with their red faces shy over mugs of beer--old couples outside
their cottages on summer evenings, silent and close, yet in that
silence and closeness telling all there is in the world--a pedlar
unlatching a gate with slow steps towards a lonely house--farm
workers at midday, asleep under trees--a little road over the hill,
curving here and there for no reason at all . . . scene after
scene, as a child turns pages in a loved picture book, yet behind
the apocalyptic wonderment of it all there was something to which
talks with Blampied had added shape and quality--the vision of a
new England rooted far back in the old, drawing its strength from a
thousand years instead of its weaknesses from a hundred.

"Follow that vision," Blampied once said.  "Follow it wherever it
leads.  Think it out.  Write it down.  I'd say PREACH it if the
word hadn't been debased by so many of my own profession."

"I couldn't preach, anyhow.  No more public appearances for me
after the last one."

"But preaching doesn't need a pulpit.  All it needs is what you
have--a faith."

"Is yours the same faith?"

"You have your vision of England, I have mine of the world--but
your England will fit into my world."  He added, after a pause:
"Does that sound arrogant?  Maybe.  We mustn't be afraid of a
secret arrogance.  After all, we are spies of God, mapping out
territory lost to the enemy when faith was lost."  His eyes
twinkled as he touched his collar.  "It isn't THIS, you know, that
makes me say so.  Religion's only one of the things that can die
without faith.  Take another, for the sake of something you may
feel I'm more impartial about--take the League of Nations.  It's
sickening now of that deadliest of modern diseases--popular
approval without private faith; it will die because it demanded a
crusade and we gave it a press campaign, because it's worth our
passion and we deluge it with votes of confidence and acts of
indifference.  It might have sprung alive out of the soul of a
saint; it could only be stillborn out of a clause in a treaty.  It
should have been preached until we were all aflame with it; instead
of which it's been flattered and fawned upon till most of us are
already bored with it.  Sometimes I've even thought we should have
given it ritual--a gesture to be made whenever the name's
mentioned, like the sign of the Cross for the faithful, or--for the
faithless--blowing out the match after the second man's cigarette."
As if reminded by that he pulled out his pipe and began to fill it
as he continued:  "This is a good moment to say how much I hope
you'll stay with me here--both of you.  That is, if you're happy."

"We're very happy.  But I have to think of how to make a living."

"Life's more important than a living.  So many people who make a
living are making death, not life.  Don't ever join them.  They're
the grave-diggers of our civilization--the safe men, the
compromisers, the money-makers, the muddlers-through.  Politics is
full of them, so is business, so is the Church.  They're popular,
successful--some of them work hard, others are slack, but all of
them can tell a good story.  Never were such charming grave-diggers
in the world's history--and part of their charm is that they don't
know what they are, just as they don't know what WE are, either.
They set us down as cranks, oddities, social outsiders, harmless
freaks who can't be lured by riches or placated by compliments.
But a time may come when we, the dangerous men, shall either be
killed or made kings--because a time may also come when it won't be
enough to love England as a tired business man loves a nap after
lunch.  We may be called upon to love her as the Irish love Ireland--
darkly, bitterly, and with a hatred for some who have loved her
less and themselves more."

After another of their talks he told Smith of a friend of his in
Liverpool, editor of a provincial paper with a small but
influential circulation.  Apparently Blampied, unknown to Smith,
had sent some of his literary work for this man to see; and now had
come a request to see not only more of the work, but the writer of
it.  "So I hope you'll pay him a visit, because whatever project he
has in mind, or even if he hasn't one at all, I know you'll like
him personally."

"Another dangerous man?" Smith queried.

Blampied nodded with an answering smile.

Smith was eager to go as soon as possible; after further
communication an appointment was made for just after Christmas.
Paula and he spent the intervening week in a glow of anticipation,
culminating in a Christmas dinner in their own attic room, with
Blampied as a guest.  They decorated the place like children and
found him like a third child in his own enjoyment of the meal and
the occasion.  Later in the evening he gave them, to their complete
astonishment, an almost professional display of conjuring tricks;
after which Paula offered some of her stage impersonations,
including one of a very prim Victorian wife trying to convey to her
equally prim Victorian husband the fact that she rather thought she
was going to have a child.  Towards midnight, when Blampied had
drunk a last toast with them and gone down to his rooms below, they
sat on the hearth-rug in the firelight happily reviewing the events
of the evening, and presently Smith remarked that her impersonation
of the Victorian wife was new to him--he didn't remember her ever
doing it on the stage, but he thought it would have gone very well
if she had.

"But it wasn't written then," she answered.  "I write all my own
sketches--I always did--and I wrote this one last night when you
were downstairs talking to Blampied.  I suppose it was on my mind--
the subject, I mean--because I'm in the same position, except that
I'm not going to be prim about it."

He took her into his arms quietly, sexlessly, as they sat before
the fire.  Those were the happy hours.

The next day, as if their happiness were not enough, Blampied
brought them news of another kind.  It was now many weeks since
they had last seen any mention of the Fulverton case, and though
they felt easier about it they still opened newspapers with a
qualm.  But that morning Blampied had been searching old papers for
something he wished to trace and by sheer accident had come across
something else.  "It seems that your Thomas Atwill left hospital
more than a month ago, and though of course that doesn't mean the
case is closed, I daresay the news will be a load off your mind."

It so definitely was that the idea occurred to them to celebrate by
doing things they had been nervous of for so long--a regular
evening out.  They asked Blampied to join them, but he excused
himself on the score of work; before they left the house, however,
he shook hands with Smith and wished him a pleasant trip, for it
had been arranged that he should leave that night for Liverpool.
Even though it would only be for a few days, the impending
separation added spice to the evening.  They went first to the
Holborn Empire to see Little Tich, then for supper to an Italian
restaurant in Soho.  When they emerged, still with a couple of
hours until train time, he saw a hansom cab swinging along Coventry
Street, temptingly out of place on a cold December night, but for
that very reason he waved to it, telling the man to take them
anywhere, just for the ride.  Under the windy sky the blaze of
Christmas still sparkled in the shops as they drove away, jingling
north and west along Regent Street, through Hanover Square and past
Selfridge's to Baker Street, with ghosts of Londoners stepping out
of their tall houses ("And if I mistake not, my dear Watson, here
is our client just arriving"), bidding them godspeed into the
future; and because they both had faith in that future they were
drenched in a sort of wild ecstasy, and had the cabby drive them
round and round Regent's Park while they talked and laughed and
whistled to the parrots every time they passed the Zoo.

Those were the happy moments.

Later, on the platform at Euston, walking up and down beside the
train, she said she wished she were going with him, though she knew
they couldn't afford it, the little money he was beginning to make
by writing wasn't nearly enough for such unnecessary jaunts.  "I
know that, darling, but I still wish I were going with you, and if
you were just to say the word, like the crazy man you are, I'd rush
to the booking-office and buy a ticket--which would be stupid.  I
don't really mean it, Smithy--I'm only joking, of course.  But I'm
part of you--I'll only be half alive while you're away--we belong
to the same world, as Blampied says about his friends--"

"I know that too.  There's something RIGHT about us--about our
being together here.  And Blampied wants us to stay."

"I'd like to stay too.  I love that old ugly house."

"So do I.  And d'you know, I don't WANT to remember anything now--
anything I've ever forgotten.  It would be so--so unimportant.  My
life began with you, and my future goes on with you--there's
nothing else, Paula."

"Oh, what a lovely thing to tell me!  And by the way, HE said he
hoped you wouldn't remember."

"Blampied?"

"Yes.  He's devoted to you."

"I should be proud to think so, because I'm equally devoted to
him."  He kissed her laughingly.  "Must we spend these last few
seconds talking of someone else?"

"But he isn't altogether someone else.  He's part of us--part of
our happiness--don't you feel that?"

"Darling, I do--and I also love you!"

"I love you too.  ALWAYS."

"The whistle's going--I'd better get inside.  Good-bye, Paula."

"Good-bye, old boy."

"That's the first time you've said 'old boy' for weeks!"

"I know, I'm dropping it.  Now I'm not a touring-company actress I
don't have to talk like one.  I can impersonate anybody, you know--
even the wife of a writer on a secret errand to an editor in
Liverpool. . . ."  The train began to move.  "Oh, DARLING--come
back soon!"

"I will!  Good-bye!"

He reached Liverpool in the early morning.  It was raining, and in
hurrying across a slippery street he stumbled and fell.



PART FIVE


Rainier began to tell me most of this during the drive back from
Melbury that night; a few minor details, obtained afterwards from
other sources, I have since fitted in.  We drove to his Club,
because Mrs. Rainier was at Stourton; after perfunctory greetings
to a few members in the lobby he ordered drinks to be sent up to
the suite he usually lived in when Kenmore was not in use.

He had talked rapidly during the car journey, but now, in quieter
surroundings, he seemed to accept more calmly the fact that there
was much to tell that he could at last quite easily recall.  Once,
when I thought he was growing tired and might remember more if he
rested for a while, he brushed the suggestion aside.  "You see, I
want to tell you all I can in case I ever forget it again, and if I
do, you must remind me--you MUST--understand?"  I promised, and he
continued:  "Not that I think I shall--it's too clear in my mind
ever to be lost again.  I could find Blampied's old house in Vale
Street now if I tried--Number 73, I think it was--or maybe 75--that
much I HAVE forgotten, but I suppose I can't expect memory to come
back without the normal wear-and-tear of years.  Or can I?  Has it
been in a sort of cold storage, with every detail kept fresh?"

We laughed, glad of an excuse to do so, and I said it raised an
interesting point which I wasn't expert enough to decide.  He then
resumed:  "Because I actually FEEL as if it all happened only the
other day, instead of twenty years ago.  That house of Blampied's,
for instance--it had four dreadful bay windows, one on each side of
the front door and two others immediately above in the room that
wasn't occupied--the attics hadn't got any bay windows.  There was
a pretty grim sort of basement, too, where the housekeeper lived--
she didn't have to, she chose it because she was crazy enough to
like it.  She was a queer woman altogether--God knows where
Blampied picked her up or how long she'd been with him, but he
cried when she died, and looked after her cat--which was also a
queer animal, an enormous tabby--spent most of its life sleeping,
probably because of its weight--it had won a prize as the biggest
cat north of the Thames."  He added, smiling:  "I daresay you think
I'm inventing this--that there aren't prizes for big cats.  But
some newspaper ran a competition as a stunt--two first prizes, for
North and South London--and Blampied's housekeeper's cat won one of
them."

No, I thought--you're not inventing; you're just enjoying yourself
rather indiscriminately, as a child frolics in the sand when he
first reaches the seashore; I could see how, in the first flush of
recollection, the mere placement of the past, the assembling of
details one after the other, was giving him an intense pleasure,
and one by no means discountenanced by his use of words like "grim"
and "dreadful."

He went on like that for some time, going back over his story,
picking out details here and there for random intricate
examination; and carefully avoiding the issue that was foremost in
my thoughts.  Then, once again, I saw that we had talked till dawn
and well past it, for there was already a pale edge to the window.
I switched off his bedroom light and pulled the curtains; far below
us the early morning trams were curving along the Embankment.
We watched the scene for a moment; then he touched my arm
affectionately.  "Time for an adjournment, I think.  I know what's
in your mind, it's in mine, too, but it's too big to grasp--I'm
collecting the small things first.  You've been good to listen to
me.  What have we on Monday?"

My thoughts were so far away I could not give an immediate answer,
though of course I knew.  He laughed at my hesitation, saying he
hoped I should not lose my memory just because he had regained his.
By then I had remembered and could tell him:  "Anglo-American
Cement--ten-thirty at the Cannon Street Hotel."  To which he
replied, almost gaily:  "The perfect closure to all our
conversation. . . ."

"Don't you want me for anything tomorrow?"

"No, I'll sleep most of the day . . . at least I hope so. . . .
Good night."



If this is a difficult story to tell, it may be pleaded in partial
defence that the human mind is a difficult territory to explore,
and that the world it inhabits does not always fit snugly into any
other world.  I must admit that I found the fitting a hard one as,
some thirty-six hours later, I watched the sunlight stream through
stained-glass windows to dazzle the faces of Anglo-American Cement
shareholders.  From the report afterwards sent out with the
dividend I find that Rainier spoke as follows:--

"You will be glad to know that our sales have continued to increase
throughout the year, after a somewhat slow beginning, and that
prospects of continued improvement are encouraging.  The
government's national defence preparations during the September
crisis of last year led to additional consumption of cement
throughout the country, and this, at prices we were able to obtain,
resulted in generally satisfactory business.  During the year we
opened a new plant at Nottingham which we expect to enhance
production very considerably during the coming year.  Your
directors are constantly watchful for any opportunities of further
economies, either by technical developments or by the absorption of
competing companies, and with these aims in view, it is proposed,
in addition to the usual dividend of 10 per cent, to issue new
shares at forty-two shillings and sixpence in the proportion of one
to five held by existing shareholders."  (Loud applause.)

We had had no chance for private conversation on our way to the
meeting, for the secretary of the company had driven with us; and
afterwards there was a directors' hotel lunch that did not disperse
until almost three o'clock.  As I went to retrieve our hats at the
cloak-room I overheard comments on how Rainier had been in grand
form, looking so much better; wonderful year it had been; wonderful
the way he'd pulled the Anglo-American out of its earlier doldrums--
remember when the shares were down to five bob?--nice packet
anyone could have made who'd helped himself in those days--well,
maybe Rainier did, why not?--after all, he'd had faith in himself,
faith in the business, faith in the country--that's what was
wanted, pity more people didn't have it.

Later, as we were driving away, I repeated the compliments to
Rainier, thinking they might please him.  He shook his head
sombrely.  "Don't call it faith.  I haven't had FAITH in anything
for years.  That artist fellow, Kitty's young man, told me that
when he was drunk--and he was right.  Faith is something deeper,
more passionate, less derisive, more tranquil than anything I've
ever felt in board-rooms and offices--that's why peace won't come
to me now. . .  God, I'm tired."

"Why don't you go home and rest?"

He stared at me ironically.  "So simple, isn't it?  Just go home
and rest.  Like a child. . . .  Or like an old man.  The trouble
is, I'm neither.  Or else both."  He suddenly patted my arm.
"Sorry--don't take any notice of my bad temper."

"I don't think you're bad-tempered."

"By the way," he said smiling, "I've just thought of something--
it's a queer coincidence, don't you think?--two of my best friends
I first met quite accidentally on trains . . . Blampied and
yourself. . . ."

"I'm pleased you should class me with him."

"Why not?  He talked to me--you listen to me--even when I want to
talk all night.  That's another thing I ought to apologize for--"

"Not at all--in fact if it helps you now to go on talking--to
continue the recollections--"

"I don't think I've much more to say, unless there's anything you'd
particularly like to know?"

There were many things I wanted to know, but for the present I felt
I could only mention one of them.  "Those articles you wrote, some
of which were published--"

"Yes?"

"What papers did they appear in?"

"The Northern Evening Post took two or three--the worst.  The
others--don't know what happened to them.  Maybe they fell in the
gutter when the car hit me."

"You were carrying them--THEN?"

"Yes, I was on my way to see the editor."

"A pity you hadn't taken copies."

"It was before the days I bothered about carbon paper.  You see, I
never behaved like a full-dress author.  I used Blampied's
typewriter because he had one, but I didn't card-index anything or
call the room where I worked a study or self-consciously burn any
midnight oil.  Matter of fact, I was in bed by ten on most nights,
and I wrote if and when I felt like it.  I never thought of the
word 'inspiration' as having anything to do with me--it was a
continual vision of life that mattered more than words in print,
but if I did get into print I had more ambition to be alive for
half a day in a local paper than to be embalmed for ever between
covers on a library shelf."

"All the same, though, those articles might have been collected in
book form."

"Blampied thought of that, and Paula and I once made a choice of
what we thought were the best--but I wasn't very keen on the idea,
and it certainly wasn't likely any publisher would have been
either.  I remember it chiefly because the evening we were choosing
them Blampied came in and found us huddled together on the floor
with the typed pages surrounding us.  He asked, 'What are you two
planning--the book or your future?'--and Paula laughed and answered
'Both.'"

We had entered Palace Yard, passing the saluting policeman and a
swarm of newsboys carrying posters about Hitler.  As we left the
car a few seconds later Rainier added:  "It's odd to reflect, isn't
it, that at that very moment a few hundred miles away a man whom we
had never heard of was also planning a book--and our future."

We crossed the pavement and entered the Gothic doorway; the House,
as always, seemed restful, almost soporific, on a summer afternoon.

"And you've never written anything like those articles since?" I
queried, after a pause.

"I've been too busy, Sir Hawk, as the lady called you, and possibly
also my prose style isn't what it used to be.  I did write one
book, though--or perhaps Sherlock would have called it a monograph--
the title was Constructive Monetary Policy and an International
Cartel--I hope you've never heard of it."

I said I had not only heard of it but read it.

"Then I hope you didn't buy it when it first came out, because I
came across it the other day on a barrow in the Farringdon Road,
marked 'Choice' and going for fourpence."

I smiled, recognizing the familiar self-ridicule by which he worked
himself out of his moods.  We walked on through cool corridors to
the Terrace and found a table.  As nearly always, a breeze blew
over the parapet, bringing tangs of the sea and of wharves, a
London mixture that added the right flavour to tea and buttered
toast and the special edition of the Evening Standard.  More bother
about Danzig; Hitler had made another speech.  Some Members came
along, stopped at our table to exchange a few words of greeting;
one, of them, seeing the headlines, exclaimed:  "Why don't they let
him have it, then maybe we'll all get some peace?"--but another
retorted indignantly:  "My dear fellow, we CAN'T let him have any
more, that's just the point, we've GOT to make a stand--eh,
Rainier?"  Rainier said:  "We've got to have peace and we've got to
make a stand--that's exactly the policy of the government."  They
passed on, uncertain whether he had been serious or cynical (and
that uncertainty, now I come to think of it, was part of the reason
why he hadn't climbed the higher rungs of the Parliamentary
ladder).

He looked so suddenly exhausted after they had gone that I asked if
he had been able to sleep at all during the previous day and night.

"Not much.  A few hours yesterday morning after you left.  The rest
of the day I devoted to an investigation."

"Oh?"

"I went to Vale Street to look for Blampied's old house.  It's
disappeared--been pulled down to make room for one of those huge
municipal housing schemes.  All that part of London seems to be
changed--and it's certainly no loss, except in memories.  I
couldn't even find anybody who REMEMBERED Blampied."

"That's not very surprising."

"Why not?"  He stared at me sharply, then added:  "D'you mean you
don't believe he ever existed?"

"Oh, he existed all right.  But he died such a long time ago."

"When?"

"In 1920."

"Good God!  Within a year--of--of my--leaving--like that."

"Not only within a year.  Within a month.  JANUARY 1920."

"How do you know all this?"

"I also spent part of yesterday investigating.  I searched the
obituaries in newspaper files and found this."  I handed him a
sheet of paper on which I had copied out the following from the
Daily Gazette of January 17, 1920:--


We regret to announce the death at the age of seventy-four of the
Reverend John Sylvester Blampied, for many years Rector of St.
Clement's Church, Vale Street, North London.  Pneumonia following a
chill ended a career that had often attracted public attention--
particularly in connection with the preservation of ancient
footpaths, a cause of which Mr. Blampied had been a valiant if
sometimes tempestuous champion.  His death took place in Liverpool,
and funeral services will be held at St. Clement's on Friday.


Rainier stared at the paragraph long enough to read it several
times, then handed it back.  His face was very pale.  "LIVERPOOL?
What was he doing there?"

"It doesn't say."

"I--I think I can guess.  He'd gone to look for me."

"We don't KNOW that."

"But isn't it probable?"

"It's--it's possible.  But you couldn't help it.  You couldn't help
finding out who you were."

"I can't help comparing what I found with what I lost!"

"You didn't lose permanently.  You've got it all back now."

"But too late."  He waved his arm with sudden comprehensive
emphasis.  "ISN'T it too late?  I'm down to ask a question in the
House shortly, but not THAT question, yet it's the only one worth
asking or answering . . . isn't EVERYTHING too late?  I should have
stayed in that London attic.  There were things to do in those days
if one had vision to do them, but now there's neither time nor
vision, but only this whiff of putrefying too-lateness.  It was
almost too late even then, except that by a sort of miracle there
came a gap in long-gathering clouds--an incredibly last chance--a
golden shaft along which England might have climbed back to glory."

"Less lyrically, you mean you'd like to set the clock back?"

"Yes, set it back, and set it right, and then wind it up, because
it's been running down ever since Englishmen were more interested
in the price of things on the market than what they could grow in
their own gardens."

"I see.  A back-to-the-land movement?"

"Back anywhere away from the unrealness of counting able-bodied men
as a national burden just because they're listed as unemployed, and
figures in bank ledgers as assets just because they're supposed to
represent riches.  Back anywhere from the mood in which poor men
beg me for jobs in Rainier factories and rich men for tips about
Rainier shares."

"All the same, though--and you've often said it yourself--the
Rainier firm gives steady employment to thousands--"

"I know, I know.  But I know too that the way that made Rainiers
rich was the opposite of the way to make England strong."

"Yet if war comes, won't the riches of Rainier have been of some
benefit?  After all, the new steelworks you were able to build two
years ago, and the mass-production motor plant--"

"True--and what a desolate irony!  But only HALF true, because
strength is only half in tanks and steel.  The other half is faith,
wisdom--"

A House servant approached and said something in his ear; he
answered, consulting his watch:  "Oh yes.  I'll come at once."
Then he added to me:  "It's time for that question."

We left the table and walked through the Smoking Room to the Lobby;
then we separated, he to enter the Chamber, I to watch and listen
from the Strangers' Gallery.

Again, as earlier at the Cement meeting, I was in no mood for
correct secretarial concentration; from where I sat the main thing
that impressed me was his strained pallor on rising to speak; in
the green-yellow glow that came on as dusk fell his face took on a
curious transparency, as if some secret hidden self were flooding
outwards and upwards.  But that, I knew, was a mere trick of
artificial light; the House of Commons illumination flatters in
such a way, often gilding with spirituality a scene which is not,
in itself, VERY remarkable--a few Members going through the
formality which would later entitle them to boast of having "raised
the matter in the House," than which, except for writing letters to
The Times, fortunate generations of Englishmen were never called
upon to do more.  That afternoon the benches were thinly populated,
nothing important was expected, and I find from newspaper reports
that the following took place:--


Mr. Charles Rainier (Conservative: West Lythamshire) asked whether
a consignment of trade catalogues dispatched by a business firm in
his constituency had been confiscated by the port authorities at
Balos Blanca, and whether this was not contrary to Section 19 of
the recent Trade Convention signed at Amazillo.

The Right Honourable Sir George Smith-Jordan (Conservative:
Houghley), replying for the Government, said he had been informed
by His Majesty's Consul at Balos Blanca that the reported
confiscation had been only partial and temporary, affecting a
certain section of the catalogues about which there appeared to
have been some linguistic misunderstanding, and that the greater
part of the consignment had since been delivered to the addressees.
As to whether the action of the port authorities had or had not
been an infringement of any clause of the Amazillo Trade
Convention, he was not in a position to say until further
information had been received.

Mr. Jack Wells (Labour: Mawlington) asked whether, having regard to
the general unsatisfactoriness of the incident, His Majesty's
Government would consider the omission of Balos Blanca from the
scheduled list of ports of call during the proposed Good-Will Tour
of the British Trade Delegation in 1940.

The Right Honourable Sir George Smith-Jordan: No, sir.


Immediately after that, Rainier picked up his papers and walked
out, leaving the Mother of Parliaments to struggle along with
barely more than a quorum till after the dinner hour.  Meanwhile I
left the Gallery, in which a small crowd of provincial and foreign
visitors had been defiantly concealing their disappointment at the
proceedings below, and met him in the Lobby; he was gossiping with
strangers, but behind the façade of casualness I saw how haggard he
looked, his face restlessly twitching in and out of smiles.  Seeing
me approach he made a sign for me to wait while he detached himself
from the crowd--they were constituents, he explained later, and
constituents had to be humoured, especially when one's majority had
been only twelve last time.  "They're so proud because they heard
me ask about that catalogue business--they have a touching belief
that a question in Parliament pulls invisible wires, sets invisible
forces in motion, works invisible miracles all over the world."

Passing through the Smoking Room again on the way to the Terrace we
saw the name "McAlister" on the notice-board that announced current
speakers; Rainier smiled and said that was fine--McAlister always
gave one a chance to stroll for half an hour with the certainty of
not missing anything.  "By the way, I'm dining at the Historians'
Club, so I don't think I'll need you for the rest of the evening."

"Are you down to speak?"

"I'm not on the programme, but I daresay I'll be asked."

"You don't have to go if you'd rather not.  I can make up some
excuse."

"What's the idea--encouraging me to shirk?"

"I thought--perhaps--you might be feeling rather exhausted."

"Not a bit of it NOW.  I'm game for more than a speech at a Club
dinner.  You'd be surprised if you knew what's in my mind."

We stepped into the cool evening air and began walking towards
Westminster Bridge.  He had given me a cue to say what I had been
planning most of the day.

"My advice would be to put the whole thing OUT of your mind, now
that it's happened at last, and there isn't a gap any longer.  You
ought to be satisfied."

"SATISFIED?"  He swung round on me.  "When you say that I wonder if--
if you quite realize--what it all amounts to?"

"Oh yes, I do.  It means that so far as there was ever anything
abnormal in your life, you're now completely cured."

We came near the Bridge, a blaze of illumination from lines of
trams, and in that light I saw such anguish in his eyes that I
could only repeat, with an emphasis that somehow drained away as
the words were spoken:  "Utterly and completely cured."

"You don't REALLY think that's all it amounts to?  You must know
there's only one thing that matters--only one thing left for me to
do."

"And that is?"

"I must find her."

So there it was squarely before us, the issue that had of course
been in my mind, that I had done a pathetic best to make him shirk
by conscientiously shirking it myself.  We walked a little way in
silence.

"After all these years," I said at length, "it doesn't seem very
likely."

"I must try."

"It was up to her, surely, to look for you--yet apparently she
never did."

"Maybe.  Maybe not.  I don't care.  And besides--there's my son.
She was going to have a child."

"But even a return of memory can't prove it was a boy."

He smiled.  "No, but I hope so.  I've always wanted a boy.  He'd be
eighteen now.  I must find him . . . both of them."

"And if by chance--not that I think there IS much chance--but just
for the sake of argument--if you SHOULD happen to succeed, what
then?"

He answered with a certain impregnable simplicity:  "Then I should
be happy again."

"Possibly, but apart from your own personal happiness . . .  Look
here, why not think it over--not now--but later--calmly--when
you're alone?"

"I'm calm now, and it doesn't particularly help me to be alone when
I think.  I was thinking it over very clearly all the time I was
asking that question in the House."

"Yes, I could see you were--but that doesn't meet my point, which
is that you haven't--you can't have--reckoned with all the
complications--"

"COMPLICATIONS?  You'll be telling me next I ought to consult old
Truslove!"

"Actually I wasn't thinking of legal complications at all, though
they doubtless exist.  It's other kinds you'd find most
disagreeable--newspaper publicity, gossip and scandal that wouldn't
do you any good politically."

"I think I've had enough good done to me politically."

"And then of course there's your wife.  Whatever your private
feelings are, and of course it's none of my business, you ought at
least to consider HER position."

"Anything I ought to do now is nothing compared with what I ought
to have done before."

"But that's in the past--IRREVOCABLE."

"No, not if she and I can find each other again."

"It seems to me we're talking about different persons."

"Oh, I see."

We walked on for another spell of silence.  Then I said:  "But you
don't even know that the . . . the other woman's ALIVE?"

He was silent for a while.  "DO you?" I pressed.

"No, that's true."  Then suddenly:  "But if she is, and I can find
her, then nothing on earth will stop me--neither publicity, nor
politics, nor . . ."  He turned to me abruptly.  "I don't want to
be dramatic.  Let's leave that to the journalists who'll have the
job of making a nine days' wonder of it."

"Maybe they won't.  Maybe they'll have more important news, the way
events are going."

As we turned into the Smoking Room the board showed that McAlister
was still speaking.  A group of Members at one of the tables
greeted Rainier chaffingly and asked him to join them; as if
relieved to be rid of the argument he gave me a nod of friendly
farewell and sat down with them, completely master of himself so
far as voice and manner were concerned.  But I heard one of them
say, just as I was entering the corridor:  "You look pretty washed-
out, Rainier--what's the matter?  Hitler getting on your nerves?"

I went back to my rooms in Bedford Square and spent the evening
with the latest editions of the papers.  But I could not keep my
mind on the fast-developing European crisis; my thoughts were full
of Rainier and his story; I mused upon his whole life as I now knew
it: childhood at Stourton, with the despotic father and adored
mother; schooldays; then the war, the hospitals, the brief
unmemoried idyll; then the return to the routine struggle that had
brought him wealth, power, and a measure of fame.  I could not but
feel his personal drama near to me as I turned on the radio for the
larger drama of our times, for that too had reached a moment of
desperate retrospect.

About midnight I strolled into Tottenham Court Road and watched the
crowd pouring out of theatres and restaurants; when I returned
there was a letter pushed under the door.  It was from Rainier,
enclosing another letter.  He wrote:--


I said I would let you see that last note Kitty wrote me; here it
is, and whatever it means to you, to me, re-reading it just now, it
meant as much more as you can possibly imagine.  Yrs. C. R.


The letter from Kitty, dated September 30, 1929, was as follows:--


MY DEAR CHARLES,

I'm writing this in a hurry, but after thinking things out as
slowly and carefully as even you could--in fact I've been gathering
together many thoughts I began to have the moment we left the
Jungfraujoch last April, in the train and on the boat, and then
again off and on ever since, and especially in the restaurant
tonight--Dearest, it wasn't the weather or the altitude or the
stock market--it was our own hearts sinking a little, and I'm going
to face that frankly, because I doubt if you ever would or could.
I can't marry you, Charles dear--that's what it amounts to.  We've
had marvellous times, we'd still go on having them, we have so much
in common, the same way of seeing things, the same kind of
craziness (though you keep yours in check more than I do)--you
could make me perfectly happy if only I were selfish enough not to
care or stupid enough not to notice that at some point in the final
argument you waver and turn away.  So here's my decision--No,
darling, while it's still not quite too late; and here are my plans--
I'm leaving London immediately, I'll have gone before you read
this--I shall probably join Jill (wherever she is, Luxor, I think)--
not tragically, but in a mood to see what fun I can find--and I
usually can.  I'm sending this by special messenger because I want
it to reach you before you go to the office, so that you won't send
out those invitations and then have to cancel them--as for selling
short to amuse me, it wouldn't amuse me, I'm afraid, but if you
think it would amuse you, why don't you do it?  Dear Charles, I
want you to be happy, to be amused, to do things because you desire
them, not because you're urged or tempted; I wish we could be and
do all we talked of on the mountain, but the fact is, I'm not the
one for you, though God knows the mistake was excusable for both of
us, because I'm NEARLY the one--I claim that much and it's
something to go on being proud of.  But "nearly" isn't enough for a
lifetime--it would be too hard to strain after the hidden
difference.  And there's something else that may sound utterly
absurd, but let me say it--sometimes, especially when we've been
closest, I've had a curious feeling that I REMIND YOU OF SOMEONE
ELSE--someone you may have met or may yet meet--because with that
strange memory of yours, the tenses get mixed up--or don't they?
But Charles, because I AM so nearly the one, and because I love you
more than anyone I shall ever marry, will you forgive me for this
upset and stay friends?--K.


I went to his City office the following morning and waited till
after ten o'clock (he usually arrived at nine); then I rang up his
Club and was told he had left very early, giving no forwarding
address.  It was a day of such important engagements that I went
over to the Club immediately, hoping to find out more than they
would tell me over the telephone.

The porter, who knew me, said he had left about six, by car.

"Hanson was with him then?"

"No, sir, he drove alone.  It wasn't his usual car--quite a small
one, a brown two-seater."

"But he hasn't got a two-seater."

"Well, he went away in one--that's all I can tell you, sir.  I
think it was an Austin, but I'm not sure."

"And he left no message for me?"

"No, sir--no message for anybody, except that he'd be away till he
got back.  That was his phrase.  He seemed in a very cheerful mood.
I thought maybe he had some good news, but it don't look like it
from today's papers."

"Well, I expect I'll hear from him--it's all right."  I went away
as if I thought it really was, because I was anxious not to start
gossip at the Club.  Then I went back to the City office and
pretended the mystery was cleared up--he'd had to go away for a few
days on an important political errand; I telephoned to cancel all
his appointments for the day, giving the same story, except that to
those in the political world I made out it was a business errand.
There were certain advantages in belonging to two worlds.  I
wondered if I should hear from him, by either wire or telephone, as
the day proceeded, but no message came, and in the late afternoon I
drove to Stourton.  There were several cars outside the main
entrance, but none was a brown two-seater; I hadn't really expected
it.  Woburn met me on the threshold.  "What are YOU doing here?" he
greeted me, as if he owned the place.

"What are YOU doing here, for that matter?  Still on the
catalogue?"

"No, I've finished that and several more since.  I'm just a guest."

"Well, that's very nice."

"There's going to be a big party this week-end."

There was, and that was what I had come about.  "Where's Mrs.
Rainier?"

"On the terrace--dispensing cocktails and small talk with her usual
glassy proficiency.  Just a local crowd--they'll go soon."

"Let's join them."

I realized then, as soon as I saw her in the distance, how keenly
my sympathies had been enlisted for a woman whose glassiest
proficiency could hardly help her much in the situation that was
now so rapidly developing.  As we shook hands she seemed to me
rather like a pathetic tight-rope walker doing her tricks in
confident unawareness that the rope was about to be cut.

The crowd were mostly neighbours whom I had met before, but there
was one fresh face--Sir William Somebody, whom I knew to be a
retired diplomat who lived on his pension in a farmhouse rented
from the Rainiers.  Mrs. Rainier introduced me with the remark that
perhaps, having just driven from London, I could give him the
latest news.  "Sir William thinks the situation's far worse than
people realize."

I passed on what news there was; then a girl called Cynthia
exclaimed:  "We mustn't miss the wireless bulletin.  Hasn't he been
making another speech today?"  (It had come to the point where an
unrelated "he" could only refer to Hitler.)

"Just words, nothing but words," someone else muttered.

"Better than actions, anyhow."

Mrs. Rainier intervened lazily:  "Oh, I'm not so sure of that as I
used to be.  I mean, when you're waiting for something to happen,
and rather dreading it . . ."  She went on:  "Have you ever been
going somewhere with a crowd and you're certain it's the wrong road
and you tell them, but they won't listen, so you just have to plod
along in what you know is the wrong direction till somebody more
important gets the same idea?"

"A parable, darling.  Please interpret."

She seemed embarrassed by being the focus of attention--which was
unusual of her.  "No, thanks, Cynthia.  That's been enough words
for ME."  She laughed and came round with the cocktail-shaker,
refilling the glasses, including her own.

Sir William resumed:  "Well, if he DOES march into Poland, we shall
fight."  Then suddenly he pointed to the great avenue of elms for
which Stourton was famous.  "Look at those trees--planted two
centuries ago, deliberately, by someone who thought of a time when
someone else would see them like this.  Who could do such a thing
today?"  Nobody informed him, and after a pause to deposit an olive
stone in an ash-tray he went on:  "The most we do is to bury things
under foundation-stones so that future civilizations can dig into
our ruins and wonder."

We all laughed, because after a few drinks what can one do but
laugh; then in ones and twos the party dispersed and drove away in
its cars.  I went to the library and turned on the radio for the
news bulletin; Hitler's speech had been just another threat to
march.  Somehow one didn't believe he would; there had been crises
before, ending up in a deal; so that one had the half-cynical
suspicion that both sides were secretly arranging another deal and
that the wordy warfare was just shadow-boxing, face-saving,
anything but a prelude to the guns.  While I was listening Sheldon
entered to announce that dinner would be almost immediately, and
that Mrs. Rainier had said "not dress."

"Good--since I haven't brought anything."

"I think Mrs. Rainier anticipated that."

"Very thoughtful of her."

"You left Mr. Rainier in the City?"

"Er . . . yes."

"Then you'll be going back in the morning?"

"I expect so."

He nodded and went to the door, then turned and asked:  "What's
going to happen, do you think?"

"Can't tell yet, but it looks pretty serious."

He said, still standing in the doorway:  "I mean what's going to
happen to Mr. Rainier?"

He went on, facing my stare:  "You said he's in the City."

"I didn't say that.  I said I left him there."

"Don't you know where he is now?"

"No."

"Isn't that rather peculiar?"

"Many things are peculiar, Sheldon."

"Are you worried about him? . . .  You must excuse me, I have a
special reason for asking."

"I'm sure you have.  It might even be the same reason I have for
not answering."

He came back into the room.  "Mr. Harrison . . . has he gone away
to look for somebody?"

"I really don't think I can discuss--"  Then something in his
glance made me add:  "But supposing he had--then what?"

He smiled his slow slanting smile.  "Then you don't need to worry."

"I didn't say I was worrying at all.  But why don't I need to?"

"Because he won't succeed in finding the person he's looking for."

"How do you know?"

"Because he never has succeeded."

He left me then, and a few minutes later the dinner-gong sounded.
When I joined Mrs. Rainier in the dining-room, with Sheldon
standing at the sideboard, I had a feeling they had been exchanging
glances if not words about me, but I could not say much during
dinner, on account of Woburn's presence.  As if by tacit agreement
we left him most of the talking, which he kept up very agreeably
throughout the meal--he was really a very adaptable young man, you
would have thought him born and bred at Stourton, except that most
of those who had been were so much less smoothly articulate.  I was
wondering how I could shake him off afterwards, but Mrs. Rainier
did it for me, saying outright that she expected I had some
business to talk over, so if Woburn would excuse us . . .

"Do you mind if we have a fire?" she asked, as soon as we were
alone in the drawing-room.  I helped her to remove the heavy
screen, saying something about the night being cold for the eve of
September.

"It isn't that," she answered, kneeling on the hearth-rug.  "But it
makes a more cheerful background when so many uncheerful things are
happening."

Looking at her then, I realized for the first time how much more
she was than merely vivacious and attractive; her face had a beauty
that poured into it from within--a secret, serene radiance.  She
went on, stooping to the fire:  "You've saved me the trouble of
calling at the office tomorrow--I wanted to ask about something."

"Good job you didn't, because I'm not sure Mr. Rainier will be
there."

"Oh?  He's gone away somewhere?"

"Yes."  I remembered him saying she was never surprised at any of
his movements.  "And as I don't know when exactly he'll be coming
back, I was wondering about the week-end plans."

"The political situation's so serious I doubt if we'd have had the
party anyway.  Yes, let's cancel it."

"That's what I was going to suggest."

"Nice of you, but why didn't you telephone?"  She added hastily:
"Not that I'm not pleased to see you--I always am--but it gave you
the journey."

"Oh, I didn't mind.  I'm equally pleased to see YOU."

She laughed.  "Now we've had the exchange of compliments--"

She didn't know what else to say, I could see that; and after a
pause I resumed:  "What was it you wanted to ask about if you had
called at the office?"

"Oh yes, maybe you can tell me just as well.  Why did you and
Charles drive out to Melbury the other night?"

The sheer unexpectedness of the question nonplussed me for a
moment.  In the meantime she went on:  "And don't blame Hanson--he
wasn't to know he'd overheard such a tremendous secret!"  She was
laughing.

"Oh, not--er--exactly a secret."

"Well, a mystery."

I said to gain time:  "And you were going to pay a special visit
just to ask that?"

"Yes, indeed--I've been terribly curious ever since I heard about
it."

"Then it's my turn to say why didn't you telephone?"

"Perhaps because I wanted to see your faces when I asked you--it's
so much harder to hide something that way!"  She laughed again.
"Won't you let me in on the puzzle?  Melbury's such an odd place
for anyone to make a trip to."

It suddenly occurred to me that she had to know, and now was the
chance to tell her.  I said:  "Mr. Rainier was once in a hospital
at Melbury."

In the blaze of fresh firelight I could see the laughter drain away
from her face and a sudden pallor enter it; but in another second
she was smiling again.

"Well, it seems a queer reason for driving somewhere in pouring
rain in the middle of the night.  For that matter Charles was at
other hospitals too--he was pretty badly hurt in the war, you know.
It even affected his memory for a time.  I never knew quite how
much you had gathered about all that--"  She was striving to seem
very casual.

"Just the main facts, that's all."

"He told you them himself?"

"Yes."

The smile remained as if fixed to her face.  "Oh, I'm so glad,
because it shows how close you must have been to him as a friend.
He doesn't often talk about it to anybody.  And to me he NEVER
talks about it."

"Never?"

"No, never.  Isn't that strange?  But then he's so little with me--
and mostly we have business or politics to talk about.  Our
marriage is a very happy one, but it's never been--well, CLOSE is
perhaps the word.  We've never even had a close quarrel."

"But you love him?"

"Well, what do you think?  I adore him--most women do.  Haven't you
noticed that?  All his life he could always have had any pretty
woman he wanted."

"So it isn't surprising that he GOT the pretty woman he wanted."

"More compliments? . . .  Oh, but you should have seen the girl he
was engaged to when I first became his secretary.  I WAS his
secretary--you knew that too, I suppose?  She was much prettier
than me, AND younger.  Kitty, her name was.  She married somebody
else and died--I can't think why--I mean why she married somebody
else, not why she died--she died of malaria--I suppose there's no
reason at all for that, except mosquitoes.  I think they'd have
been very happy--she and Charles, I mean, not the mosquitoes--but
she'd have tried to make him give up the business.  I know that,
because she told me."

I could catch a note of hysteria subdued behind her forced
facetiousness; I said, as calmly as I could:  "You knew her well,
then?"

"Only by talking to her while she used to wait in the office for
Charles."

"Tell me--if it isn't impertinent to ask--were you also in love
with him then?"

She laughed.  "Of course.  Right from the first moment I set eyes
on him. . . .  But that didn't make me jealous of Kitty--only a bit
envious, perhaps.  I wonder how it would have worked out--Charles
without all the business and politics.  Of course he found out
later I was the one to help him in that, and so I have--I've done
my best to give him everything he wants--success--his ambitions . . .
and yet sometimes lately I've thought . . . well, like my parable."

"Parable?"

"Cynthia called it that during cocktails, don't you remember?
About going somewhere with someone and having doubts about it being
the right road, but there's nothing you can do but plod along until
the other person begins to doubt.  And then, of course, if you
admit that you had doubts all the time, as likely as not he turns
on you and says--well, why didn't you warn me?"

"Well, why didn't you?"

"Because he wouldn't have taken any notice if I had.  In fact he
might not even have married me--and I WANTED him to marry me.
After Kitty died he threw himself into business more than ever--
which gave me my chance--oh, I admit I was quite designing about
it.  So was he.  He found how good I was--what a valuable merger it
would be.  He was always clever about mergers. . . ."

"Did that entirely satisfy you?"

"No, but I thought it might lead to something that would--to the
REAL closeness.  But it's hard to get close when so many things are
in the way. . . .  May I have a light?"  She was reaching for a
cigarette on the side table and I could see that her hand was
trembling.  She added, as I held the match:  "Do you want a drink
in exchange?"

"I think I'd rather wait till later."

"Later?  Well, how long do you expect to sit up and talk parables?"

I said then:  "Mrs. Rainier, I think I'd better tell you more about
the visit to Melbury."

"Oh yes, the mystery--do PLEASE tell me everything!  What did you
find there?"

She was smiling as I began to tell her, and the smile grew faint as
I proceeded, then appeared again in time for the end.  I told her
all that was important for her to know--the fact of his earlier
marriage, his life during those brief months immediately
afterwards, and how that life had come to an abrupt finish.  I did
not try to make it easier for her by a gingerly approach to the
problem, or by minimizing its complexities.  And I told her how he
had reacted to the recent return of memory--his first excitement,
then his calmer determination and bitter regret for the years
between.  Finally I told her that though it seemed to me highly
unlikely that after two decades he would succeed in tracing someone
who hadn't apparently succeeded in the much easier task of tracing
him during the same interval, and though the gap of years gave
legal as well as every other kind of sanction to what had happened
since, she must be prepared for the faint possibility; and that if
it happened the publicity would be neither pleasant for her nor
helpful to his position.

"He must know that too."

"Yes, but in his present mood he doesn't care."

"Oh, HE DOESN'T CARE?"  She said that so softly, so gently, still
smiling.  I tried to think of something to express the wave of
sympathy that overcame me; in the end I could only give her my
silence.  Presently she touched my hand and said:  "Thank you for
telling me all this."

"I must say you take it very well."

"Did you expect me to make a scene?"

"No, but . . . when I try to imagine your feelings . . ."

"I don't feel anything yet, at least not much, but I keep on
thinking of what you said--that HE DOESN'T CARE!"

"I know it's terrible, but--"

"Oh, no, it's WONDERFUL!  He'd throw over everything--his future--
his ambitions--EVERYTHING--if he could find her!"

"In his present mood he thinks so."

"Don't keep saying 'in his present mood.'  Maybe his present mood
is himself, and all the other moods were false. . . .  How do we
know?"

"There's one thing we do know--that people are remembered as they
were last seen--and twenty years is a long time."

She turned to me with brightly shining eyes.

"How sad that is, and how true."

"And from your point of view--how fortunate."

"Oh no, no--I wish she were still as he remembers her.  I wish
there WERE such a miracle.  If all of us could go back twenty
years--how different the world would be!  I want him to be happy,
I always have. . . .  Now will you have your drink?"

"If you will too."

She went over to the table and mixed them; I could see she was glad
of something to do.  Stooping over the glasses she continued:  "I
suppose he told you a great deal more than you've told me?"

"Only details."

"Ah, but the details--those are what I want to hear.  Did he
remember things very clearly?"

"Yes."

"Places and people?"

"Yes."

"Tell me some of them."

I hesitated, again catching the note of hysteria in her voice; she
added:  "It doesn't hurt me--as much as you think.  Tell me some of
them. . . .  You say he met her first at Melbury?"

"Yes--on that first Armistice Day."

"And they were married in London?"

"Yes."

"Where did he propose to her?  Did he tell you that?"

"A village in the country somewhere--I think it was called
Beachings Over."

"Beachings Over . . . an odd name."

"England is full of them."

"I know--like Nether Wallop and Shallow Bowells. . . ."  She turned
round with my drink.  "And war coming to them all again.  Do you
think there's still a chance of avoiding it?"

"There's always a chance of postponing it."

"No--we've had enough of that."

"I think so too."

"But we're not ready yet, are we?"

"We're terribly unready.  We missed our ways years ago and found a
wide, comfortable road, fine for sleep-walkers, but it had the
major drawback of wandering just anywhere, at random."

"Charles always thought that, but as a rich man it wasn't easy for
him to say so.  Being rich tied his hands and stopped his mouth and
took up his time--so that the wasted years wasted him too. . . ."

"I think he's begun to realize that."

"Yes, he's sure of something at last. . . .  Another drink?"

"No, thanks."

A long pause.  "There's nothing we can do about it now, is there?"

"Are you talking about--er--the country--or--er--"

"Both, in a way."

"I think one can make up for lost time, but one can't salvage it.
That's why HIS quest is so hopeless."

Her voice softened.  "So you think that's where he's gone--to look
for her?"

"It's possible. . . .  But to look for her as she WAS, and that's
impossible."

The hysteria touched her voice again.  "Tell me another detail--no
matter how small or trivial--please tell me--"

"I think you're needlessly upsetting yourself."

"No, it isn't upsetting--it's--it's almost helping me in a way--
tell me something--"

"I'd rather not, and besides, it's hard to think--"

"Oh, but you said he talked all night and you've only talked for an
hour so far.  There must be hundreds of things--names of places or
incidents that happened here or there--or how she looked. . . ."

"Well . . . let me see . . ."

"How DID she look?  Did he remember her well?"

"He seemed to, though he never described her exactly--but he did
say--I believe he said when they first met she was wearing a little
fur hat like a fez. . . .  Or no, I may have mixed things up--that
was Kitty when she stepped out of the train at Interlaken."

"Interlaken?"

"They had a holiday there--he and Kitty."

"I know.  And SHE was wearing a little fur hat like a fez?  Or the
other one?  Or both, maybe--but wouldn't that be rather
improbable?"

"Yes, of course.  I'm sorry--it was like me to choose a detail I'd
get confused over."

She put her hand in mine.  "It doesn't matter.  You've been very
kind.  I wish I'd known you better--and earlier.  Thank you again."

"You understand that I'm anxious to help BOTH of you?"

"Yes, I understand.  But I don't know how you can."

"Anyhow, there's a sort of chilly comfort in thinking how
unimportant all one's personal affairs are these days."

She got up and began walking to the door.  "Yes, but when that sort
of comfort has chilled one quite thoroughly, the warmth comes--the
feeling that nothing matters EXCEPT personal feelings . . . the
what-if-the-world-should-end-tonight mood."

We shook hands at the doorway, and there she added, smiling:
"Perhaps our world IS ending tonight. . . ."

                    *    *    *    *    *

I stayed in the drawing-room a little while after she had gone;
then I thought it would be only civil to find Woburn.  He was in
the library, listening to the radio.  "Still nothing definite.  You
know, if there's a war, I want to get in the Air Force."  We had
another drink and talked for about an hour before going upstairs.

I had asked Sheldon to call me at seven; he did so, bringing in a
cup of tea.  "I thought you'd wish to know the news--it just came
over the wireless."  Then he told me.

I got up hurriedly.  It was a perfect late-summer morning, cool and
fresh, with a haze of mist over the hills.  Woburn had brought a
small radio into the breakfast room; we hardly exchanged a
greeting, but sat in front of the instrument, listening as the
first reports came through.  Presently Mrs. Rainier entered, stood
in the doorway to hear a few sentences, then joined us with the
same kind of whispered perfunctory good-morning.  The bulletin
ended with a promise of more news soon, then merged into music.

That was how we had breakfast on that first morning of the second
war--to the beat of a dance band and with the sunlight streaming
through the windows of Stourton.

After breakfast we heard the news repeated, and found the strain
almost intolerable.  We strayed about the gardens, the three of us,
then came back to the radio again; this time there were a few extra
items, reports of half the world's grim awakening.

The newspapers came, but they were already old--printed hours
before.

I telephoned the City office, and had to wait twenty minutes before
the line was clear.

Then Woburn, after wandering restlessly in and out of rooms, said
he would take a long walk.  I think he would have liked either Mrs.
Rainier or myself or both of us to suggest accompanying him, but we
stayed each other with a glance.  "He's a nice boy," she said, when
he had gone.

"Yes, very."

"Does Charles like him?"

"Yes, I think so."

"I always hoped he would.  I feel we've almost adopted him, in one
sense."

"I sometimes think he feels that too."

"I'd like him to feel that . . . I once had a child, a boy, but he
died. . . ."

"I never knew that."

"Charles would have made a good father, don't you think?"

"Yes . . . he must have been terribly disappointed."

"What will Woburn do now?"

"He said he'd join the Air Force."

She moved restlessly to the radio, where the music had suddenly
stopped.  Another news item: the Germans had crossed the Polish
frontiers at many places; the war machine was already clanking into
gear.

"I can't stand this--I half wish now we'd gone with him for the
walk.  Don't leave me alone here--you don't have to return to the
City, do you?"

"No, not yet, anyhow.  I just rang up the office.  They haven't had
any news or message."

"Oh . . . let's go somewhere then.  I'll drive you.  There's
nothing else to do--we'll go mad if we sit over the radio all day."

We took her car, which was an open sports Bentley, and set out.
The Stourton parkland had never looked more wonderful; it was as if
it had the mood to spread its beauty as a last temptation to remain
at peace, or, failing that, as a last spendthrift offering to a
thankless world.  We passed quickly, then threaded the winding
gravel roads over the estate to an exit I had not known of before--
it opened on to the road to Faringdon.  Through the still misty
morning we raced westward and northward; but at Lechlade the sun
was bright and the clock showed ten minutes past ten.  A few miles
beyond Burford the country rolled into uplands, and presently we
left the main road altogether, slowing for tree-hidden corners and
streams that crossed the lanes in wide sandy shallows, till at last
in the distance we saw a rim of green against the blue.

"Perhaps it will be a simpler England after the war," was one of
the things she said.

"You're already thinking of AFTER the war?"

"Of course.  The NEXT Armistice Day, whenever it comes."

"It'll be a different England, that's very certain.  Not so rich,
and not so snobbish--but maybe we can do without some of the riches
and all the snobbery."

She nodded:  "Maybe we can do without Stourton--and Bentleys."

"And two-for-one bonus issues."

"And guinea biographies like the one somebody once wrote about
Charles's father."

"And parties for His Excellency to meet the winners of the Ladies'
Doubles."

She laughed.  "And champagne when you've already had enough
champagne."

"How CAN we be so absurd--on a day like this?"

"Maybe it isn't so absurd."

"Where are you taking me?"

"Oh, just somewhere in England, as the war bulletins may say one of
these days."

We drove on, mile after mile, till at a turn of the road the hills
ahead of us sharpened into a ridge and at the same turn also there
was a signpost which made me cry out, with a sudden catch of
breath:  "Did you see THAT?"

"I know.  I wanted to come here."

"But--you shouldn't--it's only torturing yourself--"

"No, no.  I promise I won't be upset--see, I'm quite calm."

"But all this probing of the past--"

"That's where the future will take us, maybe--back to the past.  A
simpler England.  Old England."

And then we came upon the gray cottages fronting the stream, the
square-towered church, the ledge in the stream where the water
sparkled.  We parked our car by the church and walked along the
street.  A postman late on his morning rounds stared with friendly
curiosity at us and the car, then said "Good morning."  A fluff of
wind blew tall hollyhocks towards us.  Somebody was clipping a
hedge; an old dog loitered into a fresh patch of shade.  Little
things--but I shall remember them long after much else has been
forgotten.

There seemed no special significance anywhere, no sign that a war
had begun.

But as we neared the post-office I caught sight of something that
to me was most significant of all--a small brown two-seater car.  I
walked over to it; a man saw me examining the licence.  "If you're
looking for the tall gentleman," he came over to say, "I think he
took a walk up the hill."

I turned to Mrs. Rainier.  "CHARLES?" was all she whispered.

"Might be.  It meets the Club porter's description and it was hired
from a London firm."

We turned off the main road by a path crossing an open field
towards the hill; as we were climbing the chime of three quarters
came up to us, blown faint by the breeze.  The slope was too steep
for much talk, but when we came within a few yards of the ridge she
halted to gain breath, gazing down over the village.

"Looks as if it has never changed."

"I don't suppose it has, much, in a thousand years."

"That makes twenty seem only yesterday."

"If we meet him, what are you going to say?"

"I don't know.  I can't know--before I see him."

"He'll wonder why on earth we've come HERE, of all places."

"Then we'll ask him why on earth HE'S here.  Perhaps we'll both
have to pretend we came to look at the five counties."

She resumed the climb, and in another moment we could see that the
summit dipped again to a further summit, perhaps higher, and that
in the hollow between lay a little pond.  There was a man lying
beside it with arms outstretched, as if he had flung himself there
after the climb.  He did not move as we approached, but presently
we saw smoke curling from a cigarette between his fingers.

"He's not asleep," I said.  "He's just resting."

I saw her eyes and the way her lips trembled; something suddenly
occurred to me.  "By the way, how did you know there were FIVE
counties?"

But she didn't answer; already she was rushing down the slope.  He
saw her in time to rise to his feet; she stopped then, several
yards away, and for a few seconds both were staring at each other,
hard and still and silent.  Then he whispered something I couldn't
hear; but I knew in a flash that the gap was closed, that the
random years were at an end, that the past and the future would
join.  She knew this too, for she ran into his arms calling out:
"Oh, Smithy--Smithy--it may not be too late!"




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Random Harvest by James Hilton





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