The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond/Chapter VI
|Chapter V||The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond
Chapter VI. Ring of Lovers
written by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
"As I said before," observed Mr. Pond, towards the end of one of his lucid but rather lengthy speeches, "our friend Gahagan here is a very truthful man and tells wanton and unnecessary lies. But this very truthfulness--"
Captain Gahagan waved a gloved hand as in courteous acknowledgement of anything anybody liked to say; he had an especially flamboyant flower in his coat and looked unusually gay. But Sir Hubert Wotton, the third party at the little conference, sat up. For he followed the flow of words with tireless, intelligent attention, while Gahagan, though radiant, seemed rather abstracted; and these abrupt absurdities always brought Sir Hubert up standing.
"Say that again," he said, not without sarcasm.
"Surely that is obvious enough," pleaded Mr. Pond. "A real liar does not tell wanton and unnecessary lies. He tells wise and necessary lies. It was not necessary for Gahagan to tell us once that he had seen not one sea-serpent but six sea-serpents, each larger than the last; still less to inform us that each reptile in turn swallowed the last one whole; and that the last of all was opening its mouth to swallow the ship, when he saw it was only a yawn after too heavy a meal, and the monster suddenly went to sleep. I will not dwell on the mathematical symmetry with which snake within snake yawned, and snake within snake went to sleep, all except the smallest, which had had no dinner and walked out to look for some. It was not, I say, necessary for Gahagan to tell this story. It was hardly even wise. It is very unlikely that it would promote his worldly prospects, or gain him any rewards or decorations for scientific research. The official scientific world, I know not why, is prejudiced against any story even of one sea-serpent, and would be the less likely to accept the narrative in its present form.
"Or again, when Captain Gahagan told us he had been a Broad Church missionary, and had readily preached in the pulpits of Nonconformists, then in the mosques of Moslems, then in the monasteries of Tibet, but was most warmly welcomed by a mystical sect of Theists in those parts, people in a state of supreme spiritual exaltation who worshipped him like a god, until he found they were enthusiasts for Human Sacrifice and he was the victim. This statement was also quite unnecessary. To have been a latitudinarian clergyman is but little likely to advance him in his present profession, or to fit him for his present pursuits. I suspect the story was partially a parable or allegory. But anyhow, it was quite unnecessary and it was obviously untrue. And when a thing is obviously untrue, it is obviously not a lie."
"Suppose," said Gahagan abruptly, "suppose I were to tell you a story that really is true?"
"I should regard it with great suspicion," said Wotton grimly.
"You mean you would think I was still romancing. But why?"
"Because it would be so very like a romance," retorted Wotton.
"But don't you think," asked the Captain thoughtfully, "that real life sometimes is like a romance?"
"I think," replied Wotton, with a certain genuine shrewdness that lay very deep in him, "that I could always really tell the difference."
"You are right," said Pond; "and it seems to me the difference is this. Life is artistic in parts, but not as a whole; it's like broken bits of different works of art. When everything hangs together, and it all fits in, we doubt. I might even believe that Gahagan saw six sea-serpents; but not that each was larger than the last. If he'd said there was first a large one and then a little one and then a larger one, he might have taken us in. We often say that one social situation is like being in a novel; but it doesn't finish like the novel--at least, not the same novel."
"Pond," said Gahagan, "I sometimes think you are inspired, or possessed of a devil in a quiet way. It's queer you should say that; because my experience was just like that. With this difference; each familiar melodrama broke off; but only turned to blacker melodrama--or tragedy. Again and again, in this affair, I thought I was in a magazine story; and then it turned to quite another story. Sort of dissolving view, or a nightmare. Especially a nightmare."
"And why especially?" asked Wotton.
"It's a horrible story," said Gahagan, lowering his voice. "But it's not so horrible now."
"Of course," said Mr. Pond, nodding. "You are happy and wish to tell us a horrible story."
"And what does that mean?" demanded Wotton.
"It means," said Gahagan, "that I got engaged to be married this morning."
"The devil you--I beg your pardon," said Wotton, very red in the face. "Congratulations, of course, and all that. But what has it to do with the nightmare?"
"There is a connexion," said Gahagan dreamily. "But you want the horrible story and not the happy one. Well, it was a bit of a mystery, at least to me; but I understood it at last."
"And when you've done mystifying us, you will tell us the solution?"
"No; Pond will tell you the solution," said Gahagan maliciously. "He's already puffed up because he guessed the kind of story, before he even heard it. If he can't finish the story, when he has heard it--"
He broke off and then resumed more solidly:
"It began with a dinner-party, what they call a stag-party, given by Lord Crome, following on a cocktail-party mostly given by Lady Crome. Lady Crome was a tall and swift and graceful person with a small dark head. Lord Crome was quite the reverse; he was in every way, physical and mental, a 'long-headed' person. You've heard of a hatchet-face; his was a hatchet that cut off his own head--or rather his own body, abolishing the slighter and more insignificant figure. He is an economist and he gave one the impression of being distrait and rather bored with all the ladies who swam about in the wake of his wonderful wife, that darting swan; and perhaps that was why he wanted the cooler society of his own sex. Anyhow, he kept some of his male guests for a little dinner after the at-home was over. I happened to be one of them; but, in spite of that, it was a select company.
"It was a select company; and yet it hardly seemed to have been selected. They were mostly well-known men, and yet it looked as if Crome had taken their names out of a hat. The first person I ran into was Captain Blande, supposed to be one of the biggest officers in the British Army, and I should think the stupidest, for any strategic purposes. Of course he looks magnificent--like a chryselephantine statue of Hercules, and about as useful in time of war. I once used the word 'chryselephantine,' meaning gold and ivory; and he thought I was calling him elephantine. Classical education of the pukka sahib. Well, the man he was put next to was Count Kranz, the Hungarian scientist and social reformer. He speaks twenty-seven languages, including philosophical language. I wonder what language he talked to Captain Blande in. Just beyond the Count was another fellow more of Blande's sort; but darker and leaner and livelier; a fellow called Wooster of some Bengal regiment. His language also would be limited: the Latin verb polo, polas, polat; I play polo, thou playest polo, he plays polo, or (more devastatingly) he does not play polo. But just as polo itself was an Asiatic game, and can be traced through the gilded jungle of Persian and Indian illuminations, so there was something faintly Eurasian about this man Wooster; he was like a dark-striped tiger and one could fancy him gliding through a jungle. That pair at least looked a little more well-matched; for Kranz also was dark and good-looking, with arched, black, Assyrian eyebrows and a long, dark beard, spreading like a fan or the forked tail of a bird. I sat next, and got on with Wooster pretty well; on the other side of me was Sir Oscar Marvell, the great actor-manager, all very fine and large, with the Olympian curls and the Roman nose. Here also there was some lack of rapport. Sir Oscar Marvell didn't want to talk about anything but Sir Oscar Marvell; and the other men didn't want to talk about Sir Oscar Marvell at all. The three remaining men were the new Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Pitt-Palmer, a very frigid-looking young man like the bust of Augustus Cæsar--and indeed he was classical enough, and could have quoted the classics all right; one Italian singer, whose name I could not remember, and one Polish diplomat, whose name nobody could remember. And I was saying to myself all the time: 'What a funny collection!'"
"I know this story," said Wotton positively. "A humorous host collects a lot of incompatible people for the pleasure of hearing them quarrel. Done very well in one of Anthony Berkeley's detective stories."
"No," replied Gahagan. "I think their incompatibility was quite accidental, and I know that Crome didn't use it to make them quarrel. As a matter of fact, he was a most tactful host, and it would be truer to say he prevented them from quarrelling. He did it rather cleverly, too, by beginning to talk about heirlooms and family jewels and so on. Different as they were, most of them were well-off, and what is called of a good family; and it was about as close to common ground as they could get. The Pole, who was a baldish but graceful person, with very charming manners, and much the wittiest man at table, was giving an amusing account of the adventures of a medal of Sobieski when it fell into the hands first of a Jew, and then of a Prussian, and then of a Cossack. In contrast to the Pole, who was hairless and talkative, the Italian beyond him was silent, and rather sulky, under his bush of black hair.
"'That's an interesting-looking ring you are wearing yourself, Lord Crome,' said the Pole politely. 'Those heavy rings are generally historic. I think I should really like to wear an episcopal ring or, better still, a Papal ring. But then there are all those tiresome preliminaries about being made Pope; it involves celibacy; and I--' And he shrugged his shoulders.
"'Very annoying, no doubt,' said Lord Crome, smiling at him grimly. 'As for this ring here--well, it is rather interesting in a way, in that sort of family way, of course. I don't know the details, but it is obviously sixteenth century. Care to look at it?' And he slipped off his finger a heavy ring with a red stone and passed it to the Pole, who was silting next to him. It proved on examination to be set with a cluster of extremely fine rubies and carved with a central device of a heart inside a rose. I saw it myself, since it was handed round the table; and there was some lettering in old French which meant something like 'From the lover only and only to the beloved.'
"'A romance in your family history, I suppose?' suggested the Hungarian Count. 'And about the sixteenth century. But you do not know the story?"
"'No,' said Crome, 'but I suppose it was, as you say, a romance in the family.'
"They began talking about sixteenth-century romances, at some length; and at last Crome asked very courteously if everybody had seen the ring."
"Oh," cried Wotton, with a deep breath, rather like a schoolboy at a conjurer's performance. "I know this story, anyhow. This is a magazine story, if you like! The ring wasn't returned and everybody was searched or somebody refused to be searched; and there was some awfully romantic reason for his refusing to be searched."
"You are right," said Gahagan. "Right, up to a point. The ring was not returned. We were all searched. We all insisted on being searched. Nobody refused to be searched. But the ring was gone."
Gahagan turned rather restlessly and threw an elbow over the back of his chair; after a moment he went on:
"Please don't imagine I didn't feel all you say; that we seemed to have got inside a novel; and not a very novel sort of novel. But the difference was exactly what Pond says: that the novel didn't finish properly, but seemed to go on to something else. We had just reached about the coffee stage of the dinner, while this fuss about the first discovery of the loss was being discussed. But all the nonsense about searching was really very swift and simple; and the coffee hadn't even got cold in the interlude, though Crome offered to send for some more. We all said that of course it didn't matter; but Crome summoned the butler who'd been handing it round; and they whispered together in what was obviously a rather agitated conversation. Then, just as Pitt-Palmer was lifting his coffee cup to his lips, Lord Crome sprang up stiff and bristling and called out like the crack of a whip:
"'Gentlemen, do not touch this coffee. It is poisoned.'"
"But dash it all," interrupted Wotton, "that's a different story! I say, Gahagan, are you sure you didn't dream all this? After reading through a stack of out-of-date magazines and mixing up all the results? Of course we know the story about a whole company laid out with poison--"
"The results in this case were rather more extraordinary," said Gahagan calmly. "Most of us naturally sat like stone statues under such a thunder-bolt of a threat. But young Pitt-Palmer, with his cold, clean-cut, classical face, rose to his feet with the coffee cup in his hand and said in the coolest way:
"'Awfully sorry; but I do hate letting my coffee get cold.'
"And he drained his cup; and, as God sees me, his face turned black or a blend of dreadful colours; and after horrible and inhuman noises, he fell down as in a fit before our eyes.
"Of course, we were not certain at first. But the Hungarian scientist had a doctor's degree; and what he reported was confirmed by the local doctor, who was sent for at once. There was no doubt that he was dead."
"You mean," said Wotton, "that the doctors agreed that he was poisoned?"
Gahagan shook his head and repeated: "I said they agreed that he was dead."
"But why should he be dead unless he was poisoned?"
"He was choked," said Gahagan; and for one instant a shudder caught his whole powerful frame.
After a silence that seemed suddenly imposed by his agitation, Wotton said at last:
"I don't understand a word you say. Who poisoned the coffee?"
"Nobody poisoned the coffee; because it wasn't poisoned," answered Gahagan. "The only reason for saying that was to make sure the coffee should remain in the cup, to be analysed just as it was. Poor Pitt-Palmer had put in a very large lump of sugar just before; but the sugar would melt. Some things do not melt."
Sir Hubert Wotton stared for some seconds into vacancy; and then his eyes began to glow with his own very real though not very rapid intelligence.
"You mean," he said, "that Pitt-Palmer somehow dropped the ring into the black coffee, where it wouldn't be seen, before he was searched. In other words, Pitt-Palmer was the thief?"
"Pitt-Palmer is dead," said Gahagan very gravely, "and it is the more my duty to defend his memory. What he did was doubtless wrong, as I have come to see more clearly than I did; but not worse than many a man has done. You may say what you like about that very common sort of wrong-doing. But he was not a thief."
"Will you or will you not explain what all this means?" cried Wotton with abrupt annoyance.
"No," replied Gahagan, with a sudden air of relapsing into laziness and fatigue. "Mr. Pond will now oblige."
"Pond wasn't there, was he?" asked Wotton sharply.
"Oh, no," answered Gahagan, rather with the air of one about to go to sleep. "But I can see by his eyebrows that he knows all about it. Besides, it's somebody else's turn."
He closed his eyes with so hopeless a placidity that the baffled Wotton was forced to turn on the third party, rather like a bewildered bull.
"Do you really know anything about this?" he demanded. "What does he mean by saying that the man who hid the ring wasn't a thief?"
"Well, perhaps I can guess a little," said Mr. Pond modestly. "But that's only because I've kept in mind what we said at the beginning--about the misleading way in which things remind us of romantic things; only they are never rounded off like the romance. You see, the trouble is that, when a real event reminds us of a novel, we unconsciously think we know all about it, because we know all about the novel. We have got into a groove or rut of familiar fiction; and we can't help thinking the groove runs forward and backward as it does in fiction. We've got the whole background of the story at the back of our minds; and we can't believe that we're really in another story. We always assume something that is assumed in the fictional story; and it isn't true. Once assume the wrong beginning, and you'll not only give the wrong answer but you ask the wrong question. In this case, you've got a mystery; but you've got hold of the wrong mystery."
"Gahagan said you would explain everything," said Wotton, with controlled satire. "May I ask if this is the explanation? Is this the solution or the mystery?"
"The real mystery of the ring," said Pond gravely, "is not where it went to, but where it came from."
Wotton stared at him steadily for an instant, and then said in rather a new voice: "Go on."
Mr. Pond went on. "Gahagan has said very truly that poor Pitt-Palmer was not the thief. Pitt-Palmer did not steal the ring."
"Then," exploded Wotton, "who the devil was it who stole the ring?"
"Lord Crome stole the ring," said Mr. Pond.
There was a silence upon the whole group for a brief space; and then the somnolent Gahagan stirred and said: "I knew you would see the point."
By way of making things clearer, Mr. Pond added almost apologetically:
"But, you see, he had to hand it round, to find out whom he had stolen it from."
After a moment he resumed in his usual logical but laborious manner: "Don't you see, as I said, you assume something at the start, simply because it is in all the stories? You assume that when a host hands round something at dinner, it's something belonging to him and his household, probably an old family possession; because that is in all the stories. But Lord Crome meant something much blacker and bitterer than that when he said, with a dreadful irony, that it commemorated a romance in his family.
"Lord Crome had stolen that ring by intercepting correspondence; or, in other words, tearing open an envelope addressed to his wife and containing nothing but the ring. The address was typewritten; nor indeed did he know all the handwritings involved. But he knew the very ancient writing engraved on that ring; which was such that it could only have been given with one purpose. He assembled those men to find out who was the sender; or, in other words, who was the owner. He knew the owner would somehow attempt to reclaim his possession, if he possibly could; to stop the scandal and remove the evidence. And indeed the man who did so, though he might be a blackguard, would certainly not be a thief. As a matter of fact, after a heathen fashion, he was a bit of a hero. Perhaps it was not for nothing that he had that cold, strong face that is the stone mask of Augustus. He took, first of all, the simple but sensible course of slipping the ring into his black coffee, under cover of a gesture of taking sugar. There it would not be seen, for the moment, anyhow; and he could safely offer himself to be searched. That demented moment, which really seemed to turn the whole thing into a frightful dream, when Crome screamed out that the coffee was poisoned, was only Crome's desperate counterstroke when he had guessed the trick; to make sure that the coffee should be left alone and the ring recovered. But that young man with the cold face preferred to die in that dreadful fashion: by swallowing the heavy ring and choking; on the chance that his secret, or rather Lady Crome's secret, might yet be overlooked. It was a desperate chance, anyway; but of all the courses open to him, that being his object, it was probably the best he could have taken. In any case, I feel that we must all support Gahagan in saying, very properly, that the poor fellow's memory should be protected from any baser suggestions, and that a gentleman is certainly not a robber when he prefers to choke himself with his own ring."
Mr. Pond coughed delicately, having brought his argument to a close; and Sir Hubert Wotton remained staring at him, rather more bewildered by the solution than by the problem. When he rose slowly to his feet, it was with the air of one shaking off something that was still an evil dream, even when he knew that it had happened.
"Well, I've got to be going, anyhow," he said, with an air of heavy relief. "Got to look in at Whitehall and I fancy I'm late already. By the way, if what you say is true, this must have happened very lately. So far as I know, the news of Pitt-Palmer's suicide hasn't come through yet--at least it hadn't come through this morning."
"It happened last night," said Gahagan, and rose from the chair where he had been sprawling, to take leave of his friend.
When Wotton had departed, a long silence fell upon the two other friends who remained looking gravely at each other.
"It happened last night," repeated Gahagan. "That is why I told you it had something to do with what happened this morning. I got engaged to Joan Varney this morning."
"Yes," said Mr. Pond gently. "I think I understand."
"Yes, I think you do," said Gahagan, "but I am going to try to explain, for all that. Do you know there was one thing almost more awful than that poor fellow's death? And it only hit me when I was half a mile from that accursed house. I knew why I had been one of the guests."
He was standing and staring out of the window, with his broad back turned to Pond; and after the last words he was silent and continued to stare at the stormy landscape outside. Perhaps something in it stirred another memory, for when he spoke again, it was as if he started a new subject, though it was another aspect of the same one.
"I didn't tell you anything much about the sort of garden party, with cocktails, that they had that afternoon before the dinner, because I felt that until one realized the climax, one couldn't realize anything; it would all sound like vapouring about the weather. But it was rather rum sort of weather yesterday, as it still is; only it was stormier, and I think the storm has passed over now. And it was a rum sort of atmosphere, too; though the weather was only a coincidence, of course, it does sometimes happen that meteorological conditions make men more conscious of moral conditions. There was a queer, lurid sort of sky over the garden, though there was a fair amount of fitful sunshine almost as capricious as lightning. A huge great mountain of cloud, coloured like ink and indigo, was coming up behind the pale, pillared façade of the house, which was still in a wan flush of light; and I remember even then being chilled by a childish fancy that Pitt-Palmer was a pale marble statue and part of the building. But there was little else to give any hint of the secret; nobody could say that Lady Crome was like a statue; for she went flying and flaunting about like a bird of paradise. But, whether you believe it or not, I did from the first feel an oppression, both physical and psychical; especially psychical. It increased when we went indoors and the dining-room curtains cut us off from any actual sight of the storm. They were old-fashioned, dark-red curtains, with heavy, gilded tassels; and it was as if everything was steeped in the same dye. You've heard of a man seeing red; well, what I saw was dark red. That's as near as I can get to the feeling; for it was a feeling from the first; and I guessed nothing.
"And then that sinister and revolting thing happened before my eyes at the table; I can see the dark red wine in the port decanters and the dull glow of the lampshades. And still it seemed as if I were invisible and impersonal; I was hardly conscious of myself. Of course, we all had to answer some questions about ourselves; but I need not tell you about the trail of official fussing that crossed the track of the tragedy. It did not take long, since it was so obviously a case of suicide; and the party broke up, straggling out into the stormy night through the garden. As they passed out, they seemed to have taken on new shapes, new outlines. Between the hot night and the horrible death and that foul fog of throttling hatred in which we had tried to breathe, I began to see something else about them; perhaps to see them as they were. They were no longer incongruous but grotesquely congruous; as in a hideous camaraderie. Of course, this was a mood, and a morbid one; they really had been different enough; but they had something in common.
"I liked the Pole best; he had a sense of humour, and admirable manners; but I knew what he meant when he so courteously declined the position of Pope, because it would involve celibacy. Crome knew it too, and grinned back at him like a demon. The other one I liked was Major Wooster, the Anglo-Indian; but something told me that he was really of the jungle; a shikar not only hunting tigers, a tiger not only hunting deer. Then there was the titled doctor with the Assyrian brows and beard; I bet he was more Semitic than Magyar. But anyhow, he had thick lips in his thick beard, and a look in his almond eyes that I did not like at all. One of the worst of them, I should say. I wouldn't say anything worse of Blande than that he's probably too stupid to understand anything but his own body. He hasn't enough mind to know that he has a mind. We all know Sir Oscar Marvell; I remember him marching out, his furred cloak flapping as if it trailed behind it infinite echoes of the harmless applause of flappers--but of more foolish women as well. As to the Italian tenor, he was uncommonly like the English actor. One could not say any worse of him than that.
"Yes; they were, after all, a very select company. They were selected by a clever if nearly crazy man as being the six men in London most likely to lay a plot to seduce his wife. Then, with a great shock, I quite literally came to myself. I actually realized my own presence. I was there, too. Crome had made up a choice party of profligates and picked them carefully. And he had honoured me with an invitation to the feast.
"That was what I was. That, at least, was what I was supposed to be. A damned dandy and dawdling blackguard, always dangling after other men's wives. . . . You know, Pond, that I was not really so bad as all that; but then, perhaps, neither were they. We were all innocent in this case; and yet the thundercloud upon the garden rested on us like a judgment. So was I innocent, in that case you remember, when I nearly got hanged for hanging round a woman I really didn't care about. But it served us right; it was our atmosphere that was all wrong--what quaint old people used to call the state of our souls, what the unspeakable bounders in the papers call sex-appeal. That was why I nearly got hanged; and why there was a corpse in the house behind me. And there went through my head like the tramp of armies, old lines written long ago, about what is in legend the noblest of all lawless loves, when Guinevere, refusing Lancelot at the last, says in words that had for me a ring of iron:
"For well ye wot that of this life There comes but lewd and bitter strife And death of men and great travail.
"I had hung round all that sort of thing, and yet never quite clearly seen myself doing it; till two judgments struck me like the storm out of the sky. I nearly received a sentence from a judge in a black cap and blood-red robes, that I should be hanged by the neck until I was dead. And, worse still, I received an invitation from Lord Crome."
He continued to gaze out of the window; but Pond heard him mutter again, like the faint grumbling of the thunder: "And death of men and great travail."
In the vast silence that followed, Mr. Pond said in a very small voice:
"What was the matter with you was that you liked being libelled."
Gahagan faced about, almost with the gesture of throwing up his hands, which seemed to fill the frame of the window with his own gigantic frame; but he was noticeably pale.
"Kamerad, yes," he said. "I was as small as that."
He smiled at his friend, but with a glassy and rather ghastly smile, and then went on:
"Yes; I cared more for that dirty rag of vanity, worse than any vice, than I did for any vices. How many men have sold their souls to be admired by fools? I nearly did it, merely to be suspected by fools. To be the dangerous man, the dark horse, the man of whom families should be afraid--that is the sort of abject ambition for which I wasted so much of my life, and nearly lost the fulfilment of my love. I dawdled, I lounged about, because I could not give up a bad name. And, by God, it nearly hanged the dog."
"That is what I supposed," said Mr. Pond in his most prime and polite manner. And then Gahagan broke out again:
"I was better than I seemed. But what did that mean, except the spiritual blasphemy that I wanted to seem worse than I was? What could it mean, except that, far worse than one who practised vice, I admired it? Yes, admired it in myself; even when it wasn't there. I was the new hypocrite; but mine was the homage that virtue pays to vice."
"I understand, however," said Mr. Pond, in that curiously cold and distant tone, which had yet a very soothing effect on everybody, "that you are now effectually cured."
"I am cured," said Gahagan grimly. "But it took two dead men and a gallows to cure me. But the point is, what was I cured of? You have diagnosed it exactly right, my dear doctor, if I may call you so. I could not give up the secret pleasure of being slandered."
"By this time, however," said Mr. Pond, "other considerations have come in and induced you to support the insupportable charge of virtue."
Gahagan suddenly laughed, harshly and yet, somehow, heartily. Some would count his first comment a peculiar extension of the laugh. "I went to confession and the rest of it this morning," he said, "and in a vaguer sort of way I've come to confession to you. To confess that I didn't kill the man. To confess that I never made love to the man's wife. In short, to confess that I was a humbug. To confess that I am not a dangerous man . . . well, anyhow, after I'd done all that, I went on whistling, and as happy as a bird, to--well, I think you know where I went to. There's a girl I ought to have fixed things up with long ago; and I always wanted to do it; that's the paradox. But a damned sight sillier paradox than any of your paradoxes, Pond."
Mr. Pond laughed gently, as he generally did when somebody had told him, at considerable length, all that he knew already. And he was not so old, nor despite his manner so cold, as not to form some sort of guess about the actual termination of the rather exasperating romance of Captain Gahagan.
This story started with some statements about the way in which stories tend to get into a tangle, one tale being mixed up with another tale, especially when they are true tales. This story also started, and ought also presumably to stop, with the very extraordinary tragedy and scandal in the house of Lord Crome, when that promising young politician, Mr. Pitt-Palmer, unaccountably tumbled down dead. It ought really to end with a proper account of his impressive public funeral; of the chorus of praise devoted to him in the Press; and the stately compliments laid on his tomb like flowers from the leaders of all the parties in Parliament; from those eloquent words of the Leader of the Opposition beginning "Much as we may have differed in politics," to those (if possible) still more eloquent observations of the Leader of the House, beginning "Confident as I am that our cause is independent even of the noblest personality, I yet have to lament, etc."
Anyhow, it is really very irrelevant to the central plot of this story that it should stray from the funeral of Pitt-Palmer to the wedding of Gahagan. It will be enough to say that, as already hinted, the actual effect of this shocking incident on Gahagan was to drive him back to an old love; an old love who was still conveniently young. A certain Miss Violet Varney was at that time prominent on the stage; the word "prominent" has been selected with some care from other possible adjectives. In the general view of society, Miss Joan Varney was the sister of Miss Violet Varney. In the perverse and personal view of Captain Gahagan, Miss Violet Varney was the sister of Miss Joan Varney; nor was he eager to insist on this relationship. He loved Joan but he did not even like Violet; but there is no need to enter on the entanglements of that other story here. Are not all these things written in the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?
It is enough to say that on that particular morning, swept clear and shining after the storm, Captain Gahagan came out of the church in the little by-street and very cheerfully took the road to the house of the Varney family, where he found Miss Joan Varney pottering about in the garden with a spud, and told her several things of some importance to both of them. When Miss Violet Varney heard that her younger sister was engaged to Captain Gahagan, she went off with admirable promptitude to a theatrical club and got engaged to one of the numerous noodles of more or less noble birth who could be used for the purpose. She very sensibly broke off this engagement about a month afterwards; but she got her engagement into the society papers first.