MR. WADDINGTON OF WYCK
BY MAY SINCLAIR
MR. WADDINGTON OF WYCK
Barbara wished she would come back. For the last hour Fanny Waddington had kept on passing in and out of the room through the open door into the garden, bringing in tulips, white, pink, and red tulips, for the flowered Lowestoft bowls, hovering over them, caressing them with her delicate butterfly fingers, humming some sort of song to herself.
The song mixes itself up with the Stores list Barbara was making: "Two dozen glass towels. Twelve pounds of Spratt's puppy biscuits. One dozen gent.'s all-silk pyjamas, extra large size" ... "A-hoom—hoom, a-hoom—hoom" (that Impromptu of Schubert's), and with the notes Barbara was writing: "Mrs. Waddington has pleasure in enclosing...." Fanny Waddington would always have pleasure in enclosing something.... "A ho-om—boom, hoom, hee." A sound so light that it hardly stirred the quiet of the room. If a butterfly could hum it would hum like Fanny Waddington.
Barbara Madden had not been two days at Lower Wyck Manor, and already she was at home there; she knew by heart Fanny's drawing-room with the low stretch of the Tudor windows at each end, their lattices panelled by the heavy mullions, the back one looking out on to the green garden bordered with wallflowers and tulips; the front one on to the round grass-plot and the sundial, the drive and the shrubbery beyond, down the broad walk that cut through it into the clear reaches of the park. She liked the interior, the Persian carpet faded to patches of grey and fawn and old rose, the port-wine mahogany furniture, the tables thrusting out the brass claws of their legs, the latticed cabinets and bookcases, the chintz curtains and chair-covers, all red dahlias and powder-blue parrots on a cream-coloured ground. But when Fanny wasn't there you could feel the room ache with the emptiness she left.
Barbara ached. She caught herself listening for Fanny Waddington's feet on the flagged path and the sound of her humming. As she waited she looked up at the picture over the bureau in the recess of the fireplace, the portrait in oils of Horatio Bysshe Waddington, Fanny's husband.
He was seated, heavily seated with his spread width and folded height, in one of the brown-leather chairs of his library, dressed in a tweed coat, putty-coloured riding breeches, a buff waistcoat, and a grey-blue tie. The handsome, florid face was lifted in a noble pose above the stiff white collar; you could see the full, slightly drooping lower lip under the shaggy black moustache. There was solemnity in the thick, rounded salient of the Roman nose, in the slightly bulging eyes, and in the almost imperceptible line that sagged from each nostril down the long curve of the cheeks. This figure, one great thigh crossed on the other, was extraordinarily solid against the smoky background where the clipped black hair made a watery light. His eyes were not looking at anything in particular. Horatio Bysshe Waddington seemed to be absorbed in some solemn thought.
His wife's portrait hung over the card-table in the other recess.
Barbara hoped he would be nice; she hoped he would be interesting, since she had to be his secretary. But, of course, he would be. Anybody so enchanting as Fanny could never have married him if he wasn't. She wondered how she, Barbara Madden, would play her double part of secretary to him and companion to her. She had been secretary to other men before; all through the war she had been secretary to somebody, but she had never had to be companion to their wives. Perhaps it was a good thing that Fanny, as she kept on reminding her, had "secured" her first. She was glad he wasn't there when she arrived and wouldn't be till the day after to-morrow (he had wired that morning to tell them); so that for two days more she would have Fanny to herself.
"Well, what do you think of him?"
Fanny had come back into the room; she was hovering behind her.
"I—I think he's jolly good-looking."
"Well, you see, that was painted seventeen years ago. He was young then."
"Has he changed much since?"
"Dear me, no," said Fanny. "He hasn't changed at all."
"No more have you, I think."
"Oh, me—in seventeen years!"
She was still absurdly like her portrait, after seventeen years, with her light, slender body, poised for one of her flights, her quick movements of butterfly and bird, with her small white face, the terrier nose lifted on the moth-wing shadows of her nostrils, her dark-blue eyes, that gazed at you, close under the low black eyebrows, her brown hair that sprang in two sickles from the peak on her forehead, raking up to the backward curve of the chignon, a profile of cyclamen. And her mouth, the fine lips drawn finer by her enchanting smile. All these features set in such strange, sensitive unity that her mouth looked at you and her eyes said things. No matter how long she lived she would always be young.
"Oh, my dear child," she said, "you are so like your mother."
"Am I? Were you afraid I wouldn't be?"
"A little, just a little afraid. I thought you'd be modern."
"So I am. So was mother."
"Not when I knew her."
"Afterwards then." A sudden thought came to Barbara. "Mrs. Waddington, if mother was your dearest friend why haven't you known me all this time?"
"Your mother and I lost sight of each other before you were born."
"Mother didn't want to."
"Mother would have hated you to think she did."
"I never thought it. She must have known I didn't."
"Did we lose sight?"
"Yes, why? People don't, if they can help it, if they care enough. And mother cared."
"You're a persistent little thing, aren't you? Are you trying to make out that I didn't care?"
"I'm trying to make you see that mother did."
"Well, my dear, we both cared, but we couldn't help it. We married, and our husbands didn't hit it off."
"Didn't they? And daddy was so nice. Didn't you know how nice he was?"
"Oh, yes. I knew. My husband was nice, too, Barbara; though you mightn't think it."
"Oh, but I do. I'm sure he is. Only I haven't seen him yet."
"So nice. But," said Fanny, pursuing her own thought, "he never made a joke in his life, and your father never made anything else."
"Daddy didn't 'make' jokes. They came to him."
"I've seen them come. He never sent any of them away, no matter how naughty they were, or how expensive. I used to adore his jokes.... But Horatio didn't. He didn't like my adoring them, so you see—"
"I see. I wonder," said Barbara, looking up at the portrait again, "what he's thinking about?"
"I used to wonder."
"But you know now?"
"Yes, I know now," Fanny said.
"What'll happen," said Barbara, "if I make jokes?"
"Nothing. He'll never see them."
"If he saw daddy's—"
"Oh, but he didn't. That was me."
Barbara was thoughtful. "I daresay," she said, "you won't keep me long. Supposing I can't do the work?"
"The work?" Fanny's eyes were interrogative and a little surprised, as though they were saying, "Who said work? What work?"
"Well, Mr. Waddington's work. I've got to help him with his book, haven't I?"
"Oh, his book, yes. When he's writing it. He isn't always. Does he look," said Fanny, "like a man who'd always be writing a book?"
"No. I can't say he does, exactly." (What did he look like?)
"Well, then, it'll be all right. I mean we shall be."
"I only wondered whether I could really do what he wants."
"If Ralph could," said Fanny, "you can."
"Ralph is my cousin. He was Horatio's secretary."
"Was." Barbara considered it. "Did he make jokes, then?"
"Lots. But that wasn't why he left.... It was an awful pity, too; because he's most dreadfully hard up."
"If he's hard up," Barbara said, "I couldn't bear to think I've done him out of a job."
"You haven't. He had to go."
Fanny turned again to her flowers and Barbara to her Stores list.
"Are you sure," Fanny said suddenly, "you put 'striped'?"
"Striped? The pyjamas? No, I haven't."
"Then, for goodness' sake, put it. Supposing they sent those awful Futurist things; why, he'd frighten me into fits. Can't you see Horatio stalking in out of his dressing-room, all magenta blobs and forked lightning?"
"I haven't seen him at all yet," said Barbara.
"Well, you wait.... Does my humming annoy you?"
"Not a bit. I like it. It's such a happy sound."
"I always do it," said Fanny, "when I'm happy."
You could hear feet, feet in heavy soled boots, clanking on the drive that ringed the grass-plot and the sundial; the eager feet of a young man. Fanny turned her head, listening.
"There is Ralph," she said. "Come in, Ralph!"
The young man stood in the low, narrow doorway, filling it with his slender height and breadth. He looked past Fanny, warily, into the far corner of the room, and when his eyes found Barbara at her bureau they smiled.
"Oh, come in," Fanny said. "He isn't here. He won't be till Friday. This is Ralph Bevan, Barbara; and this is Barbara Madden, Ralph."
He bowed, still smiling, as if he saw something irrepressibly amusing in her presence there.
"Yes," said Fanny to the smile. "Your successor."
"I congratulate you, Miss Madden."
"Don't be an ironical beast. She's just said she couldn't bear to think she'd done you out of your job."
"Well, I couldn't," said Barbara.
"That's very nice of you. But you didn't do me out of anything. It was the act of God."
"It was Horatio's act. Not that Miss Madden meant any reflection on his justice and his mercy."
"I don't know about his justice," Ralph said. "But he was absolutely merciful when he fired me out."
"Is it so awfully hard then?" said Barbara.
"You may not find it so."
"Oh, but I'm going to be Mrs. Waddington's companion, too."
"You'll be all right then. They wouldn't let me be that."
"He means you'll be safe, dear. You won't be fired out whatever happens."
"Whatever sort of secretary I am?"
"Yes. She can be any sort she likes, in reason, can't she?"
"She can't be a worse one than I was, anyhow."
Barbara was aware that he had looked at her, a long look, half thoughtful, half amused, as if he were going to say something different, something that would give her a curious light on herself, and had thought better of it.
Fanny Waddington was protesting. "My dear boy, it wasn't for incompetence. She's simply dying to know what you did do."
"You can tell her."
"He wanted to write Horatio's book for him, and Horatio wouldn't let him. That was all."
"Oh, well, I shan't want to write it," Barbara said.
"We thought perhaps you wouldn't," said Fanny.
But Barbara had turned to her bureau, affecting a discreet absorption in her list. And presently Ralph Bevan went out into the garden with Fanny to gather more tulips.
She had been dying to know what he had done, but now, after Ralph had stayed to lunch and tea and dinner that first day, after he had spent all yesterday at the Manor, and after he had turned up to-day at ten o'clock in the morning, Barbara thought she had made out the history, though they had been very discreet and Fanny had insisted on reading "Tono-Bungay" out loud half the time.
Ralph, of course, was in love with his cousin Fanny. To be sure, she must be at least ten years older than he was, but that wouldn't matter. And, of course, it was rather naughty of him, but then again, very likely he couldn't help it. It had just come on him when he wasn't thinking; and who could help being in love with Fanny? You could be in love with people quite innocently and hopelessly. There was no sin where there wasn't any hope.
And perhaps Fanny was innocently, ever so innocently, in love with him; or, if she wasn't, Horatio thought she was, which came to much the same thing; so that anyhow poor Ralph had to go. The explanation they had given, Barbara thought, was rather thin, not quite worthy of their admirable intelligence.
It was Friday, Barbara's fifth day. She was walking home with Ralph Bevan through the Waddingtons' park, down the main drive that led from Wyck-on-the-Hill to Lower Wyck Manor.
It wouldn't be surprising, she thought, if Fanny were in love with her cousin; he was, as she put it to herself, so distinctly "fallable-in-love-with." She could see Fanny surrendering, first to his sudden laughter, his quick, delighted mind, his innocent, engaging frankness. He would, she thought, be endlessly amusing, endlessly interesting, because he was so interested, so amused. There was something that pleased her in the way he walked, hatless, his head thrown back, his shoulders squared, his hands thrust into his coat pockets, safe from gesture; something in the way he spun round in his path to face her with his laughter. He had Fanny's terrier nose with the ghost of a kink in it; his dark hair grew back in a sickle on each temple; it wouldn't lie level and smooth like other people's, but sprang up, curled from the clipping. His eyes were his own, dappled eyes, green and grey, black and brown, sparkling; so was his mouth, which was neither too thin nor too thick—determination in the thrusting curve of that lower lip—and his chin, which was just a shade too big for it, a shade too big for his face. His cheeks were sunburnt, and a little shower of ochreish freckles spread from the sunburn and peppered the slopes of his nose. She wanted to sketch him.
"Doesn't Mrs. Waddington ever go for walks?" she said.
"Fanny? No. She's too lazy."
"Too active, if you like, in other ways.... How long have you known her?"
"Just five days."
"Yes; but, you see, years ago she was my mother's dearest friend. That's how I came to be their secretary. When she saw my name in the advertisement she thought it must be me. And it was me. They hadn't seen each other for years and years. My father and Mr. Waddington didn't hit it off together, I believe."
"You haven't seen him yet?"
"No. There seems to be some mystery about him."
"Yes. What is it? Or mayn't you tell?"
"I won't tell. It wouldn't be kind."
"Then don't—don't. I didn't know it was that sort of thing."
Ralph laughed. "It isn't. I meant it wouldn't be kind to you. I don't want to spoil him for you."
"Then there is—tell me one thing: Shall I get on with him all right?"
"Don't ask me that."
"I mean, will he be awfully difficult to work with?"
"Because he sacked me? No. Only you mustn't let on that you know better than he does. And if you want to keep your job, you mustn't contradict him."
"Now you've made me want to contradict him. Whatever he says I shall have to say the other thing whether I agree with him or not."
"Don't you think you could temporize a bit? For her sake."
"Did you temporize?"
"Rather. I was as meek and servile as I knew how."
"As you knew how. Do you think I shall know better?"
"Yes, you're a woman. You can get on the right side of him. Will you try to, because of Fanny? I'm most awfully glad she's got you, and I want you to stay. Between you and me she has a very thin time with Waddington."
"There it is. I know—I know—I know I'm going to hate him."
"Oh, no, you're not. You can't hate Waddington."
"Oh, Lord, no. I wouldn't mind him a bit, poor old thing, if he wasn't Fanny's husband."
He had almost as good as owned it, almost put her in possession of their secret. She conceived it—his secret, Fanny's secret—as all innocence on her part, all chivalry on his; tender and hopeless and pure.
They had come to the white gate that led between the shrubberies and the grass-plot with the yellow-grey stone house behind it.
It was nice, she thought, of Fanny to make Mr. Bevan take her for these long walks when she couldn't go with them; but Barbara felt all the time that she ought to apologize to the young man for not being Fanny, especially when Mr. Waddington was coming back to-day by the three-forty train and this afternoon would be their last for goodness knew how long. And as they talked—about Ralph's life before the war and the jobs he had lost because of it (he had been a journalist), and about Barbara's job at the War Office, and air raids and the games they both went in for, and their favourite authors and the room he had in the White Hart Inn at Wyck—as they talked, fluently, with the ease of old acquaintances, almost of old friends, Barbara admired the beauty of Mr. Bevan's manners; you would have supposed that instead of suffering, as he must be suffering, agonies of impatience and irritation, he had never enjoyed anything in his life so much as this adventure that was just coming to an end.
He had opened the gate for her and now stood with his back to it, holding out his hand, saying "Good-bye."
"Aren't you coming in?" she said. "Mrs. Waddington expects you for tea."
"No," he said, "she doesn't. She knows I can't come if he's there."
He paused. "By the way, that book of his, it's in an appalling muddle. I hadn't time to do much to it before I left. If you can't get it straight you must come to me and I'll help you."
"That's very good of you."
"Rather not. It was my job, you know."
He was backing through the gate, saluting as he went. And now he had turned and was running with raking, athletic paces up the grass border of the park.
"Tea is in the library, miss."
This announcement, together with Partridge's extraordinary increase of importance, would have told her that the master had returned, even if she had not seen, through the half-open door of the cloak-room, Mr. Waddington's overcoat hanging by its shoulders and surmounted by his grey slouch hat.
With a rapid, furtive movement the butler closed the door on these sanctities; and she noted the subdued quiet of his footsteps as he led the way down the dark oak-panelled corridor, through the smoke-room, and into the library beyond. She also caught a surprising sight of her own face in the glass over the smoke-room chimneypiece, her dark eyes shining, the cool, wind-beaten flush on her young cheeks, the curled mouth flowering, geranium red on rose white.
This Barbara of the looking-glass smiled at her in passing with such gay, irresponsible amusement that it fairly took her breath away. Its origin became clear to her as Ralph Bevan's words shot into her mind: "I don't want to spoil him for you." She foresaw a possible intimacy in which Horatio Bysshe Waddington would become the unique though unofficial tie between them. She was aware that it pleased her to share a secret jest with Ralph Bevan.
She found Fanny established behind her tea-table in the low room, dim with its oak panelling above the long lines of the bookcases, where Fanny's fluttering smile made movement and a sort of light.
Her husband sat facing her in his brown leather chair and in the pose, the wonderful pose of his portrait; only the sobriety of his navy-blue serge had fined it down, giving him a factitious slenderness. He hadn't seen her come in. He sat there in innocence and unawareness; and afterwards it gave her a little pang of remorse remembering how innocent he had then seemed to her and unaware.
"This is my husband, Barbara. Horatio, you haven't met Miss Madden."
His eyes bulged with the startled innocence of a creature taken unaware. He had just lifted his face, with its dripping moustache, from his teacup, and though he carried off this awkwardness with an unabashed sweep of his pocket-handkerchief, you could see that he was sensitive; he hated you to catch him in any gesture that was less than noble. All his gestures were noble and his attitudes. He was noble as he got up, slowly, unfolding his great height, tightening by a movement of his shoulders his great breadth. He looked down at her superbly and held out his hand; it closed on hers in a large genial clasp.
"So this is my secretary, is it?"
"Yes. And don't forget she's my companion as well as your secretary."
"I never forget anything that you wish me to remember." (Only he said "nevah" and "remembah"; he bowed as he said it in a very courtly way.)
Barbara noticed that his black hair and moustache were lightly grizzled, there was loose flesh about his eyelids, his chin had doubled, and his cheeks were sagging from the bone, otherwise he was exactly like his portrait; these changes made him look, if anything, more incorruptibly dignified and more solemn. He had remained on his feet (for his breeding was perfect), moving between the tea-table and Barbara, bringing her tea, milk and sugar, and things to eat. Altogether he was so simple, so genial and unmysterious that Barbara could only suppose that Ralph had been making fun of her, of her wonder, her curiosity.
"My dear, what a colour you've got!"
Fanny put up her hands to her own cheeks to draw attention to Barbara's. "You are growing a country girl, aren't you? You should have seen her white face when she came, Horatio."
"What has she been doing to herself?" He had settled again into his chair and his attitude.
"She's been out walking with Ralph."
"With Ralph? Is he here still?"
"Why shouldn't he be?"
Mr. Waddington shrugged his immense shoulders. "It's a question of taste. If he likes to hang about the place after his behaviour—"
"Poor boy! whatever has he done? 'Behaviour' makes it sound as if it had been something awful."
"We needn't go into it, I think."
"But you are going into it, darling, all the time. Do you mean to keep it up against him for ever?"
"I'm not keeping anything up. What Ralph Bevan does is no concern of mine. Since I'm not to be inconvenienced by it—since Miss Madden has come to my rescue so charmingly—I shall not give it another thought."
He turned to Barbara as to a change of subject. "Had you any difficulty"—(his voice was measured and important)—"in finding your way here?"
"None at all."
"Ah, that one-thirty train is excellent. Excellent. But if you had not told the guard to stop at the Hill you would have been carried on to Cheltenham. Which would have been very awkward for you. Very awkward indeed."
"My dear Horatio, what did you suppose she would do?"
"My dear Fanny, there are many things she might have done. She might have got into the wrong coach at Paddington and been carried on to Worcester."
"And that," said Barbara, "would have been much worse than Cheltenham."
"The very thought of it," said Fanny, "makes me shudder. But thank God, Barbara, you didn't do any of those things."
Mr. Waddington shifted the crossing of his legs as a big dog shifts his paws when you laugh at him; the more Fanny laughed the more dignified and solemn he became.
"You haven't told me yet, Horatio, what you did in London."
"I was just going to tell you when Miss Madden—so delightfully—came in."
At that Barbara thought it discreet to dismiss herself, but Fanny called her back. "What are you running away for? He didn't do anything in London he wouldn't like you to hear about."
"On the contrary, I particularly wish Miss Madden to hear about it. I am starting a branch of the National League of Liberty in Wyck. You may have heard of it?"
"Yes. I've heard of it. I've even seen the prospectus."
"Good. Well, Fanny, I lunched yesterday with Sir Maurice Gedge, and he's as keen as mustard. He agrees with me that the League will be no good, no good at all, until it's taken up strong in the provinces. He wants me to start at once. Just as soon as I can get my Committee."
"My dear, if you've got to have a Committee first you'll never start."
"It depends altogether on who I get. And it'll be my Committee. Sir Maurice was very emphatic about that. He agrees with me that if you want a thing done, and done well, you must do it yourself. There can only be one moving spirit. The Committee will have nothing to do but carry out my ideas."
"Then be sure you get a Committee that hasn't any of its own."
"That will not be difficult," said Mr. Waddington, "in Wyck.... The first thing is the prospectus. That's where you come in, Miss Madden."
"You mean the first thing is that Barbara draws up the prospectus."
"Under my supervision."
"The next thing," Fanny said, "is to conceal your prospectus from your Committee till it's in print. You come to your Committee with your prospectus. You don't offer it for discussion."
"Supposing," Barbara said, "they insist on discussing it?"
"They won't," said Fanny, "once it's printed, especially if it's paid for. You must get Pyecraft to send in his bill at once. And if they do start discussing you can put them off with the date and place of the meeting and the wording of the posters. That'll give them something to talk about. I suppose you'll be chairman."
"Well, I think, in the circumstances, they could hardly appoint anybody else."
"I don't know. Somebody might suggest Sir John Corbett."
Mr. Waddington's face sagged with dismay as Fanny presented this unpleasant possibility.
"I don't think Sir John would care about it. I shall suggest it to him myself; but I don't think—."
After all, Sir John Corbett was a lazy man.
"When you've roused Sir John, if you ever do rouse him, then you'll have to round up all the towns and villages for twenty miles. It's a pity you can't have Ralph; he would have rounded them for you in no time on his motor-bike."
"I am quite capable of rounding them all up myself, thank you."
"Well, dear," said Fanny placably, "it'll keep you busy for the next six months, and that'll be nice. You won't miss the war then so much, will you?"
"Miss the war?"
"Yes, you do miss it, darling. He was a special constable, Barbara; and he sat on tribunals; and he drove his motor-car like mad on government service. He had no end of a time. It's no use your saying you didn't enjoy it, Horatio, for you did."
"I was glad to be of service to my country as much as any soldier, but to say that I enjoyed the war—"
"If there hadn't been a war there wouldn't have been any service to be glad about."
"My dear Fanny, it's a perfectly horrible suggestion. Do you mean to say that I would have brought about that—that infamous tragedy, that I would have sent thousands and thousands of our lads to their deaths to get a job for myself? If I thought for one moment that you were serious—"
"You don't like me to be anything else, dear."
"I certainly don't like you to joke about such subjects."
"Oh, come," said Fanny, "we all enjoyed our war jobs except poor Ralph, who got gassed first thing, and then concussed with a shell-burst."
"Oh, did he?" said Barbara.
"He did. And don't you think, Horatio, considering the rotten time he's had, and that he lost a lucrative job through the war, and that you've done him out of his secretaryship, don't you think you might forgive him?"
"Of course," said Horatio, "I forgive him."
He had got up to go and had reached the door when Fanny called him back. "And I can write and ask him to come and dine to-morrow night, can't I? I want to be quite sure that he does dine."
"I have never said or implied," said Horatio, "that he was not to come and dine."
With that he left them.
"The beautiful thing about Horatio," said Fanny, "is that he never bears a grudge against people, no matter what he's done to them. I've no doubt that Ralph was excessively provoking and put him in the wrong, and yet, though he was in the wrong, and knows he was in it, he doesn't resent it. He doesn't resent it the least little bit."
Barbara wondered how and where she would be expected to spend her evenings now that Fanny's husband had come home. Being secretary to Mr. Waddington and companion to Fanny wouldn't mean being companion to both of them at once. So when Horatio appeared in the drawing-room after coffee, she asked if she might sit in the morning-room and write letters.
"Do you want to sit in the morning-room?" said Fanny.
"Well, I ought to write those letters."
"There's a fire in the library. You can write there. Can't she, Horatio?"
Mr. Waddington looked up with the benign expression he had had when he came on Barbara alone in the drawing-room before dinner, a look so directed to her neck and shoulders that it told her how well her low-cut evening frock became her.
"She shall sit anywhere she likes. The library is hers whenever she wants to use it."
Barbara thought she would rather like the library. As she went she couldn't help seeing a look on Fanny's face that pleaded, that would have kept her with her. She thought: She doesn't want to be alone with him.
She judged it better to ignore that look.
She had been about an hour in the library; she had written her letters and chosen a book and curled herself up in the big leather chair and was reading when Mr. Waddington came in. He took no notice of her at first, but established himself at the writing-table with his back to her. He would, of course, want her to go. She uncurled herself and went quietly to the door.
Mr. Waddington looked up.
"You needn't go," he said.
Something in his face made her wonder whether she ought to stay. She remembered that she was Mrs. Waddington's companion.
"Mrs. Waddington may want me."
"Mrs. Waddington has gone to bed.... Don't go—unless you're tired. I'm getting my thoughts on paper and I may want you."
She remembered that she was Mr. Waddington's secretary.
She went back to her chair. It was only his face that had made her wonder. His great back, bent to his task, was like another person there; absorbed and unmoved, it chaperoned them. From time to time she heard brief scratches of his pen as he got a thought down. It was ten o'clock.
When the half-hour struck Mr. Waddington gave a thick "Ha!" of irritation and got up.
"It's no use," he said. "I'm not in form to-night. I suppose it's the journey."
He came to the fireplace and sat down heavily in the opposite chair. Barbara was aware of his eyes, considering, appraising her.
"My wife tells me she has had a delightful time with you."
"I've had a delightful time with her."
"I'm glad. My wife is a very delightful woman; but, you know, you mustn't take everything she says too seriously."
"I won't. I'm not a very serious person myself."
"Don't say that. Don't say that."
"Very well. I think, if you don't want me, I'll say good night."
He had risen as she rose and went to open the door for her. He escorted her through the smoke-room and stood there at the further door, holding out his hand, benignant and superbly solemn.
"Good night, then," he said.
She told herself that she was wrong, quite wrong about his poor old face. There was nothing in it, nothing but that grave and unadventurous benignity. His mood had been, she judged, purely paternal. Paternal and childlike, too; pathetic, if you came to think of it, in his clinging to her presence, her companionship. "It must have been my little evil mind," she thought.
As she went along the corridor she remembered she had left her knitting in the drawing-room. She turned to fetch it and found Fanny still there, wide awake with her feet on the fender, and reading "Tono-Bungay."
"Oh, Mrs. Waddington, I thought you'd gone to bed."
"So did I, dear. But I changed my mind when I found myself alone with Wells. He's too heavenly for words."
Barbara saw it in a flash, then. She knew what she, the companion and secretary, was there for. She was there to keep him off her, so that Fanny might have more time to find herself alone in.
She saw it all.
"'Tono-Bungay,'" she said. "Was that what you sent me out with Mr. Bevan for?"
"It was. How clever of you, Barbara."
Mr. Waddington closed the door on Miss Madden slowly and gently so that the action should not strike her as dismissive. He then turned on the lights by the chimneypiece and stood there, looking at himself in the glass. He wanted to know exactly how his face had presented itself to Miss Madden. It would not be altogether as it appeared to himself; for the glass, unlike the young girl's clear eyes, was an exaggerating and distorting medium; he had noticed that his wife's face in the smoke-room glass looked a good ten years older than the face he knew; he calculated, therefore, that this faint greenish tint, this slightly lop-sided elderly grimace were not truthful renderings of his complexion and his smile. And as (in spite of these defects, which you could put down to the account of the glass) the face Mr. Waddington saw was still the face of a handsome man, he formed a very favourable opinion of the face Miss Madden had seen. Handsome, and if not in his first youth, then still in his second. Experience is itself a fascination, and if a man has any charm at all his second youth should be more charming, more irresistibly fascinating than his first.
And the child had been conscious of him. She had betrayed uneasiness, a sense of danger, when she had found herself alone with him. He recalled her first tentative flight, her hesitation. He would have liked to have kept her there with him a little longer, to have talked to her about his League, to have tested by a few shrewd questions her ability.
Better not. Better not. The child was wise and right. Her wisdom and rectitude were delicious to Mr. Waddington, still more so was the thought that she had felt him to be dangerous.
He went back into his library and sat again in his chair and meditated: This experiment of Fanny's now; he wondered how it would turn out, especially if Fanny really wanted to adopt the girl, Frank Madden's daughter. That impudent social comedian had been so offensive to Mr. Waddington in his life-time that there was something alluring in the idea of keeping his daughter now that he was dead, seeing the exquisite little thing dependent on him for everything, for food and frocks and pocket-money. But no doubt they had been wise in giving her the secretaryship before committing themselves to the irrecoverable step; thus testing her in a relation that could be easily terminated if by any chance it proved embarrassing.
But the relation in itself was, as Mr. Waddington put it to himself, a little difficult and delicate. It involved an intimacy, a closer intimacy than adoption: having her there in his library at all hours to work with him; and always that little uneasy consciousness of hers.
Well, well, he had set the tone to-night for all their future intercourse; he had in the most delicate way possible let her see. It seemed to him, looking back on it, that he had exercised a perfect tact, parting from her with that air of gaiety and light badinage which his own instinct of self-preservation so happily suggested. Yet he smiled when he recalled her look as she went from him, backing, backing, to the door; it made him feel very tender and chivalrous; virtuous too, as if somehow he had overcome some unforeseen and ruinous impulse. And all the time he hadn't had any impulse beyond the craving to talk to an intelligent and attractive stranger, to talk about his League.
Mr. Waddington went to bed thinking about it. He even woke his wife up out of her sleep with the request that she would remind him to call at Underwoods first thing in the morning.
As soon as he was awake he thought of Underwoods. Underwoods was important. He had to round up the county, and he couldn't do that without first consulting Sir John Corbett, of Underwoods. As a matter of form, a mere matter of form, of course, he would have to consult him.
But the more he thought about it the less he liked the idea of consulting anybody. He was desperately afraid that, if he once began letting people into it, his scheme, his League, would be taken away from him; and that the proper thing, the graceful thing, the thing to which he would be impelled by all his instincts and traditions, would be to stand modestly back and see it go. Probably into Sir John Corbett's hands. And he couldn't. He couldn't. Yet it was clear that the League, just because it was a League, must have members; even if he had been prepared to contribute all the funds himself and carry on the whole business of it single-handed, it couldn't consist solely of Mr. Waddington of Wyck. His problem was a subtle and difficult one: How to identify himself with the League, himself alone, in a unique and indissoluble manner, and yet draw to it the necessary supporters? How to control every detail of its intricate working (there would be endless wheels within wheels), and at the same time give proper powers to the inevitable Committee? If he did not put it quite so crudely as Fanny in her disagreeable irony, his problem resolved itself into this: How to divide the work and yet rake in all the credit?
He was saved from its immediate pressure by the sight of the envelope that waited for him on the breakfast-table, addressed in a familiar hand.
"Mrs. Levitt—" His emotion betrayed itself to Barbara in a peculiar furtive yet triumphant smile.
"Again?" said Fanny. (There was no end to the woman and her letters.)
Mrs. Levitt requested Mr. Waddington to call on her that morning at eleven. There was a matter on which she desired to consult him. The brevity of the note revealed her trust in his compliance, trust that implied again a certain intimacy. Mr. Waddington read it out loud to show how harmless and open was his communion with Mrs. Levitt.
"Is there any matter on which she has not consulted you?"
"There seems to have been one. And, as you see, she is repairing the omission."
A light air, a light air, to carry off Mrs. Levitt. The light air that had carried off Barbara, that had made Barbara carry herself off the night before. (It had done good. This morning the young girl was all ease and innocent unconsciousness again.)
"And I suppose you're going?" Fanny said.
"I suppose I shall have to go."
"Then I shall have Barbara to myself all morning?"
"You will have Barbara to yourself all day."
He tried thus jocosely to convey, for Barbara's good, his indifference to having her. All the same, it gave him pleasure to say her name like that: "Barbara."
He was not sure that he wanted to go and see Mrs. Levitt with all this business of the League on hand. It meant putting off Sir John. You couldn't do Sir John and Mrs. Levitt in one morning. Besides, he thought he knew what Mrs. Levitt wanted, and he said to himself that this time he would be obliged, for once, to refuse her.
But it was not in him to refuse to go and see her. So he went.
As he walked up the park drive to the town he recalled with distinctly pleasurable emotion the first time he had encountered Mrs. Levitt, the vision of the smart little lady who had stood there by the inner gate, the gate that led from the park into the grounds, waiting for his approach with happy confidence. He remembered her smile, an affair of milk-white teeth in an ivory-white face, and her frank attack: "Forgive me if I'm trespassing. They told me there was a right of way." He remembered her charming diffidence, the naive reverence for his "grounds" which had compelled him to escort her personally through them; her attitudes of admiration as the Manor burst on her from its bay in the beech trees; the interest she had shown in its date and architecture; and how, spinning out the agreeable interview, he had gone with her all the way to the farther gate that led into Lower Wyck village; and how she had challenged him there with her "You must be Mr. Waddington of Wyck," and capped his admission with "I'm Mrs. Levitt." To which he had replied that he was delighted.
And the time after that—Partridge had discreetly shown her into the library—when she had called to implore him to obtain exemption for her son Toby; her black eyes, bright and large behind tears; and her cry: "I'm a war widow, Mr. Waddington, and he's my only child;" the flattery of her belief that he, Mr. Waddington of Wyck, had the chief power on the tribunal (and indeed it would have been folly to pretend that he had not power, that he could not "work it" if he chose). And the third time, after he had "worked it," and she had come to thank him. Tears again; the pressure of a plump, ivory-white hand; a tingling, delicious memory.
After that, his untiring efforts to get a war job for Toby. There had been difficulties, entailing many visits to Mrs. Levitt in the little house in the Market Square of Wyck-on-the-Hill; but in the end he had had the same intoxicating experience of his power, all obstructions going down before Mr. Waddington of Wyck.
And this year, when Toby was finally demobilized, it was only natural that she should draw on Mr. Waddington's influence again to get him a permanent peace job. He had got it; and that meant more visits and more gratitude; till here he was, attached to Mrs. Levitt by the unbreakable tie of his benefactions. He was even attached to her son Toby, whose continued existence, to say nothing of his activity in Mr. Bostock's Bank at Wyck, was a perpetual tribute to his power. Mr. Waddington had nothing like the same complacence in thinking of his own son Horace; but then Horace's existence and his activity were not a tribute but a menace, a standing danger, not only to his power but to his fascination, his sense of himself as a still young, still brilliant and effective personality. (Horace inherited his mother's deplorable lack of seriousness.) And it was in Mrs. Levitt's society that Mr. Waddington was most conscious of his youth, his brilliance and effect. With an agreeable sense of anticipation he climbed up the slopes of Sheep Street and Park Street, and so into the Square.
The house, muffled in ivy, hid discreetly in the far corner, behind the two tall elms on the Green. Mrs. Trinder, the landlady, had a sidelong bend of the head and a smile that acknowledged him as Mr. Waddington of Wyck and Mrs. Levitt's benefactor.
And as he waited in the low, mullion-darkened room he reminded himself that he had come to refuse her request. If, as he suspected, it was the Ballingers' cottage that she wanted. To be sure, the Ballingers had notice to quit in June, but he couldn't very well turn the Ballingers out if they wanted to stay, when there wasn't a decent house in the place to turn them into. He would have to make this very clear to Mrs. Levitt.
Not that he approved of Ballinger. The fellow, one of his best farm hands, had behaved infamously, first of all demanding preposterous wages, and then, just because Mr. Waddington had refused to be brow-beaten, leaving his service for Colonel Grainger's. Colonel Grainger had behaved infamously, buying Foss Bank with the money he had made in high explosives, and then letting fly his confounded Socialism all over the county. Knowing nothing, mind you, about local conditions, and actually raising the rate of wages without consulting anybody, and upsetting the farm labourers for miles round. At a time when the prosperity of the entire country depended on the farmers. Still, Mr. Waddington was not the man to take a petty revenge on his inferiors. He didn't blame Ballinger; he blamed Colonel Grainger. He would like to see Grainger boycotted by the whole county.
The door opened. He strode forward and found himself holding out a sudden, fervid hand to a lady who was not Mrs. Levitt. He drew up, turning his gesture into a bow, rather unnecessarily ceremonious; but he could not annihilate instantaneously all that fervour.
"I am Mrs. Levitt's sister, Mrs. Rickards. Mr. Waddington, is it not? I'll tell Elise you're here. I know she'll be glad to see you. She has been very much upset."
She remained standing before him long enough for him to be aware of a projecting bust, of white serge, of smartness, of purplish copper hair, a raking panama's white brim, of eyebrows, a rouged smile, and a smell of orris root. Before he could grasp its connexion with Mrs. Levitt this amazing figure had disappeared and given place to a tapping of heels and a furtive, scuffling laugh on the stairs outside. A shriller laugh—that must be Mrs. Rickards—a long Sh-sh-sh! Then the bang of the front door covering the lady's retreat, and Mrs. Levitt came in, stifling merriment under a minute pocket-handkerchief.
He took it in then. They were sisters, Mrs. Rickards and Elise Levitt. Elise, if you cared to be critical, had the same defects: short legs, loose hips; the same exaggerations: the toppling breasts underpinned by the shafts of her stays. Not Mr. Waddington's taste. And yet—and yet Elise had contrived a charming and handsome effect out of black eyes and the milk-white teeth in the ivory-white face. The play of the black eyebrows distracted you from the equine bend of the nose that sprang between them; the movements of her mouth, the white flash of its smile, made you forget its thinness and hardness and the slight heaviness of its jaw. Something foreign about her. Something French. Piquant. And then, her clothes. Mrs. Levitt wore a coat and skirt, her sister's white serge with a distinction, a greyish stripe or something; clean straightness that stiffened and fined down her exuberance. One jewel, one bit of gold, and she might have been vulgar. But no. He thought: she knows what becomes her. Immaculate purity of white gloves, white shoes, white panama; and the black points of the ribbon, of her eyebrows, her eyes and hair. After all, the sort of woman Mr. Waddington liked to be seen out walking with. She made him feel slender.
"My dear Mr. Waddington, how good of you!"
"My dear Mrs. Levitt—always delighted—when it's possible—to do anything."
As she covered him with her brilliant eyes he tightened his shoulders and stood firm, while his spirit braced itself against persuasion. If it was the Ballingers' cottage—
"I really am ashamed of myself. I never seem to send for you unless I'm in trouble."
"Isn't that the time?" His voice thickened. "So long as you do send—" He thought: It isn't the Ballingers' cottage then.
"It's your own fault. You've always been so good, so kind. To my poor Toby."
"Nothing to do with Toby, I hope, the trouble?"
"Oh, no. No. And yet in a way it has. I'm afraid, Mr. Waddington, I may have to leave."
"To leave? Leave Wyck?"
"Leave dear Wyck."
He wasn't prepared for that. The idea hit him hard in a place that he hadn't thought was tender.
"Dear me. This is very distressing. Very distressing indeed. But you would not take such a step without consulting your friends?"
"I am consulting you."
"Yes, yes. But have you thought it well over?"
"Thinking isn't any use. I shall have to, unless something can be done."
He thought: "Financial difficulties. Debts. An expensive lady. Unless something could be done?" He didn't know that he was exactly prepared to do it. But his tongue answered in spite of him.
"Something must be done. We can't let you go like this, my dear lady."
"That's it. I don't see how I can go, with dear Toby here. Nor yet how I'm to stay."
"Won't you tell me what the trouble is?"
"The trouble is that Mrs. Trinder's son's just been demobilized, and she wants our rooms for his wife and family."
"Come—surely we can find other rooms."
"All the best ones are taken. There's nothing left that I'd care to live in.... Besides, it isn't rooms I want, Mr. Waddington, it's a house."
It was, of course, the Ballingers' cottage. But she couldn't have it. She couldn't have it.
"I wouldn't mind how small it was. If only I had a little home of my own. You don't know, Mr. Waddington, what it is to be without a home of your own. I haven't had a home for years. Five years. Not since the war."
"I'm afraid," said Mr. Waddington, "at present there isn't a house for you in Wyck."
He brooded earnestly, as though he were trying to conjure up, to create out of nothing, a house for her and a home.
"No. But I understand that the Ballingers will be leaving in June. You said that at any time, if you had a house, I should have it."
"I said a house, Mrs. Levitt, not a cottage."
"It's all the same to me. The Ballingers' cottage could be made into an adorable little house."
"It could. With a few hundred pounds spent on it."
"Well, you'd be improving your property, wouldn't you? And you'd get it back in the higher rent."
"I'm not thinking about getting anything back. And nothing would please me better. Only, you see, I can't very well turn Ballinger out as long as he behaves himself."
"I wouldn't have him turned out for the world.... But do you consider that Ballinger has behaved himself?"
"Well, he played me a dirty trick, perhaps, when he went to Grainger; but if Grainger can afford to pay for him I've no right to object to his being bought. It isn't a reason for turning the man out."
"I don't see how he can expect you to refuse a good tenant for him."
"I must if I haven't a good house to put him into."
"He doesn't expect it, Mr. Waddington. Didn't you give him notice in December?"
"A mere matter of form. He knows he can stay on if there's nowhere else for him to go to."
"Then why," said Mrs. Levitt, "does he go about saying that he dares you to let the cottage over his head?"
"Does he? Does he say that?"
"He says he'll pay you out. He'll summons you. He was most abusive."
Mr. Waddington's face positively swelled with the choleric flush that swamped its genial fatuity.
"It seems somebody told him you were going to do up the cottage and let it for more rent."
"I don't know who could have spread that story."
"I assure you, Mr. Waddington, it wasn't me!"
"My dear Mrs. Levitt, of course.... I won't say I wasn't thinking of it, and that I wouldn't have done it, if I could have got rid of Ballinger...." He meditated.
"I don't see why I shouldn't get rid of him. If he dares me, the scoundrel, he's simply asking for it. And he shall have it."
"Oh, but I wouldn't for worlds have him turned into the street. With his wife and babies."
"My dear lady, I shan't turn them into the street. I shouldn't be allowed to. There's a cottage at Lower Wyck they can go into. The one he had when he first came to me."
He wondered why he hadn't thought of it before. It wasn't, as it stood, a decent cottage; but if he was prepared to spend fifty pounds or so on it, it could be made habitable; and, by George, he was prepared, if it was only to teach Ballinger a lesson. For it meant that Ballinger would have to walk an extra mile up hill to his work every day. Serve him right, the impudent rascal.
"Poor thing, he won't," said Mrs. Levitt, "have his nice garden."
"He won't. Ballinger must learn," said Mr. Waddington with magisterial severity, "that he can't have everything. He certainly can't have it both ways. Abuse and threaten me and expect favours. He may go ... to Colonel Grainger."
"If it really must happen," said Mrs. Levitt, "do you mean that I may have the house?"
"I shall be only too delighted to have such a charming tenant."
"Well, I shan't threaten and abuse you and call you every nasty name under the sun. And you won't, you won't turn me out when my lease is up?"
He bowed over the hand she held out to him.
"You shall never be turned out as long as you want to stay."
By twelve o'clock they had arranged the details; Mr. Waddington was to put in a bathroom; to throw the two rooms on the ground floor into one; to build out a new sitting-room with a bedroom over it; and to paint and distemper the place, in cream white, throughout. And it was to be called the White House. By the time they had finished with it Ballinger's cottage had become the house Mrs. Levitt had dreamed of all her life, and not unlike the house Mr. Waddington had dreamed of that minute (while he planned the bathroom); the little bijou house where an adorable but not too rigorously moral lady—He stopped with a mental jerk, ashamed. He had no reason to suppose that Elise was or would become such a lady.
And the poor innocent woman was saying, "Just one thing, Mr. Waddington, the rent?"
(No earthly reason.) "We can talk about that another time. I shan't be hard on you."
No. He wouldn't be hard on her. But in that other case there wouldn't have been any rent at all.
As he left the house he could see Mrs. Rickards hurrying towards it across the square.
"She waddles like a duck," he thought. The movement suggested a plebeian excitement and curiosity that displeased him. He recalled her face. Her extraordinary face. "Quite enough," he thought, "to put all that into my head. Poor Elise"
He liked to think of her. It made him feel what he had felt last night over Barbara Madden—virtuous—as though he had struggled and got the better of an impetuous passion. He was so touched by his own beautiful renunciation that when he found Fanny working in the garden he felt a sudden tenderness for her as the cause of it. She looked up at him from her pansy bed and laughed. "What are you looking so sentimental for, old thing?"
Mrs. Levitt's affair settled, he could now give his whole time to the serious business of the day.
He was exceedingly anxious to get it over. Nothing could be more disturbing than Fanny's suggestion that the name of Sir John Corbett might carry more weight with his Committee than his own. The Waddingtons of Wyck had ancestry. Waddingtons had held Lower Wyck Manor for ten generations, whereas Sir John Corbett's father had bought Underwoods and rebuilt it somewhere in the 'seventies. On the other hand Sir John was the largest and richest landowner in the place. He could buy up Wyck—on—the—Hill to—morrow and thrive on the transaction. He therefore represented the larger vested interest And as the whole object of the League was the safeguarding of vested interests, in other words, of liberty, that British liberty which is bound up with law and order, with private property in general and landownership in particular; as the principle of its very being was the preservation of precisely such an institution as Sir John himself, the Committee of the Wyck Branch of the League could hardly avoid inviting him to be its president. There was no blinking the fact, and Fanny hadn't blinked it, that Sir John was the proper person. Most of Fanny's suggestions had a strong but unpleasant element of common sense.
But the more interest he took in the League, the more passionately he flung himself into the business of its creation, the more abhorrent to Mr. Waddington was the thought that the chief place in it, the presidency, would pass over his head to Sir John.
His only hope was in Sir John's well-known indolence and irresponsibility. Sir John was the exhausted reaction from the efforts of a self-made grandfather and of a father spendthrift in energy; he had had everything done for him ever since he was a baby, and consequently was now unable or unwilling to do anything for himself or other people. You couldn't see him taking an active part in the management of the League, and Mr. Waddington couldn't see himself doing all the work and handing over all the glory to Sir John. Still, between Mr. Waddington and the glory there was only this supine figure of Sir John, and Sir John once out of the running he could count without immodesty on the unanimous vote of any committee he formed in Wyck.
It was possible that even a Sir John Corbett would not really carry it over a Waddington of Wyck, but Mr. Waddington wasn't taking any risks. What he had to do was to suggest the presidency to Sir John in such a way that he would be certain to refuse it.
He had the good luck to find Sir John alone in his library at tea-time, eating hot buttered toast.
There was hope for Mr. Waddington in Sir John's attitude, lying back and nursing his little round stomach, hope in the hot, buttery gleam of his cheeks, in his wide mouth, lazy under the jutting grey moustache, and in the scrabbling of his little legs as he exerted himself to stand upright.
"Well, Waddington, glad to see you."
He was in his chair again. With another prodigious effort he leaned forward and rang for more tea and more toast.
"Did you walk?" said Sir John. His little round eyes expressed horror at the possibility.
"No, I just ran over in my car."
"No. Too much effort of attention. I find it interferes with my thinking."
"Interferes with everything," said Sir John. "'Spect you drove enough during the war to last you for the rest of your life."
"Ah, Government service. A very different thing. That reminds me; I've come to-day to consult you on a matter of public business."
"Business?" (He noted Sir John's uneasy pout.) "Better have some tea first." Sir John took another piece of buttered toast.
If only Sir John would go on eating. Nothing like buttered toast for sustaining that mood of voluptuous inertia.
When Mr. Waddington judged the moment propitious he began. "While I was up in London I had the pleasure of lunching with Sir Maurice Gedge. He wants me to start a branch of the National League of Liberty here."
"Liberty? Shouldn't have thought that was much in your line. Didn't expect to see you waving the red flag, what? Why didn't you put him on to our friend Grainger?"
"My dear Corbett, what are you thinking of? The object of the League is to put down all that sort of thing—Socialism—Bolshevism—to rouse the whole country and get it to stand solid for order and good government."
"H'm. Is it? Queer sort of title for a thing of that sort—League of Liberty, what?"
Mr. Waddington raised a clenched fist. Already in spirit he was on his platform. "Exactly the title that's needed. The people want liberty, always have wanted it. We'll let 'em have it. True liberty. British liberty. I tell you, Corbett, we're out against the tyranny of Labour minorities. You and I and every man that's got any standing and any influence, we've got to see to it that we don't have a revolution and Communism and a Soviet Government here."
"Come, you don't think the Bolshies are as strong as all that, do you?"
Mr. Waddington brought his fist down on the arm of his chair. "I know they are," he said. "And look here—if they get the upper hand, it's the great capitalists, the great property holders, the great landowners like you and me, Corbett, who'll be the first to suffer.... Why, we're suffering as it is, here in Wyck, with just the little that fellow Grainger can do. The time'll come, mark my words, when we shan't be able to get a single labourer to work for us for a fair wage. They'll bleed us white, Corbett, before they've done with us, if we don't make a stand, and make it now.
"That's what the League's for, to set up a standard, something we can point to and say: These are the principles we stand for. Something you can rally the whole country round. We shall want your support—"
"I shall be very glad—anything I can do—"
Mr. Waddington was a little disturbed by this ready acquiescence.
"Mind you, it isn't going to end here, in Wyck. I shall start it in Wyck first; then I shall take it straight to the big towns, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Cirencester, Nailsworth, Stroud. We'll set 'em going till we've got a branch in every town and every village in the county."
He thought: "That ought to settle him." He had created a vision of intolerable activity.
"Bless me," said Sir John, "you've got your work cut out for you."
"Of course I shall have to get a local committee first. I can't take a step like that without consulting you."
Sir John muttered something that sounded like "Very good of you, I'm sure."
"No more than my duty to the League. Now, the point is, Sir Maurice was anxious that I should be president of this local branch. It needs somebody with energy and determination—the president's work, certainly, will be cut out for him—and I feel very strongly, and I think that my Committee will feel that you, Corbett, are the proper person."
"I didn't think I should be justified in going further without first obtaining your consent."
Mr. Waddington's anxiety was almost unbearable. The programme had evidently appealed to Sir John. Supposing, after all, he accepted?
"I wouldn't ask you to undertake anything so—so arduous, but that it'll strengthen my hands with my Committee; in fact, I may get a much stronger and more influential Committee if I can come to them, and tell them beforehand that you have consented to be president."
"I don't mind being president," said Sir John, "if I haven't got to do anything."
"I'm afraid—I'm afraid we couldn't allow you to be a mere figurehead."
"But presidents always are figureheads, aren't they?"
There was a bantering gleam in Sir John's eyes that irritated Mr. Waddington. That was the worst of Corbett; you couldn't get him to take a serious thing seriously.
"'T any rate," Sir John went on, "there's always some secretary johnnie who runs round and does the work."
So that was Corbett's idea: to sit in his armchair and bag all the prestige, while he, Waddington of Wyck, ran round and did the work.
"Not in this case. In these small local affairs you can't delegate business. Everything depends on the personal activity of the president."
"The deuce it does. How do you mean?"
"I mean this. If Sir John Corbett asks for a subscription he gets it. We've got to round up the whole county and all the townspeople and villagers. It's no use shooting pamphlets at 'em from a motor-car. They like being personally interviewed. If Sir John Corbett comes and talk to them and tells them they must join, ten to one they will join.
"And there isn't any time to be lost if we want to get in first before other places take it up. It'll mean pretty sharp work, day in and day out, rounding them all up."
"Oh, Lord, Waddington, don't. I'm tired already with the bare idea of it."
"Come, we can't have you tired, Corbett. Why, it won't be worse, it won't be half as bad as a season's hunting. You're just the man for it. Fit as fit."
"Not half as fit as I look, Waddington."
"There's another thing—the meetings. If the posters say Sir John Corbett will address the meeting people'll come. If Sir John Corbett speaks they'll listen."
"My dear fellow, that settles it. I can't speak for nuts. You know I can't. I can introduce a speaker and move a vote of thanks, and that's about all I can do. It's your show, not mine. You ought to be president, Waddington. You'll enjoy it and I shan't."
"I don't know at all about enjoying it. It'll be infernally hard work."
"You don't mean, Corbett, that you won't come in with us? That you won't come on the Committee?"
"I'll come on all right if I haven't got to speak, and if I haven't got to do anything. I shan't be much good, but I could at least propose you as president. You couldn't very well propose yourself."
"It's very good of you."
Mr. Waddington made his voice sound casual and indifferent, so that he might appear to be entertaining the suggestion provisionally and under protest. "There'll have to be one big meeting before the Committee's formed or anything. If I let you off the presidency," he said playfully, "will you take the chair?"
"For that one evening?"
"That one evening only."
"You'll do all the talking?"
"I shall have to."
"All right, my dear fellow. I daresay I can get my wife to come on your committee, too. That'll help you to rope in the townspeople.... And now, supposing we drop it and have a quiet smoke."
He roused himself to one more effort. "Of course, we'll send you a subscription, both of us."
Mr. Waddington drove off from Underwoods in a state of pleasurable elation. He had got what he wanted without appearing—without appearing at all to be playing for it. Corbett had never spotted him.
There he was wrong. At that very moment Sir John was relating the incident to Lady Corbett.
"And you could see all the time the fellow wanted it himself. I put him in an awful funk, pretending I was going to take it."
All the same, he admitted very handsomely that the idea of the League was "topping," and that Waddington was the man for it. And the subscription that he and Lady Corbett sent was very handsome, too. Unfortunately it obliged Mr. Waddington to contribute a slightly larger sum, by way of maintaining his ascendancy.
On his way home he called at the Old Dower House in the Square to see his mother. He had arranged to meet Fanny and Barbara Madden there and drive them home.
The old lady was sitting in her chair, handsome, with dark eyes still brilliant in her white Roman face, a small imperious face, yet soft, soft in its network of fine grooves and pittings. An exquisite old lady in a black satin gown and white embroidered shawl, with a white Chantilly scarf binding rolled masses of white hair. She had been a Miss Postlethwaite, of Medlicott.
"My dear boy—so you've got back?"
She turned to her son with a soft moan of joy, lifting up her hands to hold his face as he stooped to kiss her.
"How well you look," she said. "Is that London or coming back to Fanny?"
"It's coming back to you."
"Ah, she hasn't spoilt you. You know how to say nice things to your old mother."
She looked up at him, at his solemn face that simmered with excited egoism. Barbara could see that he was playing—playing in his ponderous, fatuous way, at being her young, her not more than twenty-five years old son. He turned with a sudden, sportive, caracoling movement, to find a chair for himself. He was sitting on it now, close beside his mother, and she was holding one of his big, fleshy hands in her fragile bird claws and patting it.
From her study of the ancestral portraits in the Manor dining-room Barbara gathered that he owed to his mother the handsome Roman structure that held up his face, after all, so proudly through its layers of Waddington flesh. He had the Postlethwaite nose. The old lady looked at her, gratified by the grave attention of her eyes.
"Miss Madden can't believe that a little woman like me could have such a great big son," she said. "But, you see, he isn't big to me. He'll never be any older than thirteen."
You could see it. If he wasn't really thirteen to her he wasn't a day older than twenty-five; he was her young grown-up son whose caresses flattered her.
"She spoils me, Miss Madden."
You could see that it pleased him to sit close to her knees, to have his hand patted and be spoilt.
"Nonsense. Now tell me what happened at Underwoods. Is it to be John Corbett or you?"
"Corbett says it's to be me."
"I'm glad he's had that much sense. Well—and now tell me all about this League of yours."
He told her all about it, and she sat very quietly, listening, nodding her proud old head in approval. He talked about it till it was time to go. Then the old lady became agitated.
"My dear boy, you mustn't let Kimber drive you too fast down that hill. Fanny, will you tell Kimber to be careful?"
Her face trembled with anxiety as she held it to him to be kissed. At that moment he was her child, escaping from her, going out rashly into the dangerous world.
"I like going to see Granny," said Fanny as Kimber tucked them up together in the car. "She makes me feel young."
"You may very well feel it," said Mr. Waddington. "It's only my mother's white hair, Miss Madden, that makes her look old."
"I thought," said Barbara, "she looked ever so much younger"—she was going to say, "than she is"—"than most people's mothers."
"You will have noticed," Fanny said, "that my husband is younger than most people."
Barbara noticed that he had drawn himself up with an offended air, unnaturally straight. He didn't like it, this discussion about ages.
They were running out of the Square when Fanny remembered and cried out, "Oh, stop him, Horatio. We must go back and see if Ralph's coming to dinner."
But at the White Hart they were told that Mr. Bevan had "gone to Oxford on his motor-bike" and was not expected to return before ten o'clock.
"I don't see why you should apologize to Miss Madden, my dear. I've no doubt she can get on very well without him."
"She may want something rather more exciting than you and me, sometimes."
"I'm quite happy," Barbara said.
"Of course you're happy. It isn't everybody who enjoys Ralph Bevan's society. I daresay you're like me; you find him a great hindrance to serious conversation."
"That's why I enjoy him," Fanny said. "We'll ask him for to-morrow night."
Barbara tucked her chin into the collar of her coat. The car was running down Sheep Street into Lower Wyck. She stared out abstractedly at the eastern valley, the delicate green cornfields and pink fallows, the muffling of dim trees, all washed in the pale eastern blue, rolling out and up to the blue ridge.
It made her happy to look at it. It made her happy to think of Ralph Bevan coming to-morrow. If it had been to-night it would have been all over in three hours. And something—she was not sure what, but felt that it might be Mr. Waddington—something would have cut in to spoil the happiness of it. But now she had it to think about, and her thoughts were safe. "What are you thinking about, Barbara?"
"The view," said Barbara. "I want to sketch it."
Mr. Waddington was in his library, drawing up his prospectus while Fanny and Barbara Madden looked on. At Fanny's suggestion (he owned magnanimously that it was a good one) he had decided to "sail in," as she called it, with the prospectus first, not only before he formed his Committee, but before he held his big meeting. (They had fixed the date of it for that day month, Saturday, June the twenty-first.)
"You come before them from the beginning," she said, "with something fixed and definite that they can't go back on." And by signing the prospectus, Horatio Bysshe Waddington, he identified it beyond all contention with himself.
It was at this point that Barbara had blundered.
"Why," she had said, "should we go to all that bother and expense? Why can't we send out the original prospectus?"
"My dear Barbara, the original prospectus isn't any good."
"Why isn't it?"
"Because it isn't Horatio's prospectus."
Barbara looked down and away from the dangerous light in Fanny's eyes.
"But it expresses his views, doesn't it?"
"That's no good when he wants to express them himself."
And so far from being any good, the original prospectus was a positive hindrance to Mr. Waddington. It took all the wind out of his sails; it took, as he justly complained, the very words out of his mouth and the ideas out of his head; it got in his way and upset him at every turn. Somehow or other he had got to stamp his personality upon this thing. "It's no good," he said; "if they can't recognize it as a personal appeal from ME." And here it was, stamped all over, and indelibly, with the personalities of Sir Maurice Gedge and his London Committee. And he couldn't depart radically from the lines they had laid down; there were just so many things to be said, and Sir Maurice and his Committee had contrived to say them all.
But, though the matter was given him, Mr. Waddington, before he actually tackled his prospectus, had conceived himself as supplying his own fresh and inimitable manner; the happy touch, the sudden, arresting turn. But somehow it wasn't working out that way. Try as he would, he couldn't get away from the turns and touches supplied by Sir Maurice Gedge.
"It would have been easy enough," he said, "to draw up the original prospectus. I'd a thousand times rather do that than write one on the top of it."
Fanny agreed. "It's got to look different," she said, "without being different."
"Couldn't we," said Barbara, "turn it upside down?"
"Upside down?" He stared at her with great owl's eyes, offended, suspecting her this time of an outrageous levity.
"Yes. Really upside down. You see, the heads go in this order—Defence of Private Property; Defence of Capital; Defence of Liberty; Defence of Government; Defence of the Empire; Danger of Revolution, Communism and Bolshevism; Every Man's Duty. Why not reverse them? Every Man's Duty; Danger of Bolshevism, Communism and Revolution; Defence of the Empire; Defence of Government; Defence of Liberty; Defence of Capital; Defence of Private Property."
"That's an idea," said Fanny.
"Not at all a bad idea," said Mr. Waddington. "You might take down the heads in that order."
Barbara took them down, and it was agreed that they presented a very original appearance thus reversed; and, as Barbara pointed out, the one order was every bit as logical as the other; and though Mr. Waddington objected that he would have preferred to close on the note of Government and Empire, he was open to the suggestion that, while this might appeal more to the county, with the farmers and townspeople, capital and private property would strike further home. And by the time he had changed "combat the forces of disorder" to "take a stand against anarchy and disruption," and "spirit of freedom in this country" to "British genius for liberty," and "darkest hour in England's history" to "blackest period in the history of England," he was persuaded that the prospectus was now entirely and absolutely his own.
"But I think we must sound the note of hope to end up with. My own message. How about 'We must remember that the darkest hour comes before dawn'?"
"My dear Horatio, if you inflate yourself so over your prospectus, you'll have no wind left when you come to speak. Be as wildly original as you please, but don't be wasteful and extravagant."
"All right, Fanny. I will reserve the dawn. Please make a note of that, Miss Madden. Speech. 'Blackest'—or did I say 'darkest'?—'hour before dawn.'"
"You'd better reserve all you can," said Fanny.
When Barbara had typed the prospectus, Mr. Waddington insisted on taking it to Pyecraft himself. He wanted to insure its being printed without delay, and to arrange for the posters and handbills; he also wanted to see the impression it would make on Pyecraft and on the young lady in Pyecraft's shop. He liked to think of the stir in the composing room when it was handed in, and of the importance he was conferring on Pyecraft.
"You haven't said what you think of the prospectus," said Fanny, as they watched him go.
"I haven't said what I think of the League of Liberty."
"What do you think of it?"
"I think it looks as if somebody was in an awful funk; and I don't see that there's going to be much liberty about it."
"That," said Fanny, "is how it struck me. But it'll keep Horatio quiet for the next six months."
"Quiet? And afterwards?"
"Oh, afterwards there'll be his book."
"I'd forgotten his book."
"That'll keep him quieter than anything else; if you can get him to settle down to it."
That evening Barbara witnessed the reconciliation of Mr. Waddington and Ralph Bevan. Mr. Waddington made a spectacle of it, standing, majestic and immovable, by his hearth and holding out his hand long before Ralph had got near enough to take it.
"Good evening, Ralph. Glad to see you here again."
"Good of you to ask me, sir."
Barbara thought he winced a little at the "sir." He had a distaste for those forms of deference which implied his seniority. You could see he didn't like Ralph. His voice was genial, but there was no light in his bulging stare; the heavy lines of his face never lifted. She wondered: Was it Ralph's brilliant youth that had offended him, reminding him, even when he refused to recognize his fascination? For you could see that he did refuse, that he regarded Ralph Bevan as an inferior, insignificant personality. Barbara had to revise her theory. He wasn't jealous of him. It would never occur to him that Fanny, or Barbara for that matter, could find Ralph interesting. Nothing could disturb for a moment his immense satisfaction with himself. He conducted dinner with a superb detachment, confining his attention to Fanny and Barbara, as if he were pretending that Ralph wasn't there, until suddenly he heard Fanny asking him if he knew anything about the National League of Liberty and what he thought of it.
"Mr. Waddington doesn't want to know what I think of it."
"No, but we want to."
"My dear Fanny, any opinion, any honest opinion—"
"Oh, Ralph's opinion will be honest enough."
"Honest, I daresay," said Mr. Waddington.
"Well, if you really want to know, I think it's a pathological symptom."
"A what?" said Mr. Waddington, startled into a show of interest.
"Pathological symptom. It's all funk. Blue funk. True blue funk."
"That's what Barbara says."
The young man looked at Barbara as much as to say, "I knew I could trust you to take the only intelligent view."
"It's run," he said, "by a few imbeciles, like Sir Maurice Gedge. They're scared out of their lives of Bolshevism."
"Do you mean to say that Bolshevism isn't dangerous?"
"Not in this country."
"Perhaps, then, you'd like to see a Soviet Government in this country?"
"I didn't say so."
"But I understand that you uphold Bolshevism?"
"I don't uphold funk. But," said Ralph, "there's rather more in it than that. It's being engineered. It's a deliberate, dishonest, and malicious attempt to discredit Labour."
"Absurd," said Mr. Waddington. "You show that you are ignorant of the very principles of the League."
If he recognized Ralph's youth, it was only to despise it as crude and uninformed.
"It is—the—National—League—of Liberty."
"Well, that's about all the liberty there is in it—liberty to suppress liberty."
"You may not know that I'm starting a branch of the League in Wyck."
"I'm sorry, sir. I did not know. Fanny, why did you lay that trap for me?"
"Because I wanted your real opinion."
"Before you set up an opinion, you had better come to my meeting on the twenty-first. Then perhaps you'll learn something about it."
Fanny changed the subject to Sir John Corbett's laziness.
"A man," said Mr. Waddington, "without any seriousness, any sense of responsibility."
After coffee Mr. Waddington removed Fanny to the library to consult with him about the formation of his Committee, leaving Barbara and Ralph Bevan alone. Fanny waved her hand to them from the doorway, signalling her blessing on their unrestrained communion.
"It's deplorable," said Ralph, "to see a woman of Fanny's intelligence mixing herself up with a rotten scheme like that."
"Poor darling, she only does it to keep him quiet."
"Oh, yes, I admit there's every excuse for her."
They looked at each other and smiled. A smile of delicious and secret understanding.
"Isn't he wonderful?" she said.
"I thought you'd like him.... I say, you know, I must come to his meeting. He'll be more wonderful than ever there. Can't you see him?"
"I can. It's almost too much—to think that I should be allowed to know him, to live in the same house with him, to have him turning himself on by the hour together. What have I done to deserve it?"
"I see," he said, "you have got it."
"The taste for him. The genuine passion. I had it when I was here. I couldn't have stood it if I hadn't."
"I know. You must have had it. You've got it now."
"And I don't suppose I've seen him anything like at his best. You'll get more out of him than I did."
"Oh, do you think I shall?"
"Yes. He may rise to greater heights."
"You mean he may go to greater lengths?"
"Perhaps. I don't know. You'd have, of course, to stop his lengths, which would he a pity. I think of him mostly in heights. There's no reason why you shouldn't let him soar.... But I mustn't discuss him. I've just eaten his dinner."
"No, we mustn't," Barbara agreed. "That's the worst of dinners."
"I say, though, can't we meet somewhere?"
"Where we can?"
"Yes. Where we can let ourselves rip? Couldn't we go for more walks together?"
"I'm afraid there won't be time."
"There'll be loads of time. When he's off in his car 'rounding up the county.'"
"When he's 'off,' I'm 'on' as Mrs. Waddington's companion."
"Fanny won't mind. She'll let you do anything you like. At any rate, she'll let me do anything I like."
"Will you ask her?"
"Of course I shall."
So they settled it.
When Barbara said to herself that Mr. Waddington would spoil her evening with Ralph Bevan, she had judged by the change that had come over the house since the return of its master. You felt it first in the depressed faces of the servants, of Partridge and Annie Trinder. A thoughtful gloom had settled even on Kimber. Worse than all, Fanny Waddington had left off humming. Barbara missed that spontaneous expression of her happiness.
She thought: "What is it he does to them?" And yet it was clear that he didn't do anything. They were simply crushed by the sheer mass and weight of his egoism. He imposed on them somehow his incredible consciousness of himself. He left an atmosphere of uneasiness. You felt it when he wasn't there; even when Fanny had settled down in the drawing-room with "Tono-Bungay" you felt her fear that at any minute the door would open and Horatio would come in.
But Barbara wasn't depressed. She enjoyed the perpetual spectacle he made. She enjoyed his very indifference to Ralph, his refusal to see that he could command attention, his conviction of his own superior fascination. She knew now what Ralph meant when he said it would be unkind to spoil him for her. He was to burst on her without preparation or description. She was to discover him first of all herself. First of all. But she could see the time coming when her chief joy would be their making him out, bit by bit, together. She even discerned a merry devil in Fanny that amused itself at Horatio's expense; that was aware of Barbara's amusement and condoned it. There were ultimate decencies that prevented any open communion with Fanny. But beyond that refusal to smile at Horatio after eating his dinner, she could see no decencies restraining Ralph. She could count on him when her private delight became intolerable and must be shared.
But there were obstacles to their intercourse. Mr. Waddington couldn't very well start on what he called his "campaign" until he was armed with his prospectus, and Pyecraft took more than a week to print it. And while she sat idle, thinking of her salary, the fiend of conscience prompted Barbara to ask him for work. Wasn't there his book?
"My book? My Cotswold book?" He pretended he had forgotten all about it. He waved it away. "The book is only a recreation, an amusement. Plenty of time for that when I've got my League going. Still, I shall be glad when I can settle down to it, again.".... He was considering it now with reminiscent affection.... "If it would amuse you to look at it—"
He began a fussy search in his bureau.
"Ah, here we are!"
He unearthed two piles of manuscript, one typed, the other written, both scored with erasures, with almost illegible corrections and insertions.
"It's in a terrible mess," he said.
She saw what her work would be: to cut a way through the jungle, to make clearings.
"If I were to type it all over again, you'd have a clean copy to work on when you were ready."
"If you would be so good. It's that young rascal Ralph. He'd no business to leave it in that state."
Her scruple came again to Barbara.
"Mr. Waddington, you'd take him on again for your secretary if he'd come back?"
"He'd come back all right. Trust him."
"And you'd take him?"
"My dear young lady, why should I? I don't want him; I want you."
"And I don't want to stand in his way."
"You needn't worry about that."
"I can't help worrying about it. You'd take him back if I wasn't here."
"You are here."
"But if I weren't?"
"Come, come. You mustn't talk to me like that."
She went away and talked to Fanny.
"I can't bear doing him out of his job. If he'll come back—"
"My dear, you don't know Ralph. He'd die rather than come back. They've made it impossible between them."
"Mr. Waddington says he'd take him back if I wasn't here."
"He wouldn't. He only thinks he would, because it makes him feel magnanimous. He offered Ralph half a year's salary if he'd go at once. And Ralph went at once and wouldn't touch the salary. That made him come out top dog, and Horatio didn't like it. Not that he supposed he could score off Ralph with money. He isn't vulgar."
No. He wasn't vulgar. But she wondered how he would camouflage it to himself—that insult to his pride. And there was Ralph's pride that was so fiery and so clean. Yet—
"Yet Mr. Bevan comes and dines," she said.
"Yes, he comes and dines. He'll always be my cousin, though he won't be Horatio's secretary. He's got a very sweet nature and he keeps the issues clear."
"But what will he do? He can't live on his sweet nature."
"Oh, he's got enough to live on, though not enough to—to do what he wants on. But he'll get a job all right. You needn't bother your dear little head about Ralph."
Fanny said to herself: "I'll tell him, then he'll adore her more than ever. If only he adores her enough he'll buck up and get something to do."
Mr. Waddington did not approve of Mrs. Levitt's intimacy with her sister, Bertha Rickards.
He would have approved of it still less if he had heard the conversation which Mrs. Trinder heard and reported to Miss Gregg, the governess at the rectory, who told the Rector's wife, who told the Rector, who told Colonel Grainger, who told Ralph Sevan, who kept it to himself.