FICTION

Through a Man’s Monocle

CHRISTINE JOPE-SLADE February 1 1933
FICTION

Through a Man’s Monocle

CHRISTINE JOPE-SLADE February 1 1933

Through a Man’s Monocle

CHRISTINE JOPE-SLADE

FRANCIS GEDGE was forty. He was a member of the Stock Exchange. The anniversary had been dented into his consciousness by a dozen fine embroidered handkerchiefs from his mother and a telegram from his sister.

He was grateful to neither of them. He would rather have forgotten what day it was.

As he travelled down town on the top of the bus, he knew that he had missed a great many things.

All men knew that about themselves. He was surrounded actually at that moment by men who had probably missed a great many more things than he had. That thought should have helped. It didn't help at all. It merely irritated.

Life that morning seemed frighteningly bright and fascinating. But he could not touch its brightness or fascination. He felt, for the first time, his own temperament dragging him away unwillingly from that entrancing possession, life, much as a nurse might drag an unwilling child away from a toy in a shop window.

He had been shy, nervous and sensitive for forty years. This morning he was aware of his selfconsciousness and nervousness as a definite barrier and curb.

He wanted suddenly to talk to people: to confide in them: to be confided in, in turn. He wanted to be tremendously personal with some one, and life had made him almost passionately impersonal.

He had known Crosby Roberts for twenty years, and for twenty years his relationship with him had been friendly, suave and casual.

This morning when Crosby Roberts, a chartered accountant of good standing, was shown in, he wanted to probe him. to make him talk, and in turn to talk to him.

It was a difficulty after twenty years. The impulse was also quite inexplicable to himself.

CROSBY ROBERTS wore a monocle. He had worn the same monocle for twenty years. It was always stuck in his face. It made one of his eyes appear very blue and glassy and slightly unnatural. Its effect was a little like a cold light trained on you by an oculist.

Suddenly, in the midst of a serious business discussion, Francis Gedge heard himself ask:

“Why do you wear that monocle, Roberts? Is there anything wrong with your eyes?”

“No,” said Crosby Roberts. “Nothing. You see I was shy years ago. I was an awful young ass underneath, really. I found it helped. Then I got used to it. I could talk to people behind it. It was something between me and the world, like a shop window or a pane of glass.”

“I'm a fool myself with people,” said Francis Gedge. “Never can get at ’em somehow. Particularly women.” “Want to?” said Crosby Roberts. “Want to get on with women?”

“In a way,” answered Francis Gedge. “Not ‘in a way,’ either. Definitely yes.”

“It is a queer world, the women’s world,” said Crosby Roberts. “Better out of it.”

“But the proper study of man is man,” ventured Gedge. “Didn't Pope say that?”

“Yes,” said Roberts, “and it’s supposed to be profound. But it’s impish really.”

Francis Gedge looked round his office. It seemed suddenly alarmingly bright and beautiful, as if he was going to die and leave it all. The June sun was so very golden on the wood of his desk ; there were so many attractive colors in his Turkey carpet. Even the business letters on his desk had a sudden tremendous warm intimacy. They were like his own photograph or his own fingerprints lying there; impresses of himself.

The whole room was suddenly a warm, glowing, tender impress of himself.

He held out his hand for the monocle. He laughed rather

shyly.

"Let’s see what I look like with one.”

“You have to get used to them,” said Crosby Roberts, suddenly confidingly. “I’ve been pretty successful, as you know. I don’t know how much that little bit of glass had got to do with it. I was pretty raw and callow when I started. It was something between me and people, a kind of protection. Shouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t have a devil of a lot to do with what they call success.”

Francis Gedge screwed it into his eye. Rather surprisingly. he took a mirror from the third drawer of his desk and looked at himself.

“It seems to do something to my face.” he said. “I don’t dislike it.”

"The monocle suits you,” said Crosby Roberts critically. “It does something to your face. Gives it something it hasn’t got. Look here. I’ve got to come in with these things tonight. Keep it and wear it all day. See if you can get the hang of the thing.”

Francis Gedge lifted the mirror again.

“Do I look an ass, or don’t I?”

“You look rather less of an ass,” said Crosby Roberts, grinning.

“All right,” said Francis Gedge. “I’ll stick to it for the day. You can have it back tonight.”

“Okay,” said Roberts. “You’ll feel as if you’d got the kitchen table in your eye for the first hour or two. That lonocle has done for me what June days have for some men, nd a fine golf average for another. Confidence. I can do ithout it now but I couldn’t once.”

WHEN CROSBY ROBERTS left him. Francis Gedge ¿V* screwed the monocle into his eye. It felt exactly like he kitchen table complete with four legs.

Then he rang the bell on his desk. After a quite sufficient Interval his secretary appeared. She said:

, “I’m sorry, Mr. Gedge. I stopped to speak to Mr. Roberts.”

He knew that she noticed the monocle. She said nothing. He looked at her through it. and it was as if he saw her |or the first time. The monocle removed the dim feeling of 1er business relationship to him. It revealed her as a , erson; a very attractive person.

I le saw that her hair was pale gold, and coiled in two big ^aits over her ears. He saw that her skin was surprisingly ale and fresh. That her eyes were blue. He was aware of '.r as he had, but a moment previously, been aware of the x>m and of the attractiveness of the world in general. A *'rd of exciting play. He said :

“Nice fellow, Roberts.”

i I íe had never been personal. He was essaying personalities :>r the first time.

“Charming,” said Phyllis Drew, and stood with her pencil poised.

r Francis Gedge said:

"I’m glad you didn’t cut off your hair.”

She looked up tranquilly.

“So am I.’’ she said. “They are growing it again, you know. All the debutantes have long hair this year.”

“It’s such a pretty color,” he said.

“It wants an awful lot of washing in London,” she smiled. The monocle made it possible for him to be personal with people, really to see them. He could say anything with a monocle in his eye. His voice no longer belonged to him. It was a message of friendliness shouted through a megaphone. And the monocle was the megaphone.

He exulted in the power of the monocle.

At one o’clock he went out to lunch with his mother and sister.

Every year for twenty years he had lunched with his mother and sister on his birthday. He resented the custom, but he accepted it.

They were masterful women. They still controlled him. They knew that, and he suspected it. Every second weekend he spent with his mother in her country cottage. He did not enjoy the week ends, but he did not know how to resist them.

Always he had seen his mother as his mother. Now, suddenly, he saw her as a fat, relentless little tyrant, greedy for her own way.

He saw her quite clearly through the monocle.

He saw his sister as a subservient female who fed him to her voracious mother every other week-end.

“I was saying to Fanny,” said his mother, “that the roses will be out on Saturday. I want you to see those new pink ones.”

He heard himself say astoundingly:

“I shan’t be down this week end.”

Their faces gawked a1 him.

“What do you mean, Frank?”

“You won’t be down. Francis?”

He heard himself answer, surprisingly:

“No.”

“Where are you going?”

“I haven’t decided.”

“But, Frank, you always come down to me every other week-end.”

“I know,” he said tranquilly. “That’s why.”

They could do nothing with him. He was beyond their reach behind the monocle. He could gesture and proclaim and make pronouncements and decisions out of their reach, behind that bit of glass.

He could really see them two people injuring his masculinity, exploiting their relationship to him for two boring days, in a dull country cottage every other week-end.

"I must say I think it is a little unkind to mother. Francis.”

“Why? What’s unkind about it?”

His sister couldn’t answer that. Her face just looked heavy and thwarted. He thought what a very plain woman she had grown. And yet. he had let her feed him to the old lady. Four times a day at meals, and after supper at piquet. He had let her link them arm in arm to drag round the garden and examine every plant.

“Are you going away alone?” said his sister.

He said casually, savoring his casualness more than anything else in his life:

“I really couldn’t say, Fanny. Probably not.”

They could do nothing against it. He knew that they went away disturbed, discomfited and utterly routed, to talk it out in their boring country cottage that wouldn’t know him this week-end.

T_JE DID NOT go back to the office after lunch. He walked the parks of London for the first time in the afternoon for twenty years.

He was delighted with the experience. It thrilled him. In the parks of his own city, not a dozen miles from his office, he felt abroad. The adventure had that delicious quality of foreignness. He felt soft, tender and made-over with the novelty and charm of it all. The gay children in their gay clothes, tumbling and laughing effortlessly and happily. Running and tumbling over the green grass. The yapping, excited, friendly dogs. The women, passing him in their summer clothes, blown back a little in their new long lines, as if they were the graceful prowheads of invisible ships. He liked them.

The band was playing. He stopped a moment to listen to it. He stopped by the bridge and saw birds patterning the silver of the water below him.

It was as if the world had been re-enamelled for him.

He went back to the office. The office was now heavy and somnolent with the deep gold of late afternoon sunlight. It gave his Turkey carpet a molten glow. It burned fantastically in the grain of his mahogany desk. It was richly satisfying to him.

He had worked hard and successfully. The lean years had not shorn him too ruthlessly. He had done well for himself materially. The office and the warm golden glow comfortably reflected that.

He felt free, released, and his freedom tingled for sel f -demonstration.

He took out the monocle and laid it in the pages of the blotter. Then, absent-mindedly, he closed the blotter and shoved it on one side.

He liked this formless excitement, but its very formlessness had begun to irritate and worry him.

He rang the bell. His secretary came. He forgot his monocle was not in. He spoke to her behind the protection of it. He jerked :

“Took the afternoon off.”

“Yes, Mr. Gedge. I came in once or twice to see if you were back. There was plenty of work to get on with. List of telephone calls and the list of callers is beside your desk.”

“Thank you.”

He was aware of some excitement in her. Some lovely, verdant gaiety that he had never seen before. He said:

"I walked in the park.”

She said :

“What fun. The parks are so lovely now, with all the flowers and things.”

“I enjoyed it.”

“I wonder you don’t do things oftener, Mr. Gedge.” “What things?”

"Oh, different things.”

He said with immense gravity, as if she had made some sudden revelation to him :

“I think you are right. I think you are quite right.”

He wanted to ask her to dine with him that night. He would presently. It would be the culmination of a bumingly bright birthday that had been like no other day in his life.

He remembered the title of a book. He could remember nothing about the book, but he remembered the title— Life Begins Tomorrow. There was a profound and personal truth in that.

He held it aloft in his mind a moment and looked at it. It was like a proverb or a saying that he had culled early in life and clung to. "Life begins tomorrow."

Presently he would ask this charming, golden-haired person out to dinner. He would talk to her as he had never talked to any one before. They would dine intimately at some expensive place.

He felt toward her a deeply flowering gratitude. Queer he had never noticed before how lovely she was. Really lovely. Forty wasn’t old. Forty was the prime of life. The park. The dancing children. The jade of the trees. The gold of the sun. The gold even now lying on his carpet and his desk streamed before his eyes like colored ribbons.

Life was full of sudden, incomparable gaiety. He didn’t want this girl to go, with all her lovely, unknown, untried potentialities.

THE DOOR opened and Crosby Roberts walked in. Francis Gedge said to his secretary:

“Don’t go, Miss Drew. I shall want you for just a minute presently.”

She said :

“Very go Mr. Gedge,” and rose and slipped away, without a glance at Crosby Roberts.

Francis Gedge said to Crosby Roberts:

“Pretty girl, that.”

Crosby Roberts said:

“Lovely. ”

"And nice,” said Francis Gedge, savoring the phrase with growing excitement.

He felt he was husking himself. He had a desire to laugh, to tell a funny story. But he couldn’t think of one. He wanted to do something boyish, inconsequent, alien to himself. He was happy, with a deep, warmly colored happiness.

"Charming,” said Crosby Roberts.

Francis Gedge looked at him. He looked young, boyish, virile. How thin and bloodless men’s relationships were with men. I íe had known Roberts for fifteen years and he didn’t know how old he was; whether he was married, whether he had children. His private, his personal, his vital, his real life was shrouded and hidden from Francis Gedge.

Francis Gedge wished to unhusk it as he had unhusked

“\\tsuppose you are going home to your wife, Roberts?”

“No,” said Roberts, and he laughed softly as if tremendously and privately amused at something. “Haven’t got one to go to. Here are these things, old man. Okay as far as I can see except for one unexplained item. You might query that when you are writing him. Well, must be getting along. Where’s the old monocle? 1 felt like a dog without a tail most of the day.

Wished I’d never given you the thing.

Hand it over, there’s a good chap. Got to be getting along.”

“The monocle?”

“Expect it’s in your pocket. Don’t suppose you’ve list'd it.”

Quietly and then nervously, Francis Gedge felt in all his pockets. He moved things over the desk.

“Hope you haven’t lost the thing,” said Crosby Roberts.

It was now Crosby Roberts’ turn to lx? disturbed.

“I’m a lost man without it. Feel as if I haven’t got a collar on.”

"Of course. I must have put it somewhere. I’ll find it in a minute. Give me a minute. It’s absurd.”

“It’s too late to get another one. Not sure where you get the things. I forget now. I’ve had that one fifteen years.

Must be somewhere. Where have you been?”

“Out to lunch in the park.”

"When did you wear it last?”

“I don’t remember. I had it on at lunch.”

"Did you leave it on the table?”

“I don’t remember. No. Nonsense. I’ve had it on since then. It’s somewhere here. I’ll find it in a minute.”

"I particularly want it tonight.” Roberts laughed suddenly. “Though perhaps I’m better without it. Have another look. Go on, have another look. Perhaps you put it in your drawer with your cheque book. Perhaps it’s slipped in. They drop out. you know', if you are not always thinking about them.”

“I should have heard it. I should have noticed.”

‘Tm pretty defenseless without my old monocle. Why, I feel like a boy again. Fifteen years I’ve worn the thing. Never been out to dinner without it. And tonight ...” Again he laughed, and there was something charming in his laughter. “Well, maybe it’s as well. Maybe you’re doing me a good turn,” added Crosby Roberts.

“Oh, I’ll find it.”

“No, don’t bother, old man. That’s all right. By Jove!”

TUTE WAS a good-lpoking fellow, Crosby Roberts. Kept his figure. Nice clean skin. Good bone structure under it. Cleanly packed flesh and not too much of it. A fine figure of a man. Crosby Roberts, and tonight laboring under some excitement that suited him. He seemed alight wfith it. Like a young boy. Rather touching.

“You seem tickled to death with something, Roberts. Life’s not so bad if you snap out of yourself.”

“You’ve said it!”

“I say, I’m sorry about that monocle of yours. I’ll get you another tomorrow if I can’t find it. I can’t believe I’ve lost it. Look here, I’ll send young Sanders over with one tomorrow early—ten o’clock.”

“Oh. that’s all right. Don’t w-orry. It’s not worrying me tonight. In fact I’m rather braced really. The old monocle’s rather a symbol really; and for tonight I’m chucking it.” “All the same, you’ve grown used to it, Roberts.”

“Yes, that’s the whole point. Too used to it! Well, cheerio, old man. Happy days!”

Gedge sat a moment after Roberts had left him, sensing his strange new happiness. It was so alive. It was so childishly aglow. He sat there in the rich dimming light of the summer’s evening, savoring exceedingly and with a deep full gratitude.

He touched the bell.

Phyllis Drew stood before him. She w'ore a little green hat on her gold hair. A green coat. She was like spring sheathed before him. He said:

“How pretty you look!”

She said, and he had never heard a softer voice in all his life:

“I’m so glad. I want to be tonight specially. And that was nice of you, Mr. Gedge. Just what I needed.”

He said :

“But you don’t need self-confidence. Not you.”

“Oh, don’t I! You don’t know.”

She bloomed there before him with some emotion, some sweet excitement, that he could not touch or discover. It shone through all her femininity, her daintiness. She was a slender jade chalice carrying something hidden and precious to her. Hiding it away from him.

He said:

“Oh, will you dine with me somewhere tonight, Miss Drew?”

There was a moment’s silence, then she said:

“I’m so sorry, Mr. Gedge. Any other night. I’m dining with Crosby tonight.”

He said :

“Crosby!” Stupidly.

She said, flaming and yet proud, her charming head tilted back:

"Mr. Roberts. He asked me.”

He said stupidly:

“Oh, I see!”

She said :

“He’s waiting for me. May I go?”

“Of course. Please. Some other night.”

“Thank you. I should be delighted.”

She stood quite still a moment, staring at him. He imagined he recognized it irrevocably for the moment before she took flight. She was going out of his life. He thought he understood that, too.

She said, and it was almost in a whisper, and yet it seemed like a great shout of triumph:

“I like him so much. He is so nice.”

delivered over to her as powerless, as soft, as a crab divorced from its shell. Secretly Crosby Roberts had known that and rejoiced. He delivered himself up to life.

Almost as she left the room Francis Gedge’s hand, groping meaninglessly in his blotter, found the monocle. He held it for a second in his hand.

He heard Crosby Roberts and Phyllis Drew pass his door. He heard their feet go clattering down the stairs.

He opened his mouth to call, but no sound came.

He screwed the monocle in his eye, but the magic of it was gone. The office was as it had always been. The day was like all other days.

He thought, “I’ll ring up mother and Fanny presently and tell them I’ve changed my mind. A quiet week-end in the country won’t do me any harm.”

He rang the bell. The office boy answered it. “Miss Drew has gone, sir.”

“I know.” he said.

Only he, in all the world, knew how utterly she had gone.

“Take this monocle over to Mr. Roberts’ office first thing tomorrow morning before you do anything else. Leave it with Prossett, his head clerk.”

He enclosed it in an envelope. He fastened it down.

The office boy carried it out of the room.

The door was pushed open and Phyllis Drew stood there, laughing and panting. She looked charming. She said, in a light voice that glittered and burbled with laughter:

“You didn’t find that silly old monocle, Mr. Gedge?”

He said :

“No, I’m afraid not.”

“Mr. Roberts suddenly remembered it again when he got to the bottom of the stairs. I told him he didn’t really want it.”

His heart went out to her in her sweet, glowing secret excitement, her gay, expectant loveliness.

“Of course he doesn’t want it,” he said. “He’ll be able to see perfectly, you’ll find.”

She laughed.

Suddenly, quite unexpectedly, she blew him a kiss.

Francis Gedge did not sleep that night at all. He held a savage inquisition on himself. He worked up a temperature and scorned aspirin.

He was desperately, crazily in love, and it hurt.

He was in love with a girl, a really beautiful, desirable and delicious feminine that he had had the monopoly of for years, that he might have cultivated and ultimately culled for himself.

Every hour of that inexplicable, hot-blooded, selfanalytical and interminable night Phvllis Drew became increasingly desirable and delicious.

“If this goes on I shall go mad,” said the erstwhile tranquil Francis Gedge, staggered at his own chaotic reactions. “This is a form of mania.”

Yet he liked it. He savored it exceedingly. It made him feel so brightly, bumingly alive, so gloriously vital.

Spring burned brilliantly in his heart. It burned steadily through a colossal breakfast, a tremendous, sharp, nervous walk. It carried him triumphantly to the office two hours late.

His secretary was waiting. She looked a little tired and dispirited. Her charming blonde head drooped.

A hasty glance assured him that there was no engagement ring on her finger. “Enjoy last night?” he said.

“No. It was rather a flop.”

His heart leaped. It was worth all of life just to experience that crazy leap. “Are you marrying Crosby Roberts?” “No, Mr. Gedge.”

“Did he ask you?”

“I don’t see that it concerns ...” “M’yes it does!”

“Well, he did.”

“And you refused?”

"He seemed different last night. Of course I’d never been out with him before, or alone with him. I suppose I had a wrong idea of him—that was it. Breezing un and out the office, lie seemed so attractive. Last night he seemed sort of dull and unenterprising and middle-aged. Not at all the kind of person 1 led myself to believe . .

idea of him—that was Continued on page 43

Continued from page 16

“Did he wear his monocle?”

“Oh, no. Mr. Gedge. You had it. you remember. Not that that had anything to do with it.”

VERY, very deliberately he took a monocle he had bought that morning out of its little box. its tissue paper wrapping, and screwed it in his eye. He wondered that his hand could be so steady, his actions so deliberate when the whole of him was shaking . . . shaking . . .

“Did you mean to marry Crosby Roberts?"

She looked at him bravely, honestly.

“Yes. Besides, I thought I liked him very much. I made up my mind ages ago that if he ever did ask me I’d take him.”

“Why did you mean to marry him?”

“I’m thirty . . and tired.”

He spoke behind the harrier of his monocle and it gave his voice virility, ardor, power. It was a grand, vibrant, compelling voice that seemed to issue from behind the monocle. It surprised him.

“Knowing that I loved you, and that you loved me?”

She stared at him, surprised. He stared back. He had never looked into other human beings’ eyes like that. It was a shattering discovery. Human eyes were just windows. The rooms where the soul lived were beyond. He looked, fascinated, thrilled to death, into the gentle blue rooms where his secretary lived her secret life.

“I love you so much.” he said breathlessly. “I’m shy—but it’s all there. I can say it all, if you’ll let me—there’s a great deal to say. I’ve never talked to anyone . . . Not all the stuff that’s been churning inside me for years. I want to tell you how beautiful you are. I want to tell you how I adore to watch you move about the room, touching things of mine. Your fingers leave kisses.”

“Please !” She was pink as a peony.

“Be quiet!” he said. He touched the magic monocle for reassurance. Never, never had he spoken to another human being like that; that note of tender, amused authority.

“Have you ever contemplated marrying me?” he asked.

“Not really. Sometimes, when you seem more unbending, human . . . Shut up with an unmarried man all day. one is almost bound to get ideas sometimes. But never seriously. Honestly, never seriously. I never thought you were like this—underneath that manner.”

“You’re a sweet, lovely, dear little idiot, with the most beautiful little white neck in the world.”

It was gorgeous, this excitement, this male certainty of power that encompassed him. The power box seemed to be the monocle. So long as he had that talisman he could command, compel, beseech. Arrayed in that, he was a lover bold as brass. He screwed it in more firmly.

“How could you think of marrying Crosby Roberts?”

“He seemed different last night. I don't understand it myself. All the stuffing seemed to have gone out of him. It was a dreadful evening. Just as you seem different this morning -different to anything you’ve ever been before.”

THAT HALTED HIM bleakly and fantastically. He stared at her. He couldn’t live in a monocle. The monocle was temporary power. Without it would he fail her and himself; fail as Crosby Roberts, without it, had failed her and himself last night?

“I suppose,” she said, and there was a faint quiver of her soft lips, “I suppose I was always in love with you.” It was half to herself she spoke, and wholly in surprise. “If I had known you were like this I would have tried to get you, and I wouldn’t have wasted precious time.”

“We’ll make up for it, my beautiful.”

“I don’t understand..” she said. “Last night I thought . . . And today there could only be you. Oh. Francis, why didn’t you tet me know before the kind of man you were?”

Tears welled in her blue eyes, and they seemed to Francis Gedge, uprooted from everyday life and excited as he was, blue tears like jewels.

“Kiss me," commanded Francis Gedge. “If you’ll take that idiotic thing out of your eye. You look so absurd with it. It isn’t you a bit. I hate it !”

He looked down into her charming, resentful, passionate little face; and he had never smiled like that or laughed like that in all his life.

“All right,” he said.

They became aware of Crosby Roberts whistling softly in the doorway. He seemed in the middle of an extensive area.

“Sorry,” he said nonchalantly. “I knocked madly—and long. You didn't seem to hear.

I thought this much last night, milady, when you laid on to me so about the old eyeglass.”

“Please, Mr. Roberts.”

“Please nothing. All she did, Gedge, was to lay on to me for lending you my monocle and putting ideas into your head. Said it altered you. It spoilt your style. It wasn’t you. It didn’t go with your type."

Phyllis never quite understood the reprieved look on Francis’s pleasant, middleaged face.

“Did you, dear?” said Francis.

“I hate it!” said Phyllis vehemently. “It isn’t you!”

Francis Gedge held out the eyeglass to Crosby Roberts.

“There you are, Roberts,” he said airily. “Thanks,” said Crosby Roberts curtly, “I’ve already got one.”

He screwed it into his eye and stared at their laughing, transformed faces as if he saw them for the first time.