A CHRISTMAS GARLAND
First printed, October, 1912.
New Impressions, October, 1912; December, 1912; December, 1912; July, 1918; September, 1918; March, 1931.
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
THE WORKS OF MAX BEERBOHM MORE YET AGAIN
A CHRISTMAS GARLAND
THE HAPPY HYPOCRITE ZULIEKA DOBSON SEVEN MEN AND EVEN NOW
CARICATURES OF TWENTY-FIVE GENTLEMEN THE POETS' CORNER THE SECOND CHILDHOOD OF JOHN BULL A BOOK OF CARICATURES FIFTY CARICATURES
Stevenson, in one of his essays, tells us how he "played the sedulous ape" to Hazlitt, Sir Thomas Browne, Montaigne, and other writers of the past. And the compositors of all our higher-toned newspapers keep the foregoing sentence set up in type always, so constantly does it come tripping off the pens of all higher-toned reviewers. Nor ever do I read it without a fresh thrill of respect for the young Stevenson. I, in my own very inferior boyhood, found it hard to revel in so much as a single page of any writer earlier than Thackeray. This disability I did not shake off, alas, after I left school. There seemed to be so many live authors worth reading. I gave precedence to them, and, not being much of a reader, never had time to grapple with the old masters. Meanwhile, I was already writing a little on my own account. I had had some sort of aptitude for Latin prose and Latin verse. I wondered often whether those two things, essential though they were (and are) to the making of a decent style in English prose, sufficed for the making of a style more than decent. I felt that I must have other models. And thus I acquired the habit of aping, now and again, quite sedulously, this or that live writer—sometimes, it must be admitted, in the hope of learning rather what to avoid. I acquired, too, the habit of publishing these patient little efforts. Some of them appeared in "The Saturday Review" many years ago; others appeared there more recently. I have selected, by kind permission of the Editor, one from the earlier lot, and seven from the later. The other nine in this book are printed for the first time. The book itself may be taken as a sign that I think my own style is, at length, more or less formed.
THE MOTE IN THE MIDDLE DISTANCE, H*NRY J*M*S
P.C., X, 36, R*D**RD K*PL*NG
OUT OF HARM'S WAY, A.C. B*NS*N
PERKINS AND MANKIND, H.G. W*LLS
SOME DAMNABLE ERRORS ABOUT CHRISTMAS, G.K. CH*ST*RT*N
A SEQUELULA TO "THE DYNASTS", TH*M*S H*RDY
SHAKESPEARE AND CHRISTMAS, FR*NK H*RR*S
SCRUTS, ARN*LD B*NN*TT
ENDEAVOUR, J*HN G*LSW*RTHY
CHRISTMAS, G.S. STR**T
THE FEAST, J*S*PH C*NR*D
A RECOLLECTION, EDM*ND G*SSE
OF CHRISTMAS, H*L**RE B*LL*C
A STRAIGHT TALK, G**RG* B*RN*RD SH*W
FOND HEARTS ASKEW, M**R*CE H*WL*TT
DICKENS, G**RGE M**RE
EUPHEMIA CLASHTHOUGHT, G**RGE M*R*D*TH
THE MOTE IN THE MIDDLE DISTANCE
It was with the sense of a, for him, very memorable something that he peered now into the immediate future, and tried, not without compunction, to take that period up where he had, prospectively, left it. But just where the deuce had he left it? The consciousness of dubiety was, for our friend, not, this morning, quite yet clean-cut enough to outline the figures on what she had called his "horizon," between which and himself the twilight was indeed of a quality somewhat intimidating. He had run up, in the course of time, against a good number of "teasers;" and the function of teasing them back—of, as it were, giving them, every now and then, "what for"—was in him so much a habit that he would have been at a loss had there been, on the face of it, nothing to lose. Oh, he always had offered rewards, of course—had ever so liberally pasted the windows of his soul with staring appeals, minute descriptions, promises that knew no bounds. But the actual recovery of the article—the business of drawing and crossing the cheque, blotched though this were with tears of joy—had blankly appeared to him rather in the light of a sacrilege, casting, he sometimes felt, a palpable chill on the fervour of the next quest. It was just this fervour that was threatened as, raising himself on his elbow, he stared at the foot of his bed. That his eyes refused to rest there for more than the fraction of an instant, may be taken—was, even then, taken by Keith Tantalus—as a hint of his recollection that after all the phenomenon wasn't to be singular. Thus the exact repetition, at the foot of Eva's bed, of the shape pendulous at the foot of his was hardly enough to account for the fixity with which he envisaged it, and for which he was to find, some years later, a motive in the (as it turned out) hardly generous fear that Eva had already made the great investigation "on her own." Her very regular breathing presently reassured him that, if she had peeped into "her" stocking, she must have done so in sleep. Whether he should wake her now, or wait for their nurse to wake them both in due course, was a problem presently solved by a new development. It was plain that his sister was now watching him between her eyelashes. He had half expected that. She really was—he had often told her that she really was—magnificent; and her magnificence was never more obvious than in the pause that elapsed before she all of a sudden remarked "They so very indubitably are, you know!"
It occurred to him as befitting Eva's remoteness, which was a part of Eva's magnificence, that her voice emerged somewhat muffled by the bedclothes. She was ever, indeed, the most telephonic of her sex. In talking to Eva you always had, as it were, your lips to the receiver. If you didn't try to meet her fine eyes, it was that you simply couldn't hope to: there were too many dark, too many buzzing and bewildering and all frankly not negotiable leagues in between. Snatches of other voices seemed often to intertrude themselves in the parley; and your loyal effort not to overhear these was complicated by your fear of missing what Eva might be twittering. "Oh, you certainly haven't, my dear, the trick of propinquity!" was a thrust she had once parried by saying that, in that case, he hadn't—to which his unspoken rejoinder that she had caught her tone from the peevish young women at the Central seemed to him (if not perhaps in the last, certainly in the last but one, analysis) to lack finality. With Eva, he had found, it was always safest to "ring off." It was with a certain sense of his rashness in the matter, therefore, that he now, with an air of feverishly "holding the line," said "Oh, as to that!"
Had she, he presently asked himself, "rung off"? It was characteristic of our friend—was indeed "him all over"—that his fear of what she was going to say was as nothing to his fear of what she might be going to leave unsaid. He had, in his converse with her, been never so conscious as now of the intervening leagues; they had never so insistently beaten the drum of his ear; and he caught himself in the act of awfully computing, with a certain statistical passion, the distance between Rome and Boston. He has never been able to decide which of these points he was psychically the nearer to at the moment when Eva, replying "Well, one does, anyhow, leave a margin for the pretext, you know!" made him, for the first time in his life, wonder whether she were not more magnificent than even he had ever given her credit for being. Perhaps it was to test this theory, or perhaps merely to gain time, that he now raised himself to his knees, and, leaning with outstretched arm towards the foot of his bed, made as though to touch the stocking which Santa Claus had, overnight, left dangling there. His posture, as he stared obliquely at Eva, with a sort of beaming defiance, recalled to him something seen in an "illustration." This reminiscence, however—if such it was, save in the scarred, the poor dear old woebegone and so very beguilingly not refractive mirror of the moment—took a peculiar twist from Eva's behaviour. She had, with startling suddenness, sat bolt upright, and looked to him as if she were overhearing some tragedy at the other end of the wire, where, in the nature of things, she was unable to arrest it. The gaze she fixed on her extravagant kinsman was of a kind to make him wonder how he contrived to remain, as he beautifully did, rigid. His prop was possibly the reflection that flashed on him that, if she abounded in attenuations, well, hang it all, so did he! It was simply a difference of plane. Readjust the "values," as painters say, and there you were! He was to feel that he was only too crudely "there" when, leaning further forward, he laid a chubby forefinger on the stocking, causing that receptacle to rock ponderously to and fro. This effect was more expected than the tears which started to Eva's eyes, and the intensity with which "Don't you," she exclaimed, "see?"
"The mote in the middle distance?" he asked. "Did you ever, my dear, know me to see anything else? I tell you it blocks out everything. It's a cathedral, it's a herd of elephants, it's the whole habitable globe. Oh, it's, believe me, of an obsessiveness!" But his sense of the one thing it didn't block out from his purview enabled him to launch at Eva a speculation as to just how far Santa Claus had, for the particular occasion, gone. The gauge, for both of them, of this seasonable distance seemed almost blatantly suspended in the silhouettes of the two stockings. Over and above the basis of (presumably) sweetmeats in the toes and heels, certain extrusions stood for a very plenary fulfilment of desire. And, since Eva had set her heart on a doll of ample proportions and practicable eyelids—had asked that most admirable of her sex, their mother, for it with not less directness than he himself had put into his demand for a sword and helmet—her coyness now struck Keith as lying near to, at indeed a hardly measurable distance from, the border-line of his patience. If she didn't want the doll, why the deuce had she made such a point of getting it? He was perhaps on the verge of putting this question to her, when, waving her hand to include both stockings, she said "Of course, my dear, you do see. There they are, and you know I know you know we wouldn't, either of us, dip a finger into them." With a vibrancy of tone that seemed to bring her voice quite close to him, "One doesn't," she added, "violate the shrine—pick the pearl from the shell!"
Even had the answering question "Doesn't one just?" which for an instant hovered on the tip of his tongue, been uttered, it could not have obscured for Keith the change which her magnificence had wrought in him. Something, perhaps, of the bigotry of the convert was already discernible in the way that, averting his eyes, he said "One doesn't even peer." As to whether, in the years that have elapsed since he said this either of our friends (now adult) has, in fact, "peered," is a question which, whenever I call at the house, I am tempted to put to one or other of them. But any regret I may feel in my invariable failure to "come up to the scratch" of yielding to this temptation is balanced, for me, by my impression—my sometimes all but throned and anointed certainty—that the answer, if vouchsafed, would be in the negative.
P.C., X, 36
Then it's collar 'im tight, In the name o' the Lawd! 'Ustle 'im, shake 'im till 'e's sick! Wot, 'e would, would 'e? Well, Then yer've got ter give 'im 'Ell, An' it's trunch, trunch, truncheon does the trick
POLICE STATION DITTIES.
I had spent Christmas Eve at the Club, listening to a grand pow-wow between certain of the choicer sons of Adam. Then Slushby had cut in. Slushby is one who writes to newspapers and is theirs obediently "HUMANITARIAN." When Slushby cuts in, men remember they have to be up early next morning.
Sharp round a corner on the way home, I collided with something firmer than the regulation pillar-box. I righted myself after the recoil and saw some stars that were very pretty indeed. Then I perceived the nature of the obstruction.
"Evening, Judlip," I said sweetly, when I had collected my hat from the gutter. "Have I broken the law, Judlip? If so, I'll go quiet."
"Time yer was in bed," grunted X, 36. "Yer Ma'll be lookin' out for yer."
This from the friend of my bosom! It hurt. Many were the night-beats I had been privileged to walk with Judlip, imbibing curious lore that made glad the civilian heart of me. Seven whole 8x5 inch note-books had I pitmanised to the brim with Judlip. And now to be repulsed as one of the uninitiated! It hurt horrid.
There is a thing called Dignity. Small boys sometimes stand on it. Then they have to be kicked. Then they get down, weeping. I don't stand on Dignity.
"What's wrong, Judlip?" I asked, more sweetly than ever. "Drawn a blank to-night?"
"Yuss. Drawn a blank blank blank. 'Avent 'ad so much as a kick at a lorst dorg. Christmas Eve ain't wot it was." I felt for my note-book. "Lawd! I remembers the time when the drunks and disorderlies down this street was as thick as flies on a fly-paper. One just picked 'em orf with one's finger and thumb. A bloomin' battew, that's wot it wos."
"The night's yet young, Judlip," I insinuated, with a jerk of my thumb at the flaring windows of the "Rat and Blood Hound." At that moment the saloon-door swung open, emitting a man and woman who walked with linked arms and exceeding great care.
Judlip eyed them longingly as they tacked up the street. Then he sighed. Now, when Judlip sighs the sound is like unto that which issues from the vent of a Crosby boiler when the cog-gauges are at 260 deg. F.
"Come, Judlip!" I said. "Possess your soul in patience. You'll soon find someone to make an example of. Meanwhile"—I threw back my head and smacked my lips—"the usual, Judlip?"
In another minute I emerged through the swing-door, bearing a furtive glass of that same "usual," and nipped down the mews where my friend was wont to await these little tokens of esteem.
"To the Majesty of the Law, Judlip!"
When he had honoured the toast, I scooted back with the glass, leaving him wiping the beads off his beard-bristles. He was in his philosophic mood when I rejoined him at the corner.
"Wot am I?" he said, as we paced along. "A bloomin' cypher. Wot's the sarjint? 'E's got the Inspector over 'im. Over above the Inspector there's the Sooprintendent. Over above 'im's the old red-tape-masticatin' Yard. Over above that there's the 'Ome Sec. Wot's 'e? A cypher, like me. Why?" Judlip looked up at the stars. "Over above 'im's We Dunno Wot. Somethin' wot issues its horders an' regulations an' divisional injunctions, inscrootable like, but p'remptory; an' we 'as ter see as 'ow they're carried out, not arskin' no questions, but each man goin' about 'is dooty.'
"''Is dooty,'" said I, looking up from my note-book. "Yes, I've got that."
"Life ain't a bean-feast. It's a 'arsh reality. An' them as makes it a bean-feast 'as got to be 'arshly dealt with accordin'. That's wot the Force is put 'ere for from Above. Not as 'ow we ain't fallible. We makes our mistakes. An' when we makes 'em we sticks to 'em. For the honour o' the Force. Which same is the jool Britannia wears on 'er bosom as a charm against hanarchy. That's wot the brarsted old Beaks don't understand. Yer remember Smithers of our Div?"
I remembered Smithers—well. As fine, upstanding, square-toed, bullet-headed, clean-living a son of a gun as ever perjured himself in the box. There was nothing of the softy about Smithers. I took off my billicock to Smithers' memory.
"Sacrificed to public opinion? Yuss," said Judlip, pausing at a front door and flashing his 45 c.p. down the slot of a two-grade Yale. "Sacrificed to a parcel of screamin' old women wot ort ter 'ave gorn down on their knees an' thanked Gawd for such a protector. 'E'll be out in another 'alf year. Wot'll 'e do then, pore devil? Go a bust on 'is conduc' money an' throw in 'is lot with them same hexperts wot 'ad a 'oly terror of 'im." Then Judlip swore gently.
"What should you do, O Great One, if ever it were your duty to apprehend him?"
"Do? Why, yer blessed innocent, yer don't think I'd shirk a fair clean cop? Same time, I don't say as 'ow I wouldn't 'andle 'im tender like, for sake o' wot 'e wos. Likewise cos 'e'd be a stiff customer to tackle. Likewise 'cos—"
He had broken off, and was peering fixedly upwards at an angle of 85 deg. across the moonlit street. "Ullo!" he said in a hoarse whisper.
Striking an average between the direction of his eyes—for Judlip, when on the job, has a soul-stirring squint—I perceived someone in the act of emerging from a chimney-pot.
Judlip's voice clove the silence. "Wot are yer doin' hup there?"
The person addressed came to the edge of the parapet. I saw then that he had a hoary white beard, a red ulster with the hood up, and what looked like a sack over his shoulder. He said something or other in a voice like a concertina that has been left out in the rain.
"I dessay," answered my friend. "Just you come down, an' we'll see about that."
The old man nodded and smiled. Then—as I hope to be saved—he came floating gently down through the moonlight, with the sack over his shoulder and a young fir-tree clasped to his chest. He alighted in a friendly manner on the curb beside us.
Judlip was the first to recover himself. Out went his right arm, and the airman was slung round by the scruff of the neck, spilling his sack in the road. I made a bee-line for his shoulder-blades. Burglar or no burglar, he was the best airman out, and I was muchly desirous to know the precise nature of the apparatus under his ulster. A back-hander from Judlip's left caused me to hop quickly aside. The prisoner was squealing and whimpering. He didn't like the feel of Judlip's knuckles at his cervical vertebrae.
"Wot wos yer doin' hup there?" asked Judlip, tightening the grip.
"I'm S-Santa Claus, Sir. P-please, Sir, let me g-go"
"Hold him," I shouted. "He's a German."
"It's my dooty ter caution yer that wotever yer say now may be used in hevidence against yer, yer old sinner. Pick up that there sack, an' come along o' me."
The captive snivelled something about peace on earth, good will toward men.
"Yuss," said Judlip. "That's in the Noo Testament, ain't it? The Noo Testament contains some uncommon nice readin' for old gents an' young ladies. But it ain't included in the librery o' the Force. We confine ourselves to the Old Testament—O.T., 'ot. An' 'ot you'll get it. Hup with that sack, an' quick march!"
I have seen worse attempts at a neck-wrench, but it was just not slippery enough for Judlip. And the kick that Judlip then let fly was a thing of beauty and a joy for ever.
"Frog's-march him!" I shrieked, dancing. "For the love of heaven, frog's-march him!"
Trotting by Judlip's side to the Station, I reckoned it out that if Slushby had not been at the Club I should not have been here to see. Which shows that even Slushbys are put into this world for a purpose.
OUT OF HARM'S WAY
More and more, as the tranquil years went by, Percy found himself able to draw a quiet satisfaction from the regularity, the even sureness, with which, in every year, one season succeeded to another. In boyhood he had felt always a little sad at the approach of autumn. The yellowing leaves of the lime trees, the creeper that flushed to so deep a crimson against the old grey walls, the chrysanthemums that shed so prodigally their petals on the smooth green lawn—all these things, beautiful and wonderful though they were, were somehow a little melancholy also, as being signs of the year's decay. Once, when he was fourteen or fifteen years old, he had overheard a friend of the family say to his father "How the days are drawing in!"—a remark which set him thinking deeply, with an almost morbid abandonment to gloom, for quite a long time. He had not then grasped the truth that in exactly the proportion in which the days draw in they will, in the fullness of time, draw out. This was a lesson that he mastered in later years. And, though the waning of summer never failed to touch him with the sense of an almost personal loss, yet it seemed to him a right thing, a wise ordination, that there should be these recurring changes. Those men and women of whom the poet tells us that they lived in "a land where it was always afternoon"—could they, Percy often wondered, have felt quite that thankfulness which on a fine afternoon is felt by us dwellers in ordinary climes? Ah, no! Surely it is because we are made acquainted with the grey sadness of twilight, the solemn majesty of the night-time, the faint chill of the dawn, that we set so high a value on the more meridional hours. If there were no autumn, no winter, then spring and summer would lose, not all indeed, yet an appreciable part of their sweet savour for us. Thus, as his mind matured, Percy came to be very glad of the gradual changes of the year. He found in them a rhythm, as he once described it in his diary; and this he liked very much indeed. He was aware that in his own character, with its tendency to waywardness, to caprice, to disorder, there was an almost grievous lack of this rhythmic quality. In the sure and seemly progression of the months, was there not for him a desirable exemplar, a needed corrective? He was so liable to moods in which he rebelled against the performance of some quite simple duty, some appointed task—moods in which he said to himself "H-ng it! I will not do this," or "Oh, b-th-r! I shall not do that!" But it was clear that Nature herself never spoke thus. Even as a passenger in a frail barque on the troublous ocean will keep his eyes directed towards some upstanding rock on the far horizon, finding thus inwardly for himself, or hoping to find, a more stable equilibrium, a deeper tranquillity, than is his, so did Percy daily devote a certain portion of his time to quiet communion with the almanac.
There were times when he was sorely tempted to regret a little that some of the feasts of the Church were "moveable." True, they moved only within strictly prescribed limits, and in accordance with certain unalterable, wholly justifiable rules. Yet, in the very fact that they did move, there seemed—to use an expressive slang phrase of the day—"something not quite nice." It was therefore the fixed feasts that pleased Percy best, and on Christmas Day, especially, he experienced a temperate glow which would have perhaps surprised those who knew him only slightly.
By reason of the athletic exercises of his earlier years, Percy had retained in middle life a certain lightness and firmness of tread; and this on Christmas morning, between his rooms and the Cathedral, was always so peculiarly elastic that he might almost have seemed to be rather running than walking. The ancient fane, with its soarings of grey columns to the dimness of its embowed roof, the delicate traceries of the organ screen, the swelling notes of the organ, the mellow shafts of light filtered through the stained-glass windows whose hues were as those of emeralds and rubies and amethysts, the stainless purity of the surplices of clergy and choir, the sober richness of Sunday bonnets in the transept, the faint yet heavy fragrance exhaled from the hot-water pipes—all these familiar things, appealing, as he sometimes felt, almost too strongly to that sensuous side of his nature which made him so susceptible to the paintings of Mr. Leader, of Sir Luke Fildes, were on Christmas morning more than usually affecting by reason of that note of quiet joyousness, of peace and good will, that pervaded the lessons of the day, the collect, the hymns, the sermon.
It was this spiritual aspect of Christmas that Percy felt to be hardly sufficiently regarded, or at least dwelt on, nowadays, and he sometimes wondered whether the modern Christmas had not been in some degree inspired and informed by Charles Dickens. He had for that writer a very sincere admiration, though he was inclined to think that his true excellence lay not so much in faithful portrayal of the life of his times, or in gift of sustained narration, or in those scenes of pathos which have moved so many hearts in so many quiet homes, as in the power of inventing highly fantastic figures, such as Mr. Micawber or Mr. Pickwick. This view Percy knew to be somewhat heretical, and, constitutionally averse from the danger of being suspected of "talking for effect," he kept it to himself; but, had anyone challenged him to give his opinion, it was thus that he would have expressed himself. In regard to Christmas, he could not help wishing that Charles Dickens had laid more stress on its spiritual element. It was right that the feast should be an occasion for good cheer, for the savoury meats, the steaming bowl, the blazing log, the traditional games. But was not the modern world, with its almost avowed bias towards materialism, too little apt to think of Christmas as also a time for meditation, for taking stock, as it were, of the things of the soul? Percy had heard that in London nowadays there was a class of people who sate down to their Christmas dinners in public hotels. He did not condemn this practice. He never condemned a thing, but wondered, rather, whether it were right, and could not help feeling that somehow it was not. In the course of his rare visits to London he had more than once been inside of one of the large new hotels that had sprung up—these "great caravanseries," as he described them in a letter to an old school-fellow who had been engaged for many years in Chinese mission work. And it seemed to him that the true spirit of Christmas could hardly be acclimatised in such places, but found its proper resting-place in quiet, detached homes, where were gathered together only those connected with one another by ties of kinship, or of long and tested friendship.
He sometimes blamed himself for having tended more and more, as the quiet, peaceful, tranquil years went by, to absent himself from even those small domestic gatherings. And yet, might it not be that his instinct for solitude at this season was a right instinct, at least for him, and that to run counter to it would be in some degree unacceptable to the Power that fashioned us? Thus he allowed himself to go, as it were, his own way. After morning service, he sate down to his Christmas fare alone, and then, when the simple meal was over, would sit and think in his accustomed chair, falling perhaps into one of those quiet dozes from which, because they seemed to be so natural a result, so seemly a consummation, of his thoughts, he did not regularly abstain. Later, he sallied forth, with a sense of refreshment, for a brisk walk among the fens, the sedges, the hedgerows, the reed-fringed pools, the pollard willows that would in due course be putting forth their tender shoots of palest green. And then, once more in his rooms, with the curtains drawn and the candles lit, he would turn to his book-shelves and choose from among them some old book that he knew and loved, or maybe some quite new book by that writer whose works were most dear to him because in them he seemed always to know so precisely what the author would say next, and because he found in their fine-spun repetitions a singular repose, a sense of security, an earnest of calm and continuity, as though he were reading over again one of those wise copy-books that he had so loved in boyhood, or were listening to the sounds made on a piano by some modest, very conscientious young girl with a pale red pig-tail, practising her scales, very gently, hour after hour, next door.
PERKINS AND MANKIND
It was the Christmas party at Heighton that was one of the turning-points in Perkins' life. The Duchess had sent him a three-page wire in the hyperbolical style of her class, conveying a vague impression that she and the Duke had arranged to commit suicide together if Perkins didn't "chuck" any previous engagement he had made. And Perkins had felt in a slipshod sort of way—for at this period he was incapable of ordered thought—he might as well be at Heighton as anywhere....
The enormous house was almost full. There must have been upwards of fifty people sitting down to every meal. Many of these were members of the family. Perkins was able to recognise them by their unconvoluted ears—the well-known Grifford ear, transmitted from one generation to another. For the rest there were the usual lot from the Front Benches and the Embassies. Evesham was there, clutching at the lapels of his coat; and the Prescotts—he with his massive mask of a face, and she with her quick, hawk-like ways, talking about two things at a time; old Tommy Strickland, with his monocle and his dropped g's, telling you what he had once said to Mr. Disraeli; Boubou Seaforth and his American wife; John Pirram, ardent and elegant, spouting old French lyrics; and a score of others.
Perkins had got used to them by now. He no longer wondered what they were "up to," for he knew they were up to nothing whatever. He reflected, while he was dressing for dinner on Christmas night, how odd it was he had ever thought of Using them. He might as well have hoped to Use the Dresden shepherds and shepherdesses that grinned out in the last stages of refinement at him from the glazed cabinets in the drawing-rooms.... Or the Labour Members themselves....
True there was Evesham. He had shown an exquisitely open mind about the whole thing. He had at once grasped the underlying principles, thrown out some amazingly luminous suggestions. Oh yes, Evesham was a statesman, right enough. But had even he ever really believed in the idea of a Provisional Government of England by the Female Foundlings?
To Perkins the whole thing had seemed so simple, so imminent—a thing that needed only a little general good-will to bring it about. And now.... Suppose his Bill had passed its Second Reading, suppose it had become Law, would this poor old England be by way of functioning decently—after all? Foundlings were sometimes naughty....
What was the matter with the whole human race? He remembered again those words of Scragson's that had had such a depressing effect on him at the Cambridge Union—"Look here, you know! It's all a huge nasty mess, and we're trying to swab it up with a pocket handkerchief." Well, he'd given up trying to do that....
During dinner his eyes wandered furtively up and down the endless ornate table, and he felt he had been, in a sort of way, right in thinking these people were the handiest instrument to prise open the national conscience with. The shining red faces of the men, the shining white necks and arms of the women, the fearless eyes, the general free-and-easiness and spaciousness, the look of late hours counteracted by fresh air and exercise and the best things to eat and drink—what mightn't be made of these people, if they'd only Submit?
Perkins looked behind them, at the solemn young footmen passing and repassing, noiselessly, in blue and white liveries. They had Submitted. And it was just because they had been able to that they were no good.
"Damn!" said Perkins, under his breath.
One of the big conifers from the park had been erected in the hall, and this, after dinner, was found to be all lighted up with electric bulbs and hung with packages in tissue paper.
The Duchess stood, a bright, feral figure, distributing these packages to the guests. Perkins' name was called out in due course and the package addressed to him was slipped into his hand. He retired with it into a corner. Inside the tissue-paper was a small morocco leather case. Inside that was a set of diamond and sapphire sleeve-links—large ones.
He stood looking at them, blinking a little.
He supposed he must put them on. But something in him, some intractably tough bit of his old self, rose up protesting—frantically.
If he couldn't Use these people, at least they weren't going to Use him!
"No, damn it!" he said under his breath, and, thrusting the case into his pocket, slipped away unobserved.
He flung himself into a chair in his bedroom and puffed a blast of air from his lungs.... Yes, it had been a narrow escape. He knew that if he had put those beastly blue and white things on he would have been a lost soul....
"You've got to pull yourself together, d'you hear?" he said to himself. "You've got to do a lot of clear, steady, merciless thinking—now, to-night. You've got to persuade yourself somehow that, Foundlings or no Foundlings, this regeneration of mankind business may still be set going—and by you."
He paced up and down the room, fuming. How recapture the generous certitudes that had one by one been slipping away from him? He found himself staring vacantly at the row of books on the little shelf by his bed. One of them seemed suddenly to detach itself—he could almost have sworn afterwards that he didn't reach out for it, but that it hopped down into his hand....
"Sitting Up For The Dawn"! It was one of that sociological series by which H.G. W*lls had first touched his soul to finer issues when he was at the 'Varsity.
He opened it with tremulous fingers. Could it re-exert its old sway over him now?
The page he had opened it at was headed "General Cessation Day," and he began to read....
"The re-casting of the calendar on a decimal basis seems a simple enough matter at first sight. But even here there are details that will have to be thrashed out....
"Mr. Edgar Dibbs, in his able pamphlet 'Ten to the Rescue,' advocates a twenty-hour day, and has drawn up an ingenious scheme for accelerating the motion of this planet by four in every twenty-four hours, so that the alternations of light and darkness shall be re-adjusted to the new reckoning. I think such re-adjustment would be indispensable (though I know there is a formidable body of opinion against me). But I am far from being convinced of the feasibility of Mr. Dibbs' scheme. I believe the twenty-four hour day has come to stay—anomalous though it certainly will seem in the ten-day week, the fifty-day month, and the thousand-day year. I should like to have incorporated Mr. Dibbs' scheme in my vision of the Dawn. But, as I have said, the scope of this vision is purely practical....
[Footnote 1: Published by the Young Self-Helpers' Press, Ipswich.]
"Mr. Albert Baker, in a paper read before the South Brixton Hebdomadals, pleads that the first seven days of the decimal week should retain their old names, the other three to be called provisionally Huxleyday, Marxday, and Tolstoiday. But, for reasons which I have set forth elsewhere, I believe that the nomenclature which I had originally suggested—Aday, Bday, and so on to Jday—would be really the simplest way out of the difficulty. Any fanciful way of naming the days would be bad, as too sharply differentiating one day from another. What we must strive for in the Dawn is that every day shall be as nearly as possible like every other day. We must help the human units—these little pink slobbering creatures of the Future whose cradle we are rocking—to progress not in harsh jerks, but with a beautiful unconscious rhythm....
[Footnote 2: "Are We Going Too Fast?"]
[Footnote 3: "A Midwife For The Millennium." H.G. W*lls.]
[Footnote 4: "How To Be Happy Though Yet Unborn." H.G. W*lls.]
"There must be nothing corresponding to our Sunday. Sunday is a canker that must be cut ruthlessly out of the social organism. At present the whole community gets 'slack' on Saturday because of the paralysis that is about to fall on it. And then 'Black Monday'!—that day when the human brain tries to readjust itself—tries to realise that the shutters are down, and the streets are swept, and the stove-pipe hats are back in their band-boxes....
"Yet of course there must be holidays. We can no more do without holidays than without sleep. For every man there must be certain stated intervals of repose—of recreation in the original sense of the word. My views on the worthlessness of classical education are perhaps pretty well known to you, but I don't underrate the great service that my friend Professor Ezra K. Higgins has rendered by his discovery that the word recreation originally signified a re-creating—i.e., a time for the nerve-tissues to renew themselves in. The problem before us is how to secure for the human units in the Dawn—these giants of whom we are but the foetuses—the holidays necessary for their full capacity for usefulness to the State, without at the same time disorganising the whole community—and them.
[Footnote 5: "Words About Words." By Ezra K. Higgins, Professor of Etymology, Abraham Z. Stubbins University, Padua, Pa., U.S.A. (2 vols.).]
[Footnote 6: "Id est"—"That is."]
"The solution is really very simple. The community will be divided into ten sections—Section A, Section B, and so on to Section J. And to every section one day of the decimal week will be assigned as a 'Cessation Day.' Thus, those people who fall under Section A will rest on Aday, those who fall under Section B will rest on Bday, and so on. On every day of the year one-tenth of the population will be resting, but the other nine-tenths will be at work. The joyous hum and clang of labour will never cease in the municipal workshops....
"You figure the smokeless blue sky above London dotted all over with airships in which the holiday-making tenth are re-creating themselves for the labour of next week—looking down a little wistfully, perhaps, at the workshops from which they are temporarily banished. And here I scent a difficulty. So attractive a thing will labour be in the Dawn that a man will be tempted not to knock off work when his Cessation Day comes round, and will prefer to work for no wage rather than not at all. So that perhaps there will have to be a law making Cessation Day compulsory, and the Overseers will be empowered to punish infringement of this law by forbidding the culprit to work for ten days after the first offence, twenty after the second, and so on. But I don't suppose there will often be need to put this law in motion. The children of the Dawn, remember, will not be the puny self-ridden creatures that we are. They will not say, 'Is this what I want to do?' but 'Shall I, by doing this, be (a) harming or (b) benefiting—no matter in how infinitesimal a degree—the Future of the Race?'
"Sunday must go. And, as I have hinted, the progress of mankind will be steady proportionately to its own automatism. Yet I think there would be no harm in having one—just one—day in the year set aside as a day of universal rest—a day for the searching of hearts. Heaven—I mean the Future—forbid that I should be hide-bound by dry-as-dust logic, in dealing with problems of flesh and blood. The sociologists of the past thought the grey matter of their own brains all-sufficing. They forgot that flesh is pink and blood is red. That is why they could not convert people....
"The five-hundredth and last day of each year shall be a General Cessation Day. It will correspond somewhat to our present Christmas Day. But with what a difference! It will not be, as with us, a mere opportunity for relatives to make up the quarrels they have picked with each other during the past year, and to eat and drink things that will make them ill well into next year. Holly and mistletoe there will be in the Municipal Eating Rooms, but the men and women who sit down there to General Cessation High-Tea will be glowing not with a facile affection for their kith and kin, but with communal anxiety for the welfare of the great-great-grand-children of people they have never met and are never likely to meet.
"The great event of the day will be the performance of the ceremony of 'Making Way.'
"In the Dawn, death will not be the haphazard affair that it is under the present anarchic conditions. Men will not be stumbling out of the world at odd moments and for reasons over which they have no control. There will always, of course, be a percentage of deaths by misadventure. But there will be no deaths by disease. Nor, on the other hand, will people die of old age. Every child will start life knowing that (barring misadventure) he has a certain fixed period of life before him—so much and no more, but not a moment less.
"It is impossible to foretell to what average age the children of the Dawn will retain the use of all their faculties—be fully vigorous mentally and physically. We only know they will be 'going strong' at ages when we have long ceased to be any use to the State. Let us, for sake of argument, say that on the average their facilities will have begun to decay at the age of ninety—a trifle over thirty-two, by the new reckoning. That, then, will be the period of life fixed for all citizens. Every man on fulfilling that period will avail himself of the Municipal Lethal Chamber. He will 'make way'....
"I thought at one time that it would be best for every man to 'make way' on the actual day when he reaches the age-limit. But I see now that this would savour of private enterprise. Moreover, it would rule out that element of sentiment which, in relation to such a thing as death, we must do nothing to mar. The children and friends of a man on the brink of death would instinctively wish to gather round him. How could they accompany him to the lethal chamber, if it were an ordinary working-day, with every moment of the time mapped out for them?
"On General Cessation Day, therefore, the gates of the lethal chambers will stand open for all those who shall in the course of the past year have reached the age-limit. You figure the wide streets filled all day long with little solemn processions—solemn and yet not in the least unhappy.... You figure the old man walking with a firm step in the midst of his progeny, looking around him with a clear eye at this dear world which is about to lose him. He will not be thinking of himself. He will not be wishing the way to the lethal chamber was longer. He will be filled with joy at the thought that he is about to die for the good of the race—to 'make way' for the beautiful young breed of men and women who, in simple, artistic, antiseptic garments, are disporting themselves so gladly on this day of days. They pause to salute him as he passes. And presently he sees, radiant in the sunlight, the pleasant white-tiled dome of the lethal chamber. You figure him at the gate, shaking hands all round, and speaking perhaps a few well-chosen words about the Future...."
It was enough. The old broom hadn't lost its snap. It had swept clean the chambers of Perkins' soul—swished away the whole accumulation of nasty little cobwebs and malignant germs. Gone were the mean doubts that had formed in him, the lethargy, the cheap cynicism. Perkins was himself again.
He saw now how very stupid it was of him to have despaired just because his own particular panacea wasn't given a chance. That Provisional Government plan of his had been good, but it was only one of an infinite number of possible paths to the Dawn. He would try others—scores of others....
He must get right away out of here—to-night. He must have his car brought round from the garage—now—to a side door....
But first he sat down to the writing-table, and wrote quickly:
I regret I am called away on urgent political business....
Yours faithfully J. Perkins....
He took the morocco leather case out of his pocket and enclosed it, with the note, in a large envelope.
Then he pressed the electric button by his bedside, almost feeling that this was a signal for the Dawn to rise without more ado....
SOME DAMNABLE ERRORS ABOUT CHRISTMAS
That it is human to err is admitted by even the most positive of our thinkers. Here we have the great difference between latter-day thought and the thought of the past. If Euclid were alive to-day (and I dare say he is) he would not say, "The angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are equal to one another." He would say, "To me (a very frail and fallible being, remember) it does somehow seem that these two angles have a mysterious and awful equality to one another." The dislike of schoolboys for Euclid is unreasonable in many ways; but fundamentally it is entirely reasonable. Fundamentally it is the revolt from a man who was either fallible and therefore (in pretending to infallibility) an impostor, or infallible and therefore not human.
Now, since it is human to err, it is always in reference to those things which arouse in us the most human of all our emotions—I mean the emotion of love—that we conceive the deepest of our errors. Suppose we met Euclid on Westminster Bridge, and he took us aside and confessed to us that whilst he regarded parallelograms and rhomboids with an indifference bordering on contempt, for isosceles triangles he cherished a wild romantic devotion. Suppose he asked us to accompany him to the nearest music-shop, and there purchased a guitar in order that he might worthily sing to us the radiant beauty and the radiant goodness of isosceles triangles. As men we should, I hope, respect his enthusiasm, and encourage his enthusiasm, and catch his enthusiasm. But as seekers after truth we should be compelled to regard with a dark suspicion, and to check with the most anxious care, every fact that he told us about isosceles triangles. For adoration involves a glorious obliquity of vision. It involves more than that. We do not say of Love that he is short-sighted. We do not say of Love that he is myopic. We do not say of Love that he is astigmatic. We say quite simply, Love is blind. We might go further and say, Love is deaf. That would be a profound and obvious truth. We might go further still and say, Love is dumb. But that would be a profound and obvious lie. For love is always an extraordinarily fluent talker. Love is a wind-bag, filled with a gusty wind from Heaven.
It is always about the thing that we love most that we talk most. About this thing, therefore, our errors are something more than our deepest errors: they are our most frequent errors. That is why for nearly two thousand years mankind has been more glaringly wrong on the subject of Christmas than on any other subject. If mankind had hated Christmas, he would have understood it from the first. What would have happened then, it is impossible to say. For that which is hated, and therefore is persecuted, and therefore grows brave, lives on for ever, whilst that which is understood dies in the moment of our understanding of it—dies, as it were, in our awful grasp. Between the horns of this eternal dilemma shivers all the mystery of the jolly visible world, and of that still jollier world which is invisible. And it is because Mr. Shaw and the writers of his school cannot, with all their splendid sincerity and, acumen, perceive that he and they and all of us are impaled on those horns as certainly as the sausages I ate for breakfast this morning had been impaled on the cook's toasting-fork—it is for this reason, I say, that Mr. Shaw and his friends seem to me to miss the basic principle that lies at the root of all things human and divine. By the way, not all things that are divine are human. But all things that are human are divine. But to return to Christmas.
I select at random two of the more obvious fallacies that obtain. One is that Christmas should be observed as a time of jubilation. This is (I admit) quite a recent idea. It never entered into the tousled heads of the shepherds by night, when the light of the angel of the Lord shone about them and they arose and went to do homage to the Child. It never entered into the heads of the Three Wise Men. They did not bring their gifts as a joke, but as an awful oblation. It never entered into the heads of the saints and scholars, the poets and painters, of the Middle Ages. Looking back across the years, they saw in that dark and ungarnished manger only a shrinking woman, a brooding man, and a child born to sorrow. The philomaths of the eighteenth century, looking back, saw nothing at all. It is not the least of the glories of the Victorian Era that it rediscovered Christmas. It is not the least of the mistakes of the Victorian Era that it supposed Christmas to be a feast.
The splendour of the saying, "I have piped unto you, and you have not danced; I have wept with you, and you have not mourned" lies in the fact that it might have been uttered with equal truth by any man who had ever piped or wept. There is in the human race some dark spirit of recalcitrance, always pulling us in the direction contrary to that in which we are reasonably expected to go. At a funeral, the slightest thing, not in the least ridiculous at any other time, will convulse us with internal laughter. At a wedding, we hover mysteriously on the brink of tears. So it is with the modern Christmas. I find myself in agreement with the cynics in so far that I admit that Christmas, as now observed, tends to create melancholy. But the reason for this lies solely in our own misconception. Christmas is essentially a dies irae. If the cynics will only make up their minds to treat it as such, even the saddest and most atrabilious of them will acknowledge that he has had a rollicking day.
This brings me to the second fallacy. I refer to the belief that "Christmas comes but once a year." Perhaps it does, according to the calendar—a quaint and interesting compilation, but of little or no practical value to anybody. It is not the calendar, but the Spirit of Man that regulates the recurrence of feasts and fasts. Spiritually, Christmas Day recurs exactly seven times a week. When we have frankly acknowledged this, and acted on this, we shall begin to realise the Day's mystical and terrific beauty. For it is only every-day things that reveal themselves to us in all their wonder and their splendour. A man who happens one day to be knocked down by a motor-bus merely utters a curse and instructs his solicitor, but a man who has been knocked down by a motor-bus every day of the year will have begun to feel that he is taking part in an august and soul-cleansing ritual. He will await the diurnal stroke of fate with the same lowly and pious joy as animated the Hindoos awaiting Juggernaut. His bruises will be decorations, worn with the modest pride of the veteran. He will cry aloud, in the words of the late W.E. Henley, "My head is bloody but unbowed." He will add, "My ribs are broken but unbent."
I look for the time when we shall wish one another a Merry Christmas every morning; when roast turkey and plum-pudding shall be the staple of our daily dinner, and the holly shall never be taken down from the walls, and everyone will always be kissing everyone else under the mistletoe. And what is right as regards Christmas is right as regards all other so-called anniversaries. The time will come when we shall dance round the Maypole every morning before breakfast—a meal at which hot-cross buns will be a standing dish—and shall make April fools of one another every day before noon. The profound significance of All Fool's Day—the glorious lesson that we are all fools—is too apt at present to be lost. Nor is justice done to the sublime symbolism of Shrove Tuesday—the day on which all sins are shriven. Every day pancakes shall be eaten, either before or after the plum-pudding. They shall be eaten slowly and sacramentally. They shall be fried over fires tended and kept for ever bright by Vestals. They shall be tossed to the stars.
I shall return to the subject of Christmas next week.
A SEQUELULA TO "THE DYNASTS"
[Footnote 7: This has been composed from a scenario thrust on me by some one else. My philosophy of life saves me from sense of responsibility for any of my writings; but I venture to hold myself specially irresponsible for this one.—TH*M*S H*RDY.]
The Void is disclosed. Our own Solar System is visible, distant by some two million miles.
Enter the Ancient Spirit and Chorus of the Years, the Spirit and Chorus of the Pities, the Spirit Ironic, the Spirit Sinister, Rumours, Spirit-Messengers, and the Recording Angel.
SPIRIT OF THE PITIES.
Yonder, that swarm of things insectual Wheeling Nowhither in Particular— What is it?
SPIRIT OF THE YEARS.
That? Oh that is merely one Of those innumerous congeries Of parasites by which, since time began, Space has been interfested.
What a pity We have no means of stamping out these pests!
Nay, but I like to watch them buzzing round, Poor little trumpery ephaeonals!
CHORUS OF THE PIETIES (aerial music).
Yes, yes! What matter a few more or less? Here and Nowhere plus Whence and Why makes Thus. Let these things be. There's room in the world for them and us.
Nothing is, Out in the vast immensities Where these things flit, Irrequisite In a minor key To the tune of the sempiternal It.
The curious thing about them is that some Have lesser parasites adherent to them— Bipedular and quadrupedular Infinitesimals. On close survey You see these movesome. Do you not recall, We once went in a party and beheld All manner of absurd things happening On one of those same—planets, don't you call them?
SPIRIT OF THE YEARS (screwing up his eyes at the Solar System).
One of that very swarm it was, if I mistake not. It had a parasite that called itself Napoleon. And lately, I believe, Another parasite has had the impudence To publish an elaborate account Of our (for so we deemed it) private visit.
(Turns over leaves.)
Hardy, Mr. Thomas, Novelist. Author of "The Woodlanders," "Far from the Madding Crowd," "The Trumpet Major," "Tess of the D'Urbervilles," etcetera, Etcetera. In 1895 "Jude the Obscure" was published, and a few Hasty reviewers, having to supply A column for the day of publication, Filled out their space by saying that there were Several passages that might have been Omitted with advantage. Mr. Hardy Saw that if that was so, well then, of course, Obviously the only thing to do Was to write no more novels, and forthwith Applied himself to drama, and to Us.
Let us hear what he said about Us.
THE OTHER SPIRITS.
RECORDING ANGEL (raising receiver of aerial telephone).
3 oh 4 oh oh 3 5, Space.... Hulloa. Is that the Superstellar Library? I'm the Recording Angel. Kindly send me By Spirit-Messenger a copy of "The Dynasts" by T. Hardy. Thank you.
A pause. Enter Spirit-Messenger, with copy of "The Dynasts."
Exit Spirit-Messenger. The Recording Angel reads "The Dynasts" aloud.
Just as the reading draws to a close, enter the Spirit of Mr. Clement Shorter and Chorus of Subtershorters. They are visible as small grey transparencies swiftly interpenetrating the brains of the spatial Spirits.
SPIRIT OF THE PITIES.
It is a book which, once you take it up, You cannot readily lay down.
There is Not a dull page in it.
SPIRIT OF THE YEARS.
A bold conception Outcarried with that artistry for which The author's name is guarantee. We have No hesitation in commending to our readers A volume which—
The Spirit of Mr. Clement Shorter and Chorus of Subtershorters are detected and expelled.
—we hasten to denounce As giving an entirely false account Of our impressions.
SPIRIT OF THE PITIES.
SPIRIT OF THE YEARS.
Intensive vision has this Mr. Hardy, With a dark skill in weaving word-patterns Of subtle ideographies that mark him A man of genius. So am not I, But a plain Spirit, simple and forthright, With no damned philosophical fal-lals About me. When I visited that planet And watched the animalculae thereon, I never said they were "automata" And "jackaclocks," nor dared describe their deeds As "Life's impulsion by Incognizance." It may be that those mites have no free will, But how should I know? Nay, how Mr. Hardy? We cannot glimpse the origin of things, Cannot conceive a Causeless Cause, albeit Such a Cause must have been, and must be greater Than we whose little wits cannot conceive it. "Incognizance"! Why deem incognizant An infinitely higher than ourselves? How dare define its way with us? How know Whether it leaves us free or holds us bond?
SPIRIT OF THE PITIES.
Allow me to associate myself With every word that's fallen from your lips. The author of "The Dynasts" has indeed Misused his undeniably great gifts In striving to belittle things that are Little enough already. I don't say That the phrenetical behaviour Of those aforesaid animalculae Did, while we watched them, seem to indicate Possession of free-will. But, bear in mind, We saw them in peculiar circumstances— At war, blinded with blood and lust and fear. Is it not likely that at other times They are quite decent midgets, capable Of thinking for themselves, and also acting Discreetly on their own initiative, Not drilled and herded, yet gregarious— A wise yet frolicsome community?
What are these "other times" though? I had thought Those midgets whiled away the vacuous hours After one war in training for the next. And let me add that my contempt for them Is not done justice to by Mr. Hardy.
Nor mine. And I have reason to believe Those midgets shone above their average When we inspected them.
A RUMOUR (tactfully intervening).
Yet have I heard (Though not on very good authority) That once a year they hold a festival And thereat all with one accord unite In brotherly affection and good will.
SPIRIT OF THE YEARS (to Recording Angel).
Can you authenticate this Rumour?
Such festival they have, and call it "Christmas."
SPIRIT OF THE PITIES.
Then let us go and reconsider them Next "Christmas."
SPIRIT OF THE YEARS (to Recording Angel).
When is that?
RECORDING ANGEL (consults terrene calendar).
This day three weeks.
SPIRIT OF THE YEARS.
On that day we will re-traject ourselves. Meanwhile, 'twere well we should be posted up In details of this feast.
SPIRIT OF THE PITIES (to Recording Angel).
Aye, tell us more.
I fancy you could best find what you need In the Complete Works of the late Charles Dickens. I have them here.
SPIRIT OF THE YEARS.
Read them aloud to us.
The Recording Angel reads aloud the Complete Works of Charles Dickens.
RECORDING ANGEL (closing "Edwin Drood").
'Tis Christmas Morning.
SPIRIT OF THE YEARS.
Then must we away.
SEMICHORUS I. OF YEARS (aerial music).
'Tis time we press on to revisit That dear little planet, To-day of all days to be seen at Its brightest and best.
Now holly and mistletoe girdle Its halls and its homesteads, And every biped is beaming With peace and good will.
With good will and why not with free will? If clearly the former May nest in those bosoms, then why not The latter as well? Let's lay down no laws to trip up on, Our way is in darkness, And not but by groping unhampered We win to the light.
The Spirit and Chorus of the Years traject themselves, closely followed by the Spirit and Chorus of the Pities, the Spirits and Choruses Sinister and Ironic, Rumours, Spirit Messengers, and the Recording Angel.
There is the sound of a rushing wind. The Solar System is seen for a few instants growing larger and larger—a whorl of dark, vastening orbs careering round the sun. All but one of these is lost to sight. The convex seas and continents of our planet spring into prominence.
The Spirit of Mr. Hardy is visible as a grey transparency swiftly interpenetrating the brain of the Spirit of the Years, and urging him in a particular direction, to a particular point.
The Aerial Visitants now hover in mid-air on the outskirts of Casterbridge, Wessex, immediately above the County Gaol.
SPIRIT OF THE YEARS.
First let us watch the revelries within This well-kept castle whose great walls connote A home of the pre-eminently blest.
The roof of the gaol becomes transparent, and the whole interior is revealed, like that of a beehive under glass. Warders are marching mechanically round the corridors of white stone, unlocking and clanging open the iron doors of the cells. Out from every door steps a convict, who stands at attention, his face to the wall.
At a word of command the convicts fall into gangs of twelve, and march down the stone stairs, out into the yard, where they line up against the walls.
Another word of command, and they file mechanically, but not more mechanically than their warders, into the Chapel.
SPIRIT OF THE PITIES.
SPIRITS SINISTER AND IRONIC.
'Tis more than even we can bear.
SPIRIT OF THE PITIES.
Would we had never come!
SPIRIT OF THE YEARS.
Brother, 'tis well To have faced a truth however hideous, However humbling. Gladly I discipline My pride by taking back those pettish doubts Cast on the soundness of the central thought In Mr. Hardy's drama. He was right. Automata these animalculae Are—puppets, pitiable jackaclocks. Be't as it may elsewhere, upon this planet There's no free will, only obedience To some blind, deaf, unthinking despotry That justifies the horridest pessimism. Frankly acknowledging all this, I beat A quick but not disorderly retreat.
He re-trajects himself into Space, followed closely by his Chorus, and by the Spirit and Chorus of the Pities, the Spirits Sinister and Ironic with their Choruses, Rumours, Spirit Messengers, and the Recording Angel.
SHAKESPEARE AND CHRISTMAS
That Shakespeare hated Christmas—hated it with a venom utterly alien to the gentle heart in him—I take to be a proposition that establishes itself automatically. If there is one thing lucid-obvious in the Plays and Sonnets, it is Shakespeare's unconquerable loathing of Christmas. The Professors deny it, however, or deny that it is proven. With these gentlemen I will deal faithfully. I will meet them on their own parched ground, making them fertilise it by shedding there the last drop of the water that flows through their veins.
If you find, in the works of a poet whose instinct is to write about everything under the sun, one obvious theme untouched, or touched hardly at all, then it is at least presumable that there was some good reason for that abstinence. Such a poet was Shakespeare. It was one of the divine frailties of his genius that he must be ever flying off at a tangent from his main theme to unpack his heart in words about some frivolous-small irrelevance that had come into his head. If it could be shown that he never mentioned Christmas, we should have proof presumptive that he consciously avoided doing so. But if the fact is that he did mention it now and again, but in grudging fashion, without one spark of illumination—he, the arch-illuminator of all things—then we have proof positive that he detested it.
I see Dryasdust thumbing his Concordance. Let my memory save him the trouble. I will reel him off the one passage in which Shakespeare spoke of Christmas in words that rise to the level of mediocrity.
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated, The bird of dawning singeth all night long: And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad; The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike, No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, So hallowed and so gracious is the time.
So says Marcellus at Elsinore. This is the best our Shakespeare can vamp up for the birthday of the Man with whom he of all men had the most in common. And Dryasdust, eternally unable to distinguish chalk from cheese, throws up his hands in admiration of the marvellous poetry. If Dryasdust had written it, it would more than pass muster. But as coming from Shakespeare, how feeble-cold—aye, and sulky-sinister! The greatest praiser the world will ever know!—and all he can find in his heart to sing of Christmas is a stringing-together of old women's superstitions! Again and again he has painted Winter for us as it never has been painted since—never by Goethe even, though Goethe in more than one of the Winter-Lieder touched the hem of his garment. There was every external reason why he should sing, as only he could have sung, of Christmas. The Queen set great store by it. She and her courtiers celebrated it year by year with lusty-pious unction. And thus the ineradicable snob in Shakespeare had the most potent of all inducements to honour the feast with the full power that was in him. But he did not, because he would not. What is the key to the enigma?
For many years I hunted it vainly. The second time that I met Carlyle I tried to enlist his sympathy and aid. He sat pensive for a while and then said that it seemed to him "a goose-quest." I replied, "You have always a phrase for everything, Tom, but always the wrong one." He covered his face, and presently, peering at me through his gnarled fingers, said "Mon, ye're recht." I discussed the problem with Renan, with Emerson, with Disraeli, also with Cetewayo—poor Cetewayo, best and bravest of men, but intellectually a Professor, like the rest of them. It was borne in on me that if I were to win to the heart of the mystery I must win alone.
The solution, when suddenly it dawned on me, was so simple-stark that I was ashamed of the ingenious-clever ways I had been following. (I learned then—and perhaps it is the one lesson worth the learning of any man—that truth may be approached only through the logic of the heart. For the heart is eye and ear, and all excellent understanding abides there.) On Christmas Day, assuredly, Anne Hathaway was born.
In what year she was born I do not know nor care. I take it she was not less than thirty-eight when she married Shakespeare. This, however, is sheer conjecture, and in no way important-apt to our inquiry. It is not the year, but the day of the year, that matters. All we need bear in mind is that on Christmas Day that woman was born into the world.
If there be any doubting Thomas among my readers, let him not be afraid to utter himself. I am (with the possible exception of Shakespeare) the gentlest man that ever breathed, and I do but bid him study the Plays in the light I have given him. The first thing that will strike him is that Shakespeare's thoughts turned constantly to the birthdays of all his Fitton-heroines, as a lover's thoughts always do turn to the moment at which the loved one first saw the light. "There was a star danced, and under that" was born Beatrice. Juliet was born "on Lammas Eve." Marina tells us she derived her name from the chance of her having been "born at sea." And so on, throughout the whole gamut of women in whom Mary Fitton was bodied forth to us. But mark how carefully Shakespeare says never a word about the birthdays of the various shrews and sluts in whom, again and again, he gave us his wife. When and were was born Queen Constance, the scold? And Bianca? And Doll Tearsheet, and "Greasy Jane" in the song, and all the rest of them? It is of the last importance that we should know. Yet never a hint is vouchsafed us in the text. It is clear that Shakespeare cannot bring himself to write about Anne Hathaway's birthday—will not stain his imagination by thinking of it. That is entirely human-natural. But why should he loathe Christmas Day itself with precisely the same loathing? There is but one answer—and that inevitable-final. The two days were one.
Some soul-secrets are so terrible that the most hardened realist of us may well shrink from laying them bare. Such a soul-secret was this of Shakespeare's. Think of it! The gentlest spirit that ever breathed, raging and fuming endlessly in impotent-bitter spleen against the prettiest of festivals! Here is a spectacle so tragic-piteous that, try as we will, we shall not put it from us. And it is well that we should not, for in our plenary compassion we shall but learn to love the man the more.
[Mr. Fr*nk H*rr*s is very much a man of genius, and I should be sorry if this adumbration of his manner made any one suppose that I do not rate his writings about Shakespeare higher than those of all "the Professors" together.—M.B.]
Emily Wrackgarth stirred the Christmas pudding till her right arm began to ache. But she did not cease for that. She stirred on till her right arm grew so numb that it might have been the right arm of some girl at the other end of Bursley. And yet something deep down in her whispered "It is your right arm! And you can do what you like with it!"
She did what she liked with it. Relentlessly she kept it moving till it reasserted itself as the arm of Emily Wrackgarth, prickling and tingling as with red-hot needles in every tendon from wrist to elbow. And still Emily Wrackgarth hardened her heart.
Presently she saw the spoon no longer revolving, but wavering aimlessly in the midst of the basin. Ridiculous! This must be seen to! In the down of dark hairs that connected her eyebrows there was a marked deepening of that vertical cleft which, visible at all times, warned you that here was a young woman not to be trifled with. Her brain despatched to her hand a peremptory message—which miscarried. The spoon wabbled as though held by a baby. Emily knew that she herself as a baby had been carried into this very kitchen to stir the Christmas pudding. Year after year, as she grew up, she had been allowed to stir it "for luck." And those, she reflected, were the only cookery lessons she ever got. How like Mother!
Mrs. Wrackgarth had died in the past year, of a complication of ailments. Emily still wore on her left shoulder that small tag of crape which is as far as the Five Towns go in the way of mourning. Her father had died in the year previous to that, of a still more curious and enthralling complication of ailments. Jos, his son, carried on the Wrackgarth Works, and Emily kept house for Jos. She with her own hand had made this pudding. But for her this pudding would not have been. Fantastic! Utterly incredible! And yet so it was. She was grown-up. She was mistress of the house. She could make or unmake puddings at will. And yet she was Emily Wrackgarth. Which was absurd.
[Footnote 8: See "The History of Sarah Wrackgarth," pp. 345-482.]
[Footnote 9: See "The History of Sarah Wrackgarth," pp. 231-344.]
She would not try to explain, to reconcile. She abandoned herself to the exquisite mysteries of existence. And yet in her abandonment she kept a sharp look-out on herself, trying fiercely to make head or tail of her nature. She thought herself a fool. But the fact that she thought so was for her a proof of adult sapience. Odd! She gave herself up. And yet it was just by giving herself up that she seemed to glimpse sometimes her own inwardness. And these bleak revelations saddened her. But she savoured her sadness. It was the wine of life to her. And for her sadness she scorned herself, and in her conscious scorn she recovered her self-respect.
It is doubtful whether the people of southern England have even yet realised how much introspection there is going on all the time in the Five Towns.
Visible from the window of the Wrackgarths' parlour was that colossal statue of Commerce which rears itself aloft at the point where Oodge Lane is intersected by Blackstead Street. Commerce, executed in glossy Doultonware by some sculptor or sculptors unknown, stands pointing her thumb over her shoulder towards the chimneys of far Hanbridge. When I tell you that the circumference of that thumb is six inches, and the rest to scale, you will understand that the statue is one of the prime glories of Bursley. There were times when Emily Wrackgarth seemed to herself as vast and as lustrously impressive as it. There were other times when she seemed to herself as trivial and slavish as one of those performing fleas she had seen at the Annual Ladies' Evening Fete organised by the Bursley Mutual Burial Club. Extremist!
She was now stirring the pudding with her left hand. The ingredients had already been mingled indistinguishably in that rich, undulating mass of tawniness which proclaims perfection. But Emily was determined to give her left hand, not less than her right, what she called "a doing." Emily was like that.
At mid-day, when her brother came home from the Works, she was still at it.
"Brought those scruts with you?" she asked, without looking up.
"That's a fact," he said, dipping his hand into the sagging pocket of his coat.
It is perhaps necessary to explain what scruts are. In the daily output of every potbank there are a certain proportion of flawed vessels. These are cast aside by the foreman, with a lordly gesture, and in due course are hammered into fragments. These fragments, which are put to various uses, are called scruts; and one of the uses they are put to is a sentimental one. The dainty and luxurious Southerner looks to find in his Christmas pudding a wedding-ring, a gold thimble, a threepenny-bit, or the like. To such fal-lals the Five Towns would say fie. A Christmas pudding in the Five Towns contains nothing but suet, flour, lemon-peel, cinnamon, brandy, almonds, raisins—and two or three scruts. There is a world of poetry, beauty, romance, in scruts—though you have to have been brought up on them to appreciate it. Scruts have passed into the proverbial philosophy of the district. "Him's a pudden with more scruts than raisins to 'm" is a criticism not infrequently heard. It implies respect, even admiration. Of Emily Wrackgarth herself people often said, in reference to her likeness to her father, "Her's a scrut o' th' owd basin."
Jos had emptied out from his pocket on to the table a good three dozen of scruts. Emily laid aside her spoon, rubbed the palms of her hands on the bib of her apron, and proceeded to finger these scruts with the air of a connoisseur, rejecting one after another. The pudding was a small one, designed merely for herself and Jos, with remainder to "the girl"; so that it could hardly accommodate more than two or three scruts. Emily knew well that one scrut is as good as another. Yet she did not want her brother to feel that anything selected by him would necessarily pass muster with her. For his benefit she ostentatiously wrinkled her nose.
"By the by," said Jos, "you remember Albert Grapp? I've asked him to step over from Hanbridge and help eat our snack on Christmas Day."
Emily gave Jos one of her looks. "You've asked that Mr. Grapp?"
"No objection, I hope? He's not a bad sort. And he's considered a bit of a ladies' man, you know."
She gathered up all the scruts and let them fall in a rattling shower on the exiguous pudding. Two or three fell wide of the basin. These she added.
"Steady on!" cried Jos. "What's that for?"
"That's for your guest," replied his sister. "And if you think you're going to palm me off on to him, or on to any other young fellow, you're a fool, Jos Wrackgarth."
The young man protested weakly, but she cut him short.
"Don't think," she said, "I don't know what you've been after, just of late. Cracking up one young sawny and then another on the chance of me marrying him! I never heard of such goings on. But here I am, and here I'll stay, as sure as my name's Emily Wrackgarth, Jos Wrackgarth!"
She was the incarnation of the adorably feminine. She was exquisitely vital. She exuded at every pore the pathos of her young undirected force. It is difficult to write calmly about her. For her, in another age, ships would have been launched and cities besieged. But brothers are a race apart, and blind. It is a fact that Jos would have been glad to see his sister "settled"—preferably in one of the other four Towns.
She took up the spoon and stirred vigorously. The scruts grated and squeaked together around the basin, while the pudding feebly wormed its way up among them.
Albert Grapp, ladies' man though he was, was humble of heart. Nobody knew this but himself. Not one of his fellow clerks in Clither's Bank knew it. The general theory in Hanbridge was "Him's got a stiff opinion o' hisself." But this arose from what was really a sign of humility in him. He made the most of himself. He had, for instance, a way of his own in the matter of dressing. He always wore a voluminous frock-coat, with a pair of neatly-striped vicuna trousers, which he placed every night under his mattress, thus preserving in perfection the crease down the centre of each. His collar was of the highest, secured in front with an aluminium stud, to which was attached by a patent loop a natty bow of dove-coloured sateen. He had two caps, one of blue serge, the other of shepherd's plaid. These he wore on alternate days. He wore them in a way of his own—well back from his forehead, so as not to hide his hair, and with the peak behind. The peak made a sort of half-moon over the back of his collar. Through a fault of his tailor, there was a yawning gap between the back of his collar and the collar of his coat. Whenever he shook his head, the peak of his cap had the look of a live thing trying to investigate this abyss. Dimly aware of the effect, Albert Grapp shook his head as seldom as possible.
On wet days he wore a mackintosh. This, as he did not yet possess a great-coat, he wore also, but with less glory, on cold days. He had hoped there might be rain on Christmas morning. But there was no rain. "Like my luck," he said as he came out of his lodgings and turned his steps to that corner of Jubilee Avenue from which the Hanbridge-Bursley trams start every half-hour.
Since Jos Wrackgarth had introduced him to his sister at the Hanbridge Oddfellows' Biennial Hop, when he danced two quadrilles with her, he had seen her but once. He had nodded to her, Five Towns fashion, and she had nodded back at him, but with a look that seemed to say "You needn't nod next time you see me. I can get along well enough without your nods." A frightening girl! And yet her brother had since told him she seemed "a bit gone, like" on him. Impossible! He, Albert Grapp, make an impression on the brilliant Miss Wrackgarth! Yet she had sent him a verbal invite to spend Christmas in her own home. And the time had come. He was on his way. Incredible that he should arrive! The tram must surely overturn, or be struck by lightning. And yet no! He arrived safely.
The small servant who opened the door gave him another verbal message from Miss Wrackgarth. It was that he must wipe his feet "well" on the mat. In obeying this order he experienced a thrill of satisfaction he could not account for. He must have stood shuffling his boots vigorously for a full minute. This, he told himself, was life. He, Albert Grapp, was alive. And the world was full of other men, all alive; and yet, because they were not doing Miss Wrackgarth's bidding, none of them really lived. He was filled with a vague melancholy. But his melancholy pleased him.
In the parlour he found Jos awaiting him. The table was laid for three.
"So you're here, are you?" said the host, using the Five Towns formula. "Emily's in the kitchen," he added. "Happen she'll be here directly."
"I hope she's tol-lol-ish?" asked Albert.
"She is," said Jos. "But don't you go saying that to her. She doesn't care about society airs and graces. You'll make no headway if you aren't blunt."
"Oh, right you are," said Albert, with the air of a man who knew his way about.
A moment later Emily joined them, still wearing her kitchen apron. "So you're here, are you?" she said, but did not shake hands. The servant had followed her in with the tray, and the next few seconds were occupied in the disposal of the beef and trimmings.
The meal began, Emily carving. The main thought of a man less infatuated than Albert Grapp would have been "This girl can't cook. And she'll never learn to." The beef, instead of being red and brown, was pink and white. Uneatable beef! And yet he relished it more than anything he had ever tasted. This beef was her own handiwork. Thus it was because she had made it so.... He warily refrained from complimenting her, but the idea of a second helping obsessed him.
"Happen I could do with a bit more, like," he said.
Emily hacked off the bit more and jerked it on to the plate he had held out to her.
"Thanks," he said; and then, as Emily's lip curled, and Jos gave him a warning kick under the table, he tried to look as if he had said nothing.
Only when the second course came on did he suspect that the meal was a calculated protest against his presence. This a Christmas pudding? The litter of fractured earthenware was hardly held together by the suet and raisins. All his pride of manhood—and there was plenty of pride mixed up with Albert Grapp's humility—dictated a refusal to touch that pudding. Yet he soon found himself touching it, though gingerly, with his spoon and fork.
In the matter of dealing with scruts there are two schools—the old and the new. The old school pushes its head well over its plate and drops the scrut straight from its mouth. The new school emits the scrut into the fingers of its left hand and therewith deposits it on the rim of the plate. Albert noticed that Emily was of the new school. But might she not despise as affectation in him what came natural to herself? On the other hand, if he showed himself as a prop of the old school, might she not set her face the more stringently against him? The chances were that whichever course he took would be the wrong one.
It was then that he had an inspiration—an idea of the sort that comes to a man once in his life and finds him, likely as not, unable to put it into practice. Albert was not sure he could consummate this idea of his. He had indisputably fine teeth—"a proper mouthful of grinders" in local phrase. But would they stand the strain he was going to impose on them? He could but try them. Without a sign of nervousness he raised his spoon, with one scrut in it, to his mouth. This scrut he put between two of his left-side molars, bit hard on it, and—eternity of that moment!—felt it and heard it snap in two. Emily also heard it. He was conscious that at sound of the percussion she started forward and stared at him. But he did not look at her. Calmly, systematically, with gradually diminishing crackles, he reduced that scrut to powder, and washed the powder down with a sip of beer. While he dealt with the second scrut he talked to Jos about the Borough Council's proposal to erect an electric power-station on the site of the old gas-works down Hillport way. He was aware of a slight abrasion inside his left cheek. No matter. He must be more careful. There were six scruts still to be negotiated. He knew that what he was doing was a thing grandiose, unique, epical; a history-making thing; a thing that would outlive marble and the gilded monuments of princes. Yet he kept his head. He did not hurry, nor did he dawdle. Scrut by scrut, he ground slowly but he ground exceeding small. And while he did so he talked wisely and well. He passed from the power-station to a first edition of Leconte de Lisle's "Parnasse Contemporain" that he had picked up for sixpence in Liverpool, and thence to the Midland's proposal to drive a tunnel under the Knype Canal so as to link up the main-line with the Critchworth and Suddleford loop-line. Jos was too amazed to put in a word. Jos sat merely gaping—a gape that merged by imperceptible degrees into a grin. Presently he ceased to watch his guest. He sat watching his sister.
Not once did Albert himself glance in her direction. She was just a dim silhouette on the outskirts of his vision. But there she was, unmoving, and he could feel the fixture of her unseen eyes. The time was at hand when he would have to meet those eyes. Would he flinch? Was he master of himself?
The last scrut was powder. No temporising! He jerked his glass to his mouth. A moment later, holding out his plate to her, he looked Emily full in the eyes. They were Emily's eyes, but not hers alone. They were collective eyes—that was it! They were the eyes of stark, staring womanhood. Her face had been dead white, but now suddenly up from her throat, over her cheeks, through the down between her eyebrows, went a rush of colour, up over her temples, through the very parting of her hair.
"Happen," he said without a quaver in his voice, "I'll have a bit more, like."
She flung her arms forward on the table and buried her face in them. It was a gesture wild and meek. It was the gesture foreseen and yet incredible. It was recondite, inexplicable, and yet obvious. It was the only thing to be done—and yet, by gum, she had done it.
Her brother had risen from his seat and was now at the door. "Think I'll step round to the Works," he said, "and see if they banked up that furnace aright."
NOTE.—The author has in preparation a series of volumes dealing with the life of Albert and Emily Grapp.
The dawn of Christmas Day found London laid out in a shroud of snow. Like a body wasted by diseases that had triumphed over it at last, London lay stark and still now, beneath a sky that was as the closed leaden shell of a coffin. It was what is called an old-fashioned Christmas.
Nothing seemed to be moving except the Thames, whose embanked waters flowed on sullenly in their eternal act of escape to the sea. All along the wan stretch of Cheyne Walk the thin trees stood exanimate, with not a breath of wind to stir the snow that pied their soot-blackened branches. Here and there on the muffled ground lay a sparrow that had been frozen in the night, its little claws sticking up heavenward. But here and there also those tinier adventurers of the London air, smuts, floated vaguely and came to rest on the snow—signs that in the seeming death of civilisation some housemaids at least survived, and some fires had been lit.
One of these fires, crackling in the grate of one of those dining-rooms which look fondly out on the river and tolerantly across to Battersea, was being watched by the critical eye of an aged canary. The cage in which this bird sat was hung in the middle of the bow-window. It contained three perches, and also a pendent hoop. The tray that was its floor had just been cleaned and sanded. In the embrasure to the right was a fresh supply of hemp-seed; in the embrasure to the left the bath-tub had just been refilled with clear water. Stuck between the bars was a large sprig of groundsel. Yet, though all was thus in order, the bird did not eat nor drink, nor did he bathe. With his back to Battersea, and his head sunk deep between his little sloping shoulders, he watched the fire. The windows had for a while been opened, as usual, to air the room for him; and the fire had not yet mitigated the chill. It was not his custom to bathe at so inclement an hour; and his appetite for food and drink, less keen than it had once been, required to be whetted by example—he never broke his fast before his master and mistress broke theirs. Time had been when, for sheer joy in life, he fluttered from perch to perch, though there were none to watch him, and even sang roulades, though there were none to hear. He would not do these things nowadays save at the fond instigation of Mr. and Mrs. Adrian Berridge. The housemaid who ministered to his cage, the parlourmaid who laid the Berridges' breakfast table, sometimes tried to incite him to perform for their own pleasure. But the sense of caste, strong in his protuberant little bosom, steeled him against these advances.
While the breakfast-table was being laid, he heard a faint tap against the window-pane. Turning round, he perceived on the sill a creature like to himself, but very different—a creature who, despite the pretensions of a red waistcoat in the worst possible taste, belonged evidently to the ranks of the outcast and the disinherited. In previous winters the sill had been strewn every morning with bread-crumbs. This winter, no bread-crumbs had been vouchsafed; and the canary, though he did not exactly understand why this was so, was glad that so it was. He had felt that his poor relations took advantage of the Berridges' kindness. Two or three of them, as pensioners, might not have been amiss. But they came in swarms, and they gobbled their food in a disgusting fashion, not trifling coquettishly with it as birds should. The reason for this, the canary knew, was that they were hungry; and of that he was sorry. He hated to think how much destitution there was in the world; and he could not help thinking about it when samples of it were thrust under his notice. That was the principal reason why he was glad that the window-sill was strewn no more and seldom visited.
He would much rather not have seen this solitary applicant. The two eyes fixed on his made him feel very uncomfortable. And yet, for fear of seeming to be outfaced, he did not like to look away.
The subdued clangour of the gong, sounded for breakfast, gave him an excuse for turning suddenly round and watching the door of the room.
A few moments later there came to him a faint odour of Harris tweed, followed immediately by the short, somewhat stout figure of his master—a man whose mild, fresh, pink, round face seemed to find salvation, as it were, at the last moment, in a neatly-pointed auburn beard.
Adrian Berridge paused on the threshold, as was his wont, with closed eyes and dilated nostrils, enjoying the aroma of complex freshness which the dining-room had at this hour. Pathetically a creature of habit, he liked to savour the various scents, sweet or acrid, that went to symbolise for him the time and the place. Here were the immediate scents of dry toast, of China tea of napery fresh from the wash, together with that vague, super-subtle scent which boiled eggs give out through their unbroken shells. And as a permanent base to these there was the scent of much-polished Chippendale, and of bees'-waxed parquet, and of Persian rugs. To-day, moreover, crowning the composition, there was the delicate pungency of the holly that topped the Queen Anne mirror and the Mantegna prints.
Coming forward into the room, Mr. Berridge greeted the canary. "Well, Amber, old fellow," he said, "a happy Christmas to you!" Affectionately he pushed the tip of a plump white finger between the bars. "Tweet!" he added.
"Tweet!" answered the bird, hopping to and fro along his perch.
"Quite an old-fashioned Christmas, Amber!" said Mr. Berridge, turning to scan the weather. At sight of the robin, a little spasm of pain contracted his face. A shine of tears came to his prominent pale eyes, and he turned quickly away. Just at that moment, heralded by a slight fragrance of old lace and of that peculiar, almost unseizable odour that uncut turquoises have, Mrs. Berridge appeared.
"What is the matter, Adrian?" she asked quickly. She glanced sideways into the Queen Anne mirror, her hand fluttering, like a pale moth, to her hair, which she always wore braided in a fashion she had derived from Pollaiuolo's St. Ursula.
"Nothing, Jacynth—nothing," he answered with a lightness that carried no conviction; and he made behind his back a gesture to frighten away the robin.
"Amber isn't unwell, is he?" She came quickly to the cage. Amber executed for her a roulade of great sweetness. His voice had not perhaps the fullness for which it had been noted in earlier years; but the art with which he managed it was as exquisite as ever. It was clear to his audience that the veteran artist was hale and hearty.
But Jacynth, relieved on one point, had a misgiving on another. "This groundsel doesn't look very fresh, does it?" she murmured, withdrawing the sprig from the bars. She rang the bell, and when the servant came in answer to it said, "Oh Jenny, will you please bring up another piece of groundsel for Master Amber? I don't think this one is quite fresh."
This formal way of naming the canary to the servants always jarred on her principles and on those of her husband. They tried to regard their servants as essentially equals of themselves, and lately had given Jenny strict orders to leave off calling them "Sir" and "Ma'am," and to call them simply "Adrian" and "Jacynth." But Jenny, after one or two efforts that ended in faint giggles, had reverted to the crude old nomenclature—as much to the relief as to the mortification of the Berridges. They did, it is true, discuss the possibility of redressing the balance by calling the parlourmaid "Miss." But, when it came to the point, their lips refused this office. And conversely their lips persisted in the social prefix to the bird's name.
Somehow that anomaly seemed to them symbolic of their lives. Both of them yearned so wistfully to live always in accordance to the nature of things. And this, they felt, ought surely to be the line of least resistance. In the immense difficulties it presented, and in their constant failures to surmount these difficulties, they often wondered whether the nature of things might not be, after all, something other than what they thought it. Again and again it seemed to be in as direct conflict with duty as with inclination; so that they were driven to wonder also whether what they conceived to be duty were not also a mirage—a marsh-light leading them on to disaster.
The fresh groundsel was brought in while Jacynth was pouring out the tea. She rose and took it to the cage; and it was then that she too saw the robin, still fluttering on the sill. With a quick instinct she knew that Adrian had seen it—knew what had brought that look to his face. She went and, bending over him, laid a hand on his shoulder. The disturbance of her touch caused the tweed to give out a tremendous volume of scent, making her feel a little dizzy.