Fog was so dense, bird that had been disturbed went flat into a balustrade and slowly fell, dead, at her feet.
There it lay and Miss Fellowes looked up to where that pall of fog was twenty foot above and out of which it had fallen, turning over once. She bent down and took a wing then entered a tunnel in front of her, and this had DEPARTURES lit up over it, carrying her dead pigeon.
No one paid attention, all were intent and everyone hurried, nobody looked back. Her dead pigeon then lay sideways, wings outspread as she held it, its dead head down towards the ground. She turned and she went back to where it had fallen and again looked up to where it must have died for it was still warm and, everything unexplained, she turned once more into the tunnel back to the station.
She thought it must be dirty with all that fog and wondered if it might not be, now it was dead, that it had fleas and they would come out on the feathers of its head but she did not like to look as there might have been blood. She remembered she had seen that with rabbits’ ears when they had been shot and she remembered that swallows were most verminous of all birds — how could it have died she wondered and then decided that it must be washed.
As Miss Fellowes penetrated through at leisure and at last stepped out under a huge vault of glass — and here people hurriedly crossed her path and shuttled past on either side — Miss Crevy and her young man drove up outside and getting out were at once part of all that movement. And this affected them, for if they also had to engage in one of those tunnels to get to where they were going it was not for them simply to pick up dead birds and then wander through slowly. Miss Crevy had hat-boxes and bags and if her young man was only there to see her off and hate her for going and if Miss Fellowes had no more to do than kiss her niece and wave good-bye, Miss Angela Crevy must find porters and connect with Evelyn Henderson, who was also going and who had all the tickets.
People were gathering everywhere then at this time and making their way to the station.
Of their party two more had also arrived who like Miss Fellowes had only come to wave good-bye; two nannies dressed in granite with black straw hats and white hair. They were just now going downstairs in the centre of an open space and those stairs had LADIES lit up over them.
Meantime Miss Crevy’s young man said:
‘This porter here says the fog outside is appalling, Angela darling.’ He went on to say it was common knowledge with all the porters that no more trains would go out that evening, it was four-thirty now, it would soon be dark, then so much worse. But she said now they had got a porter it would be silly to go away and certainly she must see the others first. Besides she knew Robin did not want her to go and though she did not mind she wondered how much he wanted her to stay. Anyway, nothing on earth would prevent her going. Their porter then made difficulties and did not want to come with them; he would only offer to put her things in the cloakroom, so her young man, Robin, had to tip him in advance and so at last they too went in under into one of those tunnels.
Descending underground, down fifty steps, these two nannies saw beneath them a quarter-opened door and beyond, in electric light, another old woman who must be the guardian of this place; it might have been one of their sisters, looking upstairs at them. As they came down she looked over behind her and then back at them.
For Miss Fellowes, as they soon saw, had drawn up her sleeves and on the now dirty water with a thin wreath or two of blood, feathers puffed up and its head sideways, drowned along one wing, lay her dead pigeon. Air just above it was dizzy with a little steam, for she was doing what she felt must be done with hot water, turning her fingers to the colour of its legs and blood.
No word passed. The attendant watched the two nannies who stood in a corner. In one hand she gripped her Lysol bottle, her other was in her pocket and held a two-shilling piece that Miss Fellowes had slipped her. She whispered to them:
‘She won’t be long,’ and turning she watched her stairs again, uneasy lest there should be more witnesses.
At this moment Mr Wray was telling how his niece Miss Julia Wray and party would be travelling by the boat train and ‘Roberts,’ he said over the telephone, ‘get on to the station master’s office, will you, and tell him to look out for her.’ Mr Wray was a director of the line. Mr Roberts said they would be delighted to look out for Miss Wray and that they were only too glad to be of service to Mr Wray at any time. Mr Wray said ‘So that’s all right then,’ and rang off just when Mr Roberts was going on to explain how thick the fog was, not down to the ground right here but two miles out it was as bad as any could remember: ‘impenetrable, Mr Wray — why he must have hung up on me.’
‘What I want now is some brown paper and a piece of string,’ Miss Fellowes quite firmly said and all that attendant could get out was, ‘Well, I never did.’ Not so loud though that Miss Fellowes could hear; it was on account of those two nannies that she minded, not realizing that they knew Miss Fellowes, sister to one of their employers. They did not say anything to this. They did not care to retire as that might seem as if they were embarrassed by what they were seeing, speak they could not as they had not been spoken to, nor could they pass remarks with this attendant out of loyalty to homes they were pensioners of and of which Miss Fellowes was a part.
And as Miss Fellowes considered it was a private act she was performing and thought it was a bore their being there, for she saw who they were, when she went out she ignored them and it was not their place to look up at her.
Now Miss Fellowes did not feel well, so, when she got to the top of those steps she rested there leaning on a handrail. Miss Crevy and her young man came by, Miss Fellowes saw them and they saw her, they hesitated and then greeted each other, Miss Crevy being extremely sweet. So was she going on this trip, too, Miss Fellowes asked, wondering if she were going to faint after all, and Miss Crevy said she was and had Miss Fellowes met Mr Robin Adams? Miss Fellowes said which was the platform, did she know, on which Miss Crevy’s young man broke in with ‘I shouldn’t bother about that, there’ll be no train for hours with this fog.’
‘Then aren’t you going with them all?’ and saying this she took an extra grip on that handrail and said to herself that it was coming over her now and when it did come would she fall over backwards and down those stairs and she smiled vaguely over clenched teeth. ‘O what a pity,’ she said. Below those two nannies poked out their heads together to see if all was clear but when they saw her still there they withdrew. And now Miss Crevy was telling her who was coming with them. ‘The Hignams,’ she pronounced Hinnem, ‘Robert and your niece Claire, Evelyn Henderson, who has all our tickets, Julia, Alex Alexander and Max Adey.’
‘Is that the young man I hear so much about nowadays?’ she said and then felt worse. She felt that if she were going to faint then she would not do it in front of this rude young man and in despair she turned to him and said:, ‘I wonder if you would mind throwing this parcel away in the first wastepaper basket’ He took it and went off. She felt better at once, it began to go off and relief came over her in a glow following out her weakness.
‘Do you mean Max?’ Miss Crevy asked self-consciously.
‘Yes, he goes about a great deal, doesn’t he?’
She was reviving and her eyes moved away from a fixed spot just beyond Miss Crevy and, taking in what was round about, spotted Mr Adams coming back.
‘How kind of him,’ she said and to herself she thought how wonderful it’s gone, I feel quite strong again, what an awful day it’s been and how idiotic to be here. ‘Then you won’t be even numbers, dear, will you?’
‘No, you see no one quite knew whether Max would come or not.’
As she had not thanked him yet Adams thought he would try to get something out of this old woman, so he said:
‘I put your parcel away for you.’
‘Oh, did you find somewhere to put it, how very kind of you. I wonder if you would show me which one you put it in,’ and when he had shown her she made excuses and broke away, asking Miss Crevy to tell Julia she would be on the platform later. Once free of them she went to where he had shown her and, partly because she felt so much better now, she retrieved her dead pigeon done up in brown paper.
The main office district of London centred round this station and now innumerable people, male and female, after thinking about getting home, were yawning, stretching, having another look at their clocks, putting files away and closing books, some were signing their last letters almost without reading what they had dictated and licking the flaps where earlier on they would have wetted their fingers and taken time.
Now they came out in ones and threes and now a flood was coming out and spreading into streets round; but while traffic might be going in any direction there was no one on foot who was not making his way home and that meant for most by way of the station.
As pavements swelled out under this dark flood so that if you had been ensconced in that pall of fog looking down below at twenty foot deep of night illuminated by street lamps, these crowded pavements would have looked to you as if for all the world they might have been conduits.
While these others walked all in one direction, the traffic was motionless for long and then longer periods. Fog was down to ground level outside London, no cars could penetrate there so that if you had been seven thousand feet up and could have seen through you would have been amused at blocked main roads in solid lines and, on the pavements within two miles of this station, crawling worms on either side.
In ones and threes they came into the station by way of those tunnels, then out under that huge vault of glass. As they filed in, Miss Fellowes, who was looking round for a porter to ask him which platform was hers, thought every porter had deserted. But as it happened what few there were had been obscured.
At this moment Mr Roberts, ensconced in his office where he could see hundreds below, for his windows overlooked the station, was telephoning for police reinforcements. ‘There are hundreds here now, Mr Clarke,’ he said, ‘in another quarter of an hour these hundreds will be thousands. They tell me no buses are running and “this must be one of those nights you’ll be glad you live over your work,”’ he said. Then they talked for some time about who was to pay for all this — as railways have to keep their own police — and they enjoyed quoting Acts of Parliament to each other.
One then of legion when she had left her uncle’s house, Miss Julia Wray left where she lived saying she would rather walk. With all this fog she felt certain she would get to the station before her luggage.
As she stepped out into this darkness of fog above and left warm rooms with bells and servants and her uncle who was one of Mr Roberts’ directors — a rich important man — she lost her name and was all at once anonymous; if it had not been for her rich coat she might have been any typist making her way home.
Or she might have been a poisoner, anything. Few people passed her and they did not look up, as if they also were guilty. As each and every one went about their business they were divided by this gloom and were nervous, and as she herself turned into the Green Park it was so dim she was sorry she had not gone by car.
Air she breathed was harsh, and here where there were no lamps or what few there were shone at greater distances, it was like night with fog as a ceiling shutting out the sky, lying below tops of trees.
Where hundreds of thousands she could not see were now going home, their day done, she was only starting out and there was this difference that where she had been nervous of her journey and of starting, so that she had said she would rather go on foot to the station to walk it off, she was frightened now. As a path she was following turned this way and that round bushes and shrubs that hid from her what she would find she felt she would next come upon this fog dropped suddenly down to the ground, when she would be lost.
Then at another turn she was on more open ground. Headlights of cars above turning into a road as they swept round hooting swept their light above where she walked, illuminating lower branches of trees. As she hurried she started at each blaring horn and each time she would look up to make sure that noise heralded a light and then was reassured to see leaves brilliantly green veined like marble with wet dirt and these veins reflecting each light back for a moment then it would be gone out beyond her and then was altogether gone and there was another.
These lights would come like thoughts in darkness, in a stream; a flash and then each was away. Looking round, and she was always glancing back, she would now and then see loving couples dimly two by two; in flashes their faces and anything white in their clothes picked up what light was at moments reflected down on them.
What a fuss and trouble it had been, and how terrible it all was she thought of Max, and then it was a stretch of water she was going by and lights still curved overhead as drivers sounded horns and birds, deceived by darkness, woken by these lights, stirred in their sleep, mesmerized in darkness.
It was so wrong, so unfair of Max not to say whether he was really coming, not to be in when she rang up, leaving that man of his, Edwards, to say he had gone out, leaving it like that to the last so that none of them knew if he was going to come or not. She imagined she met him now on this path looking particularly dark and how she would stop him and ask him why he was here, why wasn’t he at the station? He would only ask her what she was doing herself. Then she would not be able to tell him she was frightened because he would think it silly. She would hardly admit to herself that she was only walking to try and calm herself, she was so certain he would not come after all.
It was so strange and dreadful to be walking here in darkness when it was only half-past four, so unlucky they had ever discussed all going off together though he had been the first to suggest it. How did people manage when they said they would do something and then did not do it? How silly she had been ever to say she would be of this party for now she would have to go with them, she could not go home now she was packed, they would not understand. But how could people be vague about going abroad what with passports and travelling? He had her at a hopeless disadvantage, he could gad about London with her gone and go to bed with every girl.
She realized that she was quite alone, no cars were passing and by the faint glow of a lamp she was near she could see no lovers, even, under trees.
It came to her then that she might not have packed her charms, that her maid had left them out and this would explain why things were so wrong. There they were, she could see them, on the table by her bed, her egg with the elephants in it, her wooden pistol and her little painted top. She could not remember them being put in. She turned round, facing the other way. She looked in her bag though she never carried them there. It would be hopeless to go without them, she must hurry back. Oh why had she not gone in the taxi with her things?
And as she turned back Thomson went by with her luggage, light from his taxi curving over her head. She did not know, and he did not know she was there, he was taken up in his mind with how difficult it was going to be for him to find Miss, Henderson and how most likely he would miss his tea.
Meantime, as he was letting himself into his flat, Max was wondering if he would go after all. It would mean leaving Amabel. Blinds were drawn, there was a fire. He could not leave Amabel. Edwards, his manservant, came in to say that Mrs Hignam had rung up and would he please ring her back. He did not like to leave Amabel. He asked Edwards if his things were packed and he was told they nearly were. Well if his bags were ready then he might as well leave Amabel.
Julia, crossing a footbridge, was so struck by misery she had to stand still, and she looked down at stagnant water beneath. Then three seagulls flew through that span on which she stood and that is what had happened one of the times she first met him, doves had flown under a bridge where she had been standing when she had stayed away last summer. She thought those gulls were for the sea they were to cross that evening.
Mr and Mrs Hignam were on their way, crawling along, continually in traffic blocks so that their driver was always folding his arms over the wheel and resting his head.
Claire Hignam was talking hard and fast. First she told her husband Robert she had rung Max up to say they were just off and to ask him why he was not already on his way. He had told her he was not packed yet but she had known enough of him not to believe that. Edwards was too good a servant to leave things so late and anyway Max could not give straight answers.
‘D’you suppose we shall see Nannie on the platform, it’s so touching really how she always comes to see me off?
As he did, not reply she went on to ask him if he had seen that Edward Cumberland was dead, so young. He paid no attention for he was thinking of something he had forgotten. She explained she had been in too much of a rush to tell him before and he then said tell him what? At this she said he was maddening, didn’t he realize this boy had died when he was only twenty-six? He said what of? She did not know and what on earth did it matter anyway, wasn’t the awful thing that he was dead and at twenty-six? She went on that she would live till she was eighty-four. He made no answer. Then she said this dead man was a cousin of Embassy Richard’s, what did he know about that?
(It appears that a young fellow, Richard Cumberland, was so fond of going out that, like many others, he often went to parties uninvited. A Foreign Embassy was entertaining its Prince who was paying visits in this country and someone had stolen some sheets of Cumberland’s note-paper and had sent to every newspaper in London asking them to put the following in their Court Columns: Mr Richard Cumberland regrets that he was unavoidably prevented by indisposition from accepting His Excellency the Ambassador’s invitation to meet his Prince Royal. This notice had duly appeared and the Ambassador, thinking to strike out for a host’s right to have what guests he chose, had written to the Press pointing out that he had never invited Mr Cumberland and that this gentleman was unknown to him. The whole subject was now being discussed at length everywhere and in two solicitors’ offices and in correspondence columns in the Press.)
He could not tell her anything that she did not already know but he thought perhaps they might hear some news when they got to the station.
‘If we ever get there,’ she said. ‘Really it is too awful trying to get round London nowadays. We’ve been fifteen minutes already, block after block like this it’s too frightful.’
Even then she had no train fever, she was confident their train would not go without her. But Miss Evelyn Henderson, who had been urging her driver on and telling him every moment of short cuts to take which he knew would delay them, was in a great rush and bother when she was driven up. Fumbling to pay him off in her bag bulging with the others’ tickets she told her porter they were certain to be separated, they must meet where luggage was registered, under the clock. He said which one, there were three. Under the clock she said and then they were gone.
Inside, dolled up in his top hat, the station master came out under that huge vault of green he called his roof, smelled fog which disabled all his trains, looked about at fog-coloured people, his travellers who scurried though now and again they stood swaying and he thought that the air, his atmosphere, was wonderfully clear considering, although everyone did seem smudged by fog. And how was he going to find Miss Julia Wray he asked, whom he did not know by sight, and when by rights he should be in his office.
Miss Fellowes also considered how she was to find her niece. She did feel better but not yet altogether safe, if her faintness had left her she was not confident it would not return. She decided that it would be better for her to sit down.
Those two nannies were already over cups of tea when they saw her come in and look round for somewhere to sit. She saw an oval counter behind which two sweating females served and round it, one row deep, were chromium-painted stools, like chrysanthemums with chromium-plated stalks. Each one of these was occupied but there were some other seats of canvas with chromium plate again so that, associating them with deck chairs, for an instant she indulged herself with plans of sea voyages and the South of France. All these were also taken except one and on this she sat down, holding her dead pigeon wrapped up on her lap and waiting to be served.
As time went by and no one came to take her order she knew how tired she was. Although this was her first time out today she thought she might have been through long illnesses she felt so weak. She saw there was only one waitress to serve customers beyond that counter and as she was still waiting she understood at last that it was for her to fetch what she wanted. Leaving the pigeon in her place, and asking a man next her to keep it, she went to see.
At first all those two nannies noticed was that Miss Fellowes had gone up to the counter and they did not doubt but what she was ordering tea. They were not surprised when she was not served as they themselves had been kept waiting. But as they watched her they soon saw that thin-lipped flush which, with their experience, told them that for Miss Fellowes all this was getting past all bearing. They knew what it meant and they could have warned her it Was useless to give girls like these a chance to answer back. You had to be thankful if you were served and it only made things worse to complain as she was doing.
Then they realized that words were passing, but what shocked them most, when it was over and Miss Fellowes was walking back to her seat, was to see that it was not tea she had ordered, what she was carrying back was whisky. They were sorry to see her order and sorry again for all this had drawn attention to her. One rough-looking customer in particular eyed her rather close.
Miss Fellowes did not care, she could dismiss things of that kind from her mind and entirely ignore at will anything unpleasant or what she called rude behaviour, so long as this was from servants; It had been a fancy to order whisky and she was trying to remember what her father’s brand had been called which was always laid out for them years ago when they got back from hunting. He said it was good for everyone after a hard day and you drank it, went to have your bath and then sat down to high tea. And now how extraordinary she should be here, drinking in tea rooms with all these extraordinary looking people. And there was that poor bird. One had seen so many killed out shooting, but any dead animal shocked one in London, even birds, though of course they had easy living in towns. She remembered how her father had shot his dog when she was small and how much they had cried. There was that poor boy Cumberland, his uncle had been one of her dancing partners, what had he died of so young? One did not seem to expect it when one was cooped up in London and then to fall like that dead at her feet. It did seem only a pious thing to pick it up, though it was going to be a nuisance even now it was wrapped up in paper. But she had been right she felt, she could not have left it there and besides someone might have stepped on it and that would have been disgusting. She was glad she had washed it.
The man who had eyed her, spoke.
‘Them girls is terrible I reckon,’ he said. ‘Trouble enough many of us ‘ave had to get here without they refuse to serve you.’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘it’s quite all right now, thank you,’ and hoped he was not going to be a nuisance. She wondered whether she had been wise to choose spirits, she really did not feel well, they did not seem to have done her any good.
Meantime Claire and Evelyn had met and were greeting each other in the Hall for registering luggage with cries not unlike more seagulls. Robert was taking off his hat and saying, ‘Why hullo Evelyna,’ and she was asking them where everyone was and telling them she had seen Thomson with Julia’s luggage who said Julia had started out on foot, could anyone imagine anything so like her? Where on earth was Angela, or Max and Alex? Did anyone know if Max meant to come? Claire said she had telephoned and that she thought he would. ‘Anyway,’ said Evelyn, ‘I’ve got their tickets here. Now Robert, you and Thomson had better go and try and find them all, will you please at once? Thomson go with Mr Hignam and see if you can bring Miss Crevy and the others back here will you? You haven’t seen anything of Edwards I suppose? No, then just do that, will you Robert, we must be all together. Now dear,’ she said turning to Claire, ‘we can sit on our things and have a good chat.’ They then sat down on their luggage to discuss indifferent subjects very calmly while porters, leaning on their upended barrows, went to sleep standing up. So calm was Evelyna she made one wonder if, now those two men had gone, she was not more at ease.
They had been addressed in much the same tone of voice as if both had been in service and Robert Hignam remarked to Thomson that it looked like the hell of a job this time. ‘It’s not going to be easy.’ ‘No sir, it’s not,’ and on that they separated and were at once engulfed in swarming ponds of humanity most of them at this particular spot gazing at a vast board with DEPARTURES OF TRAINS lit up over it. This showed no train due to leave after half past two, or two hours earlier, or, in other words, confusion.
Miss Crevy and her young man were standing in the main crowd. She was very pretty and dressed well, her hands were ridiculously white and her face had an expression so bland, so magnificently untouched and calm she might never have been more than amused and as though nothing had ever been more than tiresome. His expression was of intolerance.
Like two lilies in a pond, romantically part of it but infinitely remote, surrounded, supported, floating in it if you will, but projected by being different on to another plane, though there was so much water you could not see these flowers or were liable to miss them, stood Miss Crevy and her young man, apparently serene, envied for their obviously easy circumstances and Angela coveted for her looks by all those water beetles if you like, by those people standing round.
Surrounded as they were on every side yet they talked so loud they might have been alone.
‘Well, whatever you say I must go and find the others.’
‘But Angela, I’ve told you it can’t be done in this crowd.’
‘I know you have, but how else am I going to get my tickets?’
‘What d’you want tickets for now? I tell you they’ll never get trains out of here.’
‘But Robin, it’s been paid for. And I want to go, don’t you see.’
At this someone pushed by them, saying he was sorry and that finished it.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘I must go, good-bye, enjoy yourself,’ and then it was all so unjust he added, although it made him feel a fool, ‘I don’t ever want to see you again.’ She kissed him on his nose as he was turning away, conscious that she was behaving well, and then he was gone.
If that swarm of people could be likened to a pond for her lily then you could not see her like, and certainly not her kind, anywhere about her, nor was her likeness mirrored in their faces. Electric lights had been lit by now, fog still came in by the open end of this station, below that vast green vault of glass roof with every third person smoking it might all have looked to Mr Roberts, ensconced in his office away above, like November sun striking through mist rising off water.
Mostly dressed in dark clothes, women in low green or mustard colours, their faces were pale and showed, when not too tired, a sort of desperate good humour. There was almost no noise and yet, if you were to make yourself heard, it was necessary to speak up, you found so many people were talking. Having never been so surrounded before, and with what was before her, she felt excited. She felt she must get to the side and was surprised to find she had been in quite a small crowd for here almost at once were fewer people.
Coming up to her the station master asked if she could by any chance be Miss Julia Wray, and, taken aback, she could only say no, she had not seen her. As he passed majestically on, murmuring regrets, she wondered whether she ought not to run after him to say she was in her party, but then that seemed absurd, Julia was sure to be where their luggage was to be registered, she could tell her then.
And as Miss Crevy made her way to this place, Claire and Evelyna had arrived at that stage in their conversation when they were discussing what clothes they were bringing. Both exclaimed aloud at the beauty and appropriateness of the other’s choice, but it was as though two old men were swapping jokes, they did not listen to each other they were so anxious to explain. Already both had been made to regret they had left such and such a dress behind and it was because he felt it impossible to leave things as they were with Angela, it was too ludicrous that she should go off on that note, that kiss on his nose, he must explain, that Robin came back to apologize.
He found her quite soon and not so far away. She did not seem surprised at his turning up again and told him about the station master. He did not see what this had to do with it and plunged into how sorry he was, he had had an awful time coming up with her again, would she forgive him? He thought what had done it was her ancient friend giving him that parcel to get rid of and then, as soon as he had carried that out, sending him to get it back for her. This made Angela quite cross, she told him he had been very rude, and that he had better stay away if he was going to be tiresome.
Julia had been back to her room and had not found her charms. It had been bare as though she had never lived there. Her curtains were down, they were being sent to be cleaned, her mattress had gone and her pillow cases were humps under dustsheets in the middle of her bed. Thinking it unlucky to stay and see more and besides Jemima swore that everything was packed in the cabin trunk, she called them her toys, Julia had fled by taxi this time.
Feeling rather faint she hurried through tunnels, made her way dazedly through crowds which she only noticed, to ask herself what she would do if she could not find the others and was surprised to find Claire and Evelyn where they were sitting on their luggage.
She asked how were they, darlings, and they asked her, and they kissed and all sat down again. She wanted to know where everyone had got to and saw poor Evelyna was in a great fuss which made her feel calmer in that she now felt resigned. And indeed Evelyn considered that she must do something, she told herself that if she did not deal with this situation they would be sitting here till domesday and that without her not one of this party would catch their train. So she said it must be a waste of time to try and register luggage with all the piles of it waiting in front of theirs, and she would try to find out something about their train. With that she was gone.
Used to having everything done for them, Julia and Claire settled down to wait. Soon Julia asked if Claire had seen Max and was told about their telephone conversation. She tried to make out whether this had been before she had imagined meeting him in the Green Park and took some comfort from deciding that it must have been. But she did not feel reassured. She tried to discuss how other travellers were dressed, where they could be seen at intervals standing about, many of them almost hidden by their luggage. She never mentioned Max. There was a silence and at last she coughed and said:
‘Really he’s hopeless, isn’t he, don’t you think?’
Max was still in his flat. He was also drinking whisky and soda. His arm-chair was covered with thick fake Spanish brocade, all the coverings were of this material with walls to match, fake Spanish tables with ironwork, silver ashtrays, everything heavy and thick, all of it fake, although he thought it genuine, and it was expensive in proportion. That is to say that if all these things had been authentic he would not have had to pay more, anyone less well off could have bought museum pieces cheaper.
He answered the telephone after he had let it ring for some time.
‘Is that you, Max?’
‘Who is it speaking?’
‘Oh, Max, are you really going?’
‘Why?’ said he.
‘I mean must you really go?’
‘Just hang on a moment will you, there’s something here,’ and he put the receiver by and taking his glass he shot his whisky and soda into the fire. It went up in steam with a hiss. He stood still for twenty seconds then he went and mixed himself another. When he came back to the telephone she said:
‘Have you got someone else there?’
‘I thought I heard you shushing someone. What were you doing then?’
‘I was putting water on the fire, soda water if you want to know.’
‘People don’t put soda water on fires.’
‘I did. My paper caught alight and I had to put it out.’
‘Max, I must see you. Supposing I came round now if I promised to be good.’
‘I said I could come round now if I swore to you I wouldn’t be silly? Oh, Max.’
‘But what is it about?’
‘I won’t have you go, that’s all. I can’t bear it.’
‘I didn’t say I was going.’
‘It’s unfair, we’ve had such a marvellous time together, I do love you so, darling love. Why can’t we be as we were? I swear to you I won’t be tiresome again. You must believe me, darling.’
‘I rang you up yesterday.’
‘You weren’t in.’
‘I expect I was having my hair done. I was there all afternoon.
Max, who have you got with you, I heard them whispering just now?’
‘And what were you at last night?’
‘What was I at? How can you say things like that? Max, darling, what has come over you lately?’
‘I rang up about half past nine.’
‘I was lying down, you know all this has made me quite ill and I had such a business getting on to Dr Godley, his line was engaged all the time, I expect I was ringing him up.’
‘I didn’t get the engaged signal.’
‘Max, my darling, I shan’t argue, you have only to ask Marjorie, she was with me later. I wish you would get on to her, my dear, she could tell you the state she found me in. She was horrified.’
‘Max, my darling, I’m so bewildered and miserable I really don’t know where I am. What has happened to make everything different, it was all so perfect before and now here we are like a couple of old washerwomen slanging away at each other whenever we meet? Darling, really the whole thing is making me ill. Dr Godley says the best thing for me to do would be to go away to the sun out of this frightful fog for a month or two to give my system time to right itself. He says my whole system is out of gear and wants toning up.’
‘Well, look here, are you doing anything this evening?’
And as she was saying no she was not, Edwards, his manservant, came in to say his bags were packed.
‘Just a moment, Am,’ he said. ‘What’s that?’
‘Your bags are all ready, sir.’
‘Who was that, darling?’
‘It’s only Edwards asking if I wanted any tea.’
‘Ask him from me if his little boy is any better, will you?’
‘What were you going to say?’
‘Look here, supposing you came round about half past nine, we could go out and have dinner somewhere.’
‘Oh, darling, that would be perfect, you are an angel, so you are not going after all?’
He said, ‘That’s settled then,’ and rang off.
‘Is the car round?’
‘My bags in? Yes, then come on, I’m in a hurry.’ Edwards put on a black bowler hat, Max had no hat at all and he drove his rich car off at speed.
He drove hard, by back streets to avoid traffic blocks, swinging his big car round corners too sharp for it and driving too fast. Edwards said it was bad weather for getting about in, was there not one air service operating and he said no, and there wouldn’t be today of all days.
‘I doubt if your boat train will run, sir.’
‘That’s not the point, I’ve got to go.’
So what made him drive faster, and taxi drivers and others drew up their cars and shouted after him, was that he felt he was treating her badly. If he must get away then it was not right to leave her by asking her round to find him gone. He was sick and tired of it. All the same it was bad to ask her round to find he’d gone, that was all there was to it.
Accordingly when they drew up at the station, where at once a little crowd collected to admire his car, he put it to himself that what he wanted was a drink, so he told Edwards to get his luggage registered, Miss Henderson would have the tickets, and that he would be along later. Then he went in under into a larger tunnel that had HOTEL ENTRANCE lit up over it.
He engaged a sitting-room which had a bedroom off, for when he told them what he wanted they explained they had no sitting-rooms without bedrooms and that he would have to engage both. This was typical of his whole style of living, he was always being sold more than he need buy and he did not question prices. Once in this room, with his drink ordered, he rang up Amabel. His trouble was inexperience, he could not let good lies stand.
‘Why, darling, it’s you again,’ she said.
‘About this evening. Look here, don’t come after all.’
‘It won’t be any good.’
‘But you said I might.’
‘I shan’t be there.’
As she did not reply, he said he could not be there.
‘You mean to tell me you are going after all?’
‘Yes, I’m at the Airport now,’ he said, and because she must not find him here, she would make a scene, he rang off before she had found anything to say. He gave up his room at once.
Meantime Alexander was on his way, bowling along in his taxi the length of cricket pitches at a time, from block to block, one red light to another, or shimmering policemen dressed in rubber. Humming, he likened what he saw to being dead and thought of himself as a ghost driving through streets of the living, this darkness or that veil between him and what he saw a difference between being alive and death. Streets he went through were wet as though that fog twenty foot up had deposited water, and reflections which lights slapped over the roadways suggested to him he might be a Zulu, in the Zulu’s hell of ice, seated in his taxi in the part of Umslopogaas with his axe, skin beating over the hole in his temple, on his way to see She, or better still Leo.
He did not know where he was, it was impossible to recognize streets, fog at moments collapsed on traffic from its ceiling. One moment you were in dirty cotton wool saturated with iced water and then out of it into ravines of cold sweating granite with cave-dwellers’ windows and entrances — some of which he began to feel he had seen before till he realized he was in Max’s street.
He thought he had told his driver to go to the station but when they drew up outside Max’s block of flats he realized he must have given this address, probably because he had been wondering if Max had really meant to come. He was then all at once completely given over to train fever, his driver did not know what time it was, he rushed into the lift, rang Max’s bell, asked Franklin what time it was, found Max had already gone and that it was much later than he thought, ran downstairs because he thought it would be quicker, and, lying back panting, trembling, said to his driver,
‘To the station of course.’
‘For France, stupid.’
As he climbed into his cab his driver said:
‘Another bloody one of those.’
All this time Julia and Claire had been sitting by their trunks. They had not spoken of Max again, and this is where Edwards came upon them as he followed Max’s luggage. Julia sprang up.
‘Oh, Edwards, there you are,’ she said. ‘Where is Mr Adey?’
‘I couldn’t say, Miss.’
‘Didn’t he come with you?’
(Edwards had learned never to give information about his gentleman to ladies.)
‘Then isn’t he in the station?’
‘I couldn’t say, Miss.’
Claire then took her turn, ‘Where did he go when he left you?’ she asked him.
‘He told me to meet him here, Madam.’
Both girls, as though by consent, dropped it and left well alone. It had come to both of them that where he was now of course was in the lavatory.
Alex drove up, still haunted by how late he was. Getting out he screamed for porters and, when he found one, he told him they must meet again at the registration place, he had no time, he must fly and he rushed off, forgetting to pay his taxi. The driver was at once hysterically angry, called out warnings to everyone near about Alex, said to that porter, ‘Wait for me, mate,’ drove his taxi nine feet forward to where he thought it would cause more obstruction, said, ‘Where’s a bloody copper?’ and with Alex’s luggage, and his porter, also went in under into one of those tunnels and was gone.
So now at last all of this party is in one place, and, even if they have not yet all of them come across each other, their baggage is collected in the Registration Hall. Where, earlier, hundreds had made their way to this station thousands were coming in now, it was the end of a day for them, the beginning of a time for our party.
Anyone who found herself alone with Julia could not help feeling they had been left in charge. Again there was so much luggage round about in piles like an exaggerated grave yard, with the owners of it and their porters like mourners with the undertakers’ men, and so much agitation on one hand with subdued respectful indifference on the other that this uneasiness had at last been passed on to Claire. Several other passengers were nearly in hysterics. And as she was used to leaving all her worries to her husband, who had to do everything for her, this was one of those moments when she missed him. She felt almost cross with Julia for being so helpless.
She said to Julia there did not seem to be much point in waiting for Evelyn to come back, they might try to get some of their luggage registered now, it would be such a rush when they did begin with all the mountains of stuff already waiting. Looking up from where she sat she put this to her porter drooping over his barrow. He told her nothing was being accepted for registration on account of there being no trains running as she could see for herself; he seemed pleased, he spat, and then became more despondent.
When once she had put her anxiety into words it was as though she had screamed after having tried not to for some time, when in pain. She might easily have got into the state that woman was in there, whose hat had all but fallen over her face, when she saw Alex waving, waving and smiling to them while making his way. He kissed them both while she was still saying ‘why, here’s Alex.’ He asked where was Max, not here he supposed, and they said of course not. Claire explained how appalling it was they would not register any luggage, but already her fears had left her and she was joking and he laughed and said they never would if they could possibly avoid it, and they all laughed, too, and spoke at once. ‘Anyway,’ he said, ‘they can’t surely expect us to sleep here.’
‘Alex darling, what is it about this fog, there isn’t any where we are, isn’t it rather tiresome of them?’
‘They say it’s down to the ground outside London, you see, Julia, and they can’t get through, why, I can’t imagine.’
‘But do you think they’re really doing anything about it?’
He said they must be and then described his adventures while on his way to them. They laughed again. Then he asked if they had heard the latest about Embassy Richard, he had been told the postmark on that letter was St John’s Wood, which must mean Charlie Troupe had sent it. Claire said that if he meant the letter enclosing his advertisement for The Times then she had heard from someone in that office there had been no postmark at all, it had come unstamped. Alex said that if it did not have a stamp then it would have had one of those things which show you what you have to pay, and that must have been postmarked. Usually anything that had not been stamped was covered with postmarks, and even times of posting, and they rang your bell to tell you. ‘It’s rather like travelling on trains,’ he said, ‘without your ticket. They make you pay and write you out one, putting down where you got on and where you are going to.’ Claire said yes, but you could not ask letters where they had been posted, and so this argument might have gone on if Miss Henderson had not returned. She was quite sure any unstamped letter would have two postmarks.
Edwards asked Julia, who had not been paying attention, what was to be done about all this luggage. She said she did not know and wasn’t it awful. ‘You’d better ask Miss Henderson, she has just been to try and find out.’
Now what Evelyn Henderson had in mind was this: she had most of their party in one place and it would be best to keep them here until all were assembled whatever their chances of getting a train later. She was not sure any trains would run ever again, but if she had said she was going and had closed up her flat then she would make every effort to get away. She was afraid some of them might go home and leave it for her to ring them all up if there was any chance of their getting off and that would mean muddles and incompetence and end by their not going at all. So she said:
‘It can’t be Charlie Troupe, the thing’s absurd, he’d never do anything like that, he’s an old friend of mine. About this beastly train I can’t imagine why they are keeping us here like sheep in a market. An inspector was very nice and told me that the fog was lifting outside, so I don’t suppose it will be too long now.’
‘But, darling, in that case don’t you think we ought to try and find Max at once?’
‘I know, Julia, but Robert and Thomson have gone to look for him.’
‘No, that’s just it, they’re hunting round for Angela. Don’t you think we ought to send Edwards after him?’
Alex announced he could see Angela and then that she could see him. ‘Can’t you find her, there, behind that fat man, look she’s waving, who’s the individual with her?’
The individual with Miss Angela Crevy was her young man, Mr Robin Adams, who so objected to her going away with them, he hated them so much.
‘There they all are,’ Angela said to him, ‘except I don’t see Max.’
Yes, Mr Adams thought to himself, that was like Max, the offensive swine, it was like him not to turn up when this was his party so to speak, as he would be paying for them. It went against the grain to have men of his type paying for Angela. It was not her fault, she did not realize, but when she had been about a bit more she would be sorry she hadn’t taken it in.
For a moment Mr Adams even felt jealous of Alex.
They had drawn nearer, they were all now waving to each other, or rather Angela was waving to them and they were all waving back. Looking at them Mr Adams thought what a bloody lot of swine they were. His one consolation was that he expected a most frightful display of affection when they were within speaking distance. He was not disappointed. Alex’s voice came to them, high-pitched:
‘Have you brought your bed with you, darling? I can’t remember whether I told Mr Crump to pack mine, because we’ll never get away from here,’ and he added with intuition, ‘Evelyna won’t let us.’
Angela replied, ‘but darling, didn’t you pack a double bed for us then?’ Her young man asked himself what could be in worse taste and then was heartened when he saw how badly they had taken it. Of course she did not know them well enough to say things of that kind he thought, and he was wrong. In their day they had made too many jokes in that strain, they were no longer amused, so they took it just as he had done for a different reason.
They were shaking hands and Angela told Claire she had seen her aunt, ‘ages ago back there among all those people. I can’t tell you what a time we’ve had trying to get to you, didn’t we, Robin? It’s such an enormous place, we couldn’t find where to go and I got into such a fuss.’
A faint sound of cheering came from right away at the back of this station. Heads turned towards it and Julia could see a waiter who was looking out of one of the hotel windows and who seemed to be miles away, he looked so puny, joined by another at this window and both leaned out to watch something below them.
‘What can it be?’ she said under her breath, ‘I do feel so nervous.’
She thought here was their party laughing and shrieking as though nobody was going travelling; and then no one but her seemed to mind where Max was; where could her charms be? Jemima said she had put them in the cabin trunk but she would look in her dressing case, they were more likely to be there.
Squatting down apart she opened this case. Everything was packed in different coloured tissue papers. They were her summer things and as she lifted and recognized them she called to mind where she had last worn each one with Max. She often went away weekends to house parties and it often happened that he was there. If she had no memory for words she could always tell what she had worn each time she met him. Turning over her clothes as they had been packed she was turning over days.
Her porter sighed. He had enjoyed what he had seen of her things.
Thinking she might have been upset by their talk of Embassy Richard and because he liked to sympathize, Alex came up and asked if she was sick to death of their discussing that silly business and postmarks and all that. He found, as he had not realized, there was so much noise she could not hear what he said. Or perhaps she was crying. Julia still kept her head turned so he could not see but when he repeated himself she said yes, it was ridiculous wasn’t it? He craned round and saw she was not crying and then she knew he was looking for tears.
‘Oh dear,’ she said, ‘there are so many — too many people, aren’t there?’
Alex told her he thought there would soon be many more and that he found it bewildering.
So did Mr Hignam, pushing his way through crowds, only his word for it was appalling. He felt probably they had already found Angela for themselves, there ought to be dogs, he thought, to find people for them. Though he would be sorry for dogs in this crowd, it was a wretched business, damp and cold, everyone looked as if they had had enough. How anyone was going to get a train was obviously more than the railway people could imagine. He found himself by a bar and that was an idea. They could not expect you for ever to go round shouting Angela where are you? It was crowded but he would fight through and have one.
Max was already drinking in this bar. After ringing up Amabel he had wondered if it would not be possible for her to trace where he was through the Exchange, so he had paid his bill and left. Then he had not felt up to meeting the others yet, and in any case he did not mind where they were. His feeling was he must get across the Channel and it was better to go with people than alone.
Forcing his way through, meeting half resistance everywhere and that hot smell of tea, cups guarded by elbows and half-turned bodies with ‘mind my tea,’ Robert thrust on and on. When small he had found patches of bamboo in his parents’ garden and it was his romance at that time to force through them; they grew so thick you could not see what temple might lie in ruins just beyond. It was so now, these bodies so thick they might have been a store of tailors’ dummies, water heated. They were so stiff they might as well have been soft, swollen bamboos in groves only because he had once pushed through these, damp and warm.
His ruined temple then appeared, still keeping to whisky, seated on one of those chrysanthemums with chromium-plated stalks which Miss Fellowes had observed. And she was still here, not feeling so well again, all of her turned in on herself, thrusting her load of darkness.
Robert was not so pleased to see Max, but both were polite enough to say hullo. Robert asked him if he had seen Claire’s aunt by chance. Max did not hear, so let it pass. Robert asked again, this time he put it this way, that Claire had sent him to find her aunt. There was too much noise, it did not reach Max. He shouted back, ‘what will you have?’
‘I’ve ordered, thanks.’
‘I suppose they sent you to find me,’ Max said and now that he had begun to talk it seemed easier to hear. Robert answered no, it was Claire’s aunt who was lost. Oh, said Max, and was she coming too, and once again Robert thought how odd he was, it was practically his party and yet he did not seem to know who would be coming and appeared to be quite ready to have Claire’s aunt along, although they meant to be away three weeks. He explained that she had only come to see them off. ‘Don’t know the party,’ Max said.
Robert told him all the others were waiting by their luggage until such time as it could be registered and Max asked where Edwards was. Max then said perhaps they had both of them better get back to the girls. Robert told him he thought there was no hurry, no trains were running yet.
‘I know, old boy, but we can’t leave your wife and the girls on their own like that’
‘Well, Edwards is there and they’ve got their porters, they’ll be all right.’
They’ll be all right of course, but what we don’t want them to do is to go back home, we must get off to-day.’
Again Robert thought it was unlike Max to say that. No one had been sure that he would even get to the station and yet here he was anxious they should all go with him.
‘Let’s keep them waiting once in a way,’ Robert said, ‘and anyway I can’t go back without finding her. Have you seen Alex? I was to find him too.’ And then it struck him he had never been sent to find Claire’s aunt, Evelyn had wanted him to get hold of Alex and Angela and Max, but she had said nothing about Miss Fellowes. Why then had he been looking for the aunt? At that moment he saw Miss Fellowes.
‘But, good God, Max, there she is.’ Max did not seem to hear and he was pleased, it would have been too difficult to explain.
‘And, my God, there’s Claire’s nannie.’
‘Have another, Robert?’
‘No, thanks. I say Max, the old girl doesn’t look any too good, does she?’
‘I haven’t made her out yet. Well, now you’ve found her we can get along.’
‘You don’t understand, I wasn’t sent to find her, but I don’t like the way she looks, old boy. Do you see her there?’
‘Do you mean that woman with the parcel?’
‘Yes, holding the whisky. Look here, Max, she’s sitting all on a skew.’
‘Why not go up and ask her.’
‘I can’t. I say, would you mind just keeping an eye on her and I’ll be off and bring Claire along?’
Max agreed and ordered another drink. Both had forgotten the nannies who sat anxiously by in silence. And that man, who had spoken to Miss Fellowes earlier, kept his attention on her, one or two others watched and each time this man looked away from her he winked.
As Hignam made his way back Alexander’s taxi driver arrived. He came up to Alex and said ‘how now.’ Then he described what streets they had been through on their way and what his clock showed when he had left his cab. He said it was larceny to bilk taxi drivers. Alex asked how he could think he was trying to get away without paying, no trains could or would leave that evening or afternoon and anyway, he had paid, he said. His porter was brought in to witness, he had seen no money pass, Alex’s voice became more shrill. Evelyn said it did seem ridiculous to be expected to pay twice when taxis were now 9d for the first mile. Then Julia stopped it by saying all this was more than she could stand and begged Alex not to be difficult. His answer was to move with the taxi driver out of earshot, where they went on gesticulating, though it was obvious now that they were suddenly on the best of terms.
‘It did seem so silly, didn’t it?’ Julia said. ‘Don’t you think, darlings?’
‘Oh, I don’t know, poor Alex, but they seem to be getting on very well together now,’ said Evelyna, and then went on ‘here’s Robert coming, Claire.’
‘Well,’ said his wife, as he came up, bullying him at once, ‘I suppose you didn’t find them. Angela’s been here for ages, and so has Alex.’
‘I say, Claire, a most extraordinary thing happened,’ Robert said and drew her aside. ‘You know I went to find Alex and Max as you told me. I got to the bar and thought I would go in and have a drink. Well, I found Max in there having one too and the next thing I did was to ask him if he had seen your aunt.’
‘But you idiotic old thing, that wasn’t what you were sent to do. Nobody mentioned her.’
‘Yes, you did, Claire. But wait a moment. The odd thing was that just after I’d asked Max about her I actually did see her there.’
‘I don’t see anything funny in it at all. You never could keep anything in your head. But you found Max anyway, although you don’t seem to have been looking for him. Why are you always like this? Yesterday I asked you to put more coal on the fire and you passed me the egg.’
Robert thought no one would ever understand, it had been a shock to him, his mind had been full of the others and then he had blurted her name out and on that had seen her sitting there. Perhaps there was nothing in it but he wondered.
‘Look here, she did not look at all well, there’s something wrong, I think you ought to go and have a peek at her, I can’t say I like the way she was. Why don’t you and the others go along there? I left Max to keep his eye on things.’
‘Don’t be so ridiculous, she’s resting that’s all.’
‘She had a glass of whisky.’
‘Oh, Robert, darling, you do make me laugh. Who has ever heard of Auntie May being drunk or who could ever imagine such a thing?’
‘I never said she was tight, all I said, or suggested rather, was that you should all go down there where Max is and that your aunt was very ill and needed you probably. I don’t care. Where is Angela?’
‘Oh, she’s got a beau with her, they’ve wandered off. All right, darling, then I’ll go but I don’t want the others to know, do you understand, not a word to them. If Auntie May is ill I’ll see to it. Now then you stay here.’
‘What shall I say about you?’
‘I’ll be back in ten minutes.’
Julia came up to Robert with Miss Henderson and said really he had not been very clever, they had found Alex and Angela all for themselves. She then asked him where Claire had gone. He said, oh, she had been called away and that he had found Max, he was in the bar now and, it slipped out so to speak, that was where Claire was going.
‘Is that where he is then? Has Claire gone to fetch him?’ asked Evelyna.
‘No, there was something else, I really don’t know where she was going.’
Julia said she thought they had better send Edwards for Max. Miss Henderson said Claire would come back and that now they had all found each other it would be madness to separate once more. Julia said again, but wouldn’t it be better to send Edwards to fetch Max. At this Edwards broke in and said Mr Adey had told him to stay where he was and that he would be along himself directly.
Julia said: ‘Oh, I think it’s outrageous,’ and all were embarrassed and fell silent.
At that three things happened. A large force of police filed in, followed by some of the crowd who had been waiting outside, Alex came back without his driver and the station master marked them as being Miss Wray’s party and was bearing down on them. This force of police stamped in and their steps sounded ringing out as though they were on hollow ground. The crowd followed and lined up by where they had halted so you could only see the tops of their helmets. Alex said it was rather hard if they were all of them going to be arrested now, particularly after he had paid for his taxi. Miss Henderson said she thought they ought to give you receipts for payments of that kind and the station master said:
‘Am I by any chance speaking to Miss Julia Wray?’
‘Miss Wray, your uncle rang me up to say we were to take particular care of you and your party. Now, I don’t like to see you waiting about here in all this crowd, can I not persuade you to wait in the Hotel? It belongs to the Company and I am sure you will be very comfortable there.’
‘That’s very nice of you, yes, I think we should love to, but the only thing is we aren’t all together yet you see, that is, the rest of our party hasn’t all arrived.’
Alex interrupted, ‘My dear Angela’s just there and we know where Max is, I think it’s a marvellous idea, we could have a fire.’
‘But what about Max?’ Evelyn said.
Alex became agitated at this, he felt he might be prevented from getting his comforts.
‘Bother Max,’ he said, ‘what consideration has he shown us? Why he said he would wait for me at his flat’ (this was not true) ‘to come on to the station with me, but when I got there I found he was gone.’
Julia asked why they could not get into their train and be off. She spoke sharply for her. And then they all moved off without discussing that hotel any more, with the station master explaining how this fog had complicated things. Edwards came to them as they made their way and Alex brought Angela up with her young man. Edwards asked what he was to do and Julia said: ‘You can wait for Mr Adey, Edwards, as he told you to.’ Robert said he must go and tell Claire and he would let Max know as well, and that he would meet them in the hotel.
After Alex had fetched them and they were making their way back to the hotel, Robin said to Angela, he supposed they were now going to dance attendance on Max Adey who, although he was host, had not had the decency to turn up yet and was probably putting drinks down wherever he was. ‘Well,’ Angela said, ‘and have you ever seen him drunk?’ ‘Of course I have, stinking drunk. My dear girl, what on earth d’you think?’ ‘I bet you haven’t, no one ever has. And I suppose you’re never tipsy either. I don’t know why I have to listen to all this, I wish you’d go and have done with it. You are so tiresome, now go and give me some peace.’ He went off fast, almost running, not trusting himself to speak. As she came up she told the others self-consciously Robin had had to be off. They paid no attention and she found that Julia had returned to the question of why they could not get into their train and go. After all she said this fog was only twenty feet up, it was not down to ground level and the station master, with that patience he was paid to have, explained again how impossible it was to see one’s hand in front of one’s face less than three hundred yards south of where they were now. And in this way they got near to the hotel.
Before they went inside Evelyn took charge and sent Robert into the bar to tell Max and Claire where they were going, with instructions that he himself was to come back at once if possible with Max. When they got inside she told the station master she was sure he was very busy and that now they were here they would be quite all right. This was nerves on her part, there was no reason for getting rid of him. Speaking to Julia and not to Evelyna he replied that he must just reserve a room for them, they would be guests of the Company, it was far too crowded for them to stay in any of the public rooms and he made off to that broad open window which had RECEPTION lit up over it. One pale young man in morning clothes was inside this window and twelve people were bothering him.
‘But I thought Max was to be here, where on earth is he?’ Julia said. ‘It’s perfectly wicked, here we all are turning up to time and not a sign of him, only that wretched Edwards.’
‘Here he is now, darling,’ Angela said and as he came up Mr Adey said: ‘There you all are,’ as if it was they who had been lost and were late.
Evelyna was so relieved she became snappy. She asked him where on earth had he been and he said why here, of course, and Julia, knowing how he disliked other people getting rooms and meals — if he was in a party he would never let anyone else pay for whatever it might be — told him the station master was getting rooms for them.
‘Can’t have that,’ he said, and it was one of those things Julia liked about Max, she thought it generous. She went forward with him to the reception desk. The young man in morning clothes recognized Max and, ‘why Mr Adey,’ he said, ‘are you in the station master’s party, what can I do for you?’
‘I don’t know anything about the station master, I want three sitting rooms.’
‘All on one floor, Mr Adey?’
‘Of course not. No, two on one floor and one on the floor above.’
‘I’m afraid they’ll have to be with bedrooms, we don’t have sitting rooms separate.’
‘I know, I know. Be quick about it.’
In the meantime Julia had tried to explain to her station master that Max would not hear of the Company taking a room for them because he was like that, it was very kind of the station master, it wasn’t that she was ungrateful, nor was Max being rude, it was most kind of him to have looked after them and she was sure he must be very busy and ought to get back. When she returned, Max was being given three keys.
‘But, darling,’ she said, ‘whatever do we want with three rooms?’
‘Claire’s aunt,’ he said, ‘sick.’
‘Doesn’t want anyone to know.’
‘Just arranged for three men to carry her up the back way where she won’t be seen.’
‘What on earth is the matter with her, Max, is she bad?’
‘Don’t know; tight I should say. Look out, here’s the others.’
As they came up, a hall porter was with them and when he saw it was Max he said to him:
‘Same room, sir?’
‘No; 95, 96 and 196 this time.’
Alex said so this was where he had been hiding, and, tactlessly, what had he wanted with a room before? Max lied again, he said he had had to see his lawyer.
Julia knew he was a liar, it was one of those things one had to put up with when one was with him. But it did seem to her unfair that he should go and spoil it all now that he was here. She had forgotten how much she had resented his not turning up in her pleasure at seeing him, and now he was telling them this fairy tale about his lawyer. People were cruel. But perhaps he had wanted to make his will. Anything might happen to any one of them, everything was so going wrong. As she looked about her, at the other travellers, she could get no comfort out of what she saw. Perhaps he was not lying, which was frightening enough, but if he was then why was he lying? And this time she could not look through her things for charms, they had been left behind with her porter.
She was in a long hall with hidden lighting and, for ornament, a vast chandelier with thousands of glass drops and rather dirty. It was full of people and those who had found seats, which were all of them too low, lay with blank faces as if exhausted and, if there was anything to hope for, as though they had lost hope. Most of them were enormously fat. One man there had a cigar in his mouth, and then she saw he had one glass eye, and in his hand he had a box of matches which now and again he would bring up to his cigar. Just as he was about to strike his match he looked round each time and let his hands drop back to his lap, his match not lighted. Those standing in groups talked low and were rather bent and there was a huge illuminated clock they all kept looking at. Almost every woman was having tea as if she owned the whole tray of it. Almost every man had a dispatch case filled with daily newspapers. She thought it was like an enormous doctor’s waiting room and that it would be like that when they were all dead and waiting at the gates.
She saw Claire coming and rushed forward to meet her and cried:
‘My darling, my darling, in this awful place I wondered whether we weren’t all dead really.’
‘Julia darling, it is such a bother. I’ve just come from Auntie May, Robert found her when he was looking for Max and she is not at all well. I don’t want a soul to know. I’m very worried about her.’
‘Claire, I am sorry. Can I do anything?’
‘I think we must get her in here, don’t you?’
‘Of course we must. As a matter of fact I know Max has taken an extra room, well to tell you the truth he’s taken three rooms, just like him.’
‘Yes, he’s been very good. He’s arranged to have her taken in the back way, poor Auntie May, she can’t walk, you see. But nobody must know. Of course, darling, I would be miserable keeping it from you but not a word to another soul, please. Max didn’t say anything, did he?’
‘No, not to me.’
‘That’s all right then. Darling, I must fly and see that her room is all ready,’ and when she made off Julia went to where Max was waiting for her to make him swear he would not tell another soul because of Claire.
And now Claire, who had been stopped by Evelyna, was telling her about Miss Fellowes and was swearing her to secrecy. Alex thought something was going on so he came up and he was told on condition that he did not breathe it to anyone. So in the end there was only Miss Crevy and Robin, her young man, who did not know. He would not have cared if they had all become lepers (after going off he had made up his mind he ought to keep his eye on Angela in case she might want him; he was now trying to get in the back way so she could not know he was hanging around). Angela felt very much out of it all. She had noticed, and it was obvious they were keeping secrets from her. Now Robin was gone she felt she had been left on their hands and felt inclined to blame him for going off like that without saying good-bye.
Robert came in and stopped by Julia.
‘Do you know about it?’ he said.
‘Yes, I do.’
‘Well, they are just carrying her in now.’
‘Robert, is she very ill, poor thing?’
‘I don’t know. It’s such a bore for Claire.’
‘Robert, what on earth are they doing to the doors?’
‘Oh that? They are putting up steel shutters over the main entrance so they told me when I came in. I say, you know about Claire not wanting anyone to know about her Aunt May? Well, when we were small there was a bamboo patch in the kitchen garden and do you remember we used to imagine there was something out of the way in the middle of it they grew so thick? I was only thinking of it just now. Well, Claire was practically brought up with us, wasn’t she, when we were small and when she was sent over to play with us you know we never told her about those bamboos. Curious, wasn’t it?’
‘But, my dear, they aren’t going to shut us up in this awful place, surely? What do they want to put shutters up for and steel ones?’
‘It’s the fog, I believe. Last time there was bad fog and a lot of people were stuck here they made a rush for’ this place I believe to get something to eat. Good Lord! it doesn’t make you nervous, does it?’
It did make Julia feel very nervous and she moved to Alex where he happened to be teasing Angela because he might be nervous too which would comfort her. People who weren’t nervous were useless because they did not know what it meant, but however nervous he was, and if he wasn’t then Julia felt she would like to make him be, he would comfort because, after all, he was a man.
There was a crash.
‘Good heavens,’ Alex said, ‘what’s that?’
‘It’s the steel door,’ Julia cried, ‘they’ve shut it down and how ever Claire will get her—’ and then she was silent as she expected Angela did not know. ‘Oh, Alex dear,’ she went on, ‘we’re shut in now, what shall we do, isn’t it awful?’
He could think of nothing better to say than what do you know about that? There was a hush, everyone in this hall was looking towards that now impenetrable entrance, women held cups halfway to their lips, little fingers of their right hands stuck out pointing towards where that crash had come from. And it was this moment the individual who could not or would not light his cigar chose to light the match in such a way that every match in his box was lit and it exploded. He was so upset his cigar tumbled out of his mouth; it was his moment, everyone now looked at him.
‘But how about my claustrophobia?’ Alex asked. They all heard the man near them say to his companion, a woman, no, he would certainly do nothing of the kind. And Julia demanded to know about their luggage, was it to be left out there to be looted, for their porters would not protect it.
‘It’s all too disastrous,’ Alex said and then when he saw Max, who had come up to them, ‘my dear,’ he said to him, ‘hadn’t we all better go home and start another day?’
‘Can’t get home in this fog. No, I’ve taken rooms here.’
‘But, Max, we can’t sleep here.’
‘You won’t have to, old boy. Trains will be running soon. Come along, Angela, let’s all go up.’
‘If it wasn’t so ludicrous it would be quite comic,’ Alex said to Julia as they followed. She said she could not go up in the lift, she never could go up in them, would he mind climbing with her? As they went up short flights from landing to landing on deep plush carpets with sofas covered in tartan on each landing, Miss Fellowes was being carried by two hotel porters up the back stairs. For every step Alex and Julia took Miss Fellowes was taken up one too, slumped on one of those chromium-plated seats, her parcel on her lap, followed by the two silent nannies and, coming last, that same man who had sat next her, he who winked.
Max got Angela into one of that pair of rooms he had reserved on one floor so that she could not see Miss Fellowes carried in as Claire seemed so keen on nobody knowing. He said Julia looked a bit down, he had better order drinks.
He telephoned and was just saying:
‘Please send up cocktail things. No, I don’t want a man, we’ll make them ourselves. I want a shaker, some gin, a bottle of Cointreau and some limes. How much? Send up two of everything and about twelve limes. No, no, only one bottle of Cointreau. These people here are fools.’ He was just saying this as Julia and Alex came in. Julia said:
‘She’s arrived, Max.’
‘Who, darling?’ Angela asked.
‘Oh, no one. Wouldn’t you like some tea, darling,’ she said to Angela, ‘it might do us all some good. Max, be an angel and tell them to send up some tea.’ So he ordered tea and said they had better send up whisky and two syphons also. Angela, who did not know them well, wondered at how Julia ordered Max about, and at this room, and at the prodigious number of things he had just sent for and then heard him asking for flowers.
Angela said: ‘Now Robin isn’t here, because you know he is a relation of Embassy Dick’s, do tell me, has anyone heard any more about it?’
Alex put her right about that. ‘Embassy Richard, dear, not Embassy Dick,’ he said.
‘Nonsense, Alex, I think Embassy Dick is a perfectly good name for him and a much better one anyway,’ said Julia. Max now made one of his observations. ‘If he was a bird,’ he said, ‘he would not last long.’ Julia asked him what on earth he meant and got no answer. Then Angela went on to say this Richard had met her mother and for no reason at all, that is to say he had no cause to bring it in to what they had been saying, he had told her mother he would not be able to go to that reception. Alex objected that Embassy Richard was always saying things of that kind, it proved nothing, and Julia wondered whether Angela was not inventing it all. ‘But what I mean is,’ Angela said, ‘he made a point of his not being able to go. So don’t you see someone who might have heard him and had got to know that he had not been invited saw their chance and sent that notice to the papers.’
‘But surely, my dear, you don’t mean to suggest that he sent the message himself.’
‘Alex, what do you mean?’
‘Look here, Angela, you seem to think that just because someone overheard him making his alibi about that party it proves that someone else must have sent the notice to the society columns. Well,’ Alex went on and so lost track of his argument, ‘surely that must be so. I mean no one has ever suggested that he sent the message himself.’
‘So you said before, so I seem to remember,’ Julia said, who loved arguments, ‘but I don’t see any reason for saying he didn’t send it himself.’
Alex was very taken with this suggestion and complimented Julia on it; he said no one had ever thought of it or, at any rate, not in his hearing. Angela said but surely Embassy Richard wouldn’t willingly have brought all that on himself to which Alex replied by asking how he could have known the Ambassador would disown him.
‘The Ambassador knows him quite well, too.’
‘All the more reason then, Angela dear,’ Alex said, ‘I expect he was fed up with him.’
‘Poisonous chap,’ said Max.
‘Max, darling, don’t be so aggravating, which one do you mean, the Ambassador or Richard?’
‘Well, after all, Julia, why should he be called Embassy Richard if he wasn’t?’ Alex said.
Julia said she did not agree, she thought him very good-looking and didn’t Angela think so too. Angela agreed and Alex said ‘Oh, very fetching!’
‘No, Alex, don’t, you’re spoiling the whole argument by attacking him. It’s neither here nor there to say that he’s awful, what we’re talking about is whether he sent that notice himself.’
Max chose this moment to leave the room and again Angela felt she was out of it, that they were keeping things from her and, as she thought Alex had been tiresome with her over this argument, she decided she would rather go for him.
‘Anyhow, Alex,’ she said, ‘I bet there’s one thing you don’t know.’
‘I expect there are several.’
‘And that is that the Prince Royal is a friend of Richard’s and was frightfully angry with his Ambassador when he saw the letter he wrote.’
‘I must say I can’t see that makes the slightest difference. Anyway I did know about the Prince what d’you call him. You see, Angela, we were arguing about who could have sent the notice if Embassy Richard didn’t sent it for himself. I can’t see that it matters two hoots if the Prince Royal was cross.’
‘I can,’ said Julia, entering into it again. ‘I think it’s a score for Richard if the Ambassador’s employer is cross with him for trying to score off Richard.’
‘No,’ and Alex was now speaking in his high voice he used when he was upset, ‘that’s not the point. The real point is that the Ambassador ticked off Embassy Richard in public by writing to the papers to say he had never invited him to his party. If the Prince Royal told his Ambassador off for doing it, it doesn’t make any difference to the fact that Richard was shown up in public.’
‘But Alex, dear, it does,’ Julia said. ‘If the Prince Royal did not approve, and the party was being given for him, then it means that Embassy Richard should have been invited all the time.’
‘I don’t see that it does, Julia. He may not have approved of the way his Ambassador did it. My whole point is that the Prince Royal never made his Ambassador write another letter to the papers saying that Richard should have been invited after all. D’you see?’
Angela said ‘No, Alex, I don’t.’
‘Well, what I mean is that you and I may know the Prince Royal was tremendously angry and threw fits, if you like, when he read his Ambassador’s letter but the thousands of people in the street who read their newspapers every morning would not hear about it. All that they know is that Embassy Richard regretted not being able to attend a party he was not invited to.’
‘Oh, if that’s it,’ said Angela, ‘then who cares about the people in the street and what they think about it.’
They were all silent trying to keep their tempers when Evelyn Henderson came in. They all told her at one time what they had said and what they had meant and when she had gathered what all this was about she said:
‘But I don’t understand your saying that the Ambassador knew Richard quite well. You know in that letter of his the newspapers printed he said he had never seen him in his life. And then for the matter of that, isn’t the story of Embassy Richard’s being a friend of the Prince Royal just the sort of thing Richard would put round to clear himself? Does anyone know, really know, that it’s true?’
Angela said well, as a matter of fact, she did know for certain they were friends because her mother knew the Prince Royal well and he had told her so. Alex asked if that was before or after this business about the party and she replied that it was before. He was just about to say the Prince Royal might think very differently about Richard now and Angela was waiting for him — she was in that state she would have accused him of being rude whatever he said — when Alex saw signs of agitation in Evelyn Henderson and guessed she must have news of Miss Fellowes. So, in order to occupy her attention, he began to make peace with Angela while Evelyn drew Julia aside. In a minute these two went out together and Angela, when she saw it, realized how treacherous Alex really was.
When they were outside that room Miss Henderson said to Julia:
‘My dear, you look very pale, are you all right?’
‘Yes, I think so. I get so excited, up one moment, down the next, you know how it is,’ and Miss Henderson when she heard this thought poor child, it is in love. She was three years older than Julia. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘what I wanted to tell you and of course I didn’t want the others in there to hear, is that poor Claire’s aunt is very ill, I’m sure of it.’
‘Yes. Robert has gone to try and find a doctor. I expect there’ll be one stuck in this beastly hotel same as we are. But there’s more than that. I’m rather unhappy in my own mind about it. She had a parcel of sorts and as we were getting her on the bed it fell down and came open and there was a pigeon of all things inside.’
‘A dead pigeon? Perhaps she was taking it back for her supper.’
‘No, it was all wet.’
‘Oh, Evelyna, how disgusting! But how could it be wet?’
‘That’s what I asked myself. But Claire’s old nannie, who has been keeping an eye on her tells me she saw Claire’s Auntie May washing it in the “Ladies”.’
‘Well, I think that’s rather sweet.’
‘I’m not so sure about that, my darling Julie, and I’d rather you did not say anything to Claire about that part of it. I don’t think she knows and she is so upset already, I don’t want her worried any more.’
‘Yes, if you say so, but I don’t see anything so very awful in it.’
‘Good heavens, do you see what I see, those poor old dears are crying. Why,’ Evelyn said, hurrying up to where those two nannies sat in tears on a settee, ‘it is being a tiresome difficult day for us all, isn’t it?’ she said to them. ‘Now, wouldn’t you like a nice cup of tea?’
They made noises which could be taken to mean yes and Julia explained to Miss Henderson how Max had already ordered tea so that it would be easy to carry two cups along to them without Angela knowing. As they moved off down the corridor Evelyn said she did not like the way they were crying, did Julia think Miss Fellowes had done anything? Julia said something or other in reply. She was now struck by how extraordinary it was their being here in this corridor with the South of France, where they were going, waiting for them at the end of their journey. They had all, except for Angela Crevy, been in the same party twelve months ago to the same place, so fantastically different from this. One day would be so fine you wondered if it could be true, the next it rained like anywhere else. But when it was fine you sat on the terrace for dinner looking over a sea of milk with a sky fainting into dusk with the most delicate blushes — Oh! she cried in her heart, if only we could be there now. Indeed, this promise of where they were going lay back of all their minds or feelings, common to all of them. If they did not mention it, it was why they were in this hotel and there was not one of them, except of course for Miss Fellowes and the nannies, who did not every now and again most secretly revert to it.
As for Miss Fellowes, she was fighting. Lying inanimate where they had laid her she waged war with storms of darkness which rolled up over her in a series, like tides summoned by a moon. What made her fight was the one thought that she must not be ill in front of these young people. She did not know how ill she was.
Those nannies, like the chorus in Greek plays, knew Miss Fellowes was very ill. Their profession had been for forty years to ward illness off in others and their small talk had been of sudden strokes, slow cancers, general paralysis, consumption, diabetes and of chills, rheumatism, lumbago, chicken pox, scarlet fever, vaccination and the common cold. They had therefore an unfailing instinct for disaster. By exaggeration, and Fate they found rightly was most often exaggerated, they could foretell from one chilblain on a little toe the gangrene that would mean first that toe coming off, then that leg below the knee, next the upper leg and finally an end so dreadful that it had to be whispered behind hands.
Robert Hignam appeared, asked how his aunt by marriage was and said he thought they would be able to find a doctor for her. Julia said how sorry she felt for Claire, and Robert said yes, it was rather a bore for her. He went on:
‘You know, a most extraordinary thing happened about Claire’s aunt. You know, Evelyn, you wanted me to go and find Angela and Max. Well, when I found myself outside the bar down there I went in and came up against Max. D’you know the first thing I asked him was whether he had seen Claire’s aunt although no one had ever asked me to find her? As a matter of fact Max did not know her by sight but as soon as I’d finished telling him, there she was in a chair, large as life and ill at that.’
‘I knew all along I’d forgotten something,’ Julia said, but almost to herself and in so low a voice they did not catch it, ‘there’s Thomson outside now still looking for the others and he’s probably looking for us now as well.’
Evelyn told Robert it could never be thought-transference as if anyone had been thinking of Miss Fellowes they could not have known she was ill. He said it had made him feel rather uncomfortable and she said she did not see how it made him feel that. ‘That’s all very well,’ he said, ‘but wouldn’t you if for no reason at all you began asking after someone you had no reason to think of?’
Evelyn was very practical. ‘But that’s just it, Robert,’ she said, ‘you had cause to think of her because you had probably seen her unconsciously as you came in, though you did not realize it at the time, and that is what made you ask after her.’
And now Julia, who had been worrying about Thomson, got to that pitch like when a vessel is being filled it gets so full the water spills over. Julia broke in, saying but what about Thomson, he was sent out with you Robert, what’s happened to him?
‘Half a tick, Julia. No, look here, Evelyn, if I had seen her subconsciously as you say I would not have been so surprised when I did realize she was there.’
‘But how do you know?’
‘Oh, bother you two and your questions,’ said Julia. ‘What am I to do about Thomson? Now that they have put that steel door down over the hotel he won’t be able to find us or anyone.’
Miss Henderson suggested he might have gone back to their luggage.
‘Robert, I wonder if you will do something for me,’ Julia said. ‘Could you go to the station master, no, of course you can’t get outside. But you could telephone to him, couldn’t you, and say it’s for me, and ask him to send someone out to look for Thomson and tell him that he must go back at once to where the luggage is and tell him to see my porter does not put it in the cloakroom if we are a long time. I told my porter that he must not put it in the cloakroom whatever happened, I don’t trust these places, but you know what these porters are. Robert, will you do that for me?’
‘Yes, only too glad to. But I say, Julia, you know that station master must be a pretty busy man, what with the fog and everything. What do you think?’
‘He’ll be glad to do it because of my uncle. It would be ever so sweet of you, my dear.’
Miss Fellowes, in her room, felt she was on a shore wedged between two rocks, soft and hard. Out beyond a grey sea with, above, a darker sky, she would notice small clouds where sea joined sky and these clouds coming far away together into a darker mass would rush across from that horizon towards where she was held down. As this cumulus advanced the sea below would rise, most menacing and capped with foam, and as it came nearer she could hear the shrieking wind in throbbing through her ears. She would try not to turn her eyes down to where rising waves broke over rocks as the nearer that black mass advanced so fast the sea rose and ate up what little was left between her and those wild waters. Each time this scene was repeated she felt so frightened, and then it was menacing and she throbbed unbearably, it was all forced into her head; it was so menacing she thought each time the pressure was such her eyes would be forced out of her head to let her blood out. And then when she thought she must be overwhelmed, or break, this storm would go back and those waters and her blood recede, that moon would go out above her head, and a sweet tide washed down from scalp to toes and she could rest.
‘My dear Mr Hinham,’ the station master said to Robert, for he had not caught his name, ‘My dear sir, there are now, we estimate, thirty thousand people in the station. The last time we had a count, on the August Bank Holiday of last year, we found that when they really began coming in, nine hundred and sixty-five persons could enter this station by the various subways each minute. So supposing I sent a man out to look for the individual Thomson, and he did not find him in ten minutes, there would be forty thousand people to choose from. A needle in a — a needle in a—’ and he was searching for some better word, ‘a haystack,’ he said at last, at a loss.
‘I know,’ said Robert.
‘So you see, sir, I’m afraid we can’t,’ the station master said, and quickly rang off before his temper got the better of him.
Miss Crevy asked Alex where everyone had got to. and he said he could not think where they could be. She asked him outright if anything had happened to anybody, and then, because this question seemed awkward, especially as whatever it was that had happened was obviously being kept from her, she lost her grip and fell further into it by asking him did he know what had become of her Robin. She knew she had been thinking of him without realizing it, all this time.
‘But he’s gone, Angela.’
‘Oh, yes, of course, he had to go away.’
To tide over her embarrassment Alex suggested they might mix the cocktails now.
‘But Max isn’t here,’ she said.
‘That doesn’t matter. He won’t mind.’
Because of all that had gone before, she said:
‘But it’s rude to drink other people’s cocktails before they come in. You wouldn’t go into someone else’s house…’ and she stopped there, realizing, of course, he probably would if he knew them well enough. She felt miserable. Alex had been so tiresome about Embassy Richard — she must remember to call him by Ms proper name — and they were all conspiring together to keep something or other from her and then she had shown about Rob, everyone now would think they were engaged. And it was really so rude to start on his drinks without Max being there.
As for Alex he was frantic that she had been asked on their party. People one hardly knew were always putting one in false positions. It would have been too offensive, though so tempting, to reply that naturally one could go into someone’s house and drink their drink, not champagne, of course, but why not gin and lime juice, everyone else did. And besides, it was a question of how well you knew the person, it was intolerable that he should be put wrong because she did not know Max well. It was true that people used not to do it, but when one was in the schoolroom one did not suck one’s fingers after jam; on account of one’s sisters’ governess one wiped them, but one sucked them now, one was grown up.
‘I’m sorry, I’m afraid I’m being tiresome,’ she said. ‘But this journey is being so long, isn’t it? I think I’m going out for a minute.’
‘Oh, don’t go,’ was all he could think of saying, and she all but said try and stop me if you can, I could knock you down, but she did no more than look away as she went by him.
When she went out into that corridor she had made up her mind she must go home. She felt she had only been invited so they could humiliate her; not that Max would ever do such things, it was the others. Then she saw the nannies, who were still crying. Poor ducks, she thought, have they been vile to them too, how really beastly, poor old things and one of them Claire’s nanny. She went up and said,
‘There, there, it will be quite all right.’
But they would not cry in front of a stranger, and she was surprised and rather hurt to find their tears were drying up, and in two moments she saw they would be putting their handkerchiefs away. Even their nannies, she thought, even their nannies are in league to make one feel out of it. At that instant the man who had been with Miss Fellowes in the bar, and had spoken to her and watched her, and who had followed when she had been carried up, reappeared walking slowly up the corridor. His head was bent forward. He stared at those nannies when he was close to them. He stopped and then, for the first time, he looked at her.
‘Ah, they carried ‘er up here. Terrible bad she was then, I reckon.’
There was a long silence. He went on:
‘On one of them stools with backs to ‘em there was in the bar.’
Alex had come out after Angela. It upset him to see this man. He spoke in his high voice he had when he was upset.
‘What are you doing here?’ he said.
‘What’s that to you, my lad?’
‘Why don’t you go away? These are private rooms here.’
‘Aye, but the corridor’s public,’ this man returned, and without any warning he had used Yorkshire accent where previously he had been speaking in Brummagem. This sudden change did his trick as it had so often done before and Alex, losing his nerve, asked him in to have a drink. He thought he might be the hotel detective.
‘What’ll you have?’
‘I don’t mind,’ this man said, speaking this time in an educated voice.
‘I’m afraid everything must seem very odd to you,’ said Alex, ‘I mean there seems to be so much going on, but you see we are all going on a party together abroad, and now here we are stuck in this hotel on account of fog.’
It was difficult for Alex. He had come out after Angela because he could never stand things being left in what he called false positions. He was friendly by nature and if he could not help feeling annoyed with Miss Crevy and having digs at her, particularly when she tried to put him in the wrong as he now felt she was continually trying to do, he did not want her to bear him a grudge. It was as much this particularity of his which led him to entertain the mystery man as it was his feeling that he might make trouble for Miss Fellowes if he was not kept amused. While he busily talked with this little man he kept on despairing of ever getting things straight with Angela.
Miss Crevy stood outside with those two nannies, who were also standing up now. She was not so anxious to get home. She was wondering what could be going on that they would not tell her. Then Claire came out with a man who was too obviously the hotel doctor. He looked at Angela with suspicion, and walking down that corridor he said to Claire, quietly:
‘What relation is the lady I have just examined to you?’
‘She is my aunt.’
‘I see, I see.’
‘What are we to do?’ Claire asked him. ‘It really is such a bore poor Auntie May getting like this, and it seems quite impossible to get her out of here. It was extraordinarily lucky that we were able to get hold of you. But, of course, it is too tiresome for her, I can’t think of anything worse, can you, than being ill in a hotel bedroom? It was so lucky I did go where they told me I’d find her, because I could see at once she was very ill. What do you think of her?’
‘Has she been drinking any stimulants, within the last hour shall we say?’
‘Why, yes, I think someone said she had.’
‘Well, I don’t think you need worry about her. It would be a good thing if she could get some sleep. Keep her warm, of course. Oh, yes, it will pass off. Perhaps I might see your husband, wasn’t it, for a moment?’
When Robert Hignam came out this doctor drew him aside and said that would be ten and sixpence, please. Claire sent those nannies in to watch Miss Fellowes telling them there was nothing to worry over in her condition, which they did not believe, and she told Julia who was there, too, that it was nothing, and they could go back to that other room and have a drink. Max had come back after trying unsuccessfully to get an ambulance to take Miss Fellowes home (it appeared the streets were so choked with traffic that no communication was possible) and Robert having paid the doctor they all, with Angela, came into the room where Alex was pouring drinks.
As they came in, Robert was explaining to Julia how impossible it was for any search to be made for Thomson. She said:
‘Good heavens, who’s that?’
They saw facing them that little man, with his glass of whisky, and in the other hand a shabby bowler hat. His tie was thin, as thin as him, and his collar clean and stiff, and so was he; his clothes were black, and his face white with pale, blue eyes. Compared to them he looked like another escaped poisoner, and as if he was looking out for victims. Alex, in the silence this man had made with his appearance, asked him loudly if he would have another drink, and this time he nodded, as though he did not want to speak until he could make up his mind which accent would do his trick best this time.
After she had glanced at Max and seen that he did not seem to care either way about the little man being there, Julia decided it was best to ignore him.
‘But are you sure you gave my name?’ she said to Robert.
‘Yes, I did, and he said he felt you would understand.’
‘But what about poor Thomson’s tea? He is most frightfully particular about that.’
‘Well, after all, he can get some for himself,’ and Robert thought it was absurd. Julia would say nothing of keeping Thomson up for something or other until three in the morning, why start this game about tea?
Angela said to Max:
‘Darling, who is that man?’
‘But then why is Alex giving him drinks?’
‘Don’t care, do you?’
‘Max, darling, is there any chance of going home do you think? I mean, it does seem to be rather hopeless hanging about here.’
‘No chance at all. I couldn’t even get an ambulance for Claire’s aunt.’
‘What, is she ill?’
‘Didn’t you know?’
‘Yes, darling, didn’t you know?’ Claire said. ‘But the doctor says there is nothing the matter with her really. Rest would put her right, he said.’
Alex was overjoyed, and said why, that was splendid, loudly, and that little man did not seem pleased, gulped down his drink and left them, saying, in Brummagem, she had been cruel bad when he seen her last.
‘Who on earth was that, Alex?’
‘My dear Julia, I’m perfectly sure it was the hotel detective.’
‘Why? But don’t you see that if this Miss Fellowes had been really bad, and he had found out he would have insisted on having her moved.’
‘I don’t see at all.’
‘They won’t have people, well, people who are very bad in hotels.’
Claire asked who had said her Aunt May was very bad, and Alex could only say his little man had. Angela said ‘Oh, well, if you will believe what he said,’ and Julia took that up and said she thought Alex had been perfectly right. Angela, trying to be malicious and yet not rude, said she was horrified to hear Miss Fellowes had been ill, and that she had only remarked to Robin Adams when they met her how she had not seemed right. Alex wanted to ask Miss Crevy where Mr Adams was, but he did not dare, and Claire said yes, she knew, but she thought it so awful of people to saddle others with their family troubles, Max had been perfectly sweet to put her aunt in a room of her own, but it did seem so unfair that all the rest of them should be bothered by it. ‘So I didn’t tell you,’ she said to Angela, and in so doing, gave herself away, for she had at first seemed surprised that Miss Crevy did not know. And Miss Crevy, thinking to withdraw and be nice, said well, poor Miss Fellowes could not help herself feeling ill could she, and, sensing that she must have said the wrong thing, she added that whenever she felt ill she consoled herself with those sentiments.
‘But, darling, why did you think he was a hotel detective?’ Julia said to Alex.
‘Because he had a bowler hat, of course,’ said Claire. ‘If Alex will go to so many films where they are the only people who do wear bowlers, of course, that’s how he gets it into his head. No, you needn’t be embarrassed, I know exactly how it was, you couldn’t have told how ill she was, and I think it was perfectly sweet of you to have looked after this man like you did, and like that angel Evelyna is looking after Auntie May this moment. And that reminds me that I must go back and relieve poor Evelyn, I shan’t be long,’ and with that she left. Alex felt better but not entirely justified so he asked Julia why she was so certain it could not have been a detective. Julia, however, had seen Max put his arm round Angela Crevy and draw her to the window where they now stood looking down at crowds beneath. Alex did not find that Julia was giving him her attention.
Angela said to Max, speaking confidentially, that she was having a marvellous time, even if it was a bit overwhelming occasionally. He said he was glad. She went on that it would be so marvellous to be really off, that is, in their train and on their way, with the sun waiting for them where they were going, and that she adored going in boats, other people hated Channel crossings, but for her they were more fun than all the rest of her journey. He squeezed her in reply.
‘Max, darling, where’s our tea?’ Julia asked.
He apologized and, going to the telephone, he got on to the management. When he had finished, and they had finally apologized this voice said:
‘Oh, Mr Adey, a lady has been ringing up to ask if you put a call through to her.’
‘We said that you had not done so ‘
Max said right and putting his arm round Julia this time he led her to the window. Looking down she saw the whole of that station below them, lit now by electricity, and covered from end to end by one mass of people. ‘Oh, my dear!’ she said, ‘poor Thomson.’ As those people smoked below, or it might have been the damp off their clothes evaporating rather than their cigarettes, it did seem like November sun striking through mist rising off water. Or, so she thought, like those illustrations you saw in weekly papers, of corpuscles in blood, for here and there a narrow stream of people shoved and moved in lines three deep and where they did this they were like veins. She wondered if this were what you saw when you stood on your wedding day, a Queen, on your balcony looking at subjects massed below.
‘It’s like being a Queen,’ she told Max. He squeezed her.
‘You didn’t do anything about Edwards, did you?’ she said and he did not reply.
She saw the electric trains drawn up in lines with no one on their platforms, everyone was locked out behind barriers and she thought, too, how wonderful it would be when they had arrived.
Alex came up and said what they saw now was like a view from the gibbet and she exclaimed against that. And Miss Fellowes wearily faced another tide of illness. Aching all over she watched helpless while that cloud rushed across to where she was wedged and again the sea below rose with it, most menacing and capped with foam and as it came nearer she heard again the shrieking wind in throbbing through her ears. In terror she watched the seas rise to get at her, so menacing her blood throbbed unbearably, and again it was all forced into her head but this had happened so often she felt she had experienced the worst of it. But now with a roll of drums and then a most frightful crash lightning came out of that cloud and played upon the sea, and this was repeated, and then again, each time nearer till she knew she was worse than she had ever been. One last crash which she knew to be unbearable and she burst and exploded into complete insensibility. She vomited.
‘Come away for a minute,’ Max said to Julia. As they went off and passed that door it opened and Claire came out with Evelyna. Both of them were smiling and said she would do better now, now she had done what the doctor said.
As she walked down that corridor with Max, and he still had his arm round her, she wondered so faintly she hardly knew she had it in her mind where he could be taking her and all the while she was telling him about her charms, her mood softening and made expansive by his having taken her away.
Max was dark and excessively handsome, one of those rich young men who when still younger had been taken up by an older woman, richer than himself. Money always goes to money, the poor always marry someone poorer than themselves, but it is only the rich who rule worlds such as we describe and no small part of Max’s attraction lay in his having started so well with someone even richer than himself.
It was generally believed that he had lived with this rich lady, there was hardly anyone who would not have sworn this was the case, and indeed they were on such terms that both were glad to admit they had. As it happened they had on no occasion had anything to do with each other.
It follows that, having begun so well, Max had by now become extraordinarily smart in every sense and his reputation was that he went to bed with every girl. Through being so rich he certainly had more chances. He took them and, of serious offers accepted, his most recent had been Amabel.
Max therefore was reckoned to be of importance, he was well known, he moved in circles made up of people older than himself, and there was no girl of his own age like Julia, Claire Hignam or Miss Crevy — even Evelyna Henderson although she was hardly in it — who did not feel something when they were on his arm, particularly when he was so good-looking. Again one of his attractions was that they all thought they could stop him drinking, not that he ever got drunk because he had not yet lost his head for drink, but they were all sure that if they married him they could make him into something quite wonderful, and that they could get him away from all those other women, or so many of them as were not rather friends of their own. It was for this therefore she made out it meant something to be going on this trip, that it was fun to be walking down this corridor, getting him away from the others, or that was all she would admit she found about him who was more than anyone to her.
‘So I went back, darling, and I asked my darling Jemima where could she have put my charms,’ Julia said, leaning on him a little, ‘and she promised me faithfully they were in my cabin trunk. Are you like that, have you anything you don’t like to travel without? Not toothbrushes or sponges I mean, but things you can’t use, like mascots.’ At this they came to some stairs and the lift.
‘Where on earth are you taking me?’ she said.
‘Got some tea for you in a special room.’
People were going up and down so he took his arm off her as they came up and rang for the lift. She had forgotten, through being with him, her dislike of going in these. As they got out on the next floor she was thinking no one else would have bothered to spare her walking up one flight of stairs.
‘Yes, so then I had to simply fly back, in a taxi this time, as I was terrified I was going to miss you all. You know I’ve never never done anything so eerie as walking through the Park in the dark when it was only four o’clock or whatever time it was. The extraordinary part was the birds who had gone to sleep as they thought it was night and then were woken up by the car lights so they muttered in their sleep, the darlings, just like Jemima tells me I do when she pulls the blinds. I got so frightened. And then do you know I imagined what I should say to you if I met you walking alone there. But that was silly and then I remembered about my charms and went back to the house like I told you.’
They came to the room he had reserved.
‘Oh, tea, tea!’ she cried as she went in and clapped her hands, ‘tea and crumpets, how divine of you, darling, and so grand, just for us two. You know I think I will take my hat off,’ and doing this she wandered round looking at pictures on the walls.
One of these was of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, on a marble terrace. He stood to his violin and eight fat women reclined on mattresses in front while behind was what was evidently a great conflagration.
‘Nero and his wives,’ she said and passed on.
Another was one of those reproductions of French eighteenth-century paintings which showed a large bed with covers turned back and half in, half out of it a fat girl with fat legs sticking out of her nightdress and one man menacing and another disappearing behind curtains.
‘Here’s a to-do,’ she said.
Another was of a church, obviously in Scotland, and snow and sheep, at the back of a bleak mountain, fir trees in the middle distance and you could see church bells were ringing, they were at an angle in the belfry.
‘Oh, do look, Max darling, come here. Isn’t that like the church at Barshottie which you took last winter, do you remember?’ And then as he put his arm round her again she said: ‘No, don’t do that, it’s too hot in here. Let’s have some tea or my crumpets will be cold.’
When she was pouring him out his tea she asked him if he had heard anything about Embassy Richard. Speaking slowly in his rather low voice he said he understood that there had been a girl this man had wanted to see at that party. She wanted to know who that might be but he would not tell her although she pressed him; she approved of his not giving this girl’s name away, it proved to her that he was safe.
‘But Max, my dear,’ she said, ‘surely the point is that Embassy Richard didn’t go to the party. Some people think he sent that notice to the papers himself saying he could not attend, and if he did that then he can’t have meant to go.’
‘All I know is he’s head over heels in love with this girl,’ Mr Adey said, ‘and he was not invited and she was, and he meant to go whether he got his invitation or not.’
‘But my dear how absolutely thrilling; then why didn’t he go?’
‘What I heard was that Charlie Troupe, who knew of this, rang him up to say his girl was not going after all but would be at the Beavis’s dance.’
‘I see. All the same, Max, he had only to ring up his friend to see if she was going or not.’
‘No, he had had a row with her.’
‘Then if what you say is right it does look like Charlie Troupe after all, I mean it does seem as though it was Charlie Troupe who sent that notice out. But if you won’t tell me the name of the girl I shall still go on believing that Richard did it himself.’
‘Believe it or not, it’s true that he didn’t and I call it a dirty trick to play.’
‘When he was in love, you mean,’ she said. ‘But that’s just the time people do play dirty tricks,’ and at this she looked very knowledgeable.
‘On each other, yes, but it’s not playing the game for a third person to do it’
‘Perhaps Charlie Troupe was in love with her himself. If you would only tell me her name I’d know.’
‘I don’t hold any brief for Charlie Troupe or Embassy Richard but I think it was a low-down trick,’ he said.
‘People do play awful tricks on each other when they are in love, don’t they, Max? I can’t understand why people can’t go on just being ordinary to each other even if they are in love.’ She became quite serious. ‘After all, it’s the most marvellous thing that can happen to a person, to two people, there’s no point in making it all beastly. You know that thing of making up to someone else so as to make the one you really mind about more mad about you, well, I think that’s simply too awful, and very dangerous after all.’
He laughed and asked her if she did that after all, and she laughed and said now he was asking questions. She went on, ‘perhaps that girl friend of Embassy Richard’s was trying to hot him up with Charlie Troupe, that would fit in with your idea that it was Charlie Troupe who sent the notice out, but if she was, then I think she deserves everything she gets. Why don’t you like Embassy Richard?’
‘I don’t know, but look at his name. Always crawling round Embassies. And you can see him any night there isn’t one of those grander shows on, crawling round night clubs with older women old enough to be his grandmother.’
At this she thought how odd it was that people always seemed to dislike in others just what they were always doing themselves, for Max went everywhere at night with older women. Then, to get this conversation back to herself, however indirectly, she said:
‘But perhaps Charlie Troupe is only going about like that to make some girl jealous.’
‘Not Charlie Troupe.’
‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘don’t you be too sure. What do we know about anyone?’ said she, thinking of herself.
‘Not Charlie Troupe.’
‘Oh, all right. In fact I’m very glad. I think it’s perfectly horrible and very wrong to walk out with a third person just because you are in love with another. It’s not playing fair. After all, it’s the most marvellous thing that can happen to anyone, or at any rate that’s what they say,’ she said to cover her tracks, ‘and to make a point of making the real person jealous is simply beastly,’ she said with great sincerity.
Meanwhile Mr Robin Adams, Miss Angela Crevy’s young man, sat in a bar downstairs in this hotel and wondered angrily how Angela could go with these revolting people. Here they were engaged, even if it was not yet in the papers he had her word for it, she would not take his ring but she had said she would be engaged to him when she came back from this trip of theirs, so they must be engaged. And then in spite of it she would insist on going off although she knew he did not approve, although she knew it gave him pain, agony in fact; it was perfectly damnable and made him miserable, it was so unfair. At this moment Robert Hignam hit him hard between the shoulders.
‘Robin, old boy, I didn’t know you were here,’ he said. ‘Have you got sick of them upstairs too? Well, I don’t mind telling you I’ve been sent on so many damn messages, fatigues and things, I said to myself it’s time you took a rest and went downstairs and got yourself a drink. Not that old Max hasn’t seen to the liquid refreshment, there’s plenty of that up there — a small Worthington, please miss — but I should be sent off on some message or other for certain the moment I settled down. It’s Claire’s aunt, you know. Came to see us off and the doctor here says she’s tight or so he gave me to believe, and charged me ten-and-six. That’s all tommy rot, you understand, there’s something more wrong with her than just that, but I’m not telling the girls; one doesn’t want them to get upset. But I must tell you,’ he went on, thinking poor old Robin seemed a bit glum about something, ‘the most extraordinary thing happened about Claire’s aunt. I’d been sent off to see whether I couldn’t find Angela and you and someone else, I forget which of them it was, and I was finding it pretty dry work so I dropped into the bar outside there. Mind you, no one had said a word to me about Claire’s aunt but d’you know the first thing I asked Max — I found him sitting there having one before me — was whether he had seen the old lady. And the next thing was I was her sitting right in the corner and looking pretty queer, too, I can tell you. Bit of an extraordinary thing, wasn’t it?’
‘Funny thing,’ Mr Adams said and he had not listened.
‘Yes, that’s what the doctor said,’ Miss Evelyn Henderson was telling Alex, ‘and now, between ourselves, she has been vomiting so if what the doctor says is right she ought to be getting better.’
‘Well, that’s splendid.’
‘Yes, but I’m not so sure that doctor knew what he was talking about. Don’t go and tell anyone, but she was such a bad colour.’
‘Evelyn, my dear,’ Alex said, ‘don’t put your opinion against the doctor’s, it’s perfectly fatal. If he said what was wrong with her as he did then that’s what is the matter, never mind what you or I think. I’m not sure that I agree with you, in any case it’s quite likely she had one too many, probably she felt tired and let it get the better of her.’
He mixed himself another drink.
‘Now don’t you go and get drunk too,’ she said. ‘I can’t have two drunks on my hands.’
He laughed and then, because she had rather annoyed him, he made this suggestion:
‘Why don’t you let Claire look after her? After all she is her niece.’
‘My dear, Claire couldn’t look after a sick cat. As it is I don’t know what I should have done if it hadn’t been for her old nanny and the friend. They have been simply wonderful. Of course it was they who put me on the track of it and I didn’t have a chance of taking that doctor aside, but I don’t think they are satisfied either.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘No, I should not have said that. I think you are quite right that I should take what the doctor said,’ she said to close the subject.
‘Well,’ said Alex, ‘I have been doing my bit too. A most extraordinary individual blew in here a short time back and I took him for the hotel detective. I thought he was trying to nose out something about this Miss Fellowes. So I buckled to and began plying him with drinks and the others have been chaffing me about it.’
‘I think you were quite right, perfectly right. It would be dreadful if there was a scandal. Now I must go back. I don’t mean a scandal, that’s not the right word, a fuss. Now I must go back in there. You go and talk to Angela, she’s sitting all alone,’ and with that Miss Henderson went off.
Upstairs Max and Julia had finished their tea and, in an interval of silence, she had gone over to the window and was looking down on that crowd below. As he came over to join her she said well anyway, those police over there would protect their luggage, as they were drawn up in front of the Registration Hall. And as she watched she saw this crowd was in some way different. It could not be larger as there was no room, but in one section under her window it seemed to be swaying like branches rock in a light wind and, paying greater attention, she seemed to hear a continuous murmur coming from it. When she noticed heads everywhere turned towards that section just below she flung her window up. Max said: ‘Don’t go and let all that in,’ and she heard them chanting beneath: ‘WE WANT TRAINS, WE WANT TRAINS.’ Also that raw air came in, harsh with fog and from somewhere a smell of cooking, there was a shriek from somewhere in the crowd, it was all on a vast scale and not far above her was that vault of glass which was blue now instead of green, now that she was closer to it. She had forgotten what it was to be outside, what it smelled and felt like, and she had not realized what this crowd was, just seeing it through glass. It went on chanting WE WANT TRAINS, WE WANT TRAINS from that one section which surged to and fro and again that same woman shrieked, two or three men were shouting against the chant but she could not distinguish words. She thought how strange it was when hundreds of people turned their heads all in one direction, their faces so much lighter than their dark hats, lozenges, lozenges, lozenges.
The management had shut the steel doors down because when once before another fog had come as thick as this hundreds and hundreds of the crowd, unable to get home by train or bus, had pushed into this hotel and quietly clamoured for rooms, beds, meals, and more and more had pressed quietly, peaceably in until, although they had been most well behaved, by weight of numbers they had smashed everything, furniture, lounges, reception offices, the two bars, doors. Fifty-two had been injured and compensated and one of them was a little Tommy Tucker, now in a school for cripples, only fourteen years of age, and to be supported all his life at the railway company’s expense by order of a High Court Judge.
‘It’s terrifying,’ Julia said, ‘I didn’t know there were so many people in the world.’
‘Do shut the window, Julia.’
‘But why? Max, there’s a poor woman down there where that end of the crowd’s swaying. Did you hear her call? Couldn’t you do something about it?’
He leaned out of the window.
‘Couldn’t get down there I’m afraid, doors are shut,’ he said.
At that she closed this window and said he was quite right and that it was silly of her to suggest it. ‘After all,’ she said, ‘one must not hear too many cries for help in this world. If my uncle answered every begging letter he received he would have nothing left in no time.’ It was extraordinary how quiet their room became once that window was shut. ‘What do you do with your appeals and things?’ He answered that everything was in the hands of his secretary. He decided with his accountants, who managed his affairs for him, what he would set aside for charities during the year and then he told his secretary which ones he wanted to support and his accountants had to approve the actual amount before it was paid. He explained this rather disjointedly and gave her to understand that it was his secretary who really decided everything for him.
‘And your accountants, or whatever you call them, decide how much it is to be?’
‘Then do you actually spend less than you receive?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘But you must know.’
‘No, I don’t. You see my accountants report to my trustees.’
‘Then don’t your trustees tell you?’
‘They made a bit of a stink years ago when they said I’d spent too much. It was then they fixed up this system. They haven’t said anything since so I suppose it’s all right. Will you have a cocktail or something?’
She refused. She began to feel rather uncomfortable in this closed room. He asked if she would mind his sending for some whisky and telephoned down for it.
‘Ask them if there is any chance of there being some trains running soon.’ He reported that they said not for another hour or two, although this fog seemed to be lifting along the coast. She wondered what she had better do, whether her best plan was not to ring up her uncle to say they were all stuck in this hotel, whether it would not be safer supposing he found out they had spent hours penned up alone in here. But then, she argued, it was not as if they were not in a party and no one knew she was up here with Max. And if her uncle told her to come back home then she might not catch their train if it did in the end go off rather unexpectedly. How frightfully rich Max must be. No, it would be better if she stayed where she was, she was not going to miss this trip for anything. She had been looking forward to it for weeks. And besides she wondered, she wondered what he was going to do now that he had her all alone. It made the whole trip so much more exciting to begin with a whole three weeks before them to get everything right in.
‘Cheer up,’ Alex said to Miss Crevy, going up to where she sat alone in that room downstairs, ‘don’t look so glum, Angela.’
‘Do I?’ she said, and she put up her hands to rearrange her hair. ‘Yes, I suppose I do feel low.’ In actual fact she felt so low she could not be angry with him any more, though she did still resent him.
‘Are you sure,’ he said, ‘that you won’t have anything to drink?’ When she refused he went on that this kind of breakdown in the arrangements was typical of all travelling with Max. ‘Have you ever been on a trip with him before?’ She said she had, which he was pretty certain was a lie. He went on:
‘I remember last year, when we were going to the same place we are going now, there was the most frightful business in Paris because all our sleepers weren’t together. He had reserved the whole of one coach and when we all got to the train he found they had put us all over it. He made a great row and for some time he threatened not to take the train. Of course, they said he could do exactly as he liked but that he would have to pay for those sleepers in any case and there weren’t any others for four days the trains were so full. Well, you know it didn’t matter in the least to us where we were, they were single sleepers anyway, but he wouldn’t have it and we all stood there thinking perhaps we would never go after all.’
‘It was rather sweet of him.’
‘Yes,’ said Alex, ‘it was.’ Alex was anxious to be on good terms with everyone and did not want to remember that Miss Crevy had got on his nerves. ‘Yes, in many ways he is too good a host, that was why he was so anxious no one should know about Claire’s aunt,’ he said, embroidering, ‘so that no one should be bothered about anyone else being ill. D’you know,’ he said, ‘I’ve been thinking it over and I think you were quite right about Embassy Richard, that he didn’t send that notice out himself.’
‘All I said was,’ Angela said rather wearily, ‘he had told my mother that he was not going to the party.’
‘That’s just it, so I don’t think that he could have sent the notice out himself in view of what you have just told me. I quite forget what I said at the time but it’s obvious you were right about that and that I was wrong,’ he said, ignoring altogether that he had originally agreed with her on this point although he had then rather lost track of his argument. But he was anxious to be friends.
‘Oh, don’t let’s talk about that, Alex. But then what happened about the sleepers, did you go in the end?’
‘Good heavens, yes, of course we went. They compromised by putting some of us together. Oh, yes, one always goes but it’s a certainty something perfectly appalling crops up like this fog or the business about sleepers or any one of the hundreds of things that turn up when he travels. I’m not saying that one isn’t exceedingly comfortable, but it’s definitely wearing.’
He thought to himself that she was not posing to be such an expert on travelling with Max after all. Perhaps she had been once to Scotland with him.
‘Have you ever been to Barshottie?’
‘No,’ she said, ‘why do you ask?’
Miss Fellowes was better. She was having a perfectly serene dream that she was riding home, on ah evening after hunting, on an antelope between rows of giant cabbages. Earth and sky were inverted, her ceiling was an indeterminate ridge and furrow barely lit by crescent moons in the azure sky she rode on.
In the sitting-room next to where she lay dreaming watched by those two nannies, Claire and Evelyn discussed Angela’s looks, which they admired, and her clothes, of which they did not think so much.
‘But, darling,’ said Claire, ‘why do you think Max asked her?’
‘Why, for that matter, did he ask us?’
‘Oh, but Evelyna, we’ve all known him for ages.’
‘Yes, but surely to goodness he can get to know someone else. I think we’re all unfair to him.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Well, my dear, of course we’re all hoping he’ll get engaged to Julia and I don’t know if it’s because of that but I do think we seem to be getting almost proprietary about him. After all, Claire, he’s independent enough now with all these creatures he goes about with at night. He’s been most good to me taking me about when I couldn’t possibly have afforded to go alone and I can’t question who be asks besides.’
‘I can’t either,’ Claire said, ‘but I can’t help wondering. And anyway,’ she said, rising in her own defence, ‘I don’t think because Robert and I and you are asked that’s any reason why we shouldn’t discuss him.’
‘I know just what you mean but we seem to be doing it all the time nowadays. Not with Julia though, she never talks about him now. Has she said anything to you about him lately?’
‘No, Julia is most frightfully close about herself,’ Claire said. ‘She’s never so much as breathed a word to me ever, has she to you?’
‘No, not a word.’
‘Then you mean what I mean, that she doesn’t discuss him now because she minds?’
‘Well, of course she does. We knew she did months ago.’
‘I know, but it is too divine, isn’t it?’ Claire said and then described how Julia had suddenly said to her about how hopeless Max was, when they were sitting outside together on their luggage.
‘Still,’ said Evelyn, ‘that’s just what people do do.’
‘Talk about their affairs when they are really upset about them.’
‘Well, Evelyn my dear, she did sort of let it out to me when we were sitting there as I’ve just told you.’
‘I didn’t mean that. What I meant was really having it out. And that she has never done with any of us.’
‘Julia’s not the same as everyone, that’s why she is so sweet.’
‘Well, Claire, I think we are all the same about things like that, and she’s never really had it out with any of us.’
If Julia had wondered where Max was taking her as they went upstairs together Max, for his part, had wondered where she was taking him. With this difference however, that, if she had done no more than ask herself what room he was taking her to, he had asked himself whether he was going to fall for her. Again, while she had wondered so faintly she hardly knew she had it in her mind or, in other words, had hardly expressed to herself what she was thinking, he was much further from putting his feelings into words, as it was not until he felt sure of anything that he knew what he was thinking of. When he thought, he was only conscious of uneasy feelings and he only knew that he had been what he did not even call thinking when his feelings hurt him. When he was sure then he felt it must at once be put to music, which was his way of saying words.
This is not to say that Max was one of those men with ungovernable actions in that sense in which one speaks of men with ungovernable tempers, always breaking out into rages. He was not so often sure he was in love with anyone that he was always assaulting girls. But when he was sure then he felt he had to do something.
Julia, of course, he had been continually meeting for eighteen months. He had brought her along when they had been abroad before, though he had not seen much of her then, but since that time he had met her again and again at houses where he happened to be staying and when they had been a great deal more together than with the other guests.
‘Tell me about your toys,’ he said.
‘My toys, what do you mean? Oh, you’re trying to say my charms. No, I certainly won’t if you call them my toys.’
‘Your charms,’ he said.
‘Well, if you swear you won’t laugh I might.’ She was most anxious to tell him because she naturally wanted to talk about herself.
‘I won’t laugh,’ he said.
‘I don’t know how I first got them,’ she said, for she was not going to tell anyone ever that it was her mother, of course, who had given them to her and who had died when she was two years old. Here she broke off to ask him if he had overheard Robert Hignam telling her about that patch of bamboos they had played round as children. ‘He is so silly, as if I should ever forget,’ she said. ‘We were brought up together.’ She went on to say what Robert had never known was that one of her charms, the wooden pistol, had been buried plumb in the middle of the bamboo patch. In consequence, and no one had ever known of it, these bamboos, or probably they had been overgrown artichokes, had taken on a great importance in her mind because of this secret buried in them. And she asked Max if he did not think it often was the case that certain things people remembered about when they were children were important to them only because they were far more important to someone else.
She explained that each time they went through those artichokes pretending they were explorers in jungles, she was excited because she knew she had buried her pistol there and because the others did not know., She felt her excitement had made their game more secret and that it was the secrecy which was what Robert remembered of it. ‘So that it was my having hidden the pistol there which made the whole thing for him. He’ll never know,’ she said.
So her wooden pistol was stained and had rather crumbled away, after she had dug it up, but she had it still, nothing would ever part her from it. The egg she described as being hollow, painted outside with rings of red and yellow, half the size of duck’s eggs, and it had inside three little ivory elephants. ‘You’ll never believe about my egg,’ she said, ‘and I’ve never told another soul,’ which was a lie. But she did tell him, and it was like this. When she had been no more than four years old she had been out with her nanny for their afternoon’s walk. She was carrying a huge golfing umbrella she could not be happy without at that particular time, quartered in red and yellow silk. Her nanny had opened it for her and she was so very small she had had to carry it with both hands to the handle as it spread above her head. Now she also had with her the wooden egg with elephants inside in one of her pockets and as she happened to be walking on a bank a sudden gust of wind had taken hold of her umbrella and, as she had not let go, had carried her for what, at this length of time, she now considered to be great distances, as far as from cliffs into the sea, but what, as it actually happened, had been no more than three or four feet and into a puddle. ‘And I said “Nanny, if I hadn’t my egg in my pocket I should have been drowned.”’ Julia could now see herself swaying down 10,000 feet tied to a red and yellow parachute. ‘So you see,’ she said, ‘I can’t ever leave it behind now, can I?’
‘Yes, I must have looked a sight with my skinny legs,’ and as these were now one of her best features she stretched them out under his nose, ‘sailing away under my umbrella with the nanny waving so I shouldn’t get frightened and let go. I was such a shrimp in those days.’
‘I bet you never were,’ he said.
‘And what about your top?’
‘What about my top? Who told you about my top?’
‘Who told you? I’ve never said a word about it to anyone.’
‘You must have done or I should not have known,’ he said uneasily:
Who could have told him? Claire surely wouldn’t have. People you trusted talked about you behind your back and ruined everything. He must have been laughing at her all the time she was on about her charms.
‘Oh, Max,’ she said, ‘you are so tiresome.’ And then, to cover up her tracks, ‘First you wouldn’t tell me who Embassy Richard’s girl was and now you won’t say who told you about me. Who is it?’
He made as if to sit on the arm of her chair.
‘No,’ she said, ‘and if you won’t come out with it then you can’t expect me to go on filling you up with things to laugh at me about’
‘But I was not laughing.’
‘Very well then, what toys did you have when you were a little boy.?’
He thought this was an unlucky business. Rather shamefacedly he said:
‘I had a Teddy Bear.’
‘All little boys have Teddy Bears.’
‘Well I say, Julia, I can’t help that, can I?’
‘What else did you have? What did you have you are ashamed of now?’
‘But Julia really, what is there to be ashamed of in a wooden egg?’
‘Who said I was ashamed? Don’t be so ridiculous. Go on now, what did you have?’
He lied and said: ‘I had a doll as well.’
‘I don’t believe it. What sort of a doll?’
‘Well, it was dressed up, a girl, in an Eton blue frock.’
‘Did you?’ she said beginning to smile at last. ‘And did you take her to bed with you?’
‘Of course. I wouldn’t sleep without it.’
‘How sweet,’ she said ironically, ‘how perfectly sweat. And are you ashamed of her now?’
‘No, why should I be?’
‘No,’ she said, calming down, ‘there’s no reason why one should be, is there?’ After all, when one was little one was just like other little boys and girls. But she could not get over someone having told him. Had they been laughing at her over it? Or had he been asking people about her?
‘How did you get to know?’ she said.
‘Someone told me.’
‘Yes, I know, but how? I mean people don’t just tell things like that.’
He took the plunge into another lie.
‘Well, if you must know,’ he said, ‘I asked them.’
‘Oh, you did, did you? So then you know.’
‘The story of my top.’
‘No, I don’t. All I was told was that you had one — “like Julia who keeps a top” — they said.’
She left over thinking out whether he had really asked after her until she was alone.
‘Oh, is that all you know? Then would you like to hear? You swear you aren’t laughing.’
‘How much would you like to know?’
Again he came over as if to sit on the arm of her chair.
‘If you do that,’ she said getting up, ‘I shan’t be able to tell you about my top.’
He thought bother her top.
‘And it’s most frightfully important.’
‘Do tell me.’
‘Do you really want to know? Then I’ll tell you. There’s no story at all about my top. I’ve just always had it, that’s all.’
He advanced on her as if to kiss her.
‘No, no,’ she said, ‘it’s too early in the day yet for that sort of thing,’ and as he still came forward she began to step back.
‘No, Max, I’m not going to start a chase round this squalid room.’ And as he came up to her she brought her hands smack together as though she were bringing him out of a trance. ‘Go back and sit in your chair,’ she said, ‘mix yourself another drink if you like, but you aren’t going to muss me up now.’ He did as he was told and she was pleased she could make him do as she told him. Then she wondered if he wasn’t angry, which he was. So she came over to where he was sitting, and, his hands taken up with pouring out his drink, she kissed his cheek and then sat down opposite.
There was a silence and then he exclaimed:
‘By God, I wonder if they have sent up those flowers.’ He went to telephone and got on to Alex at last and asked him. Alex said yes the flowers had arrived.
‘Are they all right? I mean are they decent ones?’ Alex said they were and Julia wondered, when he put down the receiver and went over to the window, that he had not asked Alex to have them sent up to her.
In the meantime Hignam had persuaded Robin Adams that he would do better to come upstairs and see what had become of the others. Against his better judgment Mr Adams had agreed. As he had not been able to leave this hotel owing to those steel doors having been shut down, he considered he might as well be with Angela if he could not get away from their bloody party. He might be able to be of service to her yet.
Now both Julia and Angela had kissed their young men when these had been cross, when Mr Adams had made off down in the station and when Max had stopped chasing Julia to sit in his chair.
People, in their relations with one another, are continually doing similar things but never for similar reasons.
All this party had known each other for some time, except Max and Angela. Max had taken them up and they had got to know Angela through him. When Max had asked her she had insisted on going although her parents had objected that she did not know them well. Now that she was with them she was not enjoying it because she found she was without what she would call one supporter among them.
For when Angela had kissed Mr Adams she had not wanted him to stay, it had been no more than a peck, but now she had seen more of their party she wished she had kissed him harder, and she was beginning to blame him. He had been extremely tiresome and he had deserved it when she had sent him off. But she felt now that she had never deserved it when he had gone.
As for Julia she had kissed Max to keep him sweet so to speak, and so, in one way, had Miss Crevy kissed her young man. But what lay behind Julia’s peck was this three weeks they both had in front of them, it would never do to start too fast and furious. Angela had no such motive because Mr Adams was not coming with them.
Angela then was more than missing her young man. Accordingly when he was led by Robert Hignam into this room where she was sitting she was glad to see him. And Alex was very glad to see him. He had been made more and more nervous by Miss Crevy because he could see she was getting in a state. He called out what would he have to drink and Angela said to him:
‘Where have you been all this time?’
Now that he did see her again Mr Adams was so thankful he could find nothing to say. He thought she looked so much more lovely than ever, almost as though he had expected to find she had been assaulted by those others with her clothes torn and her hair hanging down as he put it, although she wore it short. It was then her mood so swiftly changed that it began to seem too tiresome the way he stood there saying nothing when he should have come back long ago. Unfortunately for him he was so taken up with his feeling of how madly beautiful she was that he feared he would give himself away if he went anywhere near her. She felt she could never forgive him if he stayed away, but he went over to Alex and Robert Hignam and mixed himself a drink, turning his back.
If Julia’s fears had left her earlier when Max arrived in the lounge downstairs and, at the first sign of him, she had forgotten how angry she had been at his not turning up before, Angela was now the reverse of comforted when she saw Mr Adams, even if she had been longing for him to come back. Anyway she thought it monstrous that he should stand as he did with his back to her. She said:
‘Isn’t someone going to ask me what I’d like to drink?’ and she put emphasis on the someone. This brought them all over to her side apologizing and carrying the tray with everything on it. When Mr Adams apologized he tried pathetically enough to make his voice sound as though he were saying in so many words how sorry he was that he had ever gone and even, by the tone of it, how unlucky she was to have one such as he so full of her. But his putting himself in the wrong only made her feel more sure that she was right and he might as well have said it to his glass for she proceeded to ignore him.
Her answer was to begin making up to Alex. She called him darling, which was of no significance except that she had never done so before, and he did not at once tumble to it that her smiles and friendliness for him, which like any other girl she could turn on at will so that it poured pleasantly out in the way water will do out of taps, had no significance either. Still it was very different from how she had been when they were alone together and as he could not bear people being as cross and hurt with him as she had seemed to be he was both surprised and pleased.
‘And, darling,’ she said to Alex, ‘do you know what is on the other side of that door there?’
He went to see. ‘Beds!’ he cried.
‘Yes, twin beds. But I brought my own sheets.’
He was still pleased even if this last remark embarrassed him as much as it had done when, at first sight of him down in the station she had called out had he brought his bed. Then he wondered if this change of manner did not come from her wanting to annoy this Robin Adams or to make him jealous. He said she thought of everything and went on,
‘But it’s really rather early for that sort of thing, isn’t it? There’s no close season, I know that, but we’ve got the whole night before us, if you know what I mean.’
‘Alex, darling, how can you speak like that? It’s the most pansy thing I ever heard you say. And in any case,’ she went on, ‘it wouldn’t be very nice in a sleeper, would it?’ Alex passed this off by saying he had given up all idea of their getting a train that evening. As for Mr Adams he had been so tormented when he saw her again by such a crawling frenzy of love for her that he had not been fit to hear what was going on. This now, however, began to percolate through to him as when clouds curtain an August day that has been enormously still and soft with elms swooning in the haze; and as hot days can become ominous and dark so soon he began to dread what she might make him hear.
Alex said well come along then, knowing that she would never commit herself in front of those others. He suspected that she was only trying to distress this poor creature Adams and was curious to see how she would get out of going into that bedroom with him. He was sure she would never do it and yet she would only make herself look ridiculous now if she did not go. She said he didn’t seem very keen, it was hardly flattering to her she said and he thought of answering this by asking her why didn’t she try one of the others then, but he refrained, he was afraid this would be too awkward for her. All he did say was that she would soon see who was being flattered once the door was locked on them.
This surprised her into saying, ‘Oh, I don’t think I’d allow you to do that.’ Her pretence was wearing rather thin he thought and decided to drive her further into a corner. He asked why on earth not and was enormously touched when she explained that she would never let him lock the door because of course she would not mind being caught with him. He suspected she was only playing him up and he knew it was fatuous but he could not help being flattered. He tried to appear cross in order to hide this and so as to lead her on.
‘You mean it would not matter if you were caught with me, either to you or anyone else,’ he said. Robert Hignam interrupted:
‘Don’t let that worry you. I’ll stand on guard and if I whistle three times, what, you’ll know someone is coming.’
Mr Adams walked to the window and wondered, as he tried not to hear, if he was going to be sick.
‘But I don’t mind,’ she said, ‘you old silly,’ using one of Claire’s expressions to her husband, ‘don’t you understand I don’t mind if anyone did find us? Has no one ever made a proposal to you?’
This word proposal seemed to him to have a fatal ring and rather in desperation he said well, all right, come on then. ‘Well, all right, come on then,’ she echoed, ‘that’s a fine way to put it. Well, hold the door open for me.’
‘Where on earth is Max?’ said Mr Adams, turning round from his window. Alex and Robert Hignam were disgusted to see his face had gone white.
‘Now, look here, Angela,’ Alex said, determined now to escape, ‘what about that hotel detective?’
Robert Hignam led Mr Adams away to have a drink in the other corner.
‘I must say you don’t seem very gallant,’ she said and thought poor Robin had looked awful, but he must learn his lesson and it was too late to turn back now, she would look silly if she did.
‘Alex,’ she said, ‘Alex,’ and jerked her head towards that other room she stood outside by the open door. He saw now those others were not watching, that she only wanted to say something in private and he felt proportionately foolish for ever having imagined she meant a rough and tumble. He hurried in and she shut them in and said:
‘Now you must go straight out into the corridor by that other door over there and don’t come back.’
‘You aren’t going to do something awful, are you?’ he said, because after all he did not know her well enough to say he would stand for no further baiting of Mr Adams.
‘Now, Alex, run along now at once,’ and he did go, feeling outraged at having been so used. The moment he had shut the door she clapped her hands twice. Mr Adams, of course, was in her room at once, slamming the door behind him so Robert Hignam could not follow. He found her sitting in front of the glass, powdering her face, and apparently calm as calm.
‘What?’ he said, ‘what?’
‘What do you mean?’ she said.
‘Was that you slapping someone’s face?’ he said and he was panting hard.
‘Who slapped whose face? I didn’t hear anyone,’ she said.
‘I heard it twice,’ he said and his knees were trembling.
She burst into tears, her face screwed up and got red and she held her handkerchief to her nose and sniffled as if that was where her tears were coming from.
‘Oh, my God,’ he said and then his knees went so that he thought he would sink to the floor, where he had been standing.
Speaking through her handkerchief, her voice going up and down and interrupted by sobs, grunts and once she choked, she was saying:
‘You’ve been so beastly to me. Going away when you did. As if I was nothing to you. And all these beastly people being beastly to me. How do you expect me to love you? How could you go like that? Oh, I do feel so miserable.’ At this point she got hiccups. ‘How could you? I feel I could die. I feel so miserable.’
He began moving towards her, saying darling, darling. By this time they neither of them knew what they were doing.
When Alex came back through the corridor into this sitting room where they had all been, Robert Hignam became facetious which was his way of hiding curiosity.
‘I say, old boy, that was a bit sudden, wasn’t it, what did you do to the girl?’
Alex hated him for it. He said if he could only strangle her now he would, ‘and you too,’ he thought of saying.
‘But come on, what did you do to the poor girl to make her fetch you one like that?’
‘Nothing, you poor fool, nothing at all. Oh, all right, laugh, yes, but can’t you see all she was doing was playing me up to make her boy friend.’
Robert felt somehow he had been put in the wrong, but he was not going to stop for that, he wanted to get down to it. ‘Right,’ he said, ‘right, I’d spotted that. As a matter of fact, if I’d been you I doubt if I’d have gone in the first place.’
‘Afraid of Claire coming in I suppose.’
‘Here, lay off. But all’s well that ends well I expect, isn’t it?’ he said, nodding to the bedroom door and getting to it.
‘You silly idiot, Bob, she’s probably putting him through a hoop in some fabulous way.’
‘I don’t know, he’s probably got all he wanted by now, but I wouldn’t stand for her slapping me for it.’ He waited till he saw there was no more to come and then he said he wondered what the others were doing.
Claire was sitting telephoning in the room outside Miss Fellowes’ bedroom with Evelyn Henderson telephoning too; for some reason this room had two telephones. The door between had been cruelly left open so that her aunt, if her condition was so she could hear, could do so. Both Claire and Evelyn then were speaking at one and the same time and Claire was saying:
‘Yes, Mrs Knight, she is sleeping now.’ Mrs Knight was maid to Miss Fellowes. ‘I don’t think you need worry too much about her. No, you would never be able to get here, I shouldn’t come along if I were you. No, Mrs Knight, you mustn’t. For one thing the traffic simply isn’t running, you would never get here, and then if you did you would never be able to get in, we are simply in a state of siege you know, yes, no one’s allowed in or out. Yes, nanny and her friend are with us, they have been angels. Of course, I had a terrible time getting her up here, she had to be carried.’
Miss Henderson was telephoning to a female friend.
‘My dear,’ she said, ‘you would hardly believe it but you remember I told you I was going to the South of France, I’d been looking forward to it so much for such a long time. The fact is that with this fog no trains are running and I’ve a very good idea, though I’ve said nothing to the others about it, that we shan’t get away at all. Well, the difficult part of it is that I’ve closed my little flat up you see and sent the woman who looks after me away on her own holiday. Mrs Jukes, yes. What’s that? My dear, do you really mean it, that would be kind of you. May I really? It would only be for one night at the most. You will put me up, you’re sure it won’t be too much of a bother? My dear, that is too kind of you. Several extraordinary things have happened I can’t tell you about now. What’s that?’
Claire was saying:
‘Now, Mrs Knight, you’re not to worry like this. Of course I don’t know what would have become of her if I hadn’t been here. No, we don’t know what the matter with her is yet. The doctor said a rest would put everything right and after all we must take what the doctors say, mustn’t we? Of course, I have given her a hot water bottle. Well, it’s her breathing, so short you know. Has she ever had anything of this kind before?’
Evelyna was still talking:
‘I can’t tell you the name now,’ she said, almost whispering into the receiver, ‘but the doctor says she is drunk. No, don’t laugh because I think she is very ill indeed. It’s not extremely nice. My dear, she had a pigeon, all wet, done up in brown paper. Well, yes wet. I think it’s some sort of a sexual fit, don’t you agree? With women of her age, yes, she is just that age, it so often is, don’t you think? What I am so concerned about is whether it won’t come out in another and more violent form, do you see what I mean?’
‘No, Mrs Knight,’ Claire was saying, ‘of course it’s all very unpleasant for me you know, there have been certain things that really have been — well I won’t go on, no, I won’t tell you now they would only bother you, but I’ve made arrangements to get an ambulance directly they can bring one round to send her back to you. Oh, not at all. Poor Auntie May. Good-bye.’
Her Auntie May was going over her row with that girl in the bar. Very white she lay still as death on her back and her lips moved, only she had no voice to speak with. Well, she was saying, if there’s no one to serve me I might just as well not be here at all. And a voice spoke soundless in answer through her lips. It said everyone must wait their turn. She replied she had waited her turn and that people who had come after had been served first.
It might have been an argument with death. And so it went on, reproaches, insults, threats to report and curiously enough it was mixed up in her mind with thoughts of dying and she asked herself whom she could report death to. And another voice asked her why had she brought a pigeon, was it right to order whisky, did she think, when she was carrying such a parcel? And she did feel frightfully ill and weighed down, so under water, so gasping. It was coming on her again. And she argued why shouldn’t she order whisky if they always had it when they were children, and as for the pigeon it was saving the street-cleaner trouble, when they died they were never left out to rot in the streets nowadays. But the voice asked why she had washed it and she felt like when she was very small and had a dirty dress. She said out loud so that she frightened those nannies. ‘Oh, why can’t you leave me alone?’ She struggled to turn over on her side but when they both laid their hands to soothe her then she felt them to be angels’ hands and had some rest.
But there was nothing of that kind for Mr Adams. As Alex had guessed, he was being put through the hoop. It was a malign comedy Miss Crevy was creating as she acted.
‘But how could I tell,’ he was saying and he was by her side now while she watched his back in a mirror behind him, ‘how could I tell how much you minded?’
‘If you had cared for me you would,’ she said.
‘You know I do.’
‘But how do you show it, by going off just when I need you most?’
‘Yes, but darling, you told me to go.’
‘My dear,’ she said, ‘that was only because you had been so beastly to me.’
‘I thought you wanted to go with these people and that you didn’t want me.’
For one moment she thought she felt so she might burst into tears again and admit she did not want to go, but then it struck her that he would insist on her coming away if she said it. What she wanted to do was to make him properly sorry that she was going, so she said:
‘How do you expect me to love you if you don’t respect my feelings?’
He felt as though he was gazing into a prism, and he could see no end to it.
‘But, my darling, I do, you must believe me, I do.’
‘And how do you show it?’ she asked. ‘As soon as I’m a little bit upset you go off as if I was being difficult or something.’
‘But you told me to go.’
‘You’d been so rude about Claire Hignam’s aunt.’
‘I’m afraid I was very rude about her and I hope you will believe me when I say how very sorry I am if anything I said was rude about her.’
‘I never wanted you to go, you see,’ she said.
‘Oh, God,’ he said, reaching depths he had never known about before, ‘I wish I was more worthy of you. When I think how wonderful you are from the top of your wonderful golden head to your toes.’
‘Is it gold?’ she said, putting her hands up to it.
‘It is,’ he said and coming to sit by her on the stool in front of that looking glass he lightly kissed the hair above her ear. As he did this he looked into the glass to see himself doing it because he was in that state when he thought it incredible that he should be so lucky to be kissing someone so marvellous. Unluckily for him she saw this in the mirror she had been watching his back in. She did not like it. She got up. She said:
‘I won’t have you watching yourself in the mirror when you’re kissing me. It proves you don’t love me and anyway no nice person does that.’
‘Darling,’ he said, ‘are you being reasonable?’
‘It’s not a question of being reasonable. The fact is you despise me. You think I’m too easy, you treat me like a tart.’
He lost his temper. ‘I won’t have you say things like that,’ he said, ‘you torture me, I’m in such a condition now I don’t know what I’m doing. And I’ve been like that for the past year.’ Then it seemed monstrous to him that he should speak to her in anger. ‘I don’t mean it,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what I’m saying.’
‘Will you promise never to leave me again like that?’
‘Well then,’ she said smiling directly at him, ‘I expect I have been unreasonable as you call it.’
‘You haven’t,’ he said stoutly.
‘Yes, I expect I have. But you see it’s different with women. I expect I have been being tiresome, but in some ways it was too much.’
He said: ‘Do you know what I think is the matter with us, at all events I know it is with me?’
She thought now he is going to talk about getting engaged again.
‘No,’ she said, ‘what is it?’
‘You won’t be angry with me.’
She knew then it must be what he was going to say.
‘No,’ she said, moving further away from him for safety’s sake.
‘I don’t know how to say it. I bet you know what’s coming too.’
She thought why couldn’t he get on with it and then, looking at him, saw that fatuous smile on his face he always wore on these occasions.
‘No,’ she said.
‘Well, really it’s that I think we are in an unnatural relationship to each other. You know that I’m in love for ever with you. I know that you don’t see this as I do but don’t you think that if we could do away with this sort of being at a distance from each other, if we could only tell the world that we were in love by publishing our engagement, don’t you feel that it would make things easier for us? I’m not saying this from my point of view. I can’t help believing, even if I make you angry with me again, that you do care something for me or else,’ and he hesitated here, ‘well here goes, you would not have been as put out as you were when I went off.’ He went on rather quickly, ‘I must ask you to believe that I’d never have gone off when I did if I hadn’t sincerely thought you wanted me to.’ In his embarrassment he became even more formal again, ‘I must ask you to believe that I wouldn’t for anything in the world give you a second’s unhappiness,’ and he was going to add because I love you so, but he realized in time he was in such a state he might burst into tears if he said it, so, having lost his thread he wound up by saying, ‘you must believe that.’
There was complete silence. He picked up his argument again.
‘I do feel this, I know that if only we were married I could make you feel differently about me.’
‘My dear,’ she said, ‘you’ve told me that before and I know who said it to you, it was your grandmother, wasn’t it? In her generation everybody’s marriages were arranged for them and as they were never allowed to be alone with a man for more than three minutes, of course the poor darlings fell for the first man they were left alone with.’
He said nothing at all.
‘My dear, it is perfectly sweet of you and I think you are sweet too, but you must give me time. You know what you and I both think about marriage, that it’s the most serious thing one can do. Well, it’s just simply that I can’t be sure.’
He still said nothing. He was looking at the carpet. From her having to go on talking she became palpably insincere. She was also looking at the carpet. She said:
‘You see, I might make you unhappy and you are much too sweet for anyone to risk doing that to. I believe if I saw anyone making you unhappy I would go and scratch their eyes out, yes I would. And so don’t you see I can’t, I mustn’t be in a hurry; you do see, don’t you?’
He got up and walked up and down once or twice and then he stopped and asked her did she know how Miss Fellowes was now. He still would not look at any more of her than her toes. She supposed she had been beastly to him again but why, she asked herself, must he choose this hotel room of all places to propose in, with beds slept in by hundreds of fat, middle-aged husbands and wives. And this particular time.
‘They are being frightfully mysterious about her,’ she said.
Almost paralysed by his misery he said:
‘Are you sure you wouldn’t like some tea?’
‘Well, we can’t very well, can we?’ she said, ‘Max isn’t here. I got some for those two old nannies when I found them crying their eyes out outside about Miss Fellowes, but that was different Do you know I’m inclined to agree with you that she is being a thorough old nuisance. And then Alex, as I thought, very rudely sent for the drinks there were in that other room, but that’s his affair. I don’t see very well how we can order tea, do you, without Max?’
‘But I’ll pay for it on a separate bill.’
‘You don’t know what he’s like, he’d never let you and all these others trade on that, I think it’s too disgusting.’
There was another silence.
‘Darling,’ she said, ‘don’t take all this too tragically. After all I’m only going away for three weeks, and I’m hoping by that time I’ll have been able to make up my mind. You do understand?’ And as he stood still with his back turned to her she came up and, rather awkwardly, took him by one finger of his sweating hand.
Amabel’s flat had been decorated by the same people Max had his flat done by, her furniture was like his, his walls like hers, their chair coverings were alike and even their ash trays were the same. There were in London at this time more than one hundred rooms identical with these. Even what few books there were bore the same titles and these were dummies. But if one said here are two rooms alike in every way so their two owners must have similar tastes like twins, one stood no greater chance of being right than if one were to argue their two minds, their hearts even must beat as one when their books, even if they were only bindings, bore identical titles.
In this way Max and Amabel and their friends baffled that class of person who will judge people by what they read or by the colour of their walls. One had to see that other gross of rooms and know who lived in them to realize how fashionable this style of decoration was, how right for those who were so fashionable, and rich of course, themselves.
If people then who see much of each other come to do their rooms up the same, all one can say is they are like household servants in a prince’s service, all in Ms livery. But in the same way that some footmen will prefer to wear livery because there can then be no question of their having to provide clothes so, by going to the same decorator, these people avoided any sort of trouble over what might bother them, such as doing up their rooms themselves, and by so doing they proclaimed their service to the kind of way they lived or rather to the kind of way they passed their time.
They avoided all discussions on taste and were not encumbered by possessions; what they had was theirs in law but was never personal to them. If their houses were burned down they had only to go to the same man they all thought best to get another built, if they lost anything or even if it was mislaid the few shops they went to would be glad to lend whatever it might be, up to elephants or rhinos, until what had been missed could be replaced.
This role applied to everything they had except themselves, being so rich they could not be bought, so they laid more store than most on mutual relationships. Rich people cling together because the less well off embarrass them and there are not so many available who are rich for one rich man who drops out to be easily replaced.
Again, as between Amabel and Max, as indeed between all of them, there was more, there was her power over him as we shall see which she valued not least because both were so rich, there was also and most important that she found him altogether attractive. Also she did not see why she need let these girls who were after his money have it all their own way while he was paying for them.
She had not taken long to find out where Max was in hiding. When she rang up the airport she had not used her own name to ask if he was there, so they made no difficulty about telling her they had not seen him. She knew with all this fog he would be waiting his first chance to be off and, as she knew him, that he would be entertaining his party, so she began ringing every Terminus Hotel. If he had already been out of England she might not have followed, but now she realized he must be delayed, she really did not see why he should go without her. And this feeling grew until she made out she could not do without him, until, as she thought it over, knowing he was still there, she realized she was lost alone or so it seemed. In this way, where other women might have given him up and consoled themselves, blaming him for his lies, and might have sat down to make up their minds they would let him go because they could not trust him, she found out where he was at once without any trouble and went there.
She told her maid to pack and follow on while she set out on foot. She would save twenty minutes by walking.
She saw nothing of what she passed by, not the crowds of people who had lost their way or those who, faced by such beauty suddenly looming up on them through darkness, had fingered their ties, stepped exaggeratedly to one side, or turned and followed mumbling to themselves.
While she was on her way Angela, still holding on to his finger, had told Adams they must go back or what would those others think of them and still holding on because she felt almost sorry, as she was telling herself it was not his fault, it was the effect she had on him, she led him back. She dropped his finger once they were fairly back in this room. Adams thought to himself these two must know how it is with me, blast them, and that he did not care. He saw, and he thought that proved it, how Alex did not look at either of them, whereas Angela, who had also noticed this, thought it must be that Alex disapproved of what she might have done. She did not care.
Adams went off to mix himself a drink. That’s it, she thought to herself, they say they’re heartbroken and then they go and drink it off. In any case why take drinks from Max when he says he can’t stand him and when he says he won’t have anything to do with him. She decided it was selfishness and said to Alex:
‘Well and what’s happened?’
‘Nothing. We’ve been here, that’s all.’
Hignam just looked from Adams to Miss Crevy and from Miss Angela Crevy back to Adams.
‘Oh, dear,’ she said and sat down. She looked at her Adams and kept her eyes on him. She began to feel hopeless and asked herself if she had not treated him badly. Usually when she was watching him he knew at once and would look up in hopes her eyes might give him that encouragement they had now and which he had never yet seen, but this time he was too low, doubled up with cramp, he was drowning in his depth. He watched his glass, afraid to show his eyes, and she watched, offering what he wanted. In a moment she looked away, blaming him for not knowing how she felt.
She wondered if they could have heard what had been said and then thought it would have been impossible so long as Alex had not listened through the keyhole, but then she said to herself he would never have done that with Robert Hignam there. Or did men do such things? It was into this strangling silence that Amabel arrived.
She was lovely and when she opened the door and came in they looked up and knew again how beautiful she was.
‘Hullo,’ she said, ‘at last I’ve found you.’
Robert Hignam was very much surprised to see her. He knew from his wife that Max, if he came at all, would come alone. Alex was surprised for he expected Max would leave her behind. Mr Adams, when he was introduced by Angela, who barely knew her, had no idea of any complication, to him she was no more than another member of this lot he despised and hated. He did not even admire her. So that when she asked, as she did at once, what Max had done with himself, it was he who answered that he was upstairs with Julia. No one could imagine how he knew.
‘I supposed so,’ she said, giving an appearance of just being late and that she had not bothered to hurry. Alex and Robert Hignam then rushed in, chattering to entertain her and she took this easily, charmingly, though she was rather silent. She made one think she was so used to it all, that it was sweet of them and she liked it, but that she knew a thing worth two of that. They grew almost boisterous offering her chairs and cups of tea and anything they could think of. When they had begun to die down she drew Miss Angela Crevy on one side.
She began to make secrets which was her way when she did not know how things would turn out. Whispering so those others could not hear, she said how nice it was to see Angela. This was very flattering and she went on that Angela must be a dear and do something for her and come to her rescue. She could not be left alone with Max, even for one moment, he had such a temper and would be so cross at her for being late.
Angela warmed to her and said she ought not to fuss, which Amabel had not thought of doing, and that Max had been most frightfully late himself. They had only really found him when they had left the station to come into this hotel she said, and Amabel explained this by claiming that Max had been telephoning her to make haste. If it hadn’t been for the fog, she said, tenderly smiling, she might have missed their train. And Angela believed her when she said all she had been was late and at once assumed she had always been coming. Indeed she had come to think this was another thing the others had been keeping from her.
Amabel by now had had enough of Miss Crevy. ‘Alex dear,’ she called out, ‘come and talk to me. It’s so lovely to see you and I did get into such a state when I thought I was going to miss you. I was so very late.’ He said again he was so glad to see her, and he was glad, but he could not think what it meant her being here and was placidly apprehensive.
‘My dear,’ Amabel went on at him, ‘I wonder if you would ring down and order me a bath.’
‘How splendid,’ he said, ‘of course.’
‘I got so dirty coming along. My maid will be up in a minute. Of course it will have to have a room with it and then you can come and talk to me through the door.’
It was at this point Mr Adams left them again, unnoticed now by all, unsung.
‘Though,’ she said, talking a lot for her, ‘it would be funny if my bathroom was on the corridor and you had to talk from it in front of everyone.’
‘I couldn’t,’ he said, ‘it is prowling with detectives. Is that the office? Mr Adey wants another room with a bath, one of his guests here wants to have one.’
When Angela heard him order yet another thing in Max’s name she looked guiltily round to see whether Adams had heard. She was relieved to find he was gone for she would have felt worse if it had been said in front of him. On her own as she was now it was different, she did not mind so much, for she did not know any of them at all well; when she had seen Max it had been at night in night clubs when he had usually been with Amabel. And she was so young that having Amabel with them was more exciting for her than Max alone could ever be. Amabel had her own position in London, shop girls in Northern England knew her name and what she looked like from photographs in illustrated weekly papers, in Hyderabad the colony knew the colour of her walls. So that to be with her was for Angela as much as it might be for a director of the Zoo to be taking his okapi for walks in leading strings for other zoologists to see or, as she herself would have put it, it was being grand with grand people. And if she had been nervous once she was not so any more for she felt Amabel would put them right now that she was here, she would see that Max did not abandon them. She was someone. And Amabel had asked her help so she was in league with her now. In fact her one criticism was that she thought the others were too squalid. Alex dragged them all down the most; it was absurd he could not be natural even about ordering things. It was too much he should make them embarrassed about something elementary and she almost made up her mind to say she would pay herself next time.
‘But what about your bath salts?’ Alex said just as Claire and Evelyna came in from where they had been telephoning.
‘Have I packed mine?’ said Claire, alive to every danger, ‘how enchanting to see you darling,’ she said to Amabel, wondering why she was here. ‘Do they let bath salts through the customs free? Is if true there’s alcohol in them to freshen up one’s skin?’ Amabel explained she was going to have a bath, she was asking Alex to ring up her maid to bring her crystals, and Robert Hignam offered her a drink which she refused. She never drank spirits and very little wine, she was serious about her complexion.
Now even Miss Crevy began to notice how more than strained they had become. Alex’s voice cracked when Amabel’s maid could not understand about her bath salts; he kept on saying yes she is going to have a bath. Evelyn had only just greeted her and this feeling was intensified when Claire began to explain about her Auntie May and how she was so ill.