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The Tree of Heaven online

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I'm asking you either to acknowledge _or_ repudiate your son's debts.

"After all, if _he_ can condone your beastly treatment of him - I
wouldn't like him if he was the swine you think him."

And Anthony had appealed to Michael's mother.

To his "Well, Frances, what do you think? Ought we or oughtn't we?" she
had replied: "I think we ought to stand solid behind Michael."

It was Michael's life that counted, for it was going on into a great
future. Bartie would pass and Michael would remain.

Their nervous advances had ended in a complete surrender to Stephen's
charm.

Vera and Stephen seemed to think that the way to show the sincerity and
sweetness of their reconciliation was to turn up as often as possible on
Frances's Day. They arrived always at the same hour, a little late; they
came by the road and the front door, so that when Bartie saw them
coming he could retreat through the garden door and the lane. The
Flemings and the Jervises retreated with him; and presently, when it had
had a good look at the celebrities, the rest of the party followed.

This Saturday Frances's Day dwindled and melted away and closed, after
its manner; only Vera and Stephen lingered. They stayed on talking to
Michael long after everybody else had gone.

Stephen said he had come to say good-bye to Michael's people and to make
a proposal to Michael himself. He was going to Ireland.

Vera interrupted him with passion.

"He isn't. He hasn't any proposal to make. He hasn't come to say
good-bye."

Her restless, unhappy eyes turned to him incessantly, as if, more than
ever, she was afraid that he would escape her, that he would go off God
knew where.

God knew where he was going, but Vera did not believe that he was going
to Ireland. He had talked about going to Ireland for years, and he had
never gone.

Stephen looked as if he did not see her; as if he did not even see
Michael very distinctly.

"I'm going," he said, "to Ireland on Monday week, the third of August. I
mayn't come back for long enough. I may not come back at all."

"That's the sort of thing he keeps on saying."

"I may not come back _at all_. So I want you to take over the _Review_
for me. Ellis and my secretary will show you how it stands. You'll know
what to do. I can trust you not to let it down."

"He doesn't mean what he says, Michael. He's only saying it to frighten
me. He's been holding it over me for years.

"_Say_ you'll have nothing to do with it. _Say_ you won't touch his old
_Review_."

"Could I go to Ireland for you?"

"You couldn't."

"Why not? What do you think you're going to do there?"

"I'm going to pull the Nationalists together, so that if there's civil
war in Ireland, the Irish will have a chance to win. Thank God for
Carson! He's given us the opportunity we wanted."

"Tell him he's not to go, Michael. He won't listen to me, but he'll mind
what you say."

"I want to go instead of him."

"You can't go instead of me. Nobody can go instead of me."

"I can go with you."

"You can't."

"Larry, if you take Michael to Ireland, Anthony and Frances will never
forgive you. _I_'ll never forgive you."

"I'm not taking Michael to Ireland, I'm telling you. There's no reason
why Michael should go to Ireland at all. It isn't _his_ country."

"You needn't rub _that_ in," said Michael.

"It isn't _yours_," said Vera. "Ireland doesn't want you. The
Nationalists don't want you. You said yourself they've turned you out of
Ireland. When you've lived in England all these years why should you go
back to a place that doesn't want you?"

"Because if Carson gets a free hand I see some chance of Ireland being a
free country."

Vera wailed and entreated. She said it showed how much he cared for her.
It showed that he was tired of her. Why couldn't he say so and have
done with it?

"It's not," she said, "as if you could really do anything. You're a
dreamer. Ireland has had enough of dreamers." And Stephen's eyes looked
over her head, into the high branches of the tree of Heaven, as if he
saw his dream shining clear through them like a moon.

The opportunist could see nothing but his sublime opportunity.

Michael went back with him to dine and talk it over. There was to be
civil war in Ireland then?

He thought: If only Lawrence would let him go with him. He wanted to go
to Ireland. To join the Nationalists and fight for Ireland, fight for
the freedom he was always dreaming about - _that_ would be a fine thing.
It would be a finer thing than writing poems about Ireland.

Lawrence Stephen went soberly and steadily through the affair of the
_Review_, explaining things to Michael. He wanted this done, and this.
And over and over again Michael's voice broke through his instructions.
Why couldn't he go to Ireland instead of Lawrence? Or, if Lawrence
wouldn't let him go instead of him, he might at least take him with him.
He didn't want to stay at home editing the _Review_. Ellis or Mitchell
or Monier-Owen would edit it better than he could. Even the wretched
Wadham would edit it just as well. He wanted to go to Ireland and fight.

But Lawrence wouldn't let him go. He wasn't going to have the boy's
blood on his hands. His genius and his youth were too precious.

Besides, Ireland was not his country.

* * * * *

It was past ten o'clock. Frances was alone in the drawing-room. She sat
by the open window and waited and watched.

The quiet garden lay open to her sight. Only the inner end of the
farther terrace, under the orchard wall, was hidden by a high screen
of privet.

It seemed hours to Frances since she had seen Nicky and Veronica go down
the lawn on to the terrace.

And then Anthony had gone out too. She was vexed with Anthony. She could
see him sitting under his ash-tree, her tree of heaven; his white
shirt-front gave out an oblong gleam like phosphorous in the darkness
under the tree. She was watching to see that he didn't get up and go on
to the terrace. Anthony had no business in the garden at all. He was
catching cold in it. He had sneezed twice. She wanted Nicholas and
Veronica to have the garden to themselves to-night, and the perfect
stillness of the twilight to themselves, every tree and every little
leaf and flower keeping quiet for them; and there was Anthony sneezing.

She was restless and impatient, as if she carried the burden of their
passion in her own heart.

Presently she could bear it no longer. She got up and called to Anthony
to come in. He came obediently. "What are you thinking of," she said,
"planting yourself out there and sneezing? I could see your shirt-front
a mile off. It's indecent of you."

"Why indecent?"

"Because Nicky and Veronica are out there."

"I don't see them."

"Do you suppose they want you to see them?"

She turned the electric light on full, to make darkness of their
twilight out there.

* * * * *

Nicky and Veronica talked together in the twilight, sitting on the seat
under the orchard well behind the privet screen. They did not see
Anthony sitting under the ash-tree, they did not hear him, they did not
hear Frances calling to him to come in. They were utterly unaware of
Frances and Anthony.

"Ronny," he said, "did Michael say anything to you?"

"When?"

"This afternoon, when he made you come with him here?"

"How do you mean, 'say anything'?"

"You know what I mean."

"_Mick_?"

"Yes. Did he ask you to marry him?"

"No. He said a lot of funny things, but he didn't say that. He
wouldn't."

"Why wouldn't he?"

"Because - he just wouldn't."

"Well, he says he understands you."

"Then," said Veronica conclusively, "of course he wouldn't."

"Yes; but he says _I_ don't."

"Dear Nicky, you understand me when nobody else does. You always did."

"Yes, when we were kids. But supposing _now_ I ever didn't, would it
matter? You see, I'm stupid, and caring - caring awfully - might make me
stupider. _Have_ people got to understand each other?"

To that she replied astonishingly, "Are you quite sure you understand
about Ferdie?"

"Ferdie?"

"Yes." She turned her face full to him. "I don't know whether you know
about it. _I_ didn't till Mother told me the other day. I'm
Ferdie's daughter.

"Did you know?"

"Oh, Lord, yes. I've known it for - oh, simply ever so long."

"Who told you?"

"Dorothy, I think. But I guessed it because of something he said once
about seeing ghosts."

"I wonder if you know how I feel about it? I want you to understand
that. I'm not a bit ashamed of it. I'm proud. I'm _glad_ I'm Ferdie's
daughter, not Bartie's.... I'd take his name, so that everybody should
know I was his daughter, only that I like Uncle Anthony's name best. I'm
glad Mother loved him."

"So am I, Ronny. I know I shouldn't have liked Bartie's daughter.
Bartie's daughter wouldn't have been you."

He took her in his arms and held her face against his face. And it was
as if Desmond had never been.

A little while ago he had hated Desmond because she had come before
Veronica; she had taken what belonged to Veronica, the first tremor of
his passion, the irrecoverable delight and surprise. And now he knew
that, because he had not loved her, she had taken nothing.

* * * * *

"Do you love me?"

"Do you love _me_?"

"You know I love you."

"You know. You know."

What they said was new and wonderful to them as if nobody before them
had ever thought of it.

Yet that night, all over the Heath, in hollows under the birch-trees,
and on beds of trampled grass, young lovers lay in each other's arms and
said the same thing in the same words: "Do you love me?" "You know I
love you!" over and over, in voices drowsy and thick with love.

* * * * *

"There's one thing I haven't thought of," said Nicky. "And that's that
damned strike. If it hits Daddy badly we may have to wait goodness knows
how long. Ages we may have to."

"I'd wait all my life if I could have you in the last five seconds of
it. And if I couldn't, I'd still wait."

And presently Veronica remembered Michael.

"Why did you ask me whether Mick had said anything?"

"Because I thought you ought to know about it before you - Besides, if he
_had_, we should have had to wait a bit before we told him."

It seemed that there was nothing to prevent them marrying to-morrow if
they liked. The strike, Anthony said, couldn't hit him as badly as
all that.

He and Frances sat up till long past midnight, talking about their
plans, and the children's plans. It was all settled. The first week in
August they would go down to Morfe for the shooting. They would stay
there till the first week in September. Nicky and Veronica would be
married the first week in October. And they would go to France and
Belgium and Germany for their honeymoon.



XIX

They did not go down to Morfe the first week in August for the shooting.

Neither did Lawrence Stephen go to Ireland on Monday, the third. At the
moment when he should have been receiving the congratulations of the
Dublin Nationalists after his impassioned appeal for militant
consolidation, Mr. Redmond and Sir Edward Carson were shaking hands
dramatically in the House of Commons. Stephen's sublime opportunity, the
civil war, had been snatched from him by the unforeseen.

And there was no chance of Nicky and Veronica going to Belgium and
France and Germany for their honeymoon.

For within nine days of Frances's Day Germany had declared war on France
and Russia, and was marching over the Belgian frontier on her way
to Paris.

Frances, aroused at last to realization of the affairs of nations,
asked, like several million women, "What does it mean?"

And Anthony, like several million men, answered, "It means Armageddon."
Like several million people, they both thought he was saying something
as original as it was impressive, something clear and final and
descriptive. "Armageddon!" Stolid, unimaginative people went about
saying it to each other. The sound of the word thrilled them,
intoxicated them, gave them an awful feeling that was at the same time,
in some odd way, agreeable; it stirred them with a solemn and sombre
passion. They said "Armageddon. It means Armageddon." Yet nobody knew
and nobody asked or thought of asking what Armageddon meant.

"Shall We come into it?" said Frances. She was thinking of the Royal
Navy turning out to the last destroyer to save England from invasion; of
the British Army most superfluously prepared to defend England from the
invader, who, after all, could not invade; of Indian troops pouring into
England if the worst came to the worst. She had the healthy British mind
that refuses and always has refused to acknowledge the possibility of
disaster. Yet she asked continually, "Would England be drawn in?" She
was thankful that none of her sons had gone into the Army or the Navy.
Whoever else was in, they would be out of it.

At first Anthony said, "No. Of course England wouldn't be drawn in."

Then, on the morning of England's ultimatum, the closing of the Stock
Exchange and the Banks made him thoughtful, and he admitted that it
looked as if England might be drawn in after all. The long day, without
any business for him and Nicholas, disturbed him. There was a nasty,
hovering smell of ruin in the air. But there was no panic. The closing
of the Banks was only a wise precaution against panic. And by evening,
as the tremendous significance of the ultimatum sank into him, he said
definitively that England would not be drawn in.

Then Drayton, whom they had not seen for months (since he had had his
promotion) telephoned to Dorothy to come and dine with him at his club
in Dover Street. Anthony missed altogether the significance of _that_.

He had actually made for himself an after-dinner peace in which coffee
could be drunk and cigarettes smoked as if nothing were happening
to Europe.

"England," he said, "will not be drawn in, because her ultimatum will
stop the War. There won't be any Armageddon."

"Oh, won't there!" said Michael. "And I can tell you there won't be much
left of us after it's over."

He had been in Germany and he knew. He carried himself with a sort of
stern haughtiness, as one who knew better than any of them. And yet his
words conveyed no picture to his brain, no definite image of anything
at all.

But in Nicholas's brain images gathered fast, one after another; they
thickened; clear, vivid images with hard outlines. They came slowly but
with order and precision. While the others talked he had been silent and
very grave.

"_Some_ of us'll be left," he said. "But it'll take us all our time."

Anthony looked thoughtfully at Nicholas. A sudden wave of realization
beat up against his consciousness and receded.

"Well," he said, "we shall know at midnight."

* * * * *

An immense restlessness came over them.

At a quarter-past eight Dorothy telephoned from her club in Grafton
street. Frank had had to leave her suddenly. Somebody had sent for him.
And if they wanted to see the sight of their lives they were to come
into town at once. St. James's was packed with people from Whitehall to
Buckingham Palace. It was like nothing on earth, and they mustn't miss
it. She'd wait for them in Grafton Street till a quarter to nine, but
not a minute later.

Nicky got out his big four-seater Morss car. They packed themselves into
it, all six of them somehow, and he drove them into London. They had a
sense of doing something strange and memorable and historic. Dorothy,
picked up at her club, showed nothing but a pleasurable excitement. She
gave no further information about Frank. He had had to go off and see
somebody. What did he think? He thought what he had always thought; only
he wouldn't talk about it.

Dorothy was not inclined to talk about it either. The Morss was caught
in a line blocked at the bottom of Albemarle Street by two streams of
cars, mixed with two streams of foot passengers, that poured steadily
from Piccadilly into St. James's Street.

Michael and Dorothy got out and walked. Nicholas gave up his place to
Anthony and followed with Veronica.

Their restlessness had been a part of the immense restlessness of the
crowd. They were drawn, as the crowd was drawn; they went as the crowd
went, up and down, restlessly, from Trafalgar Square and Whitehall to
Buckingham Palace; from Buckingham Palace to Whitehall and Trafalgar
Square. They drifted down Parliament Street to Westminster and back
again. An hour ago the drifting, nebulous crowd had split, torn asunder
between two attractions; its two masses had wheeled away, one to the
east and the other to the west; they had gathered themselves together,
one at each pole of the space it now traversed. The great meeting in
Trafalgar Square balanced the multitude that had gravitated towards
Buckingham Palace, to see the King and Queen come out on their balcony
and show themselves to their people.

And as the edges of the two masses gave way, each broke and scattered,
and was mixed again with the other. Like a flood, confined and shaken,
it surged and was driven back and surged again from Whitehall to
Buckingham Palace, from Buckingham Palace to Whitehall. It looked for an
outlet in the narrow channels of the side-streets, or spread itself over
the flats of the Green Park, only to return restlessly upon itself,
sucked back by the main current in the Mall.

It was as if half London had met there for Bank Holiday. Part of this
crowd was drunk; it was orgiastic; it made strange, fierce noises, like
the noises of one enormous, mystically excited beast; here and there,
men and women, with inflamed and drunken faces, reeled in each other's
arms; they wore pink paper feathers in their hats. Some, only half
intoxicated, flicked at each other with long streamers of pink and white
paper, carried like scourges on small sticks. These were the inspired.

But the great body of the crowd was sober. It went decorously in a long
procession, young men with their sweethearts, friends, brothers and
sisters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers with their children;
none, or very few, went alone that night.

It was an endless procession of faces; grave and thoughtful faces;
uninterested, respectable faces; faces of unmoved integrity; excited
faces; dreaming, wondering, bewildered faces; faces merely curious, or
curiously exalted, slightly ecstatic, open-mouthed, fascinated by each
other and by the movements and the lights; laughing, frivolous faces,
and faces utterly vacant and unseeing.

On every other breast there was a small Union Jack pinned; every other
hand held and waggled a Union Jack. The Union Jack flew from the engine
of every other automobile. In twelve hours, out of nowhere, thousands
and thousands of flags sprang magically into being; as if for years
London had been preparing for this day.

And in and out of this crowd the train of automobiles with their flags
dashed up and down the Mall for hours, appearing and disappearing.
Intoxicated youths with inflamed faces, in full evening dress, squatted
on the roofs of taxi-cabs or rode astride on the engines of their cars,
waving flags.

All this movement, drunken, orgiastic, somnambulistic, mysteriously
restless, streamed up and down between two solemn and processional lines
of lights, two solemn and processional lines of trees, lines that
stretched straight from Whitehall to Buckingham Palace in a recurrent
pattern of trees and lamps, dark trees, twilit trees, a lamp and a tree
shining with a metallic unnatural green; and, at the end of the avenue,
gilded gates and a golden-white façade.

The crowd was drifting now towards the Palace. Michael and Dorothea,
Nicholas and Veronica, went with it. In this eternal perambulation they
met people that they knew; Stephen and Vera; Mitchell, Monier-Owen;
Uncle Morrie and his sisters. Anthony, looking rather solemn, drove
past them in his car. It was like impossible, grotesque encounters in
a dream.

Outside the Palace the crowd moved up and down without rest; it drifted
and returned; it circled round and round the fountain. In the open
spaces the intoxicated motor-cars and taxi-cabs darted and tore with the
folly of moths and the fury of destroyers. They stung the air with their
hooting. Flags, intoxicated flags, still hung from their engines. They
came flying drunkenly out of the dark, like a trumpeting swarm of
enormous insects, irresistibly, incessantly drawn to the lights of the
Palace, hypnotized by the golden-white façade.

Suddenly, Michael's soul revolted.

"If this demented herd of swine is a great people going into a great
war, God help us! Beasts - it's not as if _their_ bloated skins were
likely to be punctured."

He called back over his shoulders to the others.

"Let's get out of this. If we don't I shall be sick."

He took Dorothy by her arm and shouldered his way out.

The water had ceased playing in the fountain.

Nicholas and Veronica stood by the fountain. The water in the basin was
green like foul sea-water. The jetsam of the crowd floated there. A
small child leaned over the edge of the basin and fished for Union Jacks
in the filthy pool. Its young mother held it safe by the tilted edge of
its petticoats. She looked up at them and smiled. They smiled back again
and turned away.

It was quiet on the south side by the Barracks. Small, sober groups of
twos and threes strolled there, or stood with their faces pressed close
against the railings, peering into the barrack yard. Motionless,
earnest and attentive, they stared at the men in khaki moving about on
the other side of the railings. They were silent, fascinated by the men
in khaki. Standing safe behind the railing, they stared at them with an
awful, sombre curiosity. And the men in khaki stared back, proud,
self-conscious, as men who know that the hour is great and that it is
their hour.

"Nicky," Veronica said, "I wish Michael wouldn't say things like that."

"He's dead right, Ronny. That isn't the way to take it, getting drunk
and excited, and rushing about making silly asses of themselves. They
_are_ rather swine, you know."

"Yes; but they're pathetic. Can't you see how pathetic they are? Nicky,
I believe I love the swine - even the poor drunken ones with the pink
paper feathers - just because they're English; because awful things are
going to happen to them, and they don't know it. They're English."

"You think God's made us all like that? He _hasn't_."

They found Anthony in the Mall, driving up and down, looking for them.
He had picked up Dorothy and Aunt Emmeline and Uncle Morrie.

"We're going down to the Mansion House," he said, "to hear the
Proclamation. Will you come?"

But Veronica and Nicholas were tired of crowds, even of historic crowds.
Anthony drove off with his car-load, and they went home.

"I never saw Daddy so excited," Nicky said.

But Anthony was not excited. He had never felt calmer or cooler in his
life.

He returned some time after midnight. By that time it had sunk into him.
Germany _had_ defied the ultimatum and England _had_ declared war
on Germany.

He said it was only what was to be foreseen. He had known all the time
that it would happen - really.

The tension of the day of the ultimatum had this peculiar psychological
effect that all over England people who had declared up to the last
minute that there would be no War were saying the same thing as Anthony
and believing it.

Michael was disgusted with the event that had put an end to the Irish
Revolution. It was in this form that he conceived his first grudge
against the War.

This emotion of his was like some empty space of horror opened up
between him and Nicholas; Nicky being the only one of his family who was
as yet aware of its existence.

For the next three days, Nicholas, very serious and earnest, shut
himself up in his workshop at the bottom of the orchard and laboured
there, putting the last touches to the final, perfect, authoritative
form of the Moving Fortress, the joint creation of his brain and
Drayton's, the only experiment that had survived the repeated onslaughts
of the Major's criticism. The new model was three times the size of the
lost original; it was less like a battleship and more like a racing-car
and a destroyer. It was his and Drayton's last word on the subject of
armaments.

It was going to the War Office, this time, addressed to the right
person, and accompanied by all sorts of protective introductions, and
Drayton blasting its way before it with his new explosive.

In those three days Nick found an immense distraction in his Moving


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Online LibraryMay SinclairThe Tree of Heaven → online text (page 16 of 24)