The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford
PART I

Ford Maddox Ford PART I
PART II
PART III
PART IV

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[1]        
[2]        PART I
[3]        
[4]        
[5]        
[6]        I
[7]        
[8]        
[9]        THIS is the saddest story I have ever heard. We had known the
[10]       Ashburnhams for nine seasons of the town of Nauheim with an
[11]       extreme intimacy--or, rather with an acquaintanceship as loose
[12]       and easy and yet as close as a good glove's with your hand. My
[13]       wife and I knew Captain and Mrs Ashburnham as well as it was
[14]       possible to know anybody, and yet, in another sense, we knew
[15]       nothing at all about them. This is, I believe, a state of things only
[16]       possible with English people of whom, till today, when I sit down
[17]       to puzzle out what I know of this sad affair, I knew nothing
[18]       whatever. Six months ago I had never been to England, and,
[19]       certainly, I had never sounded the depths of an English heart. I
[20]       had known the shallows.
[21]       
[22]       I don't mean to say that we were not acquainted with many English
[23]       people. Living, as we perforce lived, in Europe, and being, as we
[24]       perforce were, leisured Americans, which is as much as to say that
[25]       we were un-American, we were thrown very much into the society
[26]       of the nicer English. Paris, you see, was our home. Somewhere
[27]       between Nice and Bordighera provided yearly winter quarters for
[28]       us, and Nauheim always received us from July to September. You
[29]       will gather from this statement that one of us had, as the saying is,
[30]       a "heart", and, from the statement that my wife is dead, that she
[31]       was the sufferer.
[32]       
[33]       Captain Ashburnham also had a heart. But, whereas a yearly
[34]       month or so at Nauheim tuned him up to exactly the right pitch for
[35]       the rest of the twelvemonth, the two months or so were only just
[36]       enough to keep poor Florence alive from year to year. The reason
[37]       for his heart was, approximately, polo, or too much hard
[38]       sportsmanship in his youth. The reason for poor Florence's broken
[39]       years was a storm at sea upon our first crossing to Europe, and the
[40]       immediate reasons for our imprisonment in that continent were
[41]       doctor's orders. They said that even the short Channel crossing
[42]       might well kill the poor thing.
[43]       
[44]       When we all first met, Captain Ashburnham, home on sick leave
[45]       from an India to which he was never to return, was thirty-three;
[46]       Mrs Ashburnham Leonora --was thirty-one. I was thirty-six and
[47]       poor Florence thirty. Thus today Florence would have been
[48]       thirty-nine and Captain Ashburnham forty-two; whereas I am
[49]       forty-five and Leonora forty. You will perceive, therefore, that our
[50]       friendship has been a young-middle-aged affair, since we were all
[51]       of us of quite quiet dispositions, the Ashburnhams being more
[52]       particularly what in England it is the custom to call "quite good
[53]       people".
[54]       
[55]       They were descended, as you will probably expect, from the
[56]       Ashburnham who accompanied Charles I to the scaffold, and, as
[57]       you must also expect with this class of English people, you would
[58]       never have noticed it. Mrs Ashburnham was a Powys; Florence
[59]       was a Hurlbird of Stamford, Connecticut, where, as you know,
[60]       they are more old-fashioned than even the inhabitants of Cranford,
[61]       England, could have been. I myself am a Dowell of Philadelphia,
[62]       Pa., where, it is historically true, there are more old English
[63]       families than you would find in any six English counties taken
[64]       together. I carry about with me, indeed--as if it were the only thing
[65]       that invisibly anchored me to any spot upon the globe--the title
[66]       deeds of my farm, which once covered several blocks between
[67]       Chestnut and Walnut Streets. These title deeds are of wampum,
[68]       the grant of an Indian chief to the first Dowell, who left Farnham
[69]       in Surrey in company with William Penn. Florence's people, as is
[70]       so often the case with the inhabitants of Connecticut, came from
[71]       the neighbourhood of Fordingbridge, where the Ashburnhams'
[72]       place is. From there, at this moment, I am actually writing.
[73]       
[74]       You may well ask why I write. And yet my reasons are quite many.
[75]       For it is not unusual in human beings who have witnessed the sack
[76]       of a city or the falling to pieces of a people to desire to set down
[77]       what they have witnessed for the benefit of unknown heirs or of
[78]       generations infinitely remote; or, if you please, just to get the sight
[79]       out of their heads.
[80]       
[81]       Some one has said that the death of a mouse from cancer is the
[82]       whole sack of Rome by the Goths, and I swear to you that the
[83]       breaking up of our little four-square coterie was such another
[84]       unthinkable event. Supposing that you should come upon us
[85]       sitting together at one of the little tables in front of the club house,
[86]       let us say, at Homburg, taking tea of an afternoon and watching
[87]       the miniature golf, you would have said that, as human affairs go,
[88]       we were an extraordinarily safe castle. We were, if you will, one of
[89]       those tall ships with the white sails upon a blue sea, one of those
[90]       things that seem the proudest and the safest of all the beautiful
[91]       and safe things that God has permitted the mind of men to frame.
[92]       Where better could one take refuge? Where better?
[93]       
[94]       Permanence? Stability? I can't believe it's gone. I can't believe that
[95]       that long, tranquil life, which was just stepping a minuet, vanished
[96]       in four crashing days at the end of nine years and six weeks. Upon
[97]       my word, yes, our intimacy was like a minuet, simply because on
[98]       every possible occasion and in every possible circumstance we
[99]       knew where to go, where to sit, which table we unanimously
[100]      should choose; and we could rise and go, all four together,
[101]      without a signal from any one of us, always to the music of the Kur
[102]      orchestra, always in the temperate sunshine, or, if it rained, in
[103]      discreet shelters. No, indeed, it can't be gone. You can't kill a
[104]      minuet de la cour. You may shut up the music-book, close the
[105]      harpsichord; in the cupboard and presses the rats may destroy the
[106]      white satin favours. The mob may sack Versailles; the Trianon
[107]      may fall, but surely the minuet--the minuet itself is dancing itself
[108]      away into the furthest stars, even as our minuet of the Hessian
[109]      bathing places must be stepping itself still. Isn't there any heaven
[110]      where old beautiful dances, old beautiful intimacies prolong
[111]      themselves? Isn't there any Nirvana pervaded by the faint thrilling
[112]      of instruments that have fallen into the dust of wormwood but that
[113]      yet had frail, tremulous, and everlasting souls?
[114]      
[115]      No, by God, it is false! It wasn't a minuet that we stepped; it was a
[116]      prison--a prison full of screaming hysterics, tied down so that they
[117]      might not outsound the rolling of our carriage wheels as we went
[118]      along the shaded avenues of the Taunus Wald.
[119]      
[120]      And yet I swear by the sacred name of my creator that it was true.
[121]      It was true sunshine; the true music; the true splash of the
[122]      fountains from the mouth of stone dolphins. For, if for me we
[123]      were four people with the same tastes, with the same desires,
[124]      acting--or, no, not acting--sitting here and there unanimously, isn't
[125]      that the truth? If for nine years I have possessed a goodly apple
[126]      that is rotten at the core and discover its rottenness only in nine
[127]      years and six months less four days, isn't it true to say that for nine
[128]      years I possessed a goodly apple? So it may well be with Edward
[129]      Ashburnham, with Leonora his wife and with poor dear Florence.
[130]      And, if you come to think of it, isn't it a little odd that the physical
[131]      rottenness of at least two pillars of our four-square house never
[132]      presented itself to my mind as a menace to its security? It doesn't
[133]      so present itself now though the two of them are actually dead. I
[134]      don't know. . . .
[135]      
[136]      I know nothing--nothing in the world--of the hearts of men. I only
[137]      know that I am alone--horribly alone. No hearthstone will ever
[138]      again witness, for me, friendly intercourse. No smoking-room will
[139]      ever be other than peopled with incalculable simulacra amidst
[140]      smoke wreaths. Yet, in the name of God, what should I know if I
[141]      don't know the life of the hearth and of the smoking-room, since
[142]      my whole life has been passed in those places? The warm
[143]      hearthside! --Well, there was Florence: I believe that for the twelve
[144]      years her life lasted, after the storm that seemed irretrievably to
[145]      have weakened her heart--I don't believe that for one minute she
[146]      was out of my sight, except when she was safely tucked up in bed
[147]      and I should be downstairs, talking to some good fellow or other
[148]      in some lounge or smoking-room or taking my final turn with a
[149]      cigar before going to bed. I don't, you understand, blame Florence.
[150]      But how can she have known what she knew? How could she have
[151]      got to know it? To know it so fully. Heavens! There doesn't seem
[152]      to have been the actual time. It must have been when I was taking
[153]      my baths, and my Swedish exercises, being manicured. Leading
[154]      the life I did, of the sedulous, strained nurse, I had to do
[155]      something to keep myself fit. It must have been then! Yet even
[156]      that can't have been enough time to get the tremendously long
[157]      conversations full of worldly wisdom that Leonora has reported to
[158]      me since their deaths. And is it possible to imagine that during our
[159]      prescribed walks in Nauheim and the neighbourhood she found
[160]      time to carry on the protracted negotiations which she did carry on
[161]      between Edward Ashburnham and his wife? And isn't it incredible
[162]      that during all that time Edward and Leonora never spoke a word
[163]      to each other in private? What is one to think of humanity?
[164]      
[165]      For I swear to you that they were the model couple. He was as
[166]      devoted as it was possible to be without appearing fatuous. So
[167]      well set up, with such honest blue eyes, such a touch of stupidity,
[168]      such a warm goodheartedness! And she--so tall, so splendid in the
[169]      saddle, so fair! Yes, Leonora was extraordinarily fair and so
[170]      extraordinarily the real thing that she seemed too good to be true.
[171]      You don't, I mean, as a rule, get it all so superlatively together. To
[172]      be the county family, to look the county family, to be so
[173]      appropriately and perfectly wealthy; to be so perfect in
[174]      manner--even just to the saving touch of insolence that seems to be
[175]      necessary. To have all that and to be all that! No, it was too good
[176]      to be true. And yet, only this afternoon, talking over the whole
[177]      matter she said to me: "Once I tried to have a lover but I was so
[178]      sick at the heart, so utterly worn out that I had to send him away."
[179]      That struck me as the most amazing thing I had ever heard. She
[180]      said "I was actually in a man's arms. Such a nice chap! Such a
[181]      dear fellow! And I was saying to myself, fiercely, hissing it
[182]      between my teeth, as they say in novels--and really clenching
[183]      them together: I was saying to myself: 'Now, I'm in for it and I'll
[184]      really have a good time for once in my life--for once in my life!' It
[185]      was in the dark, in a carriage, coming back from a hunt ball.
[186]      Eleven miles we had to drive! And then suddenly the bitterness of
[187]      the endless poverty, of the endless acting--it fell on me like a
[188]      blight, it spoilt everything. Yes, I had to realize that I had been
[189]      spoilt even for the good time when it came. And I burst out crying
[190]      and I cried and I cried for the whole eleven miles. Just imagine
[191]      me crying! And just imagine me making a fool of the poor dear
[192]      chap like that. It certainly wasn't playing the game, was it now?"
[193]      
[194]      I don't know; I don't know; was that last remark of hers the remark
[195]      of a harlot, or is it what every decent woman, county family or not
[196]      county family, thinks at the bottom of her heart? Or thinks all the
[197]      time for the matter of that? Who knows?
[198]      
[199]      Yet, if one doesn't know that at this hour and day, at this pitch of
[200]      civilization to which we have attained, after all the preachings of
[201]      all the moralists, and all the teachings of all the mothers to all the
[202]      daughters in saecula saeculorum . . . but perhaps that is what all
[203]      mothers teach all daughters, not with lips but with the eyes, or
[204]      with heart whispering to heart. And, if one doesn't know as much
[205]      as that about the first thing in the world, what does one know and
[206]      why is one here?
[207]      
[208]      I asked Mrs Ashburnham whether she had told Florence that and
[209]      what Florence had said and she answered:--"Florence didn't offer
[210]      any comment at all. What could she say? There wasn't anything to
[211]      be said. With the grinding poverty we had to put up with to keep
[212]      up appearances, and the way the poverty came about--you know
[213]      what I mean--any woman would have been justified in taking a
[214]      lover and presents too. Florence once said about a very similar
[215]      position--she was a little too well-bred, too American, to talk about
[216]      mine--that it was a case of perfectly open riding and the woman
[217]      could just act on the spur of the moment. She said it in American
[218]      of course, but that was the sense of it. I think her actual words
[219]      were: 'That it was up to her to take it or leave it. . . .'"
[220]      
[221]      I don't want you to think that I am writing Teddy Ashburnham
[222]      down a brute. I don't believe he was. God knows, perhaps all men
[223]      are like that. For as I've said what do I know even of the
[224]      smoking-room? Fellows come in and tell the most extraordinarily
[225]      gross stories--so gross that they will positively give you a pain.
[226]      And yet they'd be offended if you suggested that they weren't the
[227]      sort of person you could trust your wife alone with. And very
[228]      likely they'd be quite properly offended--that is if you can trust
[229]      anybody alone with anybody. But that sort of fellow obviously
[230]      takes more delight in listening to or in telling gross stories--more
[231]      delight than in anything else in the world. They'll hunt languidly
[232]      and dress languidly and dine languidly and work without
[233]      enthusiasm and find it a bore to carry on three minutes'
[234]      conversation about anything whatever and yet, when the other sort
[235]      of conversation begins, they'll laugh. and wake up and throw
[236]      themselves about in their chairs. Then, if they so delight in the
[237]      narration, how is it possible that they can be offended--and
[238]      properly offended--at the suggestion that they might make
[239]      attempts upon your wife's honour? Or again: Edward Ashburnham
[240]      was the cleanest looking sort of chap;--an excellent magistrate, a
[241]      first rate soldier, one of the best landlords, so they said, in
[242]      Hampshire, England. To the poor and to hopeless drunkards, as I
[243]      myself have witnessed, he was like a painstaking guardian. And
[244]      he never told a story that couldn't have gone into the columns of
[245]      the Field more than once or twice in all the nine years of my
[246]      knowing him. He didn't even like hearing them; he would fidget
[247]      and get up and go out to buy a cigar or something of that sort. You
[248]      would have said that he was just exactly the sort of chap that you
[249]      could have trusted your wife with. And I trusted mine and it was
[250]      madness. And yet again you have me. If poor Edward was
[251]      dangerous because of the chastity of his expressions--and they say
[252]      that is always the hall-mark of a libertine--what about myself? For
[253]      I solemnly avow that not only have I never so much as hinted at
[254]      an impropriety in my conversation in the whole of my days; and
[255]      more than that, I will vouch for the cleanness of my thoughts and
[256]      the absolute chastity of my life. At what, then, does it all work out?
[257]      Is the whole thing a folly and a mockery? Am I no better than a
[258]      eunuch or is the proper man--the man with the right to
[259]      existence--a raging stallion forever neighing after his neighbour's
[260]      womankind?
[261]      
[262]      I don't know. And there is nothing to guide us. And if everything is
[263]      so nebulous about a matter so elementary as the morals of sex,
[264]      what is there to guide us in the more subtle morality of all other
[265]      personal contacts, associations, and activities? Or are we meant to
[266]      act on impulse alone? It is all a darkness.
[267]      
[268]      II
[269]      
[270]      I DON'T know how it is best to put this thing down--whether it
[271]      would be better to try and tell the story from the beginning, as if it
[272]      were a story; or whether to tell it from this distance of time, as it
[273]      reached me from the lips of Leonora or from those of Edward
[274]      himself.
[275]      
[276]      So I shall just imagine myself for a fortnight or so at one side of
[277]      the fireplace of a country cottage, with a sympathetic soul
[278]      opposite me. And I shall go on talking, in a low voice while the
[279]      sea sounds in the distance and overhead the great black flood of
[280]      wind polishes the bright stars. From time to time we shall get up
[281]      and go to the door and look out at the great moon and say: "Why,
[282]      it is nearly as bright as in Provence!" And then we shall come
[283]      back to the fireside, with just the touch of a sigh because we are
[284]      not in that Provence where even the saddest stories are gay.
[285]      Consider the lamentable history of Peire Vidal. Two years ago
[286]      Florence and I motored from Biarritz to Las Tours, which is in the
[287]      Black Mountains. In the middle of a tortuous valley there rises up
[288]      an immense pinnacle and on the pinnacle are four castles--Las
[289]      Tours, the Towers. And the immense mistral blew down that
[290]      valley which was the way from France into Provence so that the
[291]      silver grey olive leaves appeared like hair flying in the wind, and
[292]      the tufts of rosemary crept into the iron rocks that they might not
[293]      be torn up by the roots.
[294]      
[295]      It was, of course, poor dear Florence who wanted to go to Las
[296]      Tours. You are to imagine that, however much her bright
[297]      personality came from Stamford, Connecticut, she was yet a
[298]      graduate of Poughkeepsie. I never could imagine how she did
[299]      it--the queer, chattery person that she was. With the far-away look
[300]      in her eyes--which wasn't, however, in the least romantic--I mean
[301]      that she didn't look as if she were seeing poetic dreams, or looking
[302]      through you, for she hardly ever did look at you!--holding up one
[303]      hand as if she wished to silence any objection--or any comment
[304]      for the matter of that--she would talk. She would talk about
[305]      William the Silent, about Gustave the Loquacious, about Paris
[306]      frocks, about how the poor dressed in 1337, about Fantin-Latour,
[307]      about the Paris-Lyons-Mediterrane train-deluxe, about whether it
[308]      would be worth while to get off at Tarascon and go across the
[309]      windswept suspension-bridge, over the Rhone to take another look
[310]      at Beaucaire.
[311]      
[312]      We never did take another look at Beaucaire, of course--beautiful
[313]      Beaucaire, with the high, triangular white tower, that looked as
[314]      thin as a needle and as tall as the Flatiron, between Fifth and
[315]      Broadway--Beaucaire with the grey walls on the top of the
[316]      pinnacle surrounding an acre and a half of blue irises, beneath the
[317]      tallness of the stone pines, What a beautiful thing the stone pine
[318]      is! . . .
[319]      
[320]      No, we never did go back anywhere. Not to Heidelberg, not to
[321]      Hamelin, not to Verona, not to Mont Majour--not so much as to
[322]      Carcassonne itself. We talked of it, of course, but I guess Florence
[323]      got all she wanted out of one look at a place. She had the seeing
[324]      eye.
[325]      
[326]      I haven't, unfortunately, so that the world is full of places to which
[327]      I want to return--towns with the blinding white sun upon them;
[328]      stone pines against the blue of the sky; corners of gables, all
[329]      carved and painted with stags and scarlet flowers and crowstepped
[330]      gables with the little saint at the top; and grey and pink palazzi
[331]      and walled towns a mile or so back from the sea, on the
[332]      Mediterranean, between Leghorn and Naples. Not one of them did
[333]      we see more than once, so that the whole world for me is like spots
[334]      of colour in an immense canvas. Perhaps if it weren't so I should
[335]      have something to catch hold of now.
[336]      
[337]      Is all this digression or isn't it digression? Again I don't know. You,
[338]      the listener, sit opposite me. But you are so silent. You don't tell
[339]      me anything. I am, at any rate, trying to get you to see what sort of
[340]      life it was I led with Florence and what Florence was like. Well,
[341]      she was bright; and she danced. She seemed to dance over the
[342]      floors of castles and over seas and over and over and over the
[343]      salons of modistes and over the plages of the Riviera--like a gay
[344]      tremulous beam, reflected from water upon a ceiling. And my
[345]      function in life was to keep that bright thing in existence. And it
[346]      was almost as difficult as trying to catch with your hand that
[347]      dancing reflection. And the task lasted for years.
[348]      
[349]      Florence's aunts used to say that I must be the laziest man in
[350]      Philadelphia. They had never been to Philadelphia and they had
[351]      the New England conscience. You see, the first thing they said to
[352]      me when I called in on Florence in the little ancient, colonial,
[353]      wooden house beneath the high, thin-leaved elms--the first
[354]      question they asked me was not how I did but what did I do. And I
[355]      did nothing. I suppose I ought to have done something, but I didn't
[356]      see any call to do it. Why does one do things? I just drifted in and
[357]      wanted Florence. First I had drifted in on Florence at a Browning
[358]      tea, or something of the sort in Fourteenth Street, which was then
[359]      still residential. I don't know why I had gone to New York; I don't
[360]      know why I had gone to the tea. I don't see why Florence should
[361]      have gone to that sort of spelling bee. It wasn't the place at which,
[362]      even then, you expected to find a Poughkeepsie graduate. I guess
[363]      Florence wanted to raise the culture of the Stuyvesant crowd and
[364]      did it as she might have gone in slumming. Intellectual slumming,
[365]      that was what it was. She always wanted to leave the world a little
[366]      more elevated than she found it. Poor dear thing, I have heard her
[367]      lecture Teddy Ashburnham by the hour on the difference between
[368]      a Franz Hals and a Wouvermans and why the Pre-Mycenaean
[369]      statues were cubical with knobs on the top. I wonder what he
[370]      made of it? Perhaps he was thankful.
[371]      
[372]      I know I was. For do you understand my whole attentions, my
[373]      whole endeavours were to keep poor dear Florence on to topics
[374]      like the finds at Cnossos and the mental spirituality of Walter
[375]      Pater. I had to keep her at it, you understand, or she might die. For
[376]      I was solemnly informed that if she became excited over anything
[377]      or if her emotions were really stirred her little heart might cease to
[378]      beat. For twelve years I had to watch every word that any person
[379]      uttered in any conversation and I had to head it off what the
[380]      English call "things"--off love, poverty, crime, religion and the rest
[381]      of it. Yes, the first doctor that we had when she was carried off
[382]      the ship at Havre assured me that this must be done. Good God,
[383]      are all these fellows monstrous idiots, or is there a freemasonry
[384]      between all of them from end to end of the earth? . . . That is what
[385]      makes me think of that fellow Peire Vidal.
[386]      
[387]      Because, of course, his story is culture and I had to head her
[388]      towards culture and at the same time it's so funny and she hadn't
[389]      got to laugh, and it's so full of love and she wasn't to think of love.
[390]      Do you know the story? Las Tours of the Four Castles had for
[391]      chatelaine Blanche Somebody-or-other who was called as a term
[392]      of commendation, La Louve--the She-Wolf. And Peire Vidal the
[393]      Troubadour paid his court to La Louve. And she wouldn't have
[394]      anything to do with him. So, out of compliment to her--the things
[395]      people do when they're in love!--he dressed himself up in
[396]      wolfskins and went up into the Black Mountains. And the
[397]      shepherds of the Montagne Noire and their dogs mistook him for
[398]      a wolf and he was torn with the fangs and beaten with clubs. So
[399]      they carried him back to Las Tours and La Louve wasn't at all
[400]      impressed. They polished him up and her husband remonstrated
[401]      seriously with her. Vidal was, you see, a great poet and it was not
[402]      proper to treat a great poet with indifference.
[403]      
[404]      So Peire Vidal declared himself Emperor of Jerusalem or
[405]      somewhere and the husband had to kneel down and kiss his feet
[406]      though La Louve wouldn't. And Peire set sail in a rowing boat
[407]      with four companions to redeem the Holy Sepulchre. And they
[408]      struck on a rock somewhere, and, at great expense, the husband
[409]      had to fit out an expedition to fetch him back. And Peire Vidal fell
[410]      all over the Lady's bed while the husband, who was a most
[411]      ferocious warrior, remonstrated some more about the courtesy
[412]      that is due to great poets. But I suppose La Louve was the more
[413]      ferocious of the two. Anyhow, that is all that came of it. Isn't that
[414]      a story?
[415]      
[416]      You haven't an idea of the queer old-fashionedness of Florence's
[417]      aunts--the Misses Hurlbird, nor yet of her uncle. An
[418]      extraordinarily lovable man, that Uncle John. Thin, gentle, and
[419]      with a "heart" that made his life very much what Florence's
[420]      afterwards became. He didn't reside at Stamford; his home was in
[421]      Waterbury where the watches come from. He had a factory there
[422]      which, in our queer American way, would change its functions
[423]      almost from year to year. For nine months or so it would
[424]      manufacture buttons out of bone. Then it would suddenly produce
[425]      brass buttons for coachmen's liveries. Then it would take a turn at
[426]      embossed tin lids for candy boxes. The fact is that the poor old
[427]      gentleman, with his weak and fluttering heart, didn't want his
[428]      factory to manufacture anything at all. He wanted to retire. And he
[429]      did retire when he was seventy. But he was so worried at having
[430]      all the street boys in the town point after him and exclaim: "There
[431]      goes the laziest man in Waterbury!" that he tried taking a tour
[432]      round the world. And Florence and a young man called Jimmy
[433]      went with him. It appears from what Florence told me that
[434]      Jimmy's function with Mr Hurlbird was to avoid exciting topics for
[435]      him. He had to keep him, for instance, out of political discussions.
[436]      For the poor old man was a violent Democrat in days when you
[437]      might travel the world over without finding anything but a
[438]      Republican. Anyhow, they went round the world.
[439]      
[440]      I think an anecdote is about the best way to give you an idea of
[441]      what the old gentleman was like. For it is perhaps important that
[442]      you should know what the old gentleman was; he had a great deal
[443]      of influence in forming the character of my poor dear wife.
[444]      
[445]      Just before they set out from San Francisco for the South Seas old
[446]      Mr Hurlbird said he must take something with him to make little
[447]      presents to people he met on the voyage. And it struck him that
[448]      the things to take for that purpose were oranges--because
[449]      California is the orange country--and comfortable folding chairs.
[450]      So he bought I don't know how many cases of oranges--the great
[451]      cool California oranges, and half-a-dozen folding chairs in a
[452]      special case that he always kept in his cabin. There must have been
[453]      half a cargo of fruit.
[454]      
[455]      For, to every person on board the several steamers that they
[456]      employed--to every person with whom he had so much as a
[457]      nodding acquaintance, he gave an orange every morning. And
[458]      they lasted him right round the girdle of this mighty globe of ours.
[459]      When they were at North Cape, even, he saw on the horizon, poor
[460]      dear thin man that he was, a lighthouse. "Hello," says he to
[461]      himself, "these fellows must be very lonely. Let's take them some
[462]      oranges." So he had a boatload of his fruit out and had himself
[463]      rowed to the lighthouse on the horizon. The folding chairs he lent
[464]      to any lady that he came across and liked or who seemed tired and
[465]      invalidish on the ship. And so, guarded against his heart and,
[466]      having his niece with him, he went round the world. . . .
[467]      
[468]      
[469]      
[470]      He wasn't obtrusive about his heart. You wouldn't have known he
[471]      had one. He only left it to the physical laboratory at Waterbury for
[472]      the benefit of science, since he considered it to be quite an
[473]      extraordinary kind of heart. And the joke of the matter was that,
[474]      when, at the age of eighty-four, just five days before poor
[475]      Florence, he died of bronchitis there was found to be absolutely
[476]      nothing the matter with that organ. It had certainly jumped or
[477]      squeaked or something just sufficiently to take in the doctors, hut
[478]      it appears that that was because of an odd formation of the lungs. I
[479]      don't much understand about these matters.
[480]      
[481]      I inherited his money because Florence died five days after him. I
[482]      wish I hadn't. It was a great worry. I had to go out to Waterbury
[483]      just after Florence's death because the poor dear old fellow had
[484]      left a good many charitable bequests and I had to appoint trustees.
[485]      I didn't like the idea of their not being properly handled.
[486]      
[487]      Yes, it was a great worry. And just as I had got things roughly
[488]      settled I received the extraordinary cable from Ashburnham
[489]      begging me to come back and have a talk with him. And
[490]      immediately afterwards came one from Leonora saying, "Yes,
[491]      please do come. You could be so helpful." It was as if he had sent
[492]      the cable without consulting her and had afterwards told her.
[493]      Indeed, that was pretty much what had happened, except that he
[494]      had told the girl and the girl told the wife. I arrived, however, too
[495]      late to be of any good if I could have been of any good. And then I
[496]      had my first taste of English life. It was amazing. It was
[497]      overwhelming. I never shall forget the polished cob that Edward,
[498]      beside me, drove; the animal's action, its high-stepping, its skin
[499]      that was like satin. And the peace! And the red cheeks! And the
[500]      beautiful, beautiful old house.
[501]      
[502]      Just near Branshaw Teleragh it was and we descended on it from
[503]      the high, clear, windswept waste of the New Forest. I tell you it
[504]      was amazing to arrive there from Waterbury. And it came into my
[505]      head--for Teddy Ashburnham, you remember, had cabled to me to
[506]      "come and have a talk" with him--that it was unbelievable that
[507]      anything essentially calamitous could happen to that place and
[508]      those people. I tell you it was the very spirit of peace. And
[509]      Leonora, beautiful and smiling, with her coils of yellow hair, stood
[510]      on the top doorstep, with a butler and footman and a maid or so
[511]      behind her. And she just said: "So glad you've come," as if I'd run
[512]      down to lunch from a town ten miles away, instead of having
[513]      come half the world over at the call of two urgent telegrams.
[514]      
[515]      The girl was out with the hounds, I think. And that poor devil
[516]      beside me was in an agony. Absolute, hopeless, dumb agony such
[517]      as passes the mind of man to imagine.
[518]      
[519]      III
[520]      
[521]      IT was a very hot summer, in August, 1904; and Florence had
[522]      already been taking the baths for a month. I don't know how it
[523]      feels to be a patient at one of those places. I never was a patient
[524]      anywhere. I daresay the patients get a home feeling and some sort
[525]      of anchorage in the spot. They seem to like the bath attendants,
[526]      with their cheerful faces, their air of authority, their white linen.
[527]      But, for myself, to be at Nauheim gave me a sense--what shall I
[528]      say?--a sense almost of nakedness--the nakedness that one feels on
[529]      the sea-shore or in any great open space. I had no attachments, no
[530]      accumulations. In one's own home it is as if little, innate
[531]      sympathies draw one to particular chairs that seem to enfold one
[532]      in an embrace, or take one along particular streets that seem
[533]      friendly when others may be hostile. And, believe me, that feeling
[534]      is a very important part of life. I know it well, that have been for
[535]      so long a wanderer upon the face of public resorts. And one is too
[536]      polished up. Heaven knows I was never an untidy man. But the
[537]      feeling that I had when, whilst poor Florence was taking her
[538]      morning bath, I stood upon the carefully swept steps of the
[539]      Englischer Hof, looking at the carefully arranged trees in tubs
[540]      upon the carefully arranged gravel whilst carefully arranged
[541]      people walked past in carefully calculated gaiety, at the carefully
[542]      calculated hour, the tall trees of the public gardens, going up to
[543]      the right; the reddish stone of the baths--or were they white
[544]      half-timber chlets? Upon my word I have forgotten, I who was
[545]      there so often. That will give you the measure of how much I was
[546]      in the landscape. I could find my way blindfolded to the hot
[547]      rooms, to the douche rooms, to the fountain in the centre of the
[548]      quadrangle where the rusty water gushes out. Yes, I could find my
[549]      way blindfolded. I know the exact distances. From the Hotel
[550]      Regina you took one hundred and eighty-seven paces, then,
[551]      turning sharp, left-handed, four hundred and twenty took you
[552]      straight down to the fountain. From the Englischer Hof, starting
[553]      on the sidewalk, it was ninety-seven paces and the same four
[554]      hundred and twenty, but turning lefthanded this time.
[555]      
[556]      And now you understand that, having nothing in the world to
[557]      do--but nothing whatever! I fell into the habit of counting my
[558]      footsteps. I would walk with Florence to the baths. And, of course,
[559]      she entertained me with her conversation. It was, as I have said,
[560]      wonderful what she could make conversation out of. She walked
[561]      very lightly, and her hair was very nicely done, and she dressed
[562]      beautifully and very expensively. Of course she had money of her
[563]      own, but I shouldn't have minded. And yet you know I can't
[564]      remember a single one of her dresses. Or I can remember just one,
[565]      a very simple one of blue figured silk--a Chinese pattern--very full
[566]      in the skirts and broadening out over the shoulders. And her hair
[567]      was copper-coloured, and the heels of her shoes were exceedingly
[568]      high, so that she tripped upon the points of her toes. And when she
[569]      came to the door of the bathing place, and when it opened to
[570]      receive her, she would look back at me with a little coquettish
[571]      smile, so that her cheek appeared to be caressing her shoulder.
[572]      
[573]      I seem to remember that, with that dress, she wore an immensely
[574]      broad Leghorn hat--like the Chapeau de Paille of Rubens, only
[575]      very white. The hat would be tied with a lightly knotted scarf of
[576]      the same stuff as her dress. She knew how to give value to her
[577]      blue eyes. And round her neck would be some simple pink, coral
[578]      beads. And her complexion had a perfect clearness, a perfect
[579]      smoothness . . .
[580]      
[581]      Yes, that is how I most exactly remember her, in that dress, in that
[582]      hat, looking over her shoulder at me so that the eyes flashed very
[583]      blue--dark pebble blue . . .
[584]      
[585]      And, what the devil! For whose benefit did she do it? For that of
[586]      the bath attendant? of the passers-by? I don't know. Anyhow, it
[587]      can't have been for me, for never, in all the years of her life, never
[588]      on any possible occasion, or in any other place did she so smile to
[589]      me, mockingly, invitingly. Ah, she was a riddle; but then, all other
[590]      women are riddles. And it occurs to me that some way back I
[591]      began a sentence that I have never finished . . . It was about the
[592]      feeling that I had when I stood on the steps of my hotel every
[593]      morning before starting out to fetch Florence back from the bath.
[594]      Natty, precise, well-brushed, conscious of being rather small
[595]      amongst the long English, the lank Americans, the rotund
[596]      Germans, and the obese Russian Jewesses, I should stand there,
[597]      tapping a cigarette on the outside of my case, surveying for a
[598]      moment the world in the sunlight. But a day was to come when I
[599]      was never to do it again alone. You can imagine, therefore, what
[600]      the coming of the Ashburnhams meant to me. I have forgotten the
[601]      aspect of many things, but I shall never forget the aspect of the
[602]      dining-room of the Hotel Excelsior on that evening--and on so
[603]      many other evenings. Whole castles have vanished from my
[604]      memory, whole cities that I have never visited again, but that
[605]      white room, festooned with papier-mach fruits and flowers; the
[606]      tall windows; the many tables; the black screen round the door
[607]      with three golden cranes flying upward on each panel; the
[608]      palm-tree in the centre of the room; the swish of the waiter's feet;
[609]      the cold expensive elegance; the mien of the diners as they came
[610]      in every evening--their air of earnestness as if they must go
[611]      through a meal prescribed by the Kur authorities and their air of
[612]      sobriety as if they must seek not by any means to enjoy their
[613]      meals--those things I shall not easily forget. And then, one
[614]      evening, in the twilight, I saw Edward Ashburnham lounge round
[615]      the screen into the room. The head waiter, a man with a face all
[616]      grey--in what subterranean nooks or corners do people cultivate
[617]      those absolutely grey complexions?--went with the timorous
[618]      patronage of these creatures towards him and held out a grey ear
[619]      to be whispered into. It was generally a disagreeable ordeal for
[620]      newcomers but Edward Ashburnham bore it like an Englishman
[621]      and a gentleman. I could see his lips form a word of three
[622]      syllables--remember I had nothing in the world to do but to notice
[623]      these niceties--and immediately I knew that he must be Edward
[624]      Ashburnham, Captain, Fourteenth Hussars, of Branshaw House,
[625]      Branshaw Teleragh. I knew it because every evening just before
[626]      dinner, whilst I waited in the hall, I used, by the courtesy of
[627]      Monsieur Schontz, the proprietor, to inspect the little police
[628]      reports that each guest was expected to sign upon taking a room.
[629]      
[630]      The head waiter piloted him immediately to a vacant table, three
[631]      away from my own--the table that the Grenfalls of Falls River,
[632]      N.J., had just vacated. It struck me that that was not a very nice
[633]      table for the newcomers, since the sunlight, low though it was,
[634]      shone straight down upon it, and the same idea seemed to come at
[635]      the same moment into Captain Ashburnham's head. His face
[636]      hitherto had, in the wonderful English fashion, expressed nothing
[637]      whatever. Nothing. There was in it neither joy nor despair; neither
[638]      hope nor fear; neither boredom nor satisfaction. He seemed to
[639]      perceive no soul in that crowded room; he might have been
[640]      walking in a jungle. I never came across such a perfect expression
[641]      before and I never shall again. It was insolence and not insolence;
[642]      it was modesty and not modesty. His hair was fair, extraordinarily
[643]      ordered in a wave, running from the left temple to the right; his
[644]      face was a light brick-red, perfectly uniform in tint up to the roots
[645]      of the hair itself; his yellow moustache was as stiff as a toothbrush
[646]      and I verily believe that he had his black smoking jacket thickened
[647]      a little over the shoulder-blades so as to give himself the air of the
[648]      slightest possible stoop. It would be like him to do that; that was
[649]      the sort of thing he thought about. Martingales, Chiffney bits,
[650]      boots; where you got the best soap, the best brandy, the name of
[651]      the chap who rode a plater down the Khyber cliffs; the spreading
[652]      power of number three shot before a charge of number four
[653]      powder . . . by heavens, I hardly ever heard him talk of anything
[654]      else. Not in all the years that I knew him did I hear him talk of
[655]      anything but these subjects. Oh, yes, once he told me that I could
[656]      buy my special shade of blue ties cheaper from a firm in
[657]      Burlington Arcade than from my own people in New York. And I
[658]      have bought my ties from that firm ever since. Otherwise I should
[659]      not remember the name of the Burlington Arcade. I wonder what
[660]      it looks like. I have never seen it. I imagine it to be two immense
[661]      rows of pillars, like those of the Forum at Rome, with Edward
[662]      Ashburnham striding down between them. But it probably
[663]      isn't--the least like that. Once also he advised me to buy
[664]      Caledonian Deferred, since they were due to rise. And I did buy
[665]      them and they did rise. But of how he got the knowledge I haven't
[666]      the faintest idea. It seemed to drop out of the blue sky.
[667]      
[668]      And that was absolutely all that I knew of him until a month
[669]      ago--that and the profusion of his cases, all of pigskin and
[670]      stamped with his initials, E. F. A. There were gun cases, and
[671]      collar cases, and shirt cases, and letter cases and cases each
[672]      containing four bottles of medicine; and hat cases and helmet
[673]      cases. It must have needed a whole herd of the Gadarene swine to
[674]      make up his outfit. And, if I ever penetrated into his private room
[675]      it would be to see him standing, with his coat and waistcoat off
[676]      and the immensely long line of his perfectly elegant trousers from
[677]      waist to boot heel. And he would have a slightly reflective air and
[678]      he would be just opening one kind of case and just closing
[679]      another.
[680]      
[681]      Good God, what did they all see in him? for I swear there was all
[682]      there was of him, inside and out; though they said he was a good
[683]      soldier. Yet, Leonora adored him with a passion that was like an
[684]      agony, and hated him with an agony that was as bitter as the sea.
[685]      How could he arouse anything like a sentiment, in anybody?
[686]      
[687]      What did he even talk to them about--when they were under four
[688]      eyes? --Ah, well, suddenly, as if by a flash of inspiration, I know.
[689]      For all good soldiers are sentimentalists--all good soldiers of that
[690]      type. Their profession, for one thing, is full of the big words,
[691]      courage, loyalty, honour, constancy. And I have given a wrong
[692]      impression of Edward Ashburnham if I have made you think that
[693]      literally never in the course of our nine years of intimacy did he
[694]      discuss what he would have called "the graver things." Even
[695]      before his final outburst to me, at times, very late at night, say, he
[696]      has blurted out something that gave an insight into the sentimental
[697]      view of the cosmos that was his. He would say how much the
[698]      society of a good woman could do towards redeeming you, and he
[699]      would say that constancy was the finest of the virtues. He said it
[700]      very stiffly, of course, but still as if the statement admitted of no
[701]      doubt.
[702]      
[703]      Constancy! Isn't that the queer thought? And yet, I must add that
[704]      poor dear Edward was a great reader--he would pass hours lost in
[705]      novels of a sentimental type--novels in which typewriter girls
[706]      married Marquises and governesses Earls. And in his books, as a
[707]      rule, the course of true love ran as smooth as buttered honey. And
[708]      he was fond of poetry, of a certain type--and he could even read a
[709]      perfectly sad love story. I have seen his eyes filled with tears at
[710]      reading of a hopeless parting. And he loved, with a sentimental
[711]      yearning, all children, puppies, and the feeble generally. . . .
[712]      
[713]      So, you see, he would have plenty to gurgle about to a
[714]      woman--with that and his sound common sense about martingales
[715]      and his--still sentimental--experiences as a county magistrate; and
[716]      with his intense, optimistic belief that the woman he was making
[717]      love to at the moment was the one he was destined, at last, to be
[718]      eternally constant to. . . . Well, I fancy he could put up a pretty
[719]      good deal of talk when there was no man around to make him feel
[720]      shy. And I was quite astonished, during his final burst out to
[721]      me--at the very end of things, when the poor girl was on her way
[722]      to that fatal Brindisi and he was trying to persuade himself and me
[723]      that he had never really cared for her--I was quite astonished to
[724]      observe how literary and how just his expressions were. He talked
[725]      like quite a good book--a book not in the least cheaply
[726]      sentimental. You see, I suppose he regarded me not so much as a
[727]      man. I had to be regarded as a woman or a solicitor. Anyhow, it
[728]      burst out of him on that horrible night. And then, next morning, he
[729]      took me over to the Assizes and I saw how, in a perfectly calm
[730]      and business-like way, he set to work to secure a verdict of not
[731]      guilty for a poor girl, the daughter of one of his tenants, who had
[732]      been accused of murdering her baby. He spent two hundred
[733]      pounds on her defence . . . Well, that was Edward Ashburnham.
[734]      
[735]      I had forgotten about his eyes. They were as blue as the sides of a
[736]      certain type of box of matches. When you looked at them
[737]      carefully you saw that they were perfectly honest, perfectly
[738]      straightforward, perfectly, perfectly stupid. But the brick pink of
[739]      his complexion, running perfectly level to the brick pink of his
[740]      inner eyelids, gave them a curious, sinister expression--like a
[741]      mosaic of blue porcelain set in pink china. And that chap, coming
[742]      into a room, snapped up the gaze of every woman in it, as
[743]      dexterously as a conjurer pockets billiard balls. It was most
[744]      amazing. You know the man on the stage who throws up sixteen
[745]      balls at once and they all drop into pockets all over his person, on
[746]      his shoulders, on his heels, on the inner side of his sleeves; and he
[747]      stands perfectly still and does nothing. Well, it was like that. He
[748]      had rather a rough, hoarse voice.
[749]      
[750]      And, there he was, standing by the table. I was looking at him,
[751]      with my back to the screen. And suddenly, I saw two distinct
[752]      expressions flicker across his immobile eyes. How the deuce did
[753]      they do it, those unflinching blue eyes with the direct gaze? For
[754]      the eyes themselves never moved, gazing over my shoulder
[755]      towards the screen. And the gaze was perfectly level and perfectly
[756]      direct and perfectly unchanging. I suppose that the lids really must
[757]      have rounded themselves a little and perhaps the lips moved a
[758]      little too, as if he should be saying: "There you are, my dear." At
[759]      any rate, the expression was that of pride, of satisfaction, of the
[760]      possessor. I saw him once afterwards, for a moment, gaze upon
[761]      the sunny fields of Branshaw and say: "All this is my land!"
[762]      
[763]      And then again, the gaze was perhaps more direct, harder if
[764]      possible--hardy too. It was a measuring look; a challenging look.
[765]      Once when we were at Wiesbaden watching him play in a polo
[766]      match against the Bonner Hussaren I saw the same look come into
[767]      his eyes, balancing the possibilities, looking over the ground. The
[768]      German Captain, Count Baron Idigon von Lelffel, was right up
[769]      by their goal posts, coming with the ball in an easy canter in that
[770]      tricky German fashion. The rest of the field were just anywhere. It
[771]      was only a scratch sort of affair. Ashburnham was quite close to
[772]      the rails not five yards from us and I heard him saying to himself:
[773]      "Might just be done!" And he did it. Goodness! he swung that
[774]      pony round with all its four legs spread out, like a cat dropping off
[775]      a roof. . . .
[776]      
[777]      Well, it was just that look that I noticed in his eyes: "It might," I
[778]      seem even now to hear him muttering to himself, "just be done."
[779]      
[780]      I looked round over my shoulder and saw, tall, smiling brilliantly
[781]      and buoyant--Leonora. And, little and fair, and as radiant as the
[782]      track of sunlight along the sea--my wife.
[783]      
[784]      That poor wretch! to think that he was at that moment in a perfect
[785]      devil of a fix, and there he was, saying at the back of his mind: "It
[786]      might just be done." It was like a chap in the middle of the
[787]      eruption of a volcano, saying that he might just manage to bolt
[788]      into the tumult and set fire to a haystack. Madness?
[789]      Predestination? Who the devil knows?
[790]      
[791]      Mrs Ashburnham exhibited at that moment more gaiety than I have
[792]      ever since known her to show. There are certain classes of English
[793]      people--the nicer ones when they have been to many spas, who
[794]      seem to make a point of becoming much more than usually
[795]      animated when they are introduced to my compatriots. I have
[796]      noticed this often. Of course, they must first have accepted the
[797]      Americans. But that once done, they seem to say to themselves:
[798]      "Hallo, these women are so bright. We aren't going to be outdone
[799]      in brightness." And for the time being they certainly aren't. But it
[800]      wears off. So it was with Leonora--at least until she noticed me.
[801]      She began, Leonora did--and perhaps it was that that gave me the
[802]      idea of a touch of insolence in her character, for she never
[803]      afterwards did any one single thing like it--she began by saying in
[804]      quite a loud voice and from quite a distance:
[805]      
[806]      "Don't stop over by that stuffy old table, Teddy. Come and sit by
[807]      these nice people!"
[808]      
[809]      And that was an extraordinary thing to say. Quite extraordinary. I
[810]      couldn't for the life of me refer to total strangers as nice people.
[811]      But, of course, she was taking a line of her own in which I at any
[812]      rate--and no one else in the room, for she too had taken the
[813]      trouble to read through the list of guests--counted any more than
[814]      so many clean, bull terriers. And she sat down rather brilliantly at
[815]      a vacant table, beside ours--one that was reserved for the
[816]      Guggenheimers. And she just sat absolutely deaf to the
[817]      remonstrances of the head waiter with his face like a grey ram's.
[818]      That poor chap was doing his steadfast duty too. He knew that the
[819]      Guggenheimers of Chicago, after they had stayed there a month
[820]      and had worried the poor life out of him, would give him two
[821]      dollars fifty and grumble at the tipping system. And he knew that
[822]      Teddy Ashburnham and his wife would give him no trouble
[823]      whatever except what the smiles of Leonora might cause in his
[824]      apparently unimpressionable bosom--though you never can tell
[825]      what may go on behind even a not quite spotless plastron! --And
[826]      every week Edward Ashburnham would give him a solid, sound,
[827]      golden English sovereign. Yet this stout fellow was intent on
[828]      saving that table for the Guggenheimers of Chicago. It ended in
[829]      Florence saying:
[830]      
[831]      "Why shouldn't we all eat out of the same trough? --that's a nasty
[832]      New York saying. But I'm sure we're all nice quiet people and
[833]      there can be four seats at our table. It's round."
[834]      
[835]      Then came, as it were, an appreciative gurgle from the Captain and
[836]      I was perfectly aware of a slight hesitation--a quick sharp motion
[837]      in Mrs Ashburnham, as if her horse had checked. But she put it at
[838]      the fence all right, rising from the seat she had taken and sitting
[839]      down opposite me, as it were, all in one motion. I never thought
[840]      that Leonora looked her best in evening dress. She seemed to get
[841]      it too clearly cut, there was no ruffling. She always affected black
[842]      and her shoulders were too classical. She seemed to stand out of
[843]      her corsage as a white marble bust might out of a black
[844]      Wedgwood vase. I don't know.
[845]      
[846]      I loved Leonora always and, today, I would very cheerfully lay
[847]      down my life, what is left of it, in her service. But I am sure I
[848]      never had the beginnings of a trace of what is called the sex
[849]      instinct towards her. And I suppose--no I am certain that she never
[850]      had it towards me. As far as I am concerned I think it was those
[851]      white shoulders that did it. I seemed to feel when I looked at them
[852]      that, if ever I should press my lips upon them that they would be
[853]      slightly cold--not icily, not without