BY A.S.M. HUTCHINSON
THE HAPPY WARRIOR
ONCE ABOARD THE LUGGER—
THE CLEAN HEART
IF WINTER COMES
IF WINTER COMES BY A.S.M. HUTCHINSON
BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY 1921
Published, August, 1921 Reprinted, August, 1921 (twice) Reprinted, September, 1921 (four times) Reprinted, October, 1921
PRINTED BY C.H. SIMONDS COMPANY BOSTON, MASS., U.S.A.
"...O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"
PART ONE PAGE MABEL 1
IF WINTER COMES
To take Mark Sabre at the age of thirty-four, and in the year 1912, and at the place Penny Green is to necessitate looking back a little towards the time of his marriage in 1904, but happens to find him in good light for observation. Encountering him hereabouts, one who had shared school days with him at his preparatory school so much as twenty-four years back would have found matter for recognition.
A usefully garrulous person, one Hapgood, a solicitor, found much.
"Whom do you think I met yesterday? Old Sabre! You remember old Sabre at old Wickamote's?... Yes, that's the chap. Used to call him Puzzlehead, remember? Because he used to screw up his forehead over things old Wickamote or any of the other masters said and sort of drawl out, 'Well, I don't see that, sir.'... Yes, rather!... And then that other expression of his. Just the opposite. When old Wickamote or some one had landed him, or all of us, with some dashed punishment, and we were gassing about it, used to screw up his nut in the same way and say, 'Yes, but I see what he means.' And some one would say, 'Well, what does he mean, you ass?' and he'd start gassing some rot till some one said, 'Good lord, fancy sticking up for a master!' And old Puzzlehead would say, 'You sickening fool, I'm not sticking up for him. I'm only saying he's right from how he looks at it and it's no good saying he's wrong.'... Ha! Funny days.... Jolly nice chap, though, old Puzzlehead was.... Yes, I met him.... Fact, I run into him occasionally. We do a mild amount of business with his firm. I buzz down there about once a year. Tidborough. He's changed, of course. So have you, you know. That Vandyke beard, what? Ha! Old Sabre's not done anything outrageous like that. Real thing I seemed to notice about him when I bumped into him yesterday was that he didn't look very cheery. Looked to me rather as though he'd lost something and was wondering where it was. Ha! But—dashed funny—I mentioned something about that appalling speech that chap made in that blasphemy case yesterday.... Eh? yes, absolutely frightful, wasn't it?—well, I'm dashed if old Sabre didn't puzzle up his nut in exactly the same old way and say, 'Yes, but I see what he means.' I reminded him and ragged him about it no end. Absolutely the same words and expression. Funny chap ... nice chap....
"What did he say the blasphemy man meant? Oh, I don't know; some bilge, just as he used to about the masters. You know the man talked some rubbish about how the State couldn't have it both ways—couldn't blaspheme against God by flatly denying that all men were equal and basing all its legislation on keeping one class up and the other class down; couldn't do that and at the same time prosecute him because he said that religion was—well, you know what he said; I'm dashed if I like to repeat it. Joke of it was that I found myself using exactly the same expression to old Sabre as we used to use at school. I said, 'Good lord, man, fancy sticking up for a chap like that!' And old Sabre—by Jove, I tell you there we all were in a flash back in the playground at old Wickamote's, down in that corner by the workshop, all kids again and old Puzzlehead flicking his hand out of his pocket—remember how he used to?—like that—and saying, 'You sickening fool, I'm not sticking up for him, I'm only saying he's right from how he looks at it and it's no good saying he's wrong!' Rum, eh, after all those years.... No, he didn't say, 'You sickening fool' this time. I reminded him how he used to, and he laughed and said, 'Yes; did I? Well, I still get riled, you know, when chaps can't see—' And then he said 'Yes, "sickening fool"; so I did; odd!' and he looked out of the window as though he was looking a thousand miles away—this was in his office, you know—and chucked talking absolutely....
"Yes, in his office I saw him.... He's in a good business down there at Tidborough. Dashed good. 'Fortune, East and Sabre'... Never heard of them? Ah, well, that shows you're not a pillar of the Church, old son. If you took the faintest interest in your particular place of worship, or in any Anglican place of worship, you'd know that whenever you want anything for the Church from a hymn book or a hassock or a pew to a pulpit or a screen or a spire you go to Fortune, East and Sabre, Tidborough. Similarly in the scholastic line, anything from a birch rod to a desk—Fortune, East and Sabre, by return and the best. No, they're the great, the great, church and school-furnishing people. 'Ecclesiastical and Scholastic Furnishers and Designers' they call themselves. And they're IT. No really decent church or really gentlemanly school thinks of going anywhere else. They keep at Tidborough because they were there when they furnished the first church in the year One or thereabouts. I expect they did the sun-ray fittings at Stonehenge. Ha! Anyway, they're one of the stately firms of old England, and old Sabre is the Sabre part of the firm. And his father before him and so on. Fortune and East are both bishops, I believe. No, not really. But I tell you the show's run on mighty pious lines. One of them's a 'Rev.', I know. I mean, the tradition of the place is to be in keeping with the great and good works it carries out and for which, incidentally, it is dashed well paid. Rather. Oh, old Sabre has butter with his bread all right....
"Married? Oh, yes, he's married. Has been some time, I believe, though they've no kids. I had lunch at his place one time I was down Tidborough way. Now there's a place you ought to go to paint one of your pictures—where he lives—Penny Green. Picturesque, quaint if ever a place was. It's about seven miles from Tidborough; seven miles by road and about seven centuries in manners and customs and appearance and all that. Proper old village green, you know, with a duck pond and cricket pitch and houses all round it. No two alike. Just like one of Kate Greenaway's pictures, I always think. It just sits and sleeps. You wouldn't think there was a town within a hundred miles of it, let alone a bustling great place like Tidborough. Go down. You really ought to. Yes, and by Jove you'll have to hurry up if you want to catch the old-world look of the place. It's 'developing' ... 'being developed.'... Eh?... Yes; God help it; I agree. After all these centuries sleeping there it's suddenly been 'discovered.' People are coming out from Tidborough and Alton and Chovensbury to get away from their work and live there. Making a sort of garden suburb business of it. They've got a new church already. Stupendous affair, considering the size of the place—but that's looking forward to this development movement, the new vicar chap says. He's doing the developing like blazes. Regular tiger he is for shoving things, particularly himself. Chap called Bagshaw—Boom Bagshaw. Character if ever there was one. But they're all characters down there from what I've seen of it....
"Yes, you go down there and have a look, with your sketch-book. Old Sabre'll love to see you.... His wife?... Oh, very nice, distinctly nice. Pretty woman, very. Somehow I didn't think quite the sort of woman for old Puzzlehead. Didn't appear to have the remotest interest in any of the things he was keen about; and he seemed a bit fed with her sort of talk. Hers was all gossip—all about the people there and what a rum crowd they were. Devilish funny, I thought, some of her stories. But old Sabre—well, I suppose he'd heard 'em before. Still, there was something—something about the two of them. You know that sort of—sort of—what the devil is it?—sort of stiffish feeling you sometimes feel in the air with two people who don't quite click. Well, that was it. Probably only my fancy. As to that, you can pretty well cut the welkin with a knife at my place sometimes when me and my missus get our tails up; and we're fearful pals. Daresay I just took 'em on an off day. But that was my impression though—that she wasn't just the sort of woman for old Sabre. But after all, what the dickens sort of woman would be? Fiddling chap for a husband, old Puzzlehead. Can imagine him riling any wife with wrinkling up his nut over some plain as a pikestaff thing and saying, 'Well, I don't quite see that.' Ha! Rum chap. Nice chap. Have a drink?"
Thus, by easy means of the garrulous Hapgood, appear persons, places, institutions; lives, homes, activities; the web and the tangle and the amenities of a minute fragment of human existence. Life. An odd business. Into life we come, mysteriously arrived, are set on our feet and on we go: functioning more or less ineffectively, passing through permutations and combinations; meeting the successive events, shocks, surprises of hours, days, years; becoming engulfed, submerged, foundered by them; all of us on the same adventure yet retaining nevertheless each his own individuality, as swimmers carrying each his undetachable burden through dark, enormous and cavernous seas. Mysterious journey! Uncharted, unknown and finally—but there is no finality! Mysterious and stunning sequel—not end—to the mysterious and tremendous adventure! Finally, of this portion, death, disappearance,—gone! Astounding development! Mysterious and hapless arrival, tremendous and mysterious passage, mysterious and alarming departure. No escaping it; no volition to enter it or to avoid it; no prospect of defeating it or solving it. Odd affair! Mysterious and baffling conundrum to be mixed up in!... Life!
Come to this pair, Mark Sabre and his wife Mabel, at Penny Green, and have a look at them mixed up in this odd and mysterious business of life. Some apprehension of the odd affair that it was was characteristic of Mark Sabre's habit of mind, increasingly with the years,—with Mabel.
Penny Green—"picturesque, quaint if ever a place was", in garrulous Mr. Hapgood's words—lies in a shallow depression, in shape like a narrow meat dish. It runs east and west, and slightly tilted from north to south. To the north the land slopes pleasantly upward in pasture and orchards, and here was the site of the Penny Green Garden Home Development Scheme. Beyond the site, a considerable area, stands Northrepps, the seat of Lord Tybar. Lord Tybar sold the Development site to the developers, and, as he signed the deed of conveyance, remarked in his airy way, "Ah, nothing like exercise, gentlemen. That's made every one of my ancestors turn in his grave." The developers tittered respectfully as befits men who have landed a good thing.
Westward of Penny Green is Chovensbury; behind Tidborough the sun rises.
Viewed from the high eminence of Northrepps, Penny Green gave rather the impression of having slipped, like a sliding dish, down the slope and come to rest, slightly tilted, where its impetus had ceased. It was certainly at rest: it had a restful air; and it had certainly slipped out of the busier trafficking of its surrounding world, the main road from Chovensbury to Tidborough, coming from greater cities even than these and proceeding to greater, ran far above it, beyond Northrepps. The main road rather slighted than acknowledged Penny Green by the nerveless and shrunken feeler which, a mile beyond Chovensbury, it extended in Penny Green's direction.
This splendid main road in the course of its immense journey across Southern England, extended feelers to many settlements of man, providing them as it were with a talent which, according to the energy of the settlement, might be increased a hundredfold—drained, metalled, tarred, and adorned with splendid telegraph poles and wires—or might be wrapped up in a napkin of neglect, monstrous overgrown hedges and decayed ditches, and allowed to wither: the splendid main road, having regard to its ancient Roman lineage, disdainfully did not care tuppence either way; and for that matter Penny Green, which had ages ago put its feeler in a napkin, did not care tuppence either.
It was now, however, to have a railway.
And meanwhile there was this to be said for it: that whereas some of the dependents of the splendid main road constituted themselves abominably ugly carbuncles on the end of shapely and well-manicured fingers of the main road, Penny Green, at the end of a withered and entirely neglected finger, adorned it as with a jewel.
A Kate Greenaway picture, the garrulous Hapgood had said of Penny Green; and it was well said. At its eastern extremity the withered talent from the splendid main road divided into two talents and encircled the Green which had, as Hapgood had said, a cricket pitch (in summer) and a duck pond (more prominent in winter); also, in all seasons, and the survivors of many ages, a clump of elm trees surrounded by a decayed bench; a well surrounded by a decayed paling, so decayed that it had long ago thrown itself flat on the ground into which it continued venerably to decay; and at the southeastern extremity a village pound surrounded by a decayed grey wall and now used by the youth of the village for the purpose of impounding one another in parties or sides in a game well called "Pound I."
At the southwestern extremity of the Green, and immediately opposite the Tybar Arms, was a blacksmith's forge perpetually inhabited and directed by a race named Wirk. The forge was the only human habitation or personal and individual workshop actually on the Green, and it was said, and freely admitted by the successive members of the tribe of Wirk, that it had "no right" to be there. There it nevertheless was, had been for centuries, so far as anybody knew to the contrary, and administered always by a Wirk. In some mysterious way which nobody ever seemed to recognize till it actually happened there was always a son Wirk to continue the forge when the father Wirk died and was carried off to be deposited by his fathers who had continued it before him. It was also said in the village, as touching this matter of "no right", that nobody could understand how the forge ever came to be there and that it certainly would be turned off one day; and with this also the current members of the tribe of Wirk cordially agreed. They understood less than anybody how they ever came to be there, and they knew perfectly well they would be turned off one day; saying which—and it was a common subject of debate among village sires of a summer evening, seated outside the Tybar Arms—saying which, the Wirk of the day would gaze earnestly up the road and look at his watch as if the power which would turn him off was then on its way and was getting a bit overdue.
The present representatives of the tribe of Wirk were known as Old Wirk and Young Wirk. Young Wirk was sixty-seven. No one knew where a still younger Wirk would come from when Old Wirk died and when Young Wirk died. But no one troubled to know. No one knows, precisely, where the next Pope is coming from, but he always comes, and successive Wirks appeared as surely. Old Wirk was past duty at the forge now. He sat on a Windsor chair all day and watched Young Wirk. When the day was finished Old Wirk and Young Wirk would walk across the Green to the pound, not together, but Old Wirk in front and Young Wirk immediately behind him; both with the same gait, bent and with a stick. On reaching the pound they would gaze profoundly into it over the decayed, grey wall, rather as if they were looking to see if the power that was going to turn out the forge was there, and then, the power apparently not being there, they would return, trailing back in the same single file, and take up their reserved positions on the bench before the Tybar Arms.
Mark Sabre, intensely fond of Penny Green, had reflected upon it sometimes as a curious thing that there was scarcely one of the village's inhabitants or institutions but had evidenced little differences of attitude between himself and Mabel, who was not intensely fond of Penny Green. The aged Wirks had served their turn. Mabel had once considered the Wirks extremely picturesque and, quite early in their married life, had invited them to her house that she might photograph them for her album.
They arrived, in single file, but she did not photograph them for her album. The photograph was not taken because Mark, when they presented themselves, expressed surprise that the aged pair were led off by the parlour maid to have tea in the kitchen. Why on earth didn't they have tea with them, with himself and Mabel, in the garden?
Mabel did what Sabre called "flew up"; and at the summit of her flight up inquired, "Suppose some one called?"
"Well, suppose they did?" Sabre inquired.
Mabel in a markedly calm voice then gave certain orders to the maid, who had brought out the tea and remained while the fate of the aged Wirks was in suspense.
The maid departed with the orders and Sabre commented, "Sending them off? Well, I'm dashed!"
Half an hour later the aged pair, having been led into the kitchen and having had tea there, were led out again and released by the maid on to the village Green rather as if they were two old ducks turned out to grass.
Sabre, watching them from the lawn beside the teacups, laughed and said, "What a dashed stupid business. They might have had tea on the roof for all I care."
Mabel tinkled a little silver bell for the maid. Ting-a-ling-ting!
The houses of Penny Green carried out the Kate Greenaway effect that the Green itself established. Along the upper road of the tilted dish were the larger houses, and upon the lower road mostly the cottages of the villagers; also upon the lower road the five shops of Penny Green: the butcher's shop which was opened on Tuesdays and Fridays by a butcher who came in from Tidborough with a spanking horse in front of him and half a week's supply of meat behind and beneath him; the grocer's shop and the draper's shop which, like enormous affairs in London, were also a large number of other shops but, unlike the London affairs, dispensed them all within the one shop and over the one counter. In the grocer's shop you could be handed into one hand a pound of tea and into the other a pair of boots, a convenience which, after all, is not to be had in all Oxford Street. The draper's shop, carrying the principle further, would not only dress you; post-office you; linoleum, rug and wall paper you; ink, pencil and note paper you; but would also bury you and tombstone you, a solemnity which it was only called upon to perform for anybody about once in five years—Penny Green being long-lived—but was always ready and anxious to carry out. Indeed in the back room of his shop, the draper, Mr. Pinnock, had a coffin which he had been trying (as he said) "to work off" for twenty-two years. It represented Mr. Pinnock's single and disastrous essay in sharp business. Two and twenty years earlier Old Wirk had been not only dying but "as good as dead." Mr. Pinnock on a stock-replenishing excursion in Tidborough, had bought a coffin, at the undertaker's, of a size to fit Old Wirk, and for the reason that, buying it then, he could convey it back on the wagon he had hired for the day and thus save carriage. He had brought it back, and the first person he had set eyes on in Penny Green was no other than Old Wirk himself, miraculously recovered and stubbornly downstairs and sunning at his door. The shock had nearly caused Mr. Pinnock to qualify for the coffin himself; but he had not, nor had any other inhabitant of suitable size since demised. Longer persons than Old Wirk had died, and much shorter and much stouter persons than Old Wirk had died. But the coffin had remained. Up-ended and neatly fitted with shelves, it served as a store cupboard, without a door, pending its proper use. But it was a terribly expensive store cupboard and it stood in Mr. Pinnock's parlour as a gloomy monument to the folly of rash and hazardous speculation.
Penny Green, like Rome, had not been built in a day. The houses of the Penny Green Garden Home, on the other hand, were being run up in as near to a day as enthusiastic developers, feverish contractors (vying one with another) and impatient tenants could encompass. Nor was Penny Green built for a day. The houses and cottages of Penny Green had been built under the influence of many and different styles of architecture; and they had been built not only by people who intended to live in them, and proposed to be roomy and well cup boarded and stoutly beamed and floored in them, but who, not foreseeing restless and railwayed generations, built them to endure for the children of their children's children and for children yet beyond. Sabre's house was of grey stone and it presented over the doorway the date 1667.
"Nearly two hundred and fifty years," Mabel had once said.
"And I bet," Sabre had replied, "it's never been better kept or run than you run it now, Mabel."
The tribute was well deserved. Mabel, who was in many ways a model woman, was preeminently a model housewife. "Crawshaws" was spotlessly kept and perfectly administered. Four living rooms, apart from the domestic offices, were on the ground floor. One was the morning room, in which they principally lived; one the dining room and one the drawing-room. They were entered by enormously heavy doors of oak, fitted with latches, the drawing-room up two steps, the dining room down one step and the morning room and the fourth room on the level. All were low-beamed and many-windowed with lattice windows; all were stepped into as stepping into a very quiet place, and somehow into a room which one had not expected to be there, or not quite that shape if a room were there. Sabre never quite lost that feeling of pleasant surprise on entering them. They had moreover, whether due to the skill of the architect or the sagacity of Mabel, the admirable, but rare attribute of being cool in summer and warm in winter.
The only room in the house which Sabre did not like was the fourth sitting room on the ground floor; and it was his own room, furnished and decorated by Mabel for his own particular use and comfort. But she called it his "den", and Sabre loathed and detested the word den as applied to a room a man specially inhabits. It implied to him a masculine untidiness, and he was intensely orderly and hated untidiness. It implied customs and manners of what he called "boarding-house ideas",—the idea that a man must have an untidily comfortable apartment into which he can retire and envelop himself in tobacco smoke, and where he "can have his own things around him", and "have his pipes and his pictures about him", and where he can wear "an old shooting jacket and slippers",—and he loathed and detested all these phrases and the ideas they connoted. He had no "old shooting jacket" and he would have given it to the gardener if he had; and he detested wearing slippers and never did wear slippers; it was his habit to put on his boots after his bath and to keep them on till he put on shoes when changing for dinner. Above all, he loathed and detested the vision which the word "den" always conjured up to him. This was a vision of the door of a typical den being opened by a wife, and of the wife saying in a mincing voice, "This is George in his den," and of boarding-house females peering over the wife's shoulder and smiling fatuously at the denizen who, in an old shooting jacket and slippers, grinned vacuously back at them. To Mark this was a horrible and unspeakable vision.
Mabel could not in the least understand it, and common sense and common custom were entirely on her side; Mark admitted that. The ridiculous and trivial affair only took on a deeper significance—not apparent to Mark at the time, but apparent later in the fact that he could not make Mabel understand his attitude.
The matter of the den and another matter, touching the servants, came up between them in the very earliest days of their married life. From London, on their return from their honeymoon, Mark had been urgently summoned to the sick-bed of his father, in Chovensbury. Mabel proceeded to Crawshaws. He joined her a week later, his father happily recovered. Mabel had been busy "settling things", and she took him round the house with delicious pride and happiness. Mark, sharing both, had his arm linked in hers. When they came to the fourth sitting room Mabel announced gaily, "And this is your den!"
Mark gave a mock groan. "Oh, lord, not den!"
"Yes, of course, den. Why ever not?"
"I absolutely can't stick den." He glanced about "Who on earth's left those fearful old slippers there?"
"They're a pair of father's. I took them specially for you for this room. You haven't got any slippers like that."
He gazed upon the heels downtrodden by her heavy father. He did not much like her heavy father. "No, I haven't," he said, and thought grimly, "Thank God!"
"But, Mark, what do you mean, you can't stick 'den'?"
He explained laughingly. He ended, "It's just like lounge hall. Lounge hall makes me feel perfectly sick. You're not going to call the hall a lounge hall, are you?"
She was quite serious and the least little bit put out. "No—I'm not. But I can't see why. I've never heard such funny ideas."
He was vaguely, transiently surprised at her attitude towards his funny ideas. "Well, come on, let's see upstairs."
"Yes, let's, dear."
He stepped out, and she closed the door after them. "Well, that's your den."
As if he had never spoken! A vague and transient discomfort shot through him.
It was when they came down again, completely happy and pleased, that the servant incident occurred. Mabel was down the stairs slightly before him and turned a smiling face up to him as he descended. "By Jove, it's jolly," he said. "We'll be happy here," and he kissed her.
"You'd better see the kitchen. It's awfully nice;" and they went along.
At the kitchen door she paused and began in a mysterious whisper a long account of the servants. "I think they'll turn out quite nice girls. They're sisters, you know, and they're glad to be in a place together. They've both got young men in the village. Fancy, the cook told me that at Mrs. Wellington's where she was, at Chovensbury, she wasn't allowed to use soda for washing up because Mrs. Wellington fussed so frightfully about the pattern on her china! Fancy, in their family they've got eleven brothers and sisters. Isn't it awful how those kind of people—"
Her voice got lower and lower. She seemed to Mark to be quivering with some sort of repressed excitement, as though the two maids were some rare exhibit which she had captured with a net and placed in the kitchen, and whom it was rather thrilling to open the door upon and peep at. He could hardly hear her voice and had to bend his head. It was dim in the lobby outside the kitchen door. The dimness, her intense whispers and her excitement made him feel that he was in some mysterious conspiracy with her. The whole atmosphere of the house and of this tour of inspection, which had been deliciously absorbing, became mysteriously conspiratorial, unpleasing.
"...She's been to a school of cookery at Tidborough. She attended the whole course!"
"Good. That's the stuff!"
Why hush? What a funny business this was!
Mabel opened the kitchen door. "The master's come to see how nice the kitchen looks."
Two maids in black dresses and an extraordinary amount of stiffly starched aprons and caps and streamers rose awkwardly and bobbed awkward little bows. One was very tall, the other rather short. The tall one looked extraordinarily severe and the short one extraordinarily glum, Mark thought, to have young men. Mabel looked from the girls to Mark and from Mark to the girls, precisely as if she were exhibiting rare specimens to her husband and her husband to her rare specimens. And in the tone of one exhibiting pinned, dried, and completely impersonal specimens, she announced, "They're sisters. Their name is Jinks."
Mark, examining the exhibits, had been feeling like a fool. Their name humanized them and relieved his awkward feeling. "Ha! Jinks, eh? High Jinks and Low Jinks, what?" He laughed. It struck him as rather comic; and High Jinks and Low Jinks tittered broadly, losing in the most astonishing way the one her severity and the other her glumness.
Mabel seemed suddenly to have lost her interest in her exhibits and their cage. She rather hurried Mark through the kitchen premises and, moving into the garden, replied rather abstractedly to his plans for the garden's development.
Suddenly she said, "Mark, I do wish you hadn't said that in the kitchen."
He was mentally examining the possibilities of a makeshift racket court against a corner of the stable and barn. "Eh, what in the kitchen, dear?"
"That about High Jinks and Low Jinks."
"Mabel, I swear we could fix up a topping sort of squash rackets in that corner. Those cobbles are worn absolutely smooth—"
"I wish you'd listen to me, Mark."
He caught his arm around her and gave her a playful squeeze. "Sorry, old girl, what was it? About High Jinks and Low Jinks? Ha! Dashed funny that, don't you think?"
"No, I don't. I don't think it's a bit funny."
Her tone was such that, relaxing his arm, he turned and gazed at her. "Don't you? Don't you really?"
"No, I don't. Far from funny."
Some instinct told him he ought not to laugh, but he could not help it. The idea appealed to him as distinctly and clearly comic. "Well, but it is funny. Don't you see? High Jinks alone is such a funny expression—sort of—well, you know what I mean. Apart altogether from Low Jinks," and he laughed again.
Mabel compressed her lips. "I simply don't. Rebecca is not a bit like High Jinks."
He burst out laughing. "No, I'm dashed if she is. That's just it!"
"I really do not see it."
"Oh, go on, Mabel! Of course you do. You make it funnier. High Jinks and Low Jinks! I shall call them that."
"Mark." She spoke the word severely and paused severely. "Mark. I do most earnestly hope you'll do nothing of the kind."
He stared, puzzled. He had tried to explain the absurd thing, and she simply could not see it. "I simply don't."
And again that vague and transient discomfort shot through him.
Sabre awoke in the course of that night and lay awake. The absurd incident came immediately into his mind and remained in his mind. High Jinks and Low Jinks was comic. No getting over it. Incontestably comic. Stupid, of course, but just the kind of stupid thing that tickled him irresistibly. And she couldn't see it. Absolutely could not see it. But if she were never going to see any of these stupid little things that appealed to him—? And then he wrinkled his brows. "You remember how he used to wrinkle up his old nut," as the garrulous Hapgood had said.
A night-light, her wish, dimly illumined the room. He raised himself and looked at her fondly, sleeping beside him. He thought, "Dash it, the thing's been just the same from her point of view. That den business. She likes den, and I can't stick den. Just the same for her as for me that High Jinks and Low Jinks tickles me and doesn't tickle her."
He very gently moved with his finger a tress of her hair that had fallen upon her face.... Mabel!... His wife!... How gently beneath her filmy bedgown her bosom rose and fell!... How utterly calm her face was. How at peace, how secure, she lay there. He thought, "Three weeks ago she was sleeping in the terrific privacy of her own room, and here she is come to me in mine. Cut off from everything and everybody and come here to me."
An inexpressible tenderness filled him. He had a sudden sense of the poignant and tremendous adventure on which they were embarked together. They had been two lives, and now they were one life, altering completely the lives they would have led singly: a new sea, a new ship on a new, strange sea. What lay before them?
His thoughts continued: One life! One life out of two lives; one nature out of two natures! Mysterious and extraordinary metamorphosis. She had brought her nature to his, and he his nature to hers, and they were to mingle and become one nature.... Absurdly and inappropriately his mind picked up and presented to him the grotesque words, "High Jinks and Low Jinks." A note of laughter was irresistibly tickled out of him.
She said very sleepily, "Mark, are you laughing? What are you laughing at?"
He patted her shoulder. "Oh, nothing."
One nature? In the fifth year of their married life thoughts of her and of the poignant and tremendous adventure on which they were embarked together were no longer possible while she lay in bed beside him. They had come to occupy separate rooms.
In the fifth year of their married life measles visited Penny Green. Mabel caught it. Their bedroom was naturally the sick room. Sabre went to sleep in another room,—and the arrangement prevailed. Nothing was said between them on the matter, one way or the other. They naturally occupied different rooms during her illness. She recovered. They continued to occupy different rooms. It was the most natural business in the world.
The sole reference to recognition of permanency in this development of the relations between them was made when Sabre, on the first Saturday afternoon after Mabel's recovery—he did not go to his office at Tidborough on Saturdays—carried out his idea, conceived during her sickness, of making the bedroom into which he had moved serve as his study also. He had never got rid of his distaste for his "den." He had never felt quite comfortable there.
At lunch on this Saturday, "I tell you what I'm going to do this afternoon," he said. "I'm going to move my books up into my room."
He had been a little afraid the den business would be reopened by this intention, but Mabel's only reply was, "You'd better have the maids help you."
"Yes, I'll get them."
"No, I'll give the order, if you don't mind."
And in the afternoon the books were moved, the den raped of them, his bedroom awarded them. High Jinks and Low Jinks rather enjoyed it, passing up and down the stairs with continuous smirks at this new manifestation of the master's ways. The bookshelves proved rather a business. There were four of them, narrow and high. "We'll carry these longways," Sabre directed, when the first one was tackled. "I'll shove it over. You two take the top, and I'll carry the foot."
In this order they struggled up the stairs, High Jinks and Low Jinks backwards, and the smirks enlarged into panting giggles. Halfway up came a loud crack.
"What the devil's that?" said Sabre, sweating and gasping.
"I think it's the back of my dress, sir," said High Jinks.
"Good lord!" (Convulsive giggles.) "You know, Low, you're practically sitting on the dashed thing. You've twisted yourself round in some extraordinary way—"
Mabel appeared in the hail beneath. "Raise it up, Rebecca. Raise it, Sarah. How can you expect to move, stooping like that?"
They raised it to the level of their waists, and progression became seemly.
"There you are!" said Sabre.
There was somehow a feeling at both ends of the bookcase of having been caught.
Sabre liked this room. Three latticed windows, in the same wall, looked on to the garden. In the spaces between them, and in the two spaces between the end windows and the end walls, he placed his bookshelves, a set of shelves in each space.
Mabel displayed no interest in the move nor made any reference to it at teatime. In the evening, hearing her pass the door on her way to dress for dinner, he called her in.
He was in his shirt sleeves, arranging the books. "There you are! Not bad?"
She regarded them and the room. "They look all right. All the same, I must say it seems rather funny using your bedroom for your things when you've got a room downstairs."
"Oh, well, I never liked that room, you know. I hardly ever go into it."
"I know you don't."
And she went off.
But the significance of the removal rested not in the definite relinquishment of the den, but in her words "using your bedroom": the definite recognition of separate rooms.
And neither commented upon it.
After all, landmarks, in the course of a journey, are more frequently observed and noted as landmarks, when looking back along the journey, than when actually passing them. They belong generically to the past tense; one rarely says, "This is a landmark"; usually "That was a landmark."
The bookcases were of Sabre's own design. He was extraordinarily fond of his books and he had ideas about their arrangement. The lowest shelf was in each case three feet from the ground; he hated books being "down where you can't see them." Also the cases were open, without glass doors; he hated "having to fiddle to get out a book." He liked them to be just at the right height and straight to his hand. In a way he could not quite describe (he was a bad talker, framing his ideas with difficulty) he was attached to his books, not only for what was in them, but as entities. He had written once in a manuscript book in which he sometimes wrote things, "I like the feel of them and I know the feel of them in the same way as one likes and knows the feel of a friend's hand. And I can look at them and read them without opening them in the same way as, without his speaking, one looks at and can enjoy the face of a friend. I feel towards them when I look at them in the shelves,—well, as if they were feeling towards me just as I am feeling towards them." And he had added this touch, which is perhaps more illuminating. "The other day some one had had out one of my books and returned it upside down. I swear it was as grotesque and painful to me to see it upside down as if I had come into the room and found my brother standing on his head against the wall, fastened there. At least I couldn't have sprung to him to release him quicker than I did to the book to upright it."
The first book he had ever bought "specially"—that is to say not as one buys a bun but as one buys a dog—was at the age of seventeen when he had bought a Byron, the Complete Works in a popular edition of very great bulk and very small print. He bought it partly because of what he had heard during his last term at school of Don Juan, partly because he had picked up the idea that it was rather a fine thing to read poetry; and he kept it and read it in great secrecy because his mother (to whom he mentioned his intention) told him that Byron ought not to be read and that her father, in her girlhood, had picked up Byron with the tongs and burnt him in the garden. This finally determined him to buy Byron.
He began to read it precisely as he was accustomed to read books,—that is to say at the beginning and thence steadily onwards. "On the Death of a Young Lady" (Admiral Parker's daughter, explained a footnote); "To E——"; "To D——" and so on. There were seven hundred and eight pages of this kind of thing and Don Juan was at the end, in the five hundreds.
When he had laboriously read thirty-six pages he decided that it was not a fine thing to read poetry, and he moved on to Don Juan, page five hundred and thirty-three. The rhymes surprised him. He had no idea that poetry—poetry—rhymed "annuities" with "true it is" and "Jew it is." He turned on and numbered the cantos,—sixteen; and then the number of verses in each canto and the total,—two thousand one hundred and eighty.... Who-o-o!... It was as endless as the seven hundred and eight pages had appeared when he had staggered as far as page thirty-six. He began to hunt for the particular verses which had caused Don Juan to be recommended to him and presumably had caused his grandfather to carry out Byron with the tongs and burn him in the garden. He could not find them. He chucked the rotten thing.
But as he was putting the rotten thing away, his eye happened upon two lines that struck into him—it was like a physical blow—the most extraordinary sensation:
The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece Where burning Sappho loved and sung.
He caught his breath. It was extraordinary. What the dickens was it? A vision of exquisite and unearthly and brilliantly coloured beauty seemed to be before his eyes. Islands, all white and green and in a sea of terrific blue.... And music, the thin note of distant trumpets.... Amazing! He read on. "Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung! Eternal Summer gilds them yet." Terrific, but not quite so terrific. And then again the terrific, the stunning, the heart-clutching thing. On a different note, with a different picture, coloured in grays.
The mountains look on Marathon— And Marathon looks on the sea.
Music! The trumpets thinned away, exquisitely thin, tiny, gone! And high above the mountains and far upon the sea an organ shook.
He said, "Well, I'm dashed!" and put the book away.
It was years after the Byron episode—after he had come down from Cambridge, after he had travelled fairly widely, and luckily, as tutor to a delicate boy, and after he had settled down, from his father's house at Chovensbury, to learn the Fortune, East and Sabre business that he began to collect the books which now formed his collection. His intense fondness for books had come to him late in life, as love of literature goes. He was reading at twenty-eight and thirty literature which, when it is read at all, is as a rule read ten years younger because the taste is there and is voracious for satisfaction,—as a young and vigorous animal for its meals. But at twenty-eight and thirty, reading for the first time, he read sometimes with a sense of revelation, always with an enormous satisfaction. Especially the poets. And constantly in the poets he was coming across passages the sheer beauty of which shook him precisely as the Byron lines had first shaken him.
His books appeared to indicate a fair number and a fair diversity of interests; but their diversity presented to him a common quality or group of qualities. Some history, some sociology, some Spencer, some Huxley, some Haeckel, a small textbook of geology, a considerable proportion of pure literature, Morley's edition of lives of literary men, the English essayists in a nice set, Shakespeare in many forms and so much poetry that at a glance his library was all poetry. All the books were picked up at second-hand dealers' in Tidborough, none had cost more than a few shillings. The common quality that bound them was that they stirred in him imaginative thought: they presented images, they suggested causes, they revealed processes; the common group of qualities to which they ministered were beauty and mystery, sensibility and wonder. They made him think about things, and he liked thinking about things; the poets filled his mind with beauty, and he was strangely stirred by beauty.
Here, in the effect upon him of beauty and of ideas communicated to his mind by his reading—first manifested to him by the Byron revelation—was the mark and label of his individuality: here was the linking up of the boy who as Puzzlehead Sabre would wrinkle up his nut and say, "Well, I can't quite see that, sir," with the man in whom the same habit persisted; he saw much more clearly and infinitely more intensely with his mind than with his eye. Beauty of place imagined was to him infinitely more vivid than beauty seen. And so in all affairs: it was not what the eye saw or the ear heard that interested him; it was what his mind saw, questing behind the scene and behind the speech, that interested him, and often, by the intensity of its perception, shook him. And precisely as beauty touched in him the most exquisite and poignant depths, so evil surroundings, evil faces dismayed him to the point of mysterious fear, almost terror—
On a Sunday of his honeymoon in London he had conceived with Mabel the idea of a bus ride through the streets,—"anywhere, the first bus that comes." The first bus that came took them through South London, dodged between main roads and took them through miles of mean and sordid dwelling houses. At open windows high up sat solitary women, at others solitary, shirt-sleeved men; behind closed windows were the faces of children. All staring,—women and men and children, impassively prisoned, impassively staring. Each house door presented, one above the other, five or six iron bell-knobs, some hanging out and downwards, as if their necks were broken. On the pavements hardly a soul. Just street upon street of these awful houses with their imprisoned occupants and the doors with their string of crazy bells.
An appalling and abysmal depression settled upon Sabre. He imagined himself pulling the dislocated neck of one of those bells and stepping into what festered behind those sinister doors: the dark and malodorous stairways, the dark and malodorous rooms, their prisoned occupants opening their prisons and staring at him,—those women, those men, those children. He imagined himself in one of those rooms, saw it, felt it, smelt it. He imagined himself cutting his throat in one of those rooms.
At tea in their hotel on their return Mabel chattered animatedly on all they had seen. "I'm awfully glad we went. I think it's a very good thing to know for oneself just how that side of life lives. Those awful people at the windows!"—and she laughed. He noticed for the first time what a sudden laugh she had, rather loud.
Sabre agreed. "Yes, I think it's a good thing to have an idea of their lives. I can't say I'm glad I went, though. You've no idea how awfully depressed that kind of thing makes me feel."
She laughed again. "Depressed! How ever can it? How funny you must be!"
Then she said, "Yes, I'm glad I've seen for myself. You know, when those sort of people come into your service—the airs they give themselves and the way they demand the best of everything—and then when you see the kind of homes they come from—!"
"Yes, it makes you think, doesn't it?"
But what it made Sabre think was entirely different from what it made Mabel think.
"Puzzlehead" they had called him at his preparatory school,—Old Puzzlehead Sabre, the chap who always wrinkled up his nut over things and came out with the most extraordinary ideas. He had remained, and increasingly become, the puzzler. And precisely as he ceased to share a room with Mabel and carried himself with satisfaction to his own apartment, so, by this fifth year of his married life, he had come to know well that he shared no thoughts with her: he carried them, with increasing absorption in their interest, to the processes of his own mind.
An incident of those early school days had always remained with him, in its exact words. The exact words of a selectly famous professor of philosophy who, living the few years of his retirement in the neighbourhood of the preparatory school, had given—for pure love of seeing young things and feeling the freshness of young minds—a weekly "talk on things" to the small schoolboys. And whatever the subject of his talk, he almost invariably would work off his familiar counsel:
"And a very good thing (he used to say), an excellent thing, the very best of practices, is to write a little every day. Just a little scrap, but cultivate the habit of doing it every day. I don't mean what is called keeping a diary, you know. Don't write what you do. There's no benefit in that. We do things for all kinds of reasons and it's the reasons, not the things, that matter. Let your little daily scrap be something you've thought. What you've done belongs partly to some one else; often you're made to do it. But what you think is you yourself: you write it down and there it is, a tiny little bit of you that you can look at and say, 'Well, really!' You see, a little bit like that, written every day, is a mirror in which you can see your real self and correct your real self. A looking-glass shows you your face is dirty or your hair rumpled, and you go and polish up. But it's ever so much more important to have a mirror that shows you how your real self, your mind, your spirit, is looking. Just see if you can't do it. A little scrap. It's very steadying; very steadying...."
And his small hearers, desiring, like young colts in a field, nothing so little as anything steadying, paid as much attention to this "jaw" as to any precept not supported by cane or imposition. They made of it, indeed, a popular school joke, "Oh, go and write a little every day and boil yourself, you ass!" But it appealed, dimly, to the reflective quality in the child Sabre's mind. He contracted the habit of writing, in a "bagged" exercise book, sentences beginning laboriously with "I thought to-day—." It remained with him, as he grew up, in the practice of writing sometimes ideas that occurred to him, as in the case of his feelings about his books and—much more strongly—in deliberately thinking out ideas.
"You yourself. The real you."
In the increasing solitariness of his married life, it came to be something into which he could retire, as into a private chamber; which he could put on, as a garment: and in the privacy of the chamber, or within the sleeves of the garment, he received a sense of detachment from normal life in which, vaguely, he pondered things.
Vaguely,—without solution of most of the problems that puzzled him, and without even definite knowledge of the line along which solution might lie. Here, in these cloisters of another world—his own world—he paced among his ideas as a man might pace around the dismantled and scattered intricacies of an intricate machine, knowing the parts could be put together and the thing worked usefully, not knowing how on earth it could be done.... "This goes in there, and that goes in there, but how on earth—?" Here, into these cloisters, he dragged the parts of all the puzzles that perplexed him; his relations with Mabel; his sense, in a hundred ways as they came up, of the odd business that life was; his strong interest in the social and industrial problems, and in the political questions from time to time before the public attention.
He could be imagined assembling the parts, dragging them in, checking them over, slamming the door, and—"How on earth? What on earth?" There was a key to all these problems. There was a definite way of cooerdinating the parts of each. But what?
He began to have the feeling that in all the puzzles, not only, though particularly, of his own life as he had come to live it, but of life in general as it is lived, some mysterious part was missing.
That was as far as he could get. He was like a man groping with his hand through a hole in a great door for a key lying on the other side. Nothing was to be seen through the hole, and only the arm to the elbow could get through it. Not the shape of the key nor its position was known.
But he was absolutely certain it was there.
One day he might put his hand on it.
Mabel was two years younger than Sabre, twenty-five at the time of her marriage and just past her thirtieth birthday when the separate rooms were first occupied. Her habit of sudden laughter, rather loud, which Sabre first noticed in connection with their differing views on the mean streets visit, was rather characteristic of her. Her laugh came suddenly, and very heartily, at anything that amused her and without her first smiling or suggesting by any other sign that she was amused. And it came thus abruptly out of a face whose expression was normally rather severe. Probably of the same mentality was her habit of what Sabre called "flying up." She "flew up" without her speech first warming up; but of her flying up, unlike her sudden burst of laughter, Sabre came to know certain premonitory symptoms in her face. Her face what he called "tightened." In particular he used to notice a curious little constriction of the sides of her nose, rather as though invisible tweezers were pressing it.
She had rather a long nose and this pleased her, for she once read somewhere that long noses were aristocratic. She stroked her nose as she read.
Her complexion was pale, though this was perhaps exaggerated by her colouring, which was dark. Her features were noticeably regular and noticeably refined, though her eyes were the least little bit inclined to be prominent: when Sabre married the Dean of Tidborough's only daughter, it was said that he had married "a good-looking girl"; also that he had married "a very nice girl"; those were the expressions used. She liked the company of men and she was much liked by men (the opinion of the garrulous Hapgood may be recalled in this connection). She very much liked the society of women of her own age or older than herself, and she was very popular with such. She did not like girls, married or unmarried.
Mabel belonged to that considerable class of persons who, in conversation, begin half their sentences with "And just imagine—"; or "And only fancy—"; or "And do you know—." These exclamations, delivered with much excitement, are introductory to matters considered extraordinary. Their users might therefore be imagined somewhat easily astonished. But they have a compensatory steadiness of mind in regard to much that mystifies other people. To Mabel there was nothing mysterious in birth, or in living, or in death. She simply would not have understood had she been told there was any mystery in these things. One was born, one lived, one died. What was there odd about it? Nor did she see anything mysterious in the intense preoccupation of an insect, or the astounding placidity of a primrose growing at the foot of a tree. An insect—you killed it. A flower—you plucked it. What's the mystery?
Her life was living among people of her own class. Her measure of a man or of a woman was, Were they of her class? If they were, she gladly accepted them and appeared to find considerable pleasure in their society. Whether they had attractive qualities or unattractive qualities or no qualities at all did not affect her. The only quality that mattered was the quality of being well-bred. She called the classes beneath her own standard of breeding "the lower classes", and so long as they left her alone she was perfectly content to leave them alone. In certain aspects the liked them. She liked "a civil tradesman" immensely; she liked a civil charwoman immensely; and she liked a civil workman immensely. It gave her as much pleasure, real pleasure that she felt in all her emotions, to receive civility from the classes that ministered to her class—servants, tradespeople, gardeners, carpenters, plumbers, postmen, policemen—as to meet any one in her own class. It never occurred to her to reckon up how enormously varied was the class whose happy fortune it was to minister to her class and she would not have been in the remotest degree interested if any one had told her how numerous the class was. It never occurred to her that any of these people had homes and it never occurred to her that the whole of the lower classes lived without any margin at all beyond keeping their homes together, or that if they stopped working they lost their homes, or that they looked forward to nothing beyond their working years because there was nothing beyond their working years for them to look forward to. Nor would it have interested her in the remotest degree to hear this. The only fact she knew about the lower classes was that they were disgustingly extravagant and spent every penny they earned. The woman across the Green who did her washing had six children and a husband who was an agricultural labourer and earned eighteen and sixpence a week. These eight lived in three rooms and "if you please" they actually bought a gramophone! Mabel instanced it for years after she first heard it. The idea of that class of person spending money on anything to make their three rooms lively of an evening was scandalous to Mabel. She heard of the gramophone outrage in 1908 and she was still instancing it in 1912. "And those are the people, mind you," she said in 1912, "that we have to buy these National Insurance stamps for!"
Mabel was not demonstrative. She had no enthusiasms and no sympathies. Enthusiasms and sympathies in other people made her laugh with her characteristic burst of sudden laughter. It was not, as with some persons, that matters calling for sympathy made her impatient,—as very robust people are often intensely impatient with sickness and infirmity. She never would say, "I have no patience with such and such or so and so." She had plenty of patience. It was simply that she had no imagination whatsoever. Whatever she saw or heard or read, she saw or heard or read exactly as the thing presented itself. If she saw a door she saw merely a piece of wood with a handle and a keyhole. It may be argued that a door is merely a piece of wood with a handle and a keyhole, and that is what Mabel would have argued. But a door is in fact the most intriguing mystery in the world because of what may be the other side of it and of what goes on behind it. To Mabel nothing was on the other side of anything she saw and nothing went on behind it.
A person or a creature in pain was to Mabel a person or a creature "laid up." Laid up—out of action—not working properly: like a pencil without a point. A picture was a decoration in paint and was either a pretty decoration in paint or a not pretty decoration in paint. Music was a tune, and was either a tune or merely music. A book was a story, and if it was not a story it was simply a book. A flower was a decoration. Poetry, such as
"While the still morn went out with sandals grey,"
was simply writing which, obviously, had no real meaning whatsoever, and obviously—well, read the thing—was not intended to have any meaning. A fine deed was fine precisely in proportion to the social position of the person who performed it. Scott's death at the South Pole, when that was announced in 1913, was fine because he was a gentleman. The disaster of the colliers entombed in the Welsh Senghenydd mine which happened in the same year was sad. "How sad!" She read the account, on the first day, with the paper held up wide open and said "How sad!" and turned on to something for which the paper might be folded back at the place and read comfortably. Scott's death she read with the paper folded back at the account. She liked seeing the pictures of Lady Scott and of Scott's little boy. She read the caption under one of the pictures of the wives and families of the four hundred and twenty-nine colliers killed in the Senghenydd mine, but not under any of the others. The point she noted was that all the women "of that class" wore "those awful cloth caps",—the colliers' women just the same as the women in the mean streets of Tidborough Old Town.
She was never particularly grateful for anything given to her or done for her; not because she was not pleased and glad but because she could invest a gift with no imagination of the feelings of the giver. The thing was a present just as a pound of bacon was a pound of bacon. You said thank you for the present just as you ate the bacon. What more was to be said?
She revelled in gossip, that is to say in discussion with her own class of the manners and doings of other people. She thought charity meant giving jelly and red flannel to the poor; she thought generosity meant giving money to some one; she thought selfishness meant not giving money to some one. She had no idea that the only real charity is charity of mind, and the only real generosity generosity of mind, and the only real selfishness selfishness of mind. And she simply would not have understood it if it had been explained to her. As people are judged, she was entirely nice, entirely worthy, entirely estimable. And with that, for it does not enter into such estimates, she had neither feelings of the mind nor of the heart but only of the senses. All that her senses set before her she either overvalued or undervalued: she was the complete and perfect snob in the most refined and purest meaning of the word.
She was much liked, and she liked many.
The Penny Green Garden House Development Scheme was begun in 1910. In 1908, the year of the measles and the separated bedrooms, no shadow of it had yet been thrown. It never occurred to any one that a railway would one day link Penny Green with Tidborough and all the rest of the surrounding world, or that a railway to Tidborough was desirable. Sabre bicycled in daily to Fortune, East and Sabre's, and the daily ride to and fro had become a curious pleasure to him.
There had once occurred to him as he rode, and thereafter had persisted and accumulated, the feeling that, on the daily, solitary passage between Tidborough and Penny Green, he was mysteriously detached from, mysteriously suspended between, the two centres that were his two worlds,—his business world and his home world.
With its daily recurrence the thought developed: it enlarged to the whimsical notion that here, on his bicycle on the road, he was magically escaped out of his two worlds, not belonging to or responsible to either of his two worlds, which amounted to delicious detachment from all the universe. A mysteriously aloof, free, irresponsible attitude of mind was thus obtained: it was a condition in which—as one looking down from a high tower on scurrying, antlike human beings—their oddness, their futility, the apparent aimlessness of their excited scurrying became apparent; hence frequent thought, on these rides, on the rather odd thing that life was.
He was not in the least aware that so simple, so practical and so obviously essential a thing as his daily ride—as simple, practical and obviously essential as getting out of bed in the morning and returning to bed at night—was moulding a mind always prone to develop meditative grooves. But it did develop his mind in the extraordinary way in which minds are moulded by the most simple habits. In this mere matter of conveyance a philosopher might trace back a singularly brutal and callous murder to the moulding into callous and brutal regard of other people's sufferings rendered into a perfectly gentle mind by the habit of daily travelling to business in London on the top of a motor omnibus. It would only need to be shown that the gentle mind secured his seat with dignity and comfort at the bus's starting point and daily for years watched with amusement, and then with callousness and so with brutality the struggles of the unhappy fellow creatures who fought to assail it at its stopping places on the way to the City.
Mark Sabre was not in the least aware of any steadily permeating influence from his sense of detachment on this daily habit of years. But he was influenced. On entering his Penny Green world on the return home, or on entering his Tidborough office world, on the way out, he had sometimes a curious feeling of descending into this odd affair of life to which he did not really belong. And for the few moments while the feeling persisted he sometimes, more or less unconsciously, took towards affairs a rather whimsical attitude, as though they did not really matter: an irritating attitude, unpractical, it was sometimes hinted by his partners; an irritating attitude—"You really are very difficult to understand sometimes"—it was often told him by Mabel.
This very matter of the bicycle ride, indeed, apart altogether from its effect upon his mood, supplied an instance of the kind of thing Mabel found it so difficult to understand in her husband.
He made what she called a childish game of it. Every day on the ride home, Sabre ceased pedalling at precisely the same point on the slope down into Penny Green and coasted until the machine came to a standstill within a few yards of his own gate. This point of cessation was never twice in a week at the same spot; and Sabre found great interest in seeing every day exactly where it would be, and by intense wriggling of his front wheel and prodigious feats of balancing, squeezing out of the machine's momentum the last possible fraction of an inch. There was a magnificent distance record when, on one single occasion only, he had been deposited plumb in line with his own gate; and there was a divertingly lamentable shortage record, touched on more than one occasion, when he had come to ground plumb in line with the gate of Mr. Fargus, his neighbour on that side.
Each of these records, though marked by the gates, was also and more exactly marked by a peg hammered into the edge of the Green.
This was childish; and Mabel said it was childish when her attention was drawn to the diversion. On the day the great distance record was created he came rather animatedly into the kitchen where she happened to be. "I say, what's happened to that small wood axe? Is it in here?"
Mabel followed the direction of the convulsive start made by Low Jinks and produced the small wood axe from under the dresser, also directing at Low Jinks a glance which told Low Jinks what she perfectly well knew: namely that under the dresser was not the place for the small wood axe. "Whatever do you want it for all of a sudden?" Mabel asked.
He felt the edge with his thumb. "Low"—Mabel's face twitched. He had persisted in the idiotic and indecorous names, and her face always twitched when he used them—"Low, do you keep my axe for chopping coal or what?" And he addressed Mabel. "I'm getting fat, I think. I don't want the axe to cut lumps off myself, though. I'm going to chop a marking peg. I've done a heavyweight world's record on that run in on my bike—"
"Oh, that!" said Mabel.
And when he had gone out into the wood yard, Low Jinks staring after him with the uplifted eyebrows with which both sisters, the glum and the grim, commonly received the master's "ways", Mabel said in the gently pained way which was her admirable method of administering rebukes in the kitchen: "The woodshed is the place for the small wood axe, Rebecca."
Rebecca promptly unsmirked her smirk. "Yes, m'm."
A little later the sound of loud hammering took Mabel to the gate. Across the road, at the edge of the Green, Sabre was energetically driving in the peg with the back of the axe. He was squatting and he looked up highly pleased with himself and, his words implied, with her. "Come to see it? Good! How's that for an effort, eh? Look here now. Yesterday I only got as far as here," and he walked some paces towards Mr. Fargus's gate and struck his heel in the ground and looked at her, smiling. "Absolutely the same conditions, mind you. No wind. And I always start from the top practically at rest; and yet always finish up different. Jolly funny, eh?"
She opened the gate for him. "What you can see in it!" she murmured.
He said, "Oh, well!"
But on the following day he was surprised and intensely pleased to see his champion peg gleaming white in the sunshine. Mabel was in the morning room, sewing.
"Hullo, sewing? I say, did you paint my peg? How jolly nice of you!"
She looked up. "Your peg? Whatever do you mean?"
"That record distance peg of mine. Painted it white, haven't you?"
"No, I didn't paint it!"
"Who the dickens—? Well, I'll just wash my hands. Not had tea, have you? Good."
When Low Jinks came to his room with hot water—a detail of the perfect appointment of the house under Mabel's management was her rule that Rebecca always came to the door for the master's bicycle, handed him the brush for his shoes and trousers, and then took hot water to his room—he asked her, "I say, Low Jinks, did you paint that peg of mine?"
Low Jinks coloured and spoke apologetically: "Well, I thought it would show up better, sir. There was a drop of whitewash in—"
"By Jove, it does. It looks like a regular winning-post. Jolly nice of you, Low."
Two months afterwards the bicycle did the worst on record. This was a surprising affair; the runs had recently been excitingly good; and when Low Jinks came out to take the bicycle he greeted her: "I say, Low Jinks, I only got just up to Mr. Fargus's gate just now. Worst I've ever done."
Low Jinks was enormously concerned. "Well! I never did!" exclaimed Low Jinks. "If those bicycles aren't just things! You'll want a peg for that, sir. Like you had one for the best."
"That's an idea, Low. What about painting it?"
"Oh, I will, sir!"
But he did not mention the new record to Mabel.
The other end of the daily bicycle ride, the Tidborough end, provided no feats of cycling interest. The extremely narrow, cobbled thoroughfare in which the offices of Fortune, East and Sabre were situated usually caused Sabre's approach to them to be made on foot, wheeling his machine.
Fortune, East and Sabre, Ecclesiastical and Scholastic Furnishers and Designers, had in Tidborough what is called, in business and professional circles, a good address. A good address for a metropolitan money lender is the West End in the neighbourhood of Bond Street; a good address for a solicitor is Bloomsbury in the neighbourhood of Bedford Square: for an architect Westminster in the neighbourhood of Victoria Street, for commerce the City in the neighbourhood of the Bank. The idea is that, though clothes do not make the man, a good address makes, or rather bestows the reputation, and conveys the impression that the owner of the good address, being in that neighbourhood, is not within many thousands of miles (or pounds) of the neighbourhood of Bankruptcy.
The address of Fortune, East and Sabre was emphatically a good address because its business was with the Church and for the Church; with colleges, universities and schools and for colleges, universities and schools; with bishops, priests and clergy, churchwardens, headmasters, headmistresses, governors and bursars, and for bishops, priests and clergy, churchwardens, headmasters, headmistresses, governors and bursars.
Its address was The Precincts,—Fortune, East and Sabre, The Precincts, Tidborough.
The Precincts has a discreet and beautiful sound, a discreet and beautiful suggestiveness. High Street, Tidborough, or Cheapside, Tidborough, or Commercial Street, Tidborough, have only to be compared with The Precincts, Tidborough, to establish the discretion and beauty of the situation of the firm. And the names of the firm were equally euphonious and equally suggestive of high decorum and cultured efficiency. Fortune, East and Sabre had a discreet and beautiful sound. Finally Tidborough, the last line of the poem, though not in itself either discreet or beautiful, being intensely busy, suggested to all the cultured persons from bishops to bursars, with whom business was done, the discreet and beautiful lines of Tidborough Cathedral and of Tidborough School, together with all that these venerable and famous institutions connoted. Not Winchester itself conveys to the cultured mind thoughts more discreet and beautiful than are conveyed by Tidborough. The care of the cathedral, for many years in a highly delicate state of health, and the care of the school, yearly ravaged by successive generations of the sons of those who could afford to educate their sons there were, it may be mentioned, established sources of income to the firm.
Thus the whole style and title of the firm had a discreet and beautiful sound, in admirable keeping with its business. Fortune, East and Sabre, The Precincts, Tidborough. Was any one so utterly removed from affairs as not to know them as ecclesiastical furnishers? "They're at Tidborough. They do Tidborough" (meaning the world-famous cathedral). Or as scholastic providers? "They're at Tidborough. They do Tidborough" (meaning the empire-famous school).
The frontage of Fortune, East and Sabre on The Precincts consisted of a range of three double-fronted shops. The central shop gave one window to a superb lectern in the style of a brass eagle whose outstretched wings supported a magnificent Bible; to a richly embroidered altar cloth on which stood a strikingly handsome set of communion plate; to a font chastely carried out in marble; to an altar chair in oak and velvet that few less than a suffragan bishop would have dared take seat in; and to an example or two of highest art in needlework and embroidery in the form of offertory bags and testament markers. The other window of the central shop was a lesson to the profane in the beauty, the dignity and the variety of vestments. It also informed rural choirboys, haply in Tidborough on a treat, what surplices can be like if the funds and the faith are sufficiently high to support them.
The windows of the shop to the left (as you faced the lectern and the vestments) displayed school furniture and school fittings bearing the characteristic "F.E. & S." stamp. Here were adjustable desks for boys at which no boy could possibly sit round-shouldered, which could be adjusted upwards for tall boys and downwards for short boys, and the seats of which could be advanced for boys afflicted with short legs and retired for boys in the possession of long legs. It was believed by those who had seen the full range of "F.E. & S." desk models that, if a headmaster or bursar had telegraphed to Fortune, East and Sabre the arrival of a Siamese twin boy at his school, a desk specially contrived for the nice accommodation of a Siamese twin boy would have been put on the railway before the telegraph messenger had loitered his way out of the shadow of The Precincts.
By an ingenious contrivance ink could not be spilt from the inkwells of the "F.E. & S." models; rubber beading most properly nullified the boyish idea that desk lids were made for the purpose of slamming to blazes the nerves of masters and the calm in which alone high education can be served.
Equal skill, science, art, and the experience of generations had produced the model of a master's desk which partnered the desks of the pupil. Maps of as many countries as might be desired showed in frames up and down which they followed one another by the silent turning of a handle. A blackboard on an easel looked across the desks at a wall into which was let a solid slab of blackboard. The window adjoining this display exhibited a miniature classroom in which the "F.E. & S." system of classroom ventilation maintained air so pure and fresh that the most comatose pupil could not but keep alert and receptive in it.
The shop front to the right paid testimony to the standing of Fortune, East and Sabre in their capacity as educational and ecclesiastical book publishers and binders. One window gave chastely, on purple velvet, not more than two or at most three exquisitely wrought Bibles and prayer books for lectern and altar; the other showed severely, on green baize, school textbooks of every subject and degree grouped about superbly handsome prize volumes in blue calf displaying the classic arms of Tidborough School.
Public entrance to these premises was gained by doors of the central shop only. It was considered proper and in keeping with the times to have window displays, but it was considered improper and out of keeping with the traditions of Fortune, East and Sabre to present more than the extreme minimum of shoppish appearance. You entered therefore by but one door, which was, moreover, not a shop door but a church door and one of the several models which Fortune, East and Sabre had designed and executed; you entered, between the vestments and the lecterns, not a shop but a vestry; and you passed, on the left, not into a shop but into a classroom, and on the right not into a shop but into a book-lined study.
It is said that if you loitered long enough in Fortune, East and Sabre's you would meet every dignitary of the Church and of education in the United Kingdom; and it was added that you would not have to wait long.
Fortune, East and Sabre, The Precincts, Tidborough.
Maintaining the unshoplike character of the ground-floor rooms upon which the plate-glass windows looked, virtually no business, in the vulgar form of buying and selling, was carried on in the vestry, in the classroom or in the book-lined study. Many modern and entirely worthy businesses are conducted under the strident banner of "Cash Only." Fortune, East and Sabre's did not know the word cash. One would as soon look for or expect a till, to say nothing of one of those terrific machines known as cash registers, in the vestry, the classroom or the study as one would look for a lectern or an adjustable school desk in a beer-house. "Credit only" was here the principle, and accounts were rendered, never on delivery, but quarterly. One does not, after all, pay for a font out of one's trouser pocket and carry it off under one's arm; nor for a school desk out of a purse and bear it away on one's head. Only in the book-lined study were trifling transactions occasionally carried out and these very rarely, constituting something of an event (and an event greatly deprecated by the Reverend Sebastian Fortune), the tactless misadventure of some pedagogue or student on excursion to the sights of Tidborough.
No one, in any case, committed twice the indiscretion of purchasing a single volume for cash. The book-lined study was in the care of a Mr. Tombs, a gentleman who combined the appearance of a mute at a funeral with the aloof and mysterious manner of a man waiting for his wife in a ladies' underwear department, and the peculiar faculty of making the haphazard visitor feel that he had strayed into a ladies' underwear shop also. "Have you an account with us, sir?" Mr. Tombs would inquire; and on being told "No" would look guiltily all around (as it were at partially undressed ladies) and whisper, "Except to the masters at the School, sir, who all have accounts, we are not supposed to sell single volumes. It is against our rule, sir."
And no one, once escaped, made Mr. Tombs break the rule on a second occasion.
Business—on credit only—was conducted on the first floor whereon were apartmented the three principals—the Reverend Sebastian Fortune, Mr. Twyning and Sabre. There was no longer an East in the firm. From the central, vestry-like showroom a broad and shallow stairway led to a half-landing, containing the clerks' office, and thence to the spacious apartment of Mr. Fortune with which, by doors at either end, communicated the offices of Sabre and of Mr. Twyning. Many stately and eminent persons—and no ill-to-do or doubtful persons—passed up and down this stairway on visits to the principals. It was not used by the clerks, the half-landing communicating with the outer world by the clerks' stairs leading to the clerks' entrance at the back of the building, and with the showrooms by the clerks' stairs leading at one end to the book-lined study and at the other to the model classroom. The clerks' office, by the taking down of original walls, ran the whole length of the building, and accommodated not only the clerks, but the designing room, the checking room and the dispatch room. This arrangement was highly inconvenient to the performers of the various duties thus carried on, but was essential to the more rapid execution of Mr. Fortune's habit of "keeping an eye" on everything. This habit of the Reverend Sebastian Fortune was roundly detested by all on whom his eye fell. He was called Jonah by his employees; and he was called Jonah partly because his visits to the places of their industry invariably presaged disaster, but principally for the gross-minded and wrongly-adduced reason that he had (in their opinion) a whale's belly.
He bore a certain resemblance to a stunted whale. He was chiefly abdominal. His legs appeared to begin, without thighs, at his knees, and his face, without neck, at his chest. His face was large, both wide and long, and covered as to its lower part with a tough scrub of grey beard. The line of his mouth showed through the scrub and turned extravagantly downwards at the corners. He had a commanding, heavily knobbed brow, and small grey eyes of intense severity. His voice was cold, and his manner, though intensely polished and suave, singularly stern and decisive. He had an expression of "I have decided" and Sabre said that he kept this expression on ice. It had an icy sound and it certainly had the rigidity and imperviousness of an iceberg. Hearing it, one might believe that it could have a cruel sound.
The Reverend Sebastian Fortune had come into the business at the age of twenty-eight. He was now sixty-two. He had come in to find the controlling interest almost entirely in the hands of the Fortune branch of the firm, and in his thirty-four years of association, indeed in the first twenty, he had, by fortuitous circumstances, and by force of his decisive personality, achieved what amounted to sole and single control. Coming in as a young man of force and character, he had added to these qualities, by marriage, a useful sum of money (to which was attached a widow) and proceeded to deal decisively with the East and the Sabre (Mark Sabre's grandfather) of that day. Both were old men. The East, young Mr. Fortune bought out neck and crop. The Sabre, who owned then a fifth instead of a third interest in the business, and had developed, as an obsession, an unreasonable fear of bankruptcy, he relieved of all liability for the firm at the negligible cost of giving himself a free hand in the conduct of the business. The deed of partnership was altered accordingly. It was to this fifth share, without control, that Sabre's father and, in his turn, Sabre succeeded.
Sabre had been promised full partnership by Mr. Fortune. He desired it very greatly. The apportionment of duties in the establishment was that Sabre managed the publishing department. Twyning supervised the factory and workshops wherein the ecclesiastical and scholastic furniture was produced, and Fortune supervised his two principals and every least employee and smallest detail of all the business. Particularly orders. He very strongly objected to clients dealing directly with either Sabre or Twyning. His view was that it was the business of Sabre and of Twyning to produce the firm's commodities. It was his place to sell them. It was his place, to deal with clients who came to buy them, and it was his place to sign all letters that went out concerning them.
Sabre, in so far as his publications were concerned, resented this.
"If I bring out a new textbook," he had said on the occasion of a formal protest, "it stands to reason that I am the person to interest clients in it; to discuss it with them if they call and to correspond with those who take up our notices of it."
Mr. Fortune wheeled about his revolving chair by a familiar trick of his right leg against his desk. It presented his whale-like front to impressive advantage. "You do correspond with them."
"But you sign the letters. You frequently make alterations."
"That is what I am here for. They are my letters. It will be time to bring up this matter again when you are admitted to partnership."
Sabre gave the short laugh of one who has heard a good thing before. "When will that be?"
"Well, all I can say is—"
Mr. Fortune raised a whale-like but elegantly white fin. "Enough, I have decided."
With the same clever motion of his feet he spun his chair and his whale-like front to the table. A worn patch on the carpet and an abraised patch on the side of the desk marked the frequent daily use of these thrusting points.
Sabre kicked out of the room, using a foot to open the door, which stood ajar, and hooking back a foot to shut it, because he knew that this slovenly method of dealing with a door much annoyed Mr. Fortune.
He was not in the least in awe of Mr. Fortune, though Mr. Fortune had power to sever him from the firm. Mr. Fortune was aware that he struck no awe into Sabre, and this caused him on the one hand to dislike Sabre, and on the other (subconsciously, for he would emphatically have denied it) to respect him.
Twyning, Sabre's fellow sub-principal, did stand in awe of Mr. Fortune and did not resent having his letters signed for him and his callers interviewed for him. Indeed he frequently took opportunity to thank Mr. Fortune for alterations made in his letters and for dealings carried out with his clients, also for direct interference in his workshops. Mr. Fortune liked Twyning, but he did not respect Twyning, consciously or subconsciously.
Sabre greatly desired the promised admission to partnership. He desired it largely for what he knew he would make it bring in the form of greater freedom from Mr. Fortune's surveillance, but much more for the solid personal satisfaction its winning would give him. It would be a tribute to his work, of all the greater value because he knew it would be bestowed grudgingly and unwillingly, and he was keenly interested in and proud of his work. The publishing of educational textbooks "for the use of schools" had been no part of the firm's business until he came into it. The idea had been his own, and Mr. Fortune, because the idea was not his own, had very half-heartedly assented to it and very disencouragingly looked upon it in the fiddlingly small way in which he permitted it to be begun.
From the outset it had been a very considerable success. Sabre was interested in books and interested in education. He had many friends among the large staff of Tidborough School masters and had developed many acquaintances among the large body of members of the teaching profession with whom the firm was in touch. He was fond of discussing methods and difficulties of encouraging stubborn youth in the arid paths of assimilating knowledge, and he had a peculiarly fresh and sympathetic recollection of his own boyish flounderings in those paths. To these tastes and qualities, and perhaps because of them, he found he was able to bring what was incontestably a flair for discovering the sort of book that needed to be compiled and, what was equally important, the sort of man to compile it. Also, in his capacity of general editor of the volumes, to give much stimulating suggestion and advice to the authors.
He had never been so pleased as on the day when the Spectator, in an extended notice of four new textbooks, had written, "It is always a pleasure to open one of the school textbooks bearing the imprint of Fortune, East and Sabre and issued in the pleasing format which this firm have made their own. Their publications give the impression of a directing mind inspired with the happy thought of presenting textbooks, not for the master, but for the pupil, and of carrying out this design with singular freshness and originality."
On the day when that notice appeared, Mr. Fortune, who considered that his mind was—or would be supposed to be—the directing mind referred to, had repeated his promise of partnership, first made when the enterprise began to show unexpected signs of responding to Sabre's enthusiasm. "Very good, Sabre, very good indeed. I am bound to say capital. I may tell you, as your father probably told you, that it was always understood between him and me that you should be taken into partnership if you showed signs of promise. Unquestionably you do. When you have brought the publishing into line with our established departments we will go into the matter and—" he made one of his nearest approaches to pleasantry—"take steps to restore the house of Sabre in some part to its ancient glories in the firm—in some part."