It had succeeded the one with the Grand Ducal lady. The lady was the wife of a brother officer and Leonora had known all about the passion, which had been quite a real passion and had lasted for several years.
They began with a servant, went on to a courtesan and then to a quite nice woman, very unsuitably mated. For she had a quite nasty husband who, by means of letters and things, went on blackmailing poor Edward to the tune of three or four hundred a year — with threats of the Divorce Court. And after this lady came Maisie Maidan, and after poor Maisie only one more affair and then — the real passion of his life. His marriage with Leonora had been arranged by his parents and, though he always admired her immensely, he had hardly ever pretended to be much more than tender to her, though he desperately needed her moral support, too.
But his really trying liabilities were mostly in the nature of generosities proper to his station. All these things, and the continuance of them seemed to him to be his duty — along with impossible subscriptions to hospitals and Boy Scouts and to provide prizes at cattle shows and antivivisection societies. Well, Leonora saw to it that most of these things were not continued.
She put the rents back at their old figures; discharged the drunkards from their homes, and sent all the societies notice that they were to expect no more subscriptions. To the children, she was more tender; nearly all of them she supported till the age of apprenticeship or domestic service. You see, she was childless herself. She was childless herself, and she considered herself to be to blame.
She had come of a penniless branch of the Powys family, and they had forced upon her poor dear Edward without making the stipulation that the children should be brought up as Catholics. And that, of course, was spiritual death to Leonora.
I have given you a wrong impression if I have not made you see that Leonora was a woman of a strong, cold conscience, like all English Catholics. Because, of course, the only thing to have done for Edward would have been to let him sink down until he became a tramp of gentlemanly address, having, maybe, chance love affairs upon the highways.
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He would have done so much less harm; he would have been much less agonized too. At any rate, he would have had fewer chances of ruining and of remorse. For Edward was great at remorse. She had, as the English would say, the Nonconformist temperament. For, of course, that frame of mind has been driven in on the English Catholics. The centuries that they have gone through — centuries of blind and malignant oppression, of ostracism from public employment, of being, as it were, a small beleagured garrison in a hostile country, and therefore having to act with great formality — all these things have combined to perform that conjuring trick.
And I suppose that Papists in England are even technically Nonconformists. Continental Papists are a dirty, jovial and unscrupulous crew. But that, at least, lets them be opportunists. They would have fixed poor dear Edward up all right. Forgive my writing of these monstrous things in this frivolous manner. If I did not I should break down and cry. In Milan, say, or in Paris, Leonora would have had her marriage dissolved in six months for two hundred dollars paid in the right quarter. And Edward would have drifted about until he became a tramp of the kind I have suggested.
Or he would have married a barmaid who would have made him such frightful scenes in public places and would so have torn out his moustache and left visible signs upon his face that he would have been faithful to her for the rest of his days.
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That was what he wanted to redeem him. For, along with his passions and his shames there went the dread of scenes in public places, of outcry, of excited physical violence; of publicity, in short. Yes, the barmaid would have cured him. And it would have been all the better if she drank; he would have been kept busy looking after her. I know that I am right in this. I know it because of the Kilsyte case. You see, the servant girl that he then kissed was nurse in the family of the Nonconformist head of the county — whatever that post may be called.
And that gentleman was so determined to ruin Edward, who was the chairman of the Tory caucus, or whatever it is — that the poor dear sufferer had the very devil of a time. Yes, he got it hot and strong. The result you have heard. He was completely cured of philandering amongst the lower classes. And that seemed a real blessing to Leonora. It did not revolt her so much to be connected — it is a sort of connection — with people like Mrs Maidan, instead of with a little kitchenmaid. In a dim sort of way, Leonora was almost contented when she arrived at Nauheim, that evening.
She had got things nearly straight by the long years of scraping in little stations in Chitral and Burma — stations where living is cheap in comparison with the life of a county magnate, and where, moreover, liaisons of one sort or another are normal and inexpensive too. So that, when Mrs Maidan came along — and the Maidan affair might have caused trouble out there because of the youth of the husband — Leonora had just resigned herself to coming home.
With pushing and scraping and with letting Branshaw Teleragh, and with selling a picture and a relic of Charles I or so, had got — and, poor dear, she had never had a really decent dress to her back in all those years and years — she had got, as she imagined, her poor dear husband back into much the same financial position as had been his before the mistress of the Grand Duke had happened along.
And, of course, Edward himself had helped her a little on the financial side.
He was a fellow that many men liked. He was so presentable and quite ready to lend you his cigar puncher — that sort of thing. So, every now and then some financier whom he met about would give him a good, sound, profitable tip. And Leonora was never afraid of a bit of a gamble — English Papists seldom are, I do not know why. So nearly all her investment turned up trumps, and Edward was really in fit case to reopen Branshaw Manor and once more to assume his position in the county.
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Thus Leonora had accepted Maisie Maidan almost with resignation — almost with a sigh of relief. She really liked the poor child — she had to like somebody. And, at any rate, she felt she could trust Maisie — she could trust her not to rook Edward for several thousands a week, for Maisie had refused to accept so much as a trinket ring from him. It is true that Edward gurgled and raved about the girl in a way that she had never yet experienced.
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But that, too, was almost a relief. I think she would really have welcomed it if he could have come across the love of his life. It would have given her a rest. And there could not have been anyone better than poor little Mrs Maidan; she was so ill she could not want to be taken on expensive jaunts. She handed over the money to the boy husband, for Maisie would never have allowed it; but the husband was in agonies of fear. Poor devil! I fancy that, on the voyage from India, Leonora was as happy as ever she had been in her life.
Edward was wrapped up, completely, in his girl — he was almost like a father with a child, trotting about with rugs and physic and things, from deck to deck. He behaved, however, with great circumspection, so that nothing leaked through to the other passengers. And Leonora had almost attained to the attitude of a mother towards Mrs Maidan. So it had looked very well — the benevolent, wealthy couple of good people, acting as saviours to the poor, dark-eyed, dying young thing. She was hitting a naughty child who had been stealing chocolates at an inopportune moment.
It was certainly an inopportune moment. For, with the opening of that blackmailing letter from that injured brother officer, all the old terrors had redescended upon Leonora. Her road had again seemed to stretch out endless; she imagined that there might be hundreds and hundreds of such things that Edward was concealing from her — that they might necessitate more mortgagings, more pawnings of bracelets, more and always more horrors.
She had spent an excruciating afternoon. The matter was one of a divorce case, of course, and she wanted to avoid publicity as much as Edward did, so that she saw the necessity of continuing the payments.
The Good Soldier (1915) by Ford Madox Ford
And she did not so much mind that. They could find three hundred a year. But it was the horror of there being more such obligations. She had had no conversation with Edward for many years — none that went beyond the mere arrangements for taking trains or engaging servants. But that afternoon she had to let him have it.
And he had been just the same as ever. It was like opening a book after a decade to find the words the same. He had the same motives. He had not wished to tell her about the case because he had not wished her to sully her mind with the idea that there was such a thing as a brother officer who could be a blackmailer — and he had wanted to protect the credit of his old light of love. That lady was certainly not concerned with her husband. And he swore, and swore, and swore, that there was nothing else in the world against him.
She did not believe him. He had done it once too often — and she was wrong for the first time, so that he acted a rather creditable part in the matter. For he went right straight out to the post-office and spent several hours in coding a telegram to his solicitor, bidding that hard-headed man to threaten to take out at once a warrant against the fellow who was on his track. He said afterwards that it was a bit too thick on poor old Leonora to be ballyragged any more. That was really the last of his outstanding accounts, and he was ready to take his personal chance of the Divorce Court if the blackmailer turned nasty.
He would face it out — the publicity, the papers, the whole bally show. Those were his simple words. Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound. Moving to Paris after the war, he played yet again a significant role among the expatriate English and American writers, launching the transatlantic review. Ford, Saunders reminds us in his introduction, was acknowledged by major writers of the twentieth century as bearing a significant influence upon their own writing.
By the end of his life, however, Ford had fallen into growing disrepute, and as Saunders points out, his work remained largely unpublished until the late s. She wants her husband back, a bit because she loves him and a lot to preserve appearances.