The Inheritors
by Joseph Conrad
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"He?—Oh, I'm making use of him."

"To inherit the earth?" I asked ironically, and she answered gravely:

"To inherit the earth."

She was leaning against the window, playing with the strings of the blinds, and silhouetted against the leaden light. She seemed to be, physically, a little tired; and the lines of her figure to interlace almost tenderly—to "compose" well, after the ideas of a certain school. I knew so little of her—only just enough to be in love with her—that this struck me as the herald of a new phase, not so much in her attitude to me as in mine to her; she had even then a sort of gravity, the gravity of a person on whom things were beginning to weigh.

"But," I said, irresolutely. I could not speak to her; to this new conception of her, in the way I had planned; in the way one would talk to a brilliant, limpid—oh, to a woman of sorts. But I had to take something of my old line. "How would flirting with that man help you?"

"It's quite simple," she answered, "he's to show Callan all Greenland, and Callan is to write ... Callan has immense influence over a great class, and he will have some of the prestige of—of a Commissioner."

"Oh, I know about Callan," I said.

"And," she went on, "this man had orders to hide things from Callan; you know what it is they have to hide. But he won't now; that is what I was arranging. It's partly by bribery and partly because he has a belief in his beaux yeux—so Callan will be upset and will write an ... exposure; the sort of thing Callan would write if he were well upset. And he will be, by what this man will let him see. You know what a little man like Callan will feel ... he will be made ill. He would faint at the sight of a drop of blood, you know, and he will see—oh, the very worst, worse than what Radet saw. And he will write a frightful article, and it will be a thunderclap for de Mersch.... And de Mersch will be getting very shaky by then. And your friend Churchill will try to carry de Mersch's railway bill through in the face of the scandal. Churchill's motives will be excellent, but everyone will say ... You know what people say ... That is what I and Gurnard want. We want people to talk; we want them to believe...."

I don't know whether there really was a hesitation in her voice, or whether I read that into it. She stood there, playing with the knots of the window-cords and speaking in a low monotone. The whole thing, the sad twilight of the place, her tone of voice, seemed tinged with unavailing regret. I had almost forgotten the Dimensionist story, and I had never believed in it. But now, for the first time I began to have my doubts. I was certain that she had been plotting something with one of the Duc de Mersch's lieutenants. The man's manner vouched for that; he had not been able to look me in the face. But, more than anything, his voice and manner made me feel that we had passed out of a realm of farcical allegory. I knew enough to see that she might be speaking the truth. And, if she were, her calm avowal of such treachery proved that she was what she had said the Dimensionists were; cold, with no scruples, clear-sighted and admirably courageous, and indubitably enemies of society.

"I don't understand," I said. "But de Mersch then?"

She made a little gesture; one of those movements that I best remember of her; the smallest, the least noticeable. It reduced de Mersch to nothing; he no longer even counted.

"Oh, as for him," she said, "he is only a detail." I had still the idea that she spoke with a pitying intonation—as if she were speaking to a dog in pain. "He doesn't really count; not really. He will crumble up and disappear, very soon. You won't even remember him."

"But," I said, "you go about with him, as if you.... You are getting yourself talked about.... Everyone thinks—" ... The accusation that I had come to make seemed impossible, now I was facing her. "I believe," I added, with the suddenness of inspiration. "I'm certain even, that he thinks that you ..."

"Well, they think that sort of thing. But it is only part of the game. Oh, I assure you it is no more than that."

I was silent. I felt that, for one reason or another, she wished me to believe.

"Yes," she said, "I want you to believe. It will save you a good deal of pain."

"If you wanted to save me pain," I maintained, "you would have done with de Mersch ... for good." I had an idea that the solution was beyond me. It was as if the controlling powers were flitting, invisible, just above my head, just beyond my grasp. There was obviously something vibrating; some cord, somewhere, stretched very taut and quivering. But I could think of no better solution than: "You must have done with him." It seemed obvious, too, that that was impossible, was outside the range of things that could be done—but I had to do my best. "It's a—it's vile," I added, "vile."

"Oh, I know, I know," she said, "for you.... And I'm even sorry. But it has to be gone on with. De Mersch has to go under in just this way. It can't be any other."

"Why not?" I asked, because she had paused. I hadn't any desire for enlightenment.

"It isn't even only Churchill," she said, "not even only that de Mersch will bring down Churchill with him. It is that he must bring down everything that Churchill stands for. You know what that is—the sort of probity, all the old order of things. And the more vile the means used to destroy de Mersch the more vile the whole affair will seem. People—the sort of people—have an idea that a decent man cannot be touched by tortuous intrigues. And the whole thing will be—oh, malodorous. You understand."

"I don't," I answered, "I don't understand at all."

"Ah, yes, you do," she said, "you understand...." She paused for a long while, and I was silent. I understood vaguely what she meant; that if Churchill fell amid the clouds of dust of such a collapse, there would be an end of belief in probity ... or nearly an end. But I could not see what it all led up to; where it left us.

"You see," she began again, "I want to make it as little painful to you as I can; as little painful as explanations can make it. I can't feel as you feel, but I can see, rather dimly, what it is that hurts you. And so ... I want to; I really want to."

"But you won't do the one thing," I returned hopelessly to the charge.

"I cannot," she answered, "it must be like that; there isn't any way. You are so tied down to these little things. Don't you see that de Mersch, and—and all these people—don't really count? They aren't anything at all in the scheme of things. I think that, even for you, they aren't worth bothering about. They're only accidents; the accidents that—"

"That what?" I asked, although I began to see dimly what she meant.

"That lead in the inevitable," she answered. "Don't you see? Don't you understand? We are the inevitable ... and you can't keep us back. We have to come and you, you will only hurt yourself, by resisting." A sense that this was the truth, the only truth, beset me. It was for the moment impossible to think of anything else—of anything else in the world. "You must accept us and all that we mean, you must stand back; sooner or later. Look even all round you, and you will understand better. You are in the house of a type—a type that became impossible. Oh, centuries ago. And that type too, tried very hard to keep back the inevitable; not only because itself went under, but because everything that it stood for went under. And it had to suffer—heartache ... that sort of suffering. Isn't it so?"

I did not answer; the illustration was too abominably just. It was just that. There were even now all these people—these Legitimists—sneering ineffectually; shutting themselves away from the light in their mournful houses and suffering horribly because everything that they stood for had gone under.

"But even if I believe you," I said, "the thing is too horrible, and your tools are too mean; that man who has just gone out and—and Callan—are they the weapons of the inevitable? After all, the Revolution ..." I was striving to get back to tangible ideas—ideas that one could name and date and label ... "the Revolution was noble in essence and made for good. But all this of yours is too vile and too petty. You are bribing, or something worse, that man to betray his master. And that you call helping on the inevitable...."

"They used to say just that of the Revolution. That wasn't nice of its tools. Don't you see? They were the people that went under.... They couldn't see the good...."

"And I—I am to take it on trust," I said, bitterly.

"You couldn't see the good," she answered, "it isn't possible, and there is no way of explaining. Our languages are different, and there's no bridge—no bridge at all. We can't meet...."

It was that revolted me. If there was no bridge and we could not meet, we must even fight; that is, if I believed her version of herself. If I did not, I was being played the fool with. I preferred to think that. If she were only fooling me she remained attainable. If it was as she said, there was no hope at all—not any.

"I don't believe you," I said, suddenly. I didn't want to believe her. The thing was too abominable—too abominable for words, and incredible. I struggled against it as one struggles against inevitable madness, against the thought of it. It hung over me, stupefying, deadening. One could only fight it with violence, crudely, in jerks, as one struggles against the numbness of frost. It was like a pall, like descending clouds of smoke, seemed to be actually present in the absurdly lofty room—this belief in what she stood for, in what she said she stood for.

"I don't believe you," I proclaimed, "I won't.... You are playing the fool with me ... trying to get round me ... to make me let you go on with these—with these—It is abominable. Think of what it means for me, what people are saying of me, and I am a decent man—You shall not. Do you understand, you shall not. It is unbearable ... and you ... you try to fool me ... in order to keep me quiet ..."

"Oh, no," she said. "Oh, no."

She had an accent that touched grief, as nearly as she could touch it. I remember it now, as one remembers these things. But then I passed it over. I was too much moved myself to notice it more than subconsciously, as one notices things past which one is whirled. And I was whirled past these things, in an ungovernable fury at the remembrance of what I had suffered, of what I had still to suffer. I was speaking with intense rage, jerking out words, ideas, as floodwater jerks through a sluice the debris of once ordered fields.

"You are," I said, "you are—you—you—dragging an ancient name through the dust—you ..."

I forget what I said. But I remember, "dragging an ancient name." It struck me, at the time, by its forlornness, as part of an appeal to her. It was so pathetically tiny a motive, so out of tone, that it stuck in my mind. I only remember the upshot of my speech; that, unless she swore—oh, yes, swore—to have done with de Mersch, I would denounce her to my aunt at that very moment and in that very house.

And she said that it was impossible.


I had a sense of walking very fast—almost of taking flight—down a long dim corridor, and of a door that opened into an immense room. All that I remember of it, as I saw it then, was a number of pastel portraits of weak, vacuous individuals, in dulled, gilt, oval frames. The heads stood out from the panelling and stared at me from between ringlets, from under powdered hair, simpering, or contemptuous with the expression that must have prevailed in the monde of the time before the Revolution. At a great distance, bent over account—books and pink cheques on the flap of an escritoire, sat my aunt, very small, very grey, very intent on her work.

The people who built these rooms must have had some property of the presence to make them bulk large—if they ever really did so—in the eyes of dependents, of lackeys. Perhaps it was their sense of ownership that gave them the necessary prestige. My aunt, who was only a temporary occupant, certainly had none of it. Bent intently over her accounts, peering through her spectacles at columns of figures, she was nothing but a little old woman alone in an immense room. It seemed impossible that she could really have any family pride, any pride of any sort. She looked round at me over her spectacles, across her shoulder.

"Ah ... Etchingham," she said. She seemed to be trying to carry herself back to England, to the England of her land-agent and her select visiting list. Here she was no more superior than if we had been on a desert island. I wanted to enlighten her as to the woman she was sheltering—wanted to very badly; but a necessity for introducing the matter seemed to arise as she gradually stiffened into assertiveness.

"My dear aunt," I said, "the woman...." The alien nature of the theme grew suddenly formidable. She looked at me arousedly.

"You got my note then," she said. "But I don't think a woman can have brought it. I have given such strict orders. They have such strange ideas here, though. And Madame—the portiere—is an old retainer of M. de Luynes, I haven't much influence over her. It is absurd, but...." It seems that the old lady in the lodge made a point of carrying letters that went by hand. She had an eye for gratuities—and the police, I should say, were concerned. They make a good deal of use of that sort of person in that neighbourhood of infinitesimal and unceasing plotting.

"I didn't mean that," I said, "but the woman who calls herself my sister...."

"My dear nephew," she interrupted, with tranquil force, as if she were taking an arranged line, "I cannot—I absolutely cannot be worried with your quarrels with your sister. As I said to you in my note of this morning, when you are in this town you must consider this house your home. It is almost insulting of you to go to an inn. I am told it is even ... quite an unfit place that you are stopping at—for a member of our family."

I maintained for a few seconds a silence of astonishment.

"But," I returned to the charge, "the matter is one of importance. You must understand that she...."

My aunt stiffened and froze. It was as if I had committed some flagrant sin against etiquette.

"If I am satisfied as to her behaviour," she said, "I think that you might be." She paused as if she were satisfied that she had set me hopelessly in the wrong.

"I don't withdraw my invitation," she said. "You must understand I wish you to come here. But your quarrels you and she must settle. On those terms...."

She had the air of conferring an immense favour, as if she believed that I had, all my life through, been waiting for her invitation to come within the pale. As for me, I felt a certain relief at having the carrying out of my duty made impossible for me. I did not want to tell my aunt and thus to break things off definitely and for good. Something would have happened; the air might have cleared as it clears after a storm; I should have learnt where I stood. But I was afraid of the knowledge. Light in these dark places might reveal an abyss at my feet. I wanted to let things slide.

My aunt had returned to her accounts, the accounts which were the cog-wheels that kept running the smooth course of the Etchingham estates. She seemed to wish to indicate that I counted for not very much in the scheme of things as she saw it.

"I should like to make your better acquaintance," she said, with her head still averted, "there are reasons...." It came suddenly into my head that she had an idea of testamentary dispositions, that she felt she was breaking up, that I had my rights. I didn't much care for the thing, but the idea of being the heir of Etchingham was—well, was an idea. It would make me more possible to my pseudo-sister. It would be, as it were, a starting-point, would make me potentially a somebody of her sort of ideal. Moreover, I should be under the same roof, near her, with her sometimes. One asks so little more than that, that it seemed almost half the battle. I began to consider phrases of thanks and acceptance and then uttered them.

I never quite understood the bearings of that scene; never quite whether my aunt really knew that my sister was not my sister. She was a wonderfully clever woman of the unscrupulous order, with a sang-froid and self-possession well calculated to let her cut short any inconvenient revelations. It was as if she had had long practice in the art, though I cannot say what occasion she can have had for its practice—perhaps for the confounding of wavering avowers of Dissent at home.

I used to think that she knew, if not all, at least a portion; that the weight that undoubtedly was upon her mind was nothing else but that. She broke up, was breaking up from day to day, and I can think of no other reason. She had the air of being disintegrated, like a mineral under an immense weight—quartz in a crushing mill; of being dulled and numbed as if she were under the influence of narcotics.

There is little enough wonder, if she actually carried that imponderable secret about with her. I used to look at her sometimes, and wonder if she, too, saw the oncoming of the inevitable. She was limited enough in her ideas, but not too stupid to take that in if it presented itself. Indeed they have that sort of idea rather grimly before them all the time—that class.

It must have been that that was daily, and little by little, pressing down her eyelids and deepening the quivering lines of her impenetrable face. She had a certain solitary grandeur, the pathos attaching to the last of a race, of a type; the air of waiting for the deluge, of listening for an inevitable sound—the sound of oncoming waters.

It was weird, the time that I spent in that house—more than weird—deadening. It had an extraordinary effect on me—an effect that my "sister," perhaps, had carefully calculated. She made pretensions of that sort later on; said that she had been breaking me in to perform my allotted task in the bringing on of the inevitable.

I have nowhere come across such an intense solitude as there was there, a solitude that threw one so absolutely upon one's self and into one's self. I used to sit working in one of those tall, panelled rooms, very high up in the air. I was writing at the series of articles for the Bi-Monthly, for Polehampton. I was to get the atmosphere of Paris, you remember. It was rather extraordinary, that process. Up there I seemed to be as much isolated from Paris as if I had been in—well, in Hampton Court. It was almost impossible to write; I had things to think about: preoccupations, jealousies. It was true I had a living to make, but that seemed to have lost its engrossingness as a pursuit, or at least to have suspended it.

The panels of the room seemed to act as a sounding-board, the belly of an immense 'cello. There were never any noises in the house, only whispers coming from an immense distance—as when one drops stones down an unfathomable well and hears ages afterward the faint sound of disturbed waters. When I look back at that time I figure myself as forever sitting with uplifted pen, waiting for a word that would not come, and that I did not much care about getting. The panels of the room would creak sympathetically to the opening of the entrance-door of the house, the faintest of creaks; people would cross the immense hall to the room in which they plotted; would cross leisurely, with laughter and rustling of garments that after a long time reached my ears in whispers. Then I should have an access of mad jealousy. I wanted to be part of her life, but I could not stand that Salon of suspicious conspirators. What could I do there? Stand and look at them, conscious that they all dropped their voices instinctively when I came near them?

That was the general tone of that space of time, but, of course, it was not always that. I used to emerge now and then to breakfast sympathetically with my aunt, sometimes to sit through a meal with the two of them. I danced attendance on them singly; paid depressing calls with my aunt; calls on the people in the Faubourg; people without any individuality other than a kind of desiccation, the shrivelled appearance and point of view of a dried pippin. In revenge, they had names that startled one, names that recalled the generals and flaneurs of an impossibly distant time; names that could hardly have had any existence outside the memoirs of Madame de Sevigne, the names of people that could hardly have been fitted to do anything more vigorous than be reflected in the mirrors of the Salle des Glaces. I was so absolutely depressed, so absolutely in a state of suspended animation, that I seemed to conform exactly to my aunt's ideas of what was desirable in me as an attendant on her at these functions. I used to stand behind chairs and talk, like a good young man, to the assorted Peres and Abbes who were generally present.

And then I used to go home and get the atmospheres of these people. I must have done it abominably badly, for the notes that brought Polehampton's cheques were accompanied by the bravos of that gentleman and the assurances that Miss Polehampton liked my work—liked it very much.

I suppose I exhibited myself in the capacity of the man who knew—who could let you into a thing or two. After all, anyone could write about students' balls and the lakes in the Bois, but it took someone to write "with knowledge" of the interiors of the barred houses in the Rue de l'Universite.

Then, too, I attended the more showy entertainments with my sister. I had by now become so used to hearing her styled "your sister" that the epithet had the quality of a name. She was "mademoiselle votre soeur," as she might have been Mlle. Patience or Hope, without having anything of the named quality. What she did at the entertainments, the charitable bazaars, the dismal dances, the impossibly bad concerts, I have no idea. She must have had some purpose, for she did nothing without. I myself descended into fulfilling the functions of a rudimentarily developed chaperon—functions similar in importance to those performed by the eyes of a mole. I had the maddest of accesses of jealousy if she talked to a man—and such men—or danced with one. And then I was forever screwing my courage up and feeling it die away. We used to drive about in a coupe, a thing that shut us inexorably together, but which quite as inexorably destroyed all opportunities for what one calls making love. In smooth streets its motion was too glib, on the pave it rattled too abominably. I wanted to make love to her—oh, immensely, but I was never in the mood, or the opportunity was never forthcoming. I used to have the wildest fits of irritation; not of madness or of depression, but of simple wildness at the continual recurrence of small obstacles. I couldn't read, couldn't bring myself to it. I used to sit and look dazedly at the English newspapers—at any newspaper but the Hour. De Mersch had, for the moment, disappeared. There were troubles in his elective grand duchy—he had, indeed, contrived to make himself unpopular with the electors, excessively unpopular. I used to read piquant articles about his embroglio in an American paper that devoted itself to matters of the sort. All sorts of international difficulties were to arise if de Mersch were ejected. There was some other obscure prince of a rival house, Prussian or Russian, who had desires for the degree of royalty that sat so heavily on de Mersch. Indeed, I think there were two rival princes, each waiting with portmanteaux packed and manifestos in their breast pockets, ready to pass de Mersch's frontiers.

The grievances of his subjects—so the Paris-American Gazette said—were intimately connected with matters of finance, and de Mersch's personal finances and his grand ducal were inextricably mixed up with the wild-cat schemes with which he was seeking to make a fortune large enough to enable him to laugh at half a dozen elective grand duchies. Indeed, de Mersch's own portmanteau was reported to be packed against the day when British support of his Greenland schemes would let him afford to laugh at his cantankerous Diet.

The thing interested me so little that I never quite mastered the details of it. I wished the man no good, but so long as he kept out of my way I was not going to hate him actively. Finally the affairs of Holstein-Launewitz ceased to occupy the papers—the thing was arranged and the Russian and Prussian princes unpacked their portmanteaux, and, I suppose, consigned their manifestos to the flames, or adapted them to the needs of other principalities. De Mersch's affairs ceded their space in the public prints to the topic of the dearness of money. Somebody, somewhere, was said to be up to something. I used to try to read the articles, to master the details, because I disliked finding a whole field of thought of which I knew absolutely nothing. I used to read about the great discount houses and other things that conveyed absolutely nothing to my mind. I only gathered that the said great houses were having a very bad time, and that everybody else was having a very much worse.

One day, indeed, the matter was brought home to me by the receipt from Polehampton of bills instead of my usual cheques. I had a good deal of trouble in cashing the things; indeed, people seemed to look askance at them. I consulted my aunt on the subject, at breakfast. It was the sort of thing that interested the woman of business in her, and we were always short of topics of conversation.

We breakfasted in rather a small room, as rooms went there; my aunt sitting at the head of the table, with an early morning air of being en famille that she wore at no other time of day. It was not a matter of garments, for she was not the woman to wear a peignoir; but lay, I supposed, in her manner, which did not begin to assume frigidity until several watches of the day had passed.

I handed her Polehampton's bills and explained that I was at a loss to turn them to account; that I even had only the very haziest of ideas as to their meaning. Holding the forlorn papers in her hand, she began to lecture me on the duty of acquiring the rudiments of what she called "business habits."

"Of course you do not require to master details to any considerable extent," she said, "but I always have held that it is one of the duties of a...."

She interrupted herself as my sister came into the room; looked at her, and then held out the papers in her hand. The things quivered a little; the hand must have quivered too.

"You are going to Halderschrodt's?" she said, interrogatively. "You could get him to negotiate these for Etchingham?"

Miss Granger looked at the papers negligently.

"I am going this afternoon," she answered. "Etchingham can come...." She suddenly turned to me: "So your friend is getting shaky," she said.

"It means that?" I asked. "But I've heard that he has done the same sort of thing before."

"He must have been shaky before," she said, "but I daresay Halderschrodt...."

"Oh, it's hardly worth while bothering that personage about such a sum," I interrupted. Halderschrodt, in those days, was a name that suggested no dealings in any sum less than a million.

"My dear Etchingham," my aunt interrupted in a shocked tone, "it is quite worth his while to oblige us...."

"I didn't know," I said.

That afternoon we drove to Halderschrodt's private office, a sumptuous—that is the mot juste—suite of rooms on the first floor of the house next to the Duc de Mersch's Sans Souci. I sat on a plush-bottomed gilded chair, whilst my pseudo-sister transacted her business in an adjoining room—a room exactly corresponding with that within which de Mersch had lurked whilst the lady was warning me against him. A clerk came after awhile, carried me off into an enclosure, where my bill was discounted by another, and then reconducted me to my plush chair. I did not occupy it, as it happened. A meagre, very tall Alsatian was holding the door open for the exit of my sister. He said nothing at all, but stood slightly inclined as she passed him. I caught a glimpse of a red, long face, very tired eyes, and hair of almost startling whiteness—the white hair of a comparatively young man, without any lustre of any sort—a dead white, like that of snow. I remember that white hair with a feeling of horror, whilst I have almost forgotten the features of the great Baron de Halderschrodt.

I had still some of the feeling of having been in contact with a personality of the most colossal significance as we went down the red carpet of the broad white marble stairs. With one foot on the lowest step, the figure of a perfectly clothed, perfectly groomed man was standing looking upward at our descent. I had thought so little of him that the sight of the Duc de Mersch's face hardly suggested any train of emotions. It lit up with an expression of pleasure.

"You," he said.

She stood looking down upon him from the altitude of two steps, looking with intolerable passivity.

"So you use the common stairs," she said, "one had the idea that you communicated with these people through a private door." He laughed uneasily, looking askance at me.

"Oh, I ..." he said.

She moved a little to one side to pass him in her descent.

"So things have arranged themselves—la bas," she said, referring, I supposed, to the elective grand duchy.

"Oh, it was like a miracle," he answered, "and I owed a great deal—a great deal—to your hints...."

"You must tell me all about it to-night," she said.

De Mersch's face had an extraordinary quality that I seemed to notice in all the faces around me—a quality of the flesh that seemed to lose all luminosity, of the eyes that seemed forever to have a tendency to seek the ground, to avoid the sight of the world. When he brightened to answer her it was as if with effort. It seemed as if a weight were on the mind of the whole world—a preoccupation that I shared without understanding. She herself, a certain absent-mindedness apart, seemed the only one that was entirely unaffected.

As we sat side by side in the little carriage, she said suddenly:

"They are coming to the end of their tether, you see." I shrank away from her a little—but I did not see and did not want to see. I said so. It even seemed to me that de Mersch having got over the troubles la bas, was taking a new lease of life.

"I did think," I said, "a little time ago that ..."

The wheels of the coupe suddenly began to rattle abominably over the cobbles of a narrow street. It was impossible to talk, and I was thrown back upon myself. I found that I was in a temper—in an abominable temper. The sudden sight of that man, her method of greeting him, the intimacy that the scene revealed ... the whole thing had upset me. Of late, for want of any alarms, in spite of groundlessness I had had the impression that I was the integral part of her life. It was not a logical idea, but strictly a habit of mind that had grown up in the desolation of my solitude.

We passed into one of the larger boulevards, and the thing ran silently.

"That de Mersch was crumbling up," she suddenly completed my unfinished sentence; "oh, that was only a grumble—premonitory. But it won't take long now. I have been putting on the screw. Halderschrodt will ... I suppose he will commit suicide, in a day or two. And then the—the fun will begin."

I didn't answer. The thing made no impression—no mental impression at all.


That afternoon we had a scene, and late that night another. The memory of the former is a little blotted out. Things began to move so quickly that, try as I will to arrange their sequence in my mind, I cannot. I cannot even very distinctly remember what she told me at that first explanation. I must have attacked her fiercely—on the score of de Mersch, in the old vein; must have told her that I would not in the interest of the name allow her to see the man again. She told me things, too, rather abominable things, about the way in which she had got Halderschrodt into her power and was pressing him down. Halderschrodt was de Mersch's banker-in-chief; his fall would mean de Mersch's, and so on. The "so on" in this case meant a great deal more. Halderschrodt, apparently, was the "somebody who was up to something" of the American paper—that is to say the allied firms that Halderschrodt represented. I can't remember the details. They were too huge and too unfamiliar, and I was too agitated by my own share in the humanity of it. But, in sum, it seemed that the fall of Halderschrodt would mean a sort of incredibly vast Black Monday—a frightful thing in the existing state of public confidence, but one which did not mean much to me. I forget how she said she had been able to put the screw on him. Halderschrodt, as you must remember, was the third of his colossal name, a man without much genius and conscious of the lack, obsessed with the idea of operating some enormous coup, like the founder of his dynasty, something in which foresight in international occurrence played a chief part. That idea was his weakness, the defect of his mind, and she had played on that weakness. I forget, I say, the details, if I ever heard them; they concerned themselves with a dynastic revolution somewhere, a revolution that was to cause a slump all over the world, and that had been engineered in our Salon. And she had burked the revolution—betrayed it, I suppose—and the consequences did not ensue, and Halderschrodt and all the rest of them were left high and dry.

The whole thing was a matter of under-currents that never came to the surface, a matter of shifting sands from which only those with the clearest heads could come forth.

"And we ... we have clear heads," she said. It was impossible to listen to her without shuddering. For me, if he stood for anything, Halderschrodt stood for stability; there was the tremendous name, and there was the person I had just seen, the person on whom a habit of mind approaching almost to the royal had conferred a presence that had some of the divinity that hedges a king. It seemed frightful merely to imagine his ignominious collapse; as frightful as if she had pointed out a splendid-limbed man and said: "That man will be dead in five minutes." That, indeed, was what she said of Halderschrodt.... The man had saluted her, going to his death; the austere inclination that I had seen had been the salutation of such a man.

I was so moved by one thing and another that I hardly noticed that Gurnard had come into the room. I had not seen him since the night when he had dined with the Duc de Mersch at Churchill's, but he seemed so part of the emotion, of the frame of mind, that he slid noiselessly into the scene and hardly surprised me. I was called out of the room—someone desired to see me, and I passed, without any transition of feeling, into the presence of an entire stranger—a man who remains a voice to me. He began to talk to me about the state of my aunt's health. He said she was breaking up; that he begged respectfully to urge that I would use my influence to take her back to London to consult Sir James—I, perhaps, living in the house and not having known my aunt for very long, might not see; but he ... He was my aunt's solicitor. He was quite right; my aunt was breaking up, she had declined visibly in the few hours that I had been away from her. She had been doing business with this man, had altered her will, had seen Mr. Gurnard; and, in some way had received a shock that seemed to have deprived her of all volition. She sat with her head leaning back, her eyes closed, the lines of her face all seeming to run downward.

"It is obvious to me that arrangements ought to be made for your return to England," the lawyer said, "whatever engagements Miss Granger or Mr. Etchingham Granger or even Mr. Gurnard may have made."

I wondered vaguely what the devil Mr. Gurnard could have to say in the matter, and then Miss Granger herself came into the room.

"They want me," my aunt said in a low voice, "they have been persuading me ... to go back ... to Etchingham, I think you said, Meredith."

I became conscious that I wanted to return to England, wanted it very much, wanted to be out of this; to get somewhere where there was stability and things that one could understand. Everything here seemed to be in a mist, with the ground trembling underfoot.

"Why ..." Miss Granger's verdict came, "we can go when you like. To-morrow."

Things immediately began to shape themselves on these unexpected lines, a sort of bustle of departure to be in the air. I was employed to conduct the lawyer as far as the porter's lodge, a longish traverse. He beguiled the way by excusing himself for hurrying back to London.

"I might have been of use; in these hurried departures there are generally things. But, you will understand, Mr.—Mr. Etchingham; at a time like this I could hardly spare the hours that it cost me to come over. You would be astonished what a deal of extra work it gives and how far-spreading the evil is. People seem to have gone mad. Even I have been astonished."

"I had no idea," I said.

"Of course not, of course not—no one had. But, unless I am much mistaken—much—there will have to be an enquiry, and people will be very lucky who have had nothing to do with it ..."

I gathered that things were in a bad way, over there as over here; that there were scandals and a tremendous outcry for purification in the highest places. I saw the man get into his fiacre and took my way back across the court-yard rather slowly, pondering over the part I was to fill in the emigration, wondering how far events had conferred on me a partnership in the family affairs.

I found that my tacitly acknowledged function was that of supervising nurse-tender, the sort of thing that made for personal tenderness in the aridity of profuse hired help. I was expected to arrange a rug just a little more comfortably than the lady's maid who would travel in the compartment—to give the finishing touches.

It was astonishing how well the thing was engineered; the removal, I mean. It gave me an even better idea of the woman my aunt had been than even the panic of her solicitor. The thing went as smoothly as the disappearance of a caravan of gypsies, camped for the night on a heath beside gorse bushes. We went to the ball that night as if from a household that had its roots deep in the solid rock, and in the morning we had disappeared.

The ball itself was a finishing touch—the finishing touch of my sister's affairs and the end of my patience. I spent an interminable night, one of those nights that never end and that remain quivering and raw in the memory. I seemed to be in a blaze of light, watching, through a shifting screen of shimmering dresses—her and the Duc de Mersch. I don't know whether the thing was really noticeable, but it seemed that everyone was—that everyone must be—remarking it. I thought I caught women making smile-punctuated remarks behind fans, men answering inaudibly with eyes discreetly on the ground. It was a mixed assembly, somebody's liquidation of social obligations, and there was a sprinkling of the kind of people who do make remarks. It was not the noticeability for its own sake that I hated, but the fact that their relations by their noticeability made me impossible, whilst the notice itself confirmed my own fears. I hung, glowering in corners, noticeable enough myself, I suppose.

The thing reached a crisis late in the evening. There was a kind of winter-garden that one strolled in, a place of giant palms stretching up into a darkness of intense shadow. I was prowling about in the shadows of great metallic leaves, cursing under my breath, in a fury of nervous irritation; quivering like a horse martyrised by a stupidly merciless driver. I happened to stand back for a moment in the narrowest of paths, with the touch of spiky leaves on my hand and on my face. In front of me was the glaring perspective of one of the longer alleys, and, stepping into it, a great band of blue ribbon cutting across his chest, came de Mersch with her upon his arm. De Mersch himself hardly counted. He had a way of glowing, but he paled ineffectual fires beside her maenadic glow. There was something overpowering in the sight of her, in the fire of her eyes, in the glow of her coils of hair, in the poise of her head. She wore some kind of early nineteenth-century dress, sweeping low from the waist with a tenderness of fold that affected one with delicate pathos, that had a virgin quality of almost poignant intensity. And beneath it she stepped with the buoyancy—the long steps—of a triumphing Diana.

It was more than terrible for me to stand there longing with a black, baffled longing, with some of the base quality of an eavesdropper and all the baseness of the unsuccessful.

Then Gurnard loomed in the distance, moving insensibly down the long, glaring corridor, a sinister figure, suggesting in the silence of his oncoming the motionless flight of a vulture. Well within my field of sight he overtook them and, with a lack of preliminary greeting that suggested supreme intimacy, walked beside them. I stood for some moments—for some minutes, and then hastened after them. I was going to do something. After a time I found de Mersch and Gurnard standing facing each other in one of the doorways of the place—Gurnard, a small, dark, impassive column; de Mersch, bulky, overwhelming, florid, standing with his legs well apart and speaking vociferously with a good deal of gesture. I approached them from the side, standing rather insistently at his elbow.

"I want," I said, "I would be extremely glad if you would give me a minute, monsieur." I was conscious that I spoke with a tremour of the voice, a sort of throaty eagerness. I was unaware of what course I was to pursue, but I was confident of calmness, of self-control—I was equal to that. They had a pause of surprised silence. Gurnard wheeled and fixed me critically with his eye-glass. I took de Mersch a little apart, into a solitude of palm branches, and began to speak before he had asked me my errand.

"You must understand that I would not interfere without a good deal of provocation," I was saying, when he cut me short, speaking in a thick, jovial voice.

"Oh, we will understand that, my good Granger, and then ..."

"It is about my sister," I said—"you—you go too far. I must ask you, as a gentleman, to cease persecuting her."

He answered "The devil!" and then: "If I do not——?"

It was evident in his voice, in his manner, that the man was a little—well, gris. "If you do not," I said, "I shall forbid her to see you and I shall ..."

"Oh, oh!" he interjected with the intonation of a reveller at a farce. "We are at that—we are the excellent brother." He paused, and then added: "Well, go to the devil, you and your forbidding." He spoke with the greatest good humour.

"I am in earnest," I said; "very much in earnest. The thing has gone too far, and even for your own sake, you had better ..."

He said "Ah, ah!" in the tone of his "Oh, oh!"

"She is no friend to you," I struggled on, "she is playing with you for her own purposes; you will ..."

He swayed a little on his feet and said: "Bravo ... bravissimo. If we can't forbid him, we will frighten him. Go on, my good fellow ..." and then, "Come, go on ..."

I looked at his great bulk of a body. It came into my head dimly that I wanted him to strike me, to give me an excuse—anything to end the scene violently, with a crash and exclamations of fury.

"You absolutely refuse to pay any attention?" I said.

"Oh, absolutely," he answered.

"You know that I can do something, that I can expose you." I had a vague idea that I could, that the number of small things that I knew to his discredit and the mass of my hatred could be welded into a damning whole. He laughed a high-pitched, hysterical laugh. The dawn was beginning to spread pallidly above us, gleaming mournfully through the glass of the palm-house. People began to pass, muffled up, on their way out of the place.

"You may go ..." he was beginning. But the expression of his face altered. Miss Granger, muffled up like all the rest of the world, was coming out of the inner door. "We have been having a charming ..." he began to her. She touched me gently on the arm.

"Come, Arthur," she said, and then to him, "You have heard the news?"

He looked at her rather muzzily.

"Baron Halderschrodt has committed suicide," she said. "Come, Arthur."

We passed on slowly, but de Mersch followed.

"You—you aren't in earnest?" he said, catching at her arm so that we swung round and faced him. There was a sort of mad entreaty in his eyes, as if he hoped that by unsaying she could remedy an irremediable disaster, and there was nothing left of him but those panic-stricken, beseeching eyes.

"Monsieur de Sabran told me," she answered; "he had just come from making the constatation. Besides, you can hear ..."

Half-sentences came to our ears from groups that passed us. A very old man with a nose that almost touched his thick lips, was saying to another of the same type:

"Shot himself ... through the left temple ... Mon Dieu!"

De Mersch walked slowly down the long corridor away from us. There was an extraordinary stiffness in his gait, as if he were trying to emulate the goose step of his days in the Prussian Guard. My companion looked after him as though she wished to gauge the extent of his despair.

"You would say 'Habet,' wouldn't you?" she asked me.

I thought we had seen the last of him, but as in the twilight of the dawn we waited for the lodge gates to open, a furious clatter of hoofs came down the long street, and a carriage drew level with ours. A moment after, de Mersch was knocking at our window.

"You will ... you will ..." he stuttered, "speak ... to Mr. Gurnard. That is our only chance ... now." His voice came in mingled with the cold air of the morning. I shivered. "You have so much power ... with him and...."

"Oh, I ..." she answered.

"The thing must go through," he said again, "or else ..." He paused. The great gates in front of us swung noiselessly open, one saw into the court-yard. The light was growing stronger. She did not answer.

"I tell you," he asseverated insistently, "if the British Government abandons my railway all our plans ..."

"Oh, the Government won't abandon it," she said, with a little emphasis on the verb. He stepped back out of range of the wheels, and we turned in and left him standing there.

* * * * *

In the great room which was usually given up to the political plotters stood a table covered with eatables and lit by a pair of candles in tall silver sticks. I was conscious of a raging hunger and of a fierce excitement that made the thought of sleep part of a past of phantoms. I began to eat unconsciously, pacing up and down the while. She was standing beside the table in the glow of the transparent light. Pallid blue lines showed in the long windows. It was very cold and hideously late; away in those endless small hours when the pulse drags, when the clock-beat drags, when time is effaced.

"You see?" she said suddenly.

"Oh, I see," I answered—"and ... and now?"

"Now we are almost done with each other," she answered.

I felt a sudden mental falling away. I had never looked at things in that way, had never really looked things in the face. I had grown so used to the idea that she was to parcel out the remainder of my life, had grown so used to the feeling that I was the integral portion of her life ... "But I—" I said, "What is to become of me?"

She stood looking down at the ground ... for a long time. At last she said in a low monotone:

"Oh, you must try to forget."

A new idea struck me—luminously, overwhelming. I grew reckless. "You—you are growing considerate," I taunted. "You are not so sure, not so cold. I notice a change in you. Upon my soul ..."

Her eyes dilated suddenly, and as suddenly closed again. She said nothing. I grew conscious of unbearable pain, the pain of returning life. She was going away. I should be alone. The future began to exist again, looming up like a vessel through thick mist, silent, phantasmal, overwhelming—a hideous future of irremediable remorse, of solitude, of craving.

"You are going back to work with Churchill," she said suddenly.

"How did you know?" I asked breathlessly. My despair of a sort found vent in violent interjecting of an immaterial query.

"You leave your letters about," she said, "and.... It will be best for you."

"It will not," I said bitterly. "It could never be the same. I don't want to see Churchill. I want...."

"You want?" she asked, in a low monotone.

"You," I answered.

She spoke at last, very slowly:

"Oh, as for me, I am going to marry Gurnard."

I don't know just what I said then, but I remember that I found myself repeating over and over again, the phrases running metrically up and down my mind: "You couldn't marry Gurnard; you don't know what he is. You couldn't marry Gurnard; you don't know what he is." I don't suppose that I knew anything to the discredit of Gurnard—but he struck me in that way at that moment; struck me convincingly—more than any array of facts could have done.

"Oh—as for what he is—" she said, and paused. "I know...." and then suddenly she began to speak very fast.

"Don't you see?—can't you see?—that I don't marry Gurnard for what he is in that sense, but for what he is in the other. It isn't a marriage in your sense at all. And ... and it doesn't affect you ... don't you see? We have to have done with one another, because ... because...."

I had an inspiration.

"I believe," I said, very slowly, "I believe ... you do care...."

She said nothing.

"You care," I repeated.

She spoke then with an energy that had something of a threat in it. "Do you think I would? Do you think I could?... or dare? Don't you understand?" She faltered—"but then...." she added, and was silent for a long minute. I felt the throb of a thousand pulses in my head, on my temples. "Oh, yes, I care," she said slowly, "but that—that makes it all the worse. Why, yes, I care—yes, yes. It hurts me to see you. I might.... It would draw me away. I have my allotted course. And you—Don't you see, you would influence me; you would be—you are—a disease—for me."

"But," I said, "I could—I would—do anything."

I had only the faintest of ideas of what I would do—for her sake.

"Ah, no," she said, "you must not say that. You don't understand.... Even that would mean misery for you—and I—I could not bear. Don't you see? Even now, before you have done your allotted part, I am wanting—oh, wanting—to let you go.... But I must not; I must not. You must go on ... and bear it for a little while more—and then...."

There was a tension somewhere, a string somewhere that was stretched tight and vibrating. I was tremulous with an excitement that overmastered my powers of speech, that surpassed my understanding.

"Don't you see ..." she asked again, "you are the past—the passing. We could never meet. You are ... for me ... only the portrait of a man—of a man who has been dead—oh, a long time; and I, for you, only a possibility ... a conception.... You work to bring me on—to make me possible."

"But—" I said. The idea was so difficult to grasp. "I will—there must be a way—"

"No," she answered, "there is no way—you must go back; must try. There will be Churchill and what he stands for—He won't die, he won't even care much for losing this game ... not much.... And you will have to forget me. There is no other way—no bridge. We can't meet, you and I...."

The words goaded me to fury. I began to pace furiously up and down. I wanted to tell her that I would throw away everything for her, would crush myself out, would be a lifeless tool, would do anything. But I could tear no words out of the stone that seemed to surround me.

"You may even tell him, if you like, what I and Gurnard are going to do. It will make no difference; he will fall. But you would like him to—to make a good fight for it, wouldn't you? That is all I can do ... for your sake."

I began to speak—as if I had not spoken for years. The house seemed to be coming to life; there were noises of opening doors, of voices outside.

"I believe you care enough," I said "to give it all up for me. I believe you do, and I want you." I continued to pace up and down. The noises of returning day grew loud; frightfully loud. It was as if I must hasten, must get said what I had to say, as if I must raise my voice to make it heard amid the clamour of a world awakening to life.

"I believe you do ... I believe you do...." I said again and again, "and I want you." My voice rose higher and higher. She stood motionless, an inscrutable white figure, like some silent Greek statue, a harmony of falling folds of heavy drapery perfectly motionless.

"I want you," I said—"I want you, I want you, I want you." It was unbearable to myself.

"Oh, be quiet," she said at last. "Be quiet! If you had wanted me I have been here. It is too late. All these days; all these—"

"But ..." I said.

From without someone opened the great shutters of the windows, and the light from the outside world burst in upon us.


We parted in London next day, I hardly know where. She seemed so part of my being, was for me so little more than an intellectual force, so little of a physical personality, that I cannot remember where my eyes lost sight of her.

I had desolately made the crossing from country to country, had convoyed my aunt to her big house in one of the gloomy squares in a certain district, and then we had parted. Even afterward it was as if she were still beside me, as if I had only to look round to find her eyes upon me. She remained the propelling force, I a boat thrust out upon a mill-pond, moving more and more slowly. I had been for so long in the shadow of that great house, shut in among the gloom, that all this light, this blazing world—it was a June day in London—seemed impossible, and hateful. Over there, there had been nothing but very slow, fading minutes; now there was a past, a future. It was as if I stood between them in a cleft of unscalable rocks.

I went about mechanically, made arrangements for my housing, moved in and out of rooms in the enormous mausoleum of a club that was all the home I had, in a sort of stupor. Suddenly I remembered that I had been thinking of something; that she had been talking of Churchill. I had had a letter from him on the morning of the day before. When I read it, Churchill and his "Cromwell" had risen in my mind like preposterous phantoms; the one as unreal as the other—as alien. I seemed to have passed an infinity of aeons beyond them. The one and the other belonged as absolutely to the past as a past year belongs. The thought of them did not bring with it the tremulously unpleasant sensations that, as a rule, come with the thoughts of a too recent temps jadis, but rather as a vein of rose across a gray evening. I had passed his letter over; had dropped it half-read among the litter of the others. Then there had seemed to be a haven into whose mouth I was drifting.

Now I should have to pick the letters up again, all of them; set to work desolately to pick up the threads of the past; and work it back into life as one does half-drowned things. I set about it listlessly. There remained of that time an errand for my aunt, an errand that would take me to Etchingham; something connected with her land steward. I think the old lady had ideas of inducting me into a position that it had grown tacitly acknowledged I was to fill. I was to go down there; to see about some alterations that were in progress; and to make arrangements for my aunt's return. I was so tired, so dog tired, and the day still had so many weary hours to run, that I recognised instinctively that if I were to come through it sane I must tire myself more, must keep on going—until I sank. I drifted down to Etchingham that evening, I sent a messenger over to Churchill's cottage, waited for an answer that told me that Churchill was there, and then slept, and slept.

I woke back in the world again, in a world that contained the land steward and the manor house. I had a sense of recovered power from the sight of them, of the sunlight on the stretches of turf, of the mellow, golden stonework of the long range of buildings, from the sound of a chime of bells that came wonderfully sweetly over the soft swelling of the close turf. The feeling came not from any sense of prospective ownership, but from the acute consciousness of what these things stood for. I did not recognise it then, but later I understood; for the present it was enough to have again the power to set my foot on the ground, heel first. In the streets of the little town there was a sensation of holiday, not pronounced enough to call for flags, but enough to convey the idea of waiting for an event.

The land steward, at the end of a tour amongst cottages, explained there was to be a celebration in the neighbourhood—a "cock-and-hen show with a political annex"; the latter under the auspices of Miss Churchill. Churchill himself was to speak; there was a possibility of a pronouncement. I found London reporters at my inn, men I half knew. They expressed mitigated delight at the view of me, and over a lunch-table let me know what "one said"—what one said of the outside of events I knew too well internally. They most of them had the air of my aunt's solicitor when he had said, "Even I did not realise...." their positions saving them the necessity of concealing surprise. "One can't know everything." They fumbled amusingly about the causes, differed with one another, but were surprisingly unanimous as to effects, as to the panic and the call for purification. It was rather extraordinary, too, how large de Mersch loomed on the horizon over here. It was as if the whole world centred in him, as if he represented the modern spirit that must be purified away by burning before things could return to their normal state. I knew what he represented ... but there it was.

It was part of my programme, the attendance at the poultry show; I was to go back to the cottage with Churchill, after he had made his speech. It was rather extraordinary, the sensations of that function. I went in rather late, with the reporter of the Hour, who was anxious to do me the favour of introducing me without payment—it was his way of making himself pleasant, and I had the reputation of knowing celebrities. It was rather extraordinary to be back again in the midst of this sort of thing, to be walking over a crowded, green paddock, hedged in with tall trees and dotted here and there with the gaily striped species of tent that is called marquee. And the type of face, and the style of the costume! They would have seemed impossible the day before yesterday.

There were all Miss Churchill's gang of great dames, muslin, rustling, marriageable daughters, a continual twitter of voices, and a sprinkling of the peasantry, dun-coloured and struck speechless.

One of the great ladies surveyed me as I stood in the centre of an open space, surveyed me through tortoise-shell glasses on the end of a long handle, and beckoned me to her side.

"You are unattached?" she asked. She had pretensions to voice the county, just as my aunt undoubtedly set the tone of its doings, decided who was visitable, and just as Miss Churchill gave the political tone. "You may wait upon me, then," she said; "my daughter is with her young man. That is the correct phrase, is it not?"

She was a great lady, who stood nearly six foot high, and whom one would have styled buxom, had one dared. "I have a grievance," she went on; "I must talk to someone. Come this way. There!" She pointed with the handle of her glasses to a pen of glossy blackbirds. "You see!... Not even commended!—and I assure you the trouble I have taken over them, with the idea of setting an example to the tenantry, is incredible. They give a prize to one of our own tenants ... which is as much as telling the man that he is an example to me. Then they wonder that the country is going to the dogs. I assure you that after breakfast I have had the scraps collected from the plates—that was the course recommended by the poultry manuals—and have taken them out with my own hands."

The sort of thing passed for humour in the county, and, being delivered with an air and a half Irish ruefulness, passed well enough.

"And that reminds me," she went on, "—I mean the fact that the country is going to the dogs, as my husband [You haven't seen him anywhere, have you? He is one of the judges, and I want to have a word with him about my Orpingtons] says every morning after he has looked at his paper—that ... oh, that you have been in Paris, haven't you? with your aunt. Then, of course, you have seen this famous Duc de Mersch?"

She looked at me humourously through her glasses. "I'm going to pump you, you know," she said, "it is the duty that is expected of me. I have to talk for a countyful of women without a tongue in their heads. So tell me about him. Is it true that he is at the bottom of all this mischief? Is it through him that this man committed suicide? They say so. He was mixed up in that Royalist plot, wasn't he?—and the people that have been failing all over the place are mixed up with him, aren't they?"

"I ... I really don't know," I said; "if you say so...."

"Oh, I assure you I'm sound enough," she answered, "the Churchills—I know you're a friend of his—haven't a stauncher ally than I am, and I should only be too glad to be able to contradict. But it's so difficult. I assure you I go out of my way; talk to the most outrageous people, deny the very possibility of Mr. Churchill's being in any way implicated. One knows that it's impossible, but what can one do? I have said again and again—to people like grocers' wives; even to the grocers, for that matter—that Mr. Churchill is a statesman, and that if he insists that this odious man's railway must go through, it is in the interests of the country that it should. I tell them...."

She paused for a minute to take breath and then went on: "I was speaking to a man of that class only this morning, rather an intelligent man and quite nice—I was saying, 'Don't you see, my dear Mr. Tull, that it is a question of international politics. If the grand duke does not get the money for his railway, the grand duke will be turned out of his—what is it—principality? And that would be most dangerous—in the present condition of affairs over there, and besides....' The man listened very respectfully, but I could see that he was not convinced. I buckled to again...."

"'And besides,' I said, 'there is the question of Greenland itself. We English must have Greenland ... sooner or later. It touches you, even. You have a son who's above—who doesn't care for life in a country town, and you want to send him abroad—with a little capital. Well, Greenland is just the place for him.' The man looked at me, and almost shook his head in my face."

"'If you'll excuse me, my lady,' he said, 'it won't do. Mr. Churchill is a man above hocus-pocus. Well I know it that have had dealings with him. But ... well, the long and the short of it is, my lady, that you can't touch pitch and not be defiled; or, leastwise, people'll think you've been defiled—those that don't know you. The foreign nations are all very well, and the grand duchy—and the getting hold of Greenland, but what touches me is this—My neighbour Slingsby had a little money, and he gets a prospectus. It looked very well—very well—and he brings it in to me. I did not have anything to do with it, but Slingsby did. Well, now there's Slingsby on the rates and his wife a lady born, almost. I might have been taken in the same way but for—for the grace of God, I'm minded to say. Well, Slingsby's a good man, and used to be a hard-working man—all his life, and now it turns out that that prospectus came about by the man de Mersch's manoeuvres—"wild-cat schemes," they call them in the paper that I read. And there's any number of them started by de Mersch or his agents. Just for what? That de Mersch may be the richest man in the world and a philanthropist. Well, then, where's Slingsby, if that's philanthropy? So Mr. Churchill comes along and says, in a manner of speaking, "That's all very well, but this same Mr. Mersch is the grand duke of somewhere or other, and we must bolster him up in his kingdom, or else there will be trouble with the powers." Powers—what's powers to me?—or Greenland? when there's Slingsby, a man I've smoked a pipe with every market evening of my life, in the workhouse? And there's hundreds of Slingsbys all over the country.'"

"The man was working himself—Slingsby was a good sort of man. It shocked even me. One knows what goes on in one's own village, of course. And it's only too true that there's hundreds of Slingsbys—I'm not boring you, am I?"

I did not answer for a moment. "I—I had no idea," I said; "I have been so long out of it and over there one did not realise the ... the feeling."

"You've been well out of it," she answered; "one has had to suffer, I assure you." I believed that she had had to suffer; it must have taken a good deal to make that lady complain. Her large, ruddy features followed the droop of her eyes down to the fringe of the parasol that she was touching the turf with. We were sitting on garden seats in the dappled shade of enormous elms.

There was in the air a touch of the sounds discoursed by a yeomanry band at the other end of the grounds. One could see the red of their uniforms through moving rifts in the crowd of white dresses.

"That wasn't even the worst," she said suddenly, lifting her eyes and looking away between the trunks of the trees. "The man has been reading the papers and he gave me the benefit of his reflections. 'Someone's got to be punished for this;' he said, 'we've got to show them that you can't be hand-and-glove with that sort of blackguard, without paying for it. I don't say, mind you, that Mr. Churchill is or ever has been. I know him, and I trust him. But there's more than me in the world, and they can't all know him. Well, here's the papers saying—or they don't say it, but they hint, which is worse in a way—that he must be, or he wouldn't stick up for the man. They say the man's a blackguard out and out—in Greenland too; has the blacks murdered. Churchill says the blacks are to be safe-guarded, that's the word. Well, they may be—but so ought Slingsby to have been, yet it didn't help him. No, my lady, we've got to put our own house in order and that first, before thinking of the powers or places like Greenland. What's the good of the saner policy that Mr. Churchill talks about, if you can't trust anyone with your money, and have to live on the capital? If you can't sleep at night for thinking that you may be in the workhouse to-morrow—like Slingsby? The first duty of men in Mr. Churchill's position—as I see it—is to see that we're able to be confident of honest dealing. That's what we want, not Greenlands. That's how we all feel, and you know it, too, or else you, a great lady, wouldn't stop to talk to a man like me. And, mind you, I'm true blue, always have been and always shall be, and, if it was a matter of votes, I'd give mine to Mr. Churchill to-morrow. But there's a many that wouldn't, and there's a many that believe the hintings.'"

My lady stopped and sighed from a broad bosom. "What could I say?" she went on again. "I know Mr. Churchill and I like him—and everyone that knows him likes him. I'm one of the stalwarts, mind you; I'm not for giving in to popular clamour; I'm for the 'saner policy,' like Churchill. But, as the man said: 'There's a many that believe the hintings.' And I almost wish Churchill.... However, you understand what I meant when I said that one had had to suffer."

"Oh, I understand," I said. I was beginning to. "And Churchill?" I asked later, "he gives no sign of relenting?"

"Would you have him?" she asked sharply; "would you make him if you could?" She had an air of challenging. "I'm for the 'saner policy!' cost what it may. He owes it to himself to sacrifice himself, if it comes to that."

"I'm with you too," I answered, "over boot and spur." Her enthusiasm was contagious, and unnecessary.

"Oh, he'll stick," she began again after consultation with the parasol fringe. "You'll hear him after a minute. It's a field day to-day. You'll miss the other heavy guns if you stop with me. I do it ostentatiously—wait until they've done. They're all trembling; all of them. My husband will be on the platform—trembling too. He is a type of them. All day long and at odd moments at night I talk to him—out-talk him and silence him. What's the state of popular feeling to him? He's for the country, not the town—this sort of thing has nothing to do with him. It's a matter to be settled by Jews in the City. Well, he sees it at night, and then in the morning the papers undo all my work. He begins to talk about his seat—which I got for him. I've been the 'voice of the county' for years now. Well, it'll soon be a voice without a county.... What is it? 'The old order changeth.' So, I've arranged it that I shall wait until the trembling big-wigs have stuttered their speeches out, and then I'm going to sail down the centre aisle and listen to Churchill with visible signs of approval. It won't do much to-day, but there was a time when it would have changed the course of an election.... Ah, there's Effie's young man. It's time."

She rose and marched, with the air of going to a last sacrifice, across the deserted sward toward a young man who was passing under the calico flag of the gateway.

"It's all right, Willoughby," she said, as we drew level, "I've found someone else to face the music with me; you can go back to Effie." A bronzed and grateful young man murmured thanks to me.

"It's an awful relief, Granger," he said; "can't think how you can do it. I'm hooked, but you...."

"He's the better man," his mother-in-law-elect said, over her shoulder. She sailed slowly up the aisle beside me, an almost heroic figure of a matron. "Splendidly timed, you see," she said, "do you observe my husband's embarrassment?"

It was splendid to see Churchill again, standing there negligently, with the diffidence of a boy amid the bustle of applause. I understood suddenly why I loved him so, this tall, gray man with the delicate, almost grotesque, mannerisms. He appealed to me by sheer force of picturesqueness, appealed as some forgotten mediaeval city might. I was concerned for him as for some such dying place, standing above the level plains; I was jealous lest it should lose one jot of its glory, of its renown. He advocated his saner policy before all those people; stood up there and spoke gently, persuasively, without any stress of emotion, without more movement than an occasional flutter of the glasses he held in his hand. One would never have recognised that the thing was a fighting speech but for the occasional shiver of his audience. They were thinking of their Slingsbys; he affecting, insouciantly, to treat them as rational people.

It was extraordinary to sit there shut in by that wall of people all of one type, of one idea; the idea of getting back; all conscious that a force of which they knew nothing was dragging them forward over the edge of a glacier, into a crevasse. They wanted to get back, were struggling, panting even—as a nation pants—to get back by their own way that they understood and saw; were hauling, and hauling desperately, at the weighted rope that was dragging them forward. Churchill stood up there and repeated: "Mine is the only way—the saner policy," and his words would fly all over the country to fall upon the deaf ears of the panic-stricken, who could not understand the use of calmness, of trifling even, in the face of danger, who suspected the calmness as one suspects the thing one has not. At the end of it I received his summons to a small door at the back of the building. The speech seemed to have passed out of his mind far more than out of mine.

"So you have come," he said; "that's good, and so.... Let us walk a little way ... out of this. My aunt will pick us up on the road." He linked his arm into mine and propelled me swiftly down the bright, broad street. "I'm sorry you came in for that, but—one has to do these things."

There was a sort of resisted numbness in his voice, a lack of any resiliency. My heart sank a little. It was as if I were beside an invalid who did not—must not—know his condition; as if I were pledged not to notice anything. In the open the change struck home as a hammer strikes; in the pitiless searching of the unrestrained light, his grayness, his tremulousness, his aloofness from the things about him, came home to me like a pang.

"You look a bit fagged," I said, "perhaps we ought not to talk about work." His thoughts seemed to come back from a great distance, oh, from an infinite distance beyond the horizon, the soft hills of that fat country. "You want rest," I added.

"I—oh, no," he answered, "I can't have it ... till the end of the session. I'm used to it too."

He began talking briskly about the "Cromwell;" proofs had emerged from the infinite and wanted attention. There were innumerable little matters, things to be copied for the appendix and revisions. It was impossible for me to keep my mind upon them.

It had come suddenly home to me that this was the world that I belonged to; that I had come back to it as if from an under world; that to this I owed allegiance. She herself had recognised that; she herself had bidden me tell him what was a-gate against him. It was a duty too; he was my friend. But, face to face with him, it became almost an impossibility. It was impossible even to put it into words. The mere ideas seemed to be untranslatable, to savour of madness. I found myself in the very position that she had occupied at the commencement of our relations: that of having to explain—say, to a Persian—the working principles of the telegraph. And I was not equal to the task. At the same time I had to do something. I had to. It would be abominable to have to go through life forever, alone with the consciousness of that sort of treachery of silence. But how could I tell him even the comprehensibles? What kind of sentence was I to open with? With pluckings of an apologetic string, without prelude at all—or how? I grew conscious that there was need for haste; he was looking behind him down the long white road for the carriage that was to pick us up.

"My dear fellow...." I began. He must have noted a change in my tone, and looked at me with suddenly lifted eyebrows. "You know my sister is going to marry Mr. Gurnard."

"Why, no," he answered—"that is ... I've heard...." he began to offer good wishes.

"No, no," I interrupted him hurriedly, "not that. But I happen to know that Gurnard is meditating ... is going to separate from you in public matters." An expression of dismay spread over his face.

"My dear fellow," he began.

"Oh, I'm not drunk," I said bitterly, "but I've been behind the scenes—for a long time. And I could not ... couldn't let the thing go on without a word."

He stopped in the road and looked at me.

"Yes, yes," he said, "I daresay.... But what does it lead to?... Even if I could listen to you—I can't go behind the scenes. Mr. Gurnard may differ from me in points, but don't you see?..." He had walked on slowly, but he came to a halt again. "We had better put these matters out of our minds. Of course you are not drunk; but one is tied down in these matters...."

He spoke very gently, as if he did not wish to offend me by this closing of the door. He seemed suddenly to grow very old and very gray. There was a stile in the dusty hedge-row, and he walked toward it, meditating. In a moment he looked back at me. "I had forgotten," he said; "I meant to suggest that we should wait here—I am a little tired." He perched himself on the top bar and became lost in the inspection of the cord of his glasses. I went toward him.

"I knew," I said, "that you could not listen to ... to the sort of thing. But there were reasons. I felt forced. You will forgive me." He looked up at me, starting as if he had forgotten my presence.

"Yes, yes," he said, "I have a certain—I can't think of the right word—say respect—for your judgment and—and motives ... But you see, there are, for instance, my colleagues. I couldn't go to them ..." He lost the thread of his idea.

"To tell the truth," I said, with a sudden impulse for candour, "it isn't the political aspect of the matter, but the personal. I spoke because it was just possible that I might be of service to you—personally—and because I would like you ... to make a good fight for it." I had borrowed her own words.

He looked up at me and smiled. "Thank you," he said. "I believe you think it's a losing game," he added, with a touch of gray humour that was like a genial hour of sunlight on a wintry day. I did not answer. A little way down the road Miss Churchill's carriage whirled into sight, sparkling in the sunlight, and sending up an attendant cloud of dust that melted like smoke through the dog-roses of the leeward hedge.

"So you don't think much of me as a politician," Churchill suddenly deduced smilingly. "You had better not tell that to my aunt."

I went up to town with Churchill that evening. There was nothing waiting for me there, but I did not want to think. I wanted to be among men, among crowds of men, to be dazed, to be stupefied, to hear nothing for the din of life, to be blinded by the blaze of lights.

There were plenty of people in Churchill's carriage; a military member and a local member happened to be in my immediate neighbourhood. Their minds were full of the financial scandals, and they dinned their alternating opinions into me. I assured them that I knew nothing about the matter, and they grew more solicitous for my enlightenment.

"It all comes from having too many eggs in one basket," the local member summed up. "The old-fashioned small enterprises had their disadvantages, but—mind you—these gigantic trusts.... Isn't that so, General?"

"Oh, I quite agree with you," the general barked; "at the same time...." Their voices sounded on, intermingling, indistinguishable, soothing even. I seemed to be listening to the hum of a threshing-machine—a passage of sound booming on one note, a passage, a half-tone higher, and so on, and so on. Visible things grew hazy, fused into one another.


We reached London somewhat late in the evening—in the twilight of a summer day. There was the hurry and bustle of arrival, a hurry and bustle that changed the tenor of my thoughts and broke their train. As I stood reflecting before the door of the carriage, I felt a friendly pressure of a hand on my shoulder.

"You'll see to that," Churchill's voice said in my ear. "You'll set the copyists to work."

"I'll go to the Museum to-morrow," I said. There were certain extracts to be made for the "Life of Cromwell"—extracts from pamphlets that we had not conveniently at disposal. He nodded, walked swiftly toward his brougham, opened the door and entered.

I remember so well that last sight of him—of his long, slim figure bending down for the entrance, woefully solitary, woefully weighted; remember so well the gleam of the carriage panels reflecting the murky light of the bare London terminus, the attitude of the coachman stiffly reining back the horse; the thin hand that reached out, a gleam of white, to turn the gleaming handle. There was something intimately suggestive of the man in the motion of that hand, in its tentative outstretching, its gentle, half-persuasive—almost theoretic—grasp of the handle. The pleasure of its friendly pressure on my shoulder carried me over some minutes of solitude; its weight on my body removing another from my mind. I had feared that my ineffective disclosure had chilled what of regard he had for me. He had said nothing, his manner had said nothing, but I had feared. In the railway carriage he had sat remote from me, buried in papers. But that touch on my shoulder was enough to set me well with myself again, if not to afford scope for pleasant improvisation. It at least showed me that he bore me no ill-will, otherwise he would hardly have touched me. Perhaps, even, he was grateful to me, not for service, but for ineffectual good-will. Whatever I read into it, that was the last time he spoke to me, and the last time he touched me. And I loved him very well. Things went so quickly after that.

In a moderately cheerful frame of mind I strolled the few yards that separated me from my club—intent on dining. In my averseness to solitude I sat down at a table where sat already a little, bald-headed, false-toothed Anglo-Indian, a man who bored me into fits of nervous excitement. He was by way of being an incredibly distant uncle of my own. As a rule I avoided him, to-night I dined with him. He was a person of interminable and incredibly inaccurate reminiscences. His long residence in an indigo-producing swamp had affected his memory, which was supported by only very occasional visits to England.

He told me tales of my poor father and of my poor, dear mother, and of Mr. Bromptons and Mrs. Kenwards who had figured on their visiting lists away back in the musty sixties.

"Your poor, dear father was precious badly off then," he said; "he had a hard struggle for it. I had a bad time of it too; worm had got at all my plantations, so I couldn't help him, poor chap. I think, mind you, Kenny Granger treated him very badly. He might have done something for him—he had influence, Kenny had."

Kenny was my uncle, the head of the family, the husband of my aunt.

"They weren't on terms," I said.

"Oh, I know, I know," the old man mumbled, "but still, for one's only brother ... However, you contrive to do yourselves pretty well. You're making your pile, aren't you? Someone said to me the other day—can't remember who it was—that you were quite one of the rising men—quite one of the men."

"Very kind of someone," I said.

"And now I see," he went on, lifting up a copy of a morning paper, over which I had found him munching his salmon cutlet, "now I see your sister is going to marry a cabinet minister. Ah!" he shook his poor, muddled, baked head, "I remember you both as tiny little dots."

"Why," I said, "she can hardly have been born then."

"Oh, yes," he affirmed, "that was when I came over in '78. She remembered, too, that I brought her over an ivory doll—she remembered."

"You have seen her?" I asked.

"Oh, I called two or three weeks—no, months—ago. She's the image of your poor, dear mother," he added, "at that age; I remarked upon it to your aunt, but, of course, she could not remember. They were not married until after the quarrel."

A sudden restlessness made me bolt the rest of my tepid dinner. With my return to the upper world, and the return to me of a will, despair of a sort had come back. I had before me the problem—the necessity—of winning her. Once I was out of contact with her she grew smaller, less of an idea, more of a person—that one could win. And there were two ways. I must either woo her as one woos a person barred; must compel her to take flight, to abandon, to cast away everything; or I must go to her as an eligible suitor with the Etchingham acres and possibilities of a future on that basis. This fantastic old man with his mumbled reminiscences spoilt me for the last. One remembers sooner or later that a county-man may not marry his reputed sister without scandal. And I craved her intensely.

She had upon me the effect of an incredible stimulant; away from her I was like a drunkard cut off from his liquor; an opium-taker from his drug. I hardly existed; I hardly thought.

I had an errand at my aunt's house; had a message to deliver, sympathetic enquiries to make—and I wanted to see her, to gain some sort of information from her; to spy out the land; to ask her for terms. There was a change in the appearance of the house, an adventitious brightness that indicated the rise in the fortunes of the family. For me the house was empty and the great door closed hollowly behind me. My sister was not at home. It seemed abominable to me that she should be out; that she could be talking to anyone, or could exist without me. I went sullenly across the road to the palings of the square. As I turned the corner I found my head pivoting on my neck. I was looking over my shoulder at the face of the house, was wondering which was her window.

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