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Chapter 27

CONCERNING A QUARREL.


It was late in September that this particular quarrel occurred. Almost
all the roseate tints seemed gone by this time, for the Lewishams had
been married six months. Their financial affairs had changed from the
catastrophic to the sordid; Lewisham had found work. An army crammer
named Captain Vigours wanted someone energetic for his mathematical
duffers and to teach geometrical drawing and what he was pleased to
call "Sandhurst Science." He paid no less than two shillings an hour
for his uncertain demands on Lewisham's time. Moreover, there was a
class in lower mathematics beginning at Walham Green where Lewisham
was to show his quality. Fifty shillings a week or more seemed
credible--more might be hoped for. It was now merely a case of tiding
over the interval until Vigours paid. And meanwhile the freshness of
Ethel's blouses departed, and Lewisham refrained from the repair of
his boot which had cracked across the toe.

The beginning of the quarrel was trivial enough. But by the end they
got to generalities. Lewisham had begun the day in a bad temper and
under the cloud of an overnight passage of arms--and a little incident
that had nothing to do with their ostensible difference lent it a
warmth of emotion quite beyond its merits. As he emerged through the
folding doors he saw a letter lying among the sketchily laid breakfast
things, and Ethel's attitude suggested the recoil of a quick movement;
the letter suddenly dropped. Her eyes met his and she flushed. He sat
down and took the letter--a trifle awkwardly perhaps. It was from Miss
Heydinger. He hesitated with it halfway to his pocket, then decided to
open it. It displayed an ample amount of reading, and he read. On the
whole he thought it rather a dull sort of letter, but he did not allow
this to appear. When it was read he put it carefully in his pocket.

That formally had nothing to do with the quarrel. The breakfast was
already over when the quarrel began. Lewisham's morning was vacant,
and be proposed to occupy it in the revision of certain notes bearing
upon "Sandhurst Science." Unhappily the search for his note-book
brought him into collision with the accumulation of Ethel's
novelettes.

"These things are everywhere," he said after a gust of vehement
handling, "I _wish_ you'd tidy them up sometimes."

"They were tidy enough till you began to throw them about," Ethel
pointed out.

"Confounded muck! it's only fit to be burnt," Lewisham remarked to the
universe, and pitched one viciously into the corner.

"Well, you tried to write one, anyhow," said Ethel, recalling a
certain "Mammoth" packet of note-paper that had come on an evil end
before Lewisham found his industrial level. This reminiscence always
irritated him exceedingly.

"Eh?" he said sharply.

"You tried to write one," repeated Ethel--a little unwillingly.

"You don't mean me to forget that."

"It's you reminded me."

He stared hostility for a space.

"Well, the things make a beastly litter anyhow; there isn't a tidy
corner anywhere in the room. There never is."

"That's just the sort of thing you always say."

"Well--_is_ there?"

"Yes, there is."

"_Where_?"

Ethel professed not to hear. But a devil had possession of Lewisham
for a time. "It isn't as though you had anything else to do," he
remarked, wounding dishonourably.

Ethel turned. "If I _put_ those things away," she said with tremendous
emphasis on the "_put_," "you'd only say I'd hidden them. What _is_
the good of trying to please you?"

The spirit of perversity suggested to Lewisham, "None apparently."

Ethel's cheeks glowed and her eyes were bright with unshed
tears. Abruptly she abandoned the defensive and blurted out the thing
that had been latent so long between them. Her voice took a note of
passion. "Nothing I can do ever does please you, since that Miss
Heydinger began to write to you."

There was a pause, a gap. Something like astonishment took them
both. Hitherto it had been a convention that she knew nothing of the
existence of Miss Heydinger. He saw a light. "How did you know?" he
began, and perceived that line was impossible. He took the way of the
natural man; he ejaculated an "Ugh!" of vast disgust, he raised his
voice. "You _are_ unreasonable!" he cried in angry remonstrance.
"Fancy saying that! As though you ever tried to please me! Just as
though it wasn't all the other way about!" He stopped--struck by a
momentary perception of injustice. He plunged at the point he had
shirked, "How did you know it _was_ Miss Heydinger--?"

Ethel's voice took upon itself the quality of tears. "I wasn't
_meant_ to know, was I?" she said.

"But how?"

"I suppose you think it doesn't concern me? I suppose you think I'm
made of stone?"

"You mean--you think--?"

"Yes--I _do_."

For a brief interval Lewisham stared at the issue she had laid
bare. He sought some crashing proposition, some line of convincing
reasoning, with which to overwhelm and hide this new aspect of
things. It would not come. He found himself fenced in on every side. A
surging, irrational rage seized upon him.

"Jealousy!" he cried. "Jealousy! Just as though--Can't I have
letters about things you don't understand--that you _won't_
understand? If I asked you to read them you wouldn't--It's just
because--"

"You never give me a _chance_ to understand."

"Don't I?"

"No!"

"Why!--At first I was always trying. Socialism, religion--all those
things. But you don't care--you won't care. You won't have that I've
thought over these things at all, that I care for these things! It
wasn't any _good_ to argue. You just care for me in a way--and all the
rest of me--doesn't matter! And because I've got a friend ..."

"Friend!"

"Yes--_friend!_"

"Why!--you hide her letters!"

"Because I tell you you wouldn't understand what they are about. But,
pah! I won't argue. I _won't!_ You're jealous, and there's the end of
the matter!"

"Well, who _wouldn't_ be jealous?"

He stared at her as if he found the question hard to see. The theme
was difficult--invincibly difficult. He surveyed the room for a
diversion. The note-book he had disinterred from her novelettes lay
upon the table and reminded him of his grievance of rained hours. His
rage exploded. He struck out abruptly towards fundamental things. He
gesticulated forcibly. "This can't go on!" he cried, "this can't go
on! How can I work? How can I do anything?"

He made three steps and stood in a clear space.

"I won't _stand_, it--I won't go on at this!
Quarrels--bickerings--discomfort. Look there! I meant to work this
morning. I meant to look up notes! Instead of which you start a
quarrel--"

The gross injustice raised Ethel's voice to an outcry. "_I_ didn't
start the quarrel--"

The only response to this was to shout, and Lewisham shouted. "You
start a quarrel!" he repeated. "You make a shindy! You spring a
dispute--jealousy!--on me! How can I do anything? How can one stop in
a house like this? I shall go out. Look here!--I shall go out. I shall
go to Kensington and work there!"

He perceived himself wordless, and Ethel was about to speak. He glared
about him, seeking a prompt climax. Instant action was necessary. He
perceived Huxley's _Vertebrata_ upon the side-table. He clutched it,
swayed it through a momentous arc, hurled it violently into the empty
fireplace.

For a second he seemed to be seeking some other missile. He perceived
his hat on the chest of drawers, seized it, and strode tragically from
the room.

He hesitated with the door half closed, then opened it wide and
slammed it vehemently. Thereby the world was warned of the justice of
his rage, and so he passed with credit into the street.

He went striding heedless of his direction through the streets dotted
with intent people hurrying to work, and presently habit turned his
feet towards the Brompton Road. The eastward trend of the morning
traffic caught him. For a time, save for a rebellious ingredient of
wonder at the back of his mind, he kept his anger white and pure. Why
had he married her? was the text to which he clung. Why in the name of
destiny had he married her? But anyhow he had said the decisive
thing. He would not stand it! It must end. Things were intolerable and
they must end. He meditated devastating things that he might presently
say to her in pursuance of this resolution. He contemplated acts of
cruelty. In such ways he would demonstrate clearly that he would not
stand it. He was very careful to avoid inquiring what it was he would
not stand.

How in the name of destiny had he come to marry her? The quality of
his surroundings mingled in some way with the quality of his
thoughts. The huge distended buildings of corrugated iron in which the
Art Museum (of all places!) culminates, the truncated Oratory all
askew to the street, seemed to have a similar quarrel with fate. How
in the name of destiny? After such high prolusions!

He found that his thoughts had carried him past the lodge of the
museum. He turned back irritably and went through the turnstile. He
entered the museum and passed beneath the gallery of Old Iron on his
way to the Education Library. The vacant array of tables, the bays of
attendant books had a quality of refuge....

So much for Lewisham in the morning. Long before midday all the vigour
of his wrath was gone, all his passionate conviction of Ethel's
unworthiness. Over a pile of neglected geological works he presented a
face of gloom. His memory presented a picture of himself as noisy,
overbearing, and unfair. What on earth had it all been about?

By two o'clock he was on his way to Vigours', and his mood was acute
remorse. Of the transition there can be no telling in words, for
thoughts are more subtle than words and emotions infinitely
vaguer. But one thing at least is definite, that a memory returned.

It drifted in to him, through the glass roof of the Library far
above. He did not perceive it as a memory at first, but as an
irritating obstacle to attention. He struck the open pages of the book
before him with his flat hand. "Damn that infernal hurdy-gurdy!" he
whispered.

Presently he made a fretful movement and put his hands over his ears.

Then he thrust his books from him, got up, and wandered about the
Library. The organ came to an abrupt end in the middle of a bar, and
vanished in the circumambient silence of space.

Lewisham standing in a bay closed a book with a snap and returned to
his seat.

Presently he found himself humming a languid tune, and thinking again
of the quarrel that he had imagined banished from his mind. What in
the name of destiny had it all been about? He had a curious sense that
something had got loose, was sliding about in his mind. And as if by
way of answer emerged a vision of Whortley--a singularly vivid
vision. It was moonlight and a hillside, the little town lay lit and
warm below, and the scene was set to music, a lugubriously sentimental
air. For some reason this music had the quality of a barrel
organ--though he knew that properly it came from a band--and it
associated with itself a mystical formula of words, drawing words:--

"Sweet dreamland fa--ces, passing to and fro,
Bring back to mem'ry days of long ago--oh!"

This air not only reproduced the picture with graphic vividness, but
it trailed after it an enormous cloud of irrational emotion, emotion
that had but a moment before seemed gone for ever from his being.

He recalled it all! He had come down that hillside and Ethel had been
with him....

Had he really felt like that about her?

"Pah!" he said suddenly, and reverted to his books.

But the tune and the memory had won their footing, they were with him
through his meagre lunch of milk and scones--he had resolved at the
outset he would not go back to her for the midday meal--and on his way
to Vigours' they insisted on attention. It may be that lunching on
scone and milk does in itself make for milder ways of thinking. A
sense of extraordinary contradiction, of infinite perplexity, came to
him.

"But then," he asked, "how the devil did we get to _this_?"

Which is indeed one of the fundamental questions of matrimony.

The morning tumults had given place to an almost scientific calm. Very
soon he was grappling manfully with the question. There was no
disputing it, they had quarrelled. Not once but several times lately
they had quarrelled. It was real quarrelling;--they had stood up
against one another, striking, watching to strike, seeking to
wound. He tried to recall just how things had gone--what he had said
and what she had replied. He could not do it. He had forgotten
phrases and connexions. It stood in his memory not as a sequence of
events but as a collection of disconnected static sayings; each saying
blunt, permanent, inconsecutive like a graven inscription. And of the
scene there came only one picture--Ethel with a burning face and her
eyes shining with tears.

The traffic of a cross street engaged him for a space. He emerged on
the further side full of the vivid contrast of their changed
relations. He made a last effort to indict her, to show that for the
transition she was entirely to blame. She had quarrelled with him, she
had quarrelled deliberately because she was jealous. She was jealous
of Miss Heydinger because she was stupid. But now these accusations
faded like smoke as he put them forth. But the picture of two little
figures back there in the moonlit past did not fade. It was in the
narrows of Kensington High Street that he abandoned her
arraignment. It was beyond the Town Hall that he made the new
step. Was it, after all, just possible that in some degree he himself
rather was the chief person to blame?

It was instantly as if he had been aware of that all the time.

Once he had made that step, he moved swiftly. Not a hundred paces
before the struggle was over, and he had plunged headlong into the
blue abyss of remorse. And all these things that had been so dramatic
and forcible, all the vivid brutal things he had said, stood no longer
graven inscriptions but in letters of accusing flame. He tried to
imagine he had not said them, that his memory played him a trick;
tried to suppose he had said something similar perhaps, but much less
forcible. He attempted with almost equal futility to minimise his own
wounds. His endeavour served only to measure the magnitude of his
fall.

He had recovered everything now, he saw it all. He recalled Ethel,
sunlit in the avenue, Ethel, white in the moonlight before they parted
outside the Frobisher house, Ethel as she would come out of Lagune's
house greeting him for their nightly walk, Ethel new wedded, as she
came to him through the folding doors radiant in the splendour his
emotions threw about her. And at last, Ethel angry, dishevelled and
tear-stained in that ill-lit, untidy little room. All to the cadence
of a hurdy-gurdy tune! From that to this! How had it been possible to
get from such an opalescent dawning to such a dismal day? What was it
had gone? He and she were the same two persons who walked so brightly
in his awakened memory; he and she who had lived so bitterly through
the last few weeks of misery!

His mood sank for a space to the quality of groaning. He implicated
her now at most as his partner in their failure--"What a mess we have
made of things!" was his new motif. "What a mess!"

He knew love now for what it was, knew it for something more ancient
and more imperative than reason. He knew now that he loved her, and
his recent rage, his hostility, his condemnation of her seemed to him
the reign of some exterior influence in his mind. He thought
incredulously of the long decline in tenderness that had followed the
first days of their delight in each other, the diminution of
endearment, the first yielding to irritability, the evenings he had
spent doggedly working, resisting all his sense of her presence. "One
cannot always be love-making," he had said, and so they were slipping
apart. Then in countless little things he had not been patient, he had
not been fair. He had wounded her by harshness, by unsympathetic
criticism, above all by his absurd secrecy about Miss Heydinger's
letters. Why on earth had he kept those letters from her? as though
there was something to hide! What was there to hide? What possible
antagonism could there be? Yet it was by such little things that
their love was now like some once valued possession that had been in
brutal hands, it was scratched and chipped and tarnished, it was on
its way to being altogether destroyed. Her manner had changed towards
him, a gulf was opening that he might never be able to close again.

"No, it _shall_ not be!" he said, "it shall not be!"

But how to get back to the old footing? how to efface the things he
had said, the things that had been done?

Could they get back?

For a moment he faced a new possibility. Suppose they could not get
back! Suppose the mischief was done! Suppose that when he slammed the
door behind him it locked, and was locked against him for ever!

"But we _must_!" said Lewisham, "we must!"

He perceived clearly that this was no business of reasoned
apologies. He must begin again, he must get back to emotion, he must
thrust back the overwhelming pressure of everyday stresses and
necessities that was crushing all the warmth and colour from their
lives. But how? How?

He must make love to her again. But how to begin--how to mark the
change? There had been making-up before, sullen concessions and
treaties. But this was different. He tried to imagine something he
might say, some appeal that he might make. Everything he thought of
was cold and hard, or pitiful and undignified, or theatrical and
foolish. Suppose the door _was_ closed! If already it was too late!
In every direction he was confronted by the bristling memories of
harsh things. He had a glimpse of how he must have changed in her
eyes, and things became intolerable for him. For now he was assured he
loved her still with all his heart.

And suddenly came a florist's window, and in the centre of it a
glorious heap of roses.

They caught his eye before they caught his mind. He saw white roses,
virginal white, roses of cream and pink and crimson, the tints of
flesh and pearl, rich, a mass of scented colour, visible odours, and
in the midst of them a note of sullen red. It was as it were the very
colour of his emotion. He stopped abruptly. He turned back to the
window and stared frankly. It was gorgeous, he saw, but why so
particularly did it appeal to him?

Then he perceived as though it was altogether self-evident what he had
to do. This was what he wanted. This was the note he had to
strike. Among other things because it would repudiate the accursed
worship of pinching self-restraint that was one of the incessant
stresses between them. They would come to her with a pure
unexpectedness, they would flame upon her.

Then, after the roses, he would return.

Suddenly the grey trouble passed from his mind; he saw the world full
of colour again. He saw the scene he desired bright and clear, saw
Ethel no longer bitter and weeping, but glad as once she had always
seemed glad. His heart-beats quickened. It was giving had been needed,
and he would give.

Some weak voice of indiscreet discretion squeaked and vanished. He
had, he knew, a sovereign in his pocket. He went in.

He found himself in front of a formidable young lady in black, and
unprepared with any formula. He had never bought flowers before. He
looked about him for an inspiration. He pointed at the roses. "I want
those roses," he said....

He emerged again with only a few small silver coins remaining out of
the sovereign he had changed. The roses were to go to Ethel, properly
packed; they were to be delivered according to his express direction
at six o'clock.

"Six o'clock," Lewisham had reiterated very earnestly.

"We quite understand," the young lady in black had said, and had
pretended to be unable to conceal a smile. "We're _quite_ accustomed
to sending out flowers."

H.G. Wells