The New Machiavelli

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I've the vividest memory of that call of mine. She'd just come in and taken off her hat, and she was grey and dishevelled and tired, and in a business-like dress of black and crimson that didn't suit her and was muddy about the skirts; she'd a cold in her head and sniffed penetratingly, she avoided my eye as she talked and interrupted everything I had to say; she kept stabbing fiercely at the cushions of her sofa with a long hat-pin and pretending she was overwhelmed with grief at the DEBACLE she was deliberately organising.

“Then part,” she cried, “part. If you don't want a smashing up,—part! You two have got to be parted. You've got never to see each other ever, never to speak.” There was a zest in her voice. “We're not circulating stories,” she denied. “No! And Curmain never told us anything—Curmain is an EXCELLENT young man; oh! a quite excellent young man. You misjudged him altogether.”...

I was equally unsuccessful with Bailey. I caught the little wretch in the League Club, and he wriggled and lied. He wouldn't say where he had got his facts, he wouldn't admit he had told any one. When I gave him the names of two men who had come to me astonished and incredulous, he attempted absurdly to make me think they had told HIM. He did his horrible little best to suggest that honest old Quackett, who had just left England for the Cape, was the real scandalmonger. That struck me as mean, even for Bailey. I've still the odd vivid impression of his fluting voice, excusing the inexcusable, his big, shifty face evading me, his perspiration-beaded forehead, the shrugging shoulders, and the would-be exculpatory gestures—Houndsditch gestures—of his enormous ugly hands.

“I can assure you, my dear fellow,” he said; “I can assure you we've done everything to shield you—everything.”...


Isabel came after dinner one evening and talked in the office. She made a white-robed, dusky figure against the deep blues of my big window. I sat at my desk and tore a quill pen to pieces as I talked.

“The Baileys don't intend to let this drop,” I said. “They mean that every one in London is to know about it.”

“I know.”

“Well!” I said.

“Dear heart,” said Isabel, facing it, “it's no good waiting for things to overtake us; we're at the parting of the ways.”

“What are we to do?”

“They won't let us go on.”

“Damn them!”

“They are ORGANISING scandal.”

“It's no good waiting for things to overtake us,” I echoed; “they have overtaken us.” I turned on her. “What do you want to do?”

“Everything,” she said. “Keep you and have our work. Aren't we Mates?”

“We can't.”

“And we can't!”

“I've got to tell Margaret,” I said.


“I can't bear the idea of any one else getting in front with it. I've been wincing about Margaret secretly—”

“I know. You'll have to tell her—and make your peace with her.”

She leant back against the bookcases under the window.

“We've had some good times, Master;” she said, with a sigh in her voice.

And then for a long time we stared at one another in silence.

“We haven't much time left,” she said.

“Shall we bolt?” I said.

“And leave all this?” she asked, with her eyes going round the room. “And that?” And her head indicated Westminster. “No!”

I said no more of bolting.

“We've got to screw ourselves up to surrender,” she said.


“A lot.”

“Master,” she said, “it isn't all sex and stuff between us?”


“I can't give up the work. Our work's my life.”

We came upon another long pause.

“No one will believe we've ceased to be lovers—if we simply do,” she said.

“We shouldn't.”

“We've got to do something more parting than that.”

I nodded, and again we paused. She was coming to something.

“I could marry Shoesmith,” she said abruptly.

“But—” I objected.

“He knows. It wasn't fair. I told him.”

“Oh, that explains,” I said. “There's been a kind of sulkiness—But—you told him?”

She nodded. “He's rather badly hurt,” she said. “He's been a good friend to me. He's curiously loyal. But something, something he said one day—forced me to let him know.... That's been the beastliness of all this secrecy. That's the beastliness of all secrecy. You have to spring surprises on people. But he keeps on. He's steadfast. He'd already suspected. He wants me very badly to marry him....”

“But you don't want to marry him?”

“I'm forced to think of it.”

“But does he want to marry you at that? Take you as a present from the world at large?—against your will and desire?... I don't understand him.”

“He cares for me.”


“He thinks this is a fearful mess for me. He wants to pull it straight.”

We sat for a time in silence, with imaginations that obstinately refused to take up the realities of this proposition.

“I don't want you to marry Shoesmith,” I said at last.

“Don't you like him?”

“Not as your husband.”

“He's a very clever and sturdy person—and very generous and devoted to me.”

“And me?”

“You can't expect that. He thinks you are wonderful—and, naturally, that you ought not to have started this.”

“I've a curious dislike to any one thinking that but myself. I'm quite ready to think it myself.”

“He'd let us be friends—and meet.”

“Let us be friends!” I cried, after a long pause. “You and me!”

“He wants me to be engaged soon. Then, he says, he can go round fighting these rumours, defending us both—and force a quarrel on the Baileys.”

“I don't understand him,” I said, and added, “I don't understand you.”

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