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The Bishop of Porthminster was sinking fast; they had sent for his four nephews, his two nieces and their one husband. It was not thought that he would last the night.
He who had been ‘Cuffs’ Cherrell (for so the name Charwell is pronounced) to his cronies at Harrow and Cambridge in the ‘sixties, the Reverend Cuthbert Cherrell in his two London parishes, Canon Cherrell in the days of his efflorescence as a preacher, and Cuthbert Porthminster for the last eighteen years, had never married. For eighty-two years he had lived and for fifty-five, having been ordained rather late, had represented God upon certain portions of the earth. This and the control of his normal instincts since the age of twenty-six had given to his face a repressed dignity which the approach of death did not disturb. He awaited it almost quizzically, judging from the twist of his eyebrow and the tone in which he said so faintly to his nurse:
“You will get a good sleep tomorrow, nurse. I shall be punctual, no robes to put on.”
The best wearer of robes in the whole episcopacy, the most distinguished in face and figure, maintaining to the end the dandyism which had procured him the nickname ‘Cuffs,’ lay quite still, his grey hair brushed and his face like ivory. He had been a bishop so long that no one knew now what he thought about death, or indeed about anything, except the prayer book, any change in which he had deprecated with determination. In one never remarkable for expressing his feelings the ceremony of life had overlaid the natural reticence, as embroidery and jewels will disguise the foundation stuff of vestment.
He lay in a room with mullion windows, an ascetic room in a sixteenth-century house, close to the Cathedral, whose scent of age was tempered but imperfectly by the September air coming in. Some zinnias in an old vase on the window-sill made the only splash of colour, and it was noticed by the nurse that his eyes scarcely left it, except to dose from time to time. About six o’clock they informed him that all the family of his long-dead elder brother had arrived.
“Ah! See that they are comfortable. I should like to see Adrian.”
When an hour later he opened his eyes again, they fell on his nephew Adrian seated at the foot of the bed. For some minutes he contemplated the lean and wrinkled brownness of a thin bearded face, topped with grizzling hair, with a sort of faint astonishment, as though finding his nephew older than he had expected. Then, with lifted eyebrows and the same just quizzical tone in his faint voice, he said:
“My dear Adrian! Good of you! Would you mind coming closer? Ah! I haven’t much strength, but what I have I wanted you to have the benefit of; or perhaps, as you may think, the reverse. I must speak to the point or not at all. You are not a Churchman, so what I have to say I will put in the words of a man of the world, which once I was myself, perhaps have always been. I have heard that you have an affection, or may I say infatuation, for a lady who is not in a position to marry you — is that so?”
The face of his nephew, kindly and wrinkled, was gentle with an expression of concern.
“It is, Uncle Cuthbert. I am sorry if it troubles you.”
“A mutual affection?”
His nephew shrugged.
“My dear Adrian, the world has changed in its judgments since my young days, but there is still a halo around marriage. That, however, is a matter for your conscience and is not my point. Give me a little water.”
When he had drunk from the glass held out, he went on more feebly:
“Since your father died I have been somewhat in loco parentis to you all, and the chief repository, I suppose, of such traditions as attach to our name. I wanted to say to you that our name goes back very far and very honourably. A certain inherited sense of duty is all that is left to old families now; what is sometimes excused to a young man is not excused to those of mature age and a certain position like your own. I should be sorry to be leaving this life knowing that our name was likely to be taken in vain by the Press, or bandied about. Forgive me for intruding on your privacy, and let me now say good-bye to you all. It will be less painful if you will give the others my blessing for what it is worth — very little, I’m afraid. Good-bye, my dear Adrian, good-bye!”
The voice dropped to a whisper. The speaker closed his eyes, and Adrian, after standing a minute looking down at the carved waxen face, stole, tall and a little stooping, to the door, opened it gently and was gone.
The nurse came back. The Bishop’s lips moved and his eyebrows twitched now and then, but he spoke only once:
“I shall be glad if you will kindly see that my neck is straight, and my teeth in place. Forgive these details, but I do not wish to offend the sight . . .”
Adrian went down to the long panelled room where the family was waiting.
“Sinking. He sent his blessing to you all.”
Sir Conway cleared his throat. Hilary pressed Adrian’s arm. Lionel went to the window. Emily Mont took out a tiny handkerchief and passed her other hand into Sir Lawrence’s. Wilmet alone spoke:
“How does he look, Adrian?”
“Like the ghost of a warrior on his shield.”
Again Sir Conway cleared his throat.
“Fine old boy!” said Sir Lawrence, softly.
“Ah!” said Adrian.
They remained, silently sitting and standing in the compulsory discomfort of a house where death is visiting. Tea was brought in, but, as if by tacit agreement, no one touched it. And, suddenly, the bell tolled. The seven in that room looked up. At one blank spot in the air their glances met and crossed, as though fixed on something there and yet not there.
A voice from the doorway said:
“Now please, if you wish to see him.”
Sir Conway, the eldest, followed the bishop’s chaplain; the others followed Sir Conway.
In his narrow bed jutting from the centre of the wall opposite the mullion windows the bishop lay, white and straight and narrow, with just the added dignity of death. He graced his last state even more than he had graced existence. None of those present, not even his chaplain, who made the eighth spectator, knew whether Cuthbert Porthminster had really had faith, except in that temporal dignity of the Church which he had so faithfully served. They looked at him now with all the different feelings death produces in varying temperaments, and with only one feeling in common, aesthetic pleasure at the sight of such memorable dignity,
Conway — General Sir Conway Cherrell — had seen much death. He stood with his hands crossed before him, as if once more at Sandhurst in the old-time attitude of ‘stand at ease.’ His face was thin-templed and ascetic, for a soldier’s; the darkened furrowed cheeks ran from wide cheek-bones to the point of a firm chin, the dark eyes were steady, the nose and lips thin; he wore a little close grizzly dark moustache — his face was perhaps the stillest of the eight faces, the face of the taller Adrian beside him, the least still. Sir Lawrence Mont had his arm through that of Emily his wife, the expression on his thin twisting countenance was as of one saying: “A very beautiful performance — don’t cry, my dear.”
The faces of Hilary and Lionel, one on each side of Wilmet, a seamed race and a smooth face, both long and thin and decisive, wore a sort of sorry scepticism, as if expecting those eyes to open. Wilmet had flushed deep pink; her lips were pursed. She was a tall thin woman. The chaplain stood with bent head, moving his lips as though telling over internal beads. They stayed thus perhaps three minutes, then as it were with a single indrawn breath filed to the door. They went each to the room assigned.
They met again at dinner, thinking and speaking once more in terms of life. Uncle Cuthbert, except as a family figure-head, had never been very near to any one of them. The question whether he was to be buried with his fathers at Condaford or here in the Cathedral was debated. Probably his Will would decide. All but the General and Lionel, who were the executors, returned to London the same evening.
The two brothers, having read through the Will, which was short, for there was nothing much to leave, sat on in the library, silent, till the General said:
“I want to consult you, Lionel. It’s about my boy, Hubert. Did you read that attack made on him in the House before it rose?”
Lionel, sparing of words, and now on the eve of a Judgeship, nodded.
“I saw there was a question asked, but I don’t know Hubert’s version of the affair.”
“I can give it you. The whole thing is damnable. The boy’s got a temper, of course, but he’s straight as a die. What he says you can rely on. And all I can say is that if I’d been in his place, I should probably have done the same.”
Lionel nodded. “Go ahead.”
“Well, as you know, he went straight from Harrow into the War, and had one year in the R.A.F. under age, got wounded, went back and stayed on in the army after the war. He was out in Mespot, then went on to Egypt and India. He got malaria badly, and last October had a year’s sick leave given him, which will be up on October first. He was recommended for a long voyage. He got leave for it and went out through the Panama Canal to Lima. There he met that American professor, Hallorsen, who came over here some time ago and gave some lectures, it appears, about some queer remains in Bolivia; he was going to take an expedition there. This expedition was just starting when Hubert got to Lima, and Hallorsen wanted a transport officer. Hubert was fit enough after his voyage and jumped at the chance. He can’t bear idleness. Hallorsen took him on; that was in December last. After a bit Hallorsen left him in charge of his base camp with a lot of half-caste Indian mule men. Hubert was the only white man, and he got fever badly. Some of those half-caste Indian fellows are devils, according to his account; no sense of discipline and perfect brutes with animals. Hubert got wrong with them — he’s a hot-tempered chap, as I told you, and, as it happens, particularly fond of animals. The half-castes got more and more out of hand, till finally one of them, whom he’d had to have flogged for ill-treating mules and who was stirring up mutiny, attacked him with a knife. Luckily Hubert had his revolver handy and shot him dead. And on that the whole blessed lot of them, except three, cleared out, taking the mules with them. Mind you, he’d been left there alone for nearly three months without support or news of any kind from Hallorsen. Well, he hung on somehow, half dead, with his remaining men. At last Hallorsen came back, and instead of trying to understand his difficulties, pitched into him. Hubert wouldn’t stand for it; gave him as good as he got, and left. He came straight home, and is down with us at Condaford. He’s lost the fever, luckily, but he’s pretty well worn out, even now. And now that fellow Hallorsen has attacked him in his book; practically thrown the blame of failure on him, implies he was tyrannical and no good at handling men, calls him a hot-tempered aristocrat — all that bunkum that goes down these days. Well, some Service member got hold of this and asked that question about it in Parliament. One expects Socialists to make themselves unpleasant, but when it comes to a Service member alluding to conduct unbecoming to a British officer, it’s another matter altogether. Hallorsen’s in the States. There’s nobody to bring an action against: besides, Hubert could get no witnesses. It looks to me as if the thing has cut right across his career.”
Lionel Cherrell’s long face lengthened.
“Has he tried Headquarters?”
“Yes, he went up on Wednesday. They were chilly. Any popular gup about high-handedness scares them nowadays. I daresay they’d come round if no more were said, but how’s that possible? He’s been publicly criticised in that book, and practically accused in Parliament of violent conduct unbecoming to an officer and gentleman. He can’t sit down under that; and yet — what can he do?”
Lionel drew deeply at his pipe.
“D’you know,” he said, “I think he’d better take no notice.”
The General clenched his fist. “Damn it, Lionel, I don’t see that!”
“But he admits the shooting and the flogging. The public has no imagination, Con — they’ll never see his side of the thing. All they’ll swallow is that on a civilian expedition he shot one man and flogged others. You can’t expect them to understand the conditions or the pressure there was.”
“Then you seriously advise him to take it lying down?”
“As a man, no; as a man of the world, yes.”
“Good Lord! What’s England coming to? I wonder what old Uncle Cuffs would have said? He thought a lot of our name.”
“So do I. But how is Hubert to get even with them?”
The General was silent for a little while and then said:
“This charge is a slur on the Service, and yet his hands seem tied. If he handed in his Commission he could stand up to it, but his whole heart’s in the Army. It’s a bad business. By the way, Lawrence has been talking to me about Adrian. Diana Ferse was Diana Montjoy, wasn’t she?”
“Yes, second cousin to Lawrence — very pretty woman, Con. Ever see her?”
“As a girl, yes. What’s her position now, then?”
“Married widow — two children, and a husband in a Mental Home.”
“That’s lively. Incurable?”
Lionel nodded. “They say so. But of course, you never know.”
“That’s just about it. She’s poor and Adrian’s poorer; it’s a very old affection on Adrian’s part, dates from before her marriage. If he does anything foolish, he’ll lose his curatorship.”
“Go off with her, you mean? Why, he must be fifty!”
“No fool like an — She’s an attractive creature. Those Montjoys are celebrated for their charm. Would he listen to you, Con?”
The General shook his head.
“More likely to Hilary.”
“Poor old Adrian — one of the best men on earth. I’ll talk to Hilary, but his hands are always full.”
The General rose. “I’m going to bed. We don’t smell of age at the Grange like this place — though the Grange is older.”
“Too much original wood here. Good-night, old man.”
The brothers shook hands, and, grasping each a candle, sought their rooms.
Condaford Grange had passed from the de Campforts (whence its name) into possession of the Cherrells in 1217, when their name was spelt Kerwell and still at times Keroual, as the spirit moved the scribe. The story of its passing was romantic, for the Kerwell who got it by marrying a de Campfort had got the de Campfort by rescuing her from a wild boar. He had been a landless wight whose father, a Frenchman from Guienne, had come to England after Richard’s crusade; and she had been the heiress of the landed de Campforts. The boar was incorporated on the family ‘shield,’ and some doubted whether the boar on the shield did not give rise to the story, rather than the story to the boar. In any case parts of the house were certified by expert masons to go back to the twelfth century. It had undoubtedly been moated; but under Queen Anne a restorative Cherrell, convinced of the millennium perhaps, and possibly inconvenienced by insects, had drained off the water, and there was now little sign that a moat had ever been.
The late Sir Conway, elder brother of the bishop, knighted in 1901 on his appointment to Spain, had been in the diplomatic service. He had therefore let the place down badly. He had died in 1904, at his post, and the letting-down process had been continued by his eldest son, the present Sir Conway, who, continually on Service, had enjoyed only spasmodic chances of living at Condaford till after the Great War. Now that he did live there, the knowledge that folk of his blood had been encamped there practically since the Conquest had spurred him to do his best to put it in order, so that it was by now unpretentiously trim without and comfortable within, and he was almost too poor to live in it. The estate contained too much covert to be profitable, and, though unencumbered, brought in but a few hundreds a year of net revenue. The pension of a General and the slender income of his wife (by birth the Honourable Elizabeth Frensham) enabled the General to incur a very small amount of supertax, to keep two hunters, and live quietly on the extreme edge of his means. His wife was one of those Englishwomen who seem to count for little, but for that very reason count for a good deal. She was unobtrusive, gentle, and always busy. In a word, she was background; and her pale face, reposeful, sensitive, a little timid, was a continual reminder that culture depends but slightly on wealth or intellect. Her husband and her three children had implicit confidence in her coherent sympathy. They were all of more vivid nature, more strongly coloured, and she was a relief.
She had not accompanied the General to Porthminster and was therefore awaiting his return. The furniture was about to come out of chintz, and she was standing in the tea room wondering whether that chintz would last another season, when a Scotch terrier came in, followed by her eldest daughter Elizabeth — better known as ‘Dinny.’ Dinny was slight and rather tall; she had hair the colour of chestnuts, an imperfect nose, a Botticellian mouth, eyes cornflower blue and widely set, and a look rather of a flower on a long stalk that might easily be broken off, but never was. Her expression suggested that she went through life trying not to see it as a joke. She was, in fact, like one of those natural wells, or springs, whence one cannot procure water without bubbles: ‘Dinny’s bubble and squeak,’ her uncle Sir Lawrence Mont called it. She was by now twenty-four.
“Mother, do we have to go into black edging for Uncle Cuffs?”
“I don’t think so, Dinny; or very slight.”
“Is he to be planted here?”
“I expect in the Cathedral, but Father will know.”
“Tea, darling? Scaramouch, up you come, and don’t bob your nose into the Gentleman’s Relish.”
“Dinny, I’m so worried about Hubert.”
“So am I, dear; he isn’t Hubert at all, he’s like a sketch of himself by Thom the painter, all on one side. He ought never to have gone on that ghastly expedition, Mother. There’s a limit to hitting it off with Americans, and Hubert reaches it sooner than almost anybody I know. He never could get on with them. Besides, I don’t believe civilians ever ought to have soldiers with them.”
“Well, soldiers have the static mind. They know God from Mammon. Haven’t you noticed it, dear?”
Lady Cherrell had. She smiled timidly, and asked:
“Where is Hubert? Father will be home directly.”
“He went out with Don, to get a leash of partridges for dinner. Ten to one he’ll forget to shoot them, and anyway they’ll be too fresh. He’s in that state of mind into which it has pleased God to call him; except that for God read the devil. He broods over that business, Mother. Only one thing would do him good, and that’s to fall in love. Can’t we find the perfect girl for him? Shall I ring for tea?”
“Yes, dear. And this room wants fresh flowers.”
“I’ll get them. Come along, Scaramouch!”
Passing out into September sunshine, Dinny noted a green woodpecker on the lower lawn, and thought: ‘If seven birds with seven beaks should peck for half a term, do you suppose, the lady thought, that they could find a worm?’ It WAS dry! All the same the zinnias were gorgeous this year; and she proceeded to pick some. They ran the gamut in her hand from deepest red through pink to lemon-yellow — handsome blossoms, but not endearing. ‘Pity,’ she thought, ‘we can’t go to some bed of modern maids and pick one for Hubert.’ She seldom showed her feelings, but she had two deep feelings not for show — one for her brother, the other for Condaford, and they were radically entwined. All the coherence of her life belonged to Condaford; she had a passion for the place which no one would have suspected from her way of talking of it, and she had a deep and jealous desire to bind her only brother to the same devotion. After all, she had been born there while it was shabby and run-down, and had survived into the period of renovation. To Hubert it had only been a holiday and leave-time perch. Dinny, though the last person in the world to talk of her roots, or to take them seriously in public, had a private faith in the Cherrells, their belongings and their works, which nothing could shake. Every Condaford beast, bird and tree, even the flowers she was plucking, were a part of her, just as were the simple folk around in their thatched cottages, and the Early-English church, where she attended without belief to speak of, and the grey Condaford dawns which she seldom saw, the moonlit, owl-haunted nights, the long sunlight over the stubble, and the scents and the sounds and the feel of the air. When she was away from home she never said she was homesick, but she was; when she was at home she never said she revelled in it, but she did. If Condaford should pass from the Cherrells, she would not moan, but would feel like a plant pulled up by its roots. Her father had for it the indifferent affection of a man whose active life had been passed elsewhere; her mother the acquiescence of one who had always done her duty by what had kept her nose to the grindstone and was not exactly hers; her sister treated it with the matter-of-fact tolerance of one who would rather be somewhere more exciting; and Hubert — what had Hubert? She really did not know. With her hands full of zinnias and her neck warm from the lingering sunshine, she returned to the drawing-room.
Her mother was standing by the tea table.
“The train’s late,” she said. “I do wish Clare wouldn’t drive so fast.”
“I don’t see the connection, darling.” But she did. Mother was always fidgety when Father was behind time.
“Mother, I’m all for Hubert sending his version to the papers.”
“We shall see what your Father says — he’ll have talked to your Uncle Lionel.”
“I hear the car now,” said Dinny.
The General was followed into the room by his younger daughter. Clare was the most vivid member of the family. She had dark fine shingled hair and a pale expressive face, of which the lips were slightly brightened. The eyes were brown, with a straight and eager glance, the brow low and very white. Her expression was old for a girl of twenty, being calm and yet adventurous. She had an excellent figure and walked with an air.
“This poor dear has had no lunch, Mother,” she said.
“Horrible cross-country journey, Liz. Whisky-and-soda and a biscuit’s all I’ve had since breakfast.”
“You shall have an egg-nogg, darling,” said Dinny, and left the room. Clare followed her.
The General kissed his wife. “The old boy looked very fine, my dear, though, except for Adrian, we only saw him after. I shall have to go back for the funeral. It’ll be a swell affair, I expect. Great figure — Uncle Cuffs. I spoke to Lionel about Hubert; he doesn’t see what can be done. But I’ve been thinking.”
“The whole point is whether or not the Authorities are going to take any notice of that attack in the House. They might ask him to send in his commission. That’d be fatal. Sooner than that he’d better hand it in himself. He’s due for his medical on October the first. Can we pull any strings without his knowing? — the boy’s proud. I can go and see Topsham and you could get at Follanby, couldn’t you?”
Lady Cherrell made wry her face.
“I know,” said the General, “it’s rotten; but the real chance would be Saxenden, only I don’t know how to get at him.”
“Dinny might suggest something.”
“Dinny? Well, I suppose she HAS more brains than any of us, except you, my dear.”
“I,” said Lady Cherrell, “have no brains at all.”
“Bosh! Oh! Here she is.”
Dinny advanced, bearing a frothy liquor in a glass.
“Dinny, I was saying to your mother that we want to get into touch with Lord Saxenden about Hubert’s position. Can you suggest any way?”
“Through a country neighbour, Dad. Has he any?”
“His place marches with Wilfred Bentworth’s.”
“There it is, then. Uncle Hilary or Uncle Lawrence.”
“Wilfred Bentworth is Chairman of Uncle Hilary’s Slum Conversion Committee. A little judicious nepotism, dear.”
“Um! Hilary and Lawrence were both at Porthminster — wish I’d thought of that.”
“Shall I talk to them for you, Father?”
“By George, if you would, Dinny! I hate pushing our affairs.”
“Yes, dear. It’s a woman’s job, isn’t it?”
The General looked at his daughter dubiously — he never quite knew when she was serious.
“Here’s Hubert,” said Dinny, quickly.
Hubert Cherrell, followed by a spaniel dog and carrying a gun, was crossing the old grey flagstones of the terrace. Rather over middle height, lean and erect, with a head not very large and a face weathered and seamed for so young a man, he wore a little darkish moustache cut just to the edge of his lips, which were thin and sensitive, and hair with already a touch of grey at the sides. His browned cheeks were thin too, but with rather high cheek-bones, and his eyes hazel, quick and glancing, set rather wide apart over a straight thin nose under gabled eyebrows. He was, in fact, a younger edition of his father. A man of action, forced into a state of thought, is unhappy until he can get out of it; and, ever since his late leader had launched that attack on his conduct, he had chafed, conscious of having acted rightly, or rather, in accordance with necessity. And he chafed the more because his training and his disposition forbade him giving tongue. A soldier by choice, not accident, he saw his soldiering imperilled, his name as an officer, and even as a gentleman, aspersed, and no way of hitting back at those who had aspersed it. His head seemed to him to be in Chancery for anyone to punch, most galling of experiences to anyone of high spirit. He came in through the French window, leaving dog and gun outside, aware that he was being talked about. He was now constantly interrupting discussions on his position, for in this family the troubles of one were the troubles of all. Having taken a cup of tea from his mother, he remarked that birds were getting wild already, covert was so sparse, and there was silence.
“Well, I’m going to look at my letters,” said the General, and went out followed by his wife.
Left alone with her brother, Dinny hardened her heart, and said:
“Something must be done, Hubert.”
“Don’t worry, old girl; it’s rotten, but there’s nothing one can do.”
“Why don’t you write your own account of what happened, from your diary? I could type it, and Michael will find you a publisher, he knows all those sort of people. We simply can’t sit down under this.”
“I loathe the idea of trotting my private feelings into the open; and it means that or nothing.”
Dinny wrinkled her brows.
“I loathe letting that Yank put his failure on to you. You owe it to the British Army, Hubert.”
“Bad as that? I went as a civilian.”
“Why not publish your diary as it is?”
“That’d be worse. You haven’t seen it.”
“We could expurgate, and embroider, and all that. You see, the Dad feels this.”
“Perhaps you’d better read the thing. It’s full of ‘miserable Starkey.’ When one’s alone like that, one lets oneself go.”
“You can cut out what you like.”
“It’s no end good of you, Dinny.”
Dinny stroked his sleeve.
“What sort of man is this Hallorsen?”
“To be just, he has lots of qualities: hard as nails, plenty of pluck, and no nerves; but it’s Hallorsen first with him all the time. It’s not in him to fail, and when he does, someone else has to stand the racket. According to him, he failed for want of transport: and I was his transport officer. But if he’d left the Angel Gabriel as he left me, he’d have done no better. He just miscalculated, and won’t admit it. You’ll find it all in my diary.”
“Have you seen this?” She held up a newspaper cutting, and read:
“‘We understand that action will be taken by Captain Charwell, D.S.O., to vindicate his honour in face of the statements made in Professor Hallorsen’s book on his Bolivian Expedition, the failure of which he attributed to Captain Charwell’s failure to support him at the critical moment.’ Someone’s trying to get a dog-fight out of it, you see.”
“Where was that?”
“In the Evening Sun.”
“Steps!” said Hubert bitterly; “what steps? I’ve nothing but my word, he took care of that when he left me alone with all those dagoes.”
“It’s the diary then, or nothing.”
“I’ll get you the damned thing . . . .”
That night Dinny sat at her window reading ‘the damned thing.’ A full moon rode between the elm trees and there was silence as of the grave. Just one sheep-bell tinkled from a fold on the rise; just one magnolia flower bloomed close to her window. All seemed unearthly, and now and then she stopped reading to gaze at the unreality. So had some ten thousand full moons ridden since her forebears received this patch of ground; the changeless security of so old a home heightened the lonely discomfort, the tribulation in the pages she was reading. Stark notes about stark things — one white man among a crew of half-caste savages, one animal-lover among half-starved animals and such men as knew not compassion. And with that cold and settled loveliness out there to look upon, she read and grew hot and miserable.
“That lousy brute Castro has been digging his infernal knife into the mules again. The poor brutes are thin as rails, and haven’t half their strength. Warned him for the last time. If he does it again, he’ll get the lash. . . . Had fever.”
“Castro got it good and strong this morning — a dozen; we’ll see if that will stop him. Can’t get on with these brutes; they don’t seem human. Oh! for a day on a horse at Condaford and forget these swamps and poor ghastly skeletons of mules . . .”
“Had to flog another of these brutes — their treatment of the mules is simply devilish, blast them! . . . Fever again . . .”
“Hell and Tommy to pay — had mutiny this morning. They laid for me. Luckily Manuel had warned me — he’s a good boy. As it was, Castro nearly had his knife through my gizzard. Got my left arm badly. Shot him with my own hand. Now perhaps they’ll toe the mark. Nothing from Hallorsen. How much longer does he expect me to hold on in this dump of hell? My arm is giving me proper gee-up . . . .”
“The lid is on at last, those devils stampeded the mules in the dark while I was asleep, and cleared out. Manuel and two other boys are all that’s left. We trailed them a long way — came on the carcases of two mules, that’s all; the beggars have dispersed and you might as well look for a star in the Milky Way. Got back to camp dead beat. . . . Whether we shall ever get out of this alive, goodness knows. My arm very painful, hope it doesn’t mean blood-poisoning . . .”
“Meant to trek today as best we could. Set up a pile of stones and left despatch for Hallorsen, telling him the whole story in case he ever does send back for me; then changed my mind. I shall stick it out here till he comes or till we’re dead, which is on the whole more likely . . .”
And so on through a tale of struggle to the end. Dinny laid down the dim and yellowed record and leaned her elbow on the sill. The silence and the coldness of the light out there had chilled her spirit. She no longer felt in fighting mood. Hubert was right. Why show one’s naked soul, one’s sore finger, to the public? No! Better anything than that. Private strings — yes, they should be pulled; and she would pull them for all she was worth.
Adrian Cherrell was one of those confirmed countrymen who live in towns. His job confined him to London, where he presided over a collection of anthropological remains. He was poring over a maxilla from New Guinea, which had been accorded a very fine reception in the Press, and had just said to himself: ‘The thing’s a phlizz. Just a low type of Homo Sapiens,’ when his janitor announced:
“Young lady to see you, sir — Miss Cherrell, I think.”
“Ask her in, James”; and he thought: ‘If that’s Dinny, where did I put my wits?’
“Oh! Dinny! Canrobert says that this maxilla is pre-Trinil. Mokley says Paulo-post-Piltdown; and Eldon P. Burbank says propter Rhodesian. I say Sapiens; observe that molar.”
“I do, Uncle Adrian.”
“Too human altogether. That man had toothache. Toothache was probably the result of artistic development. Altamiran art and Cromagnon cavities are found together. Homo Sapiens, this chap.”
“No toothache without wisdom — how cheery! I’ve come up to see Uncle Hilary and Uncle Lawrence, but I thought if I had lunch with you first, I should feel stronger.”
“We shall,” said Adrian, “therefore go to the Bulgarian café.”
“Because for the moment we shall get good food there. It’s the latest propaganda restaurant, my dear, so we are probably safe at a moderate price. Do you want to powder your nose?”
“In here, then.”
While she was gone Adrian stood and stroked his goatee and wondered exactly what he could order for eighteen and sixpence; for, being a public servant without private means, he rarely had more than a pound in his pocket.
“What,” said Dinny, when they were seated before an omelette Bulgarienne, “do you know about Professor Hallorsen, Uncle Adrian?”
“The man who set out to discover the sources of civilisation in Bolivia?”
“Yes; and took Hubert with him.”
“Ah! But left him behind, I gather?”
“Did you ever meet him?”
“I did. I met him in 1920, climbing the ‘Little Sinner’ in the Dolomites.”
“Did you like him?”
“Well, he was so aggressively young, he beat me to the top, and — he reminded me of baseball. Did you ever see baseball played?”
“I saw it once in Washington. You insult your opponent so as to shake his nerve. You call him doughboy and attaboy, and President Wilson and Old Man Ribber, and things like that, just when he’s going to hit the ball. It’s ritual. The point is to win at any cost.”
“Don’t you believe in winning at any cost?”
“Nobody says they do, Dinny.”
“And we all try to when it comes to the point?”
“I have known it occur, even with politicians, Dinny.”
“Would you try to win at any cost, Uncle?”
“You wouldn’t. I should.”
“You are very kind, my dear; but why this local disparagement?”
“Because I feel as bloodthirsty as a mosquito about Hubert’s case. I spent last night reading his diary.”
“Woman,” said Adrian, slowly, “has not yet lost her divine irresponsibility.”
“Do you think we’re in danger of losing it?”
“No, because whatever your sex may say, you never will annihilate man’s innate sense of leading you about.”
“What is the best way to annihilate a man like Hallorsen, Uncle Adrian?”
“Apart from a club, ridicule.”
“His notion about Bolivian civilisation was absurd, I suppose?”
“Wholly. There are, we know, some curious and unexplained stone monsters up there, but his theory, if I understand it, won’t wash at all. Only, my dear, Hubert would appear to be involved in it.”
“Not scientifically; he just went as transport officer.” And Dinny levelled a smile at her Uncle’s eyes. “It wouldn’t do any harm, would it, to hold up a stunt like that to ridicule? You could do it so beautifully, Uncle.”
“But isn’t it the duty of serious scientists to ridicule stunts?”
“If Hallorsen were an Englishman — perhaps; but his being an American brings in other considerations.”
“Why? I thought Science paid no regard to frontiers.”
“In theory. In practice we close the other eye. Americans are very touchy. You remember a certain recent attitude towards Evolution; if we had let out our shout of laughter over that, there might almost have been a war.”
“But most Americans laughed at it too.”
“Yes; but they won’t stand for outsiders laughing at their kith and kin. Have some of this soufflé Sofia?”
They ate in silence, each studying sympathetically the other’s face. Dinny was thinking: ‘I love his wrinkles, and it’s a nice little beard for a beard.’ Adrian was thinking: ‘I’m glad her nose turns up a little. I have very engaging nieces and nephews.’ At last she said:
“Well, Uncle Adrian, will you try and think of any way of strafing that man for the scurvy way he’s treated Hubert?”
“Where is he?”
“Hubert says in the States.”
“Have you considered, my dear, that nepotism is undesirable?”
“So is injustice, Uncle; and blood is thicker than water.”
“And this wine,” said Adrian, with a grimace, “is thicker than either. What are you going to see Hilary about?”
“I want to scrounge an introduction to Lord Saxenden.”
“Father says he’s important.”
“So you are out to ‘pull strings,’ as they say?”
“No sensitive and honest person can pull strings successfully, Dinny.”
Her eyebrows twitched and her teeth, very white and even, appeared in a broad smile.
“But I’m neither, dear.”
“We shall see. In the meantime these cigarettes are really tiptop propaganda. Have one?”
Dinny took a cigarette, and, with a long puff, said:
“You saw great-Uncle ‘Cuffs’, didn’t you, Uncle Adrian?”
“Yes. A dignified departure. He died in amber, as you might say. Wasted on the Church; he was the perfect diplomat, was Uncle ‘Cuffs.’”
“I only saw him twice. But do you mean to say that HE couldn’t get what he wanted, without loss of dignity, by pulling strings?”
“It wasn’t exactly pulling strings with him, my dear; it was suavity and power of personality.”
“Manner — the Grand; it about died with him.”
“Well, Uncle, I must be going; wish me dishonesty and a thick skin.”
“And I,” said Adrian, “will return to the jawbone of the New Guinean with which I hope to smite my learned brethren. If I can help Hubert in any decent way, I will. At all events I’ll think about it. Give him my love, and good-bye, my dear!”
They parted, and Adrian went back to his museum. Regaining his position above the maxilla, he thought of a very different jawbone. Having reached an age when the blood of spare men with moderate habits has an even-tempered flow, his ‘infatuation’ with Diana Ferse, dating back to years before her fatal marriage, had a certain quality of altruism. He desired her happiness before his own. In his almost continual thoughts about her the consideration ‘What’s best for her?’ was ever foremost. He had done without her for so long that importunity (never in his character) was out of the question where she was concerned. But her face, oval and dark-eyed, delicious in lip and nose, and a little sad in repose, constantly blurred the outlines of maxillae, thighbones, and the other interesting phenomena of his job. She and her two children lived in a small Chelsea house on the income of a husband who for four years had been a patient in a private Mental Home, and was never expected to recover his equilibrium. She was nearly forty, and had been through dreadful times before Ferse had definitely toppled over the edge. Of the old school in thought and manner, and trained to a coherent view of human history, Adrian accepted life with half-humorous fatalism. He was not of the reforming type, and the position of his lady love did not inspire him with a desire for the scalp of marriage. He wanted her to be happy, but did not see how in the existing circumstances he could make her so. She had at least peace and the sufficient income of him who had been smitten by Fate. Moreover, Adrian had something of the superstitious regard felt by primitive men for those afflicted with this particular form of misfortune. Ferse had been a decent fellow till the taint began to wear through the coatings of health and education, and his conduct for the two years before his eclipse was only too liberally explained by that eclipse. He was one of God’s afflicted; and his helplessness demanded of one the utmost scrupulosity. Adrian turned from the maxilla and took down a built-up cast of Pithecanthropus, that curious being from Trinil, Java, who for so long has divided opinion as to whether he shall be called man-ape or ape-man. What a distance from him to that modern English skull over the mantelpiece! Ransack the authorities as one might, one never received an answer to the question: Where was the cradle of Homo Sapiens, the nest where he had developed from Trinil, Piltdown, Neanderthal man, or from some other undiscovered collateral of those creatures? If Adrian had a passion, indeed, except for Diana Ferse, it was a burning desire to fix that breeding spot. They were toying now with the idea of descent from Neanderthal man, but he felt it wouldn’t do. When specialisation had reached a stage so definite as that disclosed by those brutish specimens, it did not swerve to type so different. As well expect development of red-deer from elk! He turned to that huge globe whereon were marked all discoveries of moment concerning the origin of modern Man, annotated in his own neat handwriting with notes on geological changes, time and climate. Where — where to look? It was a detective problem, soluble only in the French fashion by instinctive appreciation of the inherently probable locality, ratified by research at the selected spot — the greatest detective problem in the world. The foothills of the Himalayas, the Fayoum, or somewhere now submerged beneath the sea? If, indeed, it were under the sea, then it would never be established to certainty. Academic — the whole thing? Not quite, for with it was conjoined the question of man’s essence, the real primitive nature of the human being, on which social philosophy might and should be founded — a question nicely revived of late: Whether, indeed, man was fundamentally decent and peaceful, as examination into the lives of animals and some so-called savage peoples seemed to suggest, or fundamentally aggressive and restless, as that lugubrious record, History, seemed to assert? Find the breeding nest of Homo Sapiens, and there would emerge perhaps some evidence to decide whether he was devil-angel or angel-devil. To one with Adrian’s instincts there was great attraction in this revived thesis of the inherent gentleness of man, but his habit of mind refused to subscribe easily or wholesale to any kind of thesis. Even gentle beasts and birds lived by the law of self-preservation; so did primitive man; the devilries of sophisticated man began naturally with the extension of his activities and the increase of his competitions — in other words, with the ramifications of self-preservation induced by so-called civilised life. The uncomplicated existence of uncivilised man might well afford less chance to the instinct of self-preservation to be sinister in its manifestations, but you could hardly argue anything from that. Better to accept modern man as he was and try to curb his opportunities for mischief. Nor would it do to bank too much on the natural gentleness of primitive peoples. Only last night he had read of an elephant hunt in Central Africa, wherein the primitive negroes, men and women, who were beating for the white hunters, had fallen upon the carcasses of the slain elephants, torn them limb from limb, flesh from flesh, eaten it all dripping and raw, then vanished into the woods, couple by couple, to complete their orgy. After all, there was something in civilisation! But at this moment his janitor announced:
“A Professor ‘Allorsen to see you, sir. He wants to look at the Peruvian skulls.”
“Hallorsen!” said Adrian, startled. “Are you sure? I thought he was in America, James.”
“‘Allorsen was the name, sir; tall gentleman, speaks like an American. Here’s his card.”
“H’m! I’ll see him, James.” And he thought: ‘Shade of Dinny! What am I going to say?’
The very tall and very good-looking man who entered seemed about thirty-eight years old. His clean-shaven face was full of health, his eyes full of light, his dark hair had a fleck or two of premature grey in it. A breeze seemed to come in with him. He spoke at once:
“Why! Surely we’ve met; up a mountain, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Adrian.
“Well, well! My name’s Hallorsen — Bolivian expedition. I’m told your Peruvian skulls are bully. I brought my little Bolivian lot along; thought I’d like to compare them with your Peruvians right here. There’s such a lot of bunk written about skulls by people who haven’t seen the originals.”
“Very true, Professor. I shall be delighted to see your Bolivians. By the way, you never knew my name, I think. This is it.”
Adrian handed him a card. Hallorsen took it.
“Gee! Are you related to the Captain Charwell who’s got his knife into me?”
“His uncle. But I was under the impression that it was your knife that was into him.”
“Well, he let me down.”
“I understand he thinks you let him down.”
“See here, Mr. Charwell —”
“We pronounce the name Cherrell, if you don’t mind.”
“Cherrell — yes, I remember now. But if you hire a man to do a job, Mr. Curator, and that job’s too much for him, and because it’s too much for him you get left, what do you do — pass him a gold medal?”
“You find out, I think, whether the job you hired him to do was humanly possible, before you take out your knife, anyway.”
“That’s up to the man who takes the job. And what was it? Just to keep a tight rein on a few dagoes.”
“I don’t know very much about it, but I understand he had charge of the transport animals as well.”
“He surely did; and let the whole thing slip out of his hand. Well, I don’t expect you to side against your nephew. But can I see your Peruvians?”
“That’s nice of you.”
During the mutual inspection which followed Adrian frequently glanced at the magnificent specimen of Homo Sapiens who stood beside him. A man so overflowing with health and life he had seldom seen. Natural enough that any check should gall him. Sheer vitality would prevent him from seeing the other side of things. Like his nation, matters must move his way, because there was no other way that seemed possible to his superabundance.
‘After all,’ he thought, ‘he can’t help being God’s own specimen — Homo transatlanticus superbus’; and he said slyly: “So the sun is going to travel West to East in future, Professor?”
Hallorsen smiled, and his smile had an exuberant sweetness.
“Well, Mr. Curator, we’re agreed, I guess, that civilisation started with agriculture. If we can show that we raised Indian corn on the American continent way back, maybe thousands of years before the old Nile civilisation of barley and wheat, why shouldn’t the stream be the other way?”
“And can you?”
“Why, we have twenty to twenty-five types of Indian corn. Hrwdlicka claims that some twenty thousand years was necessary to differentiate them. That puts us way ahead as the parents of agriculture, anyway.”
“But alas! no type of Indian corn existed in the old world till after the discovery of America.”
“No, sir; nor did any old-world type cereal exist in America till after that. Now, if the old-world culture seeped its way across the Pacific, why didn’t it bring along its cereals?”
“But that doesn’t make America the light-bringer to the rest of the world, does it?”
“Maybe not; but if not, she just developed her own old civilisations out of her own discovery of cereals; and they were the first.”
“Are you an Atlantean, Professor?”
“I sometimes toy with the idea, Mr. Curator.”
“Well, well! May I ask if you are quite happy about your attack on my nephew?”
“Why, I certainly had a sore head when I wrote it. Your nephew and I didn’t click.”
“That, I should think, might make you all the more doubtful as to whether you were just.”
“If I withdrew my criticism, I wouldn’t be saying what I really thought.”
“You are convinced that you had no hand in your failure to reach your objective?”
The frown on the giant’s brow had a puzzled quality, and Adrian thought: ‘An honest man, anyway.’
“I don’t see what you’re getting at,” said Hallorsen, slowly,
“You chose my nephew, I believe?”
“Yes, out of twenty others.”
“Precisely. You chose the wrong man, then?”
“I surely did.”
“That’s very acute, Mr. Curator. But I’m not the man to advertise my own failings.”
“What you wanted,” said Adrian, dryly, “was a man without the bowels of compassion; well, I admit, you didn’t get him.”
“We shan’t agree about this, sir. I’ll just take my little lot of skulls away. And I thank you for your courtesy.”
A few minutes later he was gone.
Adrian was left to tangled meditation. The fellow was better than he had remembered. Physically a splendid specimen, mentally not to be despised, spiritually — well, typical of a new world where each immediate objective was the most important thing on earth till it was attained, and attainment more important than the methods of attainment employed. ‘Pity,’ he thought, ‘if there’s going to be a dog-fight. Still, the fellow’s in the wrong; one ought to be more charitable than to attack like that in public print. Too much ego in friend Hallorsen.’ So thinking, he put the maxilla into a drawer.
Dinny pursued her way towards St. Augustine’s-inthe-Meads. On that fine day the poverty of the district she was entering seemed to her country-nurtured eyes intensely cheerless. She was the more surprised by the hilarity of the children playing in the streets. Asking one of them the way to the Vicarage, she was escorted by five. They did not leave her when she rang the bell, and she was forced to conclude that they were actuated by motives not entirely connected with altruism. They attempted, indeed, to go in with her, and only left when she gave them each a penny. She was ushered into a pleasant room which looked as though it would be glad if someone had the time to enter it someday, and was contemplating a reproduction of the Castelfranco Francesca, when a voice said:
“Dinny!” and she saw her Aunt May. Mrs. Hilary Cherrell had her usual air of surmounting the need for being in three places at once; she looked leisurely, detached, and pleased — not unnaturally, for she liked her niece.
“Up for shopping, dear?”
“No, Aunt May, I’ve come to win an introduction off Uncle Hilary.”
“Your Uncle’s in the Police Court.”
A bubble rose to Dinny’s surface.
“Why, what’s he done, Aunt May?”
Mrs. Hilary smiled.
“Nothing at present, but I won’t answer for him if the magistrate isn’t sensible. One of our young women has been charged with accosting.”
“Not Uncle Hilary?”
“No, dear, hardly that. Your uncle is a witness to her character.”
“And is there really a character to witness to, Aunt May?”
“Well, that’s the point. Hilary says so; but I’m not so sure.”
“Men are very trustful. I’ve never been in a Police Court. I should love to go and catch Uncle there.”
“Well, I’m going in that direction. We might go together as far as the Court.”
Five minutes later they issued, and proceeded by way of streets ever more arresting to the eyes of Dinny, accustomed only to the picturesque poverty of the countryside.
“I never quite realised before,” she said, suddenly, “that London was such a bad dream.”
“From which there is no awakening. That’s the chilling part of it. Why on earth, with all this unemployment, don’t they organise a national Slum Clearance Scheme? It would pay for itself within twenty years. Politicians are marvels of energy and principle when they’re out of office, but when they get in, they simply run behind the machine.”
“They’re not women, you see, Auntie.”
“Are you chaffing, Dinny?”
“Oh! no. Women haven’t the sense of difficulty that men have; women’s difficulties are physical and real, men’s difficulties are mental and formal, they always say: ‘It’ll never do!’ Women never say that. They act, and find out whether it will do or not.”
Mrs. Hilary was silent a moment.
“I suppose women ARE more actual; they have a fresher eye, and less sense of responsibility.”
“I wouldn’t be a man for anything.”
“That’s refreshing; but on the whole they get a better time, my dear, even now.”
“They think so, but I doubt it. Men are awfully like ostriches, it seems to me. They can refuse to see what they don’t want to, better than we can; but I don’t think that’s an advantage.”
“If you lived in the Meads, Dinny, you might.”
“If I lived in the Meads, dear, I should die.”
Mrs. Hilary contemplated her niece by marriage. Certainly she looked a little transparent and as if she could be snapped off, but she also had a look of ‘breeding,’ as if her flesh were dominated by her spirit. She might be unexpectedly durable, and impermeable by outside things.
“I’m not so sure, Dinny; yours is a toughened breed. But for that your uncle would have been dead long ago. Well! Here’s the Police Court. I’m sorry I can’t spare time to come in. But everybody will be nice to you. It’s a very human place, if somewhat indelicate. Be a little careful about your next-door neighbours.”
Dinny raised an eyebrow: “Lousy, Aunt May?”
“Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say not. Come back to tea, if you can.”
She was gone.
The exchange and mart of human indelicacy was crowded, for with the infallible flair of the Public for anything dramatic, the case in which Hilary was a witness to character had caught on, since it involved the integrity of the Police. Its second remand was in progress when Dinny took the last remaining fifteen square inches of standing room. Her neighbours on the right reminded her of the nursery rhyme: ‘The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker.’ Her neighbour on the left was a tall policeman. Many women were among the throng at the back of the Court. The air was close and smelled of clothes. Dinny looked at the magistrate, ascetic and as if pickled, and wondered why he did not have incense fuming on his desk. Her eyes passed on to the figure in the dock, a girl of about her own age and height, neatly dressed, with good features except that her mouth was perhaps more sensuous than was fortunate for one in her position. Dinny estimated that her hair was probably fair. She stood very still, with a slight fixed flush on her pale cheeks, and a frightened restlessness in her eyes. Her name appeared to be Millicent Pole. Dinny gathered that she was alleged by a police constable to have accosted two men in the Euston Road, neither of whom had appeared to give evidence. In the witness-box a young man who resembled a tobacconist was testifying that he had seen the girl pass twice or three times — had noticed her specially as a ‘nice bit’; she had seemed worried, as if looking for something.
For somebody, did he mean?
That or the other, how should he know? No, she wasn’t looking on the pavement; no, she didn’t stop, she passed HIM, anyway, without a look. Had he spoken to her? No fear! Doing? Oh, he was just outside his shop for a breath of air after closing. Did he see her speak to anyone? No, he didn’t, but he wasn’t there long.
“The Reverend Hilary Charwell.”
Dinny saw her uncle rise from a bench and step up under the canopy of the witness box. He looked active and unclerical, and her eyes rested with pleasure on his long firm face, so wrinkled and humorous.
“Your name is Hilary Charwell?”
“Cherrell, if you don’t mind.”
“Quite. And you are the incumbent of St. Augustine’s-inthe-Meads?”
“For how long?”
“You are acquainted with the defendant?”
“Since she was a child.”
“Tell us, please, Mr. Cherrell, what you know of her?”
Dinny saw her uncle turn more definitely to the magistrate.
“Her father and mother, sir, were people for whom I had every respect; they brought up their children well. He was a shoemaker — poor, of course; we’re all poor in my parish. I might almost say they died of poverty five and six years ago, and their two daughters have been more or less under my eye since. They work at Petter and Poplin’s. I’ve never heard anything against Millicent here. So far as I know, she’s a good honest girl.”
“I take it, Mr. Cherrell, your opportunities of judging of her are not very great?”
“Well, I visit the house in which she lodges with her sister. If you saw it, sir, you would agree that it requires some self-respect to deal as well as they do with the conditions there.”
“Is she a member of your congregation?”
A smile came on her uncle’s lips, and was reflected on the magistrate’s.
“Hardly, sir. Their Sundays are too precious to young people nowadays. But Millicent is one of the girls who goes for her holidays to our Rest House near Dorking. They are always very good girls down there. My niece by marriage, Mrs. Michael Mont, who runs the house, has reported well of her. Shall I read what she says?
“‘DEAR UNCLE HILARY,