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great pleasure to see you and introduce you to Prince von Waldheim, who
esteems loyalty as I do.

As to Mr. Ramsey I do not know which I despise most - his vanity or his
stupidity.

With every good wish,

Believe me,

Always sincerely and gratefully yours,

FRANCINE DE CORANTIN.


As Bobby finished the letter he looked up and met the eyes of the
Assistant Commissioner who rose from his chair.

"I need not detain you, Mr. Froelich; it only remains for me to apologize
for any trouble I may have given you. I must ask you to be kind enough to
lend me this letter, which, however, I shall send on to you in a few
days."

Bobby returned to his flat, relieved but chastened. It was not long
before he received the commission he coveted. The same Gazette contained
two announcements: one that a commission as lieutenant had been granted
to Mr. J. Froelich, the other that his Majesty had no further use for the
services of Mr. Alistair Ramsey.




VI. A WAR VICTIM

Gilbert Baxendale is at fifty what people call "a nice-looking man." He
hardly seems any older than he did ten years ago, except that he is
rather stouter below the belt, and that when he takes off his hat one
notices that he is getting a little bald. His skin is pink and
unwrinkled, and his hair and moustache are so light that one does not
notice whether they are turning grey or not, and he looks as spruce as
ever. Baxendale always has been particular about his appearance, and
he is never so pleased as when you ask him the name of his tailor. But
his reply in that case is deprecating, implying that he doesn't think
very much of him, do you? which is intended to draw further reassurance
and compliment. On the other hand, if, inspired by the lustre of their
beautiful polish, you should inquire where he gets his boots, his
expression changes. Although boots are about as near a hobby as he has
ever got, he is distressed about the shape of his feet, and says that his
corns give him a lot of trouble. But he likes to talk about boots, and a
recurring subject of conversation with him is the difficulty of finding a
man who really understands doing them properly. He knows a great deal
about blacking and brushes, and is no mean authority on the art of boning
or polishing or varnishing refractory footgear of all kinds. To look at
him one would think Baxendale has never had a day's illness in his life,
but as a matter of fact he has never been well since any one can
remember. He has always suffered from what one may call ailments, and
when one saw him at the club or in Bond Street he would tell you he was
not quite the thing - he was run down or had lumbago or a bit of a chill
on the liver.

Baxendale is very particular about cooking. He used to complain a good
deal about the food at the club, but after his marriage he said it had
improved, which no one could understand, as the kitchen staff has not
been changed for twenty years. Freddy Catchpole said that once when he
dined with them Mrs. Baxendale asked him about the club cook, because
Gilbert was very dissatisfied with theirs. Servants worried Baxendale
a great deal after he got married. He said they almost made him long for
his bachelor days, when he did not know what domestic cares were.

The Baxendales live in one of those new, well-built houses in the
neighbourhood of Grosvenor Square. It was some time before Baxendale
could make up his mind to buy the lease of it. For a year or two he tried
taking furnished houses alternately in the country and in town. Being a
cautious man, he wanted to give both a good trial, but his wife finally
made up his mind for him. She took no end of trouble in decorating and
furnishing their house in some antique style. At first Baxendale seemed
to be pleased. Every now and then he told men at the club how clever she
was at picking up bargains; but after a time he got gloomy when one asked
how the house was getting on. He said he had met a man who had made a
collection of antiques, and when he wanted to sell them he found they
were all shams, and it nearly ruined him.

After it was all finished the Baxendales gave a house-warming party.
Peter Knott said afterwards that Baxendale took him aside and confided to
him that he wasn't at all pleased with the house. It faced west instead
of south, and the drawing-room was so large one could never buy enough
furniture to put in it, whereas his smoking-room was a rotten little hole
you couldn't swing a cat in. Besides, it really was a mistake living in
town; the country was much better for the health and less expensive on
the whole, even if you had shooting and entertained a good deal. He had
a great mind to sell the lease if he could get a good offer. Then he
would have a flat just to run up to when he wanted to stay in town for a
week at a time and do the theatres.

The Baxendales have no children, and apparently no nephews, nieces, nor
other youthful belongings in whom they take any special interest. One day
Peter Knott met Baxendale playing golf with a young man whom he
introduced to him as his nephew, Dick Barnard, but the youth did not
reappear on any other occasion, and Peter remembers that Baxendale told
him in confidence that the boy put on side and was cheeky.

Baxendale always tells things in confidence to people, and occasionally
they happen to meet and compare notes; in this way they sometimes get to
know what Baxendale thinks about them, and this does not add to his
popularity. Baxendale retired from business after his marriage, and
invested his capital as remuneratively as security permitted. He came to
the conclusion that as his wife's income, added to his own, provided all
the money they needed, there was no object in boring himself by going to
the City. After he gave up business, every week when in town Baxendale
had certain obligations which filled up his time agreeably for him. For
instance, he looked over the share list every morning to see that his and
Mrs. Baxendale's investments were all right. He liked a pleasant object
for a walk, so at least once a week he made a point of fetching his
passbook from the bank. One day Freddy Catchpole met him just as he was
coming out, and he said he was awfully upset about his quarter's balance,
which had never been so low before. Freddy told him he had never had a
balance at the end of a quarter in his life, and Baxendale replied that,
at all events, that saved him anxiety about investing it.

There used to be lots of other ways in which Baxendale passed his time.
There was always something or other to order at his tailor's or his
shirtmaker's. He was never extravagant in these matters, but when he
decided to get something he took time and trouble over it, and would go
several times to try things on. He used to say that in this way he got
quite a lot of exercise. On Saturdays and Sundays he and his wife
sometimes motored down to play golf at one or the other of their clubs.
Baxendale said since his marriage he was off his game, and it was really
no fun playing with a woman. Mrs. Baxendale asked Peter Knott's advice
about it. She said it was such a pity Gilbert lost his temper and never
would finish the round when she was one up, as the exercise really was
good for him. During the racing season Baxendale generally managed to
avoid golf and go down to Sandown or Kempton or Gatwick instead; he said
he got just as much air and exercise there, and there was always a chance
of paying your expenses. Sometimes he succeeded, as he was very careful;
but whenever he failed he would say he'd chuck it up altogether, the game
wasn't worth the candle.

In the winter Baxendale used at one time to take a shoot near London, but
he gave it up because he got bored with looking after it and arranging
parties. He said he was sick of being sponged on by men who never asked
him back.

He complained a good deal about the snobbishness of people generally.
Somebody was always cutting or ignoring him, and then "look at the sort
of men that one meets nowadays; fellows whose fathers keep shops and
haven't an 'h' in their alphabets." He couldn't understand how people
could stand the cads that went about; yet you could go into the Ritz
or the Carlton and see the Countess of Daventry and Lady FitzStuart
lunching and dining with "bounders like that fellow Clutterbuck."

After his marriage Baxendale became absorbed more and more by his wife's
family. He seemed to be impressed especially by old Sir Robert and Jack
Barnard, his wife's uncle and brother. Whatever Jack did interested
Baxendale, and whatever he said Baxendale repeated in confidence to most
of his acquaintances. Of course Jack is a romancer, but Baxendale never
knows whether to believe him or not, and Jack, being aware of this,
concocts imposing fairy tales for Baxendale's benefit. Sir Robert is
supposed to be very rich, and the amount of his fortune and what he is
going to do with it are matters of deep concern to Baxendale, who made a
habit of calling on him daily and constantly inviting him to dinner. He
told Peter Knott he was sorry for the old man being so lonely, and that
his wife was his favourite niece and much attached to him; but Jack
declared that his uncle was horribly mean, and only tolerated Baxendale
because he could get dinner at his house for nothing.

At the beginning of the War Baxendale began complaining about his nerves.
Somehow he didn't enjoy his food and couldn't get a proper night's sleep.
He'd tried Benger's Food last thing at night and Quaker Oats for
breakfast, but nothing seemed to do him any good.

The curious part of Baxendale's illness was that he continued to look
perfectly well, but he seemed to get offended if people said so; what
really touched him was pity. There's a man at the club called Funkelstein
whom everybody supposed was a German, but now he says he's Dutch. Just
after the War broke out, Baxendale told every one confidentially he was a
spy, but, to our surprise, they suddenly became quite friendly. It seemed
that Funkelstein also suffered from nerves. Baxendale said he was most
sympathetic to him personally, and alluded to him as "poor Funkelstein."
As time went on Baxendale's nerves grew worse, and it was thought he must
have been badly hit financially by the War, till Peter Knott told us that
he had invested most of his wife's and his own money in shipping
companies and coal-mine debentures which had done nothing but rise ever
since the War began. On the strength of this satisfactory information
Baxendale was occasionally approached for subscriptions; but his response
was generally evasive, or the amount offered so minute that he felt
compelled to explain it by expressing his apprehensions about new
taxation and the insane extravagance of the Government.

After a time Baxendale told us he could hardly bear to open a paper; he
never knew what he might read next, and he felt he could not stand any
more shocks. That made us suppose he had a brother or some near relative
at the Front, and for some days we were rather apologetic in our attitude
towards him, as, what with the War and our own anxieties, we had shown
some indifference to Baxendale's nerves.

But one day Jack Barnard turned up as a major in khaki, and said
something so rude to his brother-in-law, who was sitting in the corner
with Funkelstein, that the latter turned pale and left the room
hurriedly. It appeared afterwards that Jack had got his back up against
"that blighter Gilbert" because he hadn't done a thing for Dick, who had
been at Sandhurst, and was now with his regiment in France. "It wasn't as
though the selfish swine had kids of his own or some one else's whom he
cared about. Not a soul. Sickening, I call it. He didn't even say
good-bye to him or ask after him."

* * * * *

Later on Baxendale developed a habit of questioning every one as to what
they were doing. On one occasion he asked Postlethwaite, who runs a
convalescent home at Margate, if there was anything he could do down
there. Postlethwaite suggested that he might drive wounded soldiers down
to Margate in his car if he liked. Baxendale said he'd think it over, but
when Postlethwaite had gone he asked Peter Knott in confidence if he
didn't think it was taking advantage of people to mess up their cars like
that.

Another time he tackled old Colonel Bridge, who had been up all night
doing special constable duty, and was not in the sweetest of tempers.
When Baxendale asked him what he was doing he told him he'd better come
round to the police-station at three the next morning and see for
himself.

Baxendale has not turned up at the club since, and we were all hoping he
had found suitable employment. This happens to nearly every one sooner or
later except to us seniors. But it had not happened to Baxendale; for
Freddy Catchpole, who has managed to get a job at the War Office, dined
one evening with Mrs. Baxendale, and she told him poor Gilbert had got so
bad with his nerves that he had to go to a nursing-home in the country to
take a cure. And there, for all I know, he will stay till the War is
over.




VII. DULCE ET DECORUM

David Saunderson lived on the top floor of one of the few lofty buildings
in Chelsea, and as his years increased, the ascent of the five flights of
stairs became a serious matter. His heart was none too sound, and the
three minutes he once needed to reach his attic from the ground floor had
already become five when the War began.

With the first shock of battles the emaciated remains of his bedridden
brother were borne down the steep stairs and out of the little flat he
had not left for the last five years of his life.

The two had lived together since Philip had returned from India as a man
of fifty, with the reasonable hope of enjoying his pensioned retirement.
Philip had spent his energy freely in the Indian Civil Service, and the
two middle-aged brothers, either too poor to marry, too shy, or both,
determined to combine resources with companionship and keep house
together.

For a time they sailed contentedly downstream. Philip's public spirit and
industrious habits would not permit of what he called "a life of indolent
ease." He rose early and put in a good eight hours' day at various unpaid
labours. He became churchwarden of the parish, joined the vestry, and was
a much valued unit of that obscure element in the population which does a
great part of the public work for which individuals of a less modest type
get the recognition.

David earned his living as a journalist and literary hack. He had never
done or been anything else in his life, although to his small circle he
loved, in a guileless way, to convey the impression that his youthful
performances had been of no little brilliance.

He would mention the names of the celebrated editors by whom he had been
employed as literary or dramatic critic, and was never tired of
eulogizing these and other lettered heroes for whom he had slaved in the
distant past. He insisted on the appreciation that these forgotten lions
had shown of his work; but, however that might be, its manifestation had
certainly never been translated into terms of cash, for within no one's
memory had David's pecuniary resources been other than exiguous.

He was a great lover of the Arts, but his tastes were catholic and he
worshipped at many shrines. He had no great patience with those who
admire the modern to the exclusion of the old, or whose allegiance to one
school precludes acceptance of another. He held his arms wide open and
embraced Art in all its manifestations.

He was a great hero-worshipper; there was no sort of achievement he did
not admire, but he had his special favourites; generally these were
successful playwrights or novelists whose work he revised for publication
at a minimum rate and whose additional recognition, in the form of a back
seat for a first night or a signed presentation copy, produced in him a
quite inordinate gratitude.

David Saunderson was the embodiment of ponderousness; he spoke as slowly
as he moved his cumbersome limbs. So gradual were his mental processes
that his friends forbore to ask him questions, knowing that they would
not have time to wait for his replies. For these reasons the agile in
body and mind avoided encounters with him, but if he chanced to meet them
where there was no escape they would evade him by cunning or invent
transparent excuses which only one so artless as he would have believed.

Now and then he paid visits to old friends who were sometimes caught
unawares. Then he would settle his huge bulk in an arm-chair, and his
head, bald except for a fringe of grey hair about the ears, seemed to
sink into his chest, upon which the bearded chin reposed as though the
whole affair were too heavy to support. At such times he gave one the
impression of a massive fixture which could be about as easily moved as a
grand piano, and his hosts would resign themselves to their fate.

If any one had the temerity to provoke him to discussion, he would wait
patiently for an opening, and once he secured it, would maintain his
opinion steadily, the even, dispassionate voice slowly wearing down all
opposition.

He was not without humour and a certain shrewdness in judging men and
things, and would smile tolerantly when views were advanced with which he
disagreed. It was not difficult to make merry at his expense, for he
suspected no one, and only those who spoke ill of their neighbours
disturbed his equanimity. Towards cynics his attitude was compassionate.

Directly war broke out David enrolled himself in the special volunteer
corps of artists raised by an eminent Academician. He took his duties
very seriously, and was at great pains to master the intricacies of
squad-drill. He never admitted that some of the exercises, especially the
one that consists in lying on the ground face downwards and raising
yourself several times in succession by your arms, were trying to a man
of his weight and proportions, but about the time he was beginning to
pride himself on his military proficiency Philip's death occurred. He
said little about it and quietly occupied himself with the funeral and
with settling his dead brother's small affairs, but the battalion were
little surprised when shortly afterwards his resignation followed on
medical grounds.

The Saundersons were connected with a family of some distinction, the
head of which, knowing that Philip's pension died with him and that
David's earnings were smaller than ever since the War, would gladly have
offered him some pecuniary assistance. But David's pride equalled his
modesty, and Peter Knott had to be charged with the mission of
approaching him.

One afternoon Peter found David in his attic going through his dead
brother's papers and smoking a pipe. Peter knew his man too well to
attempt direct interrogation. He felt his way by inquiries as to the
general situation of Art, and David was soon enlarging on the merits
of sundry unknown but gifted painters and craftsmen whose work he hoped
Peter might bring to the notice of his wealthy friends.

"The poor fellows are starving, Knott," he said in his leisurely way as
he raised himself painfully from his chair and walked heavily to a corner
where lay a portfolio.

Every piece of furniture in the small sitting-room was littered with a
heterogeneous collection of manuscripts and books; the latter were piled
up everywhere. David slowly removed some from a table and laid the folio
upon it.

"Now, here's - a charming - etching." He had a way of saying a word or two
and then pausing as though to take breath, which demanded great patience
of a listener.

Peter stood by him and examined it, David meanwhile puffing at his pipe.

"The man - who did that - is one of our best line engravers - his name is
Macmanus - he's dreadfully hard up - look at this."

He held another before his visitor.

"That's by Plimsoll - a silver point - isn't it a beautiful thing?"

"Delightful," replied Peter.

"Well, do you know - Knott - that - " David's pipe had gone out. He moved
slowly towards his chair and began looking for the matches. "Do you know,
Plimsoll is one of the most gifted" - he was holding a match to his pipe
as he spoke - "gifted young artists in the country - and two days
ago - he - was literally hungry - " David took his pipe from his mouth and
looked at Peter to see the effect of his words.

"It's very sad, very" - Peter Knott's tone was sympathetic - "but after
all, they're young; they could enlist, couldn't they?"

David sat down in his chair and pulled at his pipe reflectively before
answering.

"They're - neither of them - strong, Knott. They'd - be laid up in a week."

"Um - hard luck that," Peter Knott agreed. "But what's to be done?
Everybody's in the same boat. The writers now, I wager they're just as
badly hit, aren't they?"

"That depends - " David paused, and Peter gave him time to finish his
sentence. "The occasional - er - contributors - are having a bad time - but
the regular journalists - the people on the staffs - are all right - of
course I know cases - there's a man called - er, let me see - I've got a
letter from him somewhere - Wyatt's his name - now, he's - " David's huge
body began to rise again gradually. Peter Knott stopped him.

"By the way," he remarked briskly, "I saw your friend Seaford yesterday."

David had subsided, and once more began relighting his pipe; he looked up
at the name.

"Frank Seaford - oh, did you? How is he? I haven't seen him for some
time - "

"So I gathered," Peter remarked dryly. "He seems to be getting on very
well since Ringsmith took him up."

"Ah! Ringsmith's right. He's a beautiful - artist. Did you - see - "

Peter interrupted. "I think I've seen all Seaford's work. Anyhow he owes
his recognition entirely to you. I introduced him to Ringsmith entirely
on your recommendation two years ago. He's sold a lot of pictures during
that time. When did you see him last, Saunderson?"

David stroked his beard thoughtfully.

"Let me see - some time before the War - it must have been - more than a
year ago."

"Not very grateful," Peter could not help rapping out.

David stopped smoking, and seemed to rouse himself.

"You're quite wrong, Knott. He sent me - that exquisite study - on the wall
yonder." He pointed as he spoke to a small drawing in water colours.

Peter got up, looked at it a moment, and shrugged his shoulders.

"If you're satisfied, I've got nothing to say."

"Satisfied - of course I'm satisfied - " A tolerant, almost condescending
smile stole over David's eyes and mouth. "You don't understand - artists,
Knott."

"Perhaps not, perhaps not." Knott pulled out his watch. "Anything doing
in your own line, Saunderson?" he asked in a tone of careful
indifference.

David puffed at his pipe.

"I'm not very busy - but - you know - that's rather a good thing - now I'm a
special constable."

Peter Knott's single eyeglass wandered over the unwieldy frame sitting
opposite him.

"A special constable?" he echoed.

David puffed complacently.

"Sergeant," he replied.

Peter Knott dropped his glass.

"Really, you know, Saunderson. For a man at your time of life, and
obliged to work for his living, it's - " He hesitated. "Well, you oughtn't
to do it."

David smiled in a superior way.

"That's just where - you're wrong - Knott - we relieve the - younger
men - that's our job - and I'm proud to - "

Peter Knott's kindly old eyes twinkled at the thought of David tackling a
lusty cracksman, twinkled and then became grave.

"Supposing you get laid up, injured in some way?" he asked.

"We don't think about that." David's expression was serene. "I go
on - duty at - two - very quiet then - lovely it is - on fine nights - when
I've been working - to get out - into the cool air - "

As David spoke Peter Knott pulled out his watch again and then got up.

"I saw your cousin Herbert a few days ago, Saunderson. He said he hadn't
seen you for a long time, wondered whether you'd go down to Rendlesham
for a few weeks. He wants a catalogue of his prints, and there are some
old manuscripts he would like your opinion about. I'm going down this
week-end. What shall I tell him?"

David put down his pipe.

"Tell him - I'm much obliged - later on perhaps - I can't - leave my
duties - while these Zeppelin scares last. They need experienced
men - one doesn't know what - may happen." He had got on his feet and had
gradually reached the door of the tiny flat. "Good-bye, Knott," he said
as he took the other's hand. "Don't forget - about Macmanus
and - Plimsoll - "

His visitor was two flights below when David called to him -


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Online LibraryStephen HudsonWar-time Silhouettes → online text (page 6 of 7)