THE LEE SHORE
That division, the division of those who have and those who have not, runs so deep as almost to run to the bottom.
CHAPTER I A Hereditary Bequest
CHAPTER II The Choice of a Career
CHAPTER III The Hopes
CHAPTER IV The Complete Shopper
CHAPTER V The Splendid Morning
CHAPTER VI Hilary, Peggy, and the Boarders
CHAPTER VII Diana, Actaeon, and Lord Evelyn
CHAPTER VIII Peter Understands
CHAPTER IX The Fat in the Fire
CHAPTER X The Loss of a Profession
CHAPTER XI The Loss of an Idea
CHAPTER XII The Loss of a Goblet and Other Things
CHAPTER XIII The Loss of the Single State
CHAPTER XIV Peter, Rhoda, and Lucy
CHAPTER XV The Loss of a Wife
CHAPTER XVI A Long Way
CHAPTER XVII Mischances in the Rain
CHAPTER XVIII The Breaking-Point
CHAPTER XIX The New Life
CHAPTER XX The Last Loss
CHAPTER XXI On the Shore
THE LEE SHORE
A HEREDITARY BEQUEST
During the first week of Peter Margerison's first term at school, Urquhart suddenly stepped, a radiant figure on the heroic scale, out of the kaleidoscopic maze of bemusing lights and colours that was Peter's vision of his new life.
Peter, seeing Urquhart in authority on the football field, asked, "Who is it?" and was told, "Urquhart, of course," with the implication "Who else could it be?"
"Oh," Peter said, and blushed. Then he was told, "Standing right in Urquhart's way like that! Urquhart doesn't want to be stared at by all the silly little kids in the lower-fourth." But Urquhart was, as a matter of fact, probably used to it.
So that was Urquhart. Peter Margerison hugged secretly his two pieces of knowledge; so secret they were, and so enormous, that he swelled visibly with them; there seemed some danger that they might even burst him. That great man was Urquhart. Urquhart was that great man. Put so, the two pieces of knowledge may seem to have a certain similarity; there was in effect a delicate discrimination between them. If not wholly distinct one from the other, they were anyhow two separate aspects of the same startling and rather magnificent fact.
Then there was another aspect: did Urquhart know that he, Margerison, was in fact Margerison? He showed no sign of such knowledge; but then it was naturally not part of his business to concern himself with silly little kids in the lower-fourth. Peter never expected it.
But a few days after that, Peter came into the lavatories and found Urquhart there, and Urquhart looked round and said, "I say, you—Margerison. Just cut down to the field and bring my cap. You'll find it by the far goal, Smithson's ground. You can bring it to the lavatories and hang it on my peg. Cut along quick, or you'll be late."
Peter cut along quick, and found the velvet tasselled thing and brought it and hung it up with the care due to a thing so precious as a fifteen cap. The school bell had clanged while he was down on the field, and he was late and had lines. That didn't matter. The thing that had emerged was, Urquhart knew he was Margerison.
After that, Urquhart did not have occasion to honour Margerison with his notice for some weeks. It was, of course, a disaster of Peter's that brought them into personal relations. Throughout his life, Peter's relations were apt to be based on some misfortune or other; he always had such bad luck. Vainly on Litany Sundays he put up his petition to be delivered "from lightning and tempest, from plague, pestilence, and famine, from battle and murder, and from sudden death." Disasters seemed to crowd the roads on which he walked; so frequent were they and so tragic that life could scarcely be lived in sober earnest; it was, for Peter the comedian, a tragi-comic farce. Circumstances provided the tragedy, and temperament the farce.
Anyhow, one day Peter tumbled on to the point of his right shoulder and lay on his face, his arm crooked curiously at his side, remarking that he didn't think he was hurt, only his arm felt funny and he didn't think he would move it just yet. People pressed about him; suggested carrying him off the field; asked if he thought it was broken; asked him how he felt now; asked him all manner of things, none of which Peter felt competent to answer. His only remark, delivered in a rather weak and quavering voice, was to the effect that he would walk directly, only he would like to stay where he was a little longer, please. He said it very politely. It was characteristic of Peter Margerison that misfortune always made him very polite and pleasant in his manners, as if he was saying, "I am sorry to be so tiresome and feeble: do go on with your own businesses, you more fortunate and capable people, and never mind me."
As they stood in uncertainty about him, someone said, "There's Urquhart coming," and Urquhart came. He had been playing on another ground. He said, "What is it?" and they told him it was Margerison, his arm or his shoulder or something, and he didn't want to be moved. Urquhart pushed through the crowd that made way for him, and bent over Margerison and felt his arm from the shoulder to the wrist, and Margerison bit at the short grass that was against his face.
"That's all right," said Urquhart. "I wanted to see if it was sprained or broken anywhere. It's not; it's just a put-out shoulder. I did that once, and they put it in on the field; it was quite easy. It ought to be done at once, before it gets stiff." He turned Peter over on his back, and they saw that he was pale, and his forehead was muddy where it had pressed on the ground, and wet where perspiration stood on it. Urquhart was unlacing his own boot.
"I'm going to haul it in for you," he told Peter. "It's quite easy. It'll hurt a bit, of course, but less now than if it's left. It'll slip in quite easily, because you haven't much muscle," he added, looking at the frail, thin, crooked arm. Then he put his stockinged foot beneath Peter's arm-pit, and took the arm by the wrist and straightened it out. The other thin arm was thrown over Peter's pale face and working mouth. The muddy forehead could be seen getting visibly wetter. Urquhart threw himself back and pulled, with a long and strong pull. Sharp gasps came from beneath the flung-up left arm, through teeth that were clenched over a white jersey sleeve. The thin legs writhed a little. Urquhart desisted, breathing deeply.
"Sorry," he said; "one more'll do it." The one more was longer and stronger, and turned the gasps into semi-groans. But as Urquhart had predicted, it did it.
"There," said Urquhart, resting and looking pleased, as he always did when he had accomplished something neatly. "Heard the click, didn't you? It's in all right. Sorry to hurt you, Margerison; you were jolly sporting, though. Now I'm going to tie it up before we go in, or it'll be out again."
So he tied Peter's arm to Peter's body with his neck scarf. Then he took up the small light figure in his arms and carried it from the field.
"Hurt much now?" he asked, and Peter shook an untruthful head and grinned an untruthful and painful grin. Urquhart was being so inordinately decent to him, and he felt, even in his pain, so extremely flattered and exalted by such decency, that not for the world would he have revealed the fact that there had been a second faint click while his arm was being bound to his side, and an excruciating jar that made him suspect the abominable thing to be out again. He didn't know how the mechanism worked, but he was sure that the thing Urquhart had with such labour hauled in had slipped out and was disporting itself at large in unlawful territory. He said nothing, a little because he really didn't think he could quite make up his mind to another long and strong pull, but chiefly because of Urquhart and his immense decency. Success was Urquhart's role; one did not willingly imagine him failing. If heroes fail, one must not let them know it. Peter shut his eyes, and, through his rather sick vision of trespassing rabbits popping in and out through holes in a fence, knew that Urquhart's arms were carrying him very strongly and easily and gently. He hoped he wasn't too heavy. He would have said that he could walk, only he was rather afraid that if he said anything he might be sick. Besides, he didn't really want to walk; his shoulder was hurting him very much. He was so white about the cheeks and lips that Urquhart thought he had fainted.
After a little while, Urquhart was justified in his supposition; it was characteristic of Peter to convert, as promptly as was feasible, any slight error of Urquhart's into truth. So Peter knew nothing when Urquhart carried him indoors and delivered him into other hands. He opened his eyes next on the doctor, who was untying his arm and cutting his sleeve and saying cheerfully, "All right, young man, all right."
The next thing he said was, "I was told it had been put in."
"Yes," said Peter languidly. "But it came out again, I think."
"So it seems. Didn't they discover that down there?"
Peter moved his head limply, meaning "No."
"But you did, did you? Well, why didn't you say so? Didn't want to have it hauled at again, I suppose? Well, we'll have it in directly. You won't feel it much."
So the business was gone through again, and this time Peter not only half but quite groaned, because it didn't matter now.
When the thing was done, and Peter rigid and swathed in bed, the doctor was recalled from the door by a faint voice saying, "Will you please not tell anyone it came out again?"
"Why not?" The doctor was puzzled.
"Don't know," said Peter, after finding that he couldn't think of a reason. But then he gave the true one.
"Urquhart thought he'd got it in all right, that's all."
"Oh." The doctor was puzzled still. "But that's Urquhart's business, not yours. It wasn't your fault, you know."
"Please," said Peter from the bed. "Do you mind?"
The doctor looked and saw feverish blue lamps alight in a pale face, and soothingly said he did not mind. "Your shoulder, no one else's, isn't it?" he admitted. "Now you'd better go to sleep; you'll be all right directly, if you're careful not to move it or lie on it or anything."
Peter said he would be careful. He didn't at all want to move it or lie on it or anything. He lay and had waking visions of the popping rabbits. But they might pop as they liked; Peter hid a better thing in his inmost soul. Urquhart had said, "Sorry to hurt you, Margerison. You were jolly sporting, though." In the night it seemed incredible that Urquhart had stooped from Valhalla thus far; that Urquhart had pulled in his arm with his own hands and called him sporting to his face. The words, and the echo of the soft, pleasant, casual voice, with its unemphasised intonations, spread lifting wings for him, and bore him above the aching pain that stayed with him through the night.
Next morning, when Peter was wishing that the crumbs of breakfast that got between one's back and one's pyjamas were less sharp-cornered, and wondering why a dislocated shoulder should give one an aching bar of pain across the forehead, and feeling very sad because a letter from home had just informed him that his favourite guinea-pig had been trodden on by the gardener, Urquhart came to see him.
Urquhart said, "Hullo, Margerison. How are you this morning?" and Peter said he was very nearly all right now, thanks very much. He added, "Thanks awfully, Urquhart, for putting it in, and seeing after me and everything."
"Oh, that's all right." Urquhart's smile had the same pleasant quality as his voice. He had never smiled at Peter before. Peter lay and looked at him, the blue lamps very bright in his pale face, and thought what a jolly voice and face Urquhart had. Urquhart stood by the bed, his hands in his pockets, and looked rather pleasantly down at the thin, childish figure in pink striped pyjamas. Peter was fourteen, and looked less, being delicate to frailness. Urquhart had been rather shocked by his extreme lightness. He had also been pleased by his pluck; hence the pleasant expression of his eyes. He was a little touched, too, by the unmistakable admiration in the over-bright blue regard. Urquhart was not unused to admiration; but here was something very whole-hearted and rather pleasing. Margerison seemed rather a nice little kid.
Then, quite suddenly, and still in his pleasant, soft, casual tones, Urquhart dragged Peter's immense secret into the light of day.
"How are your people?" he said.
Peter stammered that they were quite well.
"Of course," Urquhart went on, "I don't remember your mother; I was only a baby when my father died. But I've always heard a lot about her. Is she..."
"She's dead, you know," broke in Peter hastily, lest Urquhart should make a mistake embarrassing to himself. "A long time ago," he added, again anxious to save embarrassment.
"Yes—oh yes." Urquhart, from his manner, might or might not have known.
"I live with my uncle," Peter further told him, thus delicately and unobstrusively supplying the information that Mr. Margerison too was dead. He omitted to mention the date of this bereavement, having always a delicate sense of what did and did not concern his hearers. The decease of the lady who had for a brief period been Lady Hugh Urquhart, might be supposed to be of a certain interest to her stepson; that of her second husband was a private family affair of the Margerisons.
(The Urquhart-Margerison connection, which may possibly appear complicated, was really very simple, and also of exceedingly little importance to anyone but Peter; but in case anyone feels a desire to have these things elucidated, it may here be mentioned that Peter's mother had made two marriages, the first being with Urquhart's father, Urquhart being already in existence at the time; the second with Mr. Margerison, a clergyman, who was also already father of one son, and became Peter's father later. Put so, it sounds a little difficult, chiefly because they were all married so frequently and so rapidly, but really is simplicity itself.)
"I live with my uncle too," Urquhart said, and the fact formed a shadowy bond. But Peter's tone had struck a note of flatness that faintly indicated a lack of enthusiasm as to the menage. This note was, to Peter's delicately attuned ears, absent from Urquhart's voice. Peter wondered if Lord Hugh's brother (supposing it to be a paternal uncle) resembled Lord Hugh. To resemble Lord Hugh, Peter had always understood (till three years ago, when his mother had fallen into silence on that and all other topics) was to be of a charm.... One spoke of it with a faint sigh. And yet of a charm that somehow had lacked something, the intuitive Peter had divined; perhaps it had been too splendid, too fortunate, for a lady who had loved all small, weak, unlucky things. Anyhow, not long after Lord Hugh's death (he was killed out hunting) she had married Mr. Margerison, the poorest clergyman she could find, and the most devoted to the tending of the unprosperous.
Peter remembered her—compassionate, delicate, lovely, full of laughter, with something in the dance of her vivid dark-blue eyes that hinted at radiant and sad memories. She had loved Lord Hugh for a glorious and brief space of time. The love had perhaps descended, a hereditary bequest, with the deep blue eyes, to her son. Peter would have understood the love; the thing he would not have understood was the feeling that had flung her on the tide of reaction at Mr. Margerison's feet. Mr. Margerison was a hard liver and a tremendous giver. Both these things had come to mean a great deal to Sylvia Urquhart—much more than they had meant to the girl Sylvia Hope.
And hence Peter, who lay and looked at Lord Hugh Urquhart's son with wide, bright eyes. With just such eyes—only holding, let us hope, an adoration more masked—Sylvia Hope had long ago looked at Lord Hugh, seeing him beautiful, delicately featured, pale, and fair of skin, built with a strong fineness, and smiling with pleasant eyes. Lord Hugh's beauty of person and charm of manner had possibly (not certainly) meant more to Sylvia Hope than his son's meant to her son; and his prowess at football (if he had any) had almost certainly meant less. But, apart from the glamour of physical skill and strength and the official glory of captainship, the same charm worked on mother and son. The soft, quick, unemphasised voice, with the break of a laugh in it, had precisely the same disturbing effect on both.
"Well," Urquhart was saying, "when will they let you play again? You must buck up and get all right quickly.... I shouldn't wonder if you made a pretty decent three-quarter sometime.... You ought to use your arm as soon as you can, you know, or it gets stiff, and then you can't, and that's an awful bore.... Hurt like anything when I hauled it in, didn't it? But it was much better to do it at once."
"Oh, much," Peter agreed.
"How does it feel now?"
"Oh, all right. I don't feel it much. I say, do you think I ought to use it at once, in case it gets stiff?" Peter's eyes were a little anxious; he didn't much want to use it at once.
But Urquhart opined that this would be over-great haste. He departed, and his last words were, "You must come to breakfast with me when you're up again."
Peter lay, glorified, and thought it all over. Urquhart knew, then; he had known from the first. He had known when he said, "I say, you, Margerison, just cut down to the field ..."
Not for a moment did it seem at all strange to Peter that Urquhart should have had this knowledge and given no sign till now. What, after all, was it to a hero that the family circle of an obscure individual such as he should have momentarily intersected the hero's own orbit? School has this distinction—families take a back place; one is judged on one's own individual merits. Peter would much rather think that Urquhart had come to see him because he had put his arm out and Urquhart had put it in (really though, only temporarily in) than because his mother had once been Urquhart's stepmother.
Peter's arm did not recover so soon as Urquhart's sanguineness had predicted. Perhaps he began taking precautions against stiffness too soon; anyhow he did not that term make a decent three-quarter, or any sort of a three-quarter at all. It always took Peter a long time to get well of things; he was easy to break and hard to mend—made in Germany, as he was frequently told. So cheaply made was he that he could perform nothing. Defeated dreams lived in his eyes; but to light them there burned perpetually the blue and luminous lamps of undefeated mirth, and also an immense friendliness for life and mankind and the delightful world. Like the young knight Agenore, Peter the unlucky was of a mind having no limits of hope. Over the blue and friendly eyes that lit the small pale face, the half wistful brows were cocked with a kind of whimsical and gentle humour, the same humour that twitched constantly at the corners of his wide and flexible mouth. Peter was not a beautiful person, but one liked, somehow, to look at him and to meet his half-enquiring, half-amused, wholly friendly and sympathetic regard. By the end of his first term at school, he found himself unaccountably popular. Already he was called "Margery" and seldom seen by himself. He enjoyed life, because he liked people and they liked him, and things in general were rather jolly and very funny, even with a dislocated shoulder. Also the great Urquhart would, when he remembered, take a little notice of Peter—enough to inflate the young gentleman's spirit like a blown-out balloon and send him soaring skywards, to float gently down again at his leisure.
Towards the end of the term, Peter's half-brother Hilary came to visit him. Hilary was tall and slim and dark and rather beautiful, and he lived abroad and painted, and he told Peter that he was going to be married to a woman called Peggy Callaghan. Peter, who had always admired Hilary from afar, was rather sorry. The woman Peggy Callaghan would, he vaguely believed, come between Hilary and his family; and already there were more than enough of such obstacles to intercourse. But at tea-time he saw the woman, and she was large and fair and laughing, and called him, in her rich, amused voice "little brother dear," and he did not mind at all, but liked her and her laugh and her mirthful, lazy eyes.
Peter was a large-minded person; he did not mind that Hilary wore no collar and a floppy tie. He did not mind this even when they met Urquhart in the street. Peter whispered as he passed, "That's Urquhart," and Hilary suddenly stopped and held out his hand, and said pleasantly, "I am glad to meet you." Peter blushed at that, naturally (for Hilary's cheek, not for his tie), and hoped that Urquhart wasn't much offended, but that he understood what half-brothers who lived abroad and painted were, and didn't think it was Peter's fault. Urquhart shook hands quite pleasantly, and when Hilary added, "We shared a stepmother, you and I; I'm Peter's half-brother, you know," he amiably agreed. Peter hoped he didn't think that the Urquhart-Margerison connection was being strained beyond due bounds. Hilary said further, "You've been very good to my young brother, I know," and it was characteristic of Peter that, even while he listened to this embarrassing remark, he was free enough from self-consciousness to be thinking with a keen though undefined pleasure how extraordinarily nice to look at both Hilary and Urquhart, in their different ways, were. (Peter's love of the beautiful matured with his growth, but in intensity it could scarcely grow.) Urquhart was saying something about bad luck and shoulders; it was decent of Urquhart to say that. In fact, things were going really well till Hilary, after saying, "Good-bye, glad to have met you," added to it the afterthought, "You must come and stay at my uncle's place in Sussex some time. Mustn't he, Peter?" At the same time—fitting accompaniment to the over-bold words—Peter saw a half-crown, a round, solid, terrible half-crown, pressed into Urquhart's unsuspecting hand. Oh, horror! Which was the worse, the invitation or the half-crown? Peter could never determine. Which was the more flagrant indecency—that he, young Margerison of the lower fourth, should, without any encouragement whatever, have asked Urquhart of the sixth, captain of the fifteen, head of his house, to come and stay with him; or that his near relative should have pressed half-a-crown into the great Urquhart's hand as if he expected him to go forthwith to the tuck-shop at the corner and buy tarts? Peter wriggled, scarlet from his collar to his hair.
Urquhart was a polite person. He took the half-crown. He murmured something about being very glad. He even smiled his pleasant smile. And Peter, entirely unexpectedly to himself, did what he always did in the crises of his singularly disastrous life—he exploded into a giggle. So, some years later, he laughed helplessly and suddenly, standing among the broken fragments of his social reputation and his professional career. He could not help it. When the worst had happened, there was nothing else one could do. One laughed from a sheer sense of the completeness of the disaster. Peter had a funny, extremely amused laugh; hardly the laugh of a prosperous person; rather that of the unhorsed knight who acknowledges the utterness of his defeat and finds humour in the very fact. It was as if misfortune—and this misfortune of the half-crown and the invitation is not to be under-estimated—sharpened all the faculties, never blunt, by which he apprehended humour. So he looked from Hilary to Urquhart, and, mentally, from both to his cowering self, and exploded.
Urquhart had passed on. Hilary said, "What's the matter with you?" and Peter recovered himself and said "Nothing." He might have cried, with Miss Evelina Anvill, "Oh, my dear sir, I am shocked to death!" He did not. He did not even say, "Why did you stamp us like that?" He would not for the world have hurt Hilary's feelings, and vaguely he knew that this splendid, unusual half-brother of his was in some ways a sensitive person.
Hilary said, "The Urquharts ought to invite you to stay. The connection is really close. I believe your mother was devoted to that boy as a baby. You'd like to go and stay there, wouldn't you?"
Peter looked doubtful. He was nervous. Suppose Hilary met Urquhart again.... Dire possibilities opened. Next time it might be "Peter must go and stay at your uncle's place in Berkshire." That would be worse. Yes, the worst had not happened, after all. Urquhart might have met Peggy. Peggy would in that case have said, "You nice kind boy, you've been such a dear to this little brother of ours, and I hear you and these boys used to share a mamma, so you're really brothers, and so, of course, my brother too; and what a nice face you've got!" There were in fact, no limits to what Peggy might say. Peggy was outrageous. But it was surprising how much one could bear from her. Presumably, Peter used to reflect in after years, when he had to bear from her a very great deal indeed, it was simply by virtue of her being Peggy. It was the same with Hilary. They were Hilary and Peggy, and one took them as such. Indeed, one had to, as there was certainly no altering them. And Peter loved both of them very much indeed.
When Peter went home for the holidays, he found that Hilary's alliance with the woman Peggy Callaghan was not smiled upon. But then none of Hilary's projects were ever smiled upon by his uncle, who always said, "Hilary must do as he likes. But he is acting with his usual lack of judgment." For four years he had been saying so, and he said it again now. To Hilary himself he further said, "You can't afford a wife at all. You certainly can't afford Miss Callaghan. You have no right whatever to marry until you are earning a settled livelihood. You are not of the temperament to make any woman consistently happy. Miss Callaghan is the daughter of an Irish doctor, and a Catholic."
"It is," said Hilary, "the most beautiful of all the religions. If I could bring myself under the yoke of any creed at all ..."
"Just so," said his uncle, who was a disagreeable man; "but you can't," and Hilary tolerantly left it at that, merely adding, "There will be no difficulty. We have arranged all that. Peggy is not a bigot. As to the rest, I think we must judge for ourselves. I shall be earning more now, I imagine."
Hilary always imagined that; imagination was his strong point. His initial mistake was to imagine that he could paint. He did not think that he had yet painted anything very good; but he knew that he was just about to do so. He had really the artist's eye, and saw keenly the beauty that was, though he did not know it, beyond his grasp. His uncle, who knew nothing about art, could have told him that he would never be able to paint, simply because he had never been, and would never be, able to work. That gift he wholly lacked. Besides, like young Peter, he seemed constitutionally incapable of success. A wide and quick receptiveness, a considerable power of appreciation and assimilation, made such genius as they had; the power of performance they desperately lacked; their enterprises always let them through. Failure was the tragi-comic note of their unprosperous careers.
However, Hilary succeeded in achieving marriage with the cheerful Peggy Callaghan, and having done so they went abroad and lived an uneven and rather exciting life of alternate squalor and luxury in one story of what had once been a glorious roseate home of Venetian counts, and was now crumbling to pieces and let in flats to the poor. Hilary and his wife were most suitably domiciled therein, environed by a splendid dinginess and squalor, pretentious, tawdry, grandiose, and superbly evading the common. Peggy wrote to Peter in her large sprawling hand, "You dear little brother, I wish you'd come and live with us. We have such fun...." That was the best of Peggy. Always and everywhere she had such fun. She added, "Give my sisterly regards to the splendid hero who shared your mamma, and tell him we too live in a palace." That was so like Peggy, that sudden and amused prodding into the most secret intimacies of one's emotions. Peggy always discerned a great deal, and was blind to a great deal more.
THE CHOICE OF A CAREER
Hilary, stretching his slender length wearily in Peter's fat arm-chair, was saying in his high, sweet voice:
"It's the merest pittance, Peter, yours and mine. The Robinsons have it practically all. The Robinsons. Really, you know ..."
The sweet voice had a characteristic, vibrating break of contempt. Hilary had always hated the Robinsons, who now had it practically all. Hilary looked pale and tired; he had been settling his dead uncle's affairs for the last week. The Margerisons' uncle had not been a lovable man; Hilary could not pretend that he had loved him. Peter had, as far as he had been permitted to do so; Peter found it possible to be attached to most of the people he came across; he was a person of catholic sympathies and gregarious instincts. Even when he heard how the Robinsons had it practically all, he bore no resentment either against his uncle or the Robinsons. Such was life. And of course he and Hilary did not make wise use of money; that they had always been told.
"You'll have to leave Cambridge," Hilary told him. "You haven't enough to keep you here. I'm sorry, Peter; I'm afraid you'll have to begin and try to earn a living. But I can't imagine how, can you? Has any paying line of life ever occurred to you as possible?"
"Never," Peter assured him. "But I've not had time to think it over yet, of course. I supposed I should be up here for two years more, you see."
At Hilary's "You'll have to leave Cambridge," his face had changed sharply. Here was tragedy indeed. Bother the Robinsons.... But after a moment's pause for recovery he answered Hilary lightly enough. Such, again, was life. A marvellous two terms and a half, and then the familiar barred gate. It was an old story.
Hilary's thoughts turned to his own situation. They never, to tell the truth, dwelt very long on anybody else's.
"We," he said, "are destitute—absolutely. It's simply frightful, the wear and strain of it. Peggy, of course," he added plaintively, "is not a good manager. She likes spending, you know—and there's so seldom anything to spend, poor Peggy. So life is disappointing for her. The babies, I needn't say, are growing up little vagabonds. And they will bathe in the canals, which isn't respectable, of course; though one is relieved in a way that they should bathe anywhere."
"If he was selling any pictures," Peter reflected, "he would tell me," so he did not enquire. Peter had tact as to his questions. One rather needed it with Hilary. But he wondered vaguely what the babies had, at the moment, to grow up upon, even as little vagabonds. Presently Hilary enlightened him.
"I edit a magazine," he said, and Peter perceived that he was both proud and ashamed of the fact. "At least I am going to. A monthly publication for the entertainment and edification of the Englishman in Venice. Lord Evelyn Urquhart is financing it. You know he has taken up his residence in Venice? A pleasant crank. Venice is his latest craze. He buys glass. And, indeed, most other things. He shops all day. It's a mania. When he was young I believe he had a very fine taste. It's dulled now—a fearful life, as they say. Well, his last fancy is to run a magazine, and I'm to edit it. It's to be called 'The Gem.' 'Gemm' Adriatica,' you know, and all that; besides, it's more or less appropriate to the contents. It's to be largely concerned with what Lord Evelyn calls 'charming things.' Things the visiting Englishman likes to hear about, you know. It aims at being the Complete Tourist's Guide. I have to get hold of people who'll write articles on the Duomo mosaics, and the galleries and churches and palaces and so on, and glass and lace and anything else that occurs to them, in a way calculated to appeal to the cultivated British resident or visitor. I detest the breed, I needn't say. Pampered hotel Philistines pretending to culture and profaning the sanctuaries, Ruskin in hand. Ruskin. Really, you know.... Well, anyhow, my mission in life for the present is to minister to their insatiable appetite for rhapsodising over what they feel it incumbent on them to admire."
"Rather fascinating," Peter said. It was a pity that Hilary always so disliked any work he had to do. Work—a terrific, insatiable god, demanding its hideous human sacrifices from the dawn of the world till twilight—so Hilary saw it. The idea of being horrible, all the concrete details into which it was translated were horrible too.
"If it was me," said Peter, "I should minister to my own appetite, no one else's. Bother the cultivated resident. He'd jolly well have to take what I gave him. And glass and mosaic and lace—what glorious things to write about.... I rather love Lord Evelyn, don't you."
Peter remembered him at Astleys, in Berkshire—Urquhart's uncle, tall and slim and exquisite, with beautiful waistcoats and white, attractive, nervous hands, that played with a monocle, and a high-pitched voice, and a whimsical, prematurely worn-out face, and a habit of screwing up short-sighted eyes and saying, with his queer, closed enunciation, "Quate charming. Quate." He had always liked Peter, who had been a gentle and amused boy and had reminded him of Sylvia Hope, lacking her beauty, but with a funny touch of her charm. Peter had loved the things he loved, too—the precious and admirable things he had collected round him through a recklessly extravagant life. Peter at fifteen, in the first hour of his first visit to Astleys, had been caught out of the incredible romance of being in Urquhart's home into a new marvel, and stood breathless before a Bow rose bowl of soft and mellow paste, ornamented with old Japan May flowers in red and gold and green, and dated "New Canton, 1750."
"Lake it?" a high voice had asked behind his shoulder. "Lake the sort of thing?" and there was the tall, funny man swaying on his heels and screwing his glass into his eye and looking down on Peter with whimsical interest. Little Peter had said shyly that he did.
"Prefer chaney to cricket?" asked Urquhart's uncle, with his agreeable laugh that was too attractive to be described as a titter, a name that its high, light quality might have suggested. But to that Peter said "No." He had been asked to Astleys for the cricket week; he was going to play for Urquhart's team. Not that he was any good; but to scrape through without disgrace (of course he didn't) was at the moment the goal of life.
Lord Evelyn had seemed disappointed. "If I could get you away from Denis," he said, "I'll be bound cricket wouldn't be in the 'also rans.'"
And at that moment Denis had sauntered up, and Peter's worshipping regard had turned from Lord Evelyn's rose bowl to his nephew, and it was Bow china that was not among the also rans. At that too Lord Evelyn had laughed, with his queer, closed mirth.
"Keep that till you fall in love," he had inwardly admonished Peter's back as the two walked away together. "I daresay she won't deserve it any better—but that's a law of nature, and this is sheer squandering. My word, how that boy does lake things—and people!" After all, it was hardly for any Urquhart to condemn squandering.
That was Lord Evelyn, as he lived in Peter's memory—a generous, whimsical, pleasant crank, touched with his nephew's glamour of charm.
When Peter said, "I rather love him, don't you," Hilary replied, "He's a fearful old spendthrift."
Peter demurred at the old. It jarred with one's conceptions of Lord Evelyn. "I don't suppose he's much over fifty," he surmised.
"No, I daresay," Hilary indifferently admitted. "He's gone the pace, of course. Drugs, and all that. He soon won't have a sound faculty left. Oh, I'm attached to him; he's entertaining, and one can really talk to him, which is exceptional in Venice, or, indeed, anywhere else. Is his nephew still up here, by the way?"
"Yes. He's going down this term."
"You see a good deal of him, I suppose?"
"Off and on," said Peter.
"Of course," said Hilary, "you're almost half-brothers. I do feel that the Urquharts owe us something, for the sake of the connexion. I shall talk to Lord Evelyn about you. He was very fond of your mother.... I am very sorry about you, Peter. We must think it over sometime, seriously."
He got up and began to walk about the room in his nervous, restless way, looking at Peter's things. Peter's room was rather pleasing. Everything in it had the air of being the selection of a personal and discriminating affection. There was a serene self-confidence about Peter's tastes; he always knew precisely what he liked, irrespective of what anyone else liked. If he had happened to admire "The Soul's Awakening" he would beyond doubt have hung a copy of it in his room. What he had, as a matter of fact, hung in his room very successfully expressed an aspect of himself. The room conveyed restfulness, and an immense love, innate rather than grafted, of the pleasures of the eye. The characteristic of restfulness was conveyed partly by the fat green sofa and the almost superfluous number of extremely comfortable arm-chairs, and Peter's attitude in one of them. On a frame in a corner a large piece of embroidery was stretched—a cherry tree in blossom coming to slow birth on a green serge background. Peter was quite good at embroidery. He carried pieces of it (mostly elaborately designed book-covers) about in his pockets, and took them out at tea-parties and (surreptitiously) at lectures. He said it was soothing, like smoking; only smoking didn't soothe him, it made him feel ill. On days when he had been doing tiresome or boring or jarring things, or been associating with a certain type of person, he did a great deal of embroidery in the evenings, because, as he said, it was such a change. The embroidery stood for a symbol, a type of the pleasures of the senses, and when he fell to it with fervour beyond the ordinary, one understood that he had been having a surfeit of the displeasures of the senses, and felt need to restore the balance.
Hilary stopped before a piece of extremely shabby, frayed and dingy tapestry, that had the appearance of having once been even dingier and shabbier. It looked as if it had lain for years in a dusty corner of a dusty old shop, till someone had found it and been pleased by it and taken possession, loving it through its squalor.
"Rather nice," said Hilary. "Really good, isn't it?"
Peter nodded. "Gobelin, of the best time. Someone told me that afterwards. When I bought it, I only knew it was nice. A man wanted to buy it from me for quite a lot."
Hilary looked about him. "You've got some good things. How do you pick them up?"
"I try," said Peter, "to look as if I didn't care whether I had them or not. Then they let me have them for very little. The man I got that tapestry from didn't know how nice it was. I did, but I cheated him."
"Well," Hilary said, passing his hand wearily over his forehead, "I must go to your detestable station and catch my train.... I've got a horrible headache. The strain of all this is frightful."
He looked as if it was. His pale face, nervous and strained, stabbed at Peter's affection for him. Peter's affection for Hilary had always been and always would be an unreasoning, loyal, unspoilably tender thing.
He went to the station to help Hilary to catch his train. The enterprise was a failure; it was not a job at which either Margerison was good. They had to wait in the detestable station for another. The annoyance of that (it is really an abnormally depressing station) worked on Hilary's nervous system to such an extent that he might have flung himself on the line and so found peace from the disappointments of life, had not Peter been at hand to cheer him up. There were certainly points about young Peter as a companion for the desperate.
Peter, having missed hall, as well as Hilary's train, went back to his room and put an egg on to boil. He lay back in his most comfortable chair to watch it; he needed comfort rather. He was going down. It had been so jolly—and it was over.
He had not got much to show for the good time he had had. Physically, he was more of a wreck than he had been when he came up. He was slightly lame in one leg, having broken it at football (before he had been forbidden to play) and had it badly set. He mended so badly always. He was also at the moment right-handed (habitually he used his left) and that was motor bicycling. He had not particularly distinguished himself in his work. He was good at nothing except diabolo, and not very good at that. And he had spent more money than he possessed, having drawn lavishly on his next year's allowance. He might, in fact, have been described as an impoverished and discredited wreck. But for such a one he had looked very cheerful, till Hilary had said that about going down. That was really depressing.
Peter, as the egg boiled, looked back rather wistfully over his year. It seemed a very long time ago since he had come up. His had been an undistinguished arrival; he had not come as a sandwich man between two signboards that labelled his past career and explained his path that was to be; he had been unaddressed to any destination. The only remark on his vague and undistinguished label had perhaps been of the nature of "Brittle. This side up with care." He had no fame at any game; he did not row; he was neither a sporting nor, in any marked degree, a reading man. He did a little work, but he was not very fond of it or very good. The only things one could say of him were that he seemed to have an immense faculty of enjoyment and a considerable number of friends, who knew him as Margery and ate muffins and chocolates between tea and dinner in his rooms.
He had been asked at the outset by one of these friends what sort of things he meant to "go in for." He had said that he didn't exactly know. "Must one go in for anything, except exams?" The friend, who was vigorously inclined, had said that one certainly ought. One could—he had measured Peter's frail physique and remembered all the things he couldn't do—play golf. Peter had thought that one really couldn't; it was such a chilly game. Well, of course, one might speak at the Union, said the persevering friend, insisting, it seemed, on finding Peter a career. "Don't they talk about politics?" enquired Peter. "I couldn't do that, you know. I don't approve of politics. If ever I have a vote I shall sell it to the highest female bidder. Fancy being a Liberal or a Conservative, out of all the nice things there are in the world to be! There are health-fooders, now. I'd rather be that. And teetotallers. A man told me he was a teetotaller to-day. I'll go in for that if you like, because I don't much like wine. And I hate beer. These are rather nice chocolates—I mean, they were."
The indefatigable friend had further informed him that one might be a Fabian and have a red tie, and encourage the other Fabians to wash. Or one might ride.
"One might—" Peter had made a suggestion of his own—"ride a motor bicycle. I saw a man on one to-day; I mean he had been on it—it was on him at the moment; it had chucked him off and was dancing on him, and something that smelt was coming out of a hole. He was such a long way from home; I was sorry about it."
His friend had said, "Serve him right. Brute," expressing the general feeling of the moment about men who rode motor bicycles.
"Isn't it funny," Peter had reflectively said. "They must get such an awful headache first—and then to be chucked off and jumped on so hard, and covered with the smelly stuff—and then to have to walk home dragging it, when it's deformed and won't run on its wheels. Unless, of course, one is blown up into little bits and is at rest.... But it is so awfully, frightfully ugly, to look at and to smell and to hear. Like your wallpaper, you know."
Peter's eyes had rested contentedly on his own peaceful green walls. He really hadn't felt in the least like "going in for" anything, either motor bicycling or examinations.
"I suppose you'll just footle, then," his friend had summed it up, and left him, because it was half-past six, and they had dinner at that strange hour. That was why they were able to run it into their tea, since obviously nothing could be done between, even by Peter's energetic friend. This friend had little hope for Peter. Of course, he would just footle; he always had. But one was, nevertheless, rather fond of him. One would like him to do things, and have a sporting time.
As a matter of fact, Peter gave his friend an agreeable surprise. He went in, or attempted to go in, for a good many things. He plunged ardently into football, though he had never been good, and though he always got extremely tired over it, which was supposed to be bad for him, and frequently got smashed up, which he knew to be unpleasant for him. This came to an abrupt end half way through the term. Then he took, quite suddenly, to motor bicycling. All this is merely to say that the incalculable factor that sets temperament and natural predilection at nought had entered into Peter's life. Of course, it was absurd. Urquhart, being what he was, could successfully do a number of things that Peter, being what he was, must inevitably come to grief over. But still he indomitably tried. He even profaned the roads and outraged all aesthetic fitness in the endeavour, clacking into the country upon a hired motor-bicycle and making his head ache badly and getting very cold, and being from time to time thrown off and jumped upon and going about in bandages, telling enquirers that he supposed he must have knocked against something somewhere, he didn't remember exactly. The energetic friend had been caustic.
"I've no intention of sympathising with you," he had remarked; "because you deserve all you get. You ass, you know when it's possible to get smashed up over anything you're safe to do it, so what on earth do you expect when you take up a thing like this?"
"Instant death every minute," Peter had truly replied. (His nerves had been a little shaken by his last ride, which had set his trouser-leg on fire suddenly, and nearly, as he remarked, burnt him to death.) "But I go on. I expect the worst, but I am resigned. The hero is not he who feels no fear, for that were brutal and irrational."
"What do you do it for?" his friend had querulously and superfluously demanded.
"It's so frightfully funny," Peter had said, reflecting, "that I should be doing it. That's why, I suppose. It makes me laugh. You might take to the fiddle if you wanted a good laugh. I take to my motor-bicycle. It's the only way to cheer oneself up when life is disappointing, to go and do something entirely ridiculous. I used to stand on my head when I'd been rowed or sat upon, or when there was a beastly wind; it cheered me a lot. I've given that up now; so I motor-bicycle. Besides," he had added, "you said I must go in for something. You wouldn't like it if I did my embroidery all day."
But on the days when he had been motor-bicycling, Peter had to do a great deal of embroidery in the evenings, for the sake of the change.
"I don't wonder you need it," a friend of the more aesthetically cultured type remarked one evening, finding him doing it. "You've been playing round with the Urquhart-Fitzmaurice lot to-day, haven't you? Nice man, Fitzmaurice, isn't he? I like his tie-pins. You know, we almost lost him last summer. He hung in the balance, and our hearts were in our mouths. But he is still with us. You look as if he had been very much with you, Margery."
Peter looked meditative and stitched. "Old Fitz," he murmured, "is one of the best. A real sportsman.... Don't, Elmslie; I didn't think of that, I heard Childers say it. Childers also said, 'By Jove, old Fitz knocks spots out of 'em every time,' but I don't know what he meant. I'm trying to learn to talk like Childers. When I can do that, I shall buy a tie-pin like Fitzmaurice's, only mine will be paste. Streater's is paste; he's another nice man."
"He certainly is. In fact, Margery, you really are not particular enough about the company you keep. You shun neither the over-bred nor the under-bred. Personally I affect neither, because they don't amuse me. You embrace both."
"Yes," Peter mildly agreed. "But I don't embrace Streater, you know. I draw the line at Streater. Everyone draws the line at Streater; he's of the baser sort, like his tie-pins. Wouldn't it be vexing to have people always drawing lines at you. There'd be nothing you could well do, except to draw one at them, and they wouldn't notice yours, probably, if they'd got theirs in first. You could only sneer. One can always sneer. I sneered to-day."
"You can't sneer," Elmslie told him brutally; "and you can't draw lines; and what on earth you hang about with so many different sorts of idiots for I don't know.... I think, if circumstances absolutely compelled me to make bosom friends of either, I should choose the under-bred poor rather than the over-bred rich. That's the sort of man I've no use for. The sort of man with so much money that he has to chuck it all about the place to get rid of it. The sort of man who talks to you about beagles. The sort of man who has a different fancy waistcoat for each day of the week."
"Well," said Peter, "that's nice. I wish I had."
His friend turned a grave regard on him. "The sort of man who rides a motor-bicycle.... You really should, Margery," he went on, "learn to be more fastidious. You mustn't let yourself be either dazzled by fancy waistcoats or sympathetically moved by unclean collars. Neither is interesting."
"I never said they were," Peter said. "It's the people inside them...."
Peter, in brief, was a lover of his kind, and the music life played to him was of a varied and complex nature. But, looking back, it was easy to see how there had been, running through all the variations, a dominant motive in the piece.
As Peter listened to the boiling of his egg, and thought how hard it would be when he took it off, the dominant motive came in and stood by the fire, and looked down on Peter. He jingled things in his pockets and swayed to and fro on his heels like his uncle Evelyn, and he was slim in build, and fair and pale and clear-cut of face, and gentle and rather indifferent in manner, and soft and casual in voice, and he was in his fourth year, and life went extremely well with him.
"It boils," he told Peter, of the egg.
Peter took it off and fished it out with a spoon, and began rummaging for an egg-cup and salt and marmalade and buns in the locker beneath his window seat. Having found these things, he composed himself in the fat arm-chair to dine, with a sigh of satisfaction.
"You slacker," Urquhart observed. "Well, can you come to-morrow? The drag starts at eleven."
"It's quite hard," said Peter, unreasonably disappointed in it. "Oh, yes, rather; I'll come." How short the time for doing things had suddenly become.
Urquhart remarked, looking at the carpet, "What a revolting mess. Why?"
"My self-filling bath," Peter explained. "I invented it myself. Well—it did fill itself. Quite suddenly and all at once, you know. It was a very beautiful sight. But rather unrestrained at present. I must improve it.... Oh, this is my last term."
"Sent down?" Urquhart sympathetically enquired. It was what one might expect to happen to Peter.
"Destitute," Peter told him. "The Robinsons have it practically all. Hilary told me to-day. I am thrown on the world. I shall have to work. Hilary is destitute too, and Peggy has nothing to spend, and the babies insist on bathing in the canals. Bad luck for us, isn't it. Oh, and Hilary is going to edit a magazine called 'The Gem,' for your uncle in Venice. That seems rather a nice plan. The question is, what am I to apply my great gifts to?"
Urquhart whistled softly. "As bad as all that, is it?"
"Quite as bad. Worse if anything.... The only thing in careers that I can fancy at the moment is art dealing—picking up nice things cheap and selling them dear, you know. Only I should always want to keep them, of course. If I don't do that I shall have to live by my needle. If they pass the Sweated Industries Bill, I suppose one will get quite a lot. It's the only Bill I've ever been interested in. My uncle was extremely struck by the intelligent way I took notice of it, when I had disappointed him so much about Tariff Reform and Education."
"You'd probably be among the unskilled millions whom the bill turns out of work."
"Then I shall be unemployed, and march with a flag. I shall rather like that.... Oh, I suppose somehow one manages to live, doesn't one, whether one has a degree or not. And personally I'd rather not have one, because it would be such a mortifying one. Besides," Peter added, after a luminous moment of reflection, "I don't believe a degree really matters much, in my profession. You didn't know I had a profession, I expect; I've just thought of it. I'm going to be a buyer for the Ignorant Rich. Make their houses liveable-in. They tell me what they want—I get hold of it for them. Turn them out an Italian drawing-room—Della Robbia mantel-piece, Florentine fire-irons, Renaissance ceiling, tapestries and so on. Things they haven't energy to find for themselves or intelligence to know when they see them. I love finding them, and I'm practised at cheating. One has to cheat if one's poor but eager.... A poor trade, but my own. I can grub about low shops all day, and go to sales at Christie's. What fun."
Urquhart said, "You'd better begin on Leslie. You're exactly what he wants."
"Who's Leslie?" Peter was eating buns and marmalade, in restored spirits.
"Leslie's an Ignorant Rich. He's a Hebrew. His parents weren't called Leslie, but never mind. Leslie rolls. He also bounds, but not aggressively high. One can quite stand him; in fact, he has his good points. He's rich but eager. Also he doesn't know a good thing when he sees it. He lacks your discerning eye, Margery. But such is his eagerness that he is determined to have good things, even though he doesn't know them when he sees them. He would like to be a connoisseur—a collector of world-wide fame. He would like to fill his house with things that would make people open their eyes and whistle. But at present he's got no guide but price and his own pure taste. Consequently he gets hopelessly let in, and people whistle, but not in the way he wants. He's quite frank; he told me all about it. What he wants is a man with a good eye, to do his shopping for him. It would be an ideal berth for a man with the desire but not the power to purchase; a unique partnership of talent with capital. There you are. You supply the talent. He'd take you on, for certain. It would be a very nice little job for you to begin with. By the time you've decorated his town house and his country seat and his shooting-box and all his other residences, you'll be fairly started in your profession. I'll write to him about you."
Peter chuckled. "How frightfully funny, though. I wonder why anyone should want to have things unless they like to have them for themselves. Just as if I were to hire Streater, say, to buy really beautiful photographs of actresses for me!... Well, suppose he didn't like the things I bought for him? Suppose our tastes didn't agree? Should I have to try and suit his, or would he have to put up with mine?"
"There's only one taste in the matter," Urquhart told him. "He hasn't got any. You could buy him any old thing and tell him it was good and he'd believe you, provided it cost enough. That's why he has to have a buyer honest though poor—he couldn't check him in the least. I shall tell him that, however many the things you might lie about, you are a George Washington where your precious bric-a-brac is concerned, because it's the one thing you care about too much to take it flippantly."
Peter chuckled again. Life, having for a little while drifted perilously near to the shores of dullness, again bobbed merrily on the waters of farce. What a lot of funny things there were, all waiting to be done! This that Urquhart suggested should certainly, if possible, be one of them.
A week later, when Mr. Leslie had written to engage Peter's services, Urquhart's second cousin Rodney came into Peter's room (a thing he had never done before, because he did not know Peter much) and said, "But why not start a curiosity shop of your own? Or be a travelling pedlar? It would be so much more amusing."
Peter felt a little flattered. He liked Rodney, who was in his third year and had never before taken any particular notice of him. Rodney was a rather brilliant science man; he was also an apostle, a vegetarian, a fine football player, an ex-Fabian, and a few other things. He was a large, emaciated-looking person, with extraordinarily bright grey eyes, inspiring a lean, pale, dark-browed face—the face of an ascetic, lit by a flame of energising life. He looked as if he would spend and be spent by it to the last charred fragment, in pursuit of the idea. There was nothing in his vivid aspect of Peter Margerison's gentle philosophy of acquiescence; he looked as if he would to the end dictate terms to life rather than accept them—an attitude combined oddly with a view which regarded the changes and chances of circumstance as more or less irrelevant to life's vital essence.
Peter didn't know why Rodney wanted him to be a travelling pedlar—except that, as he had anyhow once been a Socialist, he presumably disliked the rich (ignorant or otherwise) and included Leslie among them. Peter always had a vague feeling that Rodney did not wholly appreciate his cousin Urquhart, for this same reason. A man of means, Rodney would no doubt have held, has much ado to save his soul alive; better, if possible, be a bricklayer or a mendicant friar.
"Some day," said Peter politely, "I may have to be a travelling pedlar. This is only an experiment, to see if it works."
He was conscious suddenly of two opposing principles that crossed swords with a clash. Rodney and Urquhart—poverty and wealth—he could not analyse further.
But Rodney was newly friendly to him for the rest of that term. Urquhart commented on it.
"Stephen always takes notice of the destitute. The best qualification for his regard is to commit such a solecism that society cuts you, or such a crime that you get a month's hard. Short of that, it will do to have a hole in your coat, or paint a bad picture, or produce a yesterday's handkerchief. He probably thinks you're on the road to that. When you get there, he'll swear eternal friendship. He can't away with the prosperous."
"What a mistake," Peter said. It seemed to him a singularly perverse point of view.
It was rather fun shopping for Leslie. Leslie was a stout, quiet, ponderous person between thirty and forty, and he really did not bound at all; Urquhart had done him less than justice in his description. There was about him the pathos of the very rich. He was generous in the extreme, and Peter's job proved lucrative as well as pleasant. He grew curiously fond of Leslie; his attitude towards him was one of respect touched with protectiveness. No one should any more "do" Leslie, if he could help it.
"He's let me," Peter told his cousin Lucy, "get rid of all his horrible Lowestoft forgeries; awful things they were, with the blue hardly dry on them. Frightful cheek, selling him things like that; it's so insulting. Leslie's awfully sweet-tempered about being gulled, though. He's very kind to me; he lets me buy anything I like for him. And he recommends me to his friends, too. It's a splendid profession; I'm so glad I thought of it. If I hadn't I should have had to go into a dye shop, or be a weaver or something. It wouldn't have been good form; it wouldn't even have been clean. I should have had a day-before-yesterday's handkerchief and Rodney would have liked me more, but Denis would probably have cut me. As it is I'm quite good form and quite clean, and I move in the best circles. I love the Ignorant Rich; they're so amusing. I know such a nice lady. She buys potato rings. She likes them to be Dublin hall-marked and clearly dated seventeen hundred and something—so, naturally, they always were till I began to buy them for her. I've persuaded her to give away the most blatant forgeries to her god-children at their baptisms. Babies like them, sham or genuine."
Peter was having tea with his cousin Lucy and Urquhart in the White City. Peter and Lucy were very fond of the White City. Peter's cousin Lucy was something like a small, gay spring flower, with wide, solemn grey eyes that brimmed with sudden laughters, and a funny, infectious gurgle of a laugh. She was a year younger than Peter, and they had all their lives gone shares in their possessions, from guinea-pigs to ideas. They admired the same china and the same people, with unquestioning unanimity. Lucy lived in Chelsea, with an elder sister and a father who ran at his own expense a revolutionary journal that didn't pay, because those who would have liked to buy it couldn't, for the most part, afford to, and because those who could have afforded to didn't want to, and because, in short, journals run by nice people never do pay.
Lucy played the 'cello, the instrument usually selected by the small in stature. In the intervals of this pursuit, she went about the world open-eyed to all new-burnished joys that came within her vision, and lived by admiration, hope and love, and played with Peter at any game, wise or foolish, that turned up. Often Urquhart played with them, and they were a happy party of three. Peter and Lucy shared, among other things, an admiration of Urquhart.
Peter was finding the world delightful just now. This first winter in London was probably the happiest time he ever had. He hardly missed Cambridge; he certainly didn't miss the money that the Robinsons had. His profession was to touch and handle the things he loved; the Ignorant Rich were delightful; the things he bought for them were beyond all words; the sales he attended were revels of joy; it was all extremely entertaining, and Leslie a dear, and everyone very kind. The affection that always found its way to Peter through his disabilities spoke for something in him that must, it would seem, be there; possibly it was merely his friendly smile. He was anyhow of the genus comedian, that readily endears itself.
He and Urquhart and Lucy all knew how to live. They made good use of most of the happy resources that London offers to its inhabitants. They went in steamers to and fro between Putney and Greenwich, listening to concertinas and other instruments of music. They looked at many sorts of pictures, talked to many sorts of people, and attended many sorts of plays. Urquhart and Peter had even become associates of the Y.M.C.A. (representing themselves as agnostics seeking for light) on account of the swimming-baths. As Peter remarked, "Christian Young Men do not bathe very much, and it seems a pity no one should." On the day when they had tea at the White City, they had all had lunch at a very recherche cafe in Soho, where the Smart Set like to meet Bohemians, and you can only get in by being one or the other, so Peter and Lucy went as the Smart Set, and Urquhart as a Bohemian, and they liked to meet each other very much.
The only drawback to Peter's life was the bronchitis that sprang at him out of the fogs and temporarily stopped work. He had just recovered from an attack of it on the day when he was having tea at the White City, and he looked a weak and washed-out rag, with sunken blue eyes smiling out of a very white face.
"You would think, to look at him," Urquhart said to Lucy, "that he had been going in extensively for the flip-flap this afternoon. It's a pity Stephen can't see you, Margery; you look starved enough to satisfy even him. You never come across Stephen now, I suppose? You wouldn't, of course. He has no opinion of the Ignorant Rich. Nor even of the well-informed rich, like me. He's blindly prejudiced in favour of the Ignorant Poor."
Lucy nodded. "I know. He's nice to me always. I go and play my 'cello to his friends."
"I always keep him in mind," said Peter, "for the day when my patrons get tired of me. I know Rodney will be kind to me directly I take to street peddling or any other thoroughly ill-bred profession. The kind he despises most, I suppose, are my dear Ignorant Rich—the ill-bred but by no means breadless. (That's my own and not very funny, by the way.) Did I tell you, Denis, that Leslie is going to begin educating the People in Appreciation of Objects of Art? Isn't it a nice idea? I'm to help. Leslie's a visionary, you know. I believe plutocrats often are. They've so much money and are so comfortable that they stop wanting material things and begin dreaming dreams. I should dream dreams if I was a plutocrat. As it is my mind is earthly. I don't want to educate anyone. Well, anyhow we're going to Italy in the spring, to pick things up, as Leslie puts it. That always sounds so much as if we didn't pay for them. Then we shall bring them home and have free exhibits for the Ignorant Poor, and I shall give free and instructive lectures. Isn't it a pleasant plan? We're going to Venice. There's a Berovieri goblet that some Venetian count has, that Leslie's set his heart on. We are to acquire it, regardless of expense, if it turns out to be all that is rumoured."
Urquhart scoffed here.
"Nice to be infallible, isn't it. You and your goblets and your Ignorant Rich. And your brother Hilary and my uncle Evelyn. Your great gifts seem to run in the family. My uncle, I hear, is ruining himself with buying the things your brother admires. My poor uncle, Miss Hope, is getting so weak-sighted that he can't judge for himself as he used, so he follows the advice of Margery's brother. It keeps him very happy and amused, though he'll soon be bankrupt, no doubt."
Lucy, as usual, laughed at the Urquhart family and the Margerison family and the world at large. When she laughed, she opened her grey eyes wide, while they twinkled with dancing light.
Then she said, "Oh, I want to go on the flip-flap. Peter mustn't come, because it always makes him sick; so will you?"
Urquhart said he would, so they did, and Peter watched them, hoping Urquhart didn't mind much. Urquhart never seemed to mind being ordered about by Lucy. And Lucy, of course, had accepted him as an intimate friend from the first, because Peter had said she was to, and because, as she remarked, he was so astonishingly nice to look at and to listen to.
Among the visitors who frequented Lucy's home, people whom she considered astonishingly pleasant to look at and to listen to did not abound; so Lucy enjoyed the change all the more.
The first time Peter took Urquhart down to Chelsea to call on his Hope uncle and cousins, one Sunday afternoon, he gave him a succinct account of the sort of people they would probably meet there.
"They have oddities in, you know—and particularly on Sunday afternoons. They usually have one or two staying in the house, too. They keep open house for wastrels. A lot of them are aliens—Polish refugees, Russian anarchists, oppressed Finns, massacred Armenians who do embroidery; violinists who can't earn a living, decayed chimney-sweeps and so forth. 'Disillusioned (or still illusioned) geniuses, would-bes, theorists, artistic natures, failed reformers, knaves and fools incompetent or over-old, broken evangelists and debauchees, inebriates, criminals, cowards, virtual slaves' ... Anyhow it's a home for Lost Hopes. (Do you see that?) My uncle is keen on anyone who tries to revolt against anything—governments, Russians, proprieties, or anything else—and Felicity is keen on anyone who fails."
"And your other cousin—what is she keen on?"
"Oh, Lucy's too young for the Oddities, like me. She and I sit in a corner and look on. It's my uncle and Felicity they like to talk to. They talk about Liberty to them, you know. My uncle is great on Liberty. And they give them lemon in their tea, and say how wicked Russians are, and how stupid Royal Academicians are, and buy the Armenians' embroidery, and so forth. Lucy and I don't do that well. I disapprove of liberty for most people, I think, and certainly for them; and I don't like lemon in my tea, and though I'm sure Russians are wicked, I believe oppressed Poles are as bad—at least their hair is as bushy and their nails as long—and I prefer the embroidery I do myself; I do it quite nicely, I think. And I don't consider that Celtic poets or Armenian Christians wash their hands often enough.... They nearly all asked me the time last Sunday. I was sorry about it."
"You feared they were finding their afternoon tedious?"
"No; but I think their watches were up the spout, you see. So I was sorry. I never feel so sorry for myself as when mine is. I'm really awfully grateful to Leslie; if it wasn't for him I should never be able to tell anyone the time. By the way, Leslie's awfully fond of Felicity. He writes her enormous cheques for her clubs and vagabonds and so on. But of course she'll never look at him; he's much too well-off. It's not low to tell you that, because he makes it so awfully obvious. He'll probably be there this afternoon. Oh, here we are."
They found the Hopes' small drawing-room filled much as Peter had predicted. Dermot Hope was a tall, wasted-looking man of fifty-five, with brilliant eyes giving significance to a vague face. He had very little money, and spent that little on "Progress," whose readers were few and ardent, and whose contributors were very cosmopolitan, and full of zeal and fire; several of them were here this afternoon. Dermot Hope himself was most unconquerably full of fire. He could be delightful, and exceedingly disagreeable, full of genial sympathy and appreciation, and of a biting irony. He looked at Urquhart, whom he met for the first time, with a touch of sarcasm in his smile. He said, "You're exactly like your father. How do you do," and seemed to take no further interest in him. He had certainly never taken much in Lord Hugh, during the brief year of their brotherhood.
For Peter his glance was indulgent. Peter, not being himself a reformer, or an idealist, or a lover of progress, or even, according to himself, of liberty, but an acceptor of things as they are and a lover of the good things of this world, was not particularly interesting to his uncle, of course; but, being rather an endearing boy, and the son of a beloved sister, he was loved; and, even had he been a stranger, his position would have been regarded as more respectable than Urquhart's, since he had so far failed to secure many good things.
Felicity, a gracious and lovely person of twenty-nine, gave Peter and Urquhart a smile out of her violet eyes and murmured "Lucy's in the corner over there," and resumed the conversation she was trying to divide between Joseph Leslie and a young English professor who was having a holiday from stirring up revolutions at a Polish university. The division was not altogether easy, even to a person of Felicity's extraordinary tact, particularly as they both happened to be in love with her. Felicity had a great deal of listening to do always, because everyone told her about themselves, and she always heard them gladly; if she hastened the end a little sometimes, gently, they never knew it. She, in fact, wanted to hear about them as much—really as much, though the desire in these proportions is so rare as to seem incredible—as they wanted to let her hear. Her wish to hear was a temptation to egotism; those who disliked egotism in themselves had to fight the temptation, and seldom won. She did not believe—no one but a fool (and she was not that) could have believed—all the many things that were told her; the many things that must always, while pity and the need to be pitied endure, be told to the pitiful; but she seldom said so. She merely looked at the teller with her long and lovely violet eyes, that took in so much and gave out such continual friendship, and saw how, behind the lies, the need dwelt pleading. Then she gave, not necessarily what the lies asked for, but what, in her opinion, pity owed to that which pleaded. She certainly gave, as a rule, quite too much, in whatever coin she paid. That was inevitable.
"You give from the emotions," Joseph Leslie told her, "instead of from reason. How bad for you: how bad for them. And worse when it is friendship than when it is coin that you can count and set a limit to. Yes. Abominably bad for everyone concerned."
"Should one," wondered Felicity, "give friendship, as one is supposed to give money, on C.O.S. principles? Perhaps so; I must think about it."
But her thinking always brought her back to the same conclusion as before. Consequently her circle of friends grew and grew. She even included in it a few of the rich and prosperous, not wishing her chain of fellowship, whose links she kept in careful repair, to fail anywhere. But it showed strain there. It was forged and flung by the rich and prosperous, and merely accepted by Felicity.
Leslie, though rich and prosperous, stepped into the linked circle led by Peter, who was neither. Having money, and a desire to make himself conscious of the fact by using it, he consulted Miss Hope as to how best to be philanthropic. He wanted, it seemed, to be a philanthropist as well as a collector, and felt incapable of being either otherwise than through agents. His personal share in both enterprises had to be limited to the backing capital.
Miss Hope said, "Start a settlement," and he had said, "I can't unless you'll work it for me. Will you?" So he started a settlement, and she worked it for him, and he came about the place and got in the way and wrote heavy cheques and adored Felicity and suggested at suitable intervals that she should marry him.
Felicity had no intention of marrying him. She called him a rest. No one likes being called a rest when they desire to be a stimulant, or even a gentle excitement. Felicity was an immense excitement to Mr. Leslie (though he concealed it laboriously under a heavy and matter-of-fact exterior) and it is of course pleasanter when these things are reciprocal. But Mr. Leslie perceived that she took much more interest even in her young cousin Peter than in him. "Do you find him a useful little boy?" she asked him this afternoon, before Peter and Urquhart arrived.
Leslie nodded. "Useful boy—very. And pleasant company, you know. I don't know much about these things, but he seems to have a splendid eye for a good thing. Funny thing is, it works all round—in all departments. Native genius, not training. He sees a horse between a pair of shafts in a country lane; looks at it; says 'That's good. That would have a fair chance for the Grand National'—Urquhart buys it for fifty pounds straight away—and it does win the Grand National. And he knows nothing special about horses, either. That's what I call genius. It's the same eye that makes him spot a dusty old bit of good china on a back shelf of a shop among a crowd of forged rubbish. I've none of that sort of sense; I'm hopeless. But I like good things, and I can pay for them, and I give that boy a free rein. He's furnishing my house well for me. It seems to amuse him rather."
"He loves it," said Felicity. "His love of pleasant things is what he lives by. Including among them Denis Urquhart, of course."
"Yes." Leslie pursed thoughtful lips over Denis Urquhart. He was perhaps slightly touched with jealousy there. He was himself rather drawn towards that tranquil young man, but he knew very well that the drawing was one-sided; Urquhart was patently undrawn.
"Rather a flash lot, the Urquharts, aren't they?" he said; and Peter, who liked him, would have had to admit that the remark was perilously near to a bound. "Seem to have a sort of knack of dazzling people."
"He's an attractive person, of course," Miss Hope replied; and she didn't say it distantly; she was so sorry for people who bounded, and so many of her friends did. "It's pleasing to see, isn't it—such whole-souled devotion?"
Mr. Leslie grunted. "I won't say pearls before swine—because Urquhart isn't a swine, but a very pleasant, ordinary young fellow. But worship like that can't be deserved, you know; not by anyone, however beautifully he motors through life. Margerison's too—well, too nice, to put it simply—to give himself to another person, body and soul, like that. It's squandering."
"And irritates you," she reflected, but merely said, "Is squandering always a bad thing, I wonder?"
It was at this point that Peter and Urquhart came in. Directed by Felicity to Lucy in an obscure corner, they found her being talked to by one of the Oddities; he looked rather like an oppressed Finn. He was talking and she was listening, wide-eyed and ingenuous, her small hands clasped on her lap. Peter and Urquhart sat down by her, and the oppressed Finn presently wandered away to talk to Lucy's father.
Lucy gave a little sigh of relief.
"Wish they wouldn't come and talk to me," she said. "I'm no good to them; I don't understand; and I hate people to be unhappy. I'm dreadfully sorry they are. I don't want to have to think about them. Why can't they be happy? There are so many nice things all about. 'Tis such waste." She looked up at Urquhart, and her eyes laughed because he was happy and clean, and shone like a new pin.
"It's nicest," she said, "to be happy and clean. And it's not bad to be happy and dirty; or very bad to be unhappy and clean; but ..." She shut her lips with a funny distaste on the remaining alternative. "And I'm horribly afraid Felicity's going to get engaged to Mr. Malyon, that young one talking to her, do you see? He helps with conspiracies in Poland."
"But he's quite clean," said Urquhart, looking at him.
Lucy admitted that. "But he'll get sent to Siberia soon, don't you see, and Felicity will go too, I know."
Peter said, "If I was Felicity I'd marry Leslie; I wouldn't hesitate for a moment. I wish it was me he loved so. Fancy marrying into all those lovely things I'm getting for him. Only I hope she won't, because then she'd take over the shopping department, and I should be left unemployed. Oh, Lucy, he's let me buy him the heavenliest pair of Chelsea jardinieres, shaped like orange-tubs, with Cupids painted on blue panels. You must come and see them soon."
Lucy's eyes, seeing the delightful things, widened and danced. She loved the things Peter bought.
Suddenly Peter, who had a conscience somewhere, felt a pang in it, and, to ease it, regretfully left the corner and wandered about among his uncle's friends, being pleasant and telling them the time. He did that till the last of them had departed. Urquhart then had to depart also, and Peter was alone with his relatives. It was only after Urquhart had gone that Peter realised fully what a very curious and incongruous element he had been in the room. Realising it suddenly, he laughed, and Lucy laughed too. Felicity looked at them indulgently.
"Babies. What's the matter now?"
"Only Denis," explained Peter.
"That young man," commented Dermot Hope, without approbation, "is remarkably well-fed, well-bred, and well-dressed. Why do you take him about with you?"
"That's just why, isn't it, Peter," put in Lucy. "Peter and I like people to be well-fed and well-bred and well-dressed."
Felicity touched her chin, with her indulgent smile.
"Baby again. You like no such thing. You'd get tired of it in a week."
"Oh, well," said Lucy, "a week's a long time."
"He's got no fire in all his soul and body," complained Dermot Hope. "He's a symbol of prosperous content—of all we're fighting. It's people like him who are the real obstructionists; the people who don't see, not because they're blind, but because they're too pleased with their own conditions to look beyond them. It's people like him who are pouring water on the fires as they are lit, because fires are such bad form, and might burn up their precious chattels if allowed to get out of hand. Take life placidly; don't get excited, it's so vulgar; that's their religion. They've neither enthusiasm nor imagination in them. And so ..."
And so forth, just as it came out in "Progress" once a month. Peter didn't read "Progress," because he wasn't interested in the future, being essentially a child of to-day. Besides, he too hated conflagrations, thinking the precious chattels they would burn up much too precious for that. Peter was no lover either of destruction or construction; perhaps he too was an obstructionist; though not without imagination. His uncle knew he had a regrettable tendency to put things in the foreground and keep ideas very much in the background, and called him therefore a phenomenalist. Lucy shared this tendency, being a good deal of an artist and nothing at all of a philosopher.
THE COMPLETE SHOPPER
Six months later Peter called at the Hopes' to say good-bye before he went to Italy. He found Lucy in, and Urquhart was there too, talking to her in a room full of leaping fire-shadows. Peter sat down on the coal-scuttle (it was one of those coal-scuttles you can sit on comfortably) and said, "Leslie's taking me to Italy on Sunday. Isn't it nice for me. I wish he was taking you too."
Lucy, clasping small hands, said, "Oh, Peter, I wish he was!"
Urquhart, looking at her said, "Do you want to go?" and she nodded, with her mouth tight shut as if to keep back floods of eloquence on that subject. "So do I," said Urquhart, and added, in his casual way, "Will you and your father come with me?"
"You paying?" said Lucy, in her frank, unabashed way like a child's; and he smiled down at her.
"Yes. Me paying."
"'Twould be nice," she breathed, her grey eyes wide with wistful pleasure. "I would love it. But—but father wouldn't, you know. He wouldn't want to go, and if he did he'd want to pay for it himself, and do it his own way, and travel third-class and be dreadfully uncomfortable. Wouldn't he, Peter?"
Peter feared that he would.
"Thank you tremendously, all the same," said Lucy, prettily polite.
"I shall have to go by myself, then," said Urquhart. "What a bore. I really am going, you know, sometime this spring, to stay with my uncle in Venice. I expect I shall come across you, Margery, with any luck. I shan't start yet, though; I shall wait for better motoring weather. No, I can't stop for tea, thanks; I'm going off for the week-end. Good-bye. Good-bye, Margery. See you next in Venice, probably."
He was gone. Lucy sat still in her characteristic attitude, hands clasped on her knees, solemn grey eyes on the fire.
"He's going away for the week-end," she said, realising it for herself and Peter. "But it's more amusing when he's here. When he's in town, I mean, and comes in. That's nice and funny, isn't it."
"Yes," said Peter.
"But one can go out into the streets and see the people go by—and that's nice and funny too. And there are the Chinese paintings in the British Museum ... and concerts ... and the Zoo ... and I'm going to a theatre to-night. It's all nice and funny, isn't it."
"Yes," said Peter again. He thought so too.
"Even when you and he are both gone to Italy," said Lucy, reassuring herself, faintly interrogative. "Even then ... it can't be dull. It can't be dull ever."
"It hasn't been yet," Peter agreed. "But I wish you were coming too to Italy. You must before long. As soon as ..." He left that unfinished, because it was all so vague at present, and he and Lucy always lived in the moment.
"Well," said Lucy, "let's have tea." They had it, out of little Wedgwood cups, and Lucy's mood of faint wistfulness passed over and left them chuckling.
Lucy was a little sad about Felicity, who was now engaged to the young professor who was conspiring in Poland.
"I knew she would, of course. I told you so long ago. He's quite sure to get arrested before long, so that settled it. And they're going to be married directly and go straight out there and plot. He excites the students, you know; as if students needed exciting by their professors.... I shall miss Felicity horribly. 'Tis too bad."
Peter, to cheer her up, told her what he and Leslie were going to do in Italy.
"I'll write, of course. Picture post cards, you know. And if ever I've twopence halfpenny to spare I'll write a real letter; there'll be a lot to tell you." Peter expected Leslie to be rather funny in Italy, picking things up.
"A great country, I believe, for picking things up," he had said. "Particularly for the garden." He had been referring to his country seat.
"I see," said Peter. "You want to Italianise the garden. I'm not quite sure.... Oh, you might, of course. Iron-work gates, then; and carved Renaissance oil-tanks, and Venetian well-heads, and such-like. All right; we'll see what we can steal. But it's rather easy to let an Italianised garden become florid; you have to be extremely careful with it."
"That's up to you," said Mr. Leslie tranquilly.
So they went to Italy, and Peter picked things up with judgment, and Leslie paid for them with phlegm. They picked up not only carved olive-oil tanks and well-heads and fifteenth-century iron-work gates from ancient and impoverished gardens, but a contemporarily copied Della Robbia fireplace, and designs for Renaissance ceilings, and a rococo carved and painted altar-piece from a mountain church whose parroco was hard-up, and a piece of 1480 tapestry that Peter loved very much, whereon St. Anne and other saints played among roses and raspberries, beautiful to behold. These things made both the picker-up and the payer exceedingly contented. Meanwhile Peter with difficulty restrained Leslie from "picking up" stray pieces of mosaic from tessellated pavements, and other curios. Oddly together with Leslie's feeling for the costly went the insane and indiscriminate avidity of the collecting tourist.
"You can't do it," Peter would shrilly and emphatically explain. "It's like a German tripper collecting souvenirs. Things aren't interesting merely because you happen to have been to the places they belong to. What do you want with that bit of glass? It isn't beautiful; when it's taken out of the rest of its pattern like that it's merely ridiculous. I thought you wanted beautiful things."
Leslie would meekly give in. His leaning on Peter in this matter of what he wanted was touching. In the matter of what he admired, where no questions of acquisition came in, he and his shopping-man agreed less. Leslie here showed flashes of proper spirit. He also read Ruskin in the train. Peter had small allegiance there; he even, when irritated, called Ruskin a muddle-head.
"He's a good man, isn't he?" Leslie queried, puzzled. "Surely he knows what he's talking about?" and Peter had to admit that that was so.
"He tells me what to like," the self-educator said simply. "And I try to like it. I don't always succeed, but I try. That's right, isn't it?"
"I don't know." Peter was puzzled. "It seems to me rather a funny way of going about it. When you've succeeded, are you much happier? I mean, what sort of a liking is it? Oh, but I don't understand—there aren't two sorts really. You either like a thing, or ... well."
At times one needed a rest from Leslie. But outside the province of art and the pleasures of the eye he was lovable, even likeable, having here a self-dependence and a personality that put pathos far off, and made him himself a rest. And his generosity was limitless. It was almost an oppression; only Peter, being neither proud nor self-conscious, was not easily oppressed. He took what was lavished on him and did his best to deserve it. But it was perhaps a little tiring. Leslie was a thoroughly good sort—a much better sort than most people knew—but Italy was somehow not the fit setting for him. Nothing could have made Peter dislike things pleasant to look at; but Leslie's persevering, uncomprehending groping after their pleasantness made one feel desirous to dig a gulf between them and him. It was rather ageing. Peter missed Urquhart and Lucy; one felt much younger with them. The thought of their clean, light, direct touch on life, that handled its goods without fumbling, and without the need of any intervening medium, was as refreshing as a breath of fresh air in a close room.
Rodney too was refreshing. They came across him at Pietrasanta; he was walking across Tuscany by himself, and came to the station, looking very dusty and disreputable, to put the book he had finished into his bag that travelled by train and get out another.
"Come out of that," he said to Peter, "and walk with me to Florence. Trains for bags; roads for men. You can meet your patron in Florence. Come along."
And Peter, after a brief consultation with the accommodating Leslie, did come along. It was certainly more than amusing. The road in Tuscany is much better than the railway. And Rodney was an interesting and rather attractive person. Since he left Cambridge he had been pursuing abstruse chemical research in a laboratory he had in a Westminster slum. Peter never saw him in London, because the Ignorant Rich do not live in slums, and because Rodney was not fond of the more respectable quarters of the city.
Peter was set speculating vaguely on Rodney's vivid idealism. To Peter, ideas, the unseen spirits of life, were remote, neither questioned nor accepted, but simply in the background. In the foreground, for the moment, were a long white road running through a river valley, and little fortress cities cresting rocky hills, and the black notes of the cypresses striking on a background of silver olives. In these Peter believed; and he believed in blue Berovieri goblets, and Gobelin tapestries, and in a great many other things that he had seen and saw at this moment; he believed intensely, with a poignant vividness of delight, in all things visible. For the rest, it was not that he doubted or wondered much; he had not thought about it enough for that; but it was all very remote. What was spirit, apart from form? Could it be? If so, would it be valuable or admirable? It was the shapes and colours of things, after all, that mattered. As to the pre-existence of things and their hereafter, Peter seldom speculated; he knew that it was through entering the workshop (or the play-room, he would rather have said) of the phenomenal, where the idea took limiting lines and definite shape and the tangible charm of the sense-apprehended, that life for him became life. Rodney attained to his real by looking through the manifold veils of the phenomenal, as through so much glass; Peter to his by an adoring delight in their complex loveliness. He was not a symbolist; he had no love of mystic hints and mist-veiled distances; he was George Herbert's
Man who looks on glass And on it rests his eye,
because glass was so extremely jolly. Rodney looked with the mystic's eyes on life revealed and emerging behind its symbols; Peter with the artist's on life expressed in the clean and lovely shapes of things, their colours and tangible sweetness. To Peter Rodney's idealism would have been impossibly remote; things, as things, had a delightful concrete reality that was its own justification. They needed to interpret nothing; they were themselves; no veils, but the very inner sanctuary.