THE GREEN CARNATION
New York D. Appleton and Company 1894
Copyright, 1894, by D. Appleton and Company.
He slipped a green carnation into his evening coat, fixed it in its place with a pin, and looked at himself in the glass, the long glass that stood near the window of his London bedroom. The summer evening was so bright that he could see his double clearly, even though it was just upon seven o'clock. There he stood in his favourite and most characteristic attitude, with his left knee slightly bent, and his arms hanging at his sides, gazing, as a woman gazes at herself before she starts for a party. The low and continuous murmur of Piccadilly, like the murmur of a flowing tide on a smooth beach, stole to his ears monotonously, and inclined him insensibly to a certain thoughtfulness. Floating through the curtained window the soft lemon light sparkled on the silver backs of the brushes that lay on the toilet-table, on the dressing-gown of spun silk that hung from a hook behind the door, on the great mass of gloire de Dijon roses, that dreamed in an ivory-white bowl set on the writing-table of ruddy-brown wood. It caught the gilt of the boy's fair hair and turned it into brightest gold, until, despite the white weariness of his face, the pale fretfulness of his eyes, he looked like some angel in a church window designed by Burne-Jones, some angel a little blase from the injudicious conduct of its life. He frankly admired himself as he watched his reflection, occasionally changing his pose, presenting himself to himself, now full face, now three-quarters face, leaning backward or forward, advancing one foot in its silk stocking and shining shoe, assuming a variety of interesting expressions. In his own opinion he was very beautiful, and he thought it right to appreciate his own qualities of mind and of body. He hated those fantastic creatures who are humble even in their self-communings, cowards who dare not acknowledge even to themselves how exquisite, how delicately fashioned they are. Quite frankly he told other people that he was very wonderful, quite frankly he avowed it to himself. There is a nobility in fearless truthfulness, is there not? and about the magic of his personality he could never be induced to tell a lie.
It is so interesting to be wonderful, to be young, with pale gilt hair and blue eyes, and a face in which the shadows of fleeting expressions come and go, and a mouth like the mouth of Narcissus. It is so interesting to oneself. Surely one's beauty, one's attractiveness, should be one's own greatest delight. It is only the stupid, and those who still cling to Exeter Hall as to a Rock of Ages, who are afraid, or ashamed, to love themselves, and to express that love, if need be. Reggie Hastings, at least, was not ashamed. The mantel-piece in his sitting-room bore only photographs of himself, and he explained this fact to inquirers by saying that he worshipped beauty. Reggie was very frank. When he could not be witty, he often told the naked truth; and truth, without any clothes on, frequently passes for epigram. It is daring, and so it seems clever. Reggie was considered very clever by his friends, but more clever by himself. He knew that he was great, and he said so often in Society. And Society smiled and murmured that it was a pose. Everything is a pose nowadays, especially genius.
This evening Reggie stood before the mirror till the Sevres clock on the chimneypiece gently chimed seven. Then he drew out of their tissue paper a pair of lavender gloves, and pressed the electric bell.
"Call me a hansom, Flynn," he said to his valet.
He threw a long buff-coloured overcoat across his arm, and went slowly downstairs. A cab was at the door, and he entered it and told the man to drive to Belgrave Square. As they turned the corner of Half Moon Street into Piccadilly, he leant forward over the wooden apron and lazily surveyed the crowd. Every second cab he passed contained an immaculate man going out to dinner, sitting bolt upright, with a severe expression of countenance, and surveying the world with steady eyes over an unyielding rampart of starched collar. Reggie exchanged nods with various acquaintances. Presently he passed an elderly gentleman with a red face and small side whiskers. The elderly gentleman stared him in the face, and sniffed ostentatiously.
"What a pity my poor father is so plain," Reggie said to himself with a quiet smile. Only that morning he had received a long and vehement diatribe from his parent, showering abuse upon him, and exhorting him to lead a more reputable life. He had replied by wire—
"What a funny little man you are.—Reggie."
The funny little man had evidently received his message.
As his cab drew up for a moment at Hyde Park corner to allow a stream of pedestrians to cross from the Park, he saw several people pointing him out. Two well-dressed women looked at him and laughed, and he heard one murmur his name to the other. He let his blue eyes rest upon them calmly as they peacocked across to St. George's Hospital, still laughing, and evidently discussing him. He did not know them, but he was accustomed to being known. His life had never been a cautious one. He was too modern to be very reticent, and he liked to be wicked in the eye of the crowd. Secret wickedness held little charm for him. He preferred to preface his failings with an overture on the orchestra, to draw up the curtain, and to act his drama of life to a crowded audience of smart people in the stalls. When they hissed him, he only pitied them, and wondered at their ignorance. His social position kept him in Society, however much Society murmured against him; and, far from fearing scandal, he loved it. He chose his friends partly for their charm, and partly for their bad reputations; and the white flower of a blameless life was much too inartistic to have any attraction for him. He believed that Art showed the way to Nature, and worshipped the abnormal with all the passion of his impure and subtle youth.
"Lord Reginald Hastings," cried Mrs. Windsor's impressive butler, and Reggie entered the big drawing-room in Belgrave Square with the delicate walk that had led certain Philistines to christen him Agag. There were only two ladies present, and one tall and largely built man, with a closely shaved, clever face, and rather rippling brown hair.
"So sweet of you to come, dear Lord Reggie," said Mrs. Windsor, a very pretty woman of the preserved type, with young cheeks and a middle-aged mouth, hair that was scarcely out of its teens, and eyes full of a weary sparkle. "But I knew that Mr. Amarinth would prove a magnet. Let me introduce you to my cousin, Lady Locke—Lord Reginald Hastings."
Reggie bowed to a lady dressed in black, and shook hands affectionately with the big man, whom he addressed as Esme. Five minutes later dinner was announced, and they sat down at a small oval table covered with pale pink roses.
"The opera to-night is 'Faust,'" said Mrs. Windsor. "Ancona is Valentine, and Melba is Marguerite. I forget who else is singing, but it is one of Harris' combination casts, a constellation of stars."
"The evening stars sang together!" said Mr. Amarinth, in a gently elaborate voice, and with a sweet smile. "I wonder Harris does not start morning opera; from twelve till three for instance. One could drop in after breakfast at eleven, and one might arrange to have luncheon parties between the acts."
"But surely it would spoil one for the rest of the day," said Lady Locke, a fresh-looking woman of about twenty-eight, with the sort of face that is generally called sensible, calm observant eyes, and a steady and simple manner. "One would be fit for nothing afterwards."
"Quite so," said Mr. Amarinth, with extreme gentleness. "That would be the object of the performance, to unfit one for the duties of the day. How beautiful! What a glorious sight it would be to see a great audience flocking out into the orange-coloured sunshine, each unit of which was thoroughly unfitted for any duties whatsoever. It makes me perpetually sorrowful in London to meet with people doing their duty. I find them everywhere. It is impossible to escape from them. A sense of duty is like some horrible disease. It destroys the tissues of the mind, as certain complaints destroy the tissues of the body. The catechism has a great deal to answer for."
"Ah! now you are laughing at me," said Lady Locke calmly.
"Mr. Amarinth never laughs at any one, Emily," said Mrs. Windsor. "He makes others laugh. I wish I could say clever things. I would rather be able to talk in epigrams, and hear Society repeating what I said, than be the greatest author or artist that ever lived. You are luckier than I, Lord Reggie. I heard a bon mot of yours at the Foreign Office last night."
"Indeed. What was it?"
"Er—really I—oh! it was something about life, you know, with a sort of general application, one of your best. It made me smile, not laugh. I always think that is such a test of merit. We smile at wit; we laugh at buffoonery."
"The highest humour often moves me to tears," said Mr. Amarinth musingly. "There is nothing so absolutely pathetic as a really fine paradox. The pun is the clown among jokes, the well turned paradox is the polished comedian, and the highest comedy verges upon tragedy, just as the keenest edge of tragedy is often tempered by a subtle humour. Our minds are shot with moods as a fabric is shot with colours, and our moods often seem inappropriate. Everything that is true is inappropriate."
Lady Locke ate her salmon calmly. She had not been in London for ten years. Her husband had had a military appointment in the Straits Settlements, and she had been with him. Two years ago he had died at his post of duty, and since then she had been living quietly in a German town. Now she was entering the world again, and it seemed to her odd and altered. She was interested in all she saw and heard. To-night she found herself studying a certain phase of modernity. That it sometimes struck her as maniacal did not detract from its interest. The mad often fascinate the sane.
"I know," said Reggie Hastings, holding his fair head slightly on one side, and crumbling his bread with a soft, white hand—"I know. That is why I laughed at my brother's funeral. My grief expressed itself in that way. People were shocked, of course, but when are they not shocked? There is nothing so touching as the inappropriate. I thought my laughter was very beautiful. Anybody can cry. That was what I felt. I forced my grief beyond tears, and then my relations said that I was heartless."
"But surely tears are the natural expression of sad feelings," said Lady Locke. "We do not weep at a circus or at a pantomime; why should we laugh at a funeral?"
"I think a pantomime is very touching," said Reggie. "The pantaloon is one of the most luridly tragic figures in art or in life. If I were a great actor, I would as soon play the pantaloon as 'King Lear.'"
"Perhaps his mournful possibilities have been increased since I have been out of England," said Lady Locke. "Ten years ago he was merely a shadowy absurdity."
"Oh! he has not changed," said Mr. Amarinth. "That is so wonderful. He never develops at all. He alone understands the beauty of rigidity, the exquisite serenity of the statuesque nature. Men always fall into the absurdity of endeavouring to develop the mind, to push it violently forward in this direction or in that. The mind should be receptive, a harp waiting to catch the winds, a pool ready to be ruffled, not a bustling busybody, forever trotting about on the pavement looking for a new bun shop. It should not deliberately run to seek sensations, but it should never avoid one; it should never be afraid of one; it should never put one aside from an absurd sense of right and wrong. Every sensation is valuable. Sensations are the details that build up the stories of our lives."
"But if we do not choose our sensations carefully, the stories may be sad, may even end tragically," said Lady Locke.
"Oh! I don't think that matters at all; do you, Mrs. Windsor?" said Reggie. "If we choose carefully, we become deliberate at once; and nothing is so fatal to personality as deliberation. When I am good, it is my mood to be good; when I am what is called wicked, it is my mood to be evil. I never know what I shall be at a particular moment. Sometimes I like to sit at home after dinner and read 'The dream of Gerontius.' I love lentils and cold water. At other times I must drink absinthe, and hang the night hours with scarlet embroideries. I must have music, and the sins that march to music. There are moments when I desire squalor, sinister, mean surroundings, dreariness, and misery. The great unwashed mood is upon me. Then I go out from luxury. The mind has its West End and its Whitechapel. The thoughts sit in the Park sometimes, but sometimes they go slumming. They enter narrow courts and rookeries. They rest in unimaginable dens seeking contrast, and they like the ruffians whom they meet there, and they hate the notion of policemen keeping order. The mind governs the body. I never know how I shall spend an evening till the evening has come. I wait for my mood."
Lady Locke looked at him quite gravely while he was speaking. He always talked with great vivacity, and as if he meant what he was saying. She wondered if he did mean it. Like most other people, she felt the charm that always emanated from him. His face was tired and white, but not wicked, and there was an almost girlish beauty about it. He flushed easily, and was obviously sensitive to impressions. As he spoke now, he seemed to be elucidating some fantastic gospel, giving forth some whimsical revelation; yet she felt that he was talking the most dangerous nonsense, and she rather wanted to say so. Most of her life had been passed among soldiers. Her father had been a general in the Artillery. Her two brothers were serving in India. Her husband had been a bluff and straightforward man of action, full of hard commonsense, and the sterling virtues that so often belong to the martinet. Mr. Amarinth and Lord Reggie were specimens of manhood totally strange to her—until now she had not realised that such people existed. All the opinions which she had hitherto believed herself to hold in common with the rest of sane people, seemed suddenly to become ridiculous in this environment. Her point of view was evidently remarkably different from that attained by her companions. On the whole, she decided not to dispute the doctrine of moods. So she said nothing, and allowed Mrs. Windsor to break in airily—
"Yes, moods are delightful. I have as many as I have dresses, and they cost me nearly as much. I suppose they cost Jimmy a good deal too," she added, with a desultory pensiveness; "but fortunately he is well off, so it doesn't matter. I never go into the slums, though. It is so tiring, and then there is so much infection. Microbes generally flourish most in shabby places, don't they, Mr. Amarinth? A mood that cost one typhoid or smallpox would be really silly, wouldn't it? Shall we go into the drawing-room, Emily? the carriage will be round directly. Yes; do smoke, Mr. Amarinth. You shall have your coffee in here while we put on our cloaks."
She rustled out of the room with her cousin. When she had gone, Esme Amarinth lit a gold-tipped cigarette, and leaned back lazily in his chair.
"How tiring women are," he said. "They always let one know that they are trying to be up to the mark. Isn't it so, Reggie?"
"Yes, unless they have convictions which lead them to hate one's mark. Lady Locke has convictions, I should fancy."
"Probably. But she has a great deal besides."
"Don't you know why Mrs. Windsor specially wanted you to-night?"
"To polish your wit with mine," said the boy, with his pretty, quick smile.
"No, Reggie. Lady Locke has come into an immense fortune lately. They say she has over twenty thousand a year. Mrs. Windsor is trying to do you a good turn. And I dare say she would not be averse to uniting her first cousin with a future marquis."
"H'm!" said Reggie, helping himself to coffee with a rather abstracted air.
"It is a pity I am already married," added Amarinth, sipping his coffee with a deliberate grace. "I am paying for my matrimonial mood now."
"But I thought Mrs. Amarinth lived entirely upon Cross and Blackwell's potted meats and stale bread," said Reggie seriously.
"Unfortunately that is only a canard invented by my dearest enemies."
"Jim won't be back till very late, I expect," said Mrs. Windsor to her cousin, as they passed through the hall that night about twelve o'clock, after their return from the opera. "I am tired, and cannot go to my parties. Come to my room, Emily, and we will drink some Bovril, and have a talk. I love drinking Bovril in secret. It seems like a vice. And then it is wholesome, and vices always do something to one—make one's nose red, or bring out wrinkles, or spots, or some horror. Two cups of Bovril, Henderson," she added to the butler, in a parenthesis. "Take off your cloak, Emily, and lie down on this sofa. What a pity we can't have a fire. That is the chief charm of the English summer. It nearly always necessitates fires. But to-night it is really warm."
Lady Locke took off her cloak quietly, and laid it down on a chair. She looked fresh and healthy, but rather emotional. She had not been to "Faust" for such a long time, that to-night she had been deeply moved, despite the intercepting chatter of her companions. Mr. Amarinth's epigrams had been especially voluble during the garden scene.
"It has been a delightful evening," she said.
"Do you think so? I thought you would like Lord Reggie."
"I meant the music."
"The music! Oh! I see. Yes, 'Faust' is always nice; a little threadbare though, now. Old operas are like old bonnets, I always think. They ought to be remodelled, retrimmed from time to time. If we could keep Gounod's melodies now, and get them reharmonised by Saint-Saens or Bruneau, it would be charming."
"I think it is a mercy something stands still nowadays," said Lady Locke, lying down easily on the sofa, and leaning her dark head against the cushions. "If all the old-fashioned operas and pictures and books were swept away, like the old-fashioned people, we should have no landmarks at all. London is not the same London it was ten years ago."
Mrs. Windsor lifted her eyebrows.
"The same London! I should hope not. Why, Aubrey Beardsley and Mr. Amarinth had not been invented then, and 'The Second Mrs. Tanqueray' had never been written, and women hardly ever smoked, and——"
"And men did not wear green carnations," Lady Locke said.
Mrs. Windsor turned towards her cousin, and lifted her darkened eyebrows to her fair fringe.
"Emily, what do you mean? Ah! here is our Bovril! I feel so delightfully vicious when I drink it, so unconventional! You speak as if you disliked our times."
"I hardly know them yet. I have been a country cousin for ten years, you see. I am quite colonial."
"Poor dear child. How horrid. I suppose you have hardly seen chiffon. It must have been like death. But do you really object to the green carnation?"
"That depends. Is it a badge?"
"How do you mean?"
"I only saw about a dozen in the Opera House to-night, and all the men who wore them looked the same. They had the same walk, or rather waggle, the same coyly conscious expression, the same wavy motion of the head. When they spoke to each other, they called each other by Christian names. Is it a badge of some club or some society, and is Mr. Amarinth their high priest? They all spoke to him, and seemed to revolve round him like satellites around the sun."
"My dear Emily, it is not a badge at all. They wear it merely to be original."
"And can they only be original in a buttonhole way? Poor fellows."
"You don't understand. They like to draw attention to themselves."
"By their dress? I thought that was the prerogative of women."
"Really, Emily, you are colonial. Men may have women's minds, just as women may have the minds of men."
"I hope not."
"Dear yes. It is quite common nowadays."
"And has Lord Reginald Hastings got a woman's mind?"
"My dear, he has a very beautiful mind. He is poetic, imaginative, and perfectly fearless."
"He dares do anything. He is not afraid of Society, or of what the clergy and such unfashionable and limited people say. For instance, if he wished to commit what copy-books call a sin, he would commit it, even if Society stood aghast at him. That is what I call having real moral courage."
Lady Locke sipped her Bovril methodically.
"I see," she said rather drily; "he is not afraid to be wicked."
"Not in the least; and how many of us can say as much? Mr. Amarinth is quite right. He declares that goodness is merely another name for cowardice, and that we all have a certain disease of tendencies that inclines us to certain things labelled sins. If we check our tendencies, we drive the disease inwards; but if we sin, we throw it off. Suppressed measles are far more dangerous than measles that come out."
"I see; we are to aim at inducing a violent rash that all the world may stare at."
Her cousin glanced at her for a moment with a tinge of uneasy inquiry. She was not very sharp, although she was very receptive of modern philosophy.
"Well," she said, a little doubtfully, "not quite that, I suppose."
"We are to sin on the house-top and in the street, instead of in the privacy of a room with the door locked. But what will the London County Council say?"
"Oh, they have nothing to do with our class. They only concern themselves with acrobats, and respectable elderly women who are fired from cannons. That is so right. Respectable elderly women do so much harm. Mr. Amarinth said to-night—in the garden scene, if you remember—that prolonged purity wrinkled the mind as much as prolonged impurity wrinkled the face. Nature forces us to choose whether we will spoil our faces with our sins, or our minds with our virtues. How true."
"And how original. This Bovril is very comforting, Betty; as reviving as—an epigram."
"Yes, my cook understands it. That must be so sweet for the Bovril—to be understood! Do you like Lord Reggie?"
"He has a beautiful face. How old is he? Twenty?"
"Oh no, nearly twenty-five. Three years younger than you are. That is all."
"He looks astonishingly young."
"Yes. He says that his sins keep him fresh. A sinner with a young lamb's heart among the full grown flocks of saints, you know. Such a quaint idea, so original."
"I want you to tell me which is original, Mr. Amarinth or Lord Reggie?"
"Oh! they both are."
"No, they are too much alike. When we meet with the Tweedledum and Tweedledee in mind, one of them is always a copy, an echo of the other."
"Do you think so? Well, of course Mr. Amarinth has been original longer than Lord Reggie, because he is nearly twenty years older."
"Then Lord Reggie is the echo. What a pity he is not merely vocal."
"What do you mean, dear?"
"Oh! nothing. And who started the fashion of the green carnation?"
"That was Mr. Amarinth's idea. He calls it the arsenic flower of an exquisite life. He wore it, in the first instance, because it blended so well with the colour of absinthe. Lord Reggie and he are great friends. They are quite inseparable."
"They are both coming down to stay with me in Surrey next week, and I want you to come too. I always spend a week in the country in June, a week of perfect rusticity. It is like a dear little desert in the oasis, you know. We do nothing, and we eat a great deal. Nobody calls upon us, and we call upon no one. We go to a country church on Sunday once, just for the novelty of it; and this year Mr. Amarinth and Lord Reggie are going to have a school treat. Last year they got up a mothers' meeting instead, and Mr. Amarinth read his last essay on 'The Wickedness of Virtue' aloud to the mothers. They so enjoyed it. One of them said to me afterwards, 'I never knew what religion really was before, ma'am.' They are so deliciously simple, you know. I call my stay in the desert 'the Surrey week.' It is such fun. You will come, won't you?"
Lady Locke was laughing almost against her will.
"Is Jim to be there?" she asked, putting the china bowl, that had held her Bovril, down upon the tiny table, covered with absurd silver knickknacks, at her side.
"Dear no. Jim stays in town, and has his annual rowdy-dowdy week. He looks forward to it immensely. Will you come?"
"If I may bring Tommy? I don't like to part from him. I am an old-fashioned mother, and quite fond of my boy."
"But that's not old-fashioned. It is our girls we dislike. We always take the boys everywhere. You must not mind close quarters. We live in a sort of big cottage that I have built near Leith Hill. We walk up the hill nearly every day after lunch. Tommy can play about with the curate's little boys. They all wear spectacles; but I believe they are quite nice-minded, so that will be all right, as you are so particular."
"And do green carnations bloom on the cottage walls?"
"My dear Emily, green carnations never bloom on walls at all. Of course they are dyed. That is why they are original. Mr. Amarinth says Nature will soon begin to imitate them, as she always imitates everything, being naturally uninventive. However, she has not started this summer yet."
"That is lazy of her."
"Yes. Well, good-night, dear. I am so glad you will come. Breakfast in your room at any time you like of course. Will you have tea or hock and seltzer?"
Mr. Amarinth and Lord Reggie did not go to bed so early. After the performance of "Faust" was over they strolled arm in arm towards a certain small club that they much affected, a little house tucked into a corner not far from Covent Garden, with a narrow passage instead of a hall, and a long supper-room filled with tiny tables. They made their way gracefully to their own particular table at the end of the room, where they could converse unheard, and see all that was to be seen. An obsequious waiter—one of the restaurant race that has no native language—relieved them of their coats, and they sat down opposite to each other, mechanically touching their hair to feel if their hats had ruffled its smooth surface.
"What do you think about it, Reggie?" Amarinth said, as they began to discuss their oysters. "Could you commit the madness of matrimony with Lady Locke? You are so wonderful as you are, so complete in yourself, that I scarcely dare to wish it, or anything else for you: and you live so comfortably upon debts, that it might be unwise to risk the possible discomfort of having money. Still, if you ever intend to possess it, you had better not waste time. You know my theory about money."
"No; what is it, Esme?"
"I believe that money is gradually becoming extinct, like the Dodo or 'Dodo.' It is vanishing off the face of the earth. Soon we shall have people writing to the papers to say that money has been seen at Richmond, or the man who always announces the premature advent of the cuckoo to his neighbourhood will communicate the fact that one Spring day he heard two capitalists singing in a wood near Esher. One hears now that money is tight—a most vulgar condition to be in by the way; one will hear in the future that money is not. Then we shall barter, offer glass beads for a lunch, or sell our virtue for a good dinner. Do you want money?"
Reggie was eating delicately, with his fair head drooping on one side, and his blue eyes wandering in a fidgety way about the room.
"I suppose I do," he said. "But, as you say, I am afraid of spoiling myself, of altering myself. And yet marriage has not changed you."
"I have not allowed it to. My wife began by trying to influence me, she has ended by trying not to be influenced by me. She is a good woman, Reggie, and wears large hats. Why do good women invariably wear large hats? To show they have large hearts? No, I am unchanged. That is really the secret of my pre-eminence. I never develop. I was born epigrammatic, and my dying remark will be a paradox. How splendid to die with a paradox upon one's lips! Most people depart in a cloud of blessings and farewells, or give up the ghost arranging their affairs like a huckster, or endeavouring to cut somebody off with a shilling. I at least cannot be so vulgar as to do that, for I have not a shilling in the world. Some one told me the other day that the Narcissus Club had failed, and attributed the failure to the fact that it did not go on paying. Nothing does go on paying. I know I don't."
"I hate offering payment to anybody," said Reggie. "Even when I have the money. There is something so sordid about it. To give is beautiful. I said so to my tailor yesterday. He answered, 'I differ from you, sir, in toto.' How horrible this spread of education is! We shall have our valets quoting Horace at us soon. I am told there is a Scotch hairdresser in Bond Street who speaks French like a native."
"Of Scotland or France?"
"Then he must have a bad pronunciation. A native's pronunciation of his language is invariably incorrect. That is why the average Parisian is totally unintelligible to the intelligent foreigner. All foreigners are intelligent. Ah! here are our devilled kidneys. I suppose you and I are devilled, Reggie. People say we are so wicked. I wish one could feel wicked; but it is only good people who can manage to do that. It is the one prerogative of virtue that I really envy. The saint always feel like a sinner, and the poor sinner, try as he will, can only feel like a saint. The stars are so unjust. These kidneys are delicious. They are as poetic as one of Turner's later sunsets, or as the curving mouth of La Gioconda. How Walter Pater would love them."
Reggie helped himself to a glass of champagne. A bright spot of red had appeared on each of his cheeks, and his blue eyes began to sparkle.
"Are you going to get drunk to-night, Esme?" he asked. "You are so splendid when you are drunk."
"I have not decided either way. I never do. I let it come if it will. To get drunk deliberately is as foolish as to get sober by accident. Do you know my brother? When he is not tipsy, he is invariably blind sober. I often wonder the police do not run him in."
"Do they ever run any one in? I thought they were always dismissed the force if they did."
"Probably that is so. The expected always happens, and people in authority are very expected. One always knows that they will act in defiance of the law. Laws are made in order that people in authority may not remember them, just as marriages are made in order that the divorce court may not play about idly. Reggie, are you going to make this marriage?"
"I don't know," said the boy, rather fretfully. "Do you want me to?"
"I never want any one to do anything. And I should be delighted to continue not paying for your suppers. Besides, I am afraid that marriage might cause you to develop, and then I should lose you. Marriage is a sort of forcing house. It brings strange sins to fruit, and sometimes strange renunciations. The renunciations of marriage are like white lilies—bloodless, impurely pure, as anaemic as the soul of a virgin, as cold as the face of a corpse. I should be afraid for you to marry, Reggie! So few people have sufficient strength to resist the preposterous claims of orthodoxy. They promise and vow three things—is it three things you promise and vow in matrimony, Reggie?—and they keep their promise. Nothing is so fatal to a personality as the keeping of promises, unless it be telling the truth. To lie finely is an Art, to tell the truth is to act according to Nature, and Nature is the first of Philistines. Nothing on earth is so absolutely middle-class as Nature. She always reminds me of Clement Scott's articles in the Daily Telegraph. No, Reggie, do not marry unless you have the strength to be a bad husband."
"I have no intention of being a good one," Reggie said earnestly.
His blue eyes looked strangely poetic under the frosty gleam of the electric light, and his straight pale yellow hair shone like an aureole round the head of some modern saint. He was eating strawberries rather petulantly, as a child eats pills, and his cheeks were now violently flushed. He looked younger than ever, and it was difficult to believe that he was nearly twenty-five.
"I have no intention of being a good one. It is only people without brains who make good husbands. Virtue is generally merely a form of deficiency, just as vice is an assertion of intellect. Shelley showed the poetry that was in his soul more by his treatment of Harriet than by his writing of 'Adonais;' and if Byron had never broken his wife's heart, he would have been forgotten even sooner than he has been. No, Esme; I shall not make a good husband."
"Lady Locke would make a good wife."
"Yes, it is written in her face. That is the worst of virtues. They show. One cannot conceal them."
"Yes. When I was a boy at school, I remember so well I had a virtue, and I was terribly ashamed of it. I was fond of going to church. I can't tell why. I think it was the music, or the painted windows, or the precentor. He had a face like the face of seven devils, so exquisitely chiselled. He looked as if he were always seeking rest and finding none. He was really a clergyman of some importance, the only one I ever met. I was fond of going to church, and I was in agony lest some strange expression should come into my face and tell my horrible secret. I dreaded above all lest my mother should ever get to know it. It would have made her so happy."
"No, never. The precentor died, and my virtue died with him. But you are quite right, Reggie; a virtue is like a city set upon a hill, it cannot be hid. We can conceal our vices if we care to, for a time at least. We can take our beautiful purple sin like a candle and hide it under a bushel. But a virtue will out. Virtuous people always have odd noses, or holy mouths, or a religious walk. Nothing in the world is so painful as to see a good man masquerading in the company of sinners. He may drink and blaspheme, he may robe himself in scarlet, and dance the can-can, but he is always virtuous. The mind of the moulin rouge is not his. Wickedness does not sit easily upon him. It looks like a coat that has been paid for."
"Esme, you are getting drunk!"
"What makes you think so, Reggie?"
"Because you are so brilliant. Go on. The night is growing late. Soon the silver dawn will steal along the river, and touch with radiance those monstrosities upon the Thames Embankment. John Stuart Mill's badly fitting frockcoat will glow like the golden fleece, and the absurd needle of Cleopatra will be barred with scarlet and with orange. The flagstaff in the Victoria Tower will glitter like an angel's ladder, and the murmur of Covent Garden will be as the murmur of the flowing tide. Oh! Esme, when you are drunk, I could listen to you for ever. Go on—go on!"
"Remember my epigrams then, dear boy, and repeat them to me to-morrow. I am dining out with Oscar Wilde, and that is only to be done with prayer and fasting. Waiter, open another bottle of champagne, and bring some more strawberries. Yes, it is not easy to be wicked, although stupid people think so. To sin beautifully, as you sin, Reggie, and as I have sinned for years, is one of the most complicated of the arts. There are hardly six people in a century who can master it. Sin has its technique, just as painting has its technique. Sin has its harmonies and its dissonances, as music has its harmonies and its dissonances. The amateur sinner, the mere bungler whom we meet with, alas! so frequently, is perpetually introducing consecutive fifths and octaves into his music, perpetually bringing wrong colour notes into his painting. His sins are daubs or pot boilers, not masterpieces that will defy the insidious action of time. To commit a perfect sin is to be great, Reggie, just as to produce a perfect picture, or to compose a perfect symphony, is to be great. Francesco Cenci should have been worshipped instead of murdered. But the world can no more understand the beauty of sin, than it can understand the preface to 'The Egoist,' or the simplicity of 'Sordello.' Sin puzzles it; and all that puzzles the world frightens the world; for the world is a child, without a child's charm, or a child's innocent blue eyes. How exquisitely coloured these strawberries are, yet if Sargent painted them he would idealise them, would give to them a beauty such as Nature never yet gave to anything. So it is with the artist in sinning. He improves upon the sins that Nature has put, as it were, ready to his hand. He idealises, he invents, he develops. No trouble is too great for him to take, no day is too long for him to work in. The still and black-robed night hours find him toiling to perfect his sin; the weary white dawn, looking into his weary white face through the shimmering window panes, is greeted by a smile that leaps from sleepless eyes. The passion of the creator is upon him. The man who invents a new sin is greater than the man who invents a new religion, Reggie. No Mrs. Humphrey Ward can snatch his glory from him. Religions are the Aunt Sallies that men provide for elderly female venturists to throw missiles at and to demolish. What sin that has ever been invented has ever been demolished? There are always new human beings springing into life to commit it, and to find pleasure in it. Reggie, some day I will write a gospel of strange sins, and I will persuade the S. P. C. K. Society to publish it in dull, misty scarlet, powdered with golden devils."
"Oh, Esme, you are great!"
"How true that is! And how seldom people tell the truths that are worth telling. We ought to choose our truths as carefully as we choose our lies, and to select our virtues with as much thought as we bestow upon the selection of our enemies. Conceit is one of the greatest of the virtues, yet how few people recognise it as a thing to aim at and to strive after. In conceit many a man and woman has found salvation, yet the average person goes on all fours grovelling after modesty. You and I, Reggie, at least have found that salvation. We know ourselves as we are, and understand our own greatness. We do not hoodwink ourselves into the blind belief that we are ordinary men, with the intellects of Cabinet Ministers, or the passions of the proletariat. No, we—closing time, Waiter! How absurd! Why, is it forbidden in England to eat strawberries after midnight, or to go to bed at one o'clock in the day? Come, Reggie! It is useless to protest, as Mr. Max Beerbohm once said in his delicious 'Defence of Cosmetics.' Come, the larks will soon be singing in the clear sky above Wardour Street. I am tired of tirades. How sweet the chilly air is! Let us go to Covent Garden. I love the pale, tender green of the cabbage stalks, and the voices of the costermongers are musical in the dawning. Give me your arm, and, as we go, we will talk of Albert Chevalier and of the mimetic art."
During the few days that elapsed before the advent of the Surrey week, Lady Locke saw a great deal of Lord Reggie, and became a good deal troubled in her mind about him. He was strangely different from all the men and boys whom she had ever known, almost monstrously different, and yet he attracted her. There was something so young about him, and so sensitive, despite the apparent indifference to the opinion of the world, of which he spoke so often, and with such unguarded emphasis. Sometimes she tried to think that he was masquerading, and that a travesty of evil really concealed sound principles, possibly even evangelical tendencies, or a bias towards religious mania. But she was quickly undeceived. Lord Reggie was really as black as he painted himself, or Society told many lies concerning him. Of course Lady Locke heard nothing definite about him. Women seldom do hear much that is definite about men unrelated to them; but all the world agreed in saying that he was a scamp, that he was one of the wildest young men in London, and that he was ruining his career with both hands. Lady Locke hardly knew why she should mind, and yet she did mind. She found herself thinking often of him, and in a queer sort of motherly way that the slight difference in their ages did not certainly justify. After all, he was nearly twenty-five and she was only twenty-eight, but then he looked twenty, and she felt—well, a considerable age. She had married at seventeen. She had travelled, had seen something of rough life, had been in an important position officially owing to her dead husband's military rank. Then, too, she had suffered a bereavement, had seen a strong man, who had been her strong man, die in her arms. Life had given to her more of its realities than of its shams; and it is the realities that mark the passage of the years, and number for us the throbs in the great heart of time. Lady Locke knew that she felt much older than Lord Reggie would feel when he was twenty-eight, if he went on living at least as he was living now.
"Has he a mother?" she asked her cousin, Betty Windsor, one day as they were driving slowly down the long line of staring faces that filled the Park at five o'clock on warm afternoons in summer.
Mrs. Windsor, who was almost lost in the passion of the gazer, and who was bowing about twice a minute to passing acquaintances, or to friends rigid upon tiny green chairs, gave a quarter of her mind violently to her companion, and answered hurriedly—
"Two, dear, practically."
"Yes. His own mother divorced his father, and the latter has married again. The second Marchioness of Hedfield wrote to Lord Reggie the other day, and said she was prepared to be a second mother to him. So you see he has two. So nice for the dear boy."
"Do you think so? But his own mother—what is she like?"
"I don't know her. Nobody does. She never comes to town or stays in country houses. But I believe she is very tall, and very religious—if you notice, it is generally short, squat people who are atheists—and she lives at Canterbury, where she does a great deal of good among the rich. They say she actually converted one of the canons to a belief in the Thirty-Nine Articles after he had preached against them, and miracles, in the Cathedral. And canons are very difficult to convert, I am told."
"Then she is a good woman. And is Lord Reggie fond of her?"
"Oh yes, very. He spent a week with her last year, and I think he intends to spend another this year. She is very pleased about it. He and Mr. Amarinth are going down for the hop-picking."
"What a strange idea!"
"Yes, deliciously original. They say that hop-picking is quite Arcadian. Mr. Amarinth is having a little pipe made for him at Chappell's or somewhere, and he is going to sit under a tree and play old tunes by Scarlatti to the hop-pickers while they are at work. He says that more good can be done in that sort of way, than by all the missionaries who were ever eaten by savages. I don't believe much in missionaries."
"Do you believe in Mr. Amarinth?"
"Certainly. He is so witty. He gives one thoughts too, and that saves one such a lot of trouble. People who keep looking about in their own minds for thoughts are always so stupid. Mr. Amarinth gives you enough thoughts in an hour to last you for a couple of days."
"I doubt if they are worth very much. I suppose he gives Lord Reggie all his thoughts?"
"Yes, I dare say. He supplies half London, I believe. There is always some one of that kind going about. And as to his epigrams, they are in every one's mouth."
"That must make them rather monotonous," said Lady Locke, as the horses' heads were turned homewards, and they rolled smoothly towards Belgrave Square.
In the drawing-room they found a very thin, short-sighted looking woman sitting quietly, apparently engaged in examining the pictures and ornaments through a double eyeglass with a slender tortoise shell stalk, which she held in her hand. She had a curious face, with a long rather Jewish nose, and a thin-lipped mouth, a face wrinkled about the small eyes, above which was pasted a thick fringe of light brown hair covered with a visible "invisible" net.
"Madame Valtesi!" exclaimed Mrs. Windsor. "You have come in person to give me your answer about my week? That is charming. Are you coming out into the desert with us? Let me introduce my cousin, Lady Locke—Madame Valtesi."
The thin lady bowed peeringly. She seemed very blind indeed. Then she said, in a voice perhaps twenty years older than her middle-aged face, "How do you do? Yes, I will play the hermit with pleasure. I came to say so. You go down next Tuesday, or is it Wednesday?"
"On Wednesday. We shall be a charming little party, and so witty. Lord Reginald Hastings and Mr. Amarinth are both coming, and Mr. Tyler. My cousin and I complete the sextet. Oh! I had forgotten Tommy. But he does not count, not as a wit, I mean. He is my cousin's little boy. He is to play about with the curate's children. That will be so elevating for him."
"Delightful," said Madame Valtesi, with a face of stone. "No tea, thank you. I only stopped to tell you. I have three parties this afternoon. Good-bye. To-morrow morning I am going to get my trousseau for the desert, a shady garden hat, and gloves with gauntlets, and a walking-cane."
She gave a little croaking laugh with a cleverly taken girlish note at the end of it, and walked very slowly and quietly out of the room.
"I am so glad she can come," said Mrs. Windsor. "She makes our rustic party complete."
"We shall certainly be very rustic," said Lady Locke, with a smile, as she leaned back in her chair and took a cup of tea.
"Yes, deliciously so. Madame Valtesi goes everywhere. She is one of the most entertaining people in London. Nobody knows who she is. I have heard that she is a Russian spy, and that her husband was a courier, or a chef, or perhaps both. She has got some marvellous diamond earrings that were given to her by a Grand Duke, and she has lots of money. She runs a theatre, because she likes a certain actor, and she pays Mr. Amarinth's younger brother to go about with her and converse. He is very fat, and very uncouth, but he talks well. Madame Valtesi has a great deal of influence."
"In what department of life?"
"Oh—er—in every department, I believe. I really think my week will be a success this year. Last year it was rather a failure. I took down Professor Smith, and he had a fit. So inconsiderate of him. In the country, too, where it is so difficult to get a doctor. We had in the veterinary surgeon in a hurry, but all he could say was 'Fire him!' and as I was not very intimate with the Professor, I hardly liked to do that. He has such a very violent temper. This year we shall have a good deal of music. Lord Reggie and Mr. Amarinth both play, and they are arranging a little programme. All old music, you know. They hate Wagner and the moderns. They prefer the ancient church music, Mozart and Haydn and Paganini, or is it Palestrina? I never can remember—and that sort of thing, so refining. Mr. Amarinth says that nothing has been done in music for the last hundred years. Personally, I prefer the Intermezzo out of 'Cavalleria' to anything I ever heard, but of course I am wrong. You have finished? Then I think I shall go and lie down before dressing for dinner. It is so hot. A breath of country air will be delicious."
"Yes, I confess I am looking forward with interest to the Surrey week," said Lady Locke, still smiling.
Mrs. Windsor's cottage in Surrey stood on the outskirts of a perfectly charming village called Chenecote, a village just like those so often described in novels of the day. The homes of the poor people were model homes, with lattice windows, and modern improvements. The church was very small, but very trim. The windows were filled with stained glass, designed by Burne-Jones and executed by Morris, and there was a lovely little organ built by Willis, with a vox humana stop in it, that was like the most pathetic sheep that ever bleated to its lamb. The church and the red tiled schoolhouse stood upon a delightful green common, covered with gorse bushes. There were trees all over the place, and the birds always sang in them. Roses bloomed in the neat little cottage gardens, and cheery, rosy children played happily about in the light sandy roads. Nothing, in fact, was wanting to make up a pretty picture of complete and English rusticity.
But Mrs. Windsor's cottage was the most charming picture of all. It was really a rambling thatched bungalow, with wide verandas trellised with dog roses, and a demure cosy garden full of velvet lawns and yew hedges cut into monstrous shapes. A tiny drive led up to the wide porch, and a neat green gate guarded the drive from the country road, beyond which there stood a regular George Morland village pond, a pond with muddy water, and fat geese, and ducks standing on their heads, and great sleek cart-horses pausing knee-deep to drink, with velvety distended nostrils, and, in fact, all the proper pond accessories. A little way up the road stood the curate's neat red house, and beyond that the village post-office and grocery store. Further away still were the substantial rectory, the model cottages, the common, the church, and schoolhouse. Behind the bungalow, which was called "The Retreat," there was a farmyard in which hens laid eggs for the bungalow breakfast table, and black Berkshire pigs slowly ripened and matured in the bright June sunshine. A stone sun-dial stood upon one of the velvet lawns, engraved with the legend "Tempus fugit," and various creaking basket and beehive chairs stood about, while no tennis net was permitted to desecrate the appearance of complete repose that the green garden presented to the tired town eye.
Mrs. Windsor declared that her guests must be content to rough it during the Surrey week; but as she took down with her from London a French chef and a couple of tall footmen, a carriage and pair, a governess cart, a fat white pony, a coachman and various housemaids, the guests regarded that dismal prospect with a fair amount of equanimity, and were assailed by none of those fears that appal the wanderer who arrives at a country inn or at a small lodging by the seaside. It may be pleasant to have roughed it, but it is always tiresome to be plunged in a frightful present instead of living gloriously upon a frightful past. If Mrs. Windsor's guests were deprived of the latter triumph, they at least were saved from the endurance of the former purgatory, and being for the most part entirely unheroic, they were not ill content. Rusticity in the rough they would decidedly not have approved of; rusticity in the smooth they liked very well. Mrs. Windsor was wise in her generation. She was distinctly not a clever woman, but she distinctly knew her world. The two tall footmen were the motto of her social life. She and Lady Locke, and the latter's little boy Tommy, came down from London by train in the morning of the Wednesday on which the Surrey week was to begin. The rest of the party was to assemble in the afternoon in time for tea. Tommy was in a state of almost painful excitement, as the train ran very slowly indeed through the pleasant country towards Dorking. He was a plump little boy, with rosy cheeks, big brown eyes, and a very round head, covered with exceedingly short brown hair. His age was nine, and he wore dark blue knickerbockers and a loose, bulgy sort of white shirt, trimmed with blue, and ornamented with a wide and flapping collar. His black stockings covered frisky legs, and his mind at present was mainly occupied with surmises as to the curate's little boys, with whom Mrs. Windsor had promised that he should play. He was a sharp child, interrogative in mind, and extremely loquacious. Mrs. Windsor found him rather trying. But then she was not accustomed to children, possessing, as she often boasted, none of her own.
"What are their names?" said Tommy, bounding suddenly from the window and squatting down before Mrs. Windsor, with his elbows on his blue serge knees, his firm white chin resting on his upturned palms, and his brown eyes fixed steadily upon her carefully arranged face, which always puzzled him very much; it was so unlike his mother's. "What are their names? Are any of them called Tommy?"
"I don't think so," she replied. "One of them is called Athanasius, I believe. I forget about the others."
"Why is he called Athanasius?"
"After the great Athanasius, I suppose."
"And who was the great Athanasius?"
"Oh—the well—well, he wrote a creed, Tommy; but you couldn't understand about that yet. You are too young."
"I don't think you know who the great Athanasius was much, Cousin Betty," said the boy, scrutinising her very closely, and trying to discover why her hair was so very light and her eyebrows were so very dark. "And you say they all wear spectacles. Can't they see without?"
Mrs. Windsor looked rather distractedly towards Lady Locke, who was reading a military article in the Pall Mall Magazine with deep attention.
"They can see a little without, I suppose, but not very much."
"Then are they blind?"
"No, only short-sighted. And then their father is a clergyman, you know, and clergymen generally wear spectacles. So perhaps they inherit it."
"What! the spectacles?"
"No, the—I mean they may require to wear spectacles because their father did before them. It is often so. But you are too young to understand heredity."
"I can understand things, Cousin Betty," said the boy rather severely.
"That's right. Well now, go and look out of the window. Look, there is a mill with the wheel turning, and a pond with a boat on it. What a dear little boat!"
Tommy went, obediently, but a little disdainfully, and Mrs. Windsor sank back in her seat feeling quite worn out. She could cope better with the wits of a wit than with the wits of a child. She began to wish that Tommy was not going to make a part of the Surrey week. If he did not take a fancy to the curate's children after all, he would be thrown upon her hands. The prospect was rather terrible. However, she determined not to dwell upon it. It was no use to meet a possible trouble half way. She closed her eyes, and wondered vaguely who the great Athanasius had really been till the train slowed down—it seemed to have been slowing down steadily all the way from Waterloo—and they drew up beside the platform at Dorking. Then Tommy was packed with his mother's maid into the governess cart with the fat white pony, which enchanted him to madness, and Lady Locke and Mrs. Windsor were driven away in the landau towards "The Retreat."
The day was radiantly fine, and very hot. The hedgerows were rather dusty, and the air was dim with a delicious haze that threw an atmosphere of enchantment round even the most commonplace objects. Dorking looked, as it always does, solid, serene, and cheerful, the beau-ideal of a prosperous country town, well-fed, well-groomed, well-favoured. Some of the shopkeepers were standing at their doors in their shirt-sleeves taking the air. The errand-boys whistled boisterously as they went about their business, and the butcher carts dashed hither and thither with their usual spanking irresponsibility. Lady Locke looked about her with supreme contentment. She loved the English flavour of the place. It came upon her with all the charm of old time recollections. Ten years had elapsed since she had strolled about an English village, or driven through an English country town. Her eyes suddenly filled with tears, and yet she was not unhappy. It was, on the contrary, the subtlety of her happiness that made her heart throb, and brought a choky feeling into her throat. Her tears were the idle ones, that are the sweetest tears of all.
Mrs. Windsor was not subtly happy. She never was. Sometimes she was irresponsibly cheerful, and generally she was lively, especially when there were any men about; but though she read much minor poetry, and knew all the minor poets, she was not poetic, and she honestly thought that John Gray's "Silver Points" were far finer literature than Wordsworth's "Ode to Immortality," or Rossetti's "Blessed Damosel." She liked sugar and water, especially when the sugar was very sweet, and the water very cloudy. As they drove through the High Street, she exclaimed—
"Look, Emily, there goes George Meredith into the post-office. How like he is to Watts' portrait of him! I never can get him to come near me, although I have read all his books. Mr. Amarinth says that he is going to bring out a new edition of them, 'done into English' by himself. It is such a good idea, and would help the readers so much. I believe he could make a lot of money by it, but it would be very difficult to do, I suppose. However, Mr. Amarinth is so clever that he might manage it. We shall soon be there now. Just look at Tommy! I do believe they are letting him drive."
Loud shouts of boyish triumph from in front in fact announced this divine consummation of happiness, and Tommy's face, wreathed in excited smiles, was turned round towards them, to attract their attention to his deeds of prowess. The fat white pony, evidently under the horrified impression that the son of Nimshi had suddenly mounted behind him, broke into a laborious and sprawling gallop, and, amid clouds of dust, the governess cart vanished down the hill, Lady Locke's maid striking attitudes of terror, and the smart groom shaking his slim and belted sides with laughter.
Lady Locke winked her tears away, and smiled.
"He is in the seventh heaven," she said.
"I only hope he won't be in the road directly," rejoined her cousin. "Ah! here is the village at last."
That afternoon, at four o'clock, a telegram arrived. It was from Mr. Tyler, and stated that he had caught the influenza, and could not come. Mrs. Windsor was much annoyed.
"Oh dear, I do hope my week is not going all wrong again this year!" she exclaimed plaintively. "I cannot fill his place now. Everybody is so full of engagements at this time of the year. We shall be a man short."
"Never mind, Betty," said her cousin. "Tommy is quite a man in his own eyes, and I rather like being a little neglected sometimes. It is restful."
"Do you think so? Well, perhaps you are right. Men are not always soothing. Let us go out into the garden. The others ought to be here directly, unless they have got the influenza too. I am thankful Mr. Tyler did not have it here. It would be worse than a fit. A fit only lasts for a few minutes after all, and then it is not catching, which is such a consolation. Really, when one comes to think of it, a fit is one of the best things one can have, if one is to have anything. We are going to take tea here under the cedar tree."
Lady Locke opened her well-formed rather ample mouth, and drew in a deep breath of country air. She had no sort of feeling about the absence of Mr. Tyler, whom she had never seen. The country, and the warmth, and the summer were quite enough for her. Still, she looked forward to studying Lord Reggie with an eagerness that she hardly acknowledged even to herself. She hoped vaguely that he would be different in the country, that he would put on a country mind with his country clothes, that his brain would work more naturally under a straw hat, and that in canvas shoes he might find a certain amount of salvation. At any rate, he would look delightfully cool and young on the velvet lawn under the great cedar. That was certain. And his whimsicalities were generally amusing, and sometimes original. As to Mr. Amarinth, she could not imagine him in the country at all. He smacked essentially of cities. What he would do in this galere she knew not. She leaned back in her basket-chair and enjoyed herself quietly. The green peace, after London, was absolutely delicious. She could hear a hen clucking intermittently from the farmyard hard by, the twitter of birds from the yew-trees, the chirping voices of Tommy and the curate's little boys, who had been formally introduced to each other, and had retired to play in a paddock that was part of the rector's glebe. The rector himself was away on a holiday, and the curate was doing all the work for the time. Big golden bees buzzed slowly and pertinaciously in and out of the sweet flowers in the formal rose garden, chaunting a note that was like the diapason of some distant organ. Mrs. Windsor's pug, "Bung," lay on his fat side in the sun with half-closed eyes, snoring loudly to indicate the fact that he seriously meditated dropping into a doze. All the air was full of mingled magical scents, hanging on the tiny breeze that stole softly about among the leaves and flowers. There was a clink of china and silver in the cottage, for the tall footmen were preparing to bring out the tea. How pleasant it all was! Lady Locke felt half inclined to snore with her eyes opened, like Bung. It seemed such a singularly appropriate tribute to the influence of place and weather. However, she restrained herself, and merely folded her hands in her lap and fell into a waking dream.
She was roused by the scrunch of carriage wheels on the gravel drive.
"There they are!" said Mrs. Windsor, springing from her chair with vivacious alacrity. "The train has been punctual for once in its life. How shocked the directors would be if they knew it, but, of course, it will be kept from them. Ah! Madame Valtesi, so glad to see you! How do, Lord Reggie? How do, Mr. Amarinth? So you all came together! This is such a mercy, as I have only one carriage down here except the cart, which doesn't count. I told you we should have to rough it, didn't I? That is part of the attraction of the week. Simplicity in all things, you know, especially carriages. Mr. Tyler can't come. Isn't it shocking? Influenza. London is so full of microbes. Do microbes go to parties, Mr. Amarinth? because Mr. Tyler lives entirely at parties. He must have caught it in Society. Will you have tea before you go to your rooms? Yes, do. Here it comes. We are going to have country strawberries and penny buns made in the village, and quite hot! So rustic and wholesome! After all, it is nice to eat something wholesome just once in a while, isn't it?"
Her guests settled into the arm-chairs, and Bung, who had risen in some pardonable fury, lay down again and prepared to resume his interrupted meditations.
Madame Valtesi was already attired in her trousseau. She had travelled down from London in a shady straw hat trimmed with pink roses. A white veil swept loosely round her face; she carried in her hand an attenuated mottled cane, with an elaborate silver top. A black fan hung from her waist by a thin silver chain, and, as usual, she was peering through her eyeglasses at her surroundings. Mr. Amarinth and Lord Reggie were dressed very much alike in loosely fitting very light suits, with high turn-down collars, all round collars that somehow suggested babyhood and innocence, and loosely knotted ties. They wore straw hats, suede gloves, and brown boots, and in their buttonholes large green carnations bloomed savagely. They looked very cool, very much at their ease, and very well inclined for tea. Reggie's face was rather white, and the look in his blue eyes suggested that London was getting altogether the better of him.
"Wholesome things almost always disagree with me," said Madame Valtesi, in her croaky voice, "unless I eat them at the wrong time. Now, a hot bun before breakfast in the morning, or in bed at night, might suit me admirably; but if I ate one now, I should feel miserable. Your strawberries look most original, quite the real thing. Do not be angry with me for discarding the buns. If I ate one, I should really infallibly lose my temper."
"How curious," said Mr. Amarinth, taking a bun delicately between his plump white fingers. "My temper and my heart are the only two things I never lose! Everything else vanishes. I think the art of losing things is a very subtle art. So few people can lose anything really beautifully. Anybody can find a thing. That is so simple. A crossing sweeper can discover a sixpence lying in the road. It is the crossing sweeper who loses a sixpence who shows real originality."
"I wish I could find a few sixpences," said Madame Valtesi slowly, and sipping her tea with her usual air of stony gravity. "Times are so very bad. Do you know, Mr. Amarinth, I am almost afraid I shall have to put down my carriage, or your brother. I cannot keep them both up, and pay my dressmaker's bill too. I told him so yesterday. He was very much cut up."
"Poor Teddy! Have his conversational powers gone off? I never see him. The world is so very large, isn't it?"
"No, he still talks rather well." Then she added, turning to Lady Locke, "You know I always give him five shillings an hour, in generous moments ten, to take me about and talk to me. He is a superb raconteur. I shall miss him very much."
"The profession of a conversationalist is so delightful," said Mrs. Windsor, "I wonder more people don't follow it. You are too generous, Esme; you took it up out of pure love of the thing."
"The true artist will always be an amateur," said Lord Reggie, dreamily, and gazing towards Lady Locke with abstracted blue eyes, "just as the true martyr will always live for his faith. Esme is like the thrush. He always tells us his epigrams twice over, lest we should fail to capture their first fine careful rapture. Repetition is one of the secrets of success nowadays. Esme was the first conversationalist in England to discover that fact, and so he won his present unrivalled position, and has known how to keep it."
"Conversational powers are sometimes very distressing," said Madame Valtesi. "Last winter I was having my house in Cromwell Road painted and papered. I went to live at a hotel, but the men were so slow, that at last I took possession again, hoping to turn them out. It was a most fatal step. They liked me so much, and found me so entertaining, that they have never gone away. They are still painting, and I suppose always will be. Whenever I say anything witty they scream with laughter, and I believe that my name has become a household word in Whitechapel or Wapping, or wherever the British workman lives? What am I to do?"
"Read them Jerome K. Jerome's last comic book," said Amarinth, "and they will go at once. I find his works most useful. I always begin to quote from them when I wish to rid myself of a bore."
"But surely he is a very entertaining writer," said Lady Locke.
"My dear lady, if you read him you will find that he is the reverse of Beerbohm Tree as Hamlet. Tree's Hamlet was funny without being vulgar. Jerome's writings are vulgar without being funny. His books are like Academy pictures. They are all deserving of a place on the line."
"I think he means well," said Mrs. Windsor, taking some strawberries.
"I am afraid so," Amarinth answered. "People who mean well always do badly. They are like the ladies who wear clothes that don't fit them in order to show their piety. Good intentions are invariably ungrammatical."
"Good intentions have been the ruin of the world," said Reggie fervently. "The only people who have achieved anything have been those who have had no intentions at all. I have no intentions."
"You will at least never be involved in an action for breach of promise if you always state that fact," said Lady Locke, laughing.
"To be intentional is to be middle class," remarked Amarinth. "Herkomer has become intentional, and so he has taken to painting the directors of railway companies. The great picture of this year's exhibition is intentional. The great picture of the year always is. It presents to us a pretty milkmaid milking her cow. A gallant, riding by, has dismounted, and is kissing the milkmaid."
Madame Valtesi blinked at him for a moment in silence. Then she said with an air of indescribable virtue—
"What a bad example for the cow!"
"Ah! I never thought of that!" cried Mrs. Windsor.
"One seldom does think how easily proper cows—and people—are put to confusion. That is why they so often flee from the plays of London to those of Paris. They can be confused there without their relations knowing it."
"Why are old men who have seen the world always so proper?" asked Lord Reggie. "The other day I was staying with an old general at Malta, and he took Catulle Mendez' charming and delicate romance, 'Mephistophela,' out of my bedroom and burnt it. Yet his language on parade was really quite artistically blasphemous. I think it is fatal to one's personality to see the world at all."
"Then I must be quite hopeless," said Lady Locke, "for I have spent eight years in the Straits Settlements."
"Dear me!" murmured Madame Valtesi. "Where is that? It sounds like one of the places where that geographical little Henry Arthur Jones sends the heroes of his plays to expiate their virtues."
"It is quite a mistake to imagine that the author or the artist should stuff his beautiful, empty mind with knowledge, with impressions, with facts of any kind," said Amarinth. "I have written a great novel upon Iceland, full of colour, of passion, of the most subtle impurity, yet I could not point you out Iceland upon the map. I do not know where it is, or what it is. I only know that it has a beautiful name, and that I have written a beautiful thing about it. This age is an age of identification, in which our god is the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and our devil the fairy tale that teaches nothing. We go to the British Museum for culture, and to Archdeacon Farrar for guidance. And then we think that we are advancing. We might as well return to the myths of Darwin, or to the delicious fantasies of John Stuart Mill. They at least were entertaining, and no one attempted to believe in them."
"We always return to our first hates," said Lord Reggie, rather languidly.
"Do have some more tea, Madame Valtesi," pleaded Mrs. Windsor.
"No, thank you. I never take more than one cup on principle—the principle being that the first cup is the best, like the last word. I want to take a stroll round the rose garden, if I may. Mr. Amarinth, will you come with me?"
She added in an undertone to him, as they walked slowly away together—
"I always hate to see people drinking when I have finished. It makes me feel like a barmaid."
Lady Locke and Lord Reggie were left alone together for the time. Mrs. Windsor had gone into the cottage to write a note, asking the curate of Chenecote to dine the next day. She always asked the curate to dine during the Surrey week. She thought it made things so deliciously rustic. Lord Reggie was still looking very tired, and eating a great many strawberries. He did both mechanically, and as if he didn't know he was doing them. As Lady Locke glanced at him, she felt that he certainly fulfilled her expectations, so far as being cool and young went. His round baby collar seemed to take off quite five years from his age, and his straw hat, with its black riband, suited him very well. Only the glaring green carnation offended her sight. She longed to ask him why he wore it. But she felt she had no right to. So she watched him looking tired and eating strawberries, until he glanced up at her with his pretty blue eyes.
"These strawberries are very good," he said. "I should finish them, only I hate finishing anything. There is something so commonplace about it. Don't you think so? Commonplace people are always finishing off things, and getting through things. They map out their days, and have special hours for everything. I should like to have special hours for nothing. That would be much more original."
"You are very fond of originality?"
"Are not you?"
"I don't quite know. Perhaps I have not met many original people in my life. You see I have been out of England a great deal, and out of cities. I have lived almost entirely among soldiers."
"Soldiers are never original. They think it is unmanly. I once spent a week with the commander of one of our armies of occupation, and I never heard the same remarks so often in all my life. They thought everything was an affectation. Once, when I mentioned Matthew Arnold at the mess, they thought he was an affectation."
"Oh, surely not."
"They did, really. I explained that he had been a school-inspector. I thought that might reassure them. But they evidently did not believe me. They knew nothing about anything or anybody. That would have been rather charming, only they thought they knew everything."
"I think you must have been unfortunate in your experience."
"Perhaps I was. I know I tried to be manly. I talked about Wilson Barrett. What more could I do? To talk about Wilson Barrett is generally supposed to show your appreciation of the heroic age. Of course nobody thinks about him now. But I was quite a failure. I went to five dinner-parties, I remember, during that week, and we all conversed about machine-guns at each of them. I felt as if the whole of life was a machine-gun, and men and women were all quick-firing parties."
"I suppose we are most of us a little inclined to talk shop, as it is called."
"But we ought to talk general shop, the shop in which everything is sold from Bibles to cheap cheese. Only we might leave out the Bibles. Mrs. Humphrey Ward has created a corner in them."
"You have finished the strawberries after all."
Reggie burst into an almost boyish laugh.
"So I have. We none of us live up to our ideals, I suppose. But really I have none. I agree with Esme that nothing is so limited as to have an ideal."
"And yet you look sometimes as if you might have many," she said, as if half to herself. The curious motherly feeling had come upon her again, a kind of tenderness that often leads to preaching.
Reggie glanced up at her quickly, and with a pleased expression. A veiled tribute to his good looks delighted him, whether it came from man or woman. Only an unveiled one surpassed it in his estimation.
"Ah! but that means nothing," he said. "It is quite a mistake to believe, as many people do, that the mind shows itself in the face. Vice may sometimes write itself in lines and changes of contour, but that is all. Our faces are really masks given to us to conceal our minds with. Of course occasionally the mask slips partly off, generally when we are stupid and emotional. But that is an inartistic accident. Outward revelations of what is going on inside of us take place far more seldom than silly people suppose. No more preposterous theory has ever been put forward than that of the artist revealing himself in his art. The writer, for instance, has at least three minds—his Society mind, his writing mind, and his real mind. They are all quite separate and distinct, or they ought to be. When his writing mind and his real mind get mixed up together, he ceases to be an artist. That is why Swinburne has gone off so much. If you want to write really fine erotic poetry, you must live an absolutely rigid and entirely respectable life. The 'Laus Veneris' could only have been produced by a man who had a Nonconformist conscience. I am certain that Mrs. Humphrey Ward is the most strictly orthodox Christian whom we have. Otherwise, her books against the accepted Christianity could never have brought her in so many thousands of pounds. I never read her, of course. Life is far too long and lovely for that sort of thing; but a bishop once told me that she was a great artist, and that if she had a sense of gravity, she would rival George Eliot. Dickens had probably no sense of humour. That is why he makes second-rate people die of laughing. Oscar Wilde was utterly mistaken when he wrote the 'Picture of Dorian Gray.' After Dorian's act of cruelty, the picture ought to have grown more sweet, more saintly, more angelic in expression."
"I never read that book."
"Then you have gained a great deal. Poor Oscar! He is terribly truthful. He reminds me so much of George Washington."
"Shall we walk round the garden if you have really finished tea?" said Lady Locke, rising. "What a delicious afternoon it is, so quiet, so detached from the rest of the year, as Mr. Amarinth might say. I am glad to be away from London. It is only habit that makes London endurable."
"But surely habit makes nothing endurable. Otherwise we should like politics, and get accustomed to the presence of solicitors in Society."
"I do like politics," Lady Locke said, laughing. "How beautiful these roses are! Ah, there is Tommy. You don't know my little boy, do you?" Tommy, in fact, now came bounding towards them along a rose alley. His cheeks were flushed with excitement, and, as he drew nearer, they saw that his brown eyes were sparkling with a dimmed lustre behind a large pair of spectacles, that were set rakishly upon his straight little nose.
"My dear boy," exclaimed his mother, "what on earth are you doing? How hideous you are!"
"Harry Smith has lent them to me," cried Tommy exultantly. "He says I look splendid in them."
"That is all very fine, but Harry Smith requires them, and you don't. His father won't like it. You must give them back, Tommy. Shake hands with Lord Reginald Hastings. He has come to stay here."
Tommy shook hands scrutinisingly, and at once broke conversational ground with—
"Do you know who the great Athanasius was?"
"He was an excellent person, who will always be widely known to fame for his omissions. He did not write the Athanasian creed. For that reason he will always be deserving of our respect."
Tommy listened to these remarks with profound attention, and expressed himself very well satisfied with this addition to his youthful knowledge. He thrust his hot hand into Lord Reggie's with the artless remark—
"You are more clever than Cousin Betty!" and invited him to join forthwith in a game of ball upon the bowling-green. To Lady Locke's surprise, Lord Reggie did not resist the alluring temptation, but ran off with the boy quite light-heartedly. She stood watching them as they disappeared across the smooth, green lawn.
"I can't understand him," she thought to herself. "He seems to be talented, and yet an echo of another man, naturally good-hearted, full of horrible absurdities, a gentleman, and yet not a man at all. He says himself that he commits every sin that attracts him, but he does not look wicked. What is he? Is he being himself, or is he being Mr. Amarinth, or is he merely posing, or is he really hateful, or is he only whimsical, and clever, and absurd? What would he have been if he had never seen Mr. Amarinth?"
She began vaguely to dislike Mr. Amarinth, vaguely to like Lord Reggie. Her boy had taken a fancy to him, and she was an unreasonably motherly mother. People who are unreasonably motherly like by impulse wholly very often, and hate by impulse. Their mind has no why or wherefore with which to bolster up their heart. She went slowly towards the cottage to dress for dinner, and all the time that she was walking, she continued, rather strenuously, to like Lord Reggie.
That evening, after dinner, there was music in the small drawing-room, which was exquisitely done up in Eastern style, with an arched roof, screens of wonderfully carved wood brought from Upper Egypt, Persian hangings and embroideries, divans and prayer rugs, on which nobody ever prayed. Lord Reggie and Mr. Amarinth both played the piano in an easy, tentative sort of way, making excess of expression do duty for deficiencies of execution, and covering occasional mistakes with the soft rather than with the loud pedal. Lord Reggie played a hymn of his own, which he frankly acknowledged was very beautiful. He described it as a hymn without words, which, he said softly, all hymns should be. There was archaic simplicity, not to say baldness, about it which sent Mrs. Windsor into exotic raptures, and, as it was exceedingly short, it made its definite mark.
There was a moon in the night, full, round, and serene, and the French windows stood open to the quiet garden. The drawing-room was very dimly lighted, and as Reggie played, he was in shadow. His white, sensitive face was only faintly to be seen. It looked pure and young, Lady Locke thought, as she watched him. He was so enamoured of his hymn that he played it over and over again, and, from his touch, it seemed as if he were trying to make the Steinway grand sound as much like a spinet as possible.
Madame Valtesi sat on a sofa with her long, slim feet supported upon an embroidered cushion. She was smoking a cigarette with all the complete mastery of custom. Mrs. Windsor stood near the window, idly following with her eyes the perambulations of Bung, who was flitting about the garden like a ghost with a curled tail and a turned-up nose. Mr. Amarinth leaned largely upon the piano, in an attitude of rapt attention. His clever, clean-shaved face wore an expression of seraphic sensuality.
Lady Locke listened quietly. She had never heard any hymn so often before, and yet she did not feel bored.
At last Lord Reggie stopped, and said, "Esme, the curate comes to dine to-morrow. Remember to be very sweet to him. I want to play the organ on Sunday morning, and he must let us do an anthem. I will compose one. We can get up a choir practice on Friday night, if Mrs. Windsor does not mind."
"Oh, charming!" Mrs. Windsor cried from the window. "I love a choir practice above all things. Choir boys are so pretty. They must come to the practice in their nightgowns, of course. I am sure Mr. Smith will be delighted. But you must remember to be very high church to-morrow night. Mr. Smith is terribly particular about that."
"I don't think I know how to be High Church," said Madame Valtesi very gravely. "Does one assume any special posture of body, or are one's convictions to be shown only in attitude of mind?"
"Oh, there is no difficulty," said Lord Reggie. "All one has to do is to abuse the Evangelical party. Speak disrespectfully of the Bishop of Liverpool, and say that Father Staunton and the Bishop of Lincoln are the only preachers of true doctrine in England. The Ritualists are very easily pleased. They put their faith in preachers and in postures. If I were anything, I would be a Roman Catholic."
"Should you like to confess all your sins?" asked Lady Locke, in some surprise.
"Immensely. There is nothing so interesting as telling a good man or woman how bad one has been. It is intellectually fascinating. One of the greatest pleasures of having been what is called wicked is, that one has so much to say to the good. Good people love hearing about sin. Haven't you noticed that although the sinner takes no sort of interest in the saint, the saint has always an uneasy curiosity about the doings of the sinner? It is a case of the County Council and Zaeo's back over and over again."
"Yes, we love examining each other's backs," said Madame Valtesi.
Esme Amarinth sighed musically and very loudly, and remarked—
"Faith is the most plural thing I know. We are all supposed to believe in the same thing in different ways. It is like eating out of the same dish with different coloured spoons. And we beat each other with the spoons, like children."
"And the dish gives us indigestion," said Madame Valtesi. "I once spent a week with an aunt who had taken to Litany, as other people take to dram-drinking, you know. We went to Litany every day, and I never had so much dyspepsia before in my life. Litany, taken often, is more indigestible than lobster at midnight."
"How exquisite the moon is!" said Lady Locke, rising and going towards the window.
"The moon is the religion of the night," said Esme. "Go out into the garden all of you, and I will sing to you a song of the moon. It is very beautiful. I shall give it to Jean de Reszke, I think. My voice will sound better from a distance. Good voices always do."
He sat down at the piano, and they strolled out through the French windows into the green and silent pleasaunce.
His voice was clear and open, and he spoke rather than sang the following verses, while they stood listening till the rippling accompaniment trickled away into silence:—
Oh! beautiful moon with the ghostly face, Oh! moon with the brows of snow, Rise up, rise up from your slumbering place, And draw from your eyes the veil, Lest my wayward heart should fail In the homage it fain would bestow— Oh! beautiful moon with the ghostly face, Oh! moon with the brows of snow.
Oh! beautiful mouth like a scarlet flow'r, Oh! mouth with the wild, soft breath, Kiss close, kiss close in the dream-stricken bow'r, And whisper away the world; Till the wayward wings are furled, And the shadow is lifted from death— Oh! beautiful mouth like a scarlet flow'r, Oh! mouth with the wild, soft breath!
Oh! beautiful soul with the outstretched hands, Oh! soul with the yearning eyes, Lie still, lie still in the fairy lands Where never a tear may fall; Where no voices ever call Any passion-act, strange or unwise— Oh! beautiful soul with the outstretched hands, Oh! soul with the yearning eyes!
The song was uttered with so much apparent passion that Lady Locke felt tears standing in her eyes when the last words ceased on the cool air of the night.
"How beautiful," she said involuntarily to Lord Reggie, who happened to be standing beside her. "And how wrong!"
"Surely that is a contradiction in terms," the boy said. "Nothing that is beautiful can possibly be wrong."
"Then how exquisitely right some women have been whom Society has hounded out of its good graces," Madame Valtesi remarked.
"Yes," said Reggie. "And how exquisitely happy in their rectitude."
"But not in their punishment," said Mrs. Windsor. "I think it is so silly to give people the chance of whipping you for what they do themselves."
"Society only loves one thing more than sinning," said Madame Valtesi, examining the moon magisterially through her tortoise shell eyeglass.
"And what is that?" said Lady Locke.
"Well, what would you all like to do with yourselves to-day?" asked Mrs. Windsor on the following morning after breakfast, which was over at half-past ten, for they all got up early as a mark of respect to the country air; and indeed, Mr. Amarinth declared that he had been awake before five, revelling in the flame-coloured music of the farmyard cocks.
"I should like to go out shopping," remarked Madame Valtesi, who was dressed in a white serge dress, figured with innocent pink flowers.
"But, my dear, there are no shops!"
"There is always a linen-draper's in every village," said Madame Valtesi; "and a grocer's."
"But what would you buy there?"
"That is just what I wish to know. May I have the governess cart? I want to try and feel like a governess."
"Of course. I will order it. Will you drive yourself?"
"Oh no, I am too blind. Lady Locke, won't you come with me? I am sure you can drive. I can always tell by looking at people what they can do. I could pick you out a dentist from a crowd of a hundred people."
"Or a driver?" said Lady Locke. "I think I can manage the white pony. Yes, I will come with pleasure."
"I shall go into the drawing-room and compose my anthem for Sunday," said Lord Reggie. "I am unlike Saint Saens. I always compose at the piano."
"And I will go into the rose-garden," said Esme, "and eat pink roses. There is nothing more delicious than a ripe La France. May I, Mrs. Windsor? Please don't say 'this is liberty hall,' or I shall think of Mr. Alexander, the good young manager who never dies—but may I?"
"Do. And compose some Ritualistic epigrams to say to Mr. Smith to-night. How delightfully rustic we all are! So naive! I am going to order dinner, and add up the household accounts for yesterday."
She rustled away with weary grace, rattling delicately a large bunch of keys that didn't open any thing in particular. They were a part of her get up as a country hostess.
A few moments later some simple chords, and the sound of a rather obvious sequence, followed by intensely Handelian runs, announced that Lord Reggie had begun to compose his anthem, and Madame Valtesi and Lady Locke were mounting into the governess cart, which was rather like a large hip bath on wheels. They sat opposite to each other upon two low seats, and Lady Locke drove sideways.
As they jogged along down the dusty country road, between the sweet smelling flowery banks, Madame Valtesi said—
"Do governesses always drive in tubs? Is it part of the system?"
"I don't know," answered Lady Locke, looking at the hunched white figure facing her, and at the little shrewd eyes peering from beneath the shade of the big and aggressively garden hat. "What system do you mean?"
"The English governess system; simple clothes, no friends, no society, no money, no late dinner, supper at nine, all the talents, and bed at ten whether you are inclined to sleep or not. Do they invariably go about in tubs as well?"
"I suppose very often. These carts are always called governess carts."
Madame Valtesi nodded enigmatically.
"I am glad I have never had to be a governess," said Lady Locke thoughtfully. "From a worldly point of view, I suppose I have been born under a lucky star."
"There is no such thing as luck in the world," Madame Valtesi remarked, putting up a huge white parasol that abruptly extinguished the view for miles. "There is only capability."
"But some capable people are surely unlucky."
"They are incapable in one direction or another. Have you not noticed that whenever a man is a failure his friends say he is an able man. No man is able who is unable to get on, just as no woman is clever who can't succeed in obtaining that worst, and most necessary, of evils—a husband."
"You are very cynical," said Lady Locke, flicking the pony's fat white back with the whip.
"All intelligent people are. Cynicism is merely the art of seeing things as they are instead of as they ought to be. If one says that Christianity has never converted the Christians, or that love has ruined more women than hate, or that virtue is an accident of environment, one is sure to be dubbed a cynic. And yet all these remarks are true to absolute absurdity."
"I scarcely think so."
"But, then, you have been in the Straits Settlements for eight years. They are true in London. And there are practically not more than about five universal truths in the world. One must always locate a truth if one wishes to be understood. What is true in London is often a lie in the country. I believe that there are still many good Christians in the country, but they are only good Christians because they are in the country—most of them. Our virtues are generally a fortunate, or unfortunate, accident, and the same may be said of our vices. Now, think of Lord Reggie. He is one of the most utterly vicious young men of the day. Why? Because, like the chameleon, he takes his colour from whatever he rests upon, or is put near. And he has been put near scarlet instead of white."