I. CHILDREN OF LIGHT II. THE COASTS OF THE GENTILES III. MAGDALEN QUAD IV. A LITTLE MUSIC V. ASKELON VILLA, GATH VI. DOWN THE RIVER VII. GHOSTLY COUNSEL VIII. IN THE CAMP OF THE PHILISTINES IX. THE WOMEN OF THE LAND X. THE DAUGHTERS OF CANAAN XI. CULTURE AND CULTURE XII. THE MORE EXCELLENT WAY XIII. YE MOUNTAINS OF GILBOA XIV. WHAT DO THESE HEBREWS HERE XV. EVIL TIDINGS XVI. FLAT REBELLION XVII. COME YE OUT AND BE YE SEPARATE! XVIII. A QUIET WEDDING XIX. INTO THE FIRE XX. LITERATURE, MUSIC, AND THE DRAMA XXI. OFF WITH THE OLD LOVE XXII. THE PHILISTINES TRIUMPH XXIII. THE STREETS OF ASKELON XXIV. THE CLOUDS BEGIN TO BREAK XXV. HARD PRESSED XXVI. IRRECLAIMABLE XXVII. RONALD COMES OF AGE XXVIII. TELL IT NOT IN GATH XXIX. A MAN AND A MAID XXX. THE ENVIRONMENT FINALLY TRIUMPHS XXXI. DE PROFUNDIS XXXII. PRECONTRACT OF MARRIAGE XXXIII. A GLEAM OF SUNSHINE XXXIV. HOPE XXXV. THE TIDE TURNS XXXVI. OUT OF THE HAND OF THE PHILISTINES XXXVII. LAND AT LAST: BUT WHAT LAND?
CHILDREN OF LIGHT.
It was Sunday evening, and on Sundays Max Schurz, the chief of the London Socialists, always held his weekly receptions. That night his cosmopolitan refugee friends were all at liberty; his French disciples could pour in from the little lanes and courts in Soho, where, since the Commune, they had plied their peaceful trades as engravers, picture-framers, artists'-colourmen, models, pointers, and so forth—for most of them were hangers-on in one way or another of the artistic world; his German adherents could stroll round, pipe in mouth, from their printing-houses, their ham-and-beef shops, or their naturalists' chambers, where they stuffed birds or set up exotic butterflies in little cabinets—for most of them were more or less literary or scientific in their pursuits; and his few English sympathisers, chiefly dissatisfied philosophical Radicals of the upper classes, could drop in casually for a chat and a smoke, on their way home from the churches to which they had been dutifully escorting their un-emancipated wives and sisters. Max Schurz kept open house for all on Sunday evenings, and there was not a drawing-room in London better filled than his with the very advanced and not undistinguished set who alone had the much-prized entree of his exclusive salon.
The salon itself did not form any component part of Max Schurz's own private residence in any way. The great Socialist, the man whose mandates shook the thrones of Russia and Austria, whose movements spread terror in Paris and Berlin, whose dictates were even obeyed in Kerry and in Chicago, occupied for his own use two small rooms at the top of a shabby composite tenement in a doubtful district of Marylebone. The little parlour where he carried on his trade of a microscope-lens grinder would not have sufficed to hold one-tenth of the eager half-washed crowd that pressed itself enthusiastically upon him every Sunday. But a large room on the ground floor of the tenement, opening towards the main street, was used during the week by one of his French refugee friends as a dancing-saloon; and in this room on every Sunday evening the uncrowned king of the proletariate Socialists was permitted to hold his royal levees. Thither all that was best and truest in the socially rebellions classes domiciled in London used to make its way; and there men calmly talked over the ultimate chances of social revolutions which would have made the hair of respectable Philistine Marylebone stand stiffly on end, had it only known the rank political heresies that were quietly hatching in its unconscious midst.
While Max Schurz's hall was rapidly filling with the polyglot crowd of democratic solidarists, Ernest Le Breton and his brother were waiting in the chilly little drawing-room at Epsilon Terrrace, Bayswater, for the expected arrival of Harry Oswald. Ernest had promised to introduce Oswald to Max Schurz's reception; and it was now past eight o'clock, getting rather a late hour for those simple-minded, early-rising Communists. 'I'm afraid, Herbert,' said Ernest to his brother, 'he forgets that Max is a working-man who has to be at his trade again punctually by seven o'clock to-morrow. He thinks he's going out to a regular society At Home, where ten o'clock's considered just the beginning of the evening. Max won't at all like his turning up so late; it smells of non-productivity.'
'If Herr Schurz wants to convert the world,' Herbert answered chillily, rolling himself a tiny cigarette, 'he must convince the unproductive as well as the proletariate before he can set things fairly on the roll for better arrangement. The proletariate's all very well in its way, no doubt, but the unproductive happen to hold the key of the situation. One convert like you or me is worth a thousand ignorant East-end labourers, with nothing but their hands and their votes to count upon.'
'But you are not a convert, Herbert.'
'I didn't say I was. I'm a critic. There's no necessity to throw oneself open-armed into the embrace of either party. The wise man can wait and watch the progress of the game, backing the winner for the time being at all the critical moments, and hedging if necessary when the chances turn momentarily against the favourite. There's a ring at the bell: that's Oswald; let's go down to the door to meet him.'
Ernest ran down the stairs rapidly, as was his wont; Herbert followed in a more leisurely fashion, still rolling the cigarette between his delicate finger and thumb. 'Goodness gracious, Oswald!' Ernest exclaimed as his friend stepped in, 'why, you've actually come in evening dress! A white tie and all! What on earth will Max say? He'll be perfectly scandalised at such a shocking and unprecedented outrage. This will never do; you must dissemble somehow or other.'
Oswald laughed. 'I had no idea,' he said, 'Herr Schurz was such a truculent sans-culotte as that comes to. As it was an evening reception I thought, of course, one ought to turn up in evening clothes.'
'Evening clothes! My dear fellow, how on earth do you suppose a set of poor Leicester Square outlaws are going to get themselves correctly set up in black broadcloth coats and trousers? They might wash their white ties themselves, to be sure; they mostly do their own washing, I believe, in their own basins.' ('And not much at that either,' put in Herbert, parenthetically.) 'But as to evening clothes, why, they'd as soon think of arraying themselves for dinner in full court dress as of putting on an obscurantist swallow-tail. It's the badge of a class, a distinct aristocratic outrage; we must alter it at once, I assure you, Oswald.'
'At any rate,' said Oswald laughing, 'I've had the pleasure of finding myself accused for the first time in the course of my existence of being aristocratic. It's quite worth while going to Max Schurz's once in one's life, if it were only for the sake of that single new sensation.'
'Well, my dear fellow, we must rectify you, anyhow, before you go. Let me see; luckily you've got your dust-coat on, and you needn't take that off; it'll do splendidly to hide your coat and waistcoat. I'll lend you a blue tie, which will at once transform your upper man entirely. But you show the cloven hoof below; the trousers will surely betray you. They're absolutely inadmissible under any circumstances whatsoever, as the Court Circular says, and you must positively wear a coloured pair of Herbert's instead of them. Run upstairs quickly, there's a good fellow, and get rid of the mark of the Beast as fast as you can.'
Oswald did as he was told without demur, and in about a minute more presented himself again, with the mark of the Beast certainly most effectually obliterated, at least so far as outer appearance went. His blue tie, light dust-coat, and borrowed grey trousers, made up an ensemble much more like an omnibus conductor out for a holiday than a gentleman of the period in correct evening dress. 'Now mind,' Ernest said seriously, as he opened the door, 'whatever you do, Oswald, if you stew to death for it—and Schurz's rooms are often very close and hot, I can assure you—don't for heaven's sake go and unbutton your dust-coat. If you do they'll see at once you're a wolf in sheep's clothing, and I shouldn't be at all surprised if they were to turn and rend you. At least, I'm sure Max would be very much annoyed with me for unsocially introducing a plutocratic traitor into the bosom of the fold.'
They walked along briskly in the direction of Marylebone, and stopped at last at a dull, yellow-washed house, which bore on its door a very dingy brass plate, inscribed in red letters, 'M. et Mdlle. Tirard. Salon de Danse.' Ernest opened the door without ringing, and turned down the passage towards the salon. 'Remember,' he said, turning to Harry Oswald by way of a last warning, with his hand on the inner door-handle, 'coute que coute, my dear fellow, don't on any account open your dust-coat. No anti-social opinions; and please bear in mind that Max is, in his own way, a potentate.'
The big hall, badly lighted by a few contribution candles (for the whole colony subscribed to the best of its ability for the support of the weekly entertainment), was all alive with eager figures and the mingled busy hum of earnest conversation. A few chairs ranged round the wall were mostly occupied by Mdlle. Tirard and the other ladies of the Socialist party; but the mass of the guests were men, and they were almost all smoking, in utter indifference to the scanty presence of the fair sex. Not that they were intentionally rude or boorish; that they never were; except where an emperor or an aristocrat is concerned, there is no being on earth more courteous, kindly, and considerate for the feelings of others than your exiled Socialist. He has suffered much himself in his own time, and so miseris succurrere discit. Emperors he mentally classes with cobras, tarantulas, and scorpions, as outside the pale of humanitarian sympathies altogether; but, with this slight political exception, he is the broadest and tenderest and most catholic in his feelings of all living breathing creatures. However, the ladies of his party have all been brought up from their childhood onward in a mingled atmosphere of smoke and democracy; so that he no more thinks of abstaining from tobacco in their presence than he thinks of commiserating the poor fish for being so dreadfully wet, or the unfortunate mole for his unpleasantly slimy diet of live earthworms.
'Herr Schurz,' said Ernest, singling out the great leader in the gloom immediately, 'I've brought my brother Herbert here, whom you know already, to see you, as well as another Oxford friend of mind, Mr. Harry Oswald, Fellow and Lecturer of Oriel. He's almost one of us at heart, I'm happy to say, and at any rate I'm sure you'll be glad to make his acquaintance.'
The little spare wizened-up grey man, in the threadbare brown velveteen jacket, who stood in the middle of the hall, caught Ernest's hand warmly, and held it for a moment fettered in his iron grip. There was an honesty in that grip and in those hazy blue-spectacled eyes that nobody could for a second misunderstand. If an emperor had been introduced to Max Schurz he might have felt a little abashed one minute at the old Socialist's royal disdain, but he could not have failed to say to himself as he looked at him from head to foot, 'Here, at least, is a true man.' So Harry Oswald felt, as the spare grey thinker took his hand in his, and grasped it firmly with a kindly pressure, but less friendly than that with which he had greeted his known admirer, Ernest Le Breton. As for Herbert, he merely bowed to him politely from a little distance; and Herbert, who had picked up at once with a Polish exile in a corner, returned the bow frigidly without coming up to the host himself at all for a moment's welcome.
'I'm always pleased to meet friends of the cause from Oxford,' Herr Schurz said, in almost perfect English. 'We want recruits most of all among the thinking classes. If we are ever to make headway against the banded monopolies—against the place-holders, the land-grabbers, the labour-taxers, the robbers of the poor—we must first secure the perfect undivided confidence of the brain-workers, the thinkers, and the writers. At present everything is against us; we are but a little leaven, trying vainly in our helpless fashion to leaven the whole lump. The capitalist journals carry off all the writing talent in the world; they are timid, as capital must always be; they tremble for their tens of thousands a year, and their vast circulations among the propertied classes. We cannot get at the heart of the people, save by the Archimedean lever of the thinking world. For that reason, my dear Le Breton, I am always glad to muster here your Oxford neophytes.'
'And yet, Herr Schurz,' said Ernest gently, 'you know we must not after all despair. Look at the history of your own people! When the cause of Jehovah seemed most hopeless, there were still seven thousand left in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. We are gaining strength every day, while they are losing it.'
'Ah yes, my friend. I know that too,' the old man answered, with a solemn shake of the head; 'but the wheels move slowly, they move slowly—very surely, but oh, so slowly. You are young, friend Ernest, and I am growing old. You look forward to the future with hope; I look back to the past with regret: so many years gone, so little, so very little done. It will come, it will come as surely as the next glacial period, but I shall not live to see it. I stand like Moses on Pisgah; I see the promised land before me; I look down upon the equally allotted vineyards, and the glebe flowing with milk and honey in the distance; but I shall not lead you into it; I shall not even lead you against the Canaanites; another than I must lead you in. But I am an old man, Mr. Oswald, an old man now, and I am talking all about myself—an anti-social trick we have inherited from our fathers. What is your friend's special line at Oxford, did you say, Ernest?'
'Oswald is a mathematician, sir,' said Ernest, 'perhaps the greatest mathematician among the younger men in the whole University.'
'Ah! that is well. We want exact science. We want clear and definite thinking. Biologists and physicists and mathematicians, those are our best recruits, you may depend upon it. We need logic, not mere gas. Our French friends and our Irish friends—I have nothing in the world to say against them; they are useful men, ardent men, full of fire, full of enthusiasm, ready to do and dare anything—but they lack ballast. You can't take the kingdom of heaven by storm. The social revolution is not to be accomplished by violence, it is not even to be carried by the most vivid eloquence; the victory will be in the end to the clearest brain and the subtlest intellect. The orthodox political economists are clever sophists; they mask and confuse the truth very speciously; we must have keen eyes and sharp noses to spy out and scent out their tortuous fallacies. I'm glad you're a mathematician, Mr. Oswald. And so you have thought on social problems?'
'I have read "Gold and the Proletariate,"' Oswald answered modestly, 'and I learned much from it, and thought more. I won't say you have quite converted me, Herr Schurz, but you have given me plenty of food for future reflection.'
'That is well, said the old man, passing one skinny brown hand gently up and down over the other. 'That is well. There's no hurry. Don't make up your mind too fast. Don't jump at conclusions. It's intellectual dishonesty to do that. Wait till you have convinced yourself. Spell out your problems slowly; they are not easy ones; try to see how the present complex system works; try to probe its inequalities and injustices; try to compare it with the ideal commonwealth: and you'll find the light in the end, you'll find the light.'
As he spoke, Herbert Le Breton lounged up quietly from his farther corner towards the little group. 'Ah, your brother, Ernest!' said Max Schurz, drawing himself up a little more stiffly; 'he has found the light already, I believe, but he neglects it; still he is not with us, and he that is not with us is against us. You hold aloof always, Mr. Herbert, is it not so?'
'Well, not quite aloof, Herr Schurz, I'm certain, but not on your side exactly either. I like to look on and hold the balance evenly, not to throw my own weight too lightly into either stale. The objective attitude of the mere spectator is after all the right one for an impartial philosopher to take up.'
'Ah, Mr. Herbert, this philosophy of your Oxford contemplative Radicals is only another name for a kind of social selfishness, I fancy,' said the old man solemnly. 'It seems to me your head is with us, but your heart, your heart is elsewhere.'
Herbert Le Breton played a moment quietly with the Roman aureus of Domitian on his watch-chain; then he said slowly in his clear cold voice, 'There may be something in that, no doubt, Herr Schurz, for each of us has his own game to play, and while the world remains unreformed, he must play it on his own gambit to a great extent, without reference to the independent game of others. We all agree that the board is too full of counters, and as each counter is not responsible for its own presence and position on the board, having been put there without previous consultation by the players, we must each do the best we can for ourselves in our own fashion. My sympathies, as you say, are on your side, but perhaps my interests lie the other way, and after all, till you start your millennium, we must all rattle along as well as we can in the box together, jarring against one another in our old ugly round of competition, and supply and demand, and survival of the fittest, and mutual accommodation, and all the rest of it, to the end of the chapter. Every man for himself and God for us all, you know. You have the logic, to be sure, Herr Schurz, but the monopolists have the law and the money.'
'Ah, yes,' said the old Socialist grimly; 'Demas, Demas; he and his silver mine; you remember your Bunyan, don't you? Well, all faiths and systems have their Demases. The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. He's bursar of his college, isn't he, Ernest? I thought so. "He had the bag, and bare what was put therein." A dangerous office, isn't it, Mr. Oswald? A very dangerous office. You can't touch pitch or property without being defiled.'
'You at least, sir, said Ernest, reverentially, 'have kept yourself unspotted from the world.'
The old man sighed, and turned for a moment to speak in French to a tall, big-bearded new-comer who advanced to meet him. 'Impossible!' he said quickly; 'I am truly distressed to hear it. It is very imprudent, very unnecessary.'
'What is the news?' asked Ernest, also in French.
The new-comer answered him with a marked South Russian accent. 'There has been another attempt on the life of Alexander Nicolaiovitch.'
'You don't mean to say so!' cried Ernest in surprise.
'Yes, I do,' replied the Russian, 'and it has nearly succeeded too.'
'An attempt on whom?' asked Oswald, who was new to the peculiar vocabulary of the Socialists, and not particularly accustomed to following spoken French.
'On Alexander Nicolaiovitch,' answered the red-bearded stranger.
'Not the Czar?' Oswald inquired of Ernest.
'Yes, the one whom you call Czar,' said the stranger, quickly, in tolerable English. The confusion of tongues seemed to be treated as a small matter at Max Schurz's receptions, for everybody appeared to speak all languages at once, in the true spirit of solidarity, as though Babel had never been.
Oswald did not attempt to conceal a slight gesture of horror. The tall Russian looked down upon him commiseratingly. 'He is of the Few?' he asked of Ernest, that being the slang of the initiated for a member of the aristocratic and capitalist oligarchy.
'Not exactly,' Ernest answered with a smile; 'but he has not entirely learned the way we here regard these penal measures. His sympathies are one-sided as to Alexander, no doubt. He thinks merely of the hunted, wretched life the man bears about with him, and he forgets poor bleeding, groaning, down-trodden, long-suffering Russia. It is the common way of Englishmen. They do not realise Siberia and Poland and the Third Section, and all the rest of it; they think only of Alexander as of the benevolent despot who freed the serf and befriended the Bulgarian. They never remember that they have all the freedom and privileges themselves which you poor Russians ask for in vain; they do not bear in mind that he has only to sign his name to a constitution, a very little constitution, and he might walk abroad as light-hearted in St. Petersburg to-morrow as you and I walk in Regent Street to-day. We are mostly lopsided, we English, but you must bear with us in our obliquity; we have had freedom ourselves so long that we hardly know how to make due allowance for those unfortunate folks who are still in search of it.'
'If you had an Alexander yourselves for half a day,' the Russian said fiercely, turning to Oswald, 'you would soon see the difference. You would forget your virtuous indignation against Nihilist assassins in the white heat of your anger against unendurable tyranny. You had a King Charles in England once—the mere shadow of a Russian Czar—and you were not so very ceremonious with him, you order-loving English, after all.'
'It is a foolish thing, Borodinsky,' said Max Schurz, looking up from the long telegram the other had handed him, 'and I told Toroloff as much a fortnight ago, when he spoke to me about the matter. You can do no good by these constant attacks, and you only rouse the minds of the oligarchy against you by your importunity. Bloodshed will avail us nothing; the world cannot be regenerated by a baptism like that. Every peasant won over, every student enrolled, every mother engaged to feed her little ones on the gospel of Socialism together with her own milk, is worth a thousand times more to us and to the people than a dead Czar. If your friends had really blown him up, what then? You would have had another Czar, and another Third Section, and another reign of terror, and another raid and massacre; and we should have lost twenty good men from our poor little side for ever. We must not waste the salt of the earth in that reckless fashion. Besides, I don't like this dynamite. It's a bad argument, it smacks too much of the old royal and repressive method. You know the motto Louis Quatorze used to cast on his bronze cannon—"Ultima ratio regum." Well, we Socialists ought to be able to find better logic for our opponents than that, oughtn't we?'
'But in Russia,' cried the bearded man hotly, 'in poor stricken-down groaning Russia, what other argument have they left us? Are we to be hunted to death without real law or trial, tortured into sham confessions, deluded with mock pardons, arraigned before hypocritical tribunals, ensnared by all the chicanery, and lying, and treachery, and ferreting of the false bureaucracy, with its spies, and its bloodhounds, and its knout-bearing police-agents; and then are we not to make war the only way we can—open war, mind you, with fair declaration, and due formalities, and proper warning beforehand—against the irresponsible autocrat and his wire-pulled office-puppets who kill us off mercilessly? You are too hard upon us, Herr Schurz; even you yourself have no sympathy at all for unhappy Russia.'
The old man looked up at him tenderly and regretfully. 'My poor Borodinsky,' he said in a gentle tremulous voice, 'I have indeed sympathy and pity in abundance for you. I do not blame you; you will have enough and to spare to do that, even here in free England; I would not say a harsh word against you or your terrible methods for all the world. You have been hard-driven, and you stand at bay like tigers. But I think you are going to work the wrong way, not using your energies to the best possible advantage for the proletariate. What we have really got to do is to gain over every man, woman, and child of the working-classes individually, and to array on our side all the learning and intellect and economical science of the thinking classes individually; and then we can present such a grand united front to the banded monopolists that for very shame they will not dare to gainsay us. Indeed, if it comes to that, we can leave them quietly alone, till for pure hunger they will come and beg our assistance. When we have enticed away all the workmen from their masters to our co-operative factories, the masters may keep their rusty empty mills and looms and engines to themselves as long as they like, but they must come to us in the end, and ask us to give them the bread they used to refuse us. For my part, I would kill no man and rob no man; but I would let no man kill or rob another either.'
'And how about Alexander Nicolaiovitch, then?' persisted the Russian, eagerly. 'Has he killed none in his loathsome prisons and in his Siberian quicksilver mines? Has he robbed none of their own hardly got earnings by his poisoned vodki and his autocratically imposed taxes and imposts? Who gave him an absolute hereditary right to put us to death, to throw us in prison, to take our money from us against our will and without our leave, to treat us as if we existed, body and soul, and wives and children, only as chattels for the greater glory of his own orthodox imperial majesty? If we may justly slay the highway robber who meets us, arms in hand, in the outskirts of the city, and demands of us our money or our life, may we not justly slay Alexander Nicolaiovitch, who comes to our homes in the person of his tax-gatherers to take the bread out of our children's mouths and to help himself to whatever he chooses by the divine right of his Romanoff heirship? I tell you, Herr Max, we may blamelessly lie in wait for him wherever we find him, and whoso says us nay is siding with the wolf against the lambs, with the robber and the slayer against the honest representative of right and justice.'
'I never met a Nihilist before,' said Oswald to Ernest, in a half-undertone,' and it never struck me to think what they might have to say for themselves from their own side of the question.'
'That's one of the uses of coming here to Herr Schurz's,' Ernest answered quickly. 'You may not agree with all you hear, but at least you learn to see others as they see themselves; whereas if you mix always in English society, and read only English papers, you will see them only as we English see them.'
'But just fancy,' Oswald went on, as they both stood back a little to make way for others who wished for interviews with the great man, 'just fancy that this Borodinsky, or whatever his name may be, has himself very likely helped in dynamite plots, or manufactured nitro-glycerine cartridges to blow up the Czar; and yet we stand here talking with him as coolly as if he were an ordinary respectable innocent Englishman.'
'What of that?' Ernest answered, smiling. 'Didn't we meet Prince Strelinoffsky at Oriel last term, and didn't we talk with him too, as if he was an honest, hard-working, bread-earning Christian? and yet we knew he was a member of the St. Petersburg office clique, and at the bottom of half the trouble in Poland for the last ten years or so. Grant even that Borodinsky is quite wrong in his way of dealing with noxious autocrats, and yet which do you think is the worst criminal of the two—he with his little honest glazier's shop in a back slum of Paddington, or Strelinoffsky with his jewelled fingers calmly signing accursed warrants to send childing Polish women to die of cold and hunger and ill-treatment on the way to Siberia?'
'Well, really, Le Breton, you know I'm a passably good Radical, but you're positively just one stage too Radical even for me.'
'Come here oftener,' answered Ernest; 'and perhaps you'll begin to think a little differently about some things.'
An hour later in the evening Max Schurz found Ernest alone in a quiet corner. 'One moment, my dear Le Breton,' he said; 'you know I always like to find out all about people's political antecedents; it helps one to fathom the potentialities of their characters. From what social stratum, now, do we get your clever friend, Mr. Oswald?'
'His father's a petty tradesman in a country town in Devonshire, I believe,' Ernest answered; 'and he himself is a good general democrat, without any very pronounced socialistic colouring.'
'A petty tradesman! Hum, I thought so. He has rather the mental bearing and equipment of a man from the petite bourgeoisie. I have been talking to him, and drawing him out. Clever, very, and with good instincts, but not wholly and entirely sound. A fibre wrong somewhere, socially speaking, a false note suspected in his ideas of life; too much acquiescence in the thing that is, and too little faith or enthusiasm for the thing that ought to be. But we shall make something of him yet. He has read "Gold" and understands it. That is already a beginning. Bring him again. I shall always be glad to see him here.'
'I will,' said Ernest, 'and I believe the more you know him, Herr Max, the better you will like him.'
'And what did you think of the sons of the prophets?' asked Herbert Le Breton of Oswald as they left the salon at the close of the reception.
'Frankly speaking,' answered Oswald, looking half aside at Ernest, 'I didn't quite care for all of them—the Nihilists and Communards took my breath away at first; but as to Max Schurz himself I think there can be only one opinion possible about him.'
'And that is——?'
'That he's a magnificent old man, with a genuine apostolic inspiration. I don't care twopence whether he is right or wrong, but he's a perfectly splendid old fellow, as honest and transparent as the day's long. He believes in it all, and would give his life for it freely, if he thought he could forward the cause a single inch by doing it.'
'You're quite right,' said Herbert calmly. 'He's an Elijah thrown blankly upon these prosaic latter days; and what's more, his gospel's all true; but it doesn't matter a sou to you or me, for it will never come about in our time, no nor for a century after. "Post nos millennium." So what on earth's the good of our troubling our poor overworked heads about it?'
'He's the only really great man I ever knew,' said Ernest enthusiastically, 'and I consider that his friendship's the one thing in my life that has been really and truly worth living for. If a pessimist were to ask me what was the use of human existence, I should give him a card of introduction to go to Max Schurz's.'
'Excuse my interrupting your rhapsody, Ernest,' Herbert put in blandly, 'but will you have your own trousers tonight, Oswald, or will you wear mine back to your lodgings now, and I'll send one of the servants round with yours for them in the morning?'
'Thanks,' said Harry Oswald, slapping the sides of the unopened dust-coat; 'I think I'll go home as I am at present, and I'll recover the marks of the Beast again to-morrow. You see, I didn't betray my evening waistcoat after all, now did I?'
And they parted at the corner, each of them going his own way in his own mood and manner.
THE COASTS OF THE GENTILES.
The decayed and disfranchised borough of Calcombe Pomeroy, or Calcombe-on-the-Sea, is one of the prettiest and quietest little out-of-the-way watering-places in the whole smiling southern slope of the county of Devon. Thank heaven, the Great Western Railway, when planning its organised devastations along the beautiful rural region of the South Hams, left poor little Calcombe out in the cold; and the consequence is that those few people who still love to linger in the uncontaminated rustic England of our wiser forefathers can here find a beach unspoiled by goat-carriages or black-faced minstrels, a tiny parade uninvaded by stucco terraces or German brass bands, and an ancient stone pier off which swimmers may take a header direct, in the early morning, before the sumptuary edicts of his worship the Mayor compel them to resort to the use of bathing-machines and the decent covering of an approved costume, between the hours of eight and eight. A board beside the mouth of the harbour, signed by a Secretary of State to his late Majesty King William the Fourth, still announces to a heedless world the tolls to be paid for entry by the ships that never arrive; and a superannuated official in a wooden leg and a gold cap-band retains the honourable sinecure of a harbour-mastership, with a hypothetical salary nominally payable from the non-existent fees and port dues. The little river Cale, at the bottom of whose combe the wee town nestles snugly, has cut itself a deep valley in the soft sandstone hills; and the gap in the cliffs formed by its mouth gives room for the few hundred yards of level on which the antiquated little parade is warmly ensconced. On either hand tall bluffs of brilliant red marl raise their honeycombed faces fronting the sea; and in the distance the sheeny grey rocks of the harder Devonian promontories gleam like watered satin in the slant rays of the afternoon sun. Altogether a very sleepy little old-world place is Calcombe Pomeroy, specially reserved by the overruling chance of the universe to be a summer retreat for quiet, peace-loving, old-world people.
The Londoner who escapes for a while from the great teeming human ant-hill, with its dark foggy lanes and solid firmament of hanging smoke, to draw in a little unadulterated atmosphere at Calcombe Pomeroy, finds himself landed by the Plymouth slow train at Calcombe Road Station, twelve miles by cross-country highway from his final destination. The little grey box, described in the time-tables as a commodious omnibus, which takes him on for the rest of his journey, crawls slowly up the first six miles to the summit of the intervening range at the Cross Foxes Inn, and jolts swiftly down the other six miles, with red hot drag creaking and groaning lugubriously, till it seems to topple over sheer into the sea at the clambering High Street of the old borough. As you turn to descend the seaward slope at the Cross Foxes, you appear to leave modern industrial England and the nineteenth century well behind you on the north, and you go down into a little isolated primaeval dale, cut off from all the outer world by the high ridge that girds it round on every side, and turned only on the southern front towards the open Channel and the backing sun. Half-way down the steep cobble-paved High Street, just after you pass the big dull russet church, a small shop on the left-hand side bears a signboard with the painted legend, 'Oswald, Family Grocer and Provision Dealer.' In the front bay window of that red-brick house, built out just over the shop, Harry Oswald, Fellow and Lecturer of Oriel College, Oxford, kept his big oak writing-desk; and at that desk he might be seen reading or writing on most mornings during the long vacation, after the end of his three weeks' stay at a London West-end lodging-house, from which he had paid his first visit to Max Schurz's Sunday evening receptions.
'Two pounds of best black tea, good quality—yours is generally atrocious, Mrs. Oswald—that's the next thing on the list,' said poor trembling, shaky Miss Luttrell, the Squire's sister, a palsied old lady with a quavering, querulous, rasping voice. 'Two pounds of best black tea, and mind you don't send it all dust, as you usually do. No good tea to be got nowadays, since they took the duties off and ruined the country. And I see a tall young man lounging about the place sometimes, and never touching his hat to me as he ought to do. Young people have no manners in these times, Mrs. Oswald, as they used to have when you and I were young. Your son, I suppose, come home from sea or something? He's in the fish-curing line, isn't he, I think I've heard you say?'
'I don't rightly know who 'ee may mean, Miss Luttrell,' replied the mother proudly, 'by a young man lounging about the place; but my son's at home from Oxford at present for his vacations, and he isn't in the fish-curing line at all, ma'am, but he's a Fellow of his college, as I've told 'ee more than once already; but you're getting old, I see, Miss Luttrell, and your memory isn't just what it had used to be, dost know.'
'Oh, at Oxford, is he?' Miss Luttrell chimed on vacantly, wagging her wrinkled old head in solemn deprecation of tke evil omen. She knew it as well as Mrs. Oswald herself did, having heard the fact at least a thousand times before; but she made it a matter of principle never to encourage these upstart pretensions on the part of the lower orders, and just to keep them rigorously at their proper level she always made a feint of forgetting any steps in advance which they might have been bold enough to take, without humbly obtaining her previous permission, out of their original and natural obscurity. 'Fellow of his college is he, really? Fellow of a college! Dear me, how completely Oxford is going to the dogs. Admitting all kinds of odd people into the University, I understand. Why, my second brother—the Archdeacon, you know—was a Fellow of Magdalen for some time in his younger days. You surprise me, quite. Fellow of a college! You're perfectly sure he isn't a National schoolmaster at Oxford instead, and that you and his father haven't got the two things mixed up together in your heads, Mrs. Oswald?'
'No, ma'am, we'in perfectly sure of it, and we haven't got the things mixed up in our heads at all, no more nor you have, Miss Luttrell. He was a scholar of Trinity first, and now he's got a Fellowship at Oriel. You must mind hearing all about it at the time, only you're getting so forgetful like now, with years and such like.' Mrs. Oswald knew there was nothing that annoyed the old lady so much as any allusion to her increasing age or infirmities, and she took her revenge out of her in that simple retributive fashion.
'A scholar of Trinity, was he? Ah, yes, patronage will do a great deal in these days, for certain. The Rector took a wonderful interest in your boy, I think, Mrs. Oswald. He went to Plymouth Grammar School, I remember now, with a nomination no doubt; and there, I dare say, he attracted some attention, being a decent, hard-working lad, and got sent to Oxford with a sizarship, or something of the sort; there are all kinds of arrangements like that at the Universities, I believe, to encourage poor young men of respectable character. They become missionaries or ushers in the end, and often get very good salaries, considering everything, I'm told.'
'There you're wrong, again, ma'am,' put in Mrs. Oswald, stoutly. 'My husband, he sent Harry to Plymouth School at our own expense; and after that he got an exhibition from the school, and an open scholarship, I think they call it, at the college; and he's been no more beholden to patronage, ma'am, than your brother the Archdeacon was, nor for the matter o' that not so much neither; for I've a'ways understood the old Squire sent him first to the Charterhouse, and afterwards he got a living through Lord Modbury's influence, as the Squire voted regular with the Modbury people for the borough and county. But George was always independent, Miss Luttrell, and beholden to neither Luttrells nor Modburies, and that I tell 'ee to your face, ma'am, and no shame of it either.'
'Well, well, Mrs. Oswald,' said the old lady, shaking her head more violently than ever at this direct discomfiture, 'I don't want to argue with you about the matter. I dare say your son's a very worthy young man, and has worked his way up into a position he wasn't intended for by Providence. But it's no business of mine, thank heaven, it's no business of mine, for I'm not responsible for all the vagaries of all the tradespeople on my brother's estate, nor don't want to be. There's Mrs. Figgins, now, the baker's wife; her daughter has just chosen to get married to a bank clerk in London; and I said to her this morning, "Well, Mrs. Figgins, so you've let your Polly go and pick up with some young fellow from town that you've never seen before, haven't you? And that's the way of all you people. You marry your girls to bank clerks without a reference, for the sake of getting 'em off your hands, and what's the consequence? They rob their employers to keep up a pretty household for their wives, as if they were fine ladies; and then at last the thing's discovered, there comes a smash, they run away to America, and you have your daughters and their children thrown back again penniless upon your hands." That's what I said to her, Mrs. Oswald. And how's YOUR daughter, by the way—Jemima I think you call her; how's she, eh, tell me?'
'I beg your pardon, Miss Luttrell, but her name's not Jemima; it's Edith.'
'Oh, Edith, is it? Well to be sure! The grand names girls have dangling about with them nowadays! My name's plain Catherine, and it's good enough for me, thank goodness. But these young ladies of the new style must be Ediths and Eleanors and Ophelias, and all that heathenish kind of thing, as if they were princesses of the blood or play-actresses, instead of being good Christian Susans and Janes and Betties, like their grandmothers were before them. And Miss Edith, now, what is SHE doing?'
'She's doing nothing in particular at this moment, Miss Luttrell, leastways not so far as I know of; but she's going up to Oxford part of this term on a visit to her brother.'
'Going up to Oxford, my good woman! Why, heaven bless the girl, she'd much better stop at home and learn her catechism. She should try to do her duty in that station of life to which it has pleased Providence to call her, instead of running after young gentlemen above her own rank and place in society at Oxford. Tell her so from me, Mrs. Oswald, and mind you don't send the tea dusty. Two pounds of your best, if you please, as soon as you can send it. Good-morning.' And Miss Luttrell, having discovered the absolute truth of the shocking rumour which had reached her about Edith's projected visit, the confirmation of which was the sole object of her colloquy, wagged her way out of the shop again successfully, and was duly assisted by the page-boy into her shambling little palsied donkey-chair.
'That was all the old cat came about, you warr'nt you,' muttered Mr. Oswald himself from behind his biscuit-boxes. 'Must have heard it from the Rector's wife, and wanted to find out if it was true, to go and tell Mrs. Walters o' such a bit o' turble presumptiousness.'
Meanwhile, in the little study with the bow-window over the shop, Harry and Edie Oswald were busily discussing the necessary preparations for Edie's long-promised visit to the University.
'I hope you've got everything nice in the way of dress, you know, Edie,' said Harry. 'You'll want a decent dinner dress, of course, for you'll be asked out to dine at least once or twice; and I want you to have everything exceedingly proper and pretty.'
'I think I've got all I need in that way, Harry; I've my dark poplin, cut square in the bodice, for one dinner dress, and my high black silk to fall back upon for another. Worn open in front, with a lace handkerchief and a locket, it does really very nicely. Then I've got three afternoon dresses, the grey you gave me, the sage-greeny aesthetic one, and the peacock-blue with the satin box-pleats. It's a charming dress, the peacock-blue; it looks as if it might have stepped straight out of a genuine Titian. It came home from Miss Wells's this morning. Wait five minutes, like a dear boy, and I'll run and put it on and let you see me in it.'
'That's a good girl, do. I'm so anxious you should have all your clothes the exact pink of perfection, Popsy. Though I'm afraid I'm a very poor critic in that matter—if you were only a problem in space of four dimensions, now! Yet, after all, every man or woman is more of a problem than anything in x square plus y square you can possibly set yourself.'
Edie ran lightly up into her own room, and soon reappeared clad resplendent in the new peacock-blue dress, with hat and parasol to match, and a little creamy lamb's-wool scarf thrown with artful carelessness around her pretty neck and shoulders. Harry looked at her with unfeigned admiration. Indeed, you would not easily find many lighter or more fairly-like little girls than Edie Oswald, even in the beautiful half-Celtic South Hams of Devon. In figure she was rather small than short, for though she was but a wee thing, her form was so exactly and delicately modelled that she might have looked tall if she stood alone at a little distance. She never walked, but seemed to dance about from place to place, so buoyant and light, that Harry doubted whether in her case gravitation could really vary as the square of the distance—it seemed, in fact, to be almost diminished in the proportions of the cube. Her hair and eyes—such big bright eyes!—were dark; but her complexion was scarcely brunette, and the colour in her cheeks was rich and peach-like, after the true Devonian type. She was dimpled whenever she smiled, and she smiled often; her full lips giving a peculiar ripe look to her laughing mouth that suited admirably with her light and delicate style of beauty. Perhaps some people might have thought them too full; certainly they irresistibly suggested to a critical eye the distinct notion of kissability. As she stood there, faintly blushing, waiting to be admired by her brother, in her neatly fitting dainty blue dress, her lips half parted, and her arms held carelessly at her side, she looked about as much like a fairy picture as it is given to mere human flesh and blood to look.
'It's delicious, Edie,' said Harry, surveying her from, head to foot with a smile of satisfaction which made her blush deepen; 'it's simply delicious. Where on earth did you get the idea of it?'
'Well, it's partly the present style,' said Edie; 'but I took the notion of the bodice partly too from that Vandyck, you know, in the Palazzo Bossi at Genoa.'
'I remember, I remember,' Harry answered, contemplating her with an admiring eye. 'Now just turn round and show me how it sits behind, Edie. You recollect Theophile Gautier says the one great advantage which a beautiful woman possesses over a beautiful statue is this, that while a man has to walk round the beautiful statue in order to see it from every side, he can ask the beautiful woman to turn herself round and let him see her, without requiring to take that trouble.'
'Theophile Gautier was a horrid man, and if anybody but my brother quoted such a thing as that to me I should be very angry with him indeed.'
'Theophile Gautier was quite as horrid as you consider him to be, and if you were anybody but my sister it isn't probable I should have quoted him to you. But if there is any statue on earth prettier or more graceful than you are in that dress at this moment, Edie, then the Venus of Milo ought immediately to be pulverised to ultimate atoms for a rank artistic impostor.'
'Thank you, Harry, for the compliment. What pretty things you must be capable of saying to somebody else's sister, when you're so polite and courtly to your own.'
'On the contrary, Popsy, when it comes to somebody else's sister I'm much too nervous and funky to say anything of the kind. But you must at least do Gautier the justice to observe that if I had described a circle round you, instead of allowing you to revolve once on your own axis, I shouldn't have been able to get the gloss on the satin in the sunlight as I do now that you turn the panniers toward the window. That, you must admit, is a very important aesthetic consideration.'
'Oh, of course it's essentially a sunshiny dress,' said Edie, smiling. 'It's meant to be worn out of doors, on a fine afternoon, when the light is falling slantwise, you know, just as it does now through the low window. That's the light painters always choose for doing satin in.'
'It's certainly very pretty,' Harry went on, musing; 'but I'm afraid Le Breton would say it was a serious piece of economic hubris.'
'Piece of what?' asked Edie quickly.
'Piece of hubris—an economical outrage, don't you see; a gross anti-social and individualist demonstration. Hubris, you know, is Greek for insolence; at least, not quite insolence, but a sort of pride and overweening rebelliousness against the gods, the kind of arrogance that brings Nemesis after it, you understand. It was hubris in Agamemnon and Xerxes to go swelling about and ruffling themselves like turkey-cocks, because they were great conquerors and all that sort of thing; and it was their Nemesis to get murdered by Clytemnestra, or jolly well beaten by the Athenians at Salamis. Well, Le Breton always uses the word for anything that he thinks socially wrong—and he thinks a good many things socially wrong, I can tell you—anything that partakes of the nature of a class distinction, or a mere vulgar ostentation of wealth, or a useless waste of good, serviceable, labour-gotten material. He would call it hubris to have silver spoons when electroplate would do just as well; or to keep a valet for your own personal attendant, making one man into the mere bodily appanage of another; or to buy anything you didn't really need, causing somebody else to do work for you which might otherwise have been avoided.'
'Which Mr. Le Breton—the elder or the younger one?'
'Oh, the younger—Ernest. As for Herbert, the Fellow of St. Aldate's, he's not troubled with any such scruples; he takes the world as he finds it.'
'They've both gone in for their degrees, haven't they?'
'Yes, Herbert has got a fellowship; Ernest's up in residence still looking about for one.'
'It's Ernest that would think my dress a piece of what-you-may-call-it?'
'Then I'm sure I shan't like him. I should insist upon every woman's natural right to wear the dress or hat or bonnet that suits her complexion best.'
'You can't tell, Edie, till you've met him. He's a very good fellow; and of one thing I'm certain, whatever he thinks right he does, and sticks to it.'
'But do YOU think, Harry, I oughtn't to wear a new peacock-blue camel-hair dress on my first visit up to Oxford?'
'Well, Edie dear, I don't quite know what my own opinions are exactly upon that matter. I'm not an economist, you see, I'm a man of science. When I look at you, standing there so pretty in that pretty dress, I feel inclined to say to myself, "Every woman ought to do her best to make herself look as beautiful as she can for the common delectation of all humanity." Your beauty, a Greek would have said, is a gift from the gods to us all, and we ought all gratefully to make the most of it. I'm sure I do.'
'Thank you, Harry, again. You're in your politest humour this afternoon.'
'But then, on the other hand, I know if Le Breton were here he'd soon argue me over to the other side. He has the enthusiasm of humanity so strong upon him that you can't help agreeing with him as long as he's talking to you.'
'Then if he were here you'd probably make me put away the peacock-blue, for fear of hubris and Nemesis and so forth, and go up to Oxford a perfect fright in my shabby old Indian tussore!'
'I don't know that I should do that, even then, Edie. In the first place, nothing on earth could make you look a perfect fright, or anything like one, Popsy dear; and in the second place, I don't know that I'm Socialist enough myself ever to have the courage of my opinions as Le Breton has. Certainly, I should never attempt to force them unwillingly upon others. You must remember, Edie, it's one thing for Le Breton to be so communistic as all that comes to, and quite another thing for you and me. Le Breton's father was a general and a knight, you see; and people will never forget that his mother's Lady Le Breton still, whatever he does. He may do what he likes in the way of social eccentricities, and the world will only say he's such a very strange advanced young fellow. But if I were to take you up to Oxford badly dressed, or out of the fashion, or looking peculiar in any way, the world wouldn't put it down to our political beliefs, but would say we were mere country tradespeople by birth, and didn't know any better. That makes a lot of difference, you know.'
'You're quite right, Harry; and yet, do you know, I think there must be something, too, in sticking to one's own opinions, like Mr. Le Breton. I should stick to mine, I'm sure, and wear whatever dress I liked, in spite of anybody. It's a sweet thing, really, isn't it?' And she turned herself round, craning over her shoulder to look at the effect, in a vain attempt to assume an objective attitude towards her own back.
'I'm glad I'm going to Oxford at last, Harry,' she said, after a short pause. 'I HAVE so longed to go all these years while you were an undergraduate; and I'm dying to have got there, now the chance has really come at last, after all. I shall glory in the place, I'm certain; and it'll be so nice to make the acquaintance of all your clever friends.'
'Well, Edie,' said her brother, smiling gently at the light, joyous, tremulous little figure, 'I think I've done right in putting it off till now. It's just as well you haven't gone up to Oxford till after your trip on the Continent with me. That three months in Paris, and Switzerland, and Venice, and Florence, did you a lot of good, you see; improved you, and gave you tone, and supplied you with things to talk about.'
'Why, you oughtn't to think I needed any improvement at all, sir,' Edie answered, pouting; 'and as to talking, I'm not aware I had ever any dearth of subjects for conversation even before I went on the Continent. There are things enough to be said about heaven and earth in England, surely, without one having to hurry through France and Italy, like Cook's excursionists, just to hunt up something fresh to chatter about. It's my belief that a person who can't find anything new to say about the every-day world around her won't discover much suggestive matter for conversation in a Continental Bradshaw. It's like that feeble watery lady I met at the table d'hote at Geneva. From something she said I gathered she'd been in India, and I asked her how she liked it. "Oh," she said, "it's very hot." I told her I had heard so before. Presently she said something casually about having been in Brazil. I asked her what sort of place Brazil was. "Oh." she said, "it's dreadfully hot." I told her I'd heard that too. By-and-by she began to talk again about Barbadoes. "What did you think of the West Indies?" I said. "Oh," said she, "they're terribly hot, really." I told her I had gathered as much from previous travellers. And that was positively all in the end I ever got out of her, for all her travels.'
'My dear Edie, I've always admitted that you were simply perfect,' Harry said, glancing at her with visible admiration, 'and I don't think anything on earth could possibly improve you—except perhaps a judicious course of differential and integral calculus, which might possibly serve to tone down slightly your exuberant and excessive vitality. Still, you know, from the point of view of society, which is a force we have always to reckon with—a constant, in fact, that we may call Pi—there can be no doubt in the world that to have been on the Continent is a differentiating factor in one's social position. It doesn't matter in the least what your own private evaluation of Pi may be; if you don't happen to know the particular things and places that Pi knows, Pi's evaluation of you will be approximately a minimum, of that you may be certain.'
'Well, for my part, I don't care twopence about Pi as you call it,' said Edie, tossing her pretty little head contemptuously; 'but I'm very glad indeed to have been on the Continent for my own sake, because of the pictures, and palaces, and mountains, and waterfalls we've seen, and not because of Pi's opinion of me for having seen them. I would have been the same person really whether I'd seen them or not; but I'm so much the richer myself for that view from the top of the Col de Balme, and for that Murillo—oh, do you remember the flood of light on that Murillo?—in the far corner of that delicious gallery at Bologna. Why, mother darling, what on earth has been vexing you?'
'Nothing at all, Edie dear; leastways, that is, nothing to speak of,' said her mother, coming up from the shop hot and flurried from her desperate encounter with the redoubtable Miss Luttrell.
'Oh, I know just what it is, darling,' cried the girl, putting her arm around her mother's waist caressingly, and drawing her down to kiss her face half a dozen times over in her outburst of sympathy. 'That horrid old Miss Catherine has been here again, I'm sure, for I saw her going out of the shop just now, and she's been saying something or other spiteful, as she always does, to vex my dearie. What did she say to you to-day, now do tell us, duckie mother?'
'Well, there,' said Mrs. Oswald, half laughing and half crying, 'I can't tell 'ee exactly what she did say, but it was just the kind of thing that she mostly does, impudent like, just to hurt a body's feelings. She said you'd better not go to Oxford, Edie, but stop at home and learn your catechism.'
'You might have pointed out to her, mother dear,' said the young man, smoothing her hair softly with his hand, and kissing her forehead, 'that in the most advanced intellectual centres the Church catechism is perhaps no longer regarded as the absolute ultimatum of the highest and deepest economical wisdom.'
'Bless your heart, Harry, what'd be the good of talking that way to the likes of she? She wouldn't understand a single word of what you were driving at. It must be all plain sailing with her, without it's in the way of spite, and then she sees her chance to tack round the hardest corner with half a wind in her sails only, as soon as look at it. Her sharpness goes all off toward ill-nature, that it do. Why, she said you'd got on at Oxford by good patronage!'
'There, you see, Edie,' cried Harry demonstratively, 'that's an infinitesimal fraction of Pi; that's a minute decimal of this great, sneering, ugly aggregate "society" that we have to deal with whether we will or no, and that rends us and grinds us to powder if only it can once get in the thin end of a chance. Take shaky bitter old Miss Catherine for your unit, multiply her to the nth, and there you see the irreducible power we have to fight against. All one's political economy is very well in its way; but the practical master of the situation is Pi, sitting autocratically in many-headed judgment on our poor solitary little individualities, and crushing us irretrievably with the dead weight of its inexorable cumulative nothingness. And to think that that quivering old mass of perambulating jealousy—that living incarnation of envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness—should be able to make you uncomfortable for a single moment, mother darling, with her petty, dribbling, doddering venom, why, it's simply unendurable.'
'There now, Harry,' said Mrs. Oswald, relenting, 'you mustn't be too hard, neither, on poor old Miss Catherine. She's a bit soured, you see, by disappointments and one thing and another. She doesn't mean it, really, but it's just her nature. Folks can't be blamed for their nature, now, can they?'
'It occurs to me,' said Harry quietly, 'that vipers only sting because it's their nature; and Dr. Watts has made a similar observation with regard to the growling and fighting of bears and lions. But I'm not aware that anybody has yet proposed to get up a Society for the protection of those much-misunderstood creatures, on the ground that they are not really responsible for their own inherited dispositions. Mr. William Sikes had a nature (no doubt congenital) which impelled him to beat his wife—I'm not sure that she was even his wife at all, now I come to think of it, but that's a mere detail—and to kick his familiar acquaintances casually about the head. We, on the other hand, have natures which impel us, when we catch Mr. William Sikes indulging in these innate idiosyncrasies by way of recreation, to clap him promptly into prison, and even, under certain aggravating conditions, to cause him to be hanged by the neck till he be dead. This may be a regrettable incident of our own peculiar dispositions, mother dear, but it has at least the same justification as Mr. Sikes's or the bears' and lions', that 'tis our nature to. And I feel pretty much the same way about old Miss Luttrell.'
'Well, there,' said his mother, kissing him gently, 'you're a bad rebellious boy to be calling names, like a chatter-mag, and I won't listen to you any longer. How pretty Edie do look in her new dress, to be sure, Harry. I'll warr'nt there won't be a prettier girl in Oxford next week than what she is; no, nor a better one and a sweeter one neither.'
Harry put his arms round both their waists at once, with an affectionate pressure; and they went down to their old-fashioned tea together in the little parlour behind the shop, looking out over the garden, and the beach, and the great cliffs beyond on either hand, to the very farthest edge of the distant clear-cut blue horizon.
The Reverend Arthur Collingham Berkeley, curate of St. Fredegond's, lounged lazily in his own neatly padded wickerwork easy-chair, opposite the large lattice-paned windows of his pretty little first-floor rooms in the front quad of Magdalen.
'There's a great deal to be said, Le Breton, in favour of October term,' he observed, in his soft, musical voice, as he gazed pensively across the central grass-plot to the crimson drapery of the Founder's Tower. 'Just look at that magnificent Virginia creeper over there, now; just look at the way the red on it melts imperceptibly into Tyrian purple and cloth of gold! Isn't that in itself argument enough to fling at Hartmann's head, if he ventured to come here sprinkling about his heresies, with his affected little spray-shooter, in the midst of a drowsy Oxford autumn? The Cardinal never saw Virginia creeper, I suppose; a man of his taste wouldn't have been guilty of committing such a gross practical anachronism as that, any more than he would have smoked a cigarette before tobacco was invented; but if only he could have seen the October effect on that tower yonder, he'd have acknowledged that his own hat and robe were positively nowhere in the running, for colour, wouldn't he?'
'Well,' answered Herbert, putting down the Venetian glass goblet he had been examining closely with due care into its niche in the over-mantel, 'I've no doubt Wolsey had too much historical sense ever to step entirely out of his own century, like my brother Ernest, for instance; but I've never heard his opinion on the subject of colour-harmonies, and I should suspect it of having been distinctly tinged with nascent symptoms of renaissance vulgarity. This is a lovely bit of Venetian, really, Berkeley. How the dickens do you manage to pick up all these pretty things, I wonder? Why can't I afford them, now?'
'What a question for the endowed and established to put to a poor starving devil of a curate like me!' said Berkeley lightly. 'You, an incarnate sinecure and vested interest, a creature revelling in an unearned income of fabulous Oriental magnificence—I dare say, putting one thing with another, fully as much as five hundred a year—to ask me, the unbeneficed and insignificant, with my wretched pittance of eighty pounds per annum and my three pass-men a term for classical mods, how I scrape together the few miserable, hoarded ha'pence which I grudgingly invest in my pots and pipkins! I save them from my dinner, Mr. Bursar—I save them. If the Church only recognised modest merit as it ought to do!—if the bishops only listened with due attention to the sound and scholarly exegesis of my Sunday evening discourses at St. Fredegond's!—then, indeed, I might be disposed to regard things through a more satisfied medium —the medium of a nice, fat, juicy country living. But for you, Le Breton—you, sir, a pluralist and a sanguisorb of the deepest dye—to reproach me with my Franciscan poverty—oh, it's too cruel!'
'I'm an abuse, I know,' Herbert answered, smiling and waving his hand gracefully. 'I at once admit it. Abuses exist, unhappily; and while they continue do so, isn't it better they should envisage themselves as me than as some other and probably less deserving fellow?'
'No, it's not, decidedly. I should much prefer that one of them envisaged itself as me.'
'Ah, of course. From your own strictly subjective point of view that's very natural. I also look at the question abstractly from the side of the empirical ego, and correctly deduce a corresponding conclusion. Only then, you see, the terms of the minor premiss are luckily reversed.'
'Well, my dear fellow,' said the curate, 'the fact about the tea-things is this. You eat up your income, devour your substance in riotous living; I prefer to feast my eyes and ears to my grosser senses. You dine at high table, and fare sumptuously every day; I take a commons of cold beef for lunch, and have tea off an egg and roll in my own rooms at seven. You drink St. Emilion or still hock; I drink water from the well or the cup that cheers but not obfuscates. The difference goes to pay for the crockery. Do likewise, and with your untold wealth you might play Aunt Sally at Oriental blue, and take cock-shots with a boot-jack at hawthorn-pattern vases.'
'At any rate, Berkeley, you always manage to get your money's worth of amusement out of your money.'
'Of course, because I lay myself out to do it. Buy a bottle of champagne, drink it off, and there you have to show for your total permanent investment on the transaction the memory of a noisy evening and a headache the next morning. Buy a flute, or a book of poems, or a little picture, or a Palissy platter, and you have something to turn to with delight and admiration for half a lifetime.'
'Ah, but it isn't everybody who can isolate himself so utterly from the workaday world and live so completely in his own little paradise of art as you can, my dear fellow. Non omnia possumus omnes. You seem to be always up in the aesthetic clouds, with your own music automatically laid on, and no need of cherubim or seraphim to chant continually for your gratification. Play me something of your own on your flute now, like a good fellow.'
'No, I won't; because the spirit doesn't move me. It's treachery to the divine gift to play when you don't want to. Besides, what's the use of playing before YOU when you're not the dean of a musical cathedral? David was wiser; he played only before Saul, who had of course all the livings in his own gift, no doubt. I've got a new thing running in my head this very minute that you shall hear though, all the same, as soon as I've hammered it into shape—a sort of villanette in music, a little whiff of country freshness, suggested by the new ethereal acquisition, little Miss Butterfly. Have you seen Miss Butterfly yet?'
'Not by that name, at any rate. Who is she?'
'Oh, the name's my own invention. Mademoiselle Volauvent, I mean—the little bit of whirligig thistledown from Devonshire, Oswald's sister, you know, of Oriel.'
'Ah, that one! Yes; just caught a glimpse of her in the High on Thursday. Very pretty, certainly, and as airy as a humming-bird.'
'That's her! She's coming here to lunch this morning. If you're a good boy, and will promise not to say anything naughty, you may stop and meet her. She's a nice little thing, but rather timid at seeing so many fresh faces. You mustn't frighten her by discussing the Absolute and the Unconditioned, or bore her by talking about Aristotle's Politics, or the revolutions in Corcyra. For you know, my dear Le Breton, if you HAVE a fault, it is that you're such a consummate and irrepressible prig; now aren't you really?'
'I'm hardly a fair judge on that subject, I suppose, Berkeley; but if YOU have a rudimentary glimmering of a virtue, it is that you're such a deliciously frank and yet considerate critic. I'll pocket your rudeness though, and eat your lunch, in spite of it. Is Miss Butterfly, as you call her, as stand-off as her brother?'
'Not at all. She's accueillante to the last degree.'
'Very restricted, I suppose—a country girl of the first water? Horizon absolutely bounded by the high hedges of her native parish?'
'Oh dear no! Anything but that. She's like her brother, naturally quick and adaptive.'
'Oswald's an excellent fellow in his way,' said Herbert, button-holing his own waistcoat; 'but he's spoilt by two bad traits. In the first place, he's so dreadfully conscious of the fact that he has risen from a lower position; and then, again, he's so engrossingly and pervadingly mathematical. X square seems to have seized upon him bodily, and to have wormed its fatal way into his very marrow.'
'Ah, you must remember, he's true to his first love. Culture came to him first, while yet he abode in Philistia, under the playful disguise of a conic section. He scaled his way out of Gath by means of a treatise on elementary trigonometry, and evaded Askelon on the wings of an undulatory theory of light. It is different with us, you know, who have emerged from the land of darkness by the regular classical and literary highway. We feed upon Rabelais and Burton; he flits carelessly from flower to flower of the theory of Quantics. If he were an idealist painter, like Rossetti, he would paint great allegorical pictures for us, representing an asymptotic curve appearing to him in a dream, and introducing that blushing maiden, Hyperbola, to his affectionate consideration.'
As Berkeley spoke, a rap sounded on the oak, and Ernest Le Breton entered the room.
'What, you here, Herbert?' he said with a shade of displeasure in his tone. 'Are you, too, of the bidden?'
'Berkeley has asked me to stop and lunch with him, if that's what you mean.'
'We shall be quite a party,' said Ernest, seating himself, and looking abstractedly round the room. 'Why, Berkeley,' as his eye fell upon the Venetian vase, 'you've positively got some more gew-gaws here. This one's new, isn't it? Eh!'
'Yes. I picked it up for a song, this long, at a stranded village in the Apennines. Literally for a song, for it cost me just what I got from Fradelli for that last little piece of mine. It's very pretty, isn't it?'
'Very; exquisite, really; the blending of the tones is so perfect. I wish I knew what to think about these things. I can't make up my mind about them. Sometimes I think it's all right to make them and buy them; sometimes I think it's all wrong.'
'Oh, if that's your difficulty,' said Berkeley, pulling his white tie straight at the tiny round looking-glass, 'I can easily reassure you. Do you think a hundred and eighty pounds a year an excessive sum for one person to spend upon his own entire living?'
'It doesn't seem so, as expenses go amongst US,' said Ernest, seriously, 'though I dare say it would look like shocking extravagance to a working man with a wife and family.'
'Very well, that's the very outside I ever spend upon myself in any one year, for the excellent reason that it's all I ever get to spend in any way. Now, why shouldn't I spend it on the things that please me best and are joys for ever, instead of on the things that disappear at once and perish in the using?'
'Ah, but that's not the whole question,' Ernest answered, looking at the curate fixedly. 'What right have you and I to spend so much when others are wanting for bread? And what right have you or I to make other people work at producing these useless trinkets for our sole selfish gratification?'
'Well now, Le Breton,' said the parson, assuming a more serious tone, 'you know you're a reasonable creature, so I don't mind discussing this question with you. You've got an ethical foundation to your nature, and you want to see things done on decent grounds of distributive justice. There I am one with you. But you've also got an aesthetic side to your nature, which makes you worth arguing with upon the matter. I won't argue with your vulgar materialised socialist, who would break up the frieze of the Parthenon for road metal, or pull down Giotto's frescoes because they represent scenes in the fabulous lives of saints and martyrs. You know what a work of art is when you see it; and therefore you're worth arguing with, which your vulgar Continental socialist really isn't. The one cogent argument for him is the whiff of grape-shot.'
'I recognise,' said Ernest, 'that the works of art, of poetry, or of music, which we possess are a grand inheritance from the past; and I would do all I could to preserve them intact for those that come after us.'
'I'm sure you would. No restoration or tinkering in you, I'm certain. Well, then, would you give anything for a world which hadn't got this aesthetic side to its corporate existence? Would you give anything for a world which didn't care at all for painting, sculpture, music, poetry? I wouldn't. I don't want such a world. I won't countenance such a world. I'll do nothing to further or advance such a world. It's utterly repugnant to me, and I banish it, as Themistocles banished the Athenians.'
'But consider,' said Ernest, 'we live in a world where men and women are actually starving. How can we reconcile to our consciences the spending of one penny on one useless thing when others are dying of sheer want, and cold, and nakedness? That's the great question that's always oppressing my poor dissatisfied conscience.'
'So it does everybody's—except Herbert's: he explains it all on biological grounds as the beautiful discriminative action of natural selection. Simple, but not consolatory. Still, look at the other side of the question. Suppose you and everybody else were to give up all superfluities, and confine all your energies to the unlimited production of bare necessaries. Suppose you occupy every acre of land with your corn-fields, or your piggeries; and sweep away all the parks, and woods, and heaths, and moorlands in England. Suppose you keep on letting your population multiply as fast as it chooses—and it WILL multiply, you know, in that ugly, reckless, anti-Malthusian fashion of its own—till every rood of ground maintains its man, and only just maintains him; and what will you have got then?'
'A dead level of abject pauperism,' put in Herbert blandly; 'a reductio ad absurdum of all your visionary Schurzian philosophy, my dear Ernest. Look at it another way, now, and just consider. Which really and truly matters most to you and me, a great work of art or a highly respectable horny-handed son of toil, whose acquaintance we have never had the pleasure of personally making? Suppose you read in the Times that the respectable horny-handed one has fallen off a scaffolding and broken his neck; and that the Dresden Madonna has been burnt by an unexpected accident; which of the two items of intelligence affects you the most acutely? My dear fellow, you may push your humanitarian enthusiasm as far as ever you like; but in your heart of hearts you know as well as I do that you'll deeply regret the loss of the Madonna, and you'll never think again about the fate of the respectable horny-handed, his wife or children.'
Ernest's answer, if he had any to make, was effectually nipped in the bud by the entrance of the scout, who came in to announce Mr. and Miss Oswald and Mrs. Martindale. Edie wore the grey dress, her brother's present, and flitted into the room after her joyous fashion, full of her first fresh delight at the cloistered quad of Magdalen.
'What a delicious college, Mr. Berkeley!' she said, holding out her hand to him brightly. 'Good-morning, Mr. Le Breton; this is your brother, I know by the likeness. I thought New College very beautiful, but nothing I've seen is quite as beautiful as Magdalen. What a privilege to live always in such a place! And what an exquisite view from your window here!'
'Yes,' said Berkeley, moving a few music-books from the seat in the window-sill; 'come and sit by it, Miss Oswald. Mrs. Martindale, won't you put your shawl down? How's the Professor to-day? So sorry he couldn't come.'
'Ah, he had to go to sit on one of his Boards,' said the old lady, seating herself. 'But you know I'm quite accustomed to going out without him.'
Arthur Berkeley knew as much; indeed, being a person of minute strategical intellect, he had purposely looked out a day on which the Professor had to attend a meeting of the delegates of something or other, so as to secure Mrs. Martindale's services without the supplementary drawback of that prodigious bore. Not that he was particularly anxious for Mrs. Martindale's own society, which was of the most strictly negative character; but he didn't wish Edie to be the one lady in a party of four men, and he invited the Professor's wife as an excellent neutral figure-head, to keep her in countenance. Ladies were scarcer then in Oxford than they are nowadays. The married fellow was still a tentative problematical experiment in those years, and the invasion of the Parks by young couples had hardly yet begun in earnest. So female society was still at a considerable local premium, and Berkeley was glad enough to secure even colourless old Mrs. Martindale to square his party at any price.
'And how do you like Oxford, Miss Oswald?' asked Ernest, making his way towards the window.
'My dear Le Breton, what a question to put to her!' said Berkeley, smiling. 'As if Oxford were a place to be appraised offhand, on three days' acquaintance. You remind me of the American who went to look at Niagara, and made an approving note in his memorandum book to say that he found it really a very elegant cataract.'
'Oh, but you MUST form some opinion of it at least, at first sight,' cried Edie; 'you can't help having an impression of a place from the first moment, even if you haven't a judgment on it, can you now? I think it really surpasses my expectations, Mr. Le Breton, which is always a pleasant surprise. Venice fell below them; Florence just came up to them; but Oxford, I think, really surpasses them.'
'We have three beautiful towns in Britain,' Berkeley said. ('As if he were a Welsh Triad,' suggested Herbert Le Breton, parenthetically.) 'Torquay, Oxford, Edinburgh. Torquay is all nature, spoilt by what I won't call art; Oxford is all art, superimposed on a swamp that I won't call nature; Edinburgh is both nature and art, working pretty harmoniously together, to make up a unique and exquisite picture.'
'Just like Naples, Venice, and Heidelberg,' said Edie, half to herself; but Berkeley caught at the words quickly as she said them. 'Yes,' he answered; 'a very good parallel, only Oxford has a trifle more nature about it than Venice. The lagoon, without the palaces, would be simply hideous; the Oseney flats, without the colleges, would be nothing worse than merely dull.'
'We owe a great deal,' said Ernest, gazing out towards the quadrangle, 'to the forgotten mass of labouring humanity who piled all those blocks of shapeless stone into beautiful forms for us who come after to admire and worship. I often wonder, when I sit here in Berkeley's window-seat, and look across the quad to the carved pinnacles on the Founder's Tower there, whether any of us can ever hope to leave behind to our successors any legacy at all comparable to the one left us by those nameless old mediaeval masons. It's a very saddening thought that we for whom all these beautiful things have been put together—we whom labouring humanity has pampered and petted from our cradles upward, feeding us on its whitest bread, and toiling for us with all its weary sinews—that we probably will never do anything at all for it and for the world in return, but will simply eat our way through life aimlessly, and die forgotten in the end like the beasts that perish. It ought to make us, as a class, terribly ashamed of our own utter and abject inutility.'
Edie looked at him with a sort of hushed surprise; she was accustomed to hear Harry talk radical talk enough after his own fashion, but radicalism of this particular pensive tinge she was not accustomed to. It interested her, and made her wonder what sort of man Mr. Le Breton might really be.
'Well, you know, Mr. Le Breton,' said old Mrs. Martindale, complacently, 'we must remember that Providence has wisely ordained that we shouldn't all of us be masons or carpenters. Some of us are clergymen, now, and look what a useful, valuable life a clergyman's is, after all, isn't it, Mr. Berkeley?' Berkeley smiled a faint smile of amusement, but said nothing. 'Others are squires and landed gentry; and I'm sure the landed gentry are very desirable in keeping up the tone of the country districts, and setting a pattern of virtue and refinement to their poorer neighbours. What would the country villages be, for example, if it weren't for the centres of culture afforded by the rectory and the hall, eh, Miss Oswald.' Edith thought of quavering old Miss Catherine Luttrell gossiping with the rector's wife, and held her peace. 'You may depend upon it Providence has ordained these distinctions of classes for its own wise purposes, and we needn't trouble our heads at all about trying to alter them.'
'I've always observed,' said Harry Oswald, 'that Providence is supposed to have ordained the existing order for the time being, whatever it may be, but not the order that is at that exact moment endeavouring to supplant it. If I were to visit Central Africa, I should confidently expect to be told by the rain-doctors that Providence had ordained the absolute power of the chief, and the custom of massacring his wives and slaves at his open grave side. I believe in Russia it's usually allowed that Providence has placed the orthodox Czar at the head of the nation, and that any attempt to obtain a constitution from him is simply flat rebellion and flying in the face of Providence. In England we had a King John once, and we extracted a constitution out of him and sundry other kings by main force; and here, it's acquiescence in the present limited aristocratic government that makes up obedience to the Providential arrangement of things apparently. But how about America? eh, Mrs. Martindale? Did Providence ordain that George Washington was to rebel against his most sacred majesty King George III., or did it not? And did it ordain that George Washington was to knock his most sacred majesty's troops into a cocked hat, or did it not? And did it ordain that Abraham Lincoln was to free the slaves, or did it not? What I want to know is this: can it be said that Providence has ordained every class distinction in the whole world, from Dahomey to San Francisco? And has it ordained every Government, past and present, from the Chinese Empire to the French Convention? Did it ordain, for example, the revolution of '89? That's the question I should like to have answered.'
'Dear me, Mr. Oswald,' said the old lady meekly, taken aback by Harry's voluble vehemence: 'I suppose Providence permits some things and ordains others.'
'And does it permit American democracy or ordain it?' asked the merciless Harry.
'Don't you see, Mrs. Martindale,' put in Berkeley, coming gently to her rescue, 'your principle amounts in effect to saying that whatever is, is right.'
'Exactly,' said the old lady, forgetting at once all about Dahomey or the Convention, and coming back mentally to her squires and rectors. 'The existing order is wisely arranged by Providence, and we mustn't try to set ourselves up against it.'
'But if whatever is, is right,' Edie said, laughing, 'then Mr. Le Breton's socialism must be right too, you see, because it exists in him no doubt for some wise purpose of Providence; and if he and those who think with him can succeed in changing things generally according to their own pattern, then the new system that they introduce will be the one that Providence has shown by the result to be the favoured one.'
'In short,' said Ernest, musingly, 'Mrs. Martindale's principle sanctifies success. It's the old theory of "treason never prospers—what's the reason? Because whene'er it prospers 'tis not treason." If we could only introduce a socialist republic, then it would be the reactionaries who would be setting themselves up against constituted authority, and so flying in the face of Providence.'
'Fancy lecturing a recalcitrant archbishop and a remonstrant ci-devant duchess,' cried Berkeley, lightly, 'upon the moral guilt and religious sinfulness of rebellion against the constituted authority of a communist phalanstery. It would be simply charming. I can imagine myself composing a dignified exhortation to deliver to his grace, entirely compiled out of his own printed pastorals, on the duty of submission and the danger of harbouring an insubordinate spirit. Do make me chaplain-in-ordinary to your house of correction for irreclaimable aristocrats, Le Breton, as soon as you once get your coming socialist republic fairly under way.'
'Luncheon is on the table, sir,' said the scout, breaking in unceremoniously upon their discussion.
If Arthur Berkeley lunched by himself upon a solitary commons of cold beef, he certainly did not treat his friends and guests in corresponding fashion. His little entertainment was of the daintiest and airiest character, so airy that, as Edie herself observed afterwards to Harry, it took away all the sense of meat and drink altogether, and left one only a pleased consciousness of full artistic gratification. Even Ernest, though he had his scruples about the aspic jelly, might eat the famous Magdalen chicken cutlets, his brother said, 'with a distinct feeling of exalted gratitude to the arduous culinary evolution of collective humanity.'
'Consider,' said Herbert, balancing neatly a little pyramid of whip cream and apricot jam upon his fork, 'consider what ages of slow endeavour must have gone to the development of such a complex mixture as this, Ernest, and thank your stars that you were born in this nineteenth century of Soyer and Francatelli, instead of being condemned to devour a Homeric feast with the unsophisticated aid of your own five fingers.'
'But do tell me, Mr. Le Breton,' asked Edie, with one of her pretty smiles, 'what will this socialist republic of yours be like when it actually comes about? I'm dying to know all about it.'
'Really, Miss Oswald,' Ernest answered, in a half-embarrassed tone, 'I don't quite know how to reply to such a very wide and indefinite question. I haven't got any cut-and-dried constitutional scheme of my own for reorganising the whole system of society, any distinct panacea to cure all the ills that collective flesh is heir to. I leave the details of the future order to your brother Harry. The thing that troubles me is not so much how to reform the world at large as how to shape one's own individual course aright in the actual midst of it. As a single unit of the whole, I want rather guidance for my private conduct than a scheme for redressing the universal dislocation of things in general. It seems to me, every man's first duty is to see that he himself is in the right attitude towards society, and afterwards he may proceed to enquire whether society is in the right attitude towards him and all its other members. But if we were all to begin by redressing ourselves, there would be nothing left to redress, I imagine, when we turned to attack the second half of our problem. The great difficulty I myself experience is this, that I can't discover any adequate social justification for my own personal existence. But I really oughtn't to bore other people with my private embarrassments upon that head.'
'You see,' said Herbert Le Breton, carelessly, 'my brother represents the ethical element in the socialist movement, Miss Oswald, while Harry represents the political element. Each is valuable in its way; but Oswald's is the more practical. You can move great masses into demanding their rights; you can't so easily move them into cordially recognising their duties. Hammer, hammer, hammer at the most obvious abuses; that's the way all the political victories are finally won. If I were a radical at all, I should go with you, Oswald. But happily I'm not one; I prefer the calm philosophic attitude of perfectly objective neutrality.'
'And if I were a radical,' said Berkeley, with a tinge of sadness in his voice as he poured himself out a glass of hock, 'I should go with Le Breton. But unfortunately I'm not one, Miss Oswald, I'm only a parson.'
A LITTLE MUSIC.
After lunch, Herbert Le Breton went off for his afternoon ride—a grave social misdemeanour, Ernest thought it—and Arthur Berkeley took Edie round to show her about the college and the shady gardens. Ernest would have liked to walk with her himself, for there was something in her that began to interest him somewhat; and besides, she was so pretty, and so graceful, and so sympathetic: but he felt he must not take her away from her host for the time being, who had a sort of proprietary right in the pleasing duty of acting as showman to her over his own college. So he dropped behind with Harry Oswald and old Mrs. Martindale, and endeavoured to simulate a polite interest in the old lady's scraps of conversation upon the heads of houses, their wives and families.
'This is Addison's Walk, Miss Oswald,' said Berkeley, taking her through the gate into the wooded path beside the Cherwell; 'so called because the ingenious Mr. Addison is said to have specially patronised it. As he was an undergraduate of this college, and a singularly lazy person, it's very probable that he really did so; every other undergraduate certainly does, for it's the nearest walk an idle man can get without ever taking the trouble to go outside the grounds of Magdalen.'
'The ingenious Mr. Addison was quite right then,' Edie answered, smiling; 'for he couldn't have chosen a lovelier place on earth to stroll in. How exquisite it looks just now, with the mellow light falling down upon the path through this beautiful autumnal foliage! It's just a natural cathedral aisle, with a lot of pale straw-coloured glass in the painted windows, like that splendid one we went to see the other day at Merton Chapel.'
'Yes, there are certainly tones in that window I never saw in any other,' Berkeley said, 'and the walk to-day is very much the same in its delicate colouring. You're fond of colour, I should think, Miss Oswald, from what you say.'
'Oh, nobody could help being struck by the autumn colouring of the Thames valley, I should fancy,' said Edie, blushing. 'We noticed it all the way up as we came in the train from Reading, a perfect glow of crimson and orange at Pangbourne, Goring, Mapledurham, and Nuneham. I always thought the Dart in October the loveliest blaze of warm reds and yellows I had ever seen anywhere in nature, but the Thames valley beats it hollow, as Harry says. This walk to-day is just one's ideal picture of Milton's Vallombrosa.'
'Ah, yes, I always look forward to the first days of October term,' said Berkeley, slowly, 'as one of the greatest and purest treats in the whole round workaday twelvemonth. When the creeper on the Founder's Tower first begins to redden and crimson in the autumn, I could sit all day long by my open window, and just look at that glorious sight alone instead of having my dinner. But I'm very fond of these walks in full summer time too. I often stop up alone all through the long (being tied to my curacy here permanently, you know), and then I have the run of the place entirely to myself. Sometimes I take my flute out, and sit under the shade here and compose some of my little pieces.'
'I can easily understand that they were composed here,' said Edie quickly. 'They've caught exactly the flavour of the place—especially your exquisite little Penseroso.'
'Ah, you know my music, then, Miss Oswald?'
'Oh yes, Harry always brings me home all your pieces whenever he comes back at the end of term. I can play every one of them without the notes. But the Penseroso is my special favourite.'
'It's mine, too. I'm so glad you like it. But I'm working away at a little thing now which you shall hear as soon as I've finished it; something lighter and daintier than anything else I've ever attempted. I shall call it the Butterfly Canzonet.'