At present the only people who knew of her prank and guessed or knew her purpose were Honoria and Bertie Adams. Honoria! what a noble woman, what a true friend. Somehow, now she was David, she saw Honoria in a different light. Poor Norie! She too had her wistful leanings, her sorrows and disappointments. What a good thing it would be if her mother decided to die—of course she would, could, never say any such thing to Norie—to die and set free Honoria to marry Major Petworth Armstrong! She felt Norie still hankered after him, but perhaps kept him at bay partly because of her mother's molluscous clingings—No! she wouldn't even sneer at Lady Fraser. Lady Fraser had been one of the early champions of Woman's rights. Very likely it was a dread of Vivie's sneers and disappointment that had mainly kept back Norie from accepting Major Armstrong's advances. Well, when next they met she—Vivie—or better still David—would set that right.
7, Fig Tree Court, Temple. March 20, 1902.
I am going down to spend Easter with my people in South Wales. Before I leave I should so very much like a long talk with you where we can talk freely and undisturbed. That is impossible at the Office for a hundred reasons, especially now that Beryl Claridge has taken to working early in her new-found zeal, while Bertie Adams deems it his duty to stay late. I am—really, truly—grieved to hear that your mother is so ill again. I would not ask to meet her—even if she was well enough to receive people—because she does not know me and when one is as ill as she is, the introduction to a stranger is a horrid jar. But if you could fit in say an hour's detachment from her side—is it "bed-side" or is she able to get up?—and could receive me in your own sitting-room, why then we could have that full and free talk I should like on your affairs and on mine and on the joint affairs of Fraser and Warren.
Yours sincerely, D. V. W.
Come by all means. The wish for a talk is fully reciprocated on my side. Mother generally tries to sleep in the afternoon between three and six, and a Nurse is then with her.
Yours sincerely, H. F.
"Mr. David Williams wishes to see you, Miss," said a waiter, meeting Honoria on a Thursday afternoon, as she was emerging into their tiny hall from her mother's room.
"Show him up, please.... Ah there you are, David. We must both talk rather low as mother is easily waked. Come into my study; fortunately it is at the other end of the flat."
* * * * *
They reach the study, and Honoria closes the door softly but firmly behind them.
"We never do kiss as a rule, having long ago given up such a messy form of greeting; but certainly we wouldn't under these circumstances lest we could be seen from the opposite windows and thought to be 'engaged'; but though I may seem a little frigid in greeting you, it is only because of the clothes you are wearing'—You understand, don't you—?"
"Quite, dearest. We cannot be too careful. Besides we long ago agreed to be modern and sanitary in our manners."
"Won't you smoke?"
"Well, perhaps it would be more restful," said David, "more manly; but as a matter of fact of late I have been rather 'off' smoking. It is very wasteful, and as far as I am concerned it never produced much effect—either way—on the nerves. Still, it gives one a nice manly flavour. I always liked the smell of a smoking-room.... And your mother: how is she?"
"Very bad, I fear. The doctor tells me she can't last much longer, and hypocritical as the phrase sounds I couldn't wish her to, unless these pains can be mitigated, and this dreadful distress in breathing.... I wonder if some day I shall be like that, and if behind my back a daughter will be saying she couldn't wish me to live much longer, unless, etc. I shall miss her frightfully, if she does die.... Armstrong has been more than kind. He has got a woman's heart for tenderness. He thinks every day of some fresh palliative until the doctors quite dislike him. Fortunately his kindness gives mother a fleeting gleam of pleasure. She wants me to marry him—I don't know, I'm sure.... Whilst she's so bad I don't feel I could take any interest in love-making—and I suppose we should make love in a perfunctory way—We're all of us so bound by conventions. We try to feel dismal at funerals, when often the weather is radiant and the ride down to Brookwood most exhilarating. And love-making is supposed to go with marriage ... heigh-ho! What should you say if I did marry—Major Armstrong...? Did you ever hear of such a ridiculous name as Petworth? I should have to call him 'Pet' and every one would think I had gone sentimental in middle age. How can parents be so unthinking about Christian names? He can't see the thing as I do; it is almost the only subject on which he is 'huffy.' You are the other, about which more anon. He says the Petworth property meant everything to the Armstrongs, to his branch of the Armstrongs. But for that, they might have been any other kind of Armstrong—it always kept him straight at school and in the army, he says, to remember he was an Armstrong of Petworth. They have held that poor little property (I call it) alongside the Egmonts and the Leconfields for three hundred years, though they've been miserably poor. His second name is James—Petworth James Armstrong. But he loathes being called 'Jimmy.'
"Of course, dear, I've no illusions. I'm not bad to look at—indeed I sometimes quite admire my figure when I see myself after my bath in the cheval glass—but I'm pretty well sure that one of the factors in Pet's admiration for me was my income. Mother, it seems, has a little of her own, from one of her aunts, and if the poor darling is taken—though it is simply horrid considering that if—only that she has talked so freely to Army—I think I like 'Army' far better than 'Pet'—Well I mean she's been trying to tell him ever since he first came to call that when she is gone I shall have, all told, in my own right, Five thousand a year. So I took the first opportunity of letting him know that Two thousand a year of that would be held in reserve for the work of the firm and for the Woman's Cause generally.... Look here, I won't babble on much longer.... I know you're dying to make me confidences.... We'll ring for tea to be sent in here, and whilst the waiter is coming and going—Don't they take such a time about it, when they're de trop?—we'll talk of ordinary things that can be shouted from the house tops.
"I haven't been to the Office for three days. Does everything seem to be going on all right?"
David: "Quite all right. Bertie Adams tries dumbly to express in his eyes his determination to see the firm and me through all our troubles and adventures. I wish I could convey a discreet hint to him not to be so blatantly discreet. If there were a Sherlock Holmes about the place he would spot at once that Adams and I shared a secret.... But about Beryl—" (Enter waiter....)
Honoria (to waiter): "Oh—er—tea for two please. Remember it must be China and the still-room maids must see that the water has been fresh-boiled. And buttered toast—or if you've got muffins...? You have? Well, then muffins; and of course jam and cake. And—would you mind—you always try, I know—bringing the things in very quietly—here—? Because Lady Fraser is so easily waked..."
(The Swiss waiter goes out, firmly convinced that Honoria's anxiety for her lady mother is really due to the desire that the mother should not interrupt a flirtation and a clandestine tea.)
Honoria: "Well, about Beryl?"
David: "Beryl, I should say, is going to become a great woman of business. But for that, and—I think—a curious streak of fidelity to her vacillating architect ('How happy could I be with either,' don't you know, he seems to feel—just now they say he is living steadily at Storrington with his wife No. 1, who is ill, poor thing) ... but for that and this, I think Beryl would enjoy a flirtation with me. She can't quite make me out, and my unwavering severity of manner. Her cross-questioning sometimes is maddening—or it might become so, but that with both of us—you and me—retiring so much into the background she has to lead such a strenuous life and see one after the other the more important clients. Of course—here's the tea..."
(Brief interval during which the waiter does much unnecessary laying out of the tea until Honoria says: "Don't let me keep you. I know you are busy at this time. I will ring if we want anything.") David continues: "Of course I come in for my share of the work after six. On one point Beryl is firm; she doesn't mind coming at nine or at eight or at half-past seven in the morning, but she must be back in Chelsea by half-past five to see her babies, wash them and put them to bed. She has a tiny little house, she tells me, near Trafalgar Square, and fortunately she's got an excellent and devoted nurse, one of those rare treasures that questions nothing and is only interested in the business in hand. She and a cook-general make up the establishment. Before Mrs. Architect No. 1 became ill, Mr. Architect used to visit her there pretty regularly, and is assumed to be Mr. Claridge.... Well: to finish up about Beryl: I think you—we—can trust her. She may be odd in her notions of morality, but in finance or business she's as honest—as—a man."
"My dear Vivie—I mean David—what a strange thing for you to say! I suppose it is part of your make-up—goes with the clothes and that turn-over collar, and the little safety pin through the tie—?"
David: "No, I said it deliberately. Men are mostly hateful things, but I think in business they're more dependable than women—think more about telling a lie or letting any one down. The point for you to seize on is this—if you haven't noticed it already: that Beryl has become an uncommonly good business woman. And what's more, my dear, you've improved her just as you improved me" (Honoria deprecates this with a gesture, as she sits looking into the fire). "Beryl's talk is getting ever so much less reckless. And she takes jolly good care not to scandalize a client. She finds Adams—she tells me—so severe at the least jest or personality that she only talks to him now on business matters, and finds him a great stand-by; and the other day she told Miss A.—as you call the senior clerk—she ought to be ashamed of herself, bringing in a copy of the Vie Parisienne. The way she settled Mrs. Gordon's affairs—you remember, No. 3875 you catalogued the case—was masterly; and Mrs. G. has insisted on paying 5 per cent. commission on the recovered property. And it was Beryl who found out that leakage in the 'Variegated Tea Rooms' statement of accounts. I hadn't spotted it. No. I think we needn't be anxious about Beryl, especially whilst I am in Wales and you are giving yourself up—as you ought to do—to your mother. But it's coming to this, Honoria—" (Enter waiter. David says "Oh, damn," half audibly. Waiter is confirmed in his suspicions, but as he likes Honoria immensely resolves to say nothing about them in the Steward's room. She is such a kind young lady. He explains he has come to take the tea things away, and Honoria replies "Capital idea! Now, David, you'll be able to have the whole table for your accounts!").... "It's coming to this, Honoria," says David, clearing his throat, "that you will soon be wanting not to be bothered any more with the affairs of Fraser and Warren, and after I really get into the Law business I too shall require to detach myself. Let us therefore be thankful that Beryl is shaping so well. I rather think this summer you will have to get more office accommodation and give her some more responsible women to help her.... Now finish what you were saying about Major Armstrong."
Honoria: "Of course I shall marry him some day. I suppose I felt that the day after I first met him. But it amuses me to be under no illusion. I am sure this is what happened two years ago—or whenever it was he came back wounded from your favourite haunt, South Africa. Michael Rossiter—who likes 'Army' enormously—I think they were at school or college together—said to Linda, his wife: 'Here's Armstrong. One of the best. Wants to marry. Wife must have a little money, otherwise he'll have to go on letting Petworth Manor. And here's Honoria Fraser, one of the finest women I've ever met. Getting a little long in the tooth—or will be soon. Let's bring 'em together and make a match of it.'
"So we are each convoked for a luncheon, with a projected adjournment to Kew—which you spoilt—and there it is. But joking apart, 'Army' is a dear and I am sure by now he wants me even more than my money—and I certainly want him. I'm rising thirty and I long for children and don't want 'em to come to me too late in life."
David: "You said he didn't like me..."
Honoria: "Oh that was half nonsense. When we all met last Sunday at the Rossiters he became very jealous and suspicious. Asked who was that whipper-snapper—I said you neither whipped nor snapped, especially if kindly treated. He said then who was that Madonna young man—a phrase it appears he'd picked up from Lord Cromer, who used to apply it to every new arrival from the Foreign Office—Armstrong was once his military secretary. I was surprised to hear he thought you womanish—I spoke of your fencing, riding,—was just going to add 'hockey,' and 'croquet': then remembered they might be thought feminine pastimes, so referred to your swimming. Military men always respect a good swimmer; I fancy because many of them funk the water.... I was just going on to explain that you were a cousin of a great friend of mine and helped me in my business, when a commissionaire came from Quansions in a hansom to say that mother was feeling very bad again. 'Army' and I went back in the hansom, but I was crying a little and being a gentleman he did not press his suit..."
Enter Lady Fraser's nurse on tiptoe. Says in a very hushed voice "Major Armstrong has called, Miss Fraser. He came to ask about Lady Fraser. I said if anything she was a bit better and had had a good sleep. He then asked if he might see you."
Honoria: "Certainly. Would you mind showing him in here? It will save my ringing for the waiter."
Enter Major Armstrong. At the sight of David he flushes and looks fierce.
Honoria: "So glad you've come, dear Major. I hear mother has had a good nap. I must go to her presently. You know David Vavasour Williams?—Davy! You really must leave out your second name! It gets so fatiguing having to say it every time I introduce you."
Armstrong bows stiffly and David, standing with one well-shaped foot in a neat boot on the curb of the fireplace, looks up and returns the bow.
Honoria: "This won't do. You are two of my dearest friends, and yet you hardly greet one another. I always determined from the age of fifteen onwards I would never pass my life as men and women in a novel do—letting misunderstandings creep on and on where fifty words might settle them. Army! You've often asked me to marry you—or at least so I've understood your broken sentences. I never refused you in so many words. Now I say distinctly 'Yes'—if you'll have me. Only, you know quite well I can't actually marry you whilst mother lies so ill..."
Major Armstrong, very red in the face, in a mixture of exultation, sympathy and annoyance that the affairs of his heart are being discussed before a whipper-snapper stranger—says: "Honoria! Do you mean it? Oh..."
Honoria: "Of course I mean it! And if I drew back you could now have a breach-of-promise-of-marriage action, with David as an important witness. D.V.W.—who by the bye is a cousin of my greatest friend—my friend for life, whether you like her—as you ought to do—or not—Vivie Warren.... David is reading for the Bar; and besides being your witness to what I have just said, might—if you deferred your action long enough—be your Counsel.... Now look here," (with a catch in the voice) "you two dear things. My nerves are all to bits.... I haven't slept properly for nights and nights. David, dear, if you must talk any more business before you go down to Wales, you must come and see me to-morrow.... Darling mother! I can't bear the thought you may not live to see my happiness." (David discreetly withdraws without a formal good-bye, and as he goes out and the firelight flickers up, sees Armstrong take Honoria in his arms.)
THE BRITISH CHURCH
David had read hard all through Hilary term with Mr. Stansfield of the Inner Temple; he had passed examinations brilliantly; he had solved knotty problems in the legal line for Fraser and Warren, and as already related he had begun to go out into Society. Indeed, starting from the Rossiters' Thursdays and Praed's studio suppers, he was being taken up by persons of influence who were pleased to find him witty, possessed of a charming voice, of quiet but unassailable manners. Opinions differed as to his good looks. Some women proclaimed him as adorable, rather Sphynx-like, you know, but quite fascinating with his well-marked eye-brows, his dark and curly lashes, the rich warm tints of his complexion, the unfathomable grey eyes and short upper lip with the down of adolescence upon it. Other women without assigning any reason admitted he did not produce any effect on their sensibility—they disliked law students, they said, even if they were of a literary turn; they also disliked curates and shopwalkers and sidesmen ... and Sunday-school teachers. Give them manly men; avowed soldiers and sailors, riders to hounds, sportsmen, big game hunters, game-keepers, chauffeurs—the chauffeur was becoming a new factor in Society, Bernard Shaw's "superman"—prize-fighters, meat-salesmen—then you knew where you were.
Similarly men were divided in their judgment of him. Some liked him very much, they couldn't quite say why. Others spoke of him contemptuously, like Major Armstrong had done. This was due partly to certain women being inclined to run after him—and therefore to jealousy on behalf of the professional lady-killer of the military species—and partly to a vague feeling that he was enigmatic—Sphynx-like, as some women said. He was too silent sometimes, especially if the conversation amongst men tended towards racy stories; he was sarcastic and nimble-witted when he did speak. And he was not easily bullied. If he encountered an insolent person, he gave full effect to his five feet eight inches, the look from his grey eyes was unwavering as though he tacitly accepted the challenge, there was an invisible rapier hanging from his left hip, a poise of the body which expressed dauntless courage.
Honoria's stories of his skill in fencing, riding, swimming, ball-games, helped him here. They were perfectly true or sufficiently true—mutatis mutandis—and when put to the test stood the test. David indeed found it well during this first season in Town to hire a hack and ride a little in the Park—it only added one way and another about fifty pounds to his outlay and impressed certain of the Benchers who were beginning to turn an eye on him. One elderly judge—also a Park rider—developed an almost inconvenient interest in him; asked him to dinner, introduced him to his daughters, and wanted to know a deal too much as to his position and prospects.
On the whole, it was a distinct relief from a public position, from this increasing number of town acquaintances, this broader and broader track strewn with cunning pitfalls, to lock up his rooms and go off to Wales for the Easter holidays. Easter was late that year—or it has to be for the purpose of my story—and David was fortunate in the weather and the temperature. If West Glamorganshire had looked richly, grandiosely beautiful in full summer, it had an exquisite, if quite different charm in early spring, in April. The great trees were spangled with emerald leaf-buds; the cherries, tame and wild, the black-thorn, the plums and pears in orchards and on old, old, grey walls, were in full blossom of virgin white. The apple trees in course of time showed pink buds. The gardens were full of wall-flowers—the inhabited country smelt of wall-flowers—purple flags, narcissi, hyacinths. The woodland was exquisitely strewn with primroses. In the glades rose innumerable spears of purple half-opened bluebells; the eye ranged over an anemone-dotted sward in this direction; over clusters of smalt-blue dog violets in another. Ladies'-smocks and cowslips made every meadow delicious; and the banks of the lowland streams were gorgeously gilded with king-cups. The mountains on fine days were blue and purple in the far distance; pale green and grey in the foreground. Under the April showers and sun-shafts they became tragic, enchanted, horrific, paradisiac. Even the mining towns were bearable—in the spring sunshine. If man had left no effort untried to pile hideosity on hideosity, flat ugliness on nauseous squalor, he had not been able to affect the arch of the heavens in its lucid blue, all smokes and vapours driven away by the spring winds; he had not been able to neutralize the vast views visible from the miners' sordid, one-storeyed dwellings, the panorama of hill and plain, of glistening water, towering peaks, and larch forests of emerald green amid the blue-Scotch pines and the black-green yews.
David in previous letters, looking into his father's budget, had shown him he could afford to keep a pony and a pony cart. This therefore was waiting for him at the little station with the gardener to drive. But in a week, David, already a good horseman, had learnt to drive under the gardener's teaching, and then was able to take his delighted father out for whole-day trips to revel in the beauties of the scenery.
They would have with them a wicker basket containing an ample lunch prepared by the generous hands of Bridget. They would stop at some spot on a mountain pass; tether the pony, sit on a plaid shawl thrown over a boulder, and feast their eyes on green mountain-shoulders reared against the pale blue sky; or gaze across ravines not unworthy of Switzerland. Or they would put up pony and cart at some village inn, explore old battlemented churches and churchyards with seventeenth and eighteenth century headstones, so far more tasteful and seemly than the hideous death memorials of the nineteenth century. And ever and again the old father, looking more and more like a Druid, would recite that charming Spring song, the 104th Psalm; or fragments of Welsh poetry sounding very good in Welsh—as no doubt Greek poetry does in properly pronounced Greek, but being singularly bald and vague in its references to earth, sea, sky and flora when translated into plain English.
David expressed some such opinions which rather scandalized his father who had grown up in the conventional school of unbounded, unreasoning reverence for the Hebrew, Greek and Keltic classics. From that they passed to the great problems, the undeterminable problems of the Universe; the awful littleness of men—mere lice, perhaps, on the scurfy body of a shrinking, dying planet of a fifth-rate sun, one of a billion other suns. The Revd. Howel like most of the Christian clergy of all times of course never looked at the midnight sky or gave any thought to the terrors and mysteries of astronomy, a science so modern, in fact, that it only came into real existence two or three hundred years ago; and is even now only taken seriously by about ten thousand people in Europe and America. Where, in this measureless universe—which indeed might only be one of several universes—was God to be found? A God that had been upset by the dietary of a small desert tribe, who fussed over burnt sacrifices and the fat of rams at one time; at another objected to censuses; at another and a later date wanted a human sacrifice to placate his wrath; or who had washed out the world's fauna and flora in a flood which had left no geological evidence to attest its having taken place. "Did you ever think about the Dinosaurs, father?" said David at the end of some such tirade—an outburst of free-thinking which in earlier years might have upset that father to wrath and angry protest, but which now for some reason only left him dazed and absent-minded. (It was the Colonies that had done it, he thought, and the studio talk of that dilettante architect. By and bye, David would distinguish himself at the Bar, marry and settle down, and resume the orthodox outlook of the English—or as he liked to call it—the British Church.)
"The Dinosaurs, my boy? No. What were they?"
David: "The real Dragons, the Dragons of the prime, that swarmed over England and Wales and Scotland, and Europe, Asia, and North America—and I dare say Africa too. One of the most stupendous facts of what you call 'creation,' though perhaps only one amongst many skin diseases that have afflicted the planet—Well the Dinosaurs went on developing and evolving and perfecting—so Rossiter says—for three million years or so—Then they were scrap-heaped. What a waste of creative energy!..."
Father: "Ah it's Rossiter who puts all these ideas into your head, is it?"
David (flushing); "Oh dear no! I used to think about them at (is about to say 'Newnham,' but substitutes 'Malvern')—at Malvern—"
Father (drily): "I'm glad to hear you thought about something—serious—at any rate—then, in the midst of your scrapes and truancies—but go on, dear boy. It's a delight to me to hear you speak. It reminds me—I mean your voice does—of your poor mother. You know I loved her very tenderly, David, and though it is all past and done with I believe I should forgive her now, if she only came back to me. I'm sometimes so lonely, boy. I wish you'd marry and settle down here—there's lots of room for you—some nice girl—and give me grandchildren before I die. But I suppose I must be patient and wait first for your call to the Bar. What a dreary long time it all takes! Why can't they, with one so clever, shorten the term of probation? Or why wait for that to marry? I could give you an allowance. As soon as you were called you could then follow the South Wales circuit—well, go on about your Dinosaurs. I seem to remember Professor Owen invented them—but he never wavered in his faith and was the great opponent of that rash man, Darwin. Oh, I remember now the old controversies—what a stalwart was the Bishop of Winchester! They couldn't bear him at their Scientific meetings—there was one at Bath, if I recollect right, and he put them all to the right-about. What about your Dinosaurs? I'm not denying their existence; it's only the estimates of time that are so ridiculous. God made them and destroyed them in the great Flood, of which their fossil remains are the evidence—"
David however would desist from pursuing such futile arguments; feel surprised, indeed, at his own outbreaks, except that he hated insincerity. However new and disturbing to his father were these flashes of the New Learning, in his outward conduct he was orthodox and extremely well-behaved. The spiritual exercises of the Revd. Howel had become jejune, and limited very much by his failing sight. The recovery after the operation had come too late in life to bring about any expansion of public or private devotions. Family prayers were reduced to the recital from memory of an exhortation, a confession, and an absolution, followed by the Lord's Prayer and a benediction. Services in the church were limited to Morning and Evening prayers, with Communion on the first Sunday in the month, and a sermon following Morning prayer. There was no one to play the organ if the schoolmistress failed to turn up—as she often did. David however scrupulously turned the normal congregation of five—Bridget, the maid of the time-being, the gardener-groom, the sexton, and a baker-church-warden—into six by his unvarying attendance. In the course of half his stay the rumour of his being present and of his good looks and great spiritual improvement attracted quite a considerable congregation, chiefly of young women and a few sheepish youths; so that his father was at one and the same time exhilarated and embarrassed. Was this to be a Church revival? If so, he readily pardoned David his theories on the Dinosaurs and his doubts as to the unvarying evidence of Divine Wisdom in the story of Creation.
If any other consideration than a deep affection for this dear old man and repentance for his unwise ebullitions of Free Thought had guided David in the matter it was an utter detestation of the services and the influence of the Calvinist Chapel in the village, the Little Bethel, presided over by Pastor Prytherch, a fanatical blacksmith, who alternated spells of secret drunkenness and episodes of animalism by orgies of self-abasement, during which he—in half-confessing his own lapses—attributed freely and unrebukedly the same vices to the male half of his overflowing congregation. These out-pourings—"Pechadur truenus wyf i! Arglwydd madden i mi!"—extempore prayers, psalms chanted with a swaying of the body, hymns sung uproariously, scripture read with an accompaniment of groans, hysteric laughter, and interjections of assent, and a rambling discourse—lasting fully an hour, were in the Welsh language; and David on his three or four visits—and it can be imagined what a sensation they caused! The Vicar's son—himself perhaps about to confess his sins!—understood very little of the subject matter, save from the extravagant gestures of the participants. But he soon made up his mind that religion for religion, that expressed by the English—"Well, father, you are right—the 'British'"—Church in Wales was many hundred times superior in reasonableness and stability to the negroid ebullitions of the Calvinists. As a matter of fact they were scarcely more followers of the reformer Calvin than they were of Ignatius Loyola; it was just a symptomatic outbreak of some prehistoric Iberian, Silurian form of worship, something deeply planted in the soil of Wales, something far older than Druidism, something contemporary with the beliefs of Neolithic days.
Eighteen years ago, much of Wales was as enslaved by whiskey as are still Keltic Scotland, Keltiberian Ireland, Lancashire, London and wicked little Kent. It was only saved from going under completely by decennial religious revivals, which for three months or so were followed by total abstinence and a fierce-eyed continence.
Just about this time—during David's extended spring holiday in Wales (he had brought many law books down with him to read)—there had begun one of the newspaper-made-famous Revivals. It was led by a young prophet—a football half-back or whatever they are called, though I, who prefer thoroughness, would, if I played football, offer up the whole of my back to bear the brunt—who saw visions of Teutonically-conceived angels with wings, who heard "voices," was in constant communication with the Redeemer of Mankind and on familiar terms with God, had a lovely tenor voice and moved emotional men and hysterical, love-sick women to tears, even to bellowings by his prayers and songs. He had for some weeks been confined in publicity to half-contemptuous paragraphs in the South Wales Press. Then the Daily Chronicle took him up. Their well-known, emotional-article writer, Mr. Sigsbee, saw "copy" in him, and—to do him justice (for there I agreed with him)—a chance to pierce the armour of the hand-in-glove-with-Government distillers, so went down to Wales to write him up. For three weeks he became more interesting than a Cabinet Minister. Indeed Cabinet Ministers or those who aspired to become such at the next turn of the wheel truckled to him. Some were afraid he might become a small Messiah and lead Wales into open revolt; others that he might smash the whiskey trade and impair the revenue. Mr. Lloyd George going to address a pro-Boer meeting at Aberystwith (was it?) encountered him at a railway junction, attended by a court of ex-footballers and reformed roysterers, and said in the hearing of a reporter "I must fight with the Sword of the Flesh; but you fight with the Sword of the Spirit"—whatever that may have meant—and I do not pretend to complete accuracy of remembrance—I only know I felt very angry with the whole movement at the time, because it delayed indefinitely the Daily Chronicle's review of my new book. Well this Evan—in all such movements an Evan is inevitable—Evan Gwyllim Jones—with the black eyes, abundant black hair, beautiful features (he was a handsome lad) and glorious voice, addressed meetings in the open air and in every available building of four walls. Thousands withdrew their names from foot-ballery, nigh on Two Millions must have taken the pledge—and not merely an anti-whiskey pledge but a fierce renunciation of the most diluted alcohol as well; and approximately two hundred and fifty thousand confessed their sins of unchastity and swore to be reborn Galahads for the rest of their lives. It was a spiritual Spring-cleaning, as drastic and as overdone as are the domestic upheavals known by that name. But it did a vast deal of good, all the same, to South Wales; and though it was a seventh wave, the tide of temperance, thrift, cleanliness, bodily and spiritual, has risen to a higher level of average in the beautiful romantic Principality ever since. Evan Gwyllim Jones, however, overdid it. He had to retire from the world to a Home—some said even to a Mental Hospital. Six months afterwards he emerged, cured of his "voices," much plumper, and—perhaps—poor soul—shorn of some of his illusions and ideals; but he married a grocer's widow of Cardiff, and the Daily Chronicle mentioned him no more.
The infection of his meetings however penetrated to the agricultural district in which Pontystrad was situated. Five villages went completely off their heads. The blacksmith-pastor had to be put under temporary restraint. Quite decent-looking, unsuspected folk confessed to far worse sins than they had ever committed. There arose an aristocracy of outcasts. Three inns where little worse than bad beer was sold were gutted, respectable farmers' wives drank Eau-de-Cologne instead of spirits, several over-due marriages took place, there were a number of premature births, and the membership of the football clubs was disastrously reduced. Such excitement was generated that little work was done, and the illegitimate birth rate of west Glamorganshire—always high—for the opening months of 1903 became even higher.
David was enlisted by the employers of labour, the farmers, chemical works, mining and smelting-works managers, squires, and postmasters to restore order. He preached against the Revivalists. Not with any lack of sympathy, any apology for the real ills which they denounced. He spoke with emphasis against the loosening of morality, recommended early marriage, and above all education; denounced the consumption of alcohol so strenuously and convincedly that then and there as he spoke he resolved himself henceforth to abstain from anything stronger than lager beer or the lighter French and German wines. But he threw cold water resolutely on the fantastical nonsense that accompanied these emotional outbursts of so-called religion; invited his hearers to study—at any rate elementarily—astronomy and biology; did not run down football but advised a moderate interest only being taken in such futile sports; recommended volunteering and an acquaintance with rifles as far preferable, seeing that we always stood in danger of a European war or of a drastic revival of insolent conservatism.
Then he made his appeal to the women. He spoke of the dangers of this hysteria; the need there was for level-headed house-keeping women in our councils; how they should first qualify for and then demand the suffrage, having already attained the civic vote. (Here some of the employers of labour disapproved, plucked at his arm or hem of his reefer jacket, and one squire lumbered off the platform.) But he held on, warming with a theme that hitherto had hardly interested him. His speeches were above the heads of his peasant audiences; but they were a more sensitive harp to play on than the average Anglo-Saxon audience. Many women wept, only decorously, as he outlined their influence in a reformed village, a purified Principality. The men applauded frantically because, despite some prudent reserves, there seemed to be a promise of revolt in his suggestions. David felt the electric thrill of the orator in harmony with his audience; who for that reason will strive for further triumphs, more resounding perorations. He introduced scraps of Welsh—all his auto-intoxicated brain could remember (How physically true was that taunt of Dizzy's—"Inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity!").
And the delighted audience shouted back "You're the man we want! Into Parliament you shall go, Davy-bach" and much else. So David restored the five villages to sobriety in life and faith, yet left them with a new enthusiasm kindled. Before he departed on his return to London and the grind of his profession, he had effected another change. Because he had spoken as he had spoken and touched the hearts of emotional people, they came trickling back to his father's church, to the "British" Church, as David now called it. Little Bethel was empty, and the pastor-blacksmith not yet out of the asylum at Swansea. The Revd. Howel Williams trod on air. His sermons became terribly long and involved, but that was no drawback in the minds of his Welsh auditory; though it made his son swear inwardly and reconciled him to the approaching return to Fig Tree Court. The old Druid felt inspired to convince the hundred people present that the Church they had returned to was the Church of their fathers, not only back to Roman times, when Glamorganshire was basking in an Italian civilization, but further still. He showed how the Druids were rather to be described as Ante-Christian than Anti—with an i; and played ponderously on this quip. In Druidism, he observed—I am sure I cannot think why, but it was his hobby—you had a remarkable foreshadowing of Christianity; the idea of the human sacrifice, the Atonement, the Communion of Saints, the mystic Vine, which he clumsily identified with the mistletoe, and what not else. He read portions of his privately-published Tales of Taliessin. In short such happiness radiated from his pink-cheeked face and recovered eyes that David regretted in no wise his own lapses into conventional, stereotyped religion. The Church of Britain might be stiff and stomachered, as the offspring of Elizabeth, but it was stately, it was respectable—as outwardly was the great virgin Queen—and it was easy to live with. Only he counselled his father to do two things: never to preach for more than half-an-hour—even if it meant keeping a small American clock going inside the pulpit-ledge; and to obtain a curate, so that the new enthusiasm might not cool and his father verging on seventy, might not overstrain himself. He pointed out that by letting off most of the glebe land and pretermitting David's "pocket-money" he might secure a young and energetic Welsh-speaking curate, the remainder of whose living-wage would—he felt sure—be found out of the diocesan funds of St. David's bishopric.
The Revd. Howel let him have his way (This was after David had returned to Fig Tree Court) and by the following June a stalwart young curate was lodged in the village and took over the bulk of the progressive church work from the fumbling hands of the dear old Vicar. He was a thoroughly good sort, this curate, troubled by no possible doubts whatever, a fervent tee-totaller, a half-back or whole back—I forget which—at football, a good boxer, and an unwearied organizer. Little Bethel was sold and eventually turned into a seed-merchant's repository and drying-room. The curate in course of time married the squire's daughter and I dare say long afterwards succeeded the Revd. Howel Vaughan Williams when the latter died—but that date is still far ahead of my story. At any rate—isn't it droll how these things come about?—David's action in this matter, undertaken he hardly knew why—did much to fetter Mr. Lloyd George's subsequent attempts to disestablish the British Church in Wales.
What did Bridget think of all this, of the spiritual evolution of her nursling, of his identity with the vicious, shifty, idle youth whose uncanny gift of design seemed to have been completely lost after his stay in South Africa? David Vavasour Williams had left home to the relief of his father and the whole village, if even to the half-pitying regret of his old nurse, in 1896. He had spent a year or more in Mr. Praed's studio studying to be an architect or a scene painter. Then somehow or other he did not get on with Mr. Praed and he enlisted impulsively in a South African Police force (in the Army, it seemed to Bridget). He had somehow become involved in a war with a South African people, called by Bridget "the Wild Boars"; he is wounded or ill in hospital; is little heard of, almost presumed dead. Throughout all these five years he scarcely ever writes to his forgiving father; maintains latterly a sulky silence. Then, suddenly in the summer of 1901, returns; preceded only by a telegram but apparently vouched for by this Mr. Praed; and announces himself as having forgotten his Welsh and most of the events of his youth, but having acquired a changed heart, and an anxiety to make up for past ill-behaviour by a present good conduct which seems almost miraculous.
Well: miracles were easily believed in by Bridget. Perhaps his father's prayers had been answered. Providence sometimes meted out an overwhelming boon to really good people. David was certainly a Vavasour, if there was nothing Williamsy about his looks.... His mother, in Mrs. Bridget Evanwy's private opinion, had been a hussy.... Was David his father's son? Hadn't she once caught Mrs. Howel Williams kissing a young stranger behind a holly bush and wasn't that why Bridget had really been sent away? She had returned to take charge of the pretty, motherless little boy when she herself was a widow disappointed of children, and the child was only three. Would she ever turn against her nursling now, above all, when he was showing himself such a son to his old father? Not she. He might be who and what he would. He was giving another ten years of renewed life to the dear old Druid and the continuance of a comfortable home to his old Nannie.
They talked a great deal up at Little Bethel of a "change of heart." Perhaps such things really took place, though Bridget Evanwy from a shrewd appraisement of the Welsh nature doubted it. She would like to, but couldn't quite believe that an angel from heaven had taken possession of David's body and come here to play a divine part; because David sometimes talked so strangely—seemed not only to doubt the existence of a heavenly host, but even of Something beyond, so awful in Bridget's mind that she hardly liked to define it in words, though in her own Welsh tongue it was so earthily styled "the Big Man."
However, at all costs, she would stand by David ... and without quite knowing why, she decided that on all future visits she herself would "do out" his room, would attend to him exclusively. The "girl" was a chatterer, albeit she looked upon Mr. David with eyes of awe and a most respectful admiration, while David on his part scarcely bestowed on her a glance.
DAVID IS CALLED TO THE BAR
1902 was the year of King Edward's break-down in health but of his ultimate Coronation; it was the year in which Mr. Arthur Balfour became premier; it was the year in which motors became really well-known, familiar objects in the London streets, and hansoms (I think) had to adopt taximeter clocks on the eve of their displacement by taxi-cabs. It was likewise the year in which the South African War was finally wound up and the star of Joseph Chamberlain paled to its setting, and Mrs. Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel founded the Women's Social and Political Union at Manchester.
In 1903, the Fiscal controversy absorbed much of public attention, the War Office was once more reformed, women's skirts still swept the pavement and encumbered the ball-room, a Peeress wrote to the Times to complain of Modern Manners, Surrey beat Something-or-other at the Oval, and modern Cricket was voted dull.
In 1904, the Russo-Japanese War was concluded, and Fraser and Warren received a year's notice from the Midland Insurance Co. that they must vacate their premises on the fifth floor of Nos. 88-90 Chancery Lane. The business of F. and W. had grown so considerable that, as the affairs of the Midland Insurance Co. had slackened, it became intolerable to hear the lift going up and down to the fifth floor all through the day. The housekeeper also thought it odd that a well-dressed young gentleman should steal in and up, day after day, after office hours to work apparently alone in Fraser and Warren's partners' room. Fraser and Warren over the hand of its junior partner, Mrs. Claridge, accepted the notice. Their business had quite overgrown these inconveniently situated offices and a move to the West End was projected. Mrs. Claridge's scheme for week-end cottages had been enormously successful and had put much money not only into the coffers of Fraser and Warren but into the banking account of that clever architect, Francis Brimley Storrington.
[I find I made an absurd mistake earlier in this book in charging the too amorous architect with a home at "Storrington." His home really was in a midland garden city which he had designed, but his name—a not uncommon one—was Storrington.]
In the autumn of 1902, poor Lady Fraser died. In January, 1903, Honoria married the impatient Colonel Armstrong. In January, 1904, she had her first baby—a boy.
At the close of 1904 Beryl Claridge made proposals to Honoria Fraser relative to a change in the constitution of Fraser and Warren. Honoria was to have an interest still as a sleeping partner in the concern and some voice in its management and policy. But she was to take no active share of the office work and "Warren" was to pass out of it altogether. Beryl pointed out it was rather a farce when the middle partner—she herself had been made the junior partner a year before—was perpetually and mysteriously absent, year after year, engaged seemingly on work of her own abroad. Her architect semi-husband moreover, who if not in the firm was doing an increasing share of its business, wanted to know more about Vivien Warren. "Was she or was she not the daughter of the 'notorious' Mrs. Warren; because if so..." He took of course a highly virtuous line. Like so many other people he compounded for the sins he was inclined to by being severe towards the misdoings of others. His case—he would say to Beryl when they were together at Chelsea—was sui generis, quite exceptional, they were really in a way perfectly good people—Tout savoir c'est tout pardonner, etc.; whereas the things that were said about Mrs. Warren!... And though Vivien was nothing nearer sin than being her daughter, still if it were known or known more widely that she was the Warren in Fraser and Warren, why the wives of the wealthier clergy, for example, and a number of Quakeresses would withdraw their affairs from the firm's management. Whereas if only his little Berry could become the boss, he knew where to get "big money" to put behind the Firm's dealings. The idea was all right; an association for the special management on thoroughly honest lines of women's affairs. They'd better get rid of that hulking young clerk, Bertie Adams, and staff the entire concern with capable women. He himself would always remain in the background, giving them ideas from time to time, and if any were taken up merely being paid his fees and commissions.
David Vavasour Williams, privately consulted by Norie, put forward no objection. He disliked Beryl and was increasingly shy of his rather clandestine work on the fifth floor of the Midland Insurance Chambers; besides, if and when he were called to the Bar, he would have to cease all connection with Fraser and Warren. The consent of Vivie was obtained through the Power of Attorney she had left behind. A new deed of partnership was drawn up. Honoria insisted that Vivien Warren must be bought out for Three Thousand pounds, which amount was put temporarily to the banking account of David Vavasour Williams; she herself received another Three Thousand and a small percentage of the future profits and a share in the direction of affairs of THE WOMEN'S CO-OPERATIVE ASSOCIATION (Fraser and Claridge) so long as she left a capital of Five Thousand pounds at their disposal.
So in 1905 David with Three Thousand pounds purchased an annuity of L210 a year for Vivien Warren. That investment would save Vivie from becoming at any time penniless and dependent, and consequently would subserve the same purpose for her cousin and agent, David V. Williams.
Going to the C. and C. Bank, Temple Bar branch, to take stock of Vivie's affairs, he found a Thousand pounds had been paid in to her current account. Ascertaining the name of the payee to be L.M. Praed, he hurried off at the first opportunity to Praed's studio. Praed was entertaining a large party of young men and women to tea and the exhibition of some wild futurist drawings and a few rather striking designs for stage scenery and book covers. David had perforce to keep his questions bottled up and take part in the rather vapid conversation that was going on between young men with glabre faces and high-pitched voices and women with rather wild eyes.
[It struck David about this time that women were getting a little out of hand, strained, over-inclined to laugh mirthless laughter, greedy for sensuality, sensation, sincerity, sweetmeats. Something. Even if they satisfied some fleeting passion or jealousy by marrying, they soon wanted to be de-married, separated, divorced, to don male costume, to go on the amateur stage and act Salome parts on Sunday afternoons that most ladies of the real Stage had refused; while the men that went about with them in these troops from restaurant to restaurant, studio to studio, music hall to cafe chantant, Brighton to Monte Carlo, Sandown to Goodwood, were shifty, too well-dressed, too near neutrality in sex, without defined professions, known by nicknames only, spend-thrifts, spongers, bankrupts, and collectors of needless bric-a-brac.]
However this mob at last quitted Praddy's premises and he and David were left alone.
Praed yawned, and almost intentionally knocked over an easel with a semi-obscene drawing on it of a Sphynx with swelling breasts embracing a lean young man against his will.
David: "Praddy! why do you tolerate such people and why prostitute your studio to such unwholesome art?"
Praed: "My dear David! This is indeed Satan rebuking sin. Why there are three designs here—one I've just knocked over—beastly, wasn't it?—that you left with me when you went off at a tangent to South Africa.... Really, we ought to have some continuity you know....
"But I agree with you.... I'm sick of the whole business of this Nouvel Art and L'Art Nouveau, about Aubrey Beardsley and the disgusting 'nineties generally—But what will you? If Miss Vivie Warren had condescended to accept me as a husband she might have brought a wholesome atmosphere into my life and swept away all this ... inspired me perhaps with some final ambition for the little that remains of my stock of energy.... Heigh-ho! Well: what is the quarrel now? The life I lead, the people who come here?"
David: "No. I hardly came about that; though dear old Praddy, I wish I had time to look after you ... Perhaps later.... No: what I came to ask was: what did you mean the other day by paying in a Thousand Pounds to Vivie Warren's account at her bank? She's not in want of money so far as I know, and you can't be so very rich, even though you design three millionaire's houses a year. Who gave you the money to pay in to my—to Vivie's account?"
Praed: "Well, when Vivie herself comes to ask me, p'raps I'll tell; but I can't see how it concerns you. Why not stop and dine—a l'imprevu, but I dare say my housekeeper can rake something together or it may not be too late to send out for a pate. We can then talk of other things. When are you going to get your call?"
David: "Sorry, dear old chap, but I can't stay to dinner. I'm not going anywhere else but I've got some papers I must study before I go to bed. But I'll stop another half-hour at any rate. Don't ring for lights or turn up the electric lamps. I would sooner sit in the dark studio and put my question. Who has given me that thousand pounds?"
Praed: "That's my business: I haven't! I shan't give or lend Vivie a penny till she consents to marry me. As to the rest, take it and be thankful. You're not certain to get any more and I happen to know it had what you would call a 'clean origin.'"
David: "You mean it didn't come from those 'Hotels'?"
Praed: "Well, at any rate not directly. Don't be a romantic ass, a tiresome fool, and give me any trouble about it. A certain person I imagine must have heard that Fraser and Warren had been wound up and couldn't bear the thought of your being hard up in consequence ... doesn't know you got a share of the purchase-money..."
* * * * *
David decided at any rate for the present to accept the addition to his capital—you can perhaps push principle too far; or, once you plunge into affairs, you cease to be quite so high-souled. At any rate nothing in David's middle-class mind was so horrible as penury and the impotence that comes with it. How many months or years would lie ahead of him before fees could be gained and a professional income be earned? Besides he wanted to take Bertie Adams into his service as a Clerk. A barrister must have a clerk, and David in his peculiar circumstances could only engage one acquainted more or less with his secret.
So Bertie Adams fulfilled the ambition he had cherished for three years—he felt all along it was coming true. And when David was called to the Bar—which he was with all the stately ceremonial of a Call night at the Inner Temple in the Easter term of 1905, more elbow room was acquired at Fig Tree Court, and Bertie Adams was installed there as clerk to Mr. David Vavasour Williams, who had residential chambers on the third floor, and a fair-sized Office and small private room on the second floor. Bertie's mother had "washed" for both Honoria and Vivie in their respective dwellings for years, and for David after he came to live at Fig Tree Court. A substantial douceur to the "housekeeper" had facilitated this, for in the part of the Temple where lies Fig Tree Court the residents do not call their ministrants "laundresses," but "housekeepers." Curiously enough the accounts were always tendered to the absent Vivie Warren, but Mrs. Adams noted no discrepancy in their being paid by her son or in an unmarried lady living in the Temple under the name of David Williams.
Installed as clerk and advised by his employer to court one of the fair daughters of the housekeeper (Mrs. Laidly) with a view to marriage and settling down in premises hard-by, Bertie Adams (who like David had spent his time well between 1901 and 1905 and was now an accomplished and serviceable barrister's clerk) soon set to work to chum up with other clerks in this clerical hive and get for his master small briefs, small chances for defending undefended cases in which hapless women were concerned.
But before we deal with the career of David at the Bar, which of course did not properly commence—even as a brilliant junior—till the early months of 1906, let us glance at the way in which he had passed the intervening space of time between his return from Wales in May, 1902, and the spending of his Long Vacation of 1905 as an Esquire by the Common Law of England called to the Bar, and entitled to wear a becoming grey wig and gown.
He had begun in 1900 by studying Latin, Norman French—so greatly drawn on in law terms—and English History. In the summer of 1901, by one of those subterfuges winked at then, he had obtained two rooms, sublet to him by a member of the Inn, in Fig Tree Court, Inner Temple. In the autumn of that year, having made sure of his parentage and his finance, he had approached the necessary authorities with a view to his being admitted a member of the Inner Temple, which meant filling up a form of declaration that he, David Vavasour Williams, of Pontystrad, Glamorgan, a British subject, aged twenty-four, son of the Revd. Howel Vaughan Williams, Clerk in Holy Orders, of Pontystrad in the County of Glamorgan, was desirous of being admitted a Student of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple for the purpose of being called to the Bar or of practising under the Bar; and that he would not either directly or indirectly apply for or take out any certificate to practise directly or indirectly as a Pleader, Conveyancer or Draftsman in Equity without the special permission of the Masters of the Bench of the said Honourable Society of the Inner Temple.
Further, David declared with less assurance but perhaps within the four corners of the bare truth that he had not acted directly or indirectly in the capacity of a Solicitor, Attorney-at-law, Writer to the Signet or in about thirteen other specified legal positions; that he was not a Chartered, Incorporated or Professional Accountant ("A good job we changed the device of the Firm," he thought), a Land Agent, a Surveyor, Patent Agent, Consulting Engineer, or even as a clerk to any such officer. Which made him rather shivery about what he had been doing for Fraser and Warren, but there was little risk that any one would find out—And finally he declared that he was not in Trade or an undischarged bankrupt.
The next and most difficult step was to obtain two separate Certificates from two separate barristers each of five years' standing, to the effect that he was what he stated himself to be. This required much thinking out, and was one of the reasons why he did not go down as promised and spend his Christmas and New Year with his father.
Instead he wrote to Pontystrad explaining how important it was he should get admitted as a Student in time to commence work in Hilary term. Did his father know any such luminary of the law or any two such luminaries? His father regretted that he only knew of one such barrister of over five years' standing: the distinguished son of an old Cambridge chum. To him he wrote, venturing to recall himself, the more eagerly since this son of an old friend was himself a Welshman and already distinguished by his having entered Parliament, served with the Welsh Party, written a book on Welsh history, and married a lady of considerable wealth.
Next David applied to Rossiter with the result—as we have seen—that he got an introduction to Mr. Stansfield. So he obtained from Mr. Price and Mr. Stansfield the two certificates to the effect that "David Vavasour Williams has been introduced to me by letter of introduction from the Revd. Howel Williams" (or "Professor Michael Rossiter, F.R.S.") "and has been seen by me; and that I, Mark Stansfield, Barrister-at-law, King's Counsel" (or "John Price, Barrister-at-law, Member of Parliament") "believe the said David Vavasour Williams to be a gentleman of respectability and a proper person to be admitted a Student of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple with a view to being called to the Bar."
Copies of the letters of introduction accompanied the two certificates. These of course were not obtained without several visits to the unsuspicious guarantors; or at least one to Mr. Price in Paper Buildings, for whom it was enough that David claimed to be Welsh and showed a very keen interest in the Welsh tongue and its Indo-German affinities, and three or four to Mr. Mark Stansfield, K.C., one of the nicest, kindliest and most learned persons David had ever met, whom he grieved deeply at deceiving. Stansfield had a high opinion of Rossiter. The fact that he recommended David was quite sufficient to secure his "guarantee." But apart from that, he felt himself greatly drawn towards this rather shy, grave, nice-looking young fellow with the steady eyes and the keen intelligence. He had him to dine and to lunch; drew him out—as far as David thought it prudent to go—and was surprised David had never been to a University ("Only to Malvern—and then I studied with an architect in London—Who? Mr. Praed, A.R.A.—but then I travelled for a bit, and after that I felt more than ever I wanted to go in for the Bar"—said David, with a charming smile which lit up his young face ordinarily so staid). Stansfield consented that David should come and read with him, and in many ways facilitated his progress so materially and so kindly that more than once the compunctious young Welshman thought of discarding the impersonation; and might have done so had not this most estimable Stansfield died of pneumonia in the last year of David's studenthood.
Of course the preliminary examination was easily and quickly passed. David translated his bit of Caesar's commentaries, answered brilliantly the questions about Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Norman kings, the Constitutions of Clarendon, Magna Charta and Mortmain, Henry the Eighth and the Reformation, the Civil War and Protectorate of Cromwell, the Bill of Rights and the Holy Alliance. He paid his fees and his "caution" money; he ate the requisite six dinners—or more, as he found them excellent and convenient—in each term, attended all the lectures that interested him, and passed the subsidiary examinations on them with fair or even high credit; and finally got through his "Call-to-the-Bar" examination with tolerable success; at any rate he passed. A friend of the deceased Stansfield—whose death was always one of the scars in Vivie's memory—introduced him to one of the Masters of the Bench who signed his "call" papers. He once more made a declaration to the effect that he was not a person in Holy Orders, that he was not a Solicitor, Attorney-at-law, Writer to the Signet, etc., etc., a Chartered, Incorporated or Professional Accountant; and again that if called to the Bar, he would never become a member of the abhorred professions over and over again enumerated; and was duly warned that without special permission of the Masters of the Bench of the Inner Temple he might not practise "under the Bar"—whatever that may mean (I dare say it is some low-down procedure, only allowed in times of scarcity). Then after having his name "screened" for twelve days in all the Halls of the four Inns, and going in fear and trembling that some one might turn up and object, he finally received his call to the Bar on April 22 (if April 22 in that year was on a Sunday, then on the following Monday) and was "called" at the Term Dinner where he took wine with the Masters. He remembered seeing present at the great table on the dais, besides the usual red-faced generals and whiskered admirals, simpering statesmen, and his dearly loved friend, Michael Rossiter—representing Science,—a more sinister face. This was the well-known philanthropist and race-horse breeder, Sir George Crofts, Bart., M.P. for a Norfolk borough. Their eyes met, curiously interlocked for a moment. Sir George wondered to himself where the dooce he had seen that, type of face before, those grey eyes with the dark lashes. "Gad! he reminds me of Kitty Warren! Well, I'll be damned" (he was eventually) "I wonder whether the old gal had a son as well as that spitfire Vivie?!"
Michael whispered a word or two to one of the Masters, and David was presently summoned to attend the Benchers and their distinguished guests in the inner chamber to which they withdrew for wine and dessert. Rossiter made room for him, and he had to drink a glass of port with the Benchers. Every one was very gracious. Rossiter said: "I was a sort of godfather to him, don't you know. David! you must do me credit and make haste to take silk and become a Judge." Crofts moved from where he sat next to a Bishop. ("Damn it all! I like bein' respectable, but why will they always put me next a Bishop or an Archdeacon? It spoils all my best stories.") He came over—dragging his chair—to Rossiter and said "I say! Will you introduce me to our young friend here?" He was duly introduced. "H'm, Williams? That doesn't tell me much. But somehow your face reminds me awfully of—of—some one I used to know. J'ever have a sister?" "No," said David.
Crofts, he noticed, had aged very much in the intervening eight years. He must now be no more than—58? But he had become very stout and obviously suffered from blood pressure without knowing it. He moved away a little, and David heard him talking to a Master about Lady Crofts, who had come up to London for the season and how they were both very anxious about his boy—"Yes, he had two children, a boy and a girl, bless 'em—The boy had been ill with measles and wasn't makin' quite the quick recovery they expected. What an anxiety children were, weren't they? Though we wouldn't be without 'em, would we?" The Bencher assented out of civility, though as a matter of fact he was an old bachelor and detested children or anything younger than twenty-one.
David after his call was presented with a bill to pay of L99. 10s. His father hearing of this, insisted on sending him a cheque for L150 out of his savings, adding he should be deeply hurt if it was not accepted and no more said about it. How soon was David coming down to see South Wales once more gloriously clothed with spring?
[Much of this review of the years between 1901 and 1905, many of these sweet remembrances are being taken from Vivie's brain as she lies on a hard bed in 1913, musing over the past days when, despite occasional frights and anxieties, she was transcendently happy. Oh "Sorrow's Crown of Sorrow, the remembering happier days!" She recalled the articles she used to write from the Common Room or Library of the Inn; how well they were received and paid for by the editors of daily and weekly journals; what a lark they were, when for instance she would raise a debate in the Saturday Review: "Should Women be admitted to the Bar?" Or an appeal in the Daily News to do away with the Disabilities of Women. How poor Stansfield, before he died, said he had never met any young fellow with a tenderer heart for women, and advised him to marry whilst he still had youth and fire. She remembered David's social success at the great houses in the West End. How he might have gone out into Society and shone more, much more, only he had to consider prudence and expense; the curious women who fell in love with him, and whom he had gently, tactfully to keep at arm's length. She remembered the eager discussions in the Temple Debating Society, or at the "Moots" of Gray's Inn, her successes there as an orator and a close reasoner; how boy students formed ardent friendships for her and prophesied her future success in Parliament, would have her promise to take them into the Cabinet which David was to form when an electorate swept him into power and sent the antiquated old rotters of that day into the limbo of deserved occlusion.
She saw and heard once more the amused delight of Honoria Armstrong over her success, and the latent jealousy of the uxorious Colonel Armstrong if she came too often to see Honoria in Sloane Street: And she remembered—Oh God! How she remembered—the close association in those three priceless years with her "godfather" Michael Rossiter; Rossiter who shaped her mind—it would never take a different turn—who was patient with her stupidity and petulance; an elder brother, a robust yet tactful chaffer; a banisher of too much sensibility, a constant encouragement to effort and success. Rossiter, she knew, with her woman's instinct, was innocently in love with her, but believed all the time he was satisfying his craving for a son to train, a disciple who might succeed him: for he still believed that David when he had been called to the Bar and had flirted awhile with Themis, would yet turn his great and growing abilities to the service of Science.
And Mrs. Rossiter in those times: Vivie smiled at the thought of her undefined jealousy. She was anxious to be civil to a young man of whom Michael thought so highly. She sympathized with his regret that they had no children, but why could he not take up with one of her cousin Bennet's boys from Manchester, or Sophy's son from Northallerton, or one of his own brother's or sister's children? How on earth did he become acquainted with this young man from South Wales? But she was determined not to be separated in any way from her husband, and so she sat with them as often and as long as she could in the library. The studio-laboratory she could not stand with its horrid smell of chemicals; she also dreaded vaguely that vivisection went on there—Michael of course had a license, though he was far too tender-hearted to torture sentient creatures. Still he did odd things with frogs and rats and goats and monkeys; and her dread was that she might one day burst in on one of these sacrifices to science and see a transformed Michael, blood-stained, wielding a knife and dangerous if interrupted in his pursuit of a discovery.
But as the long talks and conferences of the two friends—really not so far separated in age as one of them thought—generally took place in the library, she assisted at a large proportion of them. Rossiter would not have had it otherwise, though to David she was at times excessively irksome. Her husband had long viewed her as a lay figure on these occasions. He rarely replied to her flat remarks, her inconsequent platitudes, her yawns and quite transparent signals that it was time for the visitor to go. Sometimes David took her hints and left: he had no business to make himself a bore to any one. Sometimes however Michael at last roused to consciousness of the fretful little presence would say "What? Sweety? You still up. Trot off to bed, my poppet, or you'll lose the roses in your cheeks."
The roses in Mrs. Rossiter's cheeks at that time were beginning to be a trifle eczematous and of a fixed quality. Nevertheless, though she tossed her head a little as she took up her "work" and swished out of the great heavy door—which David opened—she was pleased to think that Michael cared for her complexion and was solicitous about her rest.
And Vivie's eyes swam a little as she thought about the death of Mark Stansfield, and the genuine tears that flowed down the cheeks of his pupils when they learnt one raw February morning from the housekeeper of his chambers that he had died at daybreak. "A better man never lived" they agreed. And they were right.
And she smiled again as she thought of some amongst those pupils, the young dogs of those days, the lovers of actresses of the minor order—ballet girls, it might have been; of the larks that went on sometimes within and without the staid precincts of the Temple. Harmless larks they were; but such as she had to withdraw from discreetly. She played lawn tennis with them, she fenced surprisingly well; but she had refused to join the "Devil's Own"—the Inns of Court Volunteers, for prudent reasons; and though it had leaked out that she was a good swimmer—that tiresome impulsive Honoria had spread it abroad—she resolutely declined to give proofs of her prowess in swimming baths. Her associates were not so young as the undergraduates she had met in Newnham days: they were an average ten years older. Their language at times made David blush, but they had more discretion and reserve than the University student, and they respected his desire to withdraw himself into himself occasionally, and to abstain from their noisier amusements without questioning his camaraderie.
At this point in her smiling reminiscences, the wardress clanged open the door and slammed down a mug of cocoa and a slab of brown bread; and rapped out some orders in such a martinet utterance that they were difficult to understand. (Don't be alarmed! She isn't about to be executed for having deceived the Benchers of the Inner Temple in 1905; she is only in prison for a suffragist offence).]
I can't wind up this chapter somehow without more or less finishing the story of Beryl Claridge. She has been a source of anxiety to my wife—who has read these chapters one by one as they left my typewriter. "Was it wise to bring her in?" "Well, but my dear, she was rather a common type of the New Woman in the early nineteen hundreds." "Yes—but—"
Of course the latent anxiety was that she might end up respectably. And so she did. In 1906, the first Mrs. Storrington died at Ware (Ware was where the architect husband had his legitimate home). She had long been ill, increasingly ill of some terrible form of anaemia which had followed the birth of her fourth child. She slowly faded away, poor thing; and about the time David was returning from a triumphant Christmas and New Year at Pontystrad—the Curate and his young wife had made a most delightful partie carree and David had kissed the very slightly protesting Bridget under the native mistletoe—Mrs. Storrington breathed her last, while her faithless yet long forgiven Francis knelt by her bedside in agonies of unavailing grief.
Well: she died and was buried, and her four children, ranging from nine to sixteen, sobbed very much and mourned for darling Mummie without the slightest suspicion ("'twas better so," she had always thought) that Dad had poisoned her wells of happiness ever since he took up with that minx at Cambridge in the very year in which long-legged Claribel was born. A few months after the poor lady was consigned (under a really lovely cenotaph designed by her husband) to Ware Churchyard—no, it was to Ware cemetery; Dad introduced them all to a very sprightly and good-looking widow, Mrs. Claridge, who had also been bereaved years ago and left with two perfect ducks of children, four and five years old, to whom Claribel took instinctively (the elder ones sniffed a little, disliking "kids").
Then about Christmas time, 1906, Dad told them that Mrs. Claridge was going to make him happy by coming to tend his motherless children; was going to be his wife. Francis, the eldest, stomped about the garden at Ware and swore he would go back to Rugby during the holidays; Elspeth, the gaunt girl of fourteen and Agnes, a dreamy and endearing child, cried themselves to sleep in each other's arms. Claribel, however, quite approved. And whether they liked it or not, in January, 1907, the marriage took place—at the Registrar's—and Beryl came to live for a short time at Ware, bringing ducksome Margery and adorable Podge. In less than a month Beryl had won over all her step-children, except Francis, who held out till Easter, but was reduced to allegiance by the hampers she sent to him at Rugby—; in three months they had all moved to a much sweller house on the Chelsea Embankment. Father—Beryl voted "Dad" a little lower-middle class—Father had somehow become connected with some great business establishment of which Mother was the head. Together they were making pots of money. Francis would go to Sandhurst, Elspeth to a finishing school in Paris (her ambition), and the others would spend the fine months of the year rollicking with Margery and Podge on the Sussex coast.
In 1907, also, they became aware that their new mother was not alone in the world. A stately lady whose eyes seemed once to have done a deal of weeping (they were destined alas! to do much more, for three of her gallant, handsome sons were killed in the War, and that finally killed the poor old Dean of Thetford), who wore a graceful Spanish mantilla of black lace when in draughty places, came to see them after they had moved to Garden Corner on the Chelsea Embankment. She turned out to be the mother of Mrs. Beryl and was quite inclined to be their grandmother as well as Margery's and Podge's. But her husband the Dean was—it appeared—too great an invalid to come up to town.
The second Mrs. Storrington, who was a woman of boundless energy, could work all day with secretaries, and could dance all night, gave brilliant parties in the season at her large Chelsea house. But she never invited to them Mr. David Vavasour Williams, that rising young barrister who had become so famous as a pleader of the causes of friendless women.
THE SHILLITO CASE
In the autumn of 1905, increase among women of the idea of full citizenship made rapid strides. There was a feeling in the air that Balfour must soon resign or go to the country, that a Liberal Ministry would succeed to power, and that being Liberal it could scarcely, in reason or with any logic, refuse to enlarge the franchise to the advantage of the female half of the community. These idealizers of the Liberal Party, which had really definitely ceased to be Liberal in 1894, had a rude awakening. Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst dared to act as if they were men, and asked Sir Edward Grey at his Manchester meeting in October, 1905, if a Liberal Administration would give Votes to Women, should it be placed in power at the next Election. Answer they had none, from the platform; but the male audience rose in their hundreds, struck these audacious hussies in the face, scratched and slapped them (this was the role of the boys), and hustled them out into the street, bleeding and dishevelled. Here for attempting to explain the causes of their expulsion they were arrested by the police, and the following morning were sent to prison, having declined to pay the fines illegally imposed on them.
This incident made a great impression on the newspaper-reading public, because at that time the Press boycott on the Woman Suffrage movement had not set in. It gave David much to think about, and he found Honoria Fraser and several of his men and women friends had joined the Woman Suffrage movement and were determined that the new Liberal Government should not shirk the issue; an issue on which many members of Parliament had been returned as acquiescent in the principle. On that account they had received the whole-hearted support of many, women owing allegiance to the Liberal Party.
At first of course the new Government was too busy in allotting the loaves and fishes of Office and in handing out the peerages, baronetcies, knighthoods, Governorships, private secretaryships, and promotions among the civil servants which had—not to put too fine a point on it—been purchased by large and small contributions to the Party Chest.
[Such a procedure seems to be inseparable from our present Party system. In this respect the Conservatives are no better than the Liberals; and it is always possible that in a different way the Labour Party when It comes into power will be similarly inclined to reward those who have furnished the sinews of war. The House of Commons in the last Act which revised the conditions of elections of members of Parliament was careful to leave open many avenues along which Money might attain to the heart of things.]
But at length all such matters were settled, and the Cabinet was free to face the steady demand of the women leaders of the Suffrage movement; a demand that at any rate some measure of enfranchisement should be granted to the women of the British Isles without delay.
We all know how this demand was received by the leading men of the Liberal Party and by the more prominent Liberals among their supporters in the House; with evasions, silences, sneers, angry refusals, hasty promises given to-day (when Ministers were frightened) and broken to-morrow; with a whole series of discreditable tongue-in-the-cheek tricks of Parliamentary procedure; till at last the onlooker must have wondered at and felt grateful for our British phlegm; surprised that so little actual harm was done (except to the bodies of the Suffragists), that no Home Secretary or Police Inspector or magistrate, no flippant talker-out of would-be-serious Franchise Bills was assassinated, trounced, tarred and feathered, kidnapped, nose-tweaked, or even mud-bespattered. (I am reproducing here the growing comprehension of the problem as it shaped in Vivie's mind, under the hat and waistcoat of David Williams.)
Honoria, faithful to her old resolve, continued to devote the greater part of the Two Thousand a year she had set aside for the Woman's Cause to financing the new Suffrage movement; and incidentally she brought grist to David's mill by recommending him as Counsel to many women in distress, arrested Suffragists. In 1906, 1907 and 1908 he made himself increasingly famous by his pleadings in court on behalf of women who with dauntless courage and at the cost of much bodily pain and even at the risk of death had forcibly called attention to this grave defect in the British polity, the withholding of the ordinary rights of tax-paying citizens from adult women.
Where the Suffragist was poor he asked no fee, or a small fee was paid by some Suffragist Association. But he gained much renown over his advocacy; he became quite a well-known personality outside as well as inside the Law Courts and Police-stations by 1908. His pleadings were sometimes so moving, so passionate that—teste Mrs. Pankhurst—"burly policemen in court had tears trickling down their faces" as he described the courage, the flawless private lives, the selfless devotion to a noble cause of these women agitating for the rights of their sex—rich and poor, old and young. Juries flinched from the verdict which some bitter-faced judge enjoined; magistrates swerved from executing the secret orders of the Home Office; policemen—again—for they are most of them decent fellows—resigned their positions in the Force, sooner than carry out the draconian policy of the Home Secretary.
But of course concurrently he lost many a friend and friendship in the Inns of Court. There were even growls that he should be disbarred—after this espousal of the Suffrage cause had been made manifest for three years. He might have been, but that he had other compeers, below and above his abilities and position; advocates like Lord Robert Brinsley, the famous son of the Marquis of Wiltshire. If Williams was to be disbarred, why they would have to take the same course with a Brinsley who also defended women law-breakers, fighting for their constitutional rights. And of course such a procedure as that was unthinkable. Yet where a Brinsley sailed unhampered, undangered over these troubled waters, poor David often came near to crashing on the rocks. "To hear the fellow talk," said one angry K.C. in the Library at the Inner Temple, "you'd think he was a woman himself!" "Egad" said his brother K.C.—yes, he really did say "Egad," the oath still lingers in the Inns of Court—"Egad, he looks like one. No hair on his face and I'll lay he doesn't shave."
There were of course other briefs he held, for payment or for love of justice; young women who had killed their babies (as to these he was far from sentimental; he only defended where the woman had any claim to sympathy or mitigation of the unreal death sentence); breach of promise actions where the woman had been grossly wronged; affiliation cases in high life—or the nearest to high life that makes a claim on the man for his fatherhood. He was a deadly prosecutor in cases where women had been robbed by their male trustees, or injured in any other way wherein, in those days, the woman was at a disadvantage and the marriage laws were unjust.
One way and another, with the zealous aid and business-like care of his interests by his clerk, Albert Adams, David must have earned between 1906 and the autumn of 1908, an average Three hundred a year. As he paid Adams L150 a year and allowed him certain perquisites, and lived within his own fixed income (from his annuity and investments) of L290 a year, this meant a profit of about L500. This was raised at a leap to L1,500 by the fees and the special gift he received for defending Lady Shillito.
The "Shillito Case," an indictment for murder, was tried at the winter assize of the North-eastern Circuit, January or February, 1909. I dare say you have forgotten all about it now: Lady Shillito changed her name, married again (eventually), and was lost in the crowd—she may even, eleven years afterwards, be reading this novel at the riper age of forty and be startled out of her well-fed apathy by the revival of acute memories.
There have been not a few similar cases before and since of comparatively young, beautiful women murdering their elderly, objectionable husbands in a clever cattish way, and of course getting off through lack of evidence or with a short term of imprisonment. (They were always treated in prison far more tenderly than were Suffragettes, and the average wardress adored them and obtained for them many little alleviations of their lot before the Home Secretary gave way and released them.) Nowadays the War and the pressing necessities of life, the coal famine, the milk famine, the railway strikes have robbed such cases of all or nearly all their interest. I could quite believe that women in similar circumstances continue to murder their elderly husbands, and the doctors and coroners and relations on "his" side tacitly agree not to raise a fuss in the presence of much graver subjects of apprehension.
I can also understand why these beautiful-women-elderly-husband cases scarcely starred our Island story prior to the 'fifties of the last century. It was only when chemical analysis had approached its present standard of perfection that the presence of the more subtle poisons could be detected in the stomach and intestines, and that the young and beautiful wife could be charged with and found guilty of the deed by the damning evidence of an analytical chemist.
It was Rossiter who secured for David the conduct of Lady Shillito's defence. Arbella Shillito was his second cousin, a Rossiter by birth, and would fain have married Michael herself, only that he was not at that time thinking of marriage, and when his thoughts turned that way—the very day after, as it were—he met Linda Bennet and her thousands a year. But he retained a half humorous liking for this handsome young woman.
[Footnote 1: An old Northumbrian variant of Arabella.]
Arbella, disappointed over Michael—though she was a mere slip of a girl at the time—next decided that she must marry money. When she was twenty-one she met Grimthorpe Shillito, an immensely rich man of Newcastle-on-Tyne, whose foundries poured out big guns and many other things made of iron and steel combined with acids and brains. Grimthorpe was a curious-looking person, even at forty; in appearance a mixture of Julius Caesar, several unpleasant-featured Doges of Venice, and Voltaire in middle age. His looks were not entirely his fault and doubtless acquired for him, in his moral character, a worse definition than he deserved. He had travelled much in his pursuit of metallurgy and chemistry; at forty he saw rising before him the prospect of a peerage, due either for his extraordinary discoveries and inventions in our use of steel, or easily purchasable out of his immense wealth. What is the good of a peerage if it ends with your life? He was not without his vanities, though one of the most cynical men of his cynical period.
He arrived therefore at the decision that he would marry some young and buxom creature of decent birth and fit in appearance to be a peeress, and decided on Arbella Rossiter.
After a gulp or two and several moues behind his back, she accepted him. A brilliant marriage ceremony followed, conducted by a Bishop and an Archdeacon. And then Arbella was carried off to live in a Bluebeard's Castle he possessed on the Northumbrian coast.
In the three years following her marriage she gave him two boys, with which he was content, especially as his own health began to fail a little just then. At the end of four years of marriage with this cynical, Italianate tyrant, Arbella got very sick of him and thought more and more tenderly of a certain subaltern in the Cavalry whom she had once declined to marry on L500 a year. This subaltern had returned from the South African war, a Colonel and still extremely good-looking. They had met again at a garden party and fallen once more deeply in love. If only her tiresome old Borgia would die—was the thought that came too often into the mind of Arbella, now entering the "thirties" of life, and with the least possible misgiving of her Colonel's constancy if she became presently "un peu trop mure."
She noticed at this time that Grimthorpe Shillito went on several occasions to London to consult a specialist. He complained of indigestion, was rather thin, and balder than ever, and difficult to please in his food and appetite.
This was her opportunity. She would have said, had she been convicted, that he had driven her to it by his cruelties: that's as may be.—She consulted the family doctor who attended to the household of Bluebeard's Castle; suggested that Sir Grimthorpe (they had just knighted him) might be the better for a strychnine tonic; she had read somewhere that strychnine did wonders for middle-aged men who had led rather a rackety life in their early manhood.