By George A. Birmingham
Copyright, 1911 By George H. Doran Company
I had, I suppose, some reason for calling on Canon Beresford, but I have totally forgotten what it was. In all probability my mother sent me to discuss some matter connected with the management of the parish or the maintenance of the fabric of the church. I was then, and still am, a church warden. The office is hereditary in my family. My son—Miss Pettigrew recommended my having several sons—will hold it when I am gone. My mother has always kept me up to the mark in the performance of my duties. Without her at my elbow I should, I am afraid, be inclined to neglect them. I am bored, not interested as a churchwarden should be, when the wall of the graveyard crumbles unexpectedly. I fail to find either pleasure or excitement in appointing a new sexton. Canon Beresford, our rector, is no more enthusiastic about such things than I am. He and I are very good friends, but when he suspects me of paying him a business visit he goes out to fish. There are, I believe, trout in the stream which flows at the bottom of the glebe land, but I never heard of Canon Beresford catching any of them.
It must have been business of some sort which took me to the rectory that afternoon, for Canon Beresford had gone out with his rod. Miss Battersby told me this and added, as a justification of her own agreeable solitude, that Lalage was with her father. Miss Battersby is Lalage's governess, and she would not consider it right to spend the afternoon over a novel unless she felt sure that her pupil was being properly looked after. In this case she was misinformed. Lalage was not with her father. She was perched on one of the highest branches of a horse-chestnut tree. I heard her before I saw her, for the chestnut tree was in full leaf and Lalage had to hail me three or four times before I discovered where she was. I always liked Lalage, and even in those days she had a friendly feeling for me. I doubt, however, whether a simple desire for my conversation would have brought her down from her nest. I might have passed without being hailed if it had not happened that I was riding a new bicycle. In those days bicycles were still rare in the west of Ireland. Mine was a new toy and Lalage had never seen it before. She climbed from her tree top with remarkable agility and swung herself from the lowest branch with such skill and activity that she alighted on her feet close beside the bicycle. She was at that time a little more than fourteen years of age. She asked at once to be allowed to ride the bicycle. I was a young man then, active and vigorous; but I was hot, breathless, and exhausted before Lalage had enough of learning to ride. I doubt whether she would have given in even after an hour's hard work if we had not met with a serious accident. We charged into a strong laurel bush. Lalage's frock was torn. The rent was a long one, extending diagonally from the waistband to the bottom hem. I knew, even while I offered one from the back of my tie, that a pin would be no use.
"Cattersby," said Lalage, "will be mad—raging mad. She's always at me because things will tear my clothes. Horrid nuisance clothes are, aren't they? But Cattersby doesn't think so of course. She likes them."
The lady's name is Battersby, not Cattersby. She held the position of governess to Lalage for more than a year and is therefore entitled to respect. Her predecessor, a Miss Thomas, resigned after six weeks. It was my mother who recommended Miss Battersby to Canon Beresford. I felt that I ought to protest against Lalage's irreverent way of speaking. In mere loyalty to my mother, apart altogether from the respect which, as a landed proprietor, I naturally entertain for all forms of law and order, I was absolutely bound to say something.
"You should speak of her as Miss Battersby," I said firmly.
"I call her Cattersby," said Lalage, "because that is her nature."
I said that I understood what this marker meant; but Lalage, who even then had a remarkable faculty for getting at the naked truth of things, did not even pretend to believe me.
"Come along," she said, "and I'll show you why."
I followed her meekly, leading my bicycle, which, like Lalage's frock, had suffered in its contest with the laurel. We passed through the stable yard and I stopped to put my bicycle into the coach house. An Irish terrier, Lalage's property, barked at me furiously, thinking, I suppose, that I intended to steal Canon Beresford's cart. Lalage chose to regard this as a ridiculous affectation on the part of the dog and shut him up in the stable as a punishment for folly. Then we climbed a stile, paddled round a large manure heap, crossed an ash pit, and came at last to a pigsty. There were no pigs in it, and it was, for a pigsty, very clean. Lalage opened the gate and we entered the small enclosure in which the pigs, if there had been pigs, would have taken food and exercise.
"You'll have to stoop down now and crawl," said Lalage. "You needn't be afraid. The pigs were sold last week."
I realized that I was being invited to enter the actual home, the private sleeping room, of the departed swine. The door of it had been newly painted. While I knelt in front of it I read a notice which stretched across it in large white letters, done, apparently, with chalk:
The Office of the Anti-cat Editor: Miss Lalage Beresford, B. A. Sub-Editor: Ditto. Ditto.
Underneath this inscription was a carefully executed drawing of a spear with a large, a disproportionately large, and vicious looking barb. A sort of banner depended from its shaft, with these words on it: "For Use on Cattersby. Revenge is sweet!" I looked round at Lalage, who was on her hands and knees behind me.
I intended asking for some explanation of the extraordinarily vindictive spirit displayed by the spear and the banner. Lalage forestalled my question and explained something else.
"I have the office here," she said, "because it's the only place where I can be quite sure she won't follow me."
This time I understood thoroughly what was said to me. Cattersby—that is to say, Miss Battersby—if she were the sort of person who mourned over torn frocks, and if, as Lalage suggested, she liked clothes, would be very unwilling to follow any one into the recesses of the pigsty. Even a bower in the upper branches of a tree would be less secure from her intrusion. We crawled in. Against the far wall of the chamber stood the trough from which the pigs, now no doubt deceased, used to eat.
"It was put there," said Lalage, who seemed to know that I was thinking of the trough, "after they had done cleaning out the sty, so that it wouldn't go rotten in the wet before we got some more young pigs."
"Was that Miss Battersby's idea?"
"No, it wasn't. Cattersby wouldn't think of anything half so useful. All she cares about is sums and history and lessony things. It was Tom Kitterick who put it there, and I helped him. Tom Kitterick is the boy who cleans the boots and pumps the water. It was that time," she added, "that I got paint all over my blue dress. She said it was Tom Kitterick's fault."
"It may have been," I said, "partly. Anyhow Tom Kitterick is a red-haired, freckly youth. It wouldn't do him any harm to be slanged a bit for something."
"It's a jolly sight better to have freckles, even if you come out all over like a turkey egg, than to go rubbing stinking stuff on your face at night. That's what Cattersby does. I caught her at it."
Miss Battersby has a nice, smooth complexion and is, 'no doubt, quite justified in doing her best to preserve it. But I did not argue the point with Lalage. A discussion might have led to further revelations of intimate details of the lady's toilet. I was young in those days and I rather prided myself on being a gentleman. I changed the subject.
"Perhaps," I said, "you will now tell me why you have brought me here. Are we to have a picnic tea in the pigs' trough?"
Lalage crawled past me. She had to crawl, for there was not room in the sty for even a child to stand upright. She took out of the trough a bundle of papers, pierced at the top left-hand corner and tied with a slightly soiled blue ribbon. She handed it to me and I looked it over. It was, apparently, a manuscript magazine modelled on those sold at railway bookstalls for sixpence. It was called, as I might have guessed, the Anti-Cat. The table of contents promised the following reading matter:
1. Editor's Chat.
2. Poetry—A Farewell. To be recited in her presence.
3. The Ignominy of Having a Governess.
4. Prize Competition for the Best Insult Story.
"You can enter for that if you like," said Lalage, who had been following my eyes down the page.
"I shall," I said, "if she insults me; but she never has yet."
"Nor she won't," said Lalage. "She'll be honey to you. That's one of the worst things about her. She's a hypocrite. I loathe hypocrites, don't you?"
I returned to the table of contents:
5. On Sneaking—First Example.
6. Our Tactics, by the Editor.
"She won't insult you," said Lalage. "She simply crawls to any grown-up. You should hear her talking to father and pretending that she thinks fishing nice."
"She's perfectly right to do that. After all, Lalage, your father is a canon and a certain measure of respect is due to his recreations as well as to his serious work. Besides——"
"It's never right to crawl to any one."
"Besides," I said, "what you call crawling may in reality be sympathy. I'm sure Miss Battersby has a sympathetic disposition. It is very difficult to draw the line between proper respect, flavoured with appreciative sympathy, and what you object to as sycophancy."
"If you're going to try and show off," said Lalage, "by using ghastly long words which nobody could possibly understand you'd better go and do it to the Cat. She'll like it. I'm not going to sit here all day listening to you. Either read the magazine or don't, whichever you like. I don't care whether you do or not, but I won't be jawed."
This subdued me at once. I began with the poem:
"Fair Cattersby I weep to see You haste away by train, As yet that Latin exercise Has not been done again. Stay, stay, Until amo, I say. (To be continued in our next)"
"There was a difficulty about the last three lines, I suppose," I said.
"Yes," said Lalage. "I couldn't remember how they went, and Cattersby had the book. She pretends she likes reading poetry, though she doesn't really, and she makes me learn off whole chunks of it."
"You can't deny that it comes in useful occasionally. I don't see how you could have composed that parody if she hadn't made you learn——"
"She didn't. That's not the sort of poetry she makes me learn. If it was I might do it. She finds out rotten things about 'Little Lamb, who made you?' 'We are Seven,' and stuff of that sort. Not what I call poetry at all."
I had the good sense while at Oxford to attend some lectures given by the professor of poetry. I also belonged for a time to an association modestly called "The Brotherhood of Rhyme." We used to meet in my rooms and read original compositions to each other until none of us could stand it any longer. I am therefore thoroughly well qualified to discuss poetry with any one.
I should, under ordinary circumstances, have taken a pleasure in defending the reputations of Blake and Wordsworth, but I shrank from attempting to do so in a pigsty with Lalage Beresford as an opponent, I turned to the last page of the Anti-Cat and read the article entitled "Our Tactics." It was exceedingly short, but it struck me as able. I began to have a great deal of pity for Miss Battersby.
"Calm" (or Balm. There was an uncertainty about the first letter) "and haughty in her presence. Let yourself out behind her back."
"What about your going in for the competition?" said Lalage. "Even if she doesn't insult you you could easily invent something. You've seen her and you know quite well the sort she is. You might get the prize."
"May I read the story you've got?" I asked. "If it's not very good I might perhaps try; but it is probably quite superior to anything I could possibly produce, and in that case there would be no use my attempting to compete."
"It is good," said Lalage, "but yours might be good too, and then I should divide the prize, or you could give a second prize; a box of Turkish Delight would do."
This encouraged me and I read the "Insult Story."
"I did my lessons studiously, as good as I could.", Lalage was a remarkably good speller for her age. Many much older people would have staggered over "studiously." She took it, so to speak, in her stride.
"I wrote out a lot of questions on the history and answered them all without looking at the book. I knew it perfectly. The morning came and with it history. I answered all the questions except one—the character of Mary. The insulter repeated it, commanding me to 'Say it now.' I said it with a bland smile upon my face, as I thought how well I knew my history."
"Laiage," I said, pausing in the narrative, "did you make that smile bland simply because you knew your history or was its blandness part of the tactics, 'Balm and haughty in her presence?'"
"Calm," said Lalage, "calm, not balm. Never mind about that. Go on."
"The insulter," I read, "turned crimson with rage and shrieked demnation and stamped about the floor. Cooling down a bit, she said, 'You shall write it out ten times this afternoon.' Naturally I was astonished, for I had said it perfectly correctly when she told me. I had, however, a better control over my temper than she had, and managed, despite my passionate thoughts, to smile blandly all through, though it made her ten times worse."
"Well?" said Lalage when I had finished.
"I am a little confused," I said. "I thought the story was to be about an insult offered by Miss Battersby to some one else, you, or perhaps me." "It is," said Lalage. "That's what the prize is for, the best insult."
"But this seems to me to be about an insult applied by the author to Miss Battersby. I couldn't conscientiously go in for a competition in which I should represent myself as doing a thing of that sort."
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Lalage. "I didn't insult her. She insulted me."
"Come now, Lalage, honour bright! That smile of yours! How would you like any one to make you ten times worse by smiling blandly at you when you happened to be stamping about the floor crimson in the face and shrieking——"
"I wouldn't. I don't use words of that sort even when I'm angry."
"It might be better if you did. A frank outburst of that kind is at times less culpable than a balmy smile. I have a much greater respect and liking for the person who says plainly what she means than——"
"She didn't. She wouldn't think it ladylike." "Didn't what?"
"Didn't say straight out what she meant."
"She can't have meant more," I said. "After all, we must be reasonable. There isn't any more that any one could mean."
"You're very stupid," said Lalage. "I keep on telling you she didn't say it. She's far too great a hypocrite."
"Do you mean to say that she didn't stamp about the floor and say——"
I hesitated. I have been very carefully brought up and I am a churchwarden. Besides, there is a Latin tag which Canon Beresford, who has a taste for tags, quotes occasionally, about the great reverence due to boys. Obviously a much greater reverence must be due to girls. I did not want my conscience to have an opportunity for reproaching me. Therefore I hesitated when it came to the point of saying out loud a word which Lelage ought certainly not to hear.
She came to my rescue and finished my sentence for me in a way which got me out of my difficulty. Very likely she felt that she ought not to corrupt me.
"That word," she said.
"Thanks! We'll put it that way. Am I to understand that she didn't say that word?"
"Certainly not," said Lalage. "She couldn't if she tried. I should—I really think I should quite like her if she did."
I felt that this was as far as I was at all likely to get in bringing Lalage to a better frame of mind. Her attitude toward her governess was very far indeed from that enjoined in the Church Catechism, but I lacked the courage to tell her so. Nor do I think I should have effected much even if I had been as brave in rebuke as an archdeacon or a bishop. Besides, I felt that I had accomplished something. Lalage had committed herself to an approval of a hypothetical Miss Battersby. If a governess could be found in the world who would stamp about the floor and shriek that word, or if Miss Battersby would learn the habit of violent profanity, Lalage would quite like her. It was a definite concession. I had a mental vision of the changed Miss Battersby, a lady freckled from head to foot, magnificently contemptuous of glycerine and cucumber, who hated clothes and tore them when she could, who rejoiced to see blue dresses with blobs of bright red paint on them, who scoffed openly at Blake's poetry, who had been to sea or companied with private soldiers on the battlefield, and so garnered a store of scorching blasphemies. I imagined Lalage taking this paragon to her heart, clinging to her with warm affection, leading her into pigstys for confidential chats, and, if she published a magazine at all, calling it Our Feline Friend. But the dream faded, as such dreams do. Miss Battersby was plainly incapable of rising to the heights required.
It is to my credit that in the end I did make an effort to soften Lalage.
"I wish," I said, "that you'd try and call her Pussy instead of Cat."
"Why? What's the difference?"
"The meaning is the same," I said. "But it's a much kinder way of putting it. You ought to try and be kind, Lalage."
She pondered this advice for a while and then said:
"I would, if only she'd stop kissing me."
"Does she do it often?"
"Every morning and every evening and sometimes during the day."
That settled it. I could not press my point. Once, years afterward, Miss Battersby very nearly kissed me, but even before there was any chance of such a thing I was able to sympathize with Lalage. I crept out of the pigsty and went home again, leading my injured bicycle.
There is a short cut which leads from my house to the church, and therefore, of course, to the rectory, which stands, as rectories often do, close to the church. The path—it can only be used by those who walk—leads past the garden and through a wood to the high road. It was on this path, a quarter of a mile or so from the road, that I met Canon Beresford, about ten days after my interview with Lalage in the pigsty. Certain wood pigeons of low morality had been attacking our gooseberry bushes. My mother, instigated by the gardener, demanded their destruction, and so I went out with a gun. I shot two of the worst offenders. The gardener discovered half digested fruit in the dead bodies, so I am sure that I got the right birds and did not unjustly execute the innocent. Then I met the Canon. He displayed no interest whatever in the destruction of the wood pigeons, although his garden must have suffered quite as much as ours. I remarked that it was nearly luncheon time and asked him to return with me and share the meal. He was distraught and nervous, but he managed to quote Horace by way of reply:
"Destrictus ensis cui super impia Cervice pendet, non Siculae dapes. . . ."
The Canon's fondness for Horace accounts, I suppose, for the name he gave his daughter. His habit of quoting is troublesome to me; because I cannot always translate what he says. But he has a feeling for my infirmity and a tactful way of saving my self-respect.
"If you had a heavy, two-handed sword hanging over your head by a hair," he explained, "you would be thinking about something else besides luncheon."
"What has the Archdeacon been doing?" I asked.
The Archdeacon is a man with a thirst for information about church affairs, and he collects what he wants by means of questions printed on sheets of paper which he expects other people to answer. Canon Beresford, who never has statistics at hand, and consequently has to invent his answers to the questions, suffers a good deal from the Archdeacon.
"It's not the Archdeacon this time," he said. "I wish it was. The fact is I am in trouble again about Lalage. I am on my way up to consult your mother."
"Has Miss Battersby been complaining?"
"She's leaving," said the Canon, at once. "Leaving, so to speak, vigorously."
"I was afraid it would come to that. She wasn't the sort of woman who'd readily take to swearing."
"I very nearly did," said the Canon. "She cried. It's curious, but she really seems fond of Lalage."
"Did she by any chance force her way into the pigsty and find the Anti-Cat?"
Canon Beresford looked at me and a smile hovered about his mouth. "So you've seen that production?" he said. "I call it rather good."
"But you can hardly blame Miss Battersby for leaving, can you?"
"She didn't see it," said the Canon, "thank goodness."
"Then why on earth is she leaving? What else can she have to complain of?"
"There was trouble. The sort of trouble nobody could possibly foresee or guard against. You know Tom Kitterick, don't you?"
"The boy who cleans your boots? Yes, I do. A freckly faced brat."
"Exactly. Well, it appears that Miss Battersby is rather particular about her complexion, and——"
"Lalage tried the stuff on Tom Kitterick, I suppose."
"Yes. She used the whole bottle, and Miss Battersby found out what had happened and complained to me. She was extremely nice about it, but she said that the incident had made her position as Lalage's governess quite impossible."
"Lalage, of course, smiled balmily."
"Calmly," said the Canon. "She told me herself that the word was calm, though it looked rather like 'balm.' Anyhow, that was the last straw. Miss Battersby goes next week. The Archdeacon——"
"I thought he'd come in before we'd done."
"He did his best to be sympathetic and helpful. He said yesterday, just before he went to Dublin, that what Lalage requires is a firm hand over her. That's the sort of thing a bachelor with no children of his own does say, and means of course. Any man who had ever tried to bring up a girl would know that firm hands are totally useless, and, besides, I haven't got any. 'Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno....' Don't try to translate that if you'd rather not. It simply means that I'm not the man I used to be. I hate trying to cope with these domestic broils. That's why I'm going up to see your mother."
The drawn sword did not really interfere with the Canon's appetite, but he refused to smoke a cigar after luncheon. I went off by myself to the library. He followed my mother into the drawing-room. I waited, although I had a good many things to do, until he joined me. He sighed heavily as he sat down.
"Lalage is to go to school after summer," he said.
"My mother," I replied with conviction, "is sure to be right about a matter like that."
"I suppose she is; but Lalage won't like it."
The Canon sighed again, heavily. I tried to cheer him up.
"She'll enjoy the companionship of the other girls," I said. "I daresay she won't have a bad time. After all, a girl of fourteen ought to have friends of her own age. It will be far better for her to be running about with a skipping rope in a crowd of other damsels than to be climbing chestnut trees and writing parodies in lonely pigstys."
"That's very much what your mother said. I wish I could think so. I'm dreadfully afraid that, brought up as she has been, she'll have a bad time of it."
"Anyhow, she won't have half, as bad a time as the schoolmistress."
I had hit upon the true line of consolation. The Canon smiled feebly, and I pursued my subject.
"There won't, of course, be pigstys in the school, but——"
"I don't think a pigsty is absolutely essential to Lalage's comfort."
"Probably not. Lalage isn't the sort of girl who is dependent for her happiness on the accident of outward circumstance. You know, Canon, that our surroundings are not the things which really matter most. The philosophic mind——"
I had unthinkingly given the Canon his opportunity. I could see a well-known quotation actually trembling on his lips. I stopped him ruthlessly.
"I know that ode," I said. "It's one I learned at school, but it doesn't apply to Lalage. She isn't in the least content with things as she finds them. That's her great charm. She's more like Milton's Satan."
I can quote too, though only English poets, unless after special preparation beforehand. I intended to shoot off some lines out of "Paradise Lost" at the Canon, but he would not listen. He may not have liked the comparison suggested.
"I have to be off," he said. "Lalage is waiting to hear what your mother has settled. I mustn't keep her too long."
"Did you tell her you were coming up here for advice?"
"Of course I did. She quite agreed with me that it was the best thing to do. She always says that your mother is the only person she knows who has any sense. Miss Battersby's sudden resignation was rather a shock to her. She was in a curiously chastened mood this morning."
"She'll get over that all right," I said. "She'll be bringing out another number of the Anti-Cat in a couple of days."
I spent two hours after the Canon left me watching the building of a new lodge at my back gate. My mother professes to believe that work of this kind, indeed of any kind, is better done if I go and look at it. In reality I think she is anxious to provide me with some sort of occupation and to interest me in the management of such property as recent legislation has left to an Irish landlord. But she may be right in supposing that the builders build better when I am watching them. They certainly build less rapidly. The foreman is a pleasant fellow, with a store of interesting anecdotes. I give him tobacco in some form and he narrates his experiences. The other workmen listen and grin appreciatively. Thus a certain sedateness of progress is ensured and all danger of hasty building, which is, I understand, called jerry building, is avoided.
At five o'clock, after I had heard some twenty or thirty stories and the builders had placed in position about the same number of stones, I went home in search of afternoon tea. My mother was in the drawing-room, and Miss Battersby was with her. She too, had come to ask advice. I am sure she needed it, poor woman. What she said about Lalage I do not know, for the subject was dropped when I entered the room, but Miss Battersby's position evidently commanded my mother's sympathy. Shortly after leaving the rectory she was established, on my mother's recommendation, in Thormanby Park. Lord Thormanby, who is my uncle, has three daughters, all of them nice, well-disposed girls, not the least like Lalage. Miss Battersby got on well with them, taught them everything which well-educated girls in their position ought to know. She finally settled down as a sort of private secretary to Lord Thormanby. He needed some one of the sort, for as he grew older he became more and more addicted to public business. He is at present about sixty-five. If he lives to be seventy and goes on as he is going, Miss Battersby will have to retire in favour of some one who can write shorthand and manipulate a typewriter. She will then, I have no doubt, play a blameless part in life by settling flowers for Lady Thormanby. But all this is still a long way off.
I was naturally anxious to hear Miss Battersby's version of the experimental treatment of Tom Kitterick's complexion. I hoped that my mother would have told me the story voluntarily. She did not, so I approached the subject obliquely after dinner.
"The Archdeacon," I said, "was lamenting to me this morning that Mrs. Beresford died while Lalage was still a baby."
My mother seemed a little surprised to hear this.
"He takes the greatest interest in Lalage," I added. "She's a very attractive little girl."
"Very," said my mother. "But I thought the Archdeacon went to Dublin yesterday. He certainly told me he was going. Did he come back at once?"
"So far as I know he hasn't come back."
"Then when did he say——"
"He didn't actually say it at all. He hardly ever says anything to me. I so seldom see him, you know."
This at least was true. Although the seat of the archdeaconry is in Drumbo, a town which contains our nearest railway station and which is our chief centre for local shopping, I had not spoken to the Archdeacon for more than three months. My mother seemed to be waiting for an explanation of my original remark. I gave her one at once.
"But it's exactly the kind of thing the Archdeacon would have said if he hadn't been in Dublin and if I had met him and if our conversation had happened to turn on Lalage Beresford."
My mother admitted frankly that this was true; but she seemed to think my explanation incomplete. I added to it.
"He went on to speak at some length," I said. "That is to say he would have gone on to speak at some length about the great importance of a mother's influence during the early years of a girl's life."
My mother still looked at me and her face still wore a questioning expression. It was evident to me that I must further justify myself.
"So I'm not doing the Archdeacon any wrong," I went on, "in putting into his mouth words and sentiments which he would certainly approve. I happen to have forestalled him in giving them expression, but he would readily endorse them. You know yourself that he's great on subjects like the sacred home influence of a good woman."
"I suppose," said my mother after a pause, "that you want to hear the whole account of Lalage's latest escapade?"
"Miss Battersby's version of it," I said. "I heard the Canon's after luncheon."
"And that story of yours about the Archdeacon——"
"That," I said, "was my way of introducing the subject without displaying what might strike you as vulgar curiosity. I have too much respect for you to heckle you with aggressive inquiries as if you were a Chief Secretary for Ireland and I were a Member of Parliament. Besides, I don't like the feeling that I'm asking blunt questions about Miss Battersby's private affairs. After all, she's a lady. I'm sure you'll appreciate my feelings."
"Lalage," said my mother, "is an extremely naughty little girl who will be a great deal better at school."
"But have you considered the plan from the point of view of the school you're sending her to?"
"Miss Pettigrew is an old friend of mine and——"
"Is she the schoolmistress?"
"The principal," said my mother, "and she's quite capable of dealing with Lalage."
"I wasn't thinking of her. As I told the Canon this afternoon, Lalage will probably be very good for her."
"She'll certainly be very good for Lalage."
"I'm not saying anything the least derogatory to Miss Pettigrew. Schoolmasters are just the same. So are the heads of colleges. The position tends to develop certain quite trifling defects of character for which Lalage will be an almost certain cure."
"You don't know Miss Pettigrew."
"No, I don't. That's the reason I'm trying not to talk of her. What I'm considering and what you ought to be considering is the effect of Lalage on the other girls. Think of those nice, innocent young creatures, fresh from their sheltered homes——"
"My dear boy," said my mother, "what on earth do you know about little girls?"
"Nothing," I said, "but I've always been led to believe that they are sweet and innocent."
"Let me tell you then," said my mother, "that Lalage has a career of real usefulness before her in that school. Most girls of her age are inclined to be sentimental and occasionally priggish. Lalage will do them all the good in the world."
I wonder why it is that so many able women have an incurably low opinion of their own sex? My mother would not say things like that about schoolboys, though they are at least equally sentimental and most of them more priggish. She is extremely kind to people like Miss Battersby, although she regards them as pitiably incompetent when their cosmetics are used on stable-boys. Yet she would not despise me or regard it as my fault if some one took my shaving soap and washed a kitchen maid's face with it.
"So," I said, "Lalage is to go forth as a missionary of anarchy, a ravening wolf into the midst of a sheepfold."
"The Archdeacon was saying to me this morning," said my mother, "that if you——"
"May I interrupt you one moment?" I said. "I understood that the Archdeacon was in Dublin."
"This," said my mother, "is another of the things which the Archdeacon would have said if he had been at home."
"Oh," I said, "in that case I should particularly like to hear it."
"He said, or would have said, that if you allow your habit of flippant talking to grow on you you'll lose all hold on the solemn realities of life and become a totally useless member of society."
"I quite admit," I said, "that the Archdeacon would have put it in pretty nearly those words if he had said it. I particularly admire that part about the solemn realities of life. But the Archdeacon's a just man and he would not have made a remark of that kind. He knows the facts. I hold a commission in the militia, which is one of the armed forces of the Crown; auxiliary is, I think, the word properly applied to it. I am a justice of the peace and every Wednesday I sit on the judgment seat in Drumbo and agree with the stipendiary magistrate in administering justice. I am also a churchwarden and the Archdeacon is well aware of what that means. He would be the first to admit that these are solemn realities. I don't see what more I can do, unless I stand for Parliament. I suppose a constituency might be found somewhere which would value a man with a good temper and a little money to spare."
"Perhaps," said my mother smiling, "we'll find that constituency for you some day."
This was the first hint I ever got of my unfortunate destiny. It gave me a feeling of chill. There is nothing I want less than a seat in Parliament; but nothing seems more certain now than that I shall get one. Even then, when my mother made her first smiling reference to the subject, I knew in my heart that there was no escape for me.
Lalage's departure from our midst took place early in September and happened on a Wednesday, the day of the Drumbo Petty Sessions. Our list of malefactors that week was a particularly short one and I was able to leave the court house in good time to see Lalage off at the railway station. I was in fact, in very good time and arrived half an hour before the train was advertised to leave. Canon Beresford and Lalage were there before me. The Canon, when I came upon them, was pressing Lalage to help herself to chocolate creams from a large box which he held open in his hand. He greeted me with an apologetic quotation:
"Nunc vino peilite curas Cras ingens iterabimus sequor."
"When you come home for the Christmas holidays, Lalage," I said, "you'll be able to translate that. In the meanwhile I may as well tell you that it means——"
"You needn't," said Lalage. "Father has told me four times already. He has been saying it over and over ever since breakfast. It means that I may as well eat as much as I can now because I shall be sick to-morrow any way. But that's all humbug, of course. I shouldn't be sick if I ate the whole box. Last Christmas I ate three boxes as well as plum pudding."
I felt snubbed. So, I think, did the Canon. Lalage smiled at us, but more in pity than in balm.
"I call this rather a scoop for me," said Lalage.
"I'm glad of that," I said, "for I've brought a bottle of French plums from my mother and a box of Turkish Delight which I bought out of my own money."
"Thanks," said Lalage. "But it wasn't the chocolates I was thinking of. The scoop I mean is going to school. It's a jolly sight better than rotting about here with a beastly governess."
"You can't expect any governess to enjoy being robbed of her glycerine and cucumber," I said. "You wouldn't like it yourself."
"That wasn't the real reason," said Lalage. "Even Cattersby had more sense than that."
"She means," said the Canon, "that it didn't begin there."
"No," I said, "it began with the character of Mary."
"It didn't," said Lalage. "She'd forgotten all about that and so had I. What really began it was my birthday. For three weeks I had suggested a holiday for that day from the tyrant. Her answer had ever been: 'A half will do you nicely.' If pressed: 'You are very ungrateful. I may not give you even that.' So I acted boldly. It was breakfast time and we were eating fish——"
"Trout," said the Canon. "I remember the morning perfectly. Tom Kitterick caught them the day before. I took him out with me. The Archdeacon had been over to see me."
"Laying down my fork," Lalage went on, "I said to no one in particular——"
"Excuse me, Lalage," I said, "but is this a quotation from the last number of the Anti-Cat?"
"It is. I had an article about it. How did you guess?"
"There was something in the style of the narrative, a certain quite appreciable literary flavour which suggested the Anti-Cat; but please go on and keep to the words of the article as far as possible. You had just got to where you spoke to no one in particular."
"Laying down my fork, I said to no one in particular: 'Of course I get a holiday for my birthday.' 'I think a half——' began she. 'Of course,' said father loudly, 'a holiday on such a great occasion.' Her face fell. Her scowl deepened. To hide her rage she blew her nose. There was a revengeful glitter in her eye."
"I need scarcely tell you," said the Canon, "that I had no idea when I spoke that there had been any previous discussion of the subject."
"The article ends there, I suppose," I said.
"Yes," said Lalage. "She had it in for me after that worse than ever, knowing that I had jolly well scored off her."
"And in the end she broke out over your effort to improve Tom Kitterick's complexion?"
"She sneaked," said Lalage; "sneaked to father. I wrote an article about that. It's in my box if you'd like to see it."
The Canon's eyes met mine. Then we both looked at our watches. We had still ten minutes before the train started.
"It's about halfway down," said Lalage, "on the left-hand side."
"I think we might——" I said.
"Yes," said the Canon. "In fact we must."
We moved together across the platform toward the porter's barrow, on which Lalage's trunk lay.
"I should like to see the article," I said, fumbling with the strap.
"It isn't so much that," said the Canon. "Somebody is sure to unpack her box for her to-night, and if Miss Pettigrew came on the thing and read it——"
"She would be prejudiced against Lalage."
"I'd like the poor child to start fair, anyhow," said the Canon, "whatever happens later on."
We unpacked a good many of Lalage's clothes and came on the second number of the Anti-Cat. Lalage took possession of it and turned over the pages, while the Canon and I refolded a blue serge dress and wedged it into its place with boots.
"Here you are," said Lalage, when I had finished tugging at the straps. "'Sneaking, Second Example. The Latest Move of Cattersby. Such a move! A disgrace to any properly run society, a further disgrace to the already disgraceful tactics of the Cat! How even that base enemy could do such a thing is more than we honourable citizens can understand.'"
"The other honourable citizen," I said, "is Tom Kitterick, I suppose."
"No," said Lalage. "There was only me, but that's the way editors always talk. Father told me so once.—'Yet she did it. She sneaked. Yes, sneaked to the grown-up society, complained, as the now extinct Tommy used to do."
"The allusion," I said, "escapes me. Who was the now extinct Tommy?"
"The one before the Cat," said Lalage.
"Her name," said the Canon feebly, "was Miss Thomas. She did complain a good deal about Lalage during the six weeks she was with us."
"Is that the whole of the article?" I asked. "It's very short."
"There was nothing more to say," said Lalage; "so what was the good of going on?"
"I thought," I said, "and hoped that there might have been something in it about the effect the stuff had on Tom Kitterick. I have never been able to find out anything about that."
"It didn't do much to Tom Kitterick," said Lalage. "He was just as turkey eggy afterward as he was before. It didn't even smart, though I rubbed it in for nearly half an hour, and Tom Kitterick said I'd have the skin off his face, which just shows the silly sort of stuff it was. Not that I'd expect the Cat to have anything else except silly stuff. That's the kind she is. Anybody would know it by simply looking at her. Father, I don't believe you've got my ticket. Hadn't you better go and see about it?"
The Canon went in search of the station master and found him at last digging potatoes in a plot of ground beyond the signal box. It took some time to persuade him to part with anything so valuable as a ticket to Dublin.
"Lalage," I said, while the Canon was arguing with the station master, "I want you to write to me from school and tell me how you are getting on."
"I have a lot of letters to write," she said. "I'm not sure I can write to you."
"Try. I particularly want to know what Miss Pettigrew thinks of your English composition. I should mark you high for it myself."
"I have to write to father every week, and I've promised to answer Tom Kitterick when he lets me know how the new pigs are getting on."
"Still you might manage a line to me in between. If you do I'll send you a long answer or a picture postcard, whichever you like."
"I can't read your writing," said Lalage, "so I'd rather have the postcard."
The Canon returned just as the train steamed in. We put Lalage into a second-class compartment. Then I slipped away and gave the guard half a crown, charging him to look after Lalage and to see that no mischief happened to her on the way to Dublin. To my surprise he was unwilling to receive the tip. He told me that the Canon had already given him two shillings and he seemed to think that he was being overpaid for a simple, not very onerous, duty. I pressed my half crown into his hand and assured him that before he got to Dublin he would, if he really looked after Lalage, have earned more than four and sixpence.
"In fact," I said, "four and sixpence won't be nearly enough to compensate you for the amount of worry and anxiety you will go through. You must allow me to add another half crown and make seven shillings of it.'"
The man was a good deal surprised and seemed inclined to protest.
"You needn't hesitate," I said. "I wouldn't take on the job myself for double the money."
"It could be," said the guard pocketing my second half crown, "that the young lady might be for getting out at the wrong station. There's some of them does."
"Nothing so simple as that," I said. "Any ordinary young lady would get out at a wrong station, and a couple of shillings would be plenty to offer you for chasing her in again. This one——"
I hesitated, for I really did not know what Lalage was likely to do.
"I'll lock the door on her, anyway," said the guard.
"You may, but don't flatter yourself that you'll have her safe then. The only thing you can calculate on in the case of this particular young lady is that whatever she does will be something that you couldn't possibly guess beforehand. Not that there's any real harm in her. She's simply possessed of an adventurous spirit and striking originality. Good-bye."
I had just time to shake hands with Lalage before the train started. She waved her pocket handkerchief cheerily to us as we stood together on the platform. I caught a glimpse of the guard's face while his van swept past us. It wore a set expression, like that of a man determined in the cause of duty to go steadily forward into the unknown facing dread things bravely. I was satisfied that I had made a deep impression on him and I felt sorry that I had not made up his tip to an even half sovereign.
The Canon was depressed as we drove home together. I felt it my duty to cheer him up as much as I could.
"After all," I said, "you've nothing to reproach yourself with. Miss Battersby has got another situation. She'll be far happier at Thormanby's than she ever could have been with you. His girls are thoroughly well brought up."
"She was very fond of Lalage," said the Canon.
"Still, they didn't suit each other. Miss Battersby will get over any feeling of regret she may have at first. She'll be far more at home with quiet, well-tamed girls like Thormanby's."
The Canon was not listening to me. I judged from this that it was not anxiety about Miss Battersby's future that was preying on his mind. I tried again.
"If it's the thought of that bottle of glycerine and cucumber which is worrying you," I said, "don't let it. Send her another. Send her two. Make Tom Kitterick carry them over to Thormanby Park and present them on bended knee, clad only in his shirt and with a halter round his neck."
The Canon's gloom merely deepened.
"I don't think," I said, "that you need fret about Miss Pettigrew. After all, it's her job. She must meet plenty of high-spirited girls."
"I wasn't thinking of her," said the Canon.
Then he began to murmur to himself and I was barely able, by leaning over toward him, to catch the quotation.
"Miserarum est neque amori dare ludem. . . ."
He saw that I was listening and lapsed into English. "There's a translation of that ode," he said, "into something quite like the original metre":
"'How unhappy is the maiden who with Cupid may not play, And who may not touch the wine cup, but must listen all the day To an uncle and the scourging of his tongue'"
"Come now, Canon," I said, "Lalage is a precocious child, I know. But she won't feel those particular deprivations yet awhile. She didn't try to flirt with Tom Kitterick, did she?"
"It's all the same thing really," said the Canon. "The confinement and discipline will be just as severe on her as they were on that girl of Horace's, though, of course, they will take a different form. She's been accustomed to a good deal of freedom and independence."
"According to the Archdeacon," I said, "to more than was good for her."
"I couldn't help that."
"No, you couldn't. Nobody could. My mother thinks Miss Pettigrew may, but I don't believe it myself. Lalage will break out all right as soon as she gets a chance."
For the first time since we left the station the Canon smiled and seemed a little more cheerful.
"If I thought that——" he said.
"You may be perfectly sure of it, but I don't think you ought actually to hope it. The Archdeacon is a very wise man and I'm sure that, if he contemplates the possibility at all, he fears it."
"I suppose so," said the Canon, sighing again. "It will all be a great change for Lalage, whatever happens."
I feared at first that Lalage was not going to write to me. Nearly three weeks passed before I got a letter from her and I was inclined to blame her for neglect of an old friend. When the letter did arrive I imderstood that I had no right to be angry. Lalage was better than I had dared to hope. She kept a kind of irregular diary in an exercise book and sent it to me. It was, like all diaries, in disconnected paragraphs, evidently written down when the mood for recording experiences was on Lalage. There were no dates attached, but the first entry must, I think, embody the result of a very early series of impressions. One, at least, of the opinions expressed in it was modified later on:
"When I arrived I was hustled into a room by a small fat lady dressed in purple; not the old Pet, which is what we call Miss Pettigrew. I waited for ten minutes. Then I was hustled upstairs by the same purple-clothed lady, and shown a locker, Number 73. There I stayed for about five minutes and then was driven down again by the purple-clothed lacly and pushed into the same room as I had been before. Again I was herded off (after about five minutes), needless to say by the purple-robed woman, and shoved into a waiting-room."
Lalage's patience must by this time have been wearing thin. It is noticeable that the "lady" had become a mere "woman" in the last sentence.
"There I stayed twenty minutes, a long twenty minutes, and lo! there came the purple-dressed woman unto me and bore me away to be examined. She slung me at the mercy of a mistress who gave me a desk (with a chair clamped to the ground) paper, pen and examination papers. Could you answer the following: Who succeeded (a) Stephen, (b) John, (c) Edward III? I said to the old Pet, 'This is all rotten.' (By the way, I had been sent off to her when I had done.) And she replied, 'Oh, that's not at all a nice word for a young lady to use. We can't have that here.' She's rather an ass.
"I was made to feel exactly like Lady Macbeth to-day at algebra. When Miss Campbell turned her back, another girl dared me to put my pen in Miss Campbell's red ink. (This is strictly against the law.) So of course I did. But instead of mopping it straight off like a fool I displayed it with pride. Consequently it fell all over my hands. Miss Campbell was just coming up so I had to hide them murmuring 'Out, damned spot!' etc. Luckily she didn't see, for she's just the sort that would report you like a shot."
"The names of suburban houses are awfully funny."
This entry evidently followed one of Lalage's first outings. I felt acutely the contrast between the pleasant chestnut tree, the fragrant sty, and the paved footways along which she is now condemned to tramp.
"An awful, staring, backgardenly looking house, with muslin curtains, frilly and a jumpy looking pattern on the side is called 'Sans Souci!' One ass calls his stable Cliftonville, although I bet he's never seen Clifton. Ardenbough and Honeysuckle Arbour are common.
"To-day we heard a frightful row in the corridor, laughing, talking, and trampling. Miss Campbell half rose and said: 'I must put a stop to this.' Before she could, the door was flung open and in bounced—the old Pet and three visitors! After a moment's conversation with Miss Campbell she retired, banging the door in a way she'd expel any one else for.
"This letter is lasting on. Hilda gets sixpence every time she is top, threepence second, and twopence third, but does not get any regular pocket money. She's very rich at present, as she's been top three times running. How I'd like to play Rugby football. It looks enticing to be let knock a person down. It is a pity girls can't, only lucky boys. I wonder why I feel poorer here than at home and yet have more money."
The Canon had, I am sure, provided Lalage with a suitable amount of pocket money. I myself gave her five shillings the day before she left home. She ought not to feel poor. Compared to Hilda, who has one-and-sixpence, earned in the sweat of her brow, Lalage must seem a millionaire.
"Do you know the kind of person who you hate and yet can't help loving although you are afraid of her? That is the sort the old Pet is. As I was going into school to-day she was standing at the door. The beast promptly spotted the fact that I had no hair ribbon, and remarked in awe-inspiring tones, 'Lalage, where is your hair ribbon?' 'Forgot it,' said I, and took a lecture with a polite grin. The old Pet may be a beast, but is not an ass. I hope the weather will improve soon.
"There is no doubt that I am of a persevering nature or I would not continue to write this letter. I fear it is so long that you'll never get through it, though I did not know it until now. I know a girl who is learning Greek. She's awful, and so clever. She is in my Latin class and prime favourite with Carpy.
Carpy cannot be the real name of the lady who teaches Latin to Lalage and Greek to the awful girl. I have tried to reconstruct her name from its corruption, but have hitherto failed to satisfy myself. She may be a Miss Chartres. Perhaps she is the purple-gowned woman who hustled, pushed, herded and slung Lalage on the day of her arrival. She cannot, in any case, be identified with the mathematician who uses red ink. No ingenuity in nicknaming could extract Carpy from Campbell.
There was, in spite of its great length, a postscript to Lalage's letter. There was also an enclosure.
"P.S. What does 'flippant' mean? The old Pet said my comp. was flippant, and I don't know what that is. It was my first comp."
I unfolded the "comp." and read it carefully:
Composition on Politeness by Lalage Beresford
Politeness is a very difficult art to acquire. It is altogether an acquired art, for no one is polite when he is born. Some sorts of politeness are sensible and they are comparatively easy to learn. Begging a person's pardon when we tread on their toes is polite and is a reasonable thing to do. But there are many silly things to learn before we become really polite. For instance, a boy must learn to open the door for ladies and walk after them always. This does the ladies no good and is sometimes very inconvenient for the boy. He may be in a hurry. It is not polite for a girl to sit with her legs crossed and her head leaning aback on her hands. This is a position which does no one any harm, so it is absurd that it should be considered unpolite. In old days politeness was carried to much greater extremities than it is now. In the days when they used to fight duels, when two gentlemen felt really annoyed, instead of one of them saying to the other, "Go and get your sword and let me kill you," and the other replying, "All right, I shall be delighted to kill a man whom I detest," they demanded "satisfaction" of each other in most polite tones and parted with low bows and polite, though sneering, smiles. Politeness is a very good thing in moderation, but not if carried too far.
Skeat traces the word "flippant" back through "flip" and the old Northumbrian present participle ending "an" to the Icelandic "fleipa," which means to prattle—I found this out in a dictionary and copied it down for Lalage. Miss Pettigrew was not, I think, justified in applying the word, supposing that she used it in its strict etymological sense, to Lalage's composition. There was more in the essay than mere prattle. But Miss Pettigrew may have had reasons of her own, reasons which I can only guess, for wishing to depreciate this particular essay. It is quite possible that she was herself the person who told Lalage that it is rude for a girl to sit with her lees crossed. My mother, to whom I showed the composition when I consulted her about the probable meaning of flippant, refused to entertain this suggestion. She knows Miss Pettigrew and does not think she is the kind of person who would attach excessive importance to the position of Lalage's legs. She thinks that the maxim referred to by Lalage—there evidently was a maxim in her mind when she wrote—must have fallen from the lips of Miss Campbell, the mathematician, Carpy, or the purple-gowned woman. If she is right, I can only suppose that Miss Pettigrew in using the word flippant meant to support the authority of her subordinates and to snub Lalage for attempting to rebel against time-honoured tradition.
I walked across to the rectory after luncheon, intending to show my letter and the composition on politeness to the Canon. I found him seriously upset. He had received a letter from Lalage, and he had also enjoyed a visit from the Archdeacon. He was ill-advised in showing the letter to the Archdeacon. I should have had more sense. I suppose he thought that, dealing as it did almost entirely with religious subjects, it was likely to interest the Archdeacon. It did interest him. It interested him excessively, to an extent which occasioned a good deal of trouble.
"Dear Father: I have read nearly the whole of the 'Earthly Paradise' since I came here. It is an awfully jolly book. ('Little Folks' is Miss Campbell's idea of literature for the young; but that's all rot of course.) Who wrote the Litany? If you do not know please ask the Archdeacon when you see him. I've come to the conclusion that some of it is very well written."
"I did ask the Archdeacon," said the Canon, looking up from the letter, "and he said he'd hunt up the point when he went home."
"Lalage," I said, "has quite a remarkable feeling for style. See the way she writes about the 'Earthly Paradise.' It must be the way you brought her up on quotations from Horace. Miss Campbell hardly appreciates her, I'm afraid. But of course you can't expect a mathematician to rise much above 'Little Folks' in the way of literature. I suppose the Archdeacon was greatly pleased with that conundrum about the Litany."
"It was what followed," said the Canon, "which excited him."
He began to read again:
"There is a clergyman who comes once a week to give us a scripture lesson. He is only a curate and looks very shy. We had a most exciting time with him yesterday. We all shied paper wads, and he moved nearly every one up and sent one girl out of the room."
"He can't," I said, "have been as shy as he looked. But I'm beginning to understand why the Archdeacon was shocked."
"He didn't mind that," said the Canon; "at least not much."
Lalage's letter went on:
"I was glad, that it wasn't me, who was just as bad, that he didn't what he calls 'make an example of.' Even that didn't calm the excited class and he said, 'Next person who laughs will be reported to Miss Pettigrew.' It was not me, but the girl next me, Eileen Fraser. I was the innocent cause of the offence. (A mere wink at Hilda when I had my belt round her neck.) She was not, however, reported, even to Carpy."
"By the way," I said, "who is Carpy? She comes into my letter too."
The Canon did not know and seemed uninterested in the point. He went on reading:
"Another day he committed an unforgivable offence. He said to us, 'You must stand up when quoting the words of the Bible.'"
"Isn't that always considered essential?" I asked. "The unforgivable offence," said the Canon, "is in the next sentence."
"But he sat with his feet on the fender, the pig. I do hate that sort. Even when Hilda said that Ananias told a lie and was turned into a pillar of salt he did not laugh. He said he'd turn one girl out of the room to-day for nothing but dropping her pen."
"The Archdeacon," I said, "could of course sympathize with that curate."
"It wasn't that which made him really angry," said the Canon, "although he didn't like it."
"There must be something pretty bad coming, if it's worse than that."
The Canon sighed heavily and went on reading
"Hilda taught me the two-step at rec. Another girl (also in my class and jolly nice) played them."
The Canon looked up with a puzzled expression. I explained as well as I could.
"The two-step," I said, "is a dance. What the jolly, nice girl played is a little obscure, but I think it must have been tunes suitable to the performance of the two-step. 'Rec.' is a shortened form of recreation. Lalage is fond of these contractions. She writes to me about her comp."
The canon read: "On the other days, the old Pet takes us herself at Scrip: We were at Genesis, and she read out, 'In the beginning God created the heaven, and the earth.' 'But of course you all know He didn't. Modern science teaches us——' Then she went on with a lot of rot about gases and forces and nebulous things."
"The Archdeacon," said the Canon, "is going to write to the Archbishop of Dublin about it. He says that kind of teaching ought not to be allowed."
"We must head him off somehow," I said, "if he really means it. But he hardly can. I don't expect he'll run into extremes. He certainly won't without taking advice. The Archdeacon isn't a man to do anything definite in a hurry. He's told me over and over again that he deprecates precipitancy of action."
"He feels very strongly about the Higher Criticism. Very strongly indeed. He says it's poisoning the wells of religion in the home."
"Last time he lunched with us he said it was sapping the foundations. Still I scarcely think he'll want to institute a heresy prosecution against Miss Pettigrew."
"I'm very much afraid—he seemed most determined——"
"We must switch him off on to some other track," I said. "If you funk tackling him——"
"I did my best."
"I suppose that I'd better try him. It's a nuisance. I hate arguing with archdeacons; but of course we can't have Lalage put into a witness box and ballyragged by archbishops and people of that kind, and she'd be the only available witness. Hilda can't be in a position to give a clear account of what happened, considering that she was half strangled by Lalage's belt at the time."
"It was at the curate's class that the belt incident occurred," said the Canon, "just after they had been throwing paper wads."
"So it was. All the same I don't think Hilda would be much use as a witness. The memory of that choking would be constantly with her and would render every scripture lesson a confused nightmare for months afterward. The other girls would probably lose their heads. It's all well enough to pelt curates with paper wads. Any one could do that. It's quite a different thing to stand up before an ecclesiastical court and answer a string of questions about nebulous things. That Archbishop will find himself relying entirely on Lalage to prove the Archdeacon's case, which won't be a nice position for her. I'll go home now and drive over at once to see the Archdeacon."
"Do," said the Canon. "I'd go with you only I hate this kind of fuss. Some men like it. The Archdeacon, for instance. Curious, isn't it, how differently we're made, though we all look very much alike from the outside. 'Sunt quos cumculo——'" I did not wait to hear the end of the quotation.
I approached the Archdeacon hopefully, relying, I confess, less on the intrinsic weight of the arguments I meant to use than on the respect which I knew the Archdeacon entertained for my position in the county. My mother is the sister of the present Lord Thormanby, a fact which by itself predisposes the Archdeacon in my favour. My father was a distinguished soldier. My grandfather was a still more distinguished soldier, and there are pictures of his most successful battle hanging in my dining-room. The Archdeacon has often seen them and I am sure appreciates them. I am also, for an Irish landlord, a well-off man. I might, so I believed, have trusted entirely to these facts to persuade the Archdeacon to give up the idea of communicating Miss Pettigrew's lapse into heterodoxy to the Archbishop. But I worked out a couple of sound arguments as well, and I was greatly surprised to find that I produced no effect whatever on the Archdeacon. He bluntly refused to modify his plan of action.
I quoted to him the proverb which warns us to let sleeping dogs lie. Under any ordinary circumstances this would have appealed strongly to the Archdeacon. It was just the kind of wisdom by which he guides his life. I was taken aback when he replied that Miss Petti-grew, so far from being a sleeping dog, was a roaring lion. A moment later he called her a ravenous evening wolf; so I gave up my proverb as useless. I then reminded him that Lalage was evidently quite unaffected by the teaching which she received, had in fact described modern science as a lot of rot. The Archdeacon replied that, though Lalage escaped, others might be affected; and that he was not quite sure even about Lalage, because insidious poisons are most to be feared when they lie dormant in the system for a time.
This brought me to the end of my two arguments and I had to invent another on the spot. I am always rather ashamed to think of the one I actually used, but I was driven against the wall and the position seemed almost desperate. I suggested that Lalage's account of the scripture lesson was in all probability quite unreliable.
"You know, Archdeacon," I said, "that all little girls are horrid liars."
The insinuation that Lalage ever spoke anything but the truth was treacherous and abominable. She has her faults; but I have not the slightest doubt in my mind that her description of Miss Pettigrew's scripture lesson was a perfectly honest account of the impression it produced on her mind. The Archdeacon hesitated, and, hoping for the best, I plunged deeper.
"Lalage in particular," I said, "is absolutely reckless about the truth."
The Archdeacon shook his head mournfully.
"I wish I could think so," he said. "I should be glad, indeed, if I could take your view of the matter; but in these days when the Higher Criticism is invading our pulpits and our school rooms——"
His voice faded away into the melancholy silence and he continued shaking his head.
This shows how much more important dogmatic truth is than the ordinary everyday correspondence between statement and fact. To the Archdeacon a lie of Lalage's would have been a minor evil in every way preferable, if it came to a choice between the two, to Miss Pettigrew's unorthodox interpretation of the Mosaic narrative. I could argue the matter no more and fell back upon a last plan.
"Archdeacon," I said, "come out and dine with us to-night. Talk the whole business over with my mother before you take any definite action."
The Archdeacon agreed to do this. I went home at once and prepared my mother for the conflict.
"You must use all your influence," I said. "It is a most serious business."
"My dear boy," said my mother, "it's quite the most ridiculous storm in a tea cup of which I've ever heard."
"No," I said solemnly, "it's not. If the Archdeacon makes his charge formally the Archbishop will be obliged to take it up. Miss Pettigrew will be hauled up before him——"
"Miss Pettigrew," said my mother, "would simply laugh. She's not in the very least the sort of woman——"
"I know. She's one of those people that you hate awfully and yet can't help loving though you are rather afraid of her. It's for her sake more than Lalage's that I'm asking you to interfere."
"If I interfere at all it will be for the Archdeacon's sake. It's a pity to allow him to make a fool of himself."
I do not know what line my mother actually took with the Archdeacon. I left them together after dinner and when the time came for saying good-night I found that the Archdeacon had been persuaded not to attempt a formal protest against Miss Pettigrew's teaching. He has never, however, trusted her since then and he still shakes his head doubtfully at the mention of her name.
I wrote to Lalage next day and told her not to send home any more accounts of scripture lessons. English compositions, I said, we should be glad to receive. Latin exercises would always be welcome, and algebra sums, especially if worked in Miss Campbell's red ink, would be regarded as treasured possessions.
"All letters," I added, "suspected of containing ecclesiastical news of any kind will be returned to you unopened."
I also called on the Canon and spoke plainly to him about the danger and folly of showing letters to the Archdeacon.
"I was wrong," said the Canon apologetically. "I can see now that I was wrong, but I thought at the time that he'd enjoy the joke."
"You ought," said I severely, "to have had more sense. The Archdeacon expects to be a bishop some day. He can't afford to enjoy jokes of that kind. By the way, did he tell you who wrote the Litany?"
It must have been about three weeks after the pacification of the Archdeacon by my mother that a crisis occurred in my affairs. I am not a person of any importance, although I shall be, I fear, some day; and my affairs up to the present are not particularly interesting even to myself. I record the crisis because it explains the fact that I lost touch with Lalage for nearly four years and know little or nothing about her development during that time. I wish I knew more. Some day, when I have a little leisure, I mean to have a long talk with Miss Pettigrew. She saw more of Lalage in those days than any one else did, and I think she must have some very interesting, perhaps exciting, things to tell. To a sympathetic listener Miss Pettigrew would talk freely. She has a sense of humour, and like all people who are capable of laughing themselves, takes a pleasure in telling good stories.
It was my uncle, Lord Thormanby, who was mainly responsible for my private crisis. My mother, I daresay, goaded him on; but he has always taken the credit for arranging that I should join the British embassy in Lisbon as a kind of unpaid attache. My uncle used his private and political influence to secure this desirable post for me. I do not know exactly whom he worried. Perhaps it was a sympathetic Prime Minister, perhaps the Ambassador himself, a nobleman distantly connected with Lady Thonnanby. At all events, the thing was done and Thonnanby was enormously proud of the achievement. He gave me a short lecture by way of a send-off, in which he dwelt a good deal on his own interest in my future and told me that my appointment might lead on to something big. It has not done so, up to the present, but that I daresay is my own fault.
The Canon, who seemed sorry to say good-bye to me, gave me a present of an English translation of the works of the philosopher Epictetus, with several passages, favourites of his own, marked in red ink. One of these I used frequently to read and still think about occasionally, not because I have the slightest intention of trying to live in the spirit of it, but because it always reminds me of the Canon himself, and so makes me smile. "Is a little of your oil spilt, or a little wine stolen?" said this philosopher. "Then say to yourself: 'For so much peace is bought. This is the price of tranquillity.' For nothing can be gained without paying for it." It is by this wisdom that the man who happened to be Lalage's father was able to live without worrying himself into frequent fevers.
The Archdeacon dined with us a short time before I left home and gave me a very fine valedictory address. He said that I was about to follow the example of my ancestors and devote myself to the service of my country. He had every hope that I would acquit myself as nobly as they did. This was a very affecting thing to say, particularly in our dining-room, with the pictures of my grandfather's battles hanging round the walls. I looked at them while he spoke, but I did not venture to look at my mother. Her eyes have a way of twinkling when the Archdeacon is at his best which always upsets me. The Archdeacon, his face still raised toward the large battle picture, added that there is nothing finer than the service of one's country, nothing more inspiring for a man and nothing more likely to lead to fame. I felt at the time that this is very likely to be true in the case of any one who has a country to serve. I, unfortunately, have none. The recent developments of Irish life, the revivals of various kinds, the books which people keep on writing, and the general atmosphere of the country have robbed me and others like me of the belief, held comfortably by our fathers, that we are Englishmen. On the other hand, nobody, least of all the patriotic politicians who make speeches, will admit that we are Irish. We are thus, without any fault of our own, left poised in a state of quivering uncertainty like the poor Samaritans whom the Jews despised as Gentiles and the Gentiles did not like because they seemed to be Jews. I found it difficult, while I listened to the Archdeacon, to decide what country had a claim on me for service. Perhaps Portugal—I was going to Lisbon—would mark me for her own.
For more than three years I saw nothing of Lalage. My holidays, snatched with difficulty from a press of ridiculously unimportant duties, never corresponded with hers. I heard very little of her. The Canon never wrote to me at all about Lalage or anything else. My mother merely chronicled her scholastic successes, which included several prizes for English composition.
The one really interesting piece of information which I got about her came, curiously enough, from the Archdeacon. He wrote to me for a subscription to a fund for something, rebuilding the bishop's palace I think. At the end of his letter he mentioned an incident in Lalage's career which he described as deplorable. It appeared that a clergyman, a man of some eminence according to the Archdeacon and so, presumably, not the original curate had set an examination paper intended to test the religious knowledge of Lalage and others. In it he quoted some words from one of St Paul's epistles: "I keep my body under and have it in subjection," and asked what they meant. Lalage submitted a novel interpretation. "St. Paul," she wrote, "is here speaking of that mystical body which is the Church. It ought always to be kept under and had in subjection."
As a diplomatist—I suppose I am a diplomatist of a minor kind—whose lot is cast among the Latin peoples, I am inclined to think that Lalage's interpretation may one day be universally accepted as the true one and so honoured with the crown of orthodoxy. It would even to-day strike a Portuguese journalist as a simple statement of an obvious truth. The Archdeacon regarded it as deplorable, and I understood from his letter that the old charge of flippancy had been revived against Lalage. She must, I suppose, have disliked the man who set the examination paper. I cannot otherwise account for the viciously anti-clerical spirit of her answer.
The next important news I got of Lalage reached me in the spring of the fourth year I spent in the service of somebody else's country. It came in a letter from Lalage herself, written on paper headed by the letters A.T.R.S. embossed in red. She wrote:
"You'll be glad to hear that I entered Trinity College last October and since then have been enjoying 'the spacious times of great Elizabeth.' Our society, girls, is called the Elizabethan. That's the point of the quotation."
I glanced at the head of the paper, but failed to see how A.T.R.S. could possibly stand for Elizabethan Society. Lalage's letter continued:
"There is nothing equal to a university life for broadening out the mind and enlarging one's horizon. I have just founded a new society called the A.T.R.S., and the committee (Hilda, myself, and a boy called Selby-Harrison, who got a junior ex: and is very clever) is on the lookout for members, subscription—a year, paid in advance, or life members one pound. Our object is to check by every legitimate means the spread of tommyrot in this country and the world generally. There is a great deal too much of it and something ought to be done to make people jolly well ashamed of themselves before it is too late. If the matter is not taken in hand vigorously the country will be submerged and all sensible people will die."
I began to get at the meaning of the red letters. T.R. S. plainly stood for Tommy Rot Society. The preliminary "A" could indicate nothing else but the particle anti. The prospect before us, if Lalage is anything of a judge, and I suppose she must be, is sufficiently serious to justify the existence of the society.
"Each member of the committee is pledged to expose in the press by means of scathing articles, and thus hound out of public life any man, whatever his position, who is caught talking tommyrot. This will be done anonymously, so as to establish a reign of terror under which no man of any eminence will feel safe. The committee intends to begin with bishops of all denominations. I thought this would interest you now that you are an ambassador and engaged in fostering international complications."
I read this with a feeling of discomfort similar to that of the gentleman who set the examination paper on St. Paul's epistles. There, seemed to me to be a veiled threat in the last sentence. The committee intended to begin with bishops, but there cannot be above sixty or seventy bishops in Ireland altogether, even including the ex-moderators of the Presbyterian General Assembly, not more than a hundred. An energetic committee would certainly be able to deal with them in less than three months. Whose turn would come next? Quite possibly the diplomatists. I do not particularly object to the prospect of being hounded out of public life by means of scathing articles; but I feel that I should not be the only victim. Some of the others would certainly resent Lalage's action and then there would be a fuss. I have always hated fuss of any kind.
"Only members of the committee are expected to take part in the active propaganda of the society. Ordinary members merely subscribe. I am sending this appeal to father, Lord Thormanby, Miss Battersby, who is still there, and the Archdeacon, as well as to you."
I breathed a sigh of great relief. Lalage was not threatening my colleagues with exposure in the press.
She was merely asking for a subscription. I wrote at once, warmly commending the objects and methods of the society. I enclosed a cheque for five pounds with a request that I should be enrolled as five ordinary life members. I underlined the word ordinary, and added a postscript in which I expressly refused to act on the committee even if elected. Lalage did not answer this letter or acknowledge the cheque. I suppose the bishops kept her very busy.
In August that year I met Lalage again for the first time since I had seen her off to school from the station at Drumbo. I did not recognize her at first. Four years make a great difference in a girl when she is passing from the age of fourteen onward. Besides, I was not in the least expecting to see her.
Mont 'Estoril is a watering place near the mouth of the Tagus. In spite of the fact that some misguided people advertise its attractions and call it the Riviera of Portugal, it is a pleasant spot to live in when Lisbon is very hot. There are several excellent hotels there and I have found it a good plan to migrate from the capital and settle down in Mont 'Estoril for June, July and August. I have to go into Lisbon every day, but this is no great hardship, for there is a convenient train service. I usually catch what the Portuguese call a train of "great velocity" and arrive at the Caes da Sodre railway station a few minutes after eleven o'clock. From that I go, partly on foot, partly in a tram, to the embassy and spend my time there in the usual way.
One morning—I have kept a note of the date; it was the ninth of August—I saw a large crowd of people, plainly tourists, standing together on the footpath, waiting for a tram. The sight was common enough. Every ten days or so an enterprising steamboat company lands a bevy of these worthy people in Lisbon. This crowd was a little larger than usual. It was kept together by three guides who were in charge of the party and who galloped, barking furiously, along the outskirts of the herd whenever a wild or frightened tourist made any attempt to break away. On the opposite side of the road were two young girls. One of them, very prettily dressed in bright blue, was adjusting a hand camera with the intention of photographing the tourists and attendant watchdog guides. She did not succeed, because one of the guides recognized her as a member of his flock and crossed the road to where she stood. I know the man slightly. He is a cosmopolitan, a linguist of great skill, who speaks good English, with Portuguese suavity of manner, in times of calm, but bad English, with French excitability of gesture, when he is annoyed. He reasoned, most politely I'm sure, with the two girls. He wanted them to cross the road and take their places among the other tourists. The girl in blue handed the camera to her companion, took the cosmopolitan guide by the shoulders, pushed him across the road and posed him in a picturesque attitude on the outskirts of the crowd. Then she went back to take her picture. The guide, of course, followed her, and I could see by the vehemence of his shrugs and gesticulations that his temper had given way. I guessed that his English must have been almost unintelligible. The scene interested me and I stood still to see how it would end. The girl in the blue dress changed her intention and tried to photograph the excited interpreter while he gesticulated. I sympathized with her wish. His attitudes were all well worth preserving. If she had been armed with phonograph as well as a camera she might have secured a really valuable record. The man, to my knowledge, speaks eight languages, all equally badly, and when he mixes them he is well worth listening to. In order to get him into focus the girl in the blue dress kept backing away from him, holding the camera level and gazing into the view finder. The man, gesticulating more wildly than ever, followed her. She moved more and more rapidly away from him until at last she was proceeding backward along the street at a rapid trot. In the end she bumped against me. I staggered and clutched at my hat. She turned, and, without appearing in the least put out, began to apologize. Then her face lit with a sudden smile of recognition.
"Oh," she said, "it's you?"
I recognized the voice and then the face. I also retained my presence of mind.
"Begging a person's pardon," I said, "when we tread on their toes is a polite and reasonable thing to do."
Lalage may have recognized the quotation, although I do not think I had it quite right. She certainly smiled agreeably. But she had no time to waste on exchanging reminiscences.
"Just make that idiot stand where he is for a moment," she said, "till I get him photographed. I wouldn't miss him for pounds. He's quite unique."
The interpreter protested volubly in Portuguese mixed with Spanish and French. He was, so he told me, placed in charge of the tourists by the steamboat company which had brought them to Lisbon. If one of them got lost he would have to answer for it, answer for it with his head, and the senora, the two exceedingly headstrong senoras, would get lost unless they could be penned in with the rest of his flock.
I glanced at Lalage several times while the interpreter harangued us, and noticed that she had grown into an extremely pretty girl. She, it seemed, was also taking stock of me.
"You've improved," she said. "Your moustache has broadened out. If that monkey on a stick won't be photographed I wish you'd hunt him away out of this. I don't know any Portuguese swears or I'd do it myself."
I explained to the interpreter that he need be under no anxiety about the headstrong senoras. I myself would be responsible for them, and would, if necessary, answer for their safety with my head. He departed, doubtful and ill content. He was probably satisfied that I was capable of looking after Laiage, but he dreaded the effect of her example on the rest of his flock. They too might escape.
"This," said Lalage, leading me up to the other girl, who wore a pink dress, "is Hilda. You've heard of Hilda."
Hilda's name was printed on my memory. She is one of the three members of the committee of the A.T.R.S. I shook hands with her and asked for Selby-Harrison.
"You haven't surely," I said, "come without Selby-Harrison, who won the junior ex.? The committee ought to hold together."
"We intended to bring him," said Lalage, "but there were difficulties. The Archdeacon heard about it——"
"That Archdeacon again!" I said.
"And told father that it wouldn't do at all. Did you ever hear such nonsense? I shouldn't have minded that, but Hilda's mother struck too. It ended in our having to bring poor old Pussy with us as chaperon."
"Yes, The original Cat, Miss Battersby. You can't have forgotten her, surely? It happened that she was getting her holidays just as we had arranged to start, so we took her instead of Selby-Harrison, which satisfied the Archdeacon and Hilda's mother."
"I am so glad to hear you call her 'Pussy' now," I said-"I always hoped you would."
"She's really not a bad sort," said Lalage, "when you get to know her. She did us very little harm on the steamer. She was sick the whole way out, so we just put her in the top berth of our cabin and left her there."
"Is she there still?"
Hilda giggled. Lalage looked slightly annoyed.
"Of course not," she said. "We aren't cruel. We hauled her out this morning and dressed her. It was rather a job but we did it. We took her ashore with us—each holding one arm, for she was frightfully staggery at first—and made her smuggle our cigarettes for us through the custom-house. No one would suspect her of having cigarettes. By the way, she has them still. They're in a large pocket which I sewed on the inside of her petticoat. She's over there in the crowd. Would you very much mind getting——?"
"I couldn't possibly," I said hastily. "She'd be almost certain to object, especially with all those people standing round. You must wait till you get to an hotel and then undress her again yourselves."
"Don't be an ass," said Lalage. "I don't want you to get the cigarettes. I want you to rescue Pussy herself. It wouldn't be at all fair to allow her to be swept away in that crowd. We'd never see her again."
I did not much care for undertaking this task either, though it was certainly easier than the other. The polyglot guide would, I felt sure, deeply resent the rape of another of his charges.
"Couldn't Hilda do that?" I said. "After all, she's a member of the committee. I'm not. And you told me distinctly that ordinary members were not expected to do anything except subscribe."
"Go on, Hilda," said Lalage.
I suppose Lalage must be president of the A.T.R.S. and be possessed of autocratic powers. Hilda crossed the road without a murmur. Selby-Harrison, I have no doubt, would have acted in the same way if he had been here.
"And now, Lalage," I said, "you must tell me what brings you to Portugal."
"To see you," said Lalage promptly.
"It's very nice of you to say that," I said, "and I feel greatly flattered."
"Hilda was all for Oberammergau, and Selby-Harrison wanted Normandy. He said there were churches and things there but I think churches are rather rot, don't you?"
"Besides," I said, "after the way the society has been treating bishops it would hardly be decent to accept their hospitality by wandering about through their churches. Any bishop, especially if he'd been driven out of public life by a series of scathing articles, published anonymously, would have a genuine grievance if you——"
"It was really that which decided us on coming here," said Lalage.
"Quite right. There is a most superior kind of bishop here, a Patriarch, and I am sure that anything you publish about him in the Portuguese papers——"
"You don't understand what I mean. You're getting stupid, I think. I'm not talking about bishops. I'm talking about you."
"Don't bother about taking up my case until you've quite finished the bishops. I am a young man still, with years and years before me in which I shall no doubt talk a lot of tommyrot. It would be a pity to drive me out of public life before I've said anything which you can really scathe."
"We thought," said Lalage, "that as it didn't much matter to us where we went we might as well come out to see you. You were the only person who gave a decent 'sub' to the society. I'll explain our new idea to you later on."
"I'm very glad I did," I said. "If another fiver would bring Selby-Harrison by the next steamer—Hullo! Here's Hilda back with Miss Battersby. I hardly thought she'd have succeeded in getting her. How do you do, Miss Battersby? I'm delighted to welcome you to Lisbon, and I must do my best for you now you're here. I'm quite at your disposal for the day."
Miss Battersby smiled feebly. She had not yet recovered from the effects of the sea voyage.
"First," said Lalage, "we'll go to an hotel."
"Of course," I said, "to get the cigarettes."
"No," said Lalage; "to let Miss Battersby get to bed. She wants to get to bed, doesn't she, Hilda?"
Hilda, who was supporting Miss Battersby, and so in a position to judge of her condition, nodded.
"She's frightfully weak," said Lalage to me, "on account of not having eaten anything except two water biscuits and an apple for nearly a week."
"In that case," I said, "a little luncheon——"
"Could you eat luncheon?" said Lalage to Miss Battersby.
Miss Battersby seemed to wish to try.
"Could she, Hilda?" said Lalage. "It's a long time since she has."
"She must make a beginning some day," I said.
"I still think she'd be better in bed," said Lalage.
"After lunch," I said firmly, "You ought not to be vindictive, Lalage. It's a long time since that trouble about the character of Mary."
"I'm not thinking of that," said Lalage.
"And she's not a bishop. Why should you starve her?"
"Very well," said Lalage. "Do whatever you like, but don't blame me afterward if she's—— she was, on the steamer, horribly."
We fed Miss Battersby on some soup, a fragment of fried fish and a glass of light wine. She evidently wanted to eat an omelette as well, but Lalage forbade this. Whether she was actually put to bed afterward or merely laid down I do not know. She must have been at least partially undressed, for Lalage and Hilda were plentifully supplied with cigarettes during the afternoon.
Lalage, Hilda, and I went for a drive in one of the attractive carriages which ply for hire in the Lisbon streets. We drove up one side of the Avenida de Liberdade and down the other. I did the duty of a good cicerone by pointing out the fountains, trees and other objects of interest which Lalage and Hilda were sure to see for themselves. When we had exhausted the Avenida I suggested going on to Belem. Lalage did not seem pleased. She said that driving was not her idea of pleasure. She wanted something more active and exciting. I agreed.
"We'll go in a tram," I said.
"Belem's a church, isn't it, Hilda?"
Hilda and I both admitted that it was.
"Then we can't go there," said Lalage decidedly.
"Why not?" I ventured to ask.
"You said yourself that it wouldn't be decent."
"Oh!" I said, "you're thinking of those poor bishops; but you haven't done anything to the Portuguese patriarch yet. Besides, only half of Belem is a church. The other half is a school, quite secular."
"The only things I really want to see," said Lalage, "are the dead Portuguese kings in glass cases."
"The dead kings. Stuffed, I suppose. Do you mean to say you've been here nearly four years and don't yet know the way they keep their kings, like natural history specimens in a museum? Why, that was the very first thing Hilda found out in the guide book."
"I didn't," said Hilda. "It was you."
"Let's credit Selby-Harrison with the discovery," I said soothingly. "I remember now about those kings. But the exhibition has been closed to the public now for some years. We shan't be able to get in."
"What's the use of being an ambassador," said Lalage, "if you can't step in to see a dead king whenever you like?"
An ambassador may be able to claim audiences with deceased royalties, but I was not an ambassador. I offered Lalage as an alternative the nearest thing at my command to dead kings.
"The English cemetery," I said, "is considered one of the sights of Lisbon. If you are really interested in corpses we might go there."
"I hate Englishmen," said Lalage. "All Englishmen."
"That's why I suggested their cemetery. It will be immensely gratifying to you to realize what a lot of them have died. The place is nearly full and there are lots of yew trees."
Lalage did me the honour of laughing. Hilda, after a minute's consideration, also laughed. But they were not to be distracted from the dead kings.
"We'll go back to the hotel," said Lalage, "and rout out poor Pussy. She'll be wanting more food by this time. You can go and call on the present King or the Queen Mother, or whoever it is who keep the key of that mausoleum and then come back for us. By the way, before you go, just tell me the Portuguese for an ice. It's desperately hot."
I told her and then got out of the carriage. I did not call upon either the King or his mother. They were in Cintra, so I should not have had time to get at them even if I had wished. I saw my chief, and, with the fear of Lalage before my eyes, worried him until he gave me a letter to a high official. From him I obtained with great difficulty the permission I wanted. I returned to the hotel. Miss Battersby, though recovering rapidly, was still too feeble to accompany us; so Lalage, Hilda, and I set off without her.
The dead kings were a disappointment. Hilda's nerve failed her on the doorstep and she declined to go in. Lalage and I went through the exhibition alone. I observed, without surprise, that Lalage turned her eyes away from the objects she had come to inspect. I ventured, when we got out, to suggest that we might perhaps have spent a pleasanter afternoon at Belem. Lalage snubbed me sharply.
"Certainly not," she said. "I'm going in for the Vice-Chancellor's prize for English verse next year and the subject is mortality. I shall simply knock spots out of the other competitors when I work in those kings.
"'Sceptre and crown Must tumble down,'
You know the sort of thing I mean."
"That's not original," I said. "I remember it distinctly in the 'Golden Treasury,' though I have forgotten the author's name."
"It wasn't meant to be original. I quoted it simply as an indication of the sort of line I mean to take in my poem."
"You'll win the prize to a certainty. When you publish the poem afterward with notes I hope you'll mention my name. Without me you wouldn't have got at those kings."
"In the meanwhile," said Lalage, "I could do with some tea and another ice. Couldn't you, Hilda?"
Hilda could and did. I took them to an excellent shop in the Rua Aurea, where Hilda had three ices and Lalage four, after tea. I only had one. Lalage twitted me with my want of appetite.
"I can't eat any more." I said. "The thought of poor Miss Battersby sitting alone in that stuffy hotel has spoiled my appetite."
"The hotel is stuffy," said Lalage. "Where are you stopping?"
I mentioned Mont 'Estoril and Lalage at once proposed to move her whole party out there.
There were difficulties with the Lisbon hotel keeper, who wanted to be paid for the beds which Lalage and Hilda had not slept in as well as for that which Miss Battersby had enjoyed during the afternoon. Lalage argued with him in French, which he understood very imperfectly, and she boasted afterward that she had convinced him of the unreasonableness of his demand. I, privately, paid his bill.
There were also difficulties with Miss Battersby. She had, so Hilda told me, the strongest possible objection to putting on her clothes again. But Lalage was determined. In less than an hour after our return to the hotel I was sitting opposite to Miss Battersby, who was swathed rather than dressed, in a railway carriage, speeding along the northern shore of the Tagus estuary.
I had, early in the summer, made friends with a Mr. and Mrs Dodds, who were living in my hotel. Mr. Dodds was a Glasgow merchant and was conducting the Portuguese side of his firm's business. Mrs. Dodds was a native of Paisley. They were both very fond of bridge, and I had got into the habit of playing with them every evening. We depended on chance for a fourth member of our party, and just at the time of Lalage's visit were particularly fortunate in securing a young English engineer who was installing a service of electric light somewhere in the neighbourhood. The Doddses were friendly people and I had gradually come to entertain a warm regard for them in spite of the extreme severity of their bridge and Mrs. Dodds's habit of speaking plainly about my mistakes. I would not, except under great pressure, cause any inconvenience or annoyance to the Doddses. But Lalage is great pressure. When she said that I was to spend the evening talking to her I saw at once that the bridge must be sacrificed. My plan was to apologize profusely to the Doddses, and leave them condemned for one evening to sit bridgeless till bedtime. But Lalage would not hear of this. She wanted, so she said, to talk confidentially to me. Miss Battersby was an obstacle in her way, and so she ordered me to introduce Miss Battersby as my substitute at the bridge table.
If Miss Battersby had acted reasonably and gone to bed either before or immediately after dinner this would have been unnecessary. But she did not. She became immoderately cheerful and was most anxious to enjoy herself. I set her down at the card table and then, as quickly as possible, fled. Miss Battersby's bridge is of the most rudimentary and irritating kind and she has a conscientious objection to paying for the small stakes which usually gave a brightness to our game. It was necessary for me to get out of earshot of the Doddses and the engineer before they discovered these two facts about Miss Battersby. I thought it probable that I should have to go to a new hotel next day in order to escape the reproaches of my friends. But I did not want to move that night, so I went into the hotel garden, hustling Hilda before me. There was no need to hustle Lalage. She understood the need for haste even better than I did. I knew Miss Battersby's capacity for bridge, having occasionally played with her in my uncle's house. Lalage understood how acutely the pain brought on by Miss Battersby's bridge would be aggravated by the deprecating sweetness of Miss Battersby's manner. In the hotel garden there were a number of chairs made, I expect, by a man whose regular business in life was the manufacture of the old-fashioned straw beehives. When forced by the introduction of the new wooden hives to turn his hand to making chairs, he failed to shake himself free of the tradition of his proper art. His chairs were as like beehives as it is possible for chairs to be and anybody who sits back in one of them is surrounded on all sides by walls and overshadowed by a hood of woven wicker-work. When Lalage sat down I could see no more of her than the glowing end of her cigarette and the toes of her shoes. Hilda was to the same extent invisible. I was annoyed by this at first, for Lalage is very pretty to look at and the night was not so dark when we sat down but that I could, had she been in any ordinary chair, have traced the outline of her figure. Later on, when our conversation reached its most interesting point, I was thankful to recollect that I also was in obscurity. I am not, owing to my training as a diplomatist, an easy man to startle, but Lalage gave me a severe shock. I prefer to keep my face in the shadow when I am moved to unexpected emotion.