AMARYLLIS AT THE FAIR
THE READERS' LIBRARY
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AVRIL. Essays on the Poetry of the French Renaissance
MEMOIRS OF A SURREY LABOURER
BROOKS, STOPFORD A.
STUDIES IN POETRY. Essays on Blake, Scott, Shelley, Keats, etc.
ITALIAN POETS SINCE DANTE
HUDSON, W. H.
GREEN MANSIONS. A Romance of the Tropical Forest
THE PURPLE LAND. Descriptive Romance
AMARYLLIS AT THE FAIR
BEVIS. The Story of a Boy
ST. AUGUSTINE AND HIS AGE
NEVINSON, H. W.
ESSAYS IN FREEDOM
STEPHEN, SIR LESLIE
ENGLISH LITERATURE AND SOCIETY
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STUDIES OF A BIOGRAPHER. Second Series. Two Volumes
WITTE, DR. CARL
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THE STRENUOUS LIFE. Essays and Addresses
COMPARATIVE STUDIES IN NURSERY RHYMES: Essays in a Branch of Folklore
CUNNINGHAME GRAHAM, R. B.
PROGRESS, and other Sketches
Additional Volumes will be announced from time to time
AMARYLLIS AT THE FAIR
AUTHOR OF "THE GAMEKEEPER AT HOME," "AFTER LONDON," "WOOD MAGIC; A FABLE," "BEVIS," ETC.
"Our day is but a finger: bring large cups." ALCAEUS.
LONDON DUCKWORTH AND CO. 3, HENRIETTA STREET, COVENT GARDEN, W.C.
Reissued 1904 Reprinted in Readers Library 1911 All rights reserved
CHARLES PRESTWICH SCOTT.
"THE book is not a novel" is a phrase often in the mouth of critics, who on second thoughts might, perhaps, add with less emphasis, "It does not conform to the common type of novel." Fortified, however, with that sense of rectitude that dictates conformity to our neighbours and a safe acquiescence in the mysterious movements of public taste, the critics have exclaimed with touching unanimity—"What a pity Jefferies tried to write novels! Why didn't he stick to essays in natural history!"
What a pity Jefferies should have given us "Amaryllis at the Fair," and "After London"!—this opinion has been propagated with such fervency that it seems almost a pity to disturb it by inquiring into the nature of these his achievements. Certainly the critics, and their critical echoes, are united. "He wrote some later novels of indifferent merit," says a critic in "Chambers' Encyclopaedia." "Has anyone ever been able to write with free and genuine appreciation of even the later novels?" asks or echoes a lady, Miss Grace Toplis, writing on Jefferies. "In brief, he was an essayist and not a novelist at all," says Mr. Henry Salt. "It is therefore certain that his importance for posterity will dwindle, if it has not already dwindled, to that given by a bundle of descriptive selections. But these will occupy a foremost place on their particular shelf, the shelf at the head of which stands Gilbert White and Gray," says Mr. George Saintsbury. "He was a reporter of genius, and he never got beyond reporting. Mr. Besant has the vitalising imagination which Jefferies lacked," says Mr. Henley in his review of Walter Besant's "Eulogy of Richard Jefferies"; and again, "They are not novels as he (Walter Besant) admits, they are a series of pictures. . . . That is the way he takes Jefferies at Jefferies' worst." Yes, it is very touching this unanimity, and it is therefore a pleasure for this critic to say that in his judgment "Amaryllis at the Fair" is one of the very few later-day novels of English country life that are worth putting on one's shelf, and that to make room for it he would turn out certain highly-praised novels by Hardy which do not ring quite true, novels which the critics and the public, again with touching unanimity, have voted to be of high rank. But what is a novel? the reader may ask. A novel, says the learned Charles Annandale, is "a fictitious prose narrative, involving some plot of greater or less intricacy, and professing to give a picture of real life, generally exhibiting the passions and sentiments, in a state of great activity, and especially the passion of love." Well, "Amaryllis at the Fair" is a fictitious prose narrative professing to give a picture of real life, and involving a plot of little intricacy. Certainly it exhibits the passions and sentiments in a state of great activity. But Mr. Henry Salt, whose little book on Jefferies is the best yet published, further remarks: "Jefferies was quite unable to give any vivid dramatic life to his stories . . . his instinct was that of the naturalist who observes and moralizes rather than that of the novelist who penetrates and interprets; and consequently his rustic characters, though strongly and clearly drawn, do not live, as, for example, those of Thomas Hardy live. . . . Men and animals are alike mere figures in his landscapes."
* * * * *
So far the critics. Jefferies being justly held to be "no ordinary novelist," it is inferred by most that something is wrong with "Amaryllis the Fair," and the book has been passed over in silence. But we do not judge every novel by the same test. We do not judge "Tristram Shandy," for example, by its intricate plot, or by its "vivid drama," we judge it simply as an artistic revelation of human life and by its humorous insight into human character. And judged by the same simple test "Amaryllis at the Fair," we contend, is a living picture of life, a creative work of imagination of a high order. Iden, the unsuccessful farmer who "built for all time, and not for the circumstances of the hour," is a masterly piece of character drawing. But Iden is a personal portrait, the reader may object, Well, what about Uncle Toby? From what void did he spring? Iden, to our mind, is almost as masterly a conception, as broadly human a figure as Uncle Toby. And Mrs. Iden, where will you find this type of nervous, irritable wife, full of spiteful disillusioned love for her dilatory husband better painted than by Jefferies? But Mrs. Iden is a type, not an individual, the reader may say. Excellent reader! and what about the Widow Wadman? She is no less and no more of an individual than is Mrs. Iden. It was a great feat of Sterne to create so cunningly the atmosphere of the Shandy household, but Jefferies has accomplished an artistic feat also in drawing the relations of the Idens, father, mother, and daughter. How true, how unerringly true to human nature is this picture of the Iden household; how delicately felt and rendered to a hair is his picture of the father's sluggish, masculine will, pricked ineffectually by the waspish tongue of feminine criticism. Further, we not only have the family's idiosyncrasies, their habits, mental atmosphere, and domestic story brought before us in a hundred pages, easily and instinctively by the hand of the artist, but we have the whole book steeped in the breath of English spring, the restless ache of spring that thrills through the nerves, and stirs the sluggish winter blood; we have the spring feeling breaking from the March heavens and the March earth in copse, meadow, and ploughland, as it has scarcely been rendered before by English novelist. The description of Amaryllis running out into the March wind to call her father from his potato planting to see the daffodil; the picture of Iden pretending to sleep in his chair that he may watch the mice; the description of the girl Amaryllis watching the crowd of plain, ugly men of the countryside flocking along the road to the fair; the description of Amadis the invalid, in the old farm kitchen among the stalwart country folk—all these pictures and a dozen others in the book are painted with a masterly hand. Pictures! the critical reader may complain. Yes, pictures of living men and women. What does it matter whether a revelation of human life is conveyed to us by pictures or by action so long as it is conveyed? Mr. Saintsbury classes Jefferies with Gray, presumably because both writers have written of the English landscape. With Gray! Jefferies in his work as a naturalist and observer of wild life may be classed merely for convenience with Gilbert White. But this classification only applies to one half of Jefferies' books. By his "Wild Life in a Southern County" he stands beside Gilbert White; by his "Story of My Heart" he stands by himself, a little apart from the poets, and by "Amaryllis at the Fair" he stands among the half-dozen country writers of the century whose work is racy of the English soil and of rural English human nature. We will name three of these writers, Barnes, Cobbett, Waugh, and our attentive readers can name the other three.
To come back to "Amaryllis at the Fair," why is it so masterly, or, further, wherein is it so masterly, the curious reader may inquire? "Is it not full of digressions? Granted that the first half of the 'novel' is beautiful in style, does not Jefferies suddenly break his method, introduce his own personality, intersperse abrupt disquisitions on food, illness, and Fleet Street? Is not that description of Iden's dinner a little—well, a little unusual? In short, is not the book a disquisition on life from the standpoint of Jefferies' personal experiences? And if this is so, how can the book be so fine an achievement?" Oh, candid reader, with the voice of authority sounding in your ears (and have we not Mr. Henley and Mr. Saintsbury bound in critical amity against us), a book may break the formal rules, and yet it may yield to us just that salt of life which we may seek for vainly in the works of more faultless writers. The strength of "Amaryllis at the Fair" is that its beauty springs naturally from the prosaic earthly facts of life it narrates, and that, in the natural atmosphere breathed by its people, the prose and the poetry of their life are one. In the respect of the artistic naturalness of its homely picture, the book is very superior to, say "The Mayor of Casterbridge," where we are conscious that the author has been at work arranging and rearranging his charming studies and impressions of the old-world people of Casterbridge into the pattern of an exciting plot. Now it is precisely in the artificed dramatic story of "The Mayor of Casterbridge"—and we cite this novel as characteristic, both in its strength and weakness, of its distinguished author,—that we are brought to feel that we have not been shown the characters of Casterbridge going their way in life naturally, but that they have been moved about, kaleidoscopically, to suit the exigencies of the plot, and that the more this is so the less significance for us have their thoughts and actions. Watching the quick whirling changes of Farfrae and Lucetta, Henchard and Newson in the matrimonial mazes of the story, and listening to the chorus of the rustics in the wings, we perceive indeed whence comes that atmosphere of stage crisis and stage effect which suddenly introduces a disillusioning sense of unreality, and mars the artistic unity of this charming picture, so truthful in other respects to English rural life. Plot is Mr. Hardy's weakness, and perfect indeed and convincing would have been his pictures, if he could have thrown his plots and his rustic choruses to the four winds. May we not be thankful, therefore, that Jefferies was no hand at elaborating a plot, and that in "Amaryllis at the Fair," the scenes, the descriptions, the conversations are spontaneous as life, and that Jefferies' commentary on them is like Fielding's commentary, a medium by which he lives with his characters. The author's imagination, memory, and instinctive perception are, indeed, all working together; and so his picture of human life in "Amaryllis" brings with it as convincing and as fresh a breath of life as we find in Cobbett's, Waugh's and Barnes' country writings. When a writer arrives at being perfectly natural in his atmosphere, his style and his subject seem to become one. He moves easily and surely. Out of the splintered mass of ideas and emotions, out of the sensations, the observations and revelations of his youth, and the atmosphere familiar to him through long feeling, he builds up a subtle and cunning picture for us, a complete illusion of life more true than the reality. For what prosaic people call the reality is merely the co-ordination in their own minds of perhaps a thousandth part of aspects of the life around them; and only this thousandth part they have noticed. But the creative mind builds up a living picture out of the thousands of aspects most of us are congenitally blind to. This is what Jefferies has done in "Amaryllis at the Fair." The book is rich in the contradictory forces of life, in its quick twists and turns: we feel in it there is nature working alike in the leaves of grass outside the Idens' house, in the blustering winds round the walls, and in the minds of the characters indoors; and the style has the freshness of the April wind. Everything is growing, changing, breathing in the book. But the accomplished critics do not notice these trivial strengths. It is enough for them that Jefferies was not a novelist! Indeed, Mr. Saintsbury apparently thinks that Jefferies made a mistake in drawing his philosophy from an open-air study of nature, for he writes: "Unfortunately for Jefferies his philosophic background was not like Wordsworth's clear and cheerful, but wholly vague and partly gloomy." It was neither vague nor gloomy, we may remark, parenthetically, but we may admit that Jefferies saw too deeply into nature's workings, and had too sensuous a joy in life to interpret all Nature's doings, a la Wordsworth, and lend them a portentously moral significance.
The one charge that may with truth be brought against "Amaryllis at the Fair" is that its digressions damage the artistic illusion of the whole. The book shows the carelessness, the haste, the roughness of a sketch, a sketch, moreover, which Jefferies was not destined to carry to the end he had planned, but we repeat, let us be thankful that its artistic weaknesses are those of a sketch direct from nature, rather than those of an ambitious studio picture. And these digressions are an integral part of the book's character, just as the face of a man has its own blemishes: they are one with the spirit of the whole, and so, if they break somewhat the illusion of the scenes, they do not damage its spiritual unity. It is this spiritual unity on which we must insist, because "Amaryllis" is indeed Jefferies' last and complete testament on human life. He wrote it, or rather dictated it to his wife, as he lay in pain, slowly dying, and he has put into it the frankness of a dying man. How real, how solid, how deliciously sweet seemed those simple earthly joys, those human appetites of healthy, vigorous men to him! how intense is his passion and spiritual hunger for the beauty of earth! Like a flame shooting up from the log it is consuming, so this passion for the green earth, for the earth in wind and rain and sunshine, consumes the wasted, consumptive body of the dying man. The reality, the solidity of the homely farmhouse life he describes spring from the intensity with which he clings to all he loves, the cold March wind buffeting the face, the mating cries of the birds in the hot spring sunshine. Life is so terribly strong, so deliciously real, so full of man's unsatisfied hungry ache for happiness; and sweet is the craving, bitter the knowledge of the unfulfilment. So, inspiring and vivifying the whole, in every line of "Amaryllis" is Jefferies' philosophy of life. Jefferies "did not understand human nature," say the accomplished critics. Did he not? "Amaryllis at the Fair" is one of the truest criticisms of human life, oh reader, you are likely to meet with. The mixedness of things, the old, old human muddle, the meanness and stupidity and shortsightedness of humanity, the good salty taste of life in the healthy mouth, the spirituality of love, the strong earthy roots of appetite, man's lust of life, with circumstances awry, and the sharp wind blowing alike on the just and the unjust—all is there on the printed page of "Amaryllis at the Fair." The song of the wind and the roar of London unite and mingle therein for those who do not bring the exacting eye of superiority to this most human book.
 Reprinted in part from "The Academy" of April 4th, 1903.
AMARYLLIS AT THE FAIR
AMARYLLIS AT THE FAIR.
AMARYLLIS found the first daffodil flowering by the damask rose, and immediately ran to call her father to come and see it.
There are no damask roses now, like there used to be in summer at Coombe Oaks. I have never seen one since I last gathered one from that very bush. There are many grand roses, but no fragrance—the fragrance is gone out of life. Instinctively as I pass gardens in summer I look under the shade of the trees for the old roses, but they are not to be found. The dreary nurseries of evergreens and laurels—cemeteries they should be called, cemeteries in appearance and cemeteries of taste—are innocent of such roses. They show you an acre of what they call roses growing out of dirty straw, spindly things with a knob on the top, which even dew can hardly sweeten. "No call for damask roses—wouldn't pay to grow they. Single they was, I thinks. No good. These be cut every morning and fetched by the flower-girls for gents' button-holes and ladies' jackets. You won't get no damask roses; they be died out."
I think in despite of the nurseryman, or cemetery-keeper, that with patience I could get a damask rose even now by inquiring about from farmhouse to farmhouse. In time some old farmer, with a good old taste for old roses and pinks, would send me one; I have half a mind to try. But, alas! it is no use, I have nowhere to put it; I rent a house which is built in first-rate modern style, though small, of course, and there is a "garden" to it, but no place to put a damask rose. No place, because it is not "home," and I cannot plant except round "home." The plot or "patch" the landlord calls "the garden"—it is about as wide as the border round a patch, old style—is quite vacant, bare, and contains nothing but mould. It is nothing to me, and I cannot plant it.
Not only are there no damask roses, but there is no place for them now-a-days, no "home," only villas and rented houses. Anything rented in a town can never be "home."
Farms that were practically taken on a hundred and twenty, or fifty, or perhaps two hundred years' leases were "homes." Consequently they had damask roses, bees, and birds about them.
There had been daffodils in that spot at least a century, opening every March to the dry winds that shrivel up the brown dead leaves of winter, and carry them out from the bushes under the trees, sending them across the meadow—fleeing like a routed army before the bayonets of the East. Every spring for a century at least the daffodils had bloomed there.
Amaryllis did not stay to think of the century, but ran round the corner of the house, and came face to face with the east wind, which took her with such force as to momentarily stay her progress. Her skirts were blown out horizontally, her ankles were exposed, and the front line of her shape (beginning to bud like spring) was sketched against the red brick wall. She laughed, but the strong gale filled her throat as if a hand had been thrust down it; the wind got its edge like a knife under her eyelids, between them and the eyeballs, and seemed as if it would scoop them out; her eyes were wet with involuntary tears; her lips dried up and parched in a moment. The wind went through her thick stockings as if the wool was nothing. She lifted her hand to defend her eyes, and the skin of her arm became "goosey" directly. Had she worn hat or bonnet it would have flown. Stooping forwards, she pushed step by step, and gradually reached the shelter of the high garden wall; there she could stand upright, and breathe again.
Her lips, which had been whitened by the keen blast, as if a storm of ice particles had been driven against them, now resumed their scarlet, but her ears were full of dust and reddened, and her curly dark hair was dry and rough and without gloss. Each separate hair separated itself from the next, and would not lie smooth—the natural unctuous essence which usually caused them to adhere was dried up.
The wind had blown thus round that corner every March for a century, and in no degree abated its bitter force because a beautiful human child, full of the happiness of a flower, came carelessly into its power. Nothing ever shows the least consideration for human creatures.
The moss on the ridge of the wall under which she stood to breathe looked shrivelled and thin, the green tint dried out of it. A sparrow with a straw tried hard to reach the eaves of the house to put it in his nest, but the depending straw was caught by the breeze as a sail, and carried him past.
Under the wall was a large patch recently dug, beside the patch a grass path, and on the path a wheelbarrow. A man was busy putting in potatoes; he wore the raggedest coat ever seen on a respectable back. As the wind lifted the tails it was apparent that the lining was loose and only hung by threads, the cuffs were worn through, there was a hole beneath each arm, and on each shoulder the nap of the cloth was gone; the colour, which had once been grey, was now a mixture of several soils and numerous kinds of grit. The hat he had on was no better; it might have been made of some hard pasteboard, it was so bare. Every now and then the wind brought a few handfuls of dust over the wall from the road, and dropped it on his stooping back.
The way in which he was planting potatoes was wonderful, every potato was placed at exactly the right distance apart, and a hole made for it in the general trench; before it was set it was looked at and turned over, and the thumb rubbed against it to be sure that it was sound, and when finally put in, a little mould was delicately adjusted round to keep it in its right position till the whole row was buried. He carried the potatoes in his coat pocket—those, that is, for the row—and took them out one by one; had he been planting his own children he could not have been more careful. The science, the skill, and the experience brought to this potato-planting you would hardly credit; for all this care was founded upon observation, and arose from very large abilities on the part of the planter, though directed to so humble a purpose at that moment.
So soon as Amaryllis had recovered breath, she ran down the grass path and stood by the wheelbarrow, but although her shadow fell across the potato row, he would not see her.
"Pa," she said, not very loud. "Pa," growing bolder. "Do come—there's a daffodil out, the very, very first."
"Oh," a sound like a growl—"oh," from the depth of a vast chest heaving out a doubtful note.
"It is such a beautiful colour!"
"Where is your mother?" looking at her askance and still stooping.
"Indoors—at least—I think—no——"
"Haven't you got no sewing? Can't you help her? What good be you on?"
"But this is such a lovely daffodil, and the very first—now do come!"
"Flowers bean't no use on; such trumpery as that; what do'ee want a-messing about arter thaay? You'll never be no good on; you ain't never got a apron on."
"But—just a minute now."
"Go on in, and be some use on."
Amaryllis' lip fell; she turned and walked slowly away along the path, her head drooping forward.
Did ever anyone have a beautiful idea or feeling without being repulsed?
She had not reached the end of the path, however, when the father began to change his attitude; he stood up, dropped his "dibbler," scraped his foot on his spade, and, grumbling to himself, went after her. She did not see or hear him till he overtook her.
"Please, I'll go and do the sewing," she said.
"Where be this yer flower?" gruffly.
"I'll show you," taking his ragged arm, and brightening up immediately. "Only think, to open in all this wind, and so cold—isn't it beautiful? It's much more beautiful than the flowers that come in the summer."
"Trumpery rubbish—mean to dig 'em all up—would if I had time," muttered the father. "Have 'em carted out and drowed away—do for ashes to drow on the fields. Never no good on to nobody, thaay thengs. You can't eat 'em, can you, like you can potatoes?"
"But it's lovely. Here it is," and Amaryllis stepped on the patch tenderly, and lifted up the drooping face of the flower.
"Ah, yes," said Iden, putting his left hand to his chin, a habit of his when thinking, and suddenly quite altering his pronunciation from that of the country folk and labourers amongst whom he dwelt to the correct accent of education. "Ah, yes; the daffodil was your great-uncle's favourite flower."
"Richard?" asked Amaryllis.
"Richard," repeated Iden. And Amaryllis, noting how handsome her father's intellectual face looked, wandered in her mind from the flower as he talked, and marvelled how he could be so rough sometimes, and why he talked like the labourers, and wore a ragged coat—he who was so full of wisdom in his other moods, and spoke, and thought, and indeed acted as a perfect gentleman.
"Richard's favourite flower," he went on. "He brought the daffodils down from Luckett's; every one in the garden came from there. He was always reading poetry, and writing, and sketching, and yet he was such a capital man of business; no one could understand that. He built the mill, and saved heaps of money; he bought back the old place at Luckett's, which belonged to us before Queen Elizabeth's days; indeed, he very nearly made up the fortunes Nicholas and the rest of them got rid of. He was, indeed, a man. And now it is all going again—faster than he made it. He used to take you on his knee and say you would walk well, because you had a good ankle."
Amaryllis blushed and smoothed her dress with her hands, as if that would lengthen the skirt and hide the ankles which Richard, the great-uncle, had admired when she was a child, being a man, but which her feminine acquaintances told her were heavy.
"Here, put on your hat and scarf; how foolish of you to go out in this wind without them!" said Mrs. Iden, coming out. She thrust them into Amaryllis' unwilling hands, and retired indoors again immediately.
"He was the only one of all the family," continued her father, "who could make money; all the rest could do nothing but spend it. For ten generations he was the only money-maker and saver, and yet he was as free and liberal as possible. Very curious, wasn't it?—only one in ten generations—difficult to understand why none of the others—why——" He paused, thinking.
Amaryllis, too, was silent, thinking—thinking how easily her papa could make money, great heaps of money. She was sure he could if he tried, instead of planting potatoes.
"If only another Richard would rise up like him!" said Iden.
This was a very unreasonable wish, for, having had one genius in the family, and that, too, in the memory of man, they could not expect another. Even vast empires rarely produce more than one great man in all the course of their history. There was but one Caesar in the thousand years of Rome; Greece never had one as a nation, unless we except Themistocles, or unless we accept Alexander, who was a Macedonian; Persia had a Cyrus; there was a Tamerlane somewhere, but few people know anything of the empire he overshadows with his name; France has had two mighty warriors, Charlemagne and Napoleon—unfortunate France! As for ourselves, fortunate islanders! we have never had a great man so immensely great as to overtop the whole, like Charlemagne in his day. Fortunate for us, indeed, that it has been so. But the best example to the point is the case of the immense empire of Russia, which has had one Peter the Great, and one only. Great-uncle Richard was the Peter the Great of his family, whose work had been slowly undone by his successors.
"I wonder whether any of us will ever turn out like Richard," continued Iden. "No one could deny him long; he had a way of persuading and convincing people, and always got his own will in the end. Wonderful man!" he pondered, returning towards his work.
Suddenly the side door opened, and Mrs. Iden just peered out, and cried, "Put your hat and scarf on directly."
Amaryllis put the hat on, and wound the scarf very loosely about her neck. She accompanied her father to the potato patch, hoping that he would go on talking, but he was quickly absorbed in the potatoes. She watched him stooping till his back was an arch; in fact, he had stooped so much that now he could not stand upright, though still in the prime of life; if he stood up and stretched himself, still his back was bowed at the shoulders. He worked so hard—ever since she could remember she had seen him working like this; he was up in the morning while it was yet dark tending the cattle; sometimes he was up all night with them, wind or weather made no difference. Other people stopped indoors if it rained much, but it made no difference to her father, nor did the deep snow or the sharp frosts. Always at work, and he could talk so cleverly, too, and knew everything, and yet they were so short of money. How could this be?
What a fallacy it is that hard work is the making of money; I could show you plenty of men who have worked the whole of their lives as hard as ever could possibly be, and who are still as far off independence as when they began. In fact, that is the rule; the winning of independence is rarely the result of work, else nine out of ten would be well-to-do.
PRESENTLY Amaryllis wandered indoors, and was met in the hall by her mother.
"What has he been talking to you about?" she said, angrily. "Don't listen to him. He will never do any good. Just look at his coat; it's a disgrace, a positive disgrace. Telling you about the old people? What's the use of talking of people who have been dead all this time? Why doesn't he do something himself? Don't listen to his rubbish—wasting his time there with potatoes, it is enough to make one wild! Why doesn't he go in to market and buy and sell cattle, and turn over money in that way? Not he! he'd rather muddle with a few paltry potatoes, as if it mattered an atom how they were stuck in the ground."
Not liking to hear her father abused, Amaryllis went upstairs, and when she was alone lifted her skirt and looked at the ankles which great-uncle Richard had admired. Other girls had told her they were thick, and she was ashamed of them.
Instead of the slender things which seem as if a sudden strain would snap them, and are nothing but mere bone, she had a pair of well-shaped ankles, justly proportioned to what would soon be a fine form; strong, but neither thick, nor coarse, nor heavy, ankles that would carry her many a mile without weariness, that ended good legs with plenty of flesh on them. The stupidity of calling such coarse or heavy! They were really ideal ankles, such as a sculptor would carve. Yet these ill-instructed girls called them coarse! It was not their fault, it was the lack of instruction; as they did not know what was physically perfect, of course they could not recognize it.
Let every girl who has such ankles be proud of them, for they will prove a blessing to her for the whole of her life.
Amaryllis could not get her hair smooth, though she brushed it for some time; it would not lie close, so much had the east wind dried it. She opened a drawer, and took out a little bottle of macassar, and held it in her hand, balancing probabilities. Would her father see it if she used it, or might he, perhaps, fail to notice? She dared not leave the bottle on the dressing-table, for if he had chanced to pass through the room he would certainly have thrown it out of window, so bitter was his antagonism to all oils and perfumes, scents, pomades, and other resources of the hairdresser, which he held defiled the hair and ruined it, to the deception of woman and the disgust of man. Not one drop of scent did Amaryllis dare to sprinkle on her handkerchief, not one drop of oil did she dare put on her beautiful hair unless surreptitiously, and then she could not go near him, for he was certain to detect it and scorch her with withering satire.
Yet, however satirized, feminine faith in perfumes and oils and so forth is like a perennial spring, and never fails.
Such splendid hair as Amaryllis possessed needed no dressing—nothing could possibly improve it, and the chances therefore were that whatever she used would injure—yet in her heart she yearned to rub it with oil.
But the more she considered the more probable it seemed that her father would detect her; she had better wait till he went out for the afternoon somewhere, an event that seldom occurred, for Iden was one of those who preferred working at home to rambling abroad. He was, indeed, too attached to his home work. So she returned the bottle to the drawer, and hid it under some stockings.
Immediately afterwards it was dinner-time. At all meals the rule was that there must be no talking, but at dinner the law was so strict that even to ask for anything, as a piece of bread, or to say so much as "Give me the salt, please," was a deadly sin. There must be absolute silence while the master ate. The least infringement was visited with a severe glance from his keen and brilliant blue eyes—there are no eyes so stern as blue eyes when angry—or else he uttered a deep sigh like a grunt, and sat rigidly upright for a moment. For he usually stooped, and to sit upright showed annoyance. No laws of the Medes and Persians were ever obeyed as was this law of silence in that house.
Anything that disturbed the absolute calm of the dinner hour was worse than sacrilege; anything that threatened to disturb it was watched intently by that repressive eye. No one must come in or go out of the room; if anyone knocked at the door (there are no bells in old country houses) there was a frown immediately, it necessitated someone answering it, and then Mrs. Iden or Amaryllis had to leave the table, to go out and open and shut the sitting-room door as they went, and again as they returned. Amaryllis dreaded a knock at the door, it was so awful to have to stir once they had sat down to dinner, and the servant was certain not to know what reply to give. Sometimes it happened—and this was very terrible—that the master himself had to go, some one wanted him about some hay or a horse and cart, and no one could tell what to do but the master. A dinner broken up in this way was a very serious matter indeed.
That day they had a leg of mutton—a special occasion—a joint to be looked on reverently. Mr. Iden had walked into the town to choose it himself some days previously, and brought it home on foot in a flag basket. The butcher would have sent it, and if not, there were men on the farm who could have fetched it, but it was much too important to be left to a second person. No one could do it right but Mr. Iden himself. There was a good deal of reason in this personal care of the meat, for it is a certain fact that unless you do look after such things yourself, and that persistently, too, you never get it first-rate. For this cause people in grand villas scarcely ever have anything worth eating on their tables. Their household expenses reach thousands yearly, and yet they rarely have anything eatable, and their dinner-tables can never show meat, vegetables, or fruit equal to Mr. Iden's. The meat was dark brown, as mutton should be, for if it is the least bit white it is sure to be poor; the grain was short, and ate like bread and butter, firm, and yet almost crumbling to the touch; it was full of juicy red gravy, and cut pleasantly, the knife went through it nicely; you can tell good meat directly you touch it with the knife. It was cooked to a turn, and had been done at a wood fire on a hearth; no oven taste, no taint of coal gas or carbon; the pure flame of wood had browned it. Such emanations as there may be from burning logs are odorous of the woodland, of the sunshine, of the fields and fresh air; the wood simply gives out as it burns the sweetness it has imbibed through its leaves from the atmosphere which floats above grass and flowers. Essences of this order, if they do penetrate the fibres of the meat, add to its flavour a delicate aroma. Grass-fed meat, cooked at a wood fire, for me.
Wonderful it is that wealthy people can endure to have their meat cooked over coal or in a shut-up iron box, where it kills itself with its own steam, which ought to escape. But then wealthy villa people do do odd things. Les Miserables who have to write like myself must put up with anything and be thankful for permission to exist; but people with mighty incomes from tea, or crockery-ware, or mud, or bricks and mortar—why on earth these happy and favoured mortals do not live like the gods passes understanding.
Parisian people use charcoal: perhaps Paris will convert some of you who will not listen to a farmer.
Mr. Iden had himself grown the potatoes that were placed before him. They were white, floury, without a drop of water in the whole dish of them. They were equal to the finest bread—far, far superior to the bread with which the immense city of London permits itself to be poisoned. (It is not much better, for it destroys the digestion.) This, too, with wheat at thirty shillings the quarter, a price which is in itself one of the most wonderful things of the age. The finest bread ought to be cheap.
"They be forty-folds," said Mr. Iden, helping himself to half a dozen. "Look at the gravy go up into um like tea up a knob of sugar."
The gravy was drawn up among the dry, floury particles of the potatoes as if they had formed capillary tubes.
"Forty-folds," he repeated; "they comes forty to one. It be an amazing theng how thengs do that; forty grows for one. Thaay be an old-fashioned potato; you won't find many of thaay, not true forty-folds. Mine comes true, 'cause I saves um every year a' purpose. Better take more than that (to Amaryllis)—you haven't got but two" (to Mrs. Iden).
What he ate other people at his table must eat, and the largest quantity possible. No one else must speak, hardly to say "Yes" or "No," but the master could talk, talk, talk without end. The only talking that might be done by others was in praise of the edibles on the table by Iden so carefully provided. You might admire the potatoes or the mutton, but you must not talk on any other subject. Nor was it safe even to do that, because if you said, "What capital potatoes!" you were immediately helped to another plateful, and had to finish them, want them or not. If you praised the mutton several thick slices were placed on your plate, and woe to you if you left a particle. It was no use to try and cover over what you could not manage with knife and fork; it was sure to be seen. "What bean't you going to yet (eat) up that there juicy bit, you?"
Amaryllis and Mrs. Iden, warned by previous experience, discreetly refrained from admiring either mutton or potatoes.
"FORTY-FOLDS," went on the master, "be the best keeping potatoes. Thur be so many new sorts now, but they bean't no good; they be very good for gentlefolk as doan't know no better, and poor folk as can't help theirselves. They won't grow everywhere neither; there bean't but one patch in our garden as ull grow 'um well. It's that's big middle patch. Summat different in the soil thur. There's a lot, bless you! to be learned before you can grow a potato, for all it looks such a simple thing. Farty-folds——"
"Farty-folds!" said Mrs. Iden, imitating his provincial pronunciation with extreme disgust in her tone.
"Aw, yes, too," said Iden. "Varty-volds be ould potatoes, and thur bean't none as can beat um."
The more she showed her irritation at his speech or ways, the more he accentuated both language and manner.
"Talking with your mouth full," said Mrs. Iden. It was true, Iden did talk with his mouth full, very full indeed, for he fed heartily. The remark annoyed him; he grunted and spluttered and choked a little—floury things are choky. He got it down by taking a long draught at his quart of strong ale. Splendid ale it was, too, the stuff to induce you to make faces at Goliath. He soon began to talk again.
"Th' ould shepherd fetched me these swede greens; I axed un three days ago; I know'd we was going to have this yer mutton. You got to settle these yer things aforehand."
"Axed," muttered Mrs. Iden.
"Th' pigeons have been at um, they be 'mazing fond of um, so be the larks. These be the best as thur was. They be the best things in the world for the blood. Swede greens be the top of all physic. If you can get fresh swede tops you don't want a doctor within twenty miles. Their's nothing in all the chemists' shops in England equal to swede greens"—helping himself to a large quantity of salt.
"What a lot of salt you do eat!" muttered Mrs. Iden.
"Onely you must have the real swedes—not thuck stuff they sells in towns; greens they was once p'rhaps, but they be tough as leather, and haven't got a drop of sap in um. Swedes is onely to be got about March."
"Pooh! you can get them at Christmas in London," said Mrs. Iden.
"Aw, can 'ee? Call they swede tops? They bean't no good; you might as well eat dried leaves. I tell you these are the young fresh green shoots of spring"—suddenly changing his pronunciation as he became interested in his subject and forgot the shafts of irritation shot at him by his wife. "They are full of sap—fresh sap—the juice which the plant extracts from the earth as the active power of the sun's rays increases. It is this sap which is so good for the blood. Without it the vegetable is no more than a woody fibre. Why the sap should be so powerful I cannot tell you; no one knows, any more than they know how the plant prepares it. This is one of those things which defy analysis—the laboratory is at fault, and can do nothing with it." ("More salt!" muttered Mrs. Iden. "How can you eat such a quantity of salt?") "There is something beyond what the laboratory can lay hands on; something that cannot be weighed, or seen, or estimated, neither by quantity, quality, or by any means. They analyse champagne, for instance; they find so many parts water, so much sugar, so much this, and so much that; but out of the hundred parts there remain ten—I think it is ten—at all events so many parts still to be accounted for. They escape, they are set down as volatile—the laboratory has not even a distinct name for this component; the laboratory knows nothing at all about it, cannot even name it. But this unknown constituent is the real champagne. So it is with the sap. In spring the sap possesses a certain virtue; at other times of the year the leaf is still green, but useless to us."
"I shall have some vinegar," said Mrs. Iden, defiantly, stretching out her hand to the cruet.
Mr. Iden made a wry face, as if the mere mention of vinegar had set his teeth on edge. He looked the other way and ate as fast as he could, to close his eyes to the spectacle of any one spoiling the sappy swede greens with nauseous vinegar. To his system of edible philosophy vinegar was utterly antagonistic—destructive of the sap-principle, altogether wrong, and, in fact, wicked, as destroying good and precious food.
Amaryllis would not have dared to have taken the vinegar herself, but as her mother passed the cruet to her, she, too, fell away, and mixed vinegar with the green vegetables. All women like vinegar.
When the bottle was restored to the cruet-stand Mr. Iden deigned to look round again at the table.
"Ha! you'll cut your thumb!" he shouted to Amaryllis, who was cutting a piece of bread. She put the loaf down with a consciousness of guilt. "Haven't I told you how to cut bread twenty times? Cutting towards your thumb like that! Hold your left hand lower down, so that if the knife slips it will go over. Here, like this. Give it to me."
He cut a slice to show her, and then tossed the slice across the table so accurately that it fell exactly into its proper place by her plate. He had a habit of tossing things in that way.
"Why ever couldn't you pass it on the tray?" said Mrs. Iden. "Flinging in that manner! I hate to see it."
Amaryllis, as in duty bound, in appearance took the lesson in bread-cutting to heart, as she had done twenty times before. But she knew she should still cut a loaf in the same dangerous style when out of his sight. She could not do it in the safe way—it was so much easier in the other; and if she did cut her hand she did not greatly care.
"Now perhaps you'll remember," said the master, getting up with his plate in his hand.
"Whatever are you going to do now?" asked Mrs. Iden, who knew perfectly well.
"Going to warm the plate." He went out into the kitchen, sat down by the fire, and carefully warmed his plate for a second helping.
"I should think you couldn't want any more," said Mrs. Iden when he came back. "You had enough the first time for three."
But Iden, who had the appetite of a giant, and had never ruined his digestion with vinegar or sauces, piled another series of thick slices on his plate, now hot to liquefy the gravy, and added to the meat a just proportion of vegetables. In proportion and a just mixture the secret of eating successfully consisted, according to him.
First he ate a piece of the dark brown mutton, this was immediately followed by a portion of floury potato, next by a portion of swede tops, and then, lest a too savoury taste should remain in the mouth, he took a fragment of bread, as it were to sweeten and cleanse his teeth. Finally came a draught of strong ale, and after a brief moment the same ingredients were mixed in the same order as before. His dinner was thus eaten in a certain order, and with a kind of rhythm, duly exciting each particular flavour like a rhyme in its proper position, and duly putting it out with its correct successor. Always the savour of meat and gravy and vegetables had to be toned down by the ultimate bread, a vast piece of which he kept beside him. He was a great bread eater—it was always bread after everything, and if there were two courses then bread between to prepare the palate, and to prevent the sweets from quarrelling with the acids. Organization was the chief characteristic of his mind—his very dinner was organized and well planned, and any break or disturbance was not so much an annoyance in itself as destructive of a clever design, like a stick thrust through the web of a geometrical spider.
This order of mouthfuls had been explained over and over again to the family, and if they felt that he was in a more than usually terrible mood, and if they felt his gaze upon them, the family to some extent submitted. Neither Mrs. Iden nor Amaryllis, however, could ever educate their palates into this fixed sequence of feeding; and, if Iden was not in a very awful and Jovelike mood, they wandered about irregularly in their eating. When the dinner was over (and, indeed, before it began) they had a way of visiting the larder, and "picking" little fragments of pies, or cold fowl, even a cold potato, the smallest mug—a quarter of a pint of the Goliath ale between them, or, if it was to be had, a sip of port wine. These women were very irrational in their feeding; they actually put vinegar on cold cabbage; they gloated over a fragment of pickled salmon about eleven o'clock in the morning. They had a herring sometimes for tea—the smell of it cooking sent the master into fits of indignation, he abominated it so, but they were so hardened and lost to righteousness they always repeated the offence next time the itinerant fish-dealer called. You could not drum them into good solid, straightforward eating.
They generally had a smuggled bit of pastry to eat in the kitchen after dinner, for Mr. Iden considered that no one could need a second course after first-rate mutton and forty-folds. A morsel of cheese if you liked—nothing more. In summer the great garden abounded with fruit; he would have nothing but rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb, day after day, or else black-currant pudding. He held that black currants were the most wholesome fruit that grew; if he fancied his hands were not quite clean he would rub them with black-currant leaves to give them a pleasant aromatic odour (as ladies use scented soap). He rubbed them with walnut-leaves for the same purpose.
Of salad in its season he was a great eater, cucumber especially, and lettuce and celery; but a mixed salad (oil and a flash, as it were, of Worcester sauce) was a horror to him. A principle ran through all his eating—an idea, a plan and design.
I assure you it is a very important matter this eating, a man's fortune depends on his dinner. I should have been as rich as Croesus if I could only have eaten what I liked all my time; I am sure I should, now I come to look back.
The soundest and most wholesome food in the world was set on Mr. Iden's table; you may differ from his system, but you would have enjoyed the dark brown mutton, the floury potatoes, the fresh vegetables and fruit and salad, and the Goliath ale.
When he had at last finished his meal he took his knife and carefully scraped his crumbs together, drawing the edge along the cloth, first one way and then the other, till he had a little heap; for, eating so much bread, he made many crumbs. Having got them together, he proceeded to shovel them into his mouth with the end of his knife, so that not one was wasted. Sometimes he sprinkled a little moist sugar over them with his finger and thumb. He then cut himself a slice of bread and cheese, and sat down with it in his arm-chair by the fire, spreading his large red-and-yellow silk handkerchief on his knee to catch the fragments in lieu of a plate.
"Why can't you eat your cheese at the table, like other people?" said Mrs. Iden, shuffling her feet with contemptuous annoyance. A deep grunt in the throat was the answer she received; at the same time he turned his arm-chair more towards the fire, as much as to say, "Other people are nothing to me."
THIS arm-chair, of old-fashioned make, had lost an arm—the screw remained sticking up, but the woodwork on that side was gone. It had been accidentally broken some ten years since; yet, although he used the chair every day, the arm had never been mended. Awkward as it was, he let it alone.
"Hum! where's The Standard, then?" he said presently, as he nibbled his cheese and sipped the ale which he had placed on the hob.
"Here it is, Pa," said Amaryllis, hastening with the paper.
"Thought you despised the papers?" said Mrs. Iden. "Thought there was nothing but lies and rubbish in them, according to you?"
"No more thur bean't."
"You always take good care to read them, though."
"Hum!" Another deep grunt, and another slight turn of the chair. He could not answer this charge of inconsistency, for it was a fact that he affected to despise the newspaper and yet read it with avidity, and would almost as soon have missed his ale as his news.
However, to settle with his conscience, he had a manner of holding the paper half aslant a good way from him, and every now and then as he read uttered a dissentient or disgusted grunt.
The master's taking up his paper was a signal for all other persons to leave the room, and not to return till he had finished his news and his nap.
Mrs. Iden and Amaryllis, as they went out, each took as many of the dishes as they could carry, for it was uncertain when they could come in again to clear the table. The cloth must not be moved, the door opened, or the slightest sound heard till the siesta was over.
"Can't clear the dinner things till four o'clock," said Mrs. Iden as she went, "and then you want your tea—senseless!" Amaryllis shut the door, and the master was left to himself.
By-and-by, his cheese being finished, he dropped his newspaper, and arranged himself for slumber. His left elbow he carefully fitted to the remnant of the broken woodwork of the chair. The silk handkerchief, red and yellow, he gathered into a loose pad in his left hand for his cheek and temple to rest on. His face was thus supported by his hand and arm, while the side of his head touched and rested against the wainscot of the wall.
Just where his head touched it the wainscot had been worn away by the daily pressure, leaving a round spot. The wood was there exposed—a round spot, an inch or two in diameter, being completely bare of varnish. So many nods—the attrition of thirty years and more of nodding—had gradually ground away the coat with which the painter had originally covered the wood. It even looked a little hollow—a little depressed—as if his head had scooped out a shallow crater; but this was probably an illusion, the eye being deceived by the difference in colour between the wood and the varnish around it.
This human mark reminded one of the grooves worn by the knees of generations of worshippers in the sacred steps of the temple which they ascended on all-fours. It was, indeed, a mark of devotion, as Mrs. Iden and others, not very keen observers, would have said, to the god of Sleep; in truth, it was a singular instance of continued devotion at the throne of the god of Thought.
It was to think that Mr. Iden in the commencement assumed this posture of slumber, and commanded silence. But thought which has been cultivated for a third of a century is apt to tone down to something very near somnolence.
That panel of wainscot was, in fact, as worthy of preservation as those on which the early artists delineated the Madonna and Infant, and for which high prices are now paid. It was intensely—superlatively—human. Worn in slow time by a human head within which a great mind was working under the most unhappy conditions, it had the deep value attaching to inanimate things which have witnessed intolerable suffering.
I am not a Roman Catholic, but I must confess that if I could be assured any particular piece of wood had really formed a part of the Cross I should think it the most valuable thing in the world, to which Koh-i-noors would be mud.
I am a pagan, and think the heart and soul above crowns.
That panel was in effect a cross on which a heart had been tortured for the third of a century, that is, for the space of time allotted to a generation.
That mark upon the panel had still a further meaning, it represented the unhappiness, the misfortunes, the Nemesis of two hundred years. This family of Idens had endured already two hundred years of unhappiness and discordance for no original fault of theirs, simply because they had once been fortunate of old time, and therefore they had to work out that hour of sunshine to the utmost depths of shadow.
The panel of the wainscot upon which that mark had been worn was in effect a cross upon which a human heart had been tortured—and thought can, indeed, torture—for a third of a century. For Iden had learned to know himself, and despaired.
Not long after he had settled himself and closed his eyes the handle of the door was very softly turned, and Amaryllis stole in for her book, which she had forgotten. She succeeded in getting it on tiptoe without a sound, but in shutting the door the lock clicked, and she heard him kick the fender angrily with his iron-shod heel.
After that there was utter silence, except the ticking of the American clock—a loud and distinct tick in the still (and in that sense vacant) room.
Presently a shadow somewhat darkened the window, a noiseless shadow; Mrs. Iden had come quietly round the house, and stood in the March wind, watching the sleeping man. She had a shawl about her shoulders—she put out her clenched hand from under its folds, and shook her fist at him, muttering to herself, "Never do anything; nothing but sleep, sleep, sleep: talk, talk, talk; never do anything. That's what I hate."
The noiseless shadow disappeared; the common American clock continued its loud tick, tick.
Slight sounds, faint rustlings, began to be audible among the cinders in the fender. The dry cinders were pushed about by something passing between them. After a while a brown mouse peered out at the end of the fender under Iden's chair, looked round a moment, and went back to the grate. In a minute he came again, and ventured somewhat farther across the width of the white hearthstone to the verge of the carpet. This advance was made step by step, but on reaching the carpet the mouse rushed home to cover in one run—like children at "touch wood," going out from a place of safety very cautiously, returning swiftly. The next time another mouse followed, and a third appeared at the other end of the fender. By degrees they got under the table, and helped themselves to the crumbs; one mounted a chair and reached the cloth, but soon descended, afraid to stay there. Five or six mice were now busy at their dinner.
The sleeping man was as still and quiet as if carved.
A mouse came to the foot, clad in a great rusty-hued iron-shod boot—the foot that rested on the fender, for he had crossed his knees. His ragged and dingy trouser, full of March dust, and earth-stained by labour, was drawn up somewhat higher than the boot. It took the mouse several trials to reach the trouser, but he succeeded, and audaciously mounted to Iden's knee. Another quickly followed, and there the pair of them feasted on the crumbs of bread and cheese caught in the folds of his trousers.
One great brown hand was in his pocket, close to them—a mighty hand, beside which they were pigmies indeed in the land of the giants. What would have been the value of their lives between a finger and thumb that could crack a ripe and strong-shelled walnut?
The size—the mass—the weight of his hand alone was as a hill overshadowing them; his broad frame like the Alps; his head high above as a vast rock that overhung the valley.
His thumb-nail—widened by labour with spade and axe—his thumb-nail would have covered either of the tiny creatures as his shield covered Ajax.
Yet the little things fed in perfect confidence. He was so still, so very still—quiescent—they feared him no more than they did the wall; they could not hear his breathing.
Had they been gifted with human intelligence that very fact would have excited their suspicions. Why so very, very still? Strong men, wearied by work, do not sleep quietly; they breathe heavily. Even in firm sleep we move a little now and then, a limb trembles, a muscle quivers, or stretches itself.
But Iden was so still it was evident he was really wide awake and restraining his breath, and exercising conscious command over his muscles, that this scene might proceed undisturbed.
Now the strangeness of the thing was in this way: Iden set traps for mice in the cellar and the larder, and slew them there without mercy. He picked up the trap, swung it round, opening the door at the same instant, and the wretched captive was dashed to death upon the stone flags of the floor. So he hated them and persecuted them in one place, and fed them in another.
A long psychological discussion might be held on this apparent inconsistency, but I shall leave analysis to those who like it, and go on recording facts. I will only make one remark. That nothing is consistent that is human. If it was not inconsistent it would have no association with a living person.
From the merest thin slit, as it were, between his eyelids, Iden watched the mice feed and run about his knees till, having eaten every crumb, they descended his leg to the floor.
HE was not asleep—he was thinking. Sometimes, of course, it happened that slumber was induced by the position in which he placed himself; slumber, however, was not his intent. He liked to rest after his midday meal and think. There was no real loss of time in it—he had been at work since half-past five.
His especial and striking characteristic was a very large, high, and noble forehead—the forehead attributed to Shakespeare and seen in his busts. Shakespeare's intellect is beyond inquiry, yet he was not altogether a man of action. He was, indeed, an actor upon the stage; once he stole the red deer (delightful to think of that!), but he did not sail to the then new discovered lands of America, nor did he fight the Spaniards. So much intellect is, perhaps, antagonistic to action, or rather it is averse to those arts by which a soldier climbs to the position of commander. If Shakespeare by the chance of birth, or other accident, had had the order of England's forces, we should have seen generalship such as the world had not known since Caesar.
His intellect was too big to climb backstairs till opportunity came. We have great thoughts instead of battles.
Iden's forehead might have been sculptured for Shakespeare's. There was too much thought in it for the circumstances of his life. It is possible to think till you cannot act.
After the mice descended Iden did sleep for a few minutes. When he awoke he looked at the clock in a guilty way, and then opening the oven of the grate, took out a baked apple. He had one there ready for him almost always—always, that is, when they were not ripe on the trees.
A baked apple, he said, was the most wholesome thing in the world; it corrected the stomach, prevented acidity, improved digestion, and gave tone to all the food that had been eaten previously. If people would only eat baked apples they would not need to be for ever going to the chemists' shops for drugs and salines to put them right. The women were always at the chemists' shops—you could never pass the chemists' shops in the town without seeing two or three women buying something.
The apple was the apple of fruit, the natural medicine of man—and the best flavoured. It was compounded of the sweetest extracts and essences of air and light, put together of sunshine and wind and shower in such a way that no laboratory could imitate: and so on in a strain and with a simplicity of language that reminded you of Bacon and his philosophy of the Elizabethan age.
Iden in a way certainly had a tinge of the Baconian culture, naturally, and not from any study of that author, whose books he had never seen. The great Bacon was, in fact, a man of orchard and garden, and gathered his ideas from the fields.
Just look at an apple on the tree, said Iden. Look at a Blenheim orange, the inimitable mixture of colour, the gold and bronze, and ruddy tints, not bright colours—undertones of bright colours—smoothed together and polished, and made the more delightful by occasional roughness in the rind. Or look at the brilliant King Pippin. Now he was getting older he found, however, that the finest of them all was the russet. For eating, at its proper season, it was good, but for cooking it was simply the Imperial Caesar and Sultan of apples; whether for baking, or pies, or sauce, there was none to equal it. Apple-sauce made of the real true russet was a sauce for Jove's own table. It was necessary that it should be the real russet. Indeed in apple trees you had to be as careful of breeding and pedigree as the owners of racing stables were about their horses.
Ripe apples could not be got all the year round in any variety; besides which, in winter and cold weather the crudity of the stomach needed to be assisted with a little warmth; therefore bake them.
People did not eat nearly enough fruit now-a-days; they had too much butcher's meat, and not enough fruit—that is, home-grown fruit, straight from orchard or garden, not the half-sour stuff sold in the shops, picked before it was ready.
The Americans were much wiser (he knew a good deal about America—he had been there in his early days, before thought superseded action)—the Americans had kept up many of the fine old English customs of two or three hundred years since, and among these was the eating of fruit. They were accused of being so modern, so very, very modern, but, in fact, the country Americans, with whom he had lived (and who had taught him how to chop) maintained much of the genuine antique life of old England.
They had first-rate apples, yet it was curious that the same trees produced an apple having a slightly different flavour to what it had in this country. You could always distinguish an American apple by its peculiar piquancy—a sub-acid piquancy, a wild strawberry piquancy, a sort of woodland, forest, backwoods delicacy of its own. And so on, and so on—"talk, talk, talk," as Mrs. Iden said.
After his baked apple he took another guilty look at the clock, it was close on four, and went into the passage to get his hat. In farmhouses these places are called passages; in the smallest of villas, wretched little villas not fit to be called houses, they are always "halls."
In the passage Mrs. Iden was waiting for him, and began to thump his broad though bowed back with all her might.
"Sleep, sleep, sleep!" she cried, giving him a thump at each word. "You've slept two hours. (Thump.) You sleep till you stupefy yourself (thump), and then you go and dig. What's the use of digging? (Thump.) Why don't you make some money? (Thump.) Talk and sleep! (Thump.) I hate it. (Thump.) You've rubbed the paint off the wainscot with your sleep, sleep, sleep (thump)—there's one of your hairs sticking to the paint where your head goes. (Thump.) Anything more hateful—sleep (thump), talk (thump), sleep (thump). Go on!"
She had thumped him down the passage, and across the covered-in court to the door opening on the garden. There he paused to put on his hat—an aged, battered hat—some sort of nondescript bowler, broken, grey, weather-stained, very battered and very aged—a pitiful hat to put above that broad, Shakespearian forehead. While he fitted it on he was thumped severely: when he opened the door he paused, and involuntarily looked up at the sky to see about the weather—a habit all country people have—and so got more thumping, ending as he started out with a tremendous push. He did not seem to resent the knocks, nor did the push accelerate his pace; he took it very much as he took the March wind.
Mrs. Iden slammed the door, and went in to clear the dinner things, and make ready for tea. Amaryllis helped her.
"He'll want his tea in half an hour," said Mrs. Iden. "What's the use of his going out to work for half an hour?"
Amaryllis was silent. She was very fond of her father; he never did anything wrong in her eyes, and she could have pointed out that when he sat down to dinner at one he had already worked as many hours as Mrs. Iden's model City gentleman in a whole day. His dinner at one was, in effect, equivalent to their dinner at seven or eight, over which they frequently lingered an hour or two. He would still go on labouring, almost another half day. But she held her peace, for, on the other hand, she could not contradict and argue with her mother, whom she knew had had a wearisome life and perpetual disappointments.
Mrs. Iden grumbled on to herself, working herself into a more fiery passion, till at last she put down the tea-pot, and rushed into the garden. There as she came round the first thing she saw was the daffodil, the beautiful daffodil Amaryllis had discovered. Beside herself with indignation—what was the use of flowers or potatoes?—Mrs. Iden stepped on the border and trampled the flower under foot till it was shapeless. After this she rushed indoors again and upstairs to her bedroom, where she locked herself in, and fumbled about in the old black oak chest of drawers till she found a faded lavender glove.
That glove had been worn at the old "Ship" at Brighton years and years ago in the honeymoon trip: in those days bridal parties went down by coach. Faded with years, it had also faded from the tears that had fallen upon it. She turned it over in her hands, and her tears spotted it once more.
Amaryllis went on with the tea-making; for her mother to rush away in that manner was nothing new. She toasted her father a piece of toast—he affected to despise toast, but he always ate it if it was there, and looked about for it if it was not, though he never said anything. The clock struck five, and out she went to tell him tea was ready. Coming round the house she found her daffodil crushed to pieces.
"Oh!" The blood rushed to her forehead; then her beautiful lips pouted and quivered; tears filled her eyes, and her breast panted. She knew immediately who had done it; she ran to her bedroom to cry and to hide her grief and indignation.
LADY-DAY Fair came round by and by, and Amaryllis, about eleven o'clock in the morning, went down the garden to the end of the orchard, where she could overlook the highway without being seen, and watch the folk go past. Just there the road began to descend into a hollow, while the garden continued level, so that Amaryllis, leaning her arm on the top of the wall, was much higher up than those who went along. The wall dropped quite fourteen feet down to the road, a rare red brick wall—thick and closely-built, the bricks close together with thin seams of mortar, so that the fibres of the whole mass were worked and compressed and bound firm, like the fibres of a piece of iron. The deep red bricks had a colour—a certain richness of stability—and at the top this good piece of workmanship was protected from the weather by a kind of cap, and ornamented with a projecting ridge. Within the wall Amaryllis could stand on a slight bank, and easily look over it. Without there was a sheer red precipice of fourteen feet down to the dusty sward and nettles beside the road.
Some bare branches of a plum tree trained against the wall rose thin and tapering above it in a bunch, a sign of bad gardening, for they ought to have been pruned, and the tree, indeed, had an appearance of neglect. One heavy bough had broken away from the nails and list, and drooped to the ground, and the shoots of last year, not having been trimmed, thrust themselves forward presumptuously.
Behind the bunch of thin and tapering branches rising above the wall Amaryllis was partly hidden, but she relied a great deal more for concealment upon a fact Iden had taught her, that people very seldom look up; and consequently if you are only a little higher they will not see you. This she proved that morning, for not one of all who passed glanced up from the road. The shepherd kept his eye fixed on his sheep, and the drover on his bullocks; the boys were in a hurry to get to the fair and spend their pennies; the wenches had on a bit of blue ribbon or a new bonnet, and were perpetually looking at the traps that overtook them to see if the men admired their finery. No one looked up from the road they were pursuing.
The photographer fixes the head of the sitter by a sort of stand at the back, which holds it steady in one position while the camera takes the picture. In life most people have their heads fixed in the claws of some miserable pettiness, which interests them so greatly that they tramp on steadily forward, staring ahead, and there's not the slightest fear of their seeing anything outside the rut they are travelling.
Amaryllis did not care anything about the fair or the people either, knowing very well what sort they would be; but I suspect, if it had been possible to have got at the cause which brought her there, it would have been traced to the unconscious influence of sex, a perfectly innocent prompting, quite unrecognised by the person who feels it, and who would indignantly deny it if rallied on the subject, but which leads girls of her age to seize opportunities of observing the men, even if of an uninteresting order. Still they are men, those curious beings, that unknown race, and little bits of knowledge about them may, perhaps, be picked up by a diligent observer.
The men who drifted along the road towards the Fair were no "mashers, by Jove!" Some of them, though young, were clad antiquely enough in breeches and gaiters—not sportsmen's breeches and gaiters, but old-fashioned "granfer" things; the most of them were stout and sturdy, in drab and brown suits of good cloth, cut awry. Hundreds of them on foot, in traps, gigs, fourwheels, and on horseback, went under Amaryllis: but, though they were all Christians, there was not one "worth a Jewess' eye."
She scorned them all.
This member of the unknown race was too thickly made, short set, and squat; this one too fair—quite white and moist-sugar looking; this one had a straight leg.
Another went by with a great thick and long black beard—what a horrid thing, now, when kissing!—and as he walked he wiped it with his sleeve, for he had just washed down the dust with a glass of ale. His neck, too, was red and thick; hideous, yet he was a "stout knave," and a man all over, as far as body makes a man.
But women are, like Shakespeare, better judges. "Care I for the thews and sinews of a man?" They look for something more than bulk.
A good many of these fellows were more or less lame, for it is astonishing if you watch people go by and keep account of them what a number have game legs, both young and old.
A young buck on a capital horse was at the first glance more interesting—paler, rakish, a cigar in his mouth, an air of viciousness and dash combined, fairly well dressed, pale whiskers and beard; in short, he knew as much of the billiard-table as he did of sheep and corn. When nearer Amaryllis disliked him more than all the rest put together; she shrank back a little from the wall lest he should chance to look up; she would have feared to have been alone with such a character, and yet she could not have said why. She would not have feared to walk side by side with the great black beard—hideous as he was—nor with any of the rest, not even with the roughest of the labourers who tramped along. This gentleman alone alarmed her.
There were two wenches, out for their Fair Day holiday, coming by at the same time; they had on their best dresses and hats, and looked fresh and nice. They turned round to watch him coming, and half waited for him; when he came up he checked his horse, and began to "cheek" them. Nothing loth, the village girls "cheeked" him, and so they passed on.
One or two very long men appeared, unusually clumsy, even in walking they did not know exactly what to do with their legs. Amaryllis had no objection to their being tall—indeed, to be tall is often a passport to a "Jewess' eye"—but they were so clumsy.
Of the scores who went by in traps and vehicles she could not see much but their clothes and their faces, and both the clothes and the faces were very much alike. Rough, good cloth, ill-fitting (the shoulders were too broad for the tailor, who wanted to force Bond Street measurements on the British farmer's back); reddish, speckled faces, and yellowish hair and whiskers; big speckled hands, and that was all. Scores of men, precisely similar, were driven down the road. If those broad speckled hands had been shown to Jacob's ewes he need not have peeled rods to make them bring forth speckled lambs.
Against the stile a long way up the road there was a group of five or six men, who were there when she first peered over the wall, and made no further progress to the Fair. They were waiting till some acquaintance came by and offered a lift; lazy dogs, they could not walk. They had already been there long enough to have walked to the Fair and back, still they preferred to fold their hands and cross their legs, and stay on. So many people being anxious to get to the town, most of those who drove had picked up friends long before they got here.
The worst walker of all was a constable, whose huge boots seemed to take possession of the width of the road, for he turned them out at right angles, working his legs sideways to do it, an extraordinary exhibition of stupidity and ugliness, for which the authorities who drilled him in that way were responsible, and not the poor fellow.
Among the lowing cattle and the baaing sheep there drifted by a variety of human animals, tramps and vagrants, not nearly of so much value as the wool and beef.
It is curious that these "characters"—as they are so kindly called—have a way of associating themselves with things that promise vast enjoyment to others. The number of unhappy, shirtless wretches who thread their path in and out the coaches at the Derby is wonderful. While the champagne fizzes above on the roof, and the footman between the shafts sits on an upturned hamper and helps himself out of another to pie with truffles, the hungry, lean kine of human life wander round about sniffing and smelling, like Adam and Eve after the fall at the edge of Paradise.
There are such incredible swarms of vagrants at the Derby that you might think the race was got up entirely for their sakes. There would be thousands at Sandown, but the gate is locked with a half-crown bolt, and they cannot get a stare at the fashionables on the lawn. For all that, the true tramp, male or female, is so inveterate an attendant at races and all kinds of accessible entertainments and public events that the features of the fashionable are better known to him than to hundreds of well-to-do people unable to enter society.
So they paddled along to the fair, slip-slop, in the dust, among the cattle and sheep, hands in pockets, head hanging down, most of them followed at a short distance by a Thing.
This Thing is upright, and therefore, according to the old definition, ought to come within the genus Homo. It wears garments rudely resembling those of a woman, and there it ends. Perhaps it was a woman once; perhaps it never was, for many of them have never had a chance to enter the ranks of their own sex.
Amaryllis was too young, and, as a consequence, too full of her own strength and youth and joy in life to think for long or seriously about these curious Things drifting by like cattle and sheep. Yet her brow contracted, and she drew herself together as they passed—a sort of shiver, to think that there should be such degradation in the world. Twice when they came along her side of the road she dropped pennies in front of them, which they picked up in a listless way, just glancing over the ear in the direction the money fell, and went on without so much as recognizing where it came from.
If sheep were treated as unfortunate human beings are, they would take a bitter revenge; though they are the mildest of creatures, they would soon turn round in a venomous manner. If they did not receive sufficient to eat and drink, and were not well sheltered, they would take a bitter revenge: they would die. Loss of L s. d.!
But human beings have not even got the courage or energy to do that; they put up with anything, and drag on—miserables that they are.
I said they were not equal in value to the sheep—why, they're not worth anything when they're dead. You cannot even sell the skins of the Things!
Slip-slop in the dust they drive along to the fair, where there will be an immense amount of eating and a far larger amount of drinking all round them, in every house they pass, and up to midnight. They will see valuable animals, and men with well-lined pockets. What on earth can a tramp find to please him among all this? It is not for him; yet he goes to see it.
THE crowd began to pass more thickly, when Amaryllis saw a man coming up the road in the opposite direction to that in which the multitude was moving. They were going to the fair; he had his back to it, and a party in a trap rallied him smartly for his folly.
"What! bean't you a-going to fair? Why, Measter Duck, what's up? Looking for a thunderstorm?"—which young ducks are supposed to enjoy. "Ha! ha! ha!"
Measter Duck, with a broad grin on his face, nevertheless plodded up the hill, and passed beneath Amaryllis.
She knew him very well, for he lived in the hamlet, but she would not have taken any notice of him had he not been so elaborately dressed. His high silk hat shone glossy; his black broadcloth coat was new and carefully brushed; he was in black all over, in contrast with the mass of people who had gone by that morning. A blue necktie, bright and clean, spotless linen, gloves rolled up in a ball in one hand, whiskers brushed, boots shining, teeth clean, Johnny was off to the fair!
The coat fitted him to a nicety; it had, in fact, no chance to do otherwise, for his great back and shoulders stretched it tight, and would have done so had it been made like a sack. Of all the big men who had gone by that day Jack Duck was the biggest; his back was immense, and straight, too, for he walked upright for a farmer, nor was his bulk altogether without effect, for he was not over-burdened with abdomen, so that it showed to the best advantage. He was a little over the average height, but not tall; he had grown laterally.
He could lift two sacks of wheat from the ground. You just try to lift one.
His sleeves were too long, so that only the great knuckles of his speckled hands were visible. Red whiskers, red hair, blue eyes, speckled face, straight lips, thick, like the edge of an earthenware pitcher, and of much the same coarse red hue, always a ready grin, a round, hard head, which you might have hit safely with a mallet; and there is the picture.
For some reason, very big men do not look well in glossy black coats and silk hats; they seem to want wideawakes, bowlers, caps, anything rather than a Paris hat, and some loose-cut jacket of a free-and-easy colour, suitable for the field, or cricket, or boating. They do not belong to the town and narrow doorways; Nature grew them for hills and fields.
Compared with the Continental folk, most Englishmen are big, and therefore, as their "best" suits do not fit in with their character as written in limbs and shoulders, the Continent thinks us clumsy. The truth is, it is the Continent that is little.
"Isn't he ugly?" thought Amaryllis, looking down on poor John Duck. "Isn't he ugly?" Now the top of the wall was crusted with moss, which has a way of growing into bricks and mortar, and attaching particles of brick to its roots. As she watched the people she unconsciously trifled with a little piece of moss—her hand happened at the moment to project over the wall, and as John Duck went under she dropped the bit of moss straight on his glossy hat. Tap! the fragment of brick adhering to the moss struck the hollow hat smartly like a drum.
She drew back quickly, laughing and blushing, and angry with herself all at the same time, for she had done it without a thought.
Jack pulled off his hat, saw nothing, and put it on again, suspecting that some one in a passing gig had "chucked" something at him.
In a minute Amaryllis peeped over the wall, and, seeing his broad back a long way up the road, resumed her stand.
"How ever could I do such a stupid thing?" she thought. "But isn't he ugly? Aren't they all ugly? All of them—horridly ugly."
The entire unknown race of Man was hideous. So coarse in feature—their noses were thick, half an inch thick, or enormously long and knobbed at the end like a walking-stick, or curved like a reaping-hook, or slewed to one side, or flat as if they had been smashed, or short and stumpy and incomplete, or spotted with red blotches, or turned up in the vulgarest manner—nobody had a good nose.
Their eyes were goggles, round and staring—like liquid marbles—they had no eyelashes, and their eyebrows were either white and invisible, or shaggy, as if thistles grew along their foreheads.