A TRAGI-FARCICAL TRACT
BY ROSE MACAULAY
Author of 'What Not,' etc.
TO THE UNSENTIMENTAL PRECISIANS IN THOUGHT, WHO HAVE, ON THIS CONFUSED, INACCURATE, AND EMOTIONAL PLANET, NO FIT HABITATION
'They contract a Habit of talking loosely and confusedly.'—J. CLARKE.
'My dear friend, clear your mind of cant.... Don't think foolishly.' SAMUEL JOHNSON.
'On the whole we are Not intelligent— No, no, no, not intelligent.'—W.S. GILBERT.
'Truth may perhaps come to the price of a Pearle, that sheweth best by day; But it will not rise to the price of a Diamond or Carbuncle, that sheweth best in varied lights. A mixture of a Lie doth ever adde Pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men's mindes Vaine Opinions, Blattering Hopes, False Valuations, Imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the Mindes of a Number of Men poore shrunken Things, full of Melancholy and Indisposition and unpleasing to themselves?'—FRANCIS BACON.
'What is it that smears the windows of the senses? Thought, convention, self-interest.... We see the narrow world our windows show us not in itself, but in relation to our own needs, moods, and preferences ... for the universe of the natural man is strictly egocentric.... Unless we happen to be artists—and then but rarely—we never know the "thing seen" in its purity; never from birth to death, look at it with disinterested eyes.... It is disinterestedness, the saint's and poet's love of things for their own sakes ... which is the condition of all real knowledge.... When ... the verb "to have" is ejected from the centre of your consciousness ... your attitude to life will cease to be commercial and become artistic. Then the guardian at the gate, scrutinising and sorting the incoming impressions, will no longer ask, "What use is this to me?"... You see things at last as the artist does, for their sake, not for your own.'—EVELYN UNDERHILL.
PART I.—TOLD BY R.M.
I. POTTERS II. ANTI-POTTERS III. OPPORTUNITY IV. JANE AND CLARE
PART II.—TOLD BY GIDEON
I. SPINNING II. DINING WITH THE HOBARTS III. SEEING JANE
PART III.—TOLD BY LELIA YORKE
I. THE TERRIBLE TRAGEDY ON THE STAIRS II. AN AWFUL SUSPICION
PART IV.—TOLD BY KATHERINE VARICK
A BRANCH OF STUDY
PART V.—TOLD BY JUKE
PART VI.—TOLD BY R.M.
I. THE END OF A POTTER MELODRAMA II. ENGAGED TO BE MARRIED III. THE PRECISIAN AT WAR WITH THE WORLD IV. RUNNING AWAY V. A PLACARD FOR THE PRESS
TOLD BY R.M.
Johnny and Jane Potter, being twins, went through Oxford together. Johnny came up from Rugby and Jane from Roedean. Johnny was at Balliol and Jane at Somerville. Both, having ambitions for literary careers, took the Honours School of English Language and Literature. They were ordinary enough young people; clever without being brilliant, nice-looking without being handsome, active without being athletic, keen without being earnest, popular without being leaders, open-handed without being generous, as revolutionary, as selfish, and as intellectually snobbish as was proper to their years, and inclined to be jealous one of the other, but linked together by common tastes and by a deep and bitter distaste for their father's newspapers, which were many, and for their mother's novels, which were more. These were, indeed, not fit for perusal at Somerville and Balliol. The danger had been that Somerville and Balliol, till they knew you well, should not know you knew it.
In their first year, the mother of Johnny and Jane ('Leila Yorke,' with 'Mrs. Potter' in brackets after it), had, after spending Eights Week at Oxford, announced her intention of writing an Oxford novel. Oh God, Jane had cried within herself, not that; anything but that; and firmly she and Johnny had told her mother that already there were Keddy, and Sinister Street, and The Pearl, and The Girls of St. Ursula's (by Annie S. Swan: 'After the races were over, the girls sculled their college barge briskly down the river,'), and that, in short, the thing had been done for good and all, and that was that.
Mrs. Potter still thought she would like to write an Oxford novel. Because, after all, though there might be many already, none of them were quite like the one she would write. She had tea with Jane in the Somerville garden on Sunday, and though Jane did not ask any of her friends to meet her (for they might have got put in) she saw them all about, and thought what a nice novel they would make. Jane knew she was thinking this, and said, 'They're very commonplace people,' in a discouraging tone. 'Some of them,' Jane added, deserting her own snobbishness, which was intellectual, for her mother's, which was social, 'are also common.'
'There must be very many,' said Mrs. Potter, looking through her lorgnette at the garden of girls, 'who are neither.'
'Fewer,' said Jane, stubbornly, 'than you would think. Most people are one or the other, I find. Many are both.'
'Try not to be cynical, my pet,' said Leila Yorke, who was never this.
That was in June, 1912. In June, 1914, Jane and Johnny went down.
Their University careers had been creditable, if not particularly conspicuous. Johnny had been a fluent speaker at the Union, Jane at the women's intercollegiate Debating Society, and also in the Somerville parliament, where she had been the leader of the Labour Party. Johnny had for a time edited the Isis, Jane the Fritillary. Johnny had done respectably in Schools, Jane rather better. For Jane had always been just a shade the cleverer; not enough to spoil competition, but enough to give Johnny rather harder work to achieve the same results. They had probably both got firsts, but Jane's would be a safe thing, and Johnny would be likely to have a longish viva.
Anyhow, here they were, just returned to Potter's Bar, Herts (where Mr. Percy Potter, liking the name of the village, had lately built a lordly mansion). Excellent friends they were, but as jealous as two little dogs, each for ever on the look-out to see that the other got no undue advantage. Both saw every reason why they should make a success of life. But Jane knew that, though she might be one up on Johnny as regards Oxford, owing to slightly superior brain power, he was one up on her as regards Life, owing to that awful business sex. Women were handicapped; they had to fight much harder to achieve equal results. People didn't give them jobs in the same way. Young men possessed the earth; young women had to wrest what they wanted out of it piecemeal. Johnny might end a cabinet minister, a notorious journalist, a Labour leader, anything.... Women's jobs were, as a rule, so dowdy and unimportant. Jane was bored to death with this sex business; it wasn't fair. But Jane was determined to live it down. She wouldn't be put off with second-rate jobs; she wouldn't be dowdy and unimportant, like her mother and the other fools; she would have the best that was going.
The family dined. At one end of the table was Mr. Potter; a small, bird-like person, of no presence; you had not thought he was so great a man as Potter of the Potter Press. For it was a great press; though not so great as the Northcliffe Press, for it did not produce anything so good as the Times or so bad as the Weekly Dispatch; it was more of a piece.
Both commonplace and common was Mr. Percy Potter (according to some standards), but clever, with immense patience, a saving sense of humour, and that imaginative vision without which no newspaper owner, financier, general, politician, poet, or criminal can be great. He was, in fact, greater than the twins would ever be, because he was not at odds with his material: he found such stuff as his dreams were made of ready to his hand, in the great heart of the public—the last place where the twins would have thought of looking.
So did his wife. She was pink-faced and not ill-looking, with the cold blue eyes and rather set mouth possessed (inexplicably) by many writers of fiction. If I have conveyed the impression that Leila Yorke was in the lowest division of this class, I have done her less than justice; quite a number of novelists were worse. This was not much satisfaction to her children. Jane said, 'If you do that sort of thing at all, you might as well make a job of it, and sell a million copies. I'd rather be Mrs. Barclay or Ethel Dell or Charles Garvice or Gene Stratton Porter or Ruby Ayres than mother. Mother's merely commonplace; she's not even a by-word—quite. I admire dad more. Dad anyhow gets there. His stuff sells.'
Mrs. Potter's novels, as a matter of fact, sold quite creditably. They were pleasant to many, readable by more, and quite unmarred by any spark of cleverness, flash of wit, or morbid taint of philosophy. Gently and unsurprisingly she wrote of life and love as she believed these two things to be, and found a home in the hearts of many fellow-believers. She bored no one who read her, because she could be relied on to give them what they hoped to find—and of how few of us, alas, can this be said! And—she used to say it was because she was a mother—her books were safe for the youngest jeune fille, and in these days (even in those days it was so) of loose morality and frank realism, how important this is.
'I hope I am as modern as any one,' Mrs. Potter would say, 'but I see no call to be indecent.'
So many writers do see, or rather hear, this call, and obey it faithfully, that many a parent was grateful to Leila Yorke. (It is only fair to record here that in the year 1918 she heard it herself, and became a psychoanalyst. But the time for this was not yet.)
On her right sat her eldest son, Frank, who was a curate in Pimlico. In Frank's face, which was sharp and thin, like his father's, were the marks of some conflict which his father's did not know. You somehow felt that each of the other Potters had one aim, and that Frank had, or, anyhow, felt that he ought to have, another besides, however feebly he aimed at it.
Next him sat his young wife, who had, again, only the one. She was pretty and jolly and brunette, and twisted Frank round her fingers.
Beyond her sat Clare, the eldest daughter, and the daughter at home. She read her mother's novels, and her father's papers, and saw no harm in either. She thought the twins perverse and conceited, which came from being clever at school and college. Clare had never been clever at anything but domestic jobs and needlework. She was a nice, pretty girl, and expected to marry. She snubbed Jane, and Jane, in her irritating and nonchalant way, was rude to her.
On the other side of the table sat the twins, stocky and square-built, and looking very young, with broad jaws and foreheads and wide-set gray eyes. Jane was, to look at, something like an attractive little plump white pig. It is not necessary, at the moment, to say more about her appearance than this, except that, when the time came to bob the hair, she bobbed it.
Johnny was as sturdy but rather less chubby, and his chin stuck out farther. They had the same kind of smile, and square white teeth, and were greedy. When they had been little, they had watched each other's plates with hostile eyes, to see that neither got too large a helping.
Those of us who are old enough will remember that in June and July 1914 the conversation turned largely and tediously on militant suffragists, Irish rebels, and strikers. It was the beginning of the age of violent enforcements of decision by physical action which has lasted ever since and shows as yet no signs of passing. The Potter press, like so many other presses, snubbed the militant suffragists, smiled half approvingly on Carson's rebels, and frowned wholly disapprovingly on the strikers. It was a curious age, so near and yet so far, when the ordered frame of things was still unbroken, and violence a child's dream, and poetry and art were taken with immense seriousness. Those of us who can remember it should do so, for it will not return. It has given place to the age of melodrama, when nothing is too strange to happen, and no one is ever surprised. That, too, may pass, but probably will not, for it is primeval. The other was artificial, a mere product of civilisation, and could not last.
It was in the intervals of talking about the militants (a conversation much like other conversations on the same topic, which were tedious even at the time, and now will certainly not bear recording) that Mrs. Frank said to the twins, 'What are you two going to play at now?'
So extensive a question, opening such vistas. It would have taken, if not less time, anyhow less trouble, to have told Mrs. Frank what they were not going to play at.
The devil of mischief looked out of Johnny's gray eyes, as he nearly said, 'We are going to fight Leila Yorke fiction and the Potter press.'
Choking it back, he said, succinctly, 'Publishing, journalism, and writing. At least, I am.'
'He means,' Mr. Potter interpolated, in his small, nasal voice, 'that he has obtained a small and subordinate job with a firm of publishers, and hopes also to contribute to an obscure weekly paper run by a friend of his.'
'Oh,' said Mrs. Frank. 'Not one of your papers, pater? Can't be, if it's obscure, can it?'
'No, not one of my papers. A periodical called, I believe, the Weekly Comment, with which you may or may not be familiar.'
'Never heard of it, I'm afraid,' Mrs. Frank confessed, truly. 'Why don't you go on to one of the family concerns, Johnny? You'd get on much quicker there, with pater to shove you.'
'Probably,' Johnny agreed.
'My papers,' said Mr. Potter dryly, 'are not quite up to Johnny's intellectual level. Nor Jane's. Neither do they accord with their political sympathies.'
'Oh, I forgot you two were silly old Socialists. Never mind, that'll pass when they grow up, won't it, Frank?'
Secretly, Mrs. Frank thought that the twins had the disease because the Potter family, however respectable now, wasn't really 'top-drawer.'
Funny old pater had, every one knew, begun his career as a reporter on a provincial paper. If funny old pater had been just a shade less clever or enterprising, his family would have been educated at grammar schools and gone into business in their teens. Of course, Mrs. Potter had pulled the social level up a bit; but what, if you came to that, had Mrs. Potter been? Only the daughter of a country doctor; only the underpaid secretary of a lady novelist, for all she was so conceited now.
So naturally Socialism, that disease of the underbred, had taken hold of the less careful of the Potter young.
'And are you going to write for this weekly what-d'you-call-it too, Jane?' Mrs. Frank inquired.
'No. I've not got a job yet. I'm going to look round a little first.'
'Oh, that's sense. Have a good time at home for a bit. Well, it's time you had a holiday, isn't it? I wish old Frank could. He's working like an old horse. He may slave himself to death for those Pimlico pigs, for all any of them care. It's never "thank you"; it's always "more, more, more," with them. That's your Socialism, Johnny.'
The twins got on very well with their sister-in-law, but thought her a fool. When, as she was fond of doing, she mentioned Socialism, they, rightly believing her grasp of that economic system to be even less complete than that of most people, always changed the subject.
But on this occasion they did not have time to change it before Clare said, 'Mother's writing a novel about Socialism. She shows it up like anything.'
Mrs. Potter smiled.
'I confess I am trying my hand at the burning subject. But as for showing it up—well, I am being fair to both sides, I think. I don't feel I can quite condemn it wholesale, as Peggy does. I find it very difficult to treat anything like that—I can't help seeing all round a thing. I'm told it's a weakness, and that I should get on better if I saw everything in black and white, as so many people do, but it's no use my trying to alter, at my time of life. One has to write in one's own way or not at all.'
'Anyhow,' said Clare, 'it's going to be a ripping book, Socialist Cecily; quite one of your best, mother.'
Clare had always been her mother's great stand-by in the matter of literature. She was also useful as a touchstone, as what her mother did not call a foolometer. If a book went with Clare, it went with Leila Yorke's public beyond. Mr. Potter was a less satisfactory reader; he regarded his wife's books as goods for sale, and his comments were, 'That should go all right. That's done it,' which attitude, though commercially helpful, was less really satisfying to the creator than Clare's uncritical absorption in the characters and the story. Clare was, in fact, the public, while Mr. Potter was more the salesman.
And the twins were neither, but more like the less agreeable type of reviewer, when they deigned to read or comment on their mother's books at all, which was not always. Johnny's attitude towards his mother suggested that he might say politely, if she mentioned her books, 'Oh, do you write? Why?' Mrs. Potter was rather sadly aware that she made no appeal to the twins. But then, as Clare reminded her, the twins, since they had gone to Oxford, never admitted that they cared for any books that normal people cared for. They were like that; conceited and contrary.
To change the subject (so many subjects are the better for being changed, as all those who know family life will agree) Jane said, 'Johnny and I are going on a reading-party next month.'
'A little late in the day, isn't it?' commented Frank, the only one who knew Oxford habits. 'Unless it's to look up all the howlers you've made.'
'Well,' Jane admitted, 'it won't be so much reading really as observing. It's a party of investigation, as a matter of fact.'
'What do you investigate? Beetles, or social conditions?'
'People. Their tastes, habits, outlook, and mental diseases. What they want, and why they want it, and what the cure is. We belong to a society for inquiring into such things.'
'You would,' said Clare, who always rose when the twins meant her to.
'Aren't they cautions,' said Mrs. Frank, more good-humouredly.
Mrs. Potter said, 'That's a very interesting idea. I think I must join this society. It would help me in my work. What is it called, children?'
'Oh,' said Jane, and had the grace to look ashamed, 'it really hardly exists yet.'
But as she said it she met the sharp and shrewd eyes of Mr. Potter, and knew that he knew she was referring to the Anti-Potter League.
Mr. Potter would not, indeed, have been worthy of his reputation had he not been aware, from its inception, of the existence of this League. Journalists have to be aware of such things. He in no way resented the League; he brushed it aside as of no account. And, indeed, it was not aimed at him personally, nor at his wife personally, but at the great mass of thought—or of incoherent, muddled emotion that passed for thought—which the Anti-Potters had agreed, for brevity's sake, to call 'Potterism.' Potterism had very certainly not been created by the Potters, and was indeed no better represented by the goods with which they supplied the market than by those of many others; but it was a handy name, and it had taken the public fancy that here you had two Potters linked together, two souls nobly yoked, one supplying Potterism in fictional, the other in newspaper, form. So the name caught, about the year 1912.
The twins both heard it used at Oxford, in their second year. They recognised its meaning without being told. And both felt that it was up to them to take the opportunity of testifying, of severing any connection that might yet exist in any one's mind between them and the other products of their parents. They did so, with the uncompromising decision proper to their years, and with, perhaps, the touch of indecency, regardlessness of the proprieties, which was characteristic of them. Their friends soon discovered that they need not guard their tongues in speaking of Potterism before the Potter twins. The way the twins put it was, 'Our family is responsible for more than its share of the beastly thing; the least we can do is to help to do it in,' which sounded chivalrous. And another way they put it was, 'We're not going to have any one connecting us with it,' which sounded sensible.
So they joined the Anti-Potter League, not blind to the piquant humour of their being found therein.
Mr. Potter said to the twins, in his thin little voice, 'Don't mind mother and me, children. Tell us all about the A.P.L. It may do us good.'
But the twins knew it would not do their mother good. It would need too much explanation; and then she would still not understand. She might even be very angry, as she was (though she pretended she was only amused) with some reviewers.... If your mother is Leila Yorke, and has hard blue eyes and no sense of humour, but a most enormous sense of importance, you cannot, or you had better not, even begin to explain to her things like Potterism, or the Anti-Potter League, and still less how it is that you belong to the latter.
The twins, who had got firsts in Schools, knew this much.
Johnny improvised hastily, with innocent gray eyes on his father's, 'It's one of the rules that you mayn't talk about it outside. Anti-Propaganda League, it is, you see ... for letting other people alone....'
'Well,' said Mr. Potter, who was not spiteful to his children, and preferred his wife unruffled, 'we'll let you off this time. But you can take my word for it, it's a silly business. Mother and I will last a great deal longer than it does. Because we take our stand on human nature, and you won't destroy that with Leagues.'
Sometimes the twins were really almost afraid they wouldn't.
'You're all very cryptic to-night,' Frank said, and yawned.
Then Mrs. Potter and the girls left the dining-room, and Frank and his father discussed the disestablishment of the Church in Wales, a measure which Frank thought would be a pity, but which was advocated by the Potter press.
Johnny cracked nuts in silence. He thought the Church insincere, a put-up job, but that dissenters were worse. They should all be abolished, with other shams. For a short time at Oxford he had given the Church a trial, even felt real admiration for it, under the influence of his friend Juke, and after hearing sermons from Father Waggett, Dr. Dearmer, and Canon Adderley. But he had soon given it up, seen it wouldn't do; the above-mentioned priests were not representative; the Church as a whole canted, was hypocritical and Potterish, and must go.
The quest of Potterism, its causes and its cure, took the party of investigation first to the Cornish coast. Partly because of bathing and boating, and partly because Gideon, the organiser of the party, wanted to find out if there was much Potterism in Cornwall, or if Celticism had withstood it. For Potterism, they had decided, was mainly an Anglo-Saxon disease. Worst of all in America, that great home of commerce, success, and the booming of the second-rate. Less discernible in the Latin countries, which they hoped later on to explore, and hardly existing in the Slavs. In Russia, said Gideon, who loathed Russians, because he was half a Jew, it practically did not exist. The Russians were without shame and without cant, saw things as they were, and proceeded to make them a good deal worse. That was barbarity, imbecility, and devilishness, but it was not Potterism, said Gideon grimly. Gideon's grandparents had been massacred in an Odessa pogrom; his father had been taken at the age of five to England by an aunt, become naturalised, taken the name of Sidney, married an Englishwoman, and achieved success and wealth as a banker. His son Arthur was one of the most brilliant men of his year at Oxford, regarded Russians, Jews, and British with cynical dislike, and had, on turning twenty-one, reverted to his family name in its English form, finding it a Potterish act on his father's part to have become Sidney. Few of his friends remembered to call him by his new name, and his parents ignored it, but to wear it gave him a grim satisfaction.
Such was Arthur Gideon, a lean-faced, black-eyed man, biting his nails like Fagin when he got excited.
The other man, besides Johnny Potter, was the Honourable Laurence Juke, a Radical of moderately aristocratic lineage, a clever writer and actor, who had just taken deacon's orders. Juke had a look at once languid and amused, a well-shaped, smooth brown head, blunt features, the introspective, wide-set eyes of the mystic, and the sweet, flexible voice of the actor (his mother had, in fact, been a well-known actress of the eighties).
The two women were Jane Potter and Katherine Varick. Katherine Varick had frosty blue eyes, a pale, square-jawed, slightly cynical face, a first in Natural Science, and a chemical research fellowship.
In those happy days it was easy to stay in places, even by the sea, and they stayed first at the fishing village of Mevagissey. Gideon was the only one who never forgot that they were to make observations and write a book. He came of a more hard-working race than the others did. Often the others merely fished, boated, bathed, and walked, and forgot the object of their tour. But Gideon, though he too did these things, did them, so to speak, notebook in hand. He was out to find and analyse Potterism, so much of it as lay hid in the rocky Cornish coves and the grave Cornish people. Katherine Varick was the only member of the party who knew that he was also seeking and finding it in the hidden souls of his fellow-seekers.
They would meet in the evening with the various contributions to the subject which they had gathered during the day. The Urban District Council, said Johnny, wanted to pull down the village street and build an esplanade to attract visitors; all the villagers seemed pleased. That was Potterism, the welcoming of ugliness and prosperity; the antithesis of the artist's spirit, which loved beauty for what it was, and did not want to exploit it.
Their landlady, said Juke, on Sunday, had looked coldly on him when he went out with his fishing rod in the morning. This would not have been Potterism, but merely a respectable bigotry, had the lady had genuine conscientious scruples as to this use of Sunday morning by the clergy, but Juke had ascertained tactfully that she had no conscientious scruples about anything at all. So it was merely propriety and cant, in brief, Potterism. Later, he had landed at a village down the coast and been to church.
'That church,' he said, 'is the most unpleasant piece of Potterism I have seen for some time. Perpendicular, but restored fifty years ago, according to the taste of the period. Vile windows; painted deal pews; incredible braying of bad chants out of tune; a sermon from a pie-faced fellow about going to church. Why should they go to church? He didn't tell them; he just said if they didn't, some being he called God would be angry with them. What did he mean by God? I'm hanged if he'd ever thought it out. Some being, apparently, like a sublimated Potterite, who rejoices in bad singing, bad art, bad praying, and bad preaching, and sits aloft to deal out rewards to those who practise these and punishments to those who don't. The Potter God will save you if you please him; that means he'll save your body from danger and not let you starve. Potterism has no notion of a God who doesn't care a twopenny damn whether you starve or not, but does care whether you're following the truth as you see it. In fact, Potterism has no room for Christianity; it prefers the God of the Old Testament. Of course, with their abominable cheek, the Potterites have taken Christianity and watered it down to suit themselves, till they've produced a form of Potterism which they call by its name; but they wouldn't know the real thing if they saw it.... The Pharisees were Potterites....'
The others listened to Juke on religious Potterism tolerantly. None of them (with the doubtful exception of Johnny, who had not entirely made up his mind) believed in religion; they were quite prepared to agree that most of its current forms were soaked in Potterism, but they could not be expected to care, as Juke did.
Gideon said he had heard a dreadful band on the beach, and heard a dreadful fellow proclaiming the Precious Blood. That was Potterism, because it was an appeal to sentiment over the head, or under the head, of reason. Neither the speaker nor any one else probably had the least idea what he was talking about or what he meant.
'He had the kind of face which is always turned away from facts,' Gideon said. 'Facts are too difficult, too complicated for him. Hard, jolly facts, with clear sharp edges that you can't slur and talk away. Potterism has no use for them. It appeals over their heads to prejudice and sentiment.... It's the very opposite to the scientific temper. No good scientist could conceivably be a Potterite, because he's concerned with truth, and the kind of truth, too, that it's difficult to arrive at. Potterism is all for short and easy cuts and showy results. Science has to work its way step by step, and then hasn't much to show for it. It isn't greedy. Potterism plays a game of grab all the time—snatches at success in a hurry.... It's greedy,' repeated Gideon, thinking it out, watching Jane's firm little sun-browned hand with its short square fingers rooting in the sand for shells.
Jane had visited the stationer, who kept a circulating library, and seen holiday visitors selecting books to read. They had nearly all chosen the most Potterish they could see, and asked for some more Potterish still, leaving Conrad and Hardy despised on the shelves. But these people were not Cornish, but Saxon visitors.
And Katherine had seen the local paper, but it had been much less Potterish than most of the London papers, which confirmed them in their theory about Celts.
Thus they talked and discussed and played, and wrote their book in patches, and travelled from place to place, and thought that they found things out. And Gideon, because he was the cleverest, found out the most; and Katherine, because she was the next cleverest, saw all that Gideon found out; and Juke, because he was religious, was for ever getting on to Potterism its cure, before they had analysed the disease; and the twins enjoyed life in their usual serene way, and found it very entertaining to be Potters inquiring into Potterism. The others were scrupulously fair in not attributing to them, because they happened to be Potters by birth, more Potterism than they actually possessed. A certain amount, said Juke, is part of the make-up of very nearly every human being; it has to be fought down, like the notorious ape and tiger. But he thought that Gideon and Katherine Varick had less of it than any one else he knew; the mediocre was repellent to them; cant and sentiment made them sick; they made a fetish of hard truth, and so much despised most of their neighbours that they would not experience the temptation to grab at popularity. In fact, they would dislike it if it came.
Socialist Cecily came out while they were at Lyme Regis. Mrs. Potter sent the twins a copy. In their detached way, the twins read it, and gave it to the others to look at.
'Very typical stuff,' Gideon summed it up, after a glance. 'It will no doubt have an excellent sale.... It must be interesting for you to watch it being turned out. I wish you would ask me to stay with you some time. Yours must be an even more instructive household than mine.'
Gideon was a Russian Jew on his father's side, and a Harrovian. He had no decency and no manners. He made Juke, who was an Englishman and an Etonian, and had more of both, uncomfortable sometimes. For, after all, the rudiments of family loyalty might as well be kept, among the general destruction which he, more sanguinely than Gideon, hoped for.
But the twins did not bother. Jane said, in her equable way, 'You'll be bored to death; angry, too; but come if you like.... We've a sister, more Potterish than the parents. She'll hate you.'
Gideon said, 'I expect so,' and they left his prospective visit at that, with Jane chuckling quietly at her private vision of Gideon and Clare in juxtaposition.
But Socialist Cecily did not have a good sale after all. It was guillotined, with many of its betters, by the European war, which began while the Anti-Potters were at Swanage, a place replete with Potterism. Potterism, however, as a subject for investigation, had by this time given place to international diplomacy, that still more intriguing study. The Anti-Potters abused every government concerned, and Gideon said, on August 1st, 'We shall be fools if we don't come in.'
Juke was still dubious. He was a good Radical, and good Radicals were dubious on this point until the invasion of Belgium.
'To throw back the world a hundred years....'
Gideon shrugged his shoulders. He belonged to no political party, and had the shrewd, far-seeing eyes of his father's race.
'It's going to be thrown back anyhow. Germany will see to that. And if we keep out of it, Germany will grab Europe. We've got to come in, if we can get a decent pretext.'
The decent pretext came in due course, and Gideon said, 'So that's that.'
He added to the Potters, 'For once I am in agreement with your father's press. We should be lunatics to stand out of this damnable mess.'
Juke also was now, painful to him though it was to be so, in agreement with the Potter press. To him the war had become a crusade, a fight for decency against savagery.
'It's that,' said Gideon. 'But that's not all. This isn't a show any country can afford to stand out of. It's Germany against Europe, and if Europe doesn't look sharp, Germany's going to win. Germany. Nearly as bad as Russia.... One would have to emigrate to another hemisphere.... No, we've got to win this racket.... But, oh, Lord, what a mess!' He fell to biting his nails, savage and silent.
Jane thought all the time, beneath her other thoughts about it, 'To have a war, just when life was beginning and going to be such fun.'
Beneath her public thoughts about the situation, she felt this deep private disgust gnawing always, as of one defrauded.
They did not know then about people in general going to the war. They thought it was just for the army and navy, not for ordinary people. That idea came a little later, after the Anti-Potter party had broken up and gone home.
The young men began to enlist and get commissions. It was done; it was the correct idea. Johnny Potter, who belonged to an O.T.C., got a commission early.
Jane said within herself, 'Johnny can go and I can't.' She knew she was badly, incredibly left. Johnny was in the movement, doing the thing that mattered. Further, Johnny might ultimately be killed in doing it; her Johnny. Everything else shrank and was little. What were books? What was anything? Jane wanted to fight in the war. The war was damnable, but it was worse to be out of it. One was such an utter outsider. It wasn't fair. She could fight as well as Johnny could. Jane went about white and sullen, with her world tumbling into bits about her.
Mr. Potter said in the press, and Mrs. Potter in the home, 'The people of England have a great opportunity before them. We must all try to rise to it'—as if the people of England were fishes and the opportunity a fly.
Opportunity, thought Jane. Where is it? I see none. It was precisely opportunity which the war had put an end to.
'The women of England must now prove that they are worthy of their men,' said the Potter press.
'I dare say,' thought Jane. Knitting socks and packing stores and learning first aid. Who wanted to do things like that, when their brothers had a chance to go and fight in France? Men wouldn't stand it, if it was the other way round. Why should women always get the dull jobs? It was because they bore them cheerfully; because they didn't really, for the most part, mind, Jane decided, watching the attitude of her mother and Clare. The twins, profoundly selfish, but loving adventure and placidly untroubled by nerves or the prospect of physical danger, saw no hardship in active service. (This was before the first winter and the development of trench warfare, and people pictured to themselves skirmishes in the open, exposed to missiles, but at least keeping warm).
Every one one knew was going. Johnny said to Jane, 'War is beastly, but one's got to be in it.' He took that line, as so many others did. 'Juke's going,' he said. 'As a combatant, I mean, not a padre. He thinks the war could have been prevented with a little intelligence; so it could, I dare say; but as there wasn't a little intelligence and it wasn't prevented, he's going in. He says it will be useful experience for him—help him in his profession; he doesn't believe in parsons standing outside things and only doing soft jobs. I agree with him. Every one ought to go.'
'Every one can't,' said Jane morosely.
But to Johnny every one meant all young men, and he took no heed.
Gideon went. It might, he said to Juke, be a capitalists' war or any one else's; the important thing was not whose war it was but who was going to win it.
He added, 'Great Britain is, on this occasion, on the right side. There's no manner of doubt about it. But even if she wasn't, it's important for all her inhabitants that she should be on the winning side.... Oh, she will be, no doubt, we've the advantage in numbers and wealth, if not in military organisation or talent.... If only the Potterites wouldn't jabber so. It's a unique opportunity for them, and they're taking it. What makes me angriest is the reasons they vamp up why we're fighting. For the sake of democracy, they say. Democracy be hanged. It's a rotten system, anyhow, and how this war is going to do anything for it I don't know. If I thought it was, I wouldn't join. But there's no fear. And other people say we're fighting "so that our children won't have to." Rot again. Every war makes other wars more likely. Why can't people say simply that the reason why we're fighting is partly to uphold decent international principles, and mainly to win the war—to be a conquering nation, not a conquered one, and to save ourselves from having an ill-conditioned people like the Germans strutting all over us. It's a very laudable object, and needs no camouflage. Sheer Potterism, all this cant and posturing. I'd rather say, like the Daily Mail, that we're fighting to capture the Hun's trade; that's a lie, but at least it isn't cant.'
'Let them talk,' said Juke lazily. 'Let them jabber and cant. What does it matter? We're in this thing up to the neck, and every one's got to relieve themselves in their own way. As long as we get the job done somehow, a little nonsense-talk more or less won't make much difference to this mighty Empire, which has always indulged in plenty. It's the rash coming out; good for the system.'
So, each individual in his own way, the nation entered into the worst period of time of which Europe has so far had experience, and on which I do not propose to dwell in these pages except in its aspect of a source of profit to those who sought profit; its more cheerful aspect, in fact.
Mrs. Potter put away the writing of fiction, as unsuitable in these dark days. (It may be remembered that there was a period at the beginning of the war when it was erroneously supposed that fiction would not sell until peace returned). Mrs. Potter, like many other writers, took up Y.M.C.A. canteen work, and went for a time to France. There she wrote Out There, an account of the work of herself and her colleagues in Rouen, full of the inimitable wit and indomitable courage of soldiers, the untiring activities of canteen workers, and the affectionate good-fellowship which existed between these two classes. The world was thus shown that Leila Yorke was no mere flaneuse of letters, but an Englishwoman who rose to her country's call and was worthy of her men-folk.
Clare became a V.A.D., and went up to town every day to work at an officers' hospital. It was a hospital maintained partly by Mr. Potter, and she got on very well there. She made many pleasant friends, and hoped to get out to France later.
Frank tried for a chaplaincy.
'It isn't a bit that he wants excitement, or change of air, or a free trip to France, or to feel grand, like some of them do,' explained Mrs. Frank. 'Only, what's the good of keeping a man like him slaving away in a rotten parish like ours, when they want good men out there? I tell Frank all he's got to do to get round the C.G. is to grow a moustache and learn up the correct answers to a few questions—like "What would you do if you had to attend a dying soldier?" Answer—"Offer to write home for him." A lot of parsons don't know that, and go telling the C.G. they'd give him communion, or hear his confession or something, and that knocks them out first round. Frank knows better. There are no flies on old Frank. All the same, pater, you might do a little private wire-pulling for him, if it comes in handy.'
But, unfortunately, owing to a recent though quite temporary coldness between the Chaplain-General and the Potter press, Mr. Potter's wire-pulling was ineffectual. The Chaplain-General did not entertain Frank's offer favourably, and regretted that his appointment as chaplain to His Majesty's forces was at present impracticable. So Frank went on in Pimlico, and was cynical and bitter about those clergymen who succeeded in passing the C.G.'s tests.
'Why don't you join up as a combatant?' Johnny asked him, seeing his discontent. 'Some parsons do.'
'The bishops have forbidden it,' said Frank.
'Oh, well, I suppose so. Does it matter particularly?'
'My dear Johnny, there is discipline in the Church as well as in the army, you know. You might as well ask would it matter if you were to disobey your superior officers.'
'Well, you see, I'd have something happen to me if I did. Parsons don't. You'd only be reprimanded, I suppose, and get into a berth all right when you came back—if you did come back.'
'That's got nothing to do with it. The Church would never hold together if her officers were to break the rules whenever they felt like it. That friend of yours, Juke, hasn't a leg to stand on; he's merely in revolt.'
'Oh, old Juke always is, of course. Against every kind of authority, but particularly against bishops. He's always got his knife into them, and I dare say he's glad of the chance of flouting them. High Church parsons are, aren't they? I expect if you were a bit higher you'd flout them too. And if you were a bit lower, the C.G.'d take you as a padre. You're just the wrong height, old thing, that's what's the matter.'
Thus Johnny, now a stocky lieutenant on leave from France, diagnosed his brother's case. Wrongly, because High Church parsons weren't actually enlisting any more than any other kind; they did not, mostly, believe it to be their business; quite sincerely and honestly they thought it would be wrong for them, though right for laymen, to undertake combatant service.
Anyhow, as to height, Frank knew himself to be of a height acceptable in benefices, and that was something. Besides, it was his own height.
'Sorry I can't change to oblige you, old man,' he said. 'Or desert my post and pretend to be a layman. I am a man under authority, like you. I wish the powers that be would send me out there, but it's for them to judge, and if they think I should be of less use as a padre than all the Toms, Dicks, and Harrys they are sending, it's not for me to protest. They may be right. I may be absolutely useless as a chaplain. On the other hand, I may not. They apparently don't intend to give themselves a chance of finding out. Very well. It's nothing to me, either way.'
'Oh, that's all right then,' Johnny said.
No one could say that the Potter press did not rise to the great opportunity. The press seldom fails to do this. The Potter press surpassed itself; it nearly surpassed its great rival presses. With energy and whole-heartedness it cheered, comforted, and stimulated the people. It never failed to say how well the Allies were getting on, how much ammunition they had, how many men, what indomitable tenacity and cheerful spirits enlivened the trenches. The correspondents it employed wrote home rejoicing; its leading articles were noble hymns of praise. In times of darkness and travail one cannot but be glad of such a press as this. So glad were the Government of it that Mr. Potter became, at the end of 1916, Lord Pinkerton, and his press the Pinkerton press. Of course, that was not the only reward he obtained for his services; he figured every new year in the honours' list, and collected in succession most of the letters of the alphabet after his name. With it all, he remained the same alert, bird-like, inconspicuous person, with the same unswerving belief in his own methods and his own destinies, a belief which never passed from self-confidence to self-importance. Unless you were so determined a hater of Potterism as to be blindly prejudiced, you could not help liking Lord Pinkerton.
Jane, sulking because she could not fight, thought for a short time that she would nurse, and get abroad that way. Then it became obvious that too many fools were scrambling to get sent abroad, and anyhow, that, if Clare was nursing, it must be a mug's game, and that there must be a better field for her own energies elsewhere. With so many men going, there would be empty places to fill.... That thought came, perhaps, as soon to Jane as to any one in the country.
Her father's lady secretary went nursing, and Lord Pinkerton, well aware of his younger daughter's clearheaded competence, offered Jane the job, at a larger salary.
'Your shorthand would soon come back if you took it up,' he told her. For he had had all his children taught shorthand at a young age; in his view it was one of the essentials of education; he had learned it himself at the age of thirteen, and insulted his superior young gentlemen private secretaries by asking them if they knew it. Jane and Johnny, who had been in early youth very proficient at it, had, since they were old enough to know it was a sort of low commercial cunning, the accomplishment of the slave, hidden their knowledge away like a vice. When concealed from observation and pressed for time, they had furtively taken down lecture notes in it at Oxford, but always with a consciousness of guilt.
Jane had declined the secretaryship. She did not mean to be that sort of low secretary that takes down letters, she did not mean to work for the Potter press, and she thought it would be needlessly dull to work for her father. She said, 'No, thank you, dad. I'm thinking of the Civil Service.'
That was early in 1915, when women had only just begun to think of, or be thought of, by the Civil Service. Jane did not think of it with enthusiasm; she wanted to be a journalist and to write; but it would do for the time, and would probably be amusing. So, owing to the helpful influence of Mr. Potter, and a good degree, Jane obtained a quite good post at the Admiralty, which she had to swear never to mention, and went into rooms in a square off Fleet Street with Katherine Varick, who had a research fellowship in chemistry and worked in a laboratory in Farringdon Street.
The Admiralty was all right. It was interesting as such jobs go, and Jane, who was clear-headed, did it well. She got to know a few men and women who, she considered, were worth knowing, though, in technical departments such as the Admiralty, the men were apt to be superior to the women; the women Jane met there were mostly non-University lower-grade clerks, and so forth, nice, cheery young things, but rather stupid, who thought it jolly for Jane to be connected with Leila Yorke and the Potter press, and were scarcely worth undeceiving. And naval officers, though charming, were apt to be a little elementary, Jane discovered, in their general outlook.
However, the job was all right; not a bad plum to have picked out of the hash, on the whole. And the life was all right. The rooms were jolly (only the new geyser exploded too often), and Katherine Varick, though she made stinks in the evenings, not bad to live with, and money not too scarce, as money goes, and theatres and dinners frequent. Doing one's bit, putting one's shoulder to the wheel, proving the mettle of the women of England, certainly had its agreeable side.
In intervals of office work and social life, Jane was writing odds and ends, and planning the books she meant to write after the war. She hadn't settled her line yet. Articles on social and industrial questions for the papers, she hoped, for one thing; she had plenty to say on this head. Short stories. Poems. Then, perhaps, a novel.... About the nature of the novel Jane was undecided, except that it would be more unlike the novels of Leila Yorke than any novels had ever been before. Perhaps a sarcastic, rather cynical novel about human nature, of which Jane did not think much. Perhaps a serious novel, dealing with social or political conditions. Perhaps an impressionist novel, like Dorothy Richardson's. Only they were getting common; they were too easy. One could hardly help writing like that, unless one tried not to, if one had lately read any of them.
Most contemporary novels Jane found very bad, not worth writing. Those solemn and childish novels about public schools, for instance, written by young men. Jane wondered what a novel about Roedean or Wycombe Abbey would be like. The queer thing was that some young woman didn't write one; it need be no duller than the young men's. Rather duller, perhaps, because schoolgirls were more childish than schoolboys, the problems of their upbringing less portentous. But there were many of the same ingredients—the exaltation of games, hero-worship, rows, the clever new literary mistress who made all the stick-in-the-mud other mistresses angry.... Only were the other mistresses at girls' schools stick-in-the-mud? No, Jane thought not; quite a decent modern set, on the whole, for people of their age. Better than schoolmasters, they must be.
How dull it all was! Some woman ought to do it, but not Jane.
Jane was inclined, in her present phase, to think the Russians and the French the only novelists. They had manner and method. But they were both too limited in their field, too much concerned with sexual relations, that most tedious of topics (in literature, not life), the very thought of which made one yawn. Queer thing, how novelists couldn't leave it alone. It was, surely, like eating and drinking, a natural element in life, which few avoid; but the most exciting, jolly, interesting, entertaining things were apart from it. Not that Jane was not quite willing to accept with approval, as part of the game of living, such episodes in this field as came her way; but she could not regard them as important. As to marriage, it was merely dowdy. Domesticity; babies; servants; the companionship of one man. The sort of thing Clare would go in for, no doubt. Not for Jane, before whom the world lay, an oyster asking to be opened.
She saw herself a journalist; a reporter, perhaps: (only the stories women were sent out on were usually dull), a special correspondent, a free-lance contributor, a leader writer, eventually an editor.... Then she could initiate a policy, say what she thought, stand up against the Potter press.
Or one might be a public speaker, and get into Parliament later on, when women were admitted. One despised Parliament, but it might be fun.
Not a permanent Civil Servant; one could not work for this ludicrous government more than temporarily, to tide over the Great Interruption.
So Jane looked with calm, weighing, critical eyes at life and its chances, and saw that they were not bad, for such as her. Unless, of course, the Allies were beaten.... This contingency seemed often possible, even probable. Jane's faith in the ultimate winning power of numbers and wealth was at times shaken, not by the blunders of governments or the defection of valuable allies, but by the unwavering optimism of her parent's press.
'But,' said Katherine Varick, 'it's usually right, your papa's press. That's the queer thing about it. It sounds always wildly wrong, like an absurd fairy story, and all the sane, intelligent people laugh at it, and then it turns out to have been right. Look at the way it used to say that Germany was planning war; it was mostly the stupid people who believed it, and the intelligent people who didn't; but all the time Germany was.'
'Partly because people like daddy kept saying so, and planning to get in first.'
'Not much. Germany was really planning: we were only talking.... I believe in the Pinkerton press, and the other absurd presses. They have the unthinking rightness of the fool. Of course they have. Because the happenings of the world are caused by people—the mass of people—and the Pinkerton press knows them and represents them. Intellectual people are always thinking above the heads of the people who make movements, so they're nearly always out. The Pinkerton press is the people, so it gets there every time. Potterism will outlive all the reformers and idealists. If Potterism says we're going to have a war, we have it; if it says we're going to win a war, we shall win it. "If you see it in John Bull, it is so."'
It was not often that Katherine spoke of Potterism, but when she did it was with conviction.
Gideon was home, wounded. He had nearly died, but not quite. He had lost his right foot, and would have another when the time was ripe. He was discharged, and became, later on, assistant editor of a new weekly paper that was started.
He dined with Jane and Katherine at their flat, soon after he could get about. He was leaner than ever, white and gaunt, and often ill-tempered from pain. Johnny was there too, a major on leave, stuck over with coloured ribbons. Jane called him a pot-hunter.
They laughed and talked and joked and dined. When Gideon and Johnny had gone, and Katherine and Jane were left smoking last cigarettes and finishing the chocolates, Jane said, lazily, and without chagrin, 'How Arthur does hate us all, in these days.'
Katherine said, 'True. He finds us profiteers.'
'So we are,' said Jane. 'Not you, but most of us. I am.... You're one of the few people he respects. Some day, perhaps, you'll have to marry him, and cure him of biting his nails when he's cross.... He thinks Johnny's a profiteer, too, because of the ribbons and things. Johnny is. It's in the blood. We're grabbers. Can't be helped.... Do you want the last walnut chocolate, old thing? If so, you're too late.'
JANE AND CLARE
In the autumn of 1918, Jane, when she went home for week-ends, frequently found one Oliver Hobart there. Oliver Hobart was the new editor of Lord Pinkerton's chief daily paper, and had been exempted from military service as newspaper staff. He was a Canadian; he had been educated at McGill University, admired Lord Pinkerton, his press, and the British Empire, and despised (in this order) the Quebec French, the Roman Catholic Church, newspapers which did not succeed, Little Englanders, and Lord Lansdowne.
'A really beautiful face,' said Lady Pinkerton, and so he had. Jane had seen it, from time to time during the last year, when she had called to see her father in the office of the Daily Haste.
One hot Saturday afternoon in August, 1918, she found him having tea with her family, in the shadow of the biggest elm. Jane looked at them in her detached way; Lord Pinkerton, neat and little, his white-spatted feet crossed, his head cocked to one side, like an intelligent sparrow's; Lady Pinkerton, tall and fair and powdered, in a lilac silk dress, her large white hands all over rings, amethysts swinging from her ears; Clare (who had given up nursing owing to the strain, and was having a rest), slim and rather graceful, a little flushed from the heat, lying in a deck chair and swinging a buckled shoe, saying something ordinary and Clare-ish; Hobart sitting by her, a pale, Gibson young man, with his smooth fair hair brushed back, and lavender socks with purple clocks, and a clear, firm jaw. He was listening to Clare with a smile. You could not help liking him; his was the sort of beauty which, when found in either man or woman, makes so strong an appeal to the senses of the sex other than that of the possessor that reason is all but swamped. Besides, as Lord Pinkerton said, Hobart was a dear, nice fellow.
He was at Sherards for that week-end because Lord Pinkerton was just making him editor of the Daily Haste. Before that, he had been on the staff, a departmental editor, and a leader-writer. ('Mr. Hobart will go far,' said Lady Pinkerton sometimes, when she read the leaders. 'I hope, on the contrary,' said Lord Pinkerton, 'that he will stay where he is. It is precisely the right spot. That was the trouble with Carruthers; he went too far. So he had to go altogether.' He gave his thin little snigger).
Anyhow, here was Hobart, this Saturday afternoon, having tea in the garden. Jane saw him through the mellow golden sweetness of shadow and light.
'Here is Jane,' said Lady Pinkerton.
Jane's dark hair fell in damp waves over her hot, square, white forehead; her blue cotton dress was crumpled and limp. How neat, how cool, was this Hobart! Could a man have a Gibson face like that, like a young man on the cover of an illustrated magazine, and not be a ninny? Did he take the Pinkerton press seriously, or did he laugh? Both, probably, like most journalists. He wouldn't laugh to Lord Pinkerton, or to Lady Pinkerton, or to Clare. But he might laugh to Jane, when she showed him he might. Jane, eating jam sandwiches, looking like a chubby school child, with her round face and wide eyes and bobbed hair and cotton frock, watched the beautiful young man with her solemn unwinking stare that disconcerted self-conscious people, while Lady Pinkerton talked to him about some recent fiction.
On Sunday, people came over to lunch, and they played tennis. Clare and Hobart played together. 'Oh, well up, partner,' Jane could hear him say, all the time. Or else it was 'Well tried. Too bad.' Clare's happy eyes shone, brown and clear in her flushed face, like agates. Rather a pretty thing, Clare, if dull.
The Franks were there, too.
'Old Clare having a good time,' said Mrs. Frank to Jane, during a set they weren't playing in. Her merry dark eyes snapped. Instinctively, she usually said something to disparage the good time of other girls. This time it was, 'That Hobart thinks he's doing himself a good turn with pater, making up to Clare like that. Oh, he's a cunning fellow. Isn't he handsome, Jane? I hate these handsome fellows, they always know it so well. Nothing in his face really, if you come to look, is there? I'd rather have old Frank's, even if he does look like a half-starved bird.'
Jane was calmly rude to Hobart, showing him she despised his paper, and him for editing it. She let him see it all, and he was imperturbably, courteously amused, and, in turn, showed that he despised her for belonging to the 1917 Club.
'You don't,' he said, turning to Clare.
'Gracious, no. I don't belong to a club at all. I go with mother to the Writers' sometimes, though; that's not bad fun. Mother often speaks there, you know, and I go and hear. Jolly good she is, too. She read a ripping paper last week on the "Modern Heroine."'
Jane's considering eyes weighed Hobart, whose courtesy was still impregnable. How far was he the complete Potterite, identified with his absurd press? Did he even appreciate Leila Yorke? She would have liked to know. But, it seemed, she was not to know from him.
The Armistice came.
Then the thing was to get to Paris somehow. Jane had, unusually, not played her cards well. She had neglected the prospect of peace, which, after all, must come. When she had, in May, at last taken thought for the morrow, and applied at the Foreign Office for one of those secret jobs which could not be mentioned because they prepared the doers to play their parts after the great unmentionable event, she was too late. The Foreign Office said they could not take over people from other government departments.
So, when the unmentionable took place, Jane was badly left. The Foreign Office Library Department people, many of them Jane's contemporaries at Oxford and Cambridge, were hurried across the Channel into Life, for which they had been prepared by a course of lectures on the Dangers of Paris. There also went the confidential secretaries, the clerks and shorthand typists, in their hundreds; degreeless, brainless beings, but wise in their generation.
'I wish I was a shorthand typist,' Jane grumbled, brooding with Katherine over their fire.
'Paris,' Katherine turned over the delightful word consideringly, finding it wanting. 'The last place in the world I should choose to be in just now. Fuss and foolishness. Greed and grabbing. The centre of the lunacies and crimes of the next six months. Politicians assembled together.... It's infinitely common to go there. All the vulgarest people.... You'd be more select at Southend or Blackpool.'
'History is being made there,' said Jane, quoting from her father's press.
'Thank you; I'd rather go to Birmingham and make something clean and useful, like glass.'
But Jane wanted to make history in Paris. She felt out of it, left, as she had felt when other people went to the war and she stayed at home.
On a yellow, foggy day just before Christmas, Lord Pinkerton, with whom Jane was lunching at his club (Lord Pinkerton was quite good to lunch with; you got a splendid feed for nothing), said, 'I shall be going over to Paris next month, Babs.' (That was what he called her). 'D'you want to come?'
'Well, I should say so. Don't rub it in, dad.'
Lord Pinkerton looked at her, with his whimsical, affectionate paternity.
'You can come if you like, Babs. I want another secretary. Must have one. If you'll do some of the shorthand typing and filing, you can come along. How about it?'
Jane thought for exactly thirty seconds, weighing the shorthand typing against Paris and the Majestic and Life. Life had it, as usual.
'Right-o, daddy. I'll come along. When do we go over?'
That afternoon Jane gave notice to her department, and in the middle of January Lord Pinkerton and his bodyguard of secretaries and assistants went to Paris.
That was Life. Trousseaux, concerts, jazzing, dinners, marble bathrooms, notorious persons as thick as thieves in corridors and on the stairs, dangers of Paris surging outside, disappointed journalists besieging proud politicians in vain, the Council of Four sitting in perfect harmony behind thick curtains, Signor Orlando refusing to play, but finding they went on playing without him and coming back, Jugo-Slavs walking about under the aegis of Mr. Wickham Steed, smiling sweetly and triumphantly at the Italians, going to the theatre and coming out because the jokes seemed to them dubious, Sir George Riddell and Mr. G.H. Mair desperately controlling the press, Lord Pinkerton flying to and fro, across the Channel and back again, while his bodyguard remained in Paris. There also flew to and fro Oliver Hobart, the editor of the Daily Haste. He would drop in on Jane, sitting in her father's outer office, card-indexing, opening and entering letters, and what not.
'Good-morning, Miss Potter. Lord Pinkerton in the office this morning?'
'He's in the building somewhere. Talking to Sir George, I think.... Did you fly this time?'
Whether he had flown or whether he had come by train and boat, he always looked the same, calm, unruffled, tidy, the exquisite nut.
'Pretty busy?' he would say, with his half-indulgent smile at the round-faced, lazy, drawling child who was so self-possessed, sometimes so impudent, often so sarcastic, always so amusingly different from her slim, pretty and girlish elder sister.
'Pretty well,' Jane would reply. 'I don't overwork, though.'
'I don't believe you do,' Hobart said, looking down at her amusedly.
'Father does, though. That's why he's thin and I'm fat. What's the use? It makes no difference.'
'You're getting reconciled, then,' said Hobart, 'to working for the Pinkerton press?'
Jane secretly approved his discernment. But all she said was, with her cool lack of stress, 'It's not so bad.'
Usually when Hobart was in Paris he would dine with them.
Lady Pinkerton and Clare came over for a week. They stayed in rooms, in the Avenue de l'Opera. They visited shops, theatres, and friends, and Lady Pinkerton began a novel about Paris life. Clare had been run down and low-spirited, and the doctor had suggested a change of scene. Hobart was in Paris for the week-end; he dined with the Pinkertons and went to the theatre with them. But on Monday he had to go back to London.
On Monday morning Clare came to her father's office, and found Jane taking down letters from Lord Pinkerton's private secretary, a young man who had been exempted from military service through the war on the grounds that he was Lord Pinkerton's right hand.
Clare sat and waited, and looked round the room for violets, while this young gentleman dictated. His letters were better worded than Lord Pinkerton's, because he was better at the English language. Lord Pinkerton would fall into commercialisms; he would say 're' and 'same' and 'to hand,' and even sometimes 'your favour of the 16th.' His secretary knew that that was not the way in which a great newspaper chief should write. Himself he dictated quite a good letter, but annoyed Jane by putting in the punctuation, as if she was an imbecile. Thus he was saying now, pacing up and down the room, plunged in thought:—
'Lord Pinkerton is not comma however comma averse to' (Jane wrote 'from') 'entertaining your suggestions comma and will be glad if you can make it convenient to call to-morrow bracket Tuesday close the bracket afternoon comma between three and five stop.'
He could not help it; one must make allowances for those who dictate. But Clare saw Jane's teeth release her clenched tongue to permit it to form silently the word 'Ninny.'
The private secretary retired into his chief's inner sanctum.
'Morning, old thing,' said Jane to Clare, uncovering her typewriter without haste and yawning, because she had been up late last night.
'Morning,' Clare yawned too. She was warm and pretty, in a spring costume, with a big bunch of sweet violets at her waist. She touched these.
'Aren't they top-hole. Mr. Hobart left them this morning before he went. Jolly decent of him to think of it, getting off in a hurry like he was.... He's not a bad young thing, do you think.'
'Not so bad.' Jane extracted carbons from a drawer and fitted them to her paper. Then she stretched, like a cat.
'Oh, I'm sleepy.... Don't feel like work to-day. For two pins I'd cut it and go out with you and mother. The sun's shining, isn't it?'
Clare stood by the window, and swung the blind-tassel. They had five days of Paris before them, and Paris suddenly seemed empty....
'We're going to have a topping week,' she said.
Then Lord Pinkerton came in.
'Hobart gone?' he asked Jane.
'Majendie in my room?'
Lord Pinkerton patted Clare's shoulder as he passed her.
'Send Miss Hope in to me when she comes, Babs,' he said, and disappeared through the farther door.
Jane began to type. It bored her, but she was fairly proficient at it. Her childhood's training stood her in good stead.
'Mr. Hobart must have run his train pretty fine, if he came in here on the way,' said Clare, twirling the blind-tassel.
'He wasn't going till twelve,' said Jane, typing.
'Oh, I see. I thought it was ten.... I suppose he found he couldn't get that one, and had to see dad first. What a bore for him.... Well, I'm off to meet mother. See you this evening, I suppose.'
Clare went out into Paris and the March sunshine, whistling softly.
That night she lay awake in her big bed, as she had lain last night. She lay tense and still, and stared at the great gas globe that looked in through the open window from the street. Her brain formed phrases and pictures.
'That day on the river.... Those Sundays.... That lunch at the Florence.... "What attractive shoes those are."... My gray suedes, I had.... "I love these Sunday afternoons."... "You're one of the few girls who are jolly to watch when they run."... "Just you and me; wouldn't it be rather nice? I should like it, anyhow."... He kept looking.... Whenever I looked up he was looking.... his eyes awfully blue, with black edges to them.... Peggy said he blacked them.... Peggy was jealous because he never looked at her.... I'm jealous now because ... No, I'm not, why should I be? He doesn't like fat girls, he said.... He watches her.... He looks at her when there's a joke.... He bought me violets, but he went to see her.... He keeps coming over to Paris.... I never see him.... I don't get a chance.... He cared, he did care.... He's forgetting because I don't get a chance.... She's stealing him.... She was always a selfish little cad, grabbing, and not really caring. She can't care as I do, she's not made that way.... She cares for nothing but herself.... She gets everything, just by sitting still and not bothering.... College makes girls awful.... Peggy says men don't like them, but they do. They seem not to care about men, but they care just the same. They don't bother, but they get what they want.... Pig.... Oh, I can't bear it. Why should I?... I love him, I love him, I love him.... Oh, I must go to sleep. I shall go mad if I have another night like last night.'
Clare got out of bed, stumbled to the washstand, splashed her burning head and face with cold water, then lay shivering.
It may or may not be true that the power to love is to be found in the human being in inverse ratio to the power to think. Probably it is not; these generalisations seldom are. Anyhow, Clare, like many others, could not understand, but loved.
Lady Pinkerton said to her lord next day, 'How much longer will the peace take being made, Percy?'
'My dear, I can't tell you. Even I don't know everything. There are many little difficulties, which have to be smoothed down. Allies stand in a curious and not altogether easy relation to one another.'
'Italy, of course....'
'And not only Italy, dearest.'
'Of course, China is being very tiresome.'
'Ah, if it were only China!'
Lady Pinkerton sighed.
'Well, it is all very sad. I do hope, Percy, that after this war we English will never again forget that we hate all foreigners.'
'I hope not, my dear. I am afraid before the war I was largely responsible for encouraging these fraternisations and discriminations. A mistake, no doubt. But one which did credit to our hearts. One must always remember about a great people like ourselves that the heart leads.'
'Thank God for that,' said Leila Yorke, illogically. Then Lady Pinkerton added, 'But this peace takes too long.... I suppose a lasting and righteous peace must ... Shall you have to be running to and fro like this till it's signed, dear?'
'To and fro, yes. I must keep an office going here.'
'Jane is enjoying it,' said Lady Pinkerton. 'She sees a lot of Oliver Hobart, I suppose, doesn't she?'
'He's in and out, of course. He and the child get on better than they used to.'
'There is no doubt about that,' said Lady Pinkerton. 'If you don't know it, Percy, I had better tell you. Men never see these things. He is falling in love with her.'
Lord Pinkerton fidgeted about the room.
'Rilly. Rilly. Very amusing. You used to think it was Clare, dearest.'
He cocked his head at her accusingly, convicting her of being a woman of fancies.
'Oh, you dear novelists!' he said, and shook a finger at her.
'Nonsense, Percy. It is perfectly obvious. He used to be attracted by Clare, and now he is attracted by Jane. Very strange: such different types. But life is strange, and particularly love. Oh, I don't say it's love yet, but it's a strong attraction, and may easily lead to it. The question is, are we to let it go on, or shall we head him back to Clare, who has begun to care, I am afraid, poor child?'
'Certainly head him back if you like and can, darling. I don't suppose Babs wants him, anyhow.'
'That is just it. If Jane did, I shouldn't interfere. Her happiness is as dear to me as Clare's, naturally. But Jane is not susceptible; she has a colder temperament; and she is often quite rude to Oliver Hobart. Look how different their views about everything are. He and Clare agree much better.'
'Very well, mother. You're the doctor. I'll do my best not to throw them together when next Hobart comes over. But we must leave the children to settle their affairs for themselves. If he really wants fat little Babs we can't stop him trying for her.'
'Life is difficult,' Lady Pinkerton sighed. 'My poor little Clare is looking like a wilted flower.'
'Poor little girl. M'm yes. Poor little girl. Well, well, we'll see what can be done.... I'll see if I can take Janet home for a bit, perhaps—get her out of the way. She's very useful to me here, though. There are no flies on Jane. She's got the Potter wits all right.'
But Lady Pinkerton loved better Clare, who was like a flower, Clare, whom she had created, Clare, who might have come—if any girl could have come—out of a Leila Yorke novel.
'I shall say a word to Jane,' Lady Pinkerton decided. 'Just to sound her.'
But, after all, it was Jane who said the word. She said it that evening, in her cool, leisurely way.
'Oliver Hobart asked me to marry him yesterday morning. I wrote to-day to tell him I would.'
I append now the personal records of various people concerned in this story. It seems the best way.
TOLD BY GIDEON
Nothing that I or anybody else did in the spring and summer of 1919 was of the slightest importance. It ought to have been a time for great enterprises and beginnings; but it emphatically wasn't. It was a queer, inconclusive, lazy, muddled, reckless, unsatisfactory, rather ludicrous time. It seemed as if the world was suffering from vertigo. I have seen men who have been badly hit spinning round and round madly, like dancing dervishes. That was, I think, what we were all doing for some time after the war—spinning round and round, silly and dazed, without purpose or power. At least the only purpose in evidence was the fierce quest of enjoyment, and the only power that of successfully shirking facts. We were like bankrupts, who cannot summon energy to begin life and work again in earnest. And we were represented by the most comic parliament that ever sat in Westminster, upon which it would be too painful here to expatiate.
One didn't know what had happened, or what was happening, or what was going to happen. We had won the war. But what was that going to mean? What were we going to get out of it? What did we want the new world to be? What did we want this country to be? Every one shouted a different answer. The December elections seemed to give one answer. But I don't think it was a true one. The public didn't really want the England of John Bull and Pemberton Billing; they showed that later.
A good many people, of course, wanted and want revolution and the International. I don't, and never did. I hate red-flaggery, and all other flaggery. The sentimentalism of Bob Smillie is as bad as the sentimentalism of the Pinkerton press; as untruthful, as greedy, as muddle-headed. Smillie's lot are out to get, and the Potterites out to keep. The under-dog is more excusable in its aims, but its methods aren't any more attractive. Juke can swallow it all. But Jukie has let his naturally clear head get muddled by a mediaeval form of religion. Religion is like love; it plays the devil with clear thinking. Juke pretended not to hate even Smillie's interview with the coal dukes. He applauded when Smillie quoted texts at them. Though I know, of course, that that sort of thing is mainly a pose on Juke's part, because it amuses him. Besides, one of the dukes was a cousin of his, who bored him, so of course he was pleased.
But those texts damned Smillie for ever in my eyes. He had those poor imbeciles at his mercy—and he gave his whole case away by quoting irrelevant remarks from ancient Hebrew writers. I wish I had had his chance for ten minutes; I would have taken it. But the Labour people are always giving themselves away with both hands to the enemy. I suppose facts have hit them too hard, and so they shrink away from them—pad them with sentiment, like uneducated women in villas. They all need—so do the women—a legal training, to make their minds hard and clear and sharp. So do journalists. Nearly the whole press is the same, dealing in emotions and stunts, unable to face facts squarely, in a calm spirit.
It seemed to some of us that spring that there was a chance for unsentimental journalism in a new paper, that should be unhampered by tradition. That was why the Weekly Fact (unofficially called the Anti-Potterite) was started. All the other papers had traditions; their past principles dictated their future policy. The Fact (except that it was up against Potterism) was untrammelled; it was to judge of each issue as it turned up, on its own merits, in the light of fact. That, of course, was in itself the very essence of anti-Potterism, which was incapable of judging or considering anything whatever, and whose only light was a feeble emotionalism The light of fact was to Potterites but a worse darkness.
The Fact wasn't to be labelled Liberal or Labour or Tory or Democratic or anti-Democratic or anything at all. All these things were to vary with the immediate occasions. I know it sounds like Lloyd George, but there were at least two very important differences between the Fact and the Prime Minister. One was that the Fact employed experts who always made a very thorough and scientific investigation of every subject it dealt with before it took up a line; it cared for the truth and nothing but the truth. The other was that the Fact took in nearly every case the less popular side, not, of course, because it was less popular (for to do that would have been one of the general principles of which we tried to steer clear), but it so happened that we came to the conclusion nearly always that the majority were wrong. The fact is that majorities nearly always are. The heart of the people may be usually in the right place (though, personally, I doubt this, for the heart of man is corrupt) but their head can, in most cases, be relied on to be in the wrong one. This is an important thing for statesmen to remember; forgetfulness of it has often led to disaster; ignorance of it has created Potterism as an official faith.
Anyhow, the Fact (again unlike the Prime Minister) could afford to ignore the charges of flightiness and irresponsibility which, of course, were flung at it. It could afford to ignore them because of the good and solid excellence of its contents, and the reputations of many of its contributors. And that, of course, was due to the fact that it had plenty of money behind it. A great many people know who backs the Fact, but, all the same, I cannot, of course, give away this information to the public. I will only say that it started with such a good financial backing that it was able to afford the best work, able even to afford the truth. Most of the good weeklies, certainly, speak the truth as they see it; they are, in fact, a very creditable section of our press; but the idea of the Fact was to be absolutely unbiased on each issue that turned up by anything it had ever thought before. Of course, you may say that a man will be likely, when a case comes before his eyes, to come to the same conclusion about it that he came to about a similar case not long before. But, as a matter of fact, it is surprising how some slight difference in the circumstances of a case may, if a man keeps an open mind, alter his whole judgment of it. The Fact was a scientific, not a sentimental paper. If our investigations led us into autocracy, we were to follow them there; if to a soviet state, still we were to follow them. And we might support autocracy in one state and soviets in another, if it seemed suitable. Again this sounds like some of our more notorious politicians—Carson, for instance; but the likeness is superficial.
We began in March. Peacock and I were the editors. We didn't, and don't, always agree. Peacock, for instance, believes in democracy. Peacock also accepts poetry; poetry about the war, by people like Johnny Potter. Every one knows that school of poetry by heart now; of course it was particularly fashionable immediately after the war. Johnny Potter did it much like other men. Any one can do it. One takes some dirty, horrible incident or sight of the battle-front and describes it in loathsome detail, and then, by way of contrast, describes some fat and incredibly bloodthirsty woman or middle-aged clubman at home, gloating over the glorious war. I always thought it a great bore, and sentimental at that. But it was the thing for a time, and people seemed to be impressed by it, and Peacock, who encouraged young men, often to their detriment, would take it for the Fact, though that sort of cheap and popular appeal to sentiment was the last thing the Fact was out for.
Johnny Potter, like other people, was merely exploiting his experiences. Johnny would. He's a nice chap, and a cleverish chap, in the shrewd, unimaginative Potter way—Jane's way, too—only she's a shade cleverer—but chiefly he's determined to get there somehow. That's Potter, again. And that's where Jane and Johnny amuse me. They're up against what we agreed to call Potterism—the Potterism, that is, of second-rate sentimentalism and cheap short-cuts and mediocrity; they stand for brain and clear thinking against muddle and cant; but they're fighting it with Potterite weapons—self-interest, following things for what they bring them rather than for the things in themselves. John would never write the particular kind of stuff he does for the love of writing it; he'll only do it because it's the stunt of the moment. That's why he'll never be more than cleverish and mediocre, never the real thing. In his calm, unexcited way, he worships success, and he'll get it, like old Pinkerton. Though of course he's met plenty of the bloodthirsty non-combatants he writes about, he takes most of what he says about them second-hand from other people. It's not first-hand observation. If it was, he would have to include among his jingoes and Hun-haters some fighting men too. I know it's entirely against popular convention to say so, but some of the most bloodthirsty fire-eaters I met during the war were among the fighting men. Of course there were plenty of them at home too, and plenty of peaceable and civilised people at the front, but it's the most absurd perversion of facts to make out that all our combatants were full of sweet reasonableness (any one who knows anything about the psychological effects of fighting will know that this is improbable), and all our non-combatants bloody-minded savages. Though I don't say there's nothing in the theory one heard that the natural war rage of non-combatants, not having the physical outlet the fighters had for theirs, became in some few of them a suppressed Freudian complex and made them a little insane. I don't know. Anyhow to say this became the stunt among a certain section, so it was probably as inaccurate as popular sayings usually are; as inaccurate as the picture drawn by another section—the Potter press section—of an army going rejoicing into the fight for right.
What one specially resented was the way the men who had been killed, poor devils, were exploited by the makers of speeches and the writers of articles. First, they'd perhaps be called 'the fallen,' instead of 'the killed' (it's a queer thing how 'fallen,' in the masculine means killed in the war, and the feminine given over to a particular kind of vice), and then the audience, or the readers, would be told that they died for democracy, or a cleaner world, when very likely many of them hated the first and never gave an hour's thought to the second. I could imagine their indignant presences in the Albert Hall at Gray's big League of Nations meeting in May, listening to Clynes's reasons why they died. I can hear dear old Peter Clancy on why he died. 'Democracy? A cleaner world? No. Why? I suppose I died because I inadvertently got in the way of some flying missile; I know no other reason. And I suppose I was there to get in its way because it's part of belonging to a nation to fight its battles when required—like paying its taxes or keeping its laws. Why go groping for far-fetched reason? Who wants democracy, any old way? And the world was good enough for me as it was, thank you. No, of course it isn't clean, and never will be; but no war is going to make it cleaner. It's not a way wars have. These talkers make me sick.'
If Clancy—the thousands of Clancys—could have been there, I think that is the sort of thing they would have been saying. Anyhow, personally, I certainly didn't lose my foot for democracy or for a cleaner world. I lost it in helping to win the war—a quite necessary thing in the circumstances.
But every one seemed, during and after the war, to want to prove that the fighters thought in the particular way they thought themselves; they seemed to think it immeasurably strengthened their case. Heaven only knows why, when the fighting men were just the men who hadn't time or leisure to think at all. They were, as the Potterites put it so truly, doing the job. The thinking, such as it was, was done by the people at home—the politicians, the clergy, the writers, the women, the men with 'A' certificates in Government offices; and precious poor thinking it was, too.