'And yet,' Uta answered firmly, 'I still prefer Mr. Oswald. And if you care for my opinion, I should say that the aristocrat does all the dreaming, but the bourgeois does all the fighting; and that's the most important thing practically, after all.'
An hour later, Ernest was talking his future plans over with his brother Ronald. Would it be best for Ronald that he should take a mastership, and both should live together, or that he should go for the present to the Exmoors', and leave the question of Ronald's home arrangements still unsettled?
'It's so good of you to think of me in the matter, Ernest,' Ronald said, pressing his hand gently; 'but I don't think I ought to go away from mother before I'm twenty-one. To tell you the truth, Ernest, I hardly flatter myself she'd be really sorry to get rid of me; I'm afraid I'm a dreadful thorn in her side at present; she doesn't understand my ways, and perhaps I don't sympathise enough with hers; but still, if I were to propose to go, I feel sure she'd be very much annoyed, and treat it as a serious act of insubordination on my part. While I'm a minor, at least, I ought to remain with her; the Apostle tells us to obey our parents, in the Lord; and as long as she requires nothing from me that doesn't involve a dereliction of principle I think I must bear with it, though I acknowledge it's a cross, a heavy cross. Thank you so much for thinking of it, dearest Ernest.' And his eyes filled once more with tears as he spoke.
So it was finally arranged that for the present at least Ernest should accept Lady Exmoor's offer, and that as soon as Ronald was twenty-one he should look about for a suitable mastership, in order for the two brothers to go immediately into rooms together. Lady Le Breton was surprised at the decision; but as it was in her favour, she wisely abstained from gratifying her natural desire to make some more uncomplimentary references to the snuffy old German socialist. Sufficient unto the day was the triumph thereof; and she had no doubt in her own mind that if once Ernest could be induced to live for a while in really good society the well-known charms and graces of that society must finally tame his rugged breast, and wean him away from his unaccountable devotion to those horrid continental communists.
IN THE CAMP OF THE PHILISTINES.
Dunbude Castle, Lord Exmoor's family seat, stands on the last spurs of the great North Devon uplands, overlooking the steep glen of a little boulder-encumbered stream, and commanding a distant view of the Severn Sea and the dim outlines of the blue Welsh hills beyond it. Behind the house, a castle only by courtesy (on the same principle as that by which every bishop lives in a palace), rises the jagged summit of the Cleave, a great weather-worn granite hill, sculptured on top by wind and rain into those fantastic lichen-covered pillars and tora and logans in which antiquarian fancy used so long to find the visible monuments of Druidical worship. All around, a wide brown waste of heather undulates and tosses wildly to the sky; and on the summit of the rolling moor where it rises and swells in one of its many rounded bosses, the antlered heads and shoulders of the red deer may often be seen etched in bold relief against the clear sky-line to the west, on sunny autumn evenings. But the castle itself and the surrounding grounds are not planned to harmonise with the rough moorland English scenery into whose midst they were unceremoniously pitchforked by the second earl. That distinguished man of taste, a light of the artistic world in his own day, had brought back from his Grand Tour his own ideal of a strictly classical domestic building, formed by impartially compounding a Palladian palace, a Doric temple, and a square redbrick English manor-house. After pulling down the original fourteenth-century castle, he had induced an eminent architect of the time to conspire with him in giving solid and permanent reality to this his awful imagining; and when he had completed it all, from portico to attic, he had extorted even the critical praise of Horace Walpole, who described it in one of his letters as a 'singular triumph of classical taste and architectural ingenuity.' It still remains unrivalled in its kind, the ugliest great country-seat in the county of Devon—some respectable authorities even say in the whole of England.
In front of the house an Italian garden, with balustrades of very doubtful marble, leads down by successive terraces and broad flights of steps to an artificial octagonal pool, formed by carefully destroying the whole natural beauty of the wild and rocky little English glen beneath. To feed it by fitting a conduit, the moss-grown boulders that strew the bed of the torrent above and below have been carefully removed, and the unwilling stream, as it runs into the pool, has been coerced into a long straight channel, bordered on either side by bedded turf, and planed off at measured intervals so as to produce a series of eminently regular and classical cascades. Even Lord Exmoor himself, who was a hunting man, without any pretence to that stupid rubbish about taste, did not care for the hopeless exterior of Dunbude Castle: he frankly admitted that the place was altogether too doosid artificial for the line of country. If they'd only left it alone, he said, in its own native condition, it would have been really pretty; but as they'd doctored it and spoilt it, why, there was nothing on earth to be done but just put up with it and whistle over it. What with the hounds, and the mortgages, and the settlements, and the red deer, and Goodwood, the estate couldn't possibly afford any money for making alterations down in the gardens.
The dog-cart was in waiting at the station to carry Ernest up to the castle; and as he reached the front door, Lady Hilda Tregellis strolled up the broad flight of steps from the garden to meet him. Lady Hilda was tall and decidedly handsome, as Ernest had rightly told Edie, but not pretty, and she was also just twenty. There was a free, careless, bold look in her face, that showed her at once a girl of spirit; indeed, if she had not been born a Tregellis, it was quite clear that she would have been predestined to turn out a strong-minded woman. There was nothing particularly delicate in Lady Hilda's features; they were well-modelled, but neither regular nor cold, nor with that peculiar stamp of artificial breeding which is so often found in the faces of English ladies. On the contrary, she looked like a perfectly self-confident handsome actress, too self-confident to be self-conscious, and accustomed to admiration wherever she turned. As Ernest jumped down from the dog-cart she advanced quickly to shake hands with him, and look him over critically from head to foot like a schoolboy taking stock of a new fellow.
'I'm so glad you've come, Mr. Le Breton,' she said, with an open smile upon her frank face. 'I was dreadfully afraid you wouldn't care for our proposition. Dunbude's the dullest hole in England, and we want somebody here to brighten it up, sadly. Did you ever see such an ugly monstrosity before, anywhere?'
'The country about's lovely,' Ernest answered, 'but the house itself is certainly rather ugly.'
'Ugly! It's hideous. And it's as dull as it's big,' said Hilda vehemently. 'You can't think what a time we have of it here half the year! I'm always longing for the season to come. Papa fills the house here with hunting men and shooting men—people without two ideas in their heads, you know, just like himself; and even THEY go out all day, and leave us women from morning till night to the society of their wives and daughters, who are exactly like them. Mr. Walsh—that's Lynmouth's last tutor—he was a perfect stick, a Cambridge man; Cambridge men always ARE sticks, I believe; you're Oxford, of course, aren't you? I thought so. Still, even Mr. Walsh was a little society, for I assure you, if it hadn't been for him, I should never have seen anybody, to talk to, from year's end to year's end. So when Mr. Walsh was going to leave us, I said to mamma, "Why not ask one of the Mr. Le Bretons?" I wanted to have somebody sensible here, and so I got her to let me write to your brother Ronald about the tutorship. Did he send you the letter? I hope you didn't think it was mine. Mamma dictated it, for I don't write such formal letters as that on my own account, I can tell you. I hate conventionality of any sort. At Dunbude we're all conventional, except me; but I won't be. Come up into the billiard-room, here, and sit down awhile; William will see about your portmanteau and things. Papa's out, of course, and so's Lynmouth; and mamma's somewhere or other, I don't know where; and so there's nobody in particular at home for you to report yourself to. You may as well come in here while I ring for them to get you some lunch ready. Nobody ever gets anything ready beforehand in this house. We lunched ourselves an hour ago.'
Ernest smiled at her volubility, and followed her quickly into the big bare billiard-room. He walked over to the fire and began to warm himself, while Hilda took down a cue and made stray shots in extraordinary angles at impossible cannons, all the time, as she went on talking to him. 'Was it very cold on the way down?' she asked.
'Yes, fairly. I'm not sorry to see the fire again. Why, you're quite an accomplished player.'
'There's nothing else to do at Dunbude, that's why. I practise about half my lifetime. So I wrote to your brother Ronald, as I was telling you, from mamma's dictation; and when I heard you were really coming, I was quite delighted about it. Do you remember, I met you twice last year, once at the Dolburys', and once somewhere else; and I thought you'd be a very good sort of person for Dunbude, you know, and about as much use to Lynmouth as anybody could be, which isn't saying much, of course, for he's a dreadful pickle. I insisted on putting in my letter that he was a dreadful pickle (that's a good stroke off the red; just enough side on), though mamma didn't want me to; because I thought you ought to know about it beforehand. But you remember him at Marlborough, of course; he was only a little fellow then, but still a pickle. He always was and he always will be. He's out shooting, now, with papa; and you'll never get him to settle down to anything, as long as there's a snipe or a plover banging about on the moor anywhere. He's quite incorrigible. Do you play at all? Won't you take a cue till your lunch's ready?'
'No, I don't play,' Ernest answered, half hesitating, 'or at least very little.'
'Oh, then you'll learn here, because you'll find nothing else to do. Do you shoot?'
'Oh no, never. I don't think it right.'
'Ah, yes, I remember. How delightful! Lady Le Breton told me all about it. You've got notions, haven't you? You're a Nihilist or a Fenian or something of that sort, and you don't shoot anything but czars and grand dukes, do you? I believe you want to cut all our heads off and have a red republic. Well, I'm sure that's very refreshing; for down here we're all as dull as sticks together; Tories, every one of us to a man; perfect unanimity; no differences of opinion; all as conventional and proper as the vicar's sermons. Now, to have somebody who wants to cut your head off, in the house, is really delightful. I love originality. Not that I've ever seen anybody original in all my life, for I haven't, but I'm sure it would be delightful if I did. One reads about original people in novels, you know, Dickens and that sort of thing; and I often think I should like to meet some of them (good stroke again; legs, legs, legs, if you please—no, it hasn't legs enough); but here, or for the matter of that, in town either, we never see anybody but the same eternal round of Algies, and Monties, and Berties, and Hughs—all very nice young men, no doubt; exceedingly proper, nothing against them; good shots, capital partners, excellent families, everything on earth that anybody could desire, except a single atom of personal originality. I assure you, if they were all shaken up in a bag together and well mixed, in evening clothes (so as not to tell them apart by the tweeds, you know), their own mothers wouldn't be able to separate them afterwards. But if you don't shoot and don't play billiards, I'm sure I don't know what you'll ever find to do with yourself here at Dunbude.'
'Don't you think,' Ernest said quietly, taking down a, cue, 'one ought to have something better to do with one's time than shooting and playing billiards? In a world where so many labouring people are toiling and slaving in poverty and misery on our behalf, don't you think we should be trying to do something or other in return for universal humanity, to whom we owe so much for our board and lodging and clothing and amusement?'
'Well, now, that's just what I mean,' said Hilda ecstatically, with a neat shot off the cushion against the red and into the middle pocket; 'that's such a delightfully original way of looking at things, you see. We all of us here talk always about the partridges, and the red deer, and the turnips, and the Church, and dear Lady This, and that odious Lady That, and the growing insolence of the farmers, and the shocking insubordination of the lower classes, and the difficulty of getting really good servants, and the dreadful way those horrid Irish are shooting their kind-hearted indulgent landlords; or else we talk—the women especially—about how awfully bored we are. Lawn-tennis, you know, and dinners, and what a bad match Ethel Thingumbob has made. But you talk another kind of slang; I dare say it doesn't mean much; you know you're not working at anything very much more serious than we are; still it's a novelty. When we go to a coursing meeting, we're all on the hounds; but you're on the hare, and that's so delightfully original. I haven't the least doubt that if we were to talk about the Irish, you'd say you thought they ought to shoot their landlords. I remember you shocked mamma by saying something like it at the Dolburys'. Now, of course, it doesn't matter to me a bit which is right; you say the poor tenants are starving, and papa says the poor landlords can't get in their rents, and actually have to give up their hounds, poor fellows; and I don't know which of you is the most to be believed; only, what papa says is just the same thing that everybody says, and what you say has a certain charming freshness and variety about it. It's so funny to be told that one ought really to take the tenants into consideration. Exactly like your brother Ronald's notions about servants!'
'Your lunch is ready in the dining-room, sir,' said a voice at the door.
'Come back here when you've finished, Mr. Le Breton,' Hilda called after him. 'I'll teach you how to make that cannon you missed just now. If you mean to exist at Dunbude at all, it's absolutely necessary for you to learn billiards.'
Ernest turned in to lunch with an uncomfortable misgiving on his mind already that Dunbude was not exactly the right place for such a man as he to live in.
During the afternoon he saw nothing more of the family, save Lady Hilda; and it was not till the party assembled in the drawing-room before dinner that he met Lord and Lady Exmoor and his future pupil. Lynmouth had grown into a tall, handsome, manly-looking boy since Ernest last saw him; but he certainly looked exactly what Hilda had called him—a pickle. A few minutes' introductory conversation sufficed to show Ernest that whatever mind he possessed was wholly given over to horses, dogs, and partridges, and that the post of tutor at Dunbude Castle was not likely to prove a bed of roses.
'Seen the paper, Connemara?' Lord Exmoor asked of one of his guests, as they sat down to dinner. 'I haven't had a moment myself to snatch a look at the "Times" yet this evening; I'm really too busy almost even to read the daily papers. Anything fresh from Ireland?'
'Haven't seen it either,' Lord Connemara answered, glancing towards Lady Hilda. 'Perhaps somebody else has looked at the papers'?'
Nobody answered, so Ernest ventured to remark that the Irish news was rather worse again. Two bailiffs had been murdered near Castlebar.
'That's bad,' Lord Exmoor said, turning towards Ernest. 'I'm afraid there's a deal of distress in the West.'
'A great deal,' Ernest answered; 'positive starvation, I believe, in some parts of County Galway.'
'Well, not quite so bad as that,' Lord Exmoor replied, a little startled. 'I don't think any of the landlords are actually starving yet, though I've no doubt many of them are put to very great straits indeed by their inability to get in their rents.'
Ernest couldn't forbear gently smiling to himself at the misapprehension. 'Oh, I didn't mean the landlords,' he said quickly: 'I meant among the poor people.' As he spoke he was aware that Lady Hilda's eyes were fixed keenly upon him, and that she was immensely delighted at the temerity and originality displayed in the notion of his publicly taking Irish tenants into consideration at her father's table.
'Ah, the poor people,' Lord Exmoor answered with a slight sigh of relief, as who should say that THEIR condition didn't much matter to a philosophic mind. 'Yes, to be sure; I've no doubt some of them are very badly off, poor souls. But then they're such an idle improvident lot. Why don't they emigrate now, I should like to know?'
Ernest reflected silently that the inmates of Dunbude Castle did not exactly set them a model of patient industry; and that Lady Hilda's numerous allusions during the afternoon to the fact that the Dunbude estates were 'mortgaged up to the eyelids' (a condition of affairs to which she always alluded as though it were rather a subject of pride and congratulation than otherwise) did not speak very highly for their provident economy either. But even Ernest Le Breton had a solitary grain of worldly wisdom laid up somewhere in a corner of his brain, and he didn't think it advisable to give them the benefit of his own views upon the subject.
'There's a great deal of rubbish talked in England about Irish affairs, you know, Exmoor,' said Lord Connemara confidently. 'People never understand Ireland, I'm sure, until they've actually lived there. Would you believe it now, the correspondent of one of the London papers was quite indignant the other day because my agent had to evict a man for three years' rent at Ballynamara, and the man unfortunately went and died a week later on the public roadside. We produced medical evidence to show that he had suffered for years from heart disease, and would have died in any case, wherever he had been; but the editor fellow wanted to make political capital out of it, and kicked up quite a fuss about my agent's shocking inhumanity. As if we could possibly help ourselves in the matter! People must get their rents in somehow, mustn't they?'
'People must get their rents in somehow, of course,' Lord Exmoor assented, sympathetically; 'and I know all you men who are unlucky enough to own property in Ireland have a lot of trouble about it nowadays. Upon my word, what with Fenians, and what with Nihilists, and what with Communards, I really don't know what the world is coming to.'
'Most unchristian conduct, I call it,' said Lady Exmoor, who went in for being mildly and decorously religious. 'I really can't understand how people can believe such wicked doctrines as these communistic notions that are coming over people in these latter days.'
'No better than downright robbery,' Lord Connemara answered. 'Shaking the very foundations of society, I think it. All done so recklessly, too, without any care or any consideration.'
Ernest thought of old Max Schurz, with his lifelong economical studies, and wondered when Lord Connemara had found time to turn his own attention from foxes and fishing to economical problems; but, by a perfect miracle, he said nothing.
'You wouldn't believe the straits we're put to, Lady Exmoor,' the Irish Earl went on, 'through this horrid no-rent business. Absolute poverty, I assure you—absolute downright poverty. I've had to sell the Maid of Garunda this week, you know, and three others of the best horses in my stable, just to raise money for immediate necessities. Wanted to buy a most interesting missal, quite unique in its way, offered me by Menotti and Cicolari, dirt cheap, for three thousand guineas. It's quite a gem of late miniaturist art—vellum folio, with borders and head-pieces by Giulio Clovio. A marvellous bargain!'
'Giulio Clovio,' said Lord Exmoor, doubtfully. 'Who was he? Never heard of him in my life before.'
'Never heard of Giulio Clovio!' cried Lord Connemara, seizing the opportunity with well-affected surprise. 'You really astonish me. He was a Croatian, I believe, or an Illyrian—I forget which—and he studied at Rome under Giulio Romano. Wonderful draughtsman in the nude, and fine colourist; took hints from Raphael and Michael Angelo.' So much he had picked up from Menotti and Cicolari, and, being a distinguished connoisseur, had made a mental note of the facts at once, for future reproduction upon a fitting occasion. 'Well, this missal was executed for Cardinal Farnese, as a companion volume to the famous Vita Christi in the Towneley collection. You know it, of course, Lady Exmoor?'
'Of course,' Lady Exmoor answered faintly, with a devout hope that Lord Connemara wouldn't question her any further upon the subject; in which case she thought it would probably be the safest guess to say that she had seen it at the British Museum or in the Hamilton Library.
But Lord Connemara luckily didn't care to press his advantage. 'The Towneley volume, you see,' he went on fluently—he was primed to the muzzle with information on that subject—'was given by the Cardinal to the Pope of that time—Paul the Third, wasn't it, Mr. Le Breton?—and so got into the possession of old Christopher Towneley, the antiquary. But this companion folio, it seems, the Cardinal wouldn't let go out of his own possession; and so it's been handed down in his own family (with a bar sinister, of course, Exmoor—you remember the story of Beatrice Malatesta?) to the present time. It's very existence wasn't suspected till Cicolari—wonderfully smart fellow, Cicolari—unearthed it the other day from a descendant of the Malatestas, in a little village in the Campagna. He offered it to me, quite as an act of friendship, for three thousand guineas; indeed, he begged me not to let Menotti know how cheap he was selling it. for fear he might interfere and ask a higher price for it. Well, I naturally couldn't let such a chance slip me—for the credit of the family, it ought to be in the collection—and the consequence was, though I was awfully sorry to part with her, I was absolutely obliged to sell the Maid for pocket-money, Lady Hilda—I assure you, for pocket-money. My tenants won't pay up, and nothing will make them. They've got the cash actually in the bank; but they keep it there, waiting for a set of sentimentalists in the House of Commons to interfere between us, and make them a present of my property. Rolling in money, some of them are, I can tell you. One man, I know as a positive fact, sold a pig last week, and yet pretends he can't pay me. All the fault of these horrid communists that you were speaking of, Lady Exmoor—all the fault of these horrid communists.'
'You're rather a communist yourself, aren't you, Mr. Le Breton?' asked Lady Hilda boldly from across the table. 'I remember you told me something once about cutting the throats of all the landlords.'
Lady Exmoor looked as though a bomb-shell had dropped into the drawing-room. 'My dear Hilda,' she said, 'I'm sure you must have misunderstood Mr. Le Breton. You can't have meant anything so dreadful as that, Mr. Le Breton, can you?'
'Certainly not,' Ernest answered, with a clear conscience. 'Lady Hilda has put her own interpretation upon my casual words. I haven't the least desire to cut anybody's throat, even metaphorically.'
Hilda looked a little disappointed; she had hoped for a good rattling discussion, in which Ernest was to shock the whole table—it does people such a lot of good, you know, to have a nice round shocking; but Ernest was evidently not inclined to show fight for her sole gratification, and so she proceeded to her alternative amusement of getting Lord Connemara to display the full force of his own inanity. This was an easy and unending source of innocent enjoyment to Lady Hilda, enhanced by the fact that she knew her father and mother were anxious to see her Countess of Connemara, and that they would be annoyed by her public exposition of that eligible young man's intense selfishness and empty-headedness.
Altogether, Ernest did not enjoy his first week at the Exmoors'. Nor did he enjoy the second, or the third, or the fourth week much better. The society was profoundly distasteful to him: the world was not his world, nor the talk his talk; and he grew so sick of the perpetual discussion of horses, dogs, pheasants, dances, and lawn tennis, with occasional digressions on Giulio Clovio and the Connemara gallery, that he found even a chat with Lady Hilda (who knew and cared for nothing, but liked to chat with him because he was 'so original') a pleasant relief, by comparison, from the eternal round of Lord Exmoor's anecdotes about famous racers or celebrated actresses. But worst of all he did not like his work; he felt that, useless as he considered it, he was not successfully performing even the useless function he was paid to fulfil. Lynmouth couldn't learn, wouldn't learn, and wasn't going to learn. Ernest might as well have tried to din the necessary three plays of Euripides into the nearest lamp-post. Nobody encouraged him to learn in any way, indeed Lord Exmoor remembered that he himself had scraped through somehow at Christ Church, with the aid of a private tutor and the magic of his title, and he hadn't the least doubt that Lynmouth would scrape through in his turn in like manner. And so, though most young men would have found the Dunbude tutorship the very acme of their wishes—plenty of amusements and nothing to do for them—Ernest Le Breton found it to the last degree irksome and unsatisfactory. Not that he had ever to complain of any unkindliness on the part of the Exmoor family; they were really in their own way very kind-hearted, friendly sort of people—that is to say, towards all members of their own circle; and as they considered Ernest one of themselves, in virtue of their acquaintance with his mother, they really did their best to make him as happy and comfortable as was in their power. But then he was such a very strange young man! 'For what on earth can you do,' as Lord Exmoor justly asked, 'with a young fellow who won't shoot, and who won't fish, and who won't hunt, and who won't even play lansquenet?' Such a case was clearly hopeless. He would have liked to see more of Miss Merivale, little Lady Sybil's governess (for there were three children in the family); but Miss Merivale was a timid, sensitive girl, and she did not often encourage his advances, lest my lady should say she was setting her cap at the tutor. The consequence was that he was necessarily thrown much upon Lady Hilda's society; and as Lady Hilda was laudably eager to instruct him in billiards, lawn tennis, and sketching, he rapidly grew to be quite an adept at those relatively moral and innocuous amusements, under her constant instruction and supervision.
'It seems to me,' said that acute observer, Lord Lynmouth, to his special friend and confidante, the lady's-maid, 'that Hilda makes a doocid sight too free with that fellow Le Breton. Don't you think so, Euphemia?'
'I should hope, my lord,' Euphemia answered demurely, 'that Lady Hilda would know her own place too well to demean herself with such as your lordship's tutor. If I didn't feel sure of that, I should have to mention the matter seriously to my lady.'
Nevertheless, the lady's-maid immediately stored up a mental note on the subject in the lasting tablets of her memory, and did not fail gently to insinuate her views upon the question to Lady Exmoor, as she arranged the pearls in the false plaits for dinner that very evening.
THE WOMEN OF THE LAND.
'Mr. Le Breton! Mr. Le Breton! Papa says Lynmouth may go out trout-fishing with him this afternoon. Come up with me to the Clatter. I'm going to sketch there.'
'Very well, Lady Hilda; if you want my criticism, I don't mind if I do. Let me carry your things; it's rather a pull up, even for you, with your box and easel!'
Hilda gave him her sketch-book and colours, and they turned together up the Cleave behind the Castle.
A Clatter is a peculiar Devonshire feature, composed of long loose tumbled granite blocks piled in wild disorder along the narrow summit of a saddle-backed hill. It differs from a tor in being less high and castellated, as well as in its longer and narrower contour. Ernest and Hilda followed the rough path up through the gorse and heather to the top of the ridge, and then scrambled over the grey lichen-covered rooks together to the big logan-stone whose evenly-poised and tilted mass crowned the actual summit. The granite blocks were very high and rather slippery in places, for it was rainy April weather, so that Ernest had to take his companion's hand more than once in his to help her over the tallest boulders. It was a small delicate hand, though Hilda was a tall well-grown woman; ungloved, too, for the sake of the sketching; and Hilda didn't seem by any means unwilling to accept Ernest's proffered help, though if it had been Lord Connemara who was with her instead, she would have scorned assistance, and scaled the great mossy masses by herself like a mountain antelope. Light-footed and lithe of limb was Lady Hilda, as befitted a Devonshire lass accustomed to following the Exmoor stag-hounds across their wild country on her own hunter. Yet she seemed to find a great deal of difficulty in clambering up the Clatter on that particular April morning, and move than once Ernest half fancied to himself that she leaned on his arm longer than was absolutely necessary for support or assistance over the stiffest places.
'Here, by the logan, Mr. Le Breton,' she said, motioning him where to put her camp-stool and papers. 'That's a good point of view for the rocks yonder. You can lie down on the rug and give me the benefit of your advice and assistance.'
'My advice is not worth taking,' said Ernest. 'I'm a regular duffer at painting and sketching. You should ask Lord Connemara. He knows all about art and that sort of thing.'
'Lord Connemara!' echoed Hilda contemptuously. 'He has a lot of pictures in his gallery at home, and he's been told by sensible men what's the right thing for him to say about them; but he knows no more about art, really, than he knows about fiddlesticks.'
'Doesn't he, indeed?' Ernest answered languidly, not feeling any burning desire to discuss Lord Connemara's artistic attainments or deficiencies.
'No, he doesn't,' Hilda went on, rather defiantly, as though Ernest had been Lady Exmoor; 'and most of these people that come here don't either. They have galleries, and they get artists and people who understand about pictures to talk with them, and so they learn what's considered the proper thing to say of each of them. But as to saying anything spontaneous or original of their own about a picture or any other earthly thing—why, you know, Mr. Le Breton, they couldn't possibly do it to save their lives.'
'Well, there I should think you do them, as a class, a great injustice,' said Ernest, quietly; 'you're evidently prejudiced against your own people. I should think that if there's any subject on which our old families really do know anything, it's art. Look at their great advantages.'
'Nonsense,' Hilda answered, decisively. 'Fiddlesticks for their advantages. What's the good of advantages without a head on your shoulders, I should like to know. And they haven't got heads on their shoulders, Mr. Le Breton; you know they haven't.'
'Why, surely,' said Ernest, in his simple fashion, looking the question straight in the face as a matter of abstract truth, 'there must be a great deal of ability among peers and peers' sons. All history shows it; and it would be absurd if it weren't so; for the mass of peers have got their peerages by conspicuous abilities of one sort or another, as barristers, or soldiers, or politicians, or diplomatists, and they would naturally hand on their powers to their different descendants.'
'Oh, yes, there are some of them with brains, I suppose,' Hilda answered, as one who makes a great concession. 'There's Herbert Alderney, who's member for somewhere or other—Church Stretton, I think—and makes speeches in the House; he's clever, they say, but such a conceited fellow to talk to. And there's Wilfrid Faunthorp, who writes poems, and gets them printed in the magazines, too, because he knows the editors. And there's Randolph Hastings, who goes in for painting, and has little red and blue daubs at the Grosvenor by special invitation of the director. But somehow they none of them strike me as being really original. Whenever I meet anybody worth talking to anywhere—in a railway train or so on—I feel sure at once he's an ordinary commoner, not even Honourable; and he is invariably, you may depend upon it.'
'That would naturally happen on the average of instances,' Ernest put in, smiling, 'considering the relative frequency of peers and commoners in this realm of England. Peers, you know, or even Honourables are not common objects of the country, numerically speaking.'
'They are to me, unfortunately,' Hilda replied, looking at him inquiringly. 'I hardly ever meet anybody else, you know, and I'm positively bored to death by them, and that's the truth, really. It's most unlucky, under the circumstances, that I should happen to be the daughter of one peer, and be offered promiscuously as wife to the highest bidder among half a dozen others, if only I would have them. But I won't, Mr. Le Breton, I really won't. I'm not going to marry a fool, just to please my mother. Nothing on earth would induce me to marry Lord Connemara, for example.'
Ernest looked at her and smiled, but said nothing.
Lady Hilda put in a stroke or two more to her pencil outline, and then continued her unsolicited confidences. 'Do you know, Mr. Le Breton,' she went on, 'there's a conspiracy—the usual conspiracy, but still a regular conspiracy I call it—between Papa and Mamma to make me marry that stick of a Connemara. What is there in him, I should like to know, to make any girl admire or love him? And yet half the girls in London would be glad to get him, for all his absurdity. It's monstrous, it's incomprehensible, it's abominable; but it's the fact. For my part, I must say I do like a little originality. And whenever I hear Papa, and Uncle Sussex, and Lord Connemara talking at dinner, it does seem to me too ridiculously absurd that they should each have a separate voice in Parliament, and that you shouldn't even have a fraction of a vote for a county member. What sort of superiority has Lord Connemara over you, I wonder?' And she looked at Ernest again with a searching glance, to see whether he was to be moved by such a personal and emphatic way of putting the matter.
Ernest looked back at her curiously in his serious simplicity, and only answered, 'There are a great many queer inequalities and absurdities in all our existing political systems, Lady Hilda.'
Hilda smiled to herself—a quiet smile, half of disappointment, half of complacent feminine superiority. What a stupid fellow he was in some ways, after all! Even that silly Lord Connemara would have guessed what she was driving at, with only a quarter as much encouragement. But Ernest must be too much afraid of the social barrier clearly; so she began again, this time upon a slightly different but equally obvious tack.
'Yes, there are; absurd inequalities really, Mr. Le Breton; very absurd inequalities. You'd get rid of them all, I know. You told me that about cutting all the landlords' heads off, I'm sure, though you said when I spoke about it before Mamma, the night you first came here, that you didn't mean it. I remember it perfectly well, because I recollect thinking at the time the idea was so charmingly and deliciously original.'
'You must be quite mistaken, Lady Hilda,' Ernest answered calmly. 'You misunderstood my meaning. I said I would get rid of landlords—by which I meant to say, get rid of them as landlords, not as individuals. I don't even know that I'd take away the land from them all at once, you know (though I don't think it's justly theirs); I'd deprive them of it tentatively and gradually.'
'Well, I can't see the justice of that, I'm sure,' Hilda answered carelessly. 'Either the land's ours by right, or it isn't ours. If it's ours, you ought to leave it to us for ever; and if it isn't ours, you ought to take it away from us at once, and make it over to the people to whom it properly belongs. Why on earth should you keep them a day longer out of their own?'
Ernest laughed heartily at this vehement and uncompromising sans-culottism. 'You're a vigorous convert, anyhow,' he said, with some amusement; 'I see you've profited by my instruction. You've put the question very plump and straightforward. But in practice it would be better, no doubt, gradually to educate out the landlords, rather than to dispossess them at one blow of what they honestly, though wrongly, imagine to be their own. Let all existing holders keep the land during their own lifetime and their heirs', and resume it for the nation after their lives, allowing for the rights of all children born of marriages between people now living.'
'Not at all,' Hilda answered in a tone of supreme conviction. 'I'm in favour of simply cutting our heads off once for all, and making our families pay all arrears of rent from the very beginning. That or nothing. Put the case another way. Suppose, Mr. Le Breton, there was somebody who had got a grant from a king a long time ago, allowing him to hang any three persons he chose annually. Well, suppose this person and his descendants went on for a great many generations extorting money out of other people by threatening to kill them and letting them off on payment of a ransom. Suppose, too, they always killed three a year, some time or other, pour encourager les autres—just to show that they really meant it. Well, then, if one day the people grew wise enough to inquire into the right of these licensed extortioners to their black mail, would you say, "Don't deprive them of it too unexpectedly. Let them keep it during their own lifetime. Let their children hang three of us annually after them. But let us get rid of this fine old national custom in the third generation." Would that be fair to the people who would be hanged for the sake of old prescription in the interval, do you think?'
Ernest laughed again at the serious sincerity with which ehe was ready to acquiesce in his economical heresies. 'You're quite right,' he said: 'the land is the people's, and there's no reason on earth why they should starve a minute longer in order to let Lord Connemara pay three thousand guineas for spurious copies of early Italian manuscripts. And yet it would be difficult to get most people to see it. I fancy, Lady Hilda, you must really be rather cleverer than most people.'
'I score one,' thought Hilda to herself, 'and whatever happens, whether I marry a peer or a revolutionist, I certainly won't marry a fool.' 'I'm glad you think so,' she went on aloud, 'because I know your opinion's worth having. I should like to be clever, Mr. Le Breton, and I should like to know all about everything, but what chance has one at Dunbude? Do you know, till you came here, I never got any sensible conversation with anybody.' And she sighed gently as she put her head on one side to take a good view of her sketchy little picture. Lady Hilda's profile was certainly very handsome, and she showed it to excellent advantage when she put her head on one side. Ernest looked at her and thought so to himself; and Lady Hilda's quick eye, glancing sideways for a second from the paper, noted immediately that he thought so.
'Mr. Le Breton,' she began again, more confidentially than ever, 'one thing I've quite made up my mind to; I won't be tied for life to a stick like Lord Connemara. In fact, I won't marry a man in that position at all. I shall choose for myself, and marry a man for the worth that's in him, I assure you it's a positive fact, I've been proposed to by no fewer than six assorted Algies and Berties and Monties in a single season; besides which some of them follow me even down here to Dunbude. Papa and mamma are dreadfully angry because I won't have any of them: but I won't. I mean to wait, and marry whoever I choose, as soon as I find a man I can really love and honour.'
She paused and looked hard at Ernest. 'I can't speak much plainer than that,' she thought to herself, 'and really he must be stupider than the Algies and the Monties themselves if he doesn't see I want him to propose to me. I suppose all women would say it's awfully unwomanly of me to lead up to his cards in this way—throwing myself at his head they'd call it; but what does that matter? I WON'T marry a fool, and I WILL marry a man of some originality. That's the only thing in the world worth troubling one's head about. Why on earth doesn't he take my hand, I wonder? What further can he be waiting for?' Lady Hilda was perfectly accustomed to the usual preliminaries of a declaration, and only awaited Ernest's first step to proceed in due order to the second. Strange to say, her heart was actually beating a little by anticipation. It never even occurred to her—the belle of three seasons—that possibly Ernest mightn't wish to marry her. So she sat looking pensively at her picture, and sighed again quietly.
But Ernest, wholly unsuspicious, only answered, 'You will do quite right, Lady Hilda, to marry the man of your own choice, irrespective of wealth or station.'
Hilda glanced up at him curiously, with a half-disdainful smile, and was just on the point of saying, 'But suppose the man of my own choice won't propose to me?' However, as the words rose to her lips, she felt there was a point at which even she should yield to convention: and there were plenty of opportunities still before her, without displaying her whole hand too boldly and immediately. So she merely turned with another sigh, this time a genuine one, to her half-sketched outline. 'I shall bring him round in time,' she said to herself, blushing a little at her unexpected discomfiture. 'I shall bring him round in time; I shall make him propose to me! I don't care if I have to live in a lodging with him, and wash up my own tea-things; I shall marry him; that I'm resolved upon. He's as mad as a March hare about his Communism and his theories and things; but I don't care for that; I could live with him in comfort, and I couldn't live in comfort with the Algies and Monties. In fact, I believe—in a sort of way—I believe I'm almost in love with him. I have a kind of jumpy feeling in my heart when I'm talking with him that I never feel when I'm talking with other young men, even the nicest of them. He's not nice; he's a bear; and yet, somehow, I should like to marry him.'
'Mr. Le Breton,' she said aloud, 'the sun's all wrong for sketching to-day, and besides it's too chilly. I must run about a bit among the rocks.' ('At least I shall take his hand to help me,' she thought, blushing.) 'Come and walk with me? It's no use trying to draw with one's hands freezing.' And she crumpled up the unfinished sketch hastily between her fingers. Ernest jumped up to follow her; and they spent the next hour scrambling up and down the Clatter, and talking on less dangerous subjects than Lady Hilda's matrimonial aspirations.
'Still I shall make him ask me yet,' Lady Hilda thought to herself, as she parted from him to go up and dress for dinner. 'I shall manage to marry him, somehow; or if I don't marry him, at any rate I'll marry somebody like him.' For it was really the principle, not the person, that Lady Hilda specially insisted upon.
THE DAUGHTERS OF CANAAN.
May, beautiful May, had brought the golden flowers, and the trees in the valley behind the sleepy old town of Calcombe Pomeroy were decking themselves in the first wan green of their early spring foliage. The ragged robins were hanging out, pinky red, from the hedgerows; the cuckoo was calling from the copse beside the mill stream; and the merry wee hedge-warblers were singing lustily from the topmost sprays of hawthorn, with their full throats bursting tremulously in the broad sunshine. And Ernest Le Breton, too, filled with the season, had come down from Dunbude for a fortnight's holiday, on his premised visit to his friend Oswald, or, to say the truth more plainly, to Oswald's pretty little sister Edie. For Ernest had fully made up his mind by this time what it was he had come for, and he took the earliest possible opportunity of taking a walk with Edie alone, through the tiny glen behind the town, where the wee stream tumbles lazily upon the big slow-turning vanes of the overshot mill-wheel.
'Let us sit down a bit on the bank here, Miss Oswald,' he said to his airy little companion, as they reached the old stone bridge that crosses the stream just below the mill-house; 'it's such a lovely day one feels loath to miss any of it, and the scenery here looks so bright and cheerful after the endless brown heather and russet bracken about Dunbude. Not that Exmoor isn't beautiful in its way, too—all Devonshire is beautiful alike for that matter; but then it's more sombre and woody in the north, and much less spring-like than this lovely quiet South Devon country.'
'I'm so glad you like Calcombe,' Edie said, with one of her unfailing blushes at the indirect flattery to herself implied in praise of her native county; 'and you think it prettier than Dunbude, then, do you?'
'Prettier in its own way, yes, though not so grand of course; everything here is on a smaller scale. Dunbude, you know, is almost mountainous.'
'And the Castle?' Edie asked, bringing round the conversation to her own quarter, 'is that very fine? At all like Warwick, or our dear old Arlingford?'
'Oh, it isn't a castle at all, really,' Ernest answered; 'only a very big and ugly house. As architecture it's atrocious, though it's comfortable enough inside for a place of the sort.'
'And the Exmoors, are they nice people? What kind of girl is Lady Hilda, now?' Poor little Edie? she asked the question shyly, but with a certain deep beating in her heart, for she had often canvassed with herself the vague possibility that Ernest might actually fall in love with Lady Hilda. Had he fallen in love with her already, or had he not? She knew she would be able to guess the truth by his voice and manner the moment he answered her. No man can hide that secret from a woman who loves him. Yet it was not without a thrill and a flutter that she asked him, for she thought to herself, what must she seem to him after all the grand people he had been mixing with so lately at Dunbude? Was it possible he could see anything in her, a little country village girl, coming to her fresh from the great ladies of that unknown and vaguely terrible society?
'Lady Hilda!' Ernest answered, laughing—and as he said the words Edie knew in her heart that her question was answered, and blushed once more in her bewitching fashion. 'Lady Hilda! Oh, she's a very queer girl, indeed; she's not at all clever, really, but she has the one virtue of girls of her class—their perfect frankness. She's frank all over—no reserve or reticence at all about her. Whatever she thinks she says, without the slightest idea that you'll see anything to laugh at or to find fault with in it. In matters of knowledge, she's frankly ignorant. In matters of taste, she's frankly barbaric. In matters of religion, she's frankly heathen. And in matters of ethics, she's frankly immoral—or rather extra-moral,' he added, quickly correcting himself for the misleading expression.
'I shouldn't think from your description she can be a very nice person,' Edie said, greatly relieved, and pulling a few tall grasses at her side by way of hiding her interest in the subject. 'She can't be a really nice girl if she's extra-moral, as you call it.'
'Oh, I don't mean she'd cut one's throat or pick one's pocket, you know,' Ernest went on quickly, with a gentle smile. 'She's got a due respect for the ordinary conventional moralities like other people, no doubt; but in her case they're only social prejudices, not genuine ethical principles. I don't suppose she ever seriously asked herself whether anything was right or wrong or not in her whole lifetime. In fact, I'm sure she never did; and if anybody else were to do so, she'd be immensely surprised and delighted at the startling originality and novelty of thought displayed in such a view of the question.'
'But she's very handsome, isn't she?' Edie asked, following up her inquiry with due diligence.
'Handsome? oh, yes, in a bold sort of actress fashion. Very handsome, but not, to me at least, pleasing. I believe most men admire her a great deal; but she lacks a feminine touch dreadfully. She dashes away through everything as if she was hunting; and she DOES hunt too, which I think bad enough in anybody, and horrible in a woman.'
'Then you haven't fallen in love with her, Mr. Le Breton? I half imagined you would, you know, as I'm told she's so very attractive.'
'Fallen in love with HER, Miss Oswald! Fallen in love with Hilda Tregellis! What an absurd notion! Heaven forbid it!'
'Why so, please?'
'Why, in the first place, what would be the use of it? Fancy Lady Exmoor's horror at the bare idea of her son's tutor falling in love with Lady Hilda! I assure you, Miss Oswald, she would evaporate at the very mention of such an unheard-of enormity. A man must be, if not an earl, at least a baronet with five thousand a year, before he dare face the inexpressible indignation of Lady Exmoor with an offer of marriage for Lady Hilda.'
'But people don't always fall in love by tables of precedence,' Edie put in simply. 'It's quite possible, I suppose, for a man who isn't a duke himself to fall in love with a duke's daughter, even though the duke her papa mayn't personally happen to approve of the match. However, you don't seem to think Lady Hilda herself a pleasant girl, even apart from the question of Lady Exmoor's requirements?'
'Miss Oswald,' Ernest said, looking at her suddenly, as she sat half hiding her face with her parasol, and twitching more violently than ever at the tall grasses; 'Miss Oswald, to tell you the truth, I haven't been thinking much about Hilda Tregellis or any of the other girls I've met at Dunbude, and for a very sufficient reason, because I've had my mind too much preoccupied by somebody else elsewhere.'
Edie blushed even more prettily than before, and held her peace, half raising her eyes for a second in an enquiring glance at his, and then dropping them hastily as they met, in modest trepidation. At that moment Ernest had never seen anything so beautiful or so engaging as Edie Oswald.
'Edie,' he said, beginning again more boldly, and taking her little gloved hand almost unresistingly in his; 'Edie, you know my secret. I love you. Can you love me?'
Edie looked up at him shyly, the tears glistening and trembling a little in the corner of her big bright eyes, and for a moment she answered nothing. Then she drew away her hand hastily and said with a sigh, 'Mr. Le Breton, we oughtn't to be talking so. We mustn't. Don't let us. Take me home, please, at once, and don't say anything more about it.' But her heart beat within her bosom with a violence that was not all unpleasing, and her looks half belied her words to Ernest's keen glance even as she spoke them.
'Why not, Edie?' he said, drawing her down again gently by her little hand as she tried to rise hesitatingly. 'Why not? tell me. I've looked into your face, and though I can hardly dare to hope it or believe it, I do believe I read in it that you really might love me.'
'Oh, Mr. Le Breton,' Edie answered, a tear now quivering visibly on either eyelash, 'don't ask me, please don't ask me. I wish you wouldn't. Take me home, won't you?'
Ernest dropped her hand quietly, with a little show of despondency that was hardly quite genuine, for his eyes had already told him better. 'Then you can't love me, Miss Oswald,' he said, looking at her closely. 'I'm sorry for it, very sorry for it; but I'm grieved if I have seemed presumptuous in asking you.'
This time the two tears trickled slowly down Edie's cheek—not very sad tears either—and she answered hurriedly, 'Oh, I don't mean that, Mr. Le Breton, I don't mean that. You misunderstand me, I'm sure you misunderstand me.'
Ernest caught up the trembling little hand again. 'Then you CAN love me, Edie?' he said eagerly, 'you can love me?'
Edie answered never a word, but bowed her head and cried a little, silently. Ernest took the dainty wee gloved hand between his own two hands and pressed it tenderly. He felt in return a faint pressure.
'Then why won't you let me love you, Edie?' he asked, looking at the blushing girl once more.
'Oh, Mr. Le Breton,' Edie said, rising and moving away from the path a little under the shade of the big elm-tree, 'it's very wrong of me to let you talk so. I mustn't think of marrying you, and you mustn't think of marrying me. Consider the difference in our positions.'
'Is that all?' Ernest answered gaily. 'Oh, Edie, if that's all, it isn't a very difficult matter to settle. My position's exactly nothing, for I've got no money and no prospects; and if I ask you to marry me, it must be in the most strictly speculative fashion, with no date and no certainty. The only question is, will you consent to wait for me till I'm able to offer you a home to live in? It's asking you a great deal, I know; and you've made me only too happy and too grateful already; but if you'll wait for me till we can marry, I shall live all my life through to repay you for your sacrifice.'
'But, Mr. Le Breton,' Edie said, turning towards the path and drying her eyes quickly, 'I really don't think you ought to marry me. The difference in station is so great—even Harry would allow the difference in station. Your father was a great man, and a general and a knight, you know; and though my dear father is the best and kindest of men, he isn't anything of that sort, of course.'
A slight shade of pain passed across Ernest's face. 'Edie,' he said, 'please don't talk about that—please don't. My father was a just and good man, whom I loved and honoured deeply; if there's anything good in any of us boys, it comes to us from my dear father. But please don't speak to me about his profession. It's one of the griefs and troubles of my life. He was a soldier, and an Indian soldier too; and if there's anything more certain to me than the principle that all fighting is very wrong and indefensible, it's the principle that our rule in India is utterly unjust and wicked. So instead of being proud of my father's profession, much as I respected him, I'm profoundly ashamed of it; and it has been a great question to me always how far I was justified at all in living upon the pension given me for his Indian services.'
Edie looked at him half surprised and half puzzled. It was to her such an odd and unexpected point of view. But she felt instinctively that Ernest really and deeply meant what he said, and she knew she must not allude to the subject again. 'I beg your pardon,' she said simply, 'if I've put it wrong; yet you know I can't help feeling the great disparity in our two situations.'
'Edie,' said Ernest, looking at her again with all his eyes—'I'm going to call you "Edie" always now, so that's understood between us. Well, I shall tell you exactly how I feel about this matter. From the first moment I saw you I felt drawn towards you, I felt that I couldn't help admiring you and sympathising with you and loving you. If I dared I would have spoken to you that day at Iffley; but I said to myself "She will not care for me; and besides, it would be wrong of me to ask her just yet." I had nothing to live upon, and I oughtn't to ask you to wait for me—you who are so pretty, and sweet and good, and clever—I ought to leave you free to your natural prospect of marrying some better man, who would make you happier than I can ever hope to do. So I tried to put the impulse aside; I waited, saying to myself that if you really cared for me a little bit, you would still care for me when I came to Calcombe Pomeroy. But then my natural selfishness overcame me—you can forgive me for it, Edie; how could I help it when I had once seen you? I began to be afraid some other man would be beforehand with you; and I liked you so much I couldn't bear to think of the chance that you might be taken away from me before I asked you. All day long, as I've been walking alone on those high grey moors at Dunbude, I've been thinking of you; and at last I made up my mind that I MUST come and ask you to be my wife—some time—whenever we could afford to marry. I know I'm asking you to make a great sacrifice for me; it's more than I have any right to ask you; I'm ashamed of myself for asking it; I can only make you a poor man's wife, and how long I may have to wait even for that I can't say; but if you'll only consent to wait for me, Edie, I'll do the best that lies in me to make you as happy and to love you as well as any man on earth could ever do.'
Edie turned her face towards his, and said softly, 'Mr. Le Breton, I will wait for you as long as ever you wish; and I'm so happy, oh so happy.'
There was a pause for a few moments, and then, as they walked homeward down the green glen, Edie said, with something more of her usual archness, 'So after all you haven't fallen in love with Lady Hilda! Do you know, Mr. Le Breton, I rather fancied at Oxford you liked me just a little tiny bit; but when I heard you were going to Dunbude I said to myself, "Ah, now he'll never care for a quiet country girl like me!" And when I knew you were coming down here to Calcombe, straight from all those grand ladies at Dunbude, I felt sure you'd be disenchanted as soon as you saw me, and never think anything more about me.'
'Then you liked me, Edie?' Ernest asked eagerly. 'You wanted me really to come to Calcombe to see you?'
'Of course I did, Mr. Le Breton. I've liked you from the first moment I saw you.'
'I'm so glad,' Ernest went on quickly. 'I believe all real love is love at first sight. I wouldn't care myself to be loved in any other way. And you thought I might fall in love with Lady Hilda?'
'Well, you know, she is sure to be so handsome, and so accomplished, and to have had so many advantages that I have never had. I was afraid I should seem so very simple to you after Lady Hilda.'
'Oh, Edie!' cried Ernest, stopping a moment, and gazing at the little light airy figure. 'I only wish you could know the difference. Coming from Dunbude to Calcombe is like coming from darkness into light. Up there one meets with nobody but essentially vulgar-minded selfish people—people whose whole life is passed in thinking and talking about nothing but dogs, and horses, and partridges, and salmon; racing, and hunting, and billiards, and wines; amusements, amusements, amusements, all of them coarse and most of them cruel, all day long. Their talk is just like the talk of grooms and gamekeepers in a public-house parlour, only a little improved by better English and more money. Will So-and-so win the Derby? What a splendid run we had with the West Somerset on Wednesday! Were you in at the death of that big fox at Coulson's Corner? Ought the new vintages of Madeira to be bottled direct or sent round the Cape like the old ones? Capital burlesque at the Gaiety, but very slow at the Lyceum. Who will go to the Duchess of Dorsetshire's dance on the twentieth:—and so forth for ever. Their own petty round of selfish pleasures from week's end to week's end—no thought of anybody else, no thought of the world at large, no thought even of any higher interest in their own personalities. Their politics are just a selfish calculation of their own prospects—land, Church, capital, privilege. Their religion (when they have any) is just a selfish regard for their own personal future welfare. From the time I went to Dunbude to this day, I've never heard a single word about any higher thought of any sort—I don't mean only about the troubles or the aspirations of other people, but even about books, about science, about art, about natural beauty. They live in a world of amusing oneself and of amusing oneself in vulgar fashions—as a born clown would do if he came suddenly into a large fortune. The women are just as bad as the men, only in a different way—not always even that; for most of them think only of the Four-in-hand Club and the pigeon-shooting at Hurlingham—things to sicken one. Now, I've known selfish people before, but not selfish people utterly without any tincture of culture. I come away from Dunbude, and come down here to Calcombe: and the difference in the atmosphere makes one's very breath come and go freer. And I look at you, Edie, and think of you beside Lady Hilda Tregellis, and I laugh in my heart at the difference that artificial rules have made between you. I wish you knew how immeasurably her superior you are in every way. The fact is, it's a comfort to escape from Dunbude for a while and get down here to feel oneself once more, in the only true sense of the word, in a little good society.'
While these things were happening in the Bourne Close, palsied old Miss Luttrell, mumbling and grumbling inarticulately to herself, was slowly tottering down the steep High Street of Calcombe Pomeroy, on her way to the village grocer's. She shambled in tremulously to Mrs. Oswald's counter, and seating herself on a high stool, as was her wont, laid herself out distinctly for a list of purchases and a good deliberate ill-natured gossip.
'Two pounds of coffee, if you please, Mrs. Oswald,' she began with a quaver; 'coffee, mind, I say, not chicory; your stuff always has the smallest possible amount of flavour in it, it seems to me, for the largest possible amount of quantity; all chicory, all chicory—no decent coffee to be had now in Calcombe Pomeroy. So your son's at home this week, is he? Out of work, I suppose? I saw him lounging about on the beach, idling away his time, yesterday; pity he wasn't at some decent trade, instead of hanging about and doing nothing, as if he was a gentleman. Five pounds of lump sugar, too; good lump sugar, though I expect I shall get nothing but beetroot; it's all beetroot now, my brother tells me; they've ruined the West Indies with their emancipation fads and their differential duties and the Lord knows what—we had estates in the West Indies ourselves, all given up to our negroes nowadays—and now I believe they have to pay the French a bounty or something of the sort to induce them to make sugar out of beetroot, because the negroes won't work without whipping, so I understand; that's what comes in the end of your Radical fal-lal notions. Well, five pounds of lump, and five pounds of moist, though the one's as bad as the other, really. A great pity about your son. I hope he'll get a place again soon. It must be a trial to you to have him so idle!'
'Well, no, ma'am, it's not,' Mrs. Oswald answered, with such self-restraint as she could command. 'It's not much of a trial to his father and me, for we're glad to let him have a little rest after working so hard at Oxford. He works too hard, ma'am, but he gets compensation for it, don't 'ee see, Miss Luttrell, for he's just been made a Fellow of the Royal Society—"for his mathematical eminence," the "Times" says—a Fellow of the Royal Society.'
Even this staggering blow did not completely crush old Miss Luttrell. 'Fellow of the Royal Society,' she muttered feebly through her remaining teeth. 'Must be some mistake somewhere, Mrs. Oswald—quite impossible. A very meritorious young man, your son, doubtless; but a National schoolmaster's hardly likely to be made a Fellow of the Royal Society. Oh, I remember you told me he's not a National schoolmaster, but has something to do at one of the Oxford colleges. Yes, yes; I see what it is—Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. You subscribe a guinea, and get made a Fellow by subscription, just for the sake of writing F.R.G.S. after your name; it gives a young man a look of importance.'
'No, Miss Luttrell, it isn't that; it's THE Royal Society; and if you'll wait a moment, ma'am, I'll fetch you the president's letter, and the diploma, to let you see it.'
'Oh, no occasion to trouble yourself, Mrs. Oswald!' the old lady put in, almost with alacrity, for she had herself seen the announcement of Harry Oswald's election in the 'Times' a few days before. 'No occasion to trouble yourself, I'm sure; I daresay you may be right, and at any rate it's no business of mine, thank heaven. I never want to poke my nose into anybody else's business. Well, talking of Oxford, Mrs. Oswald, there's a very nice young man down here at present; I wonder if you know where he's lodging? I want to ask him to dinner. He's a young Mr. Le Breton—one of the Cheshire Le Bretons, you know. His father was Sir Owen Le Breton, a general in the Indian army—brother officer of Major Standish Luttrell's and very nice people in every way. Lady Le Breton's a great friend of the Archdeacon's, so I should like to show her son some little attention. He's had a very distinguished career at Oxford—your boy may have heard his name, perhaps—and now he's acting as tutor to Lord Lynmouth, the eldest son of Lord Exmoor, you know; Lady Exmoor was a second cousin of my brother's wife; very nice people, all of them. The Le Bretons are a really good family, you see; and the Archdeacon's exceedingly fond of them. So I thought if you could tell me where this young man is lodging—you shop-people pick up all the gossip in the place, always—I'd ask him to dinner to meet the Rector and Colonel Turnbull and my nephew, who would probably be able to offer him a little shooting.'
'There's no partridges about in May, Miss Luttrell,' said Mrs. Oswald, quietly smiling to herself at the fancy picture of Ernest seated in congenial converse with the Rector, Colonel Turnbull, and young Luttrell; 'but as to Mr. Le Breton, I DO happen to know where he's stopping, though it's not often that I know any Calcombe gossip, save and except what you're good enough to tell me when you drop in, ma'am; for Mr. Le Breton's stopping here, in this house, with us, ma'am, this very minute.'
'In this house, Mrs. Oswald!' the old lady cried with a start, wagging her unsteady old head this time in genuine surprise; 'why, I didn't know you let lodgings. I thought you and your daughter were too much of fine ladies for THAT, really. I'm glad to hear it. I'll leave a note for him.'
'No, Miss Luttrell, we don't let lodgings, ma'am, and we don't need to,' Mrs. Oswald answered, proudly. 'Mr. Le Breton's stopping here as my son's guest. They were friends at Oxford together: and now that Mr. Le Breton has got his holiday, like, Harry's asked him down to spend a fortnight at Calcombe Pomeroy. And if you'll leave a note I'll be very happy to give it to him as soon as he comes in, for he's out walking now with Harry and Edith.'
Old Miss Luttrell sat for half a minute in unwonted silence, revolving in her poor puzzled head what line of tactics she ought to adopt under such a very singular and annoying combination of circumstances. Stopping at the village grocer's!—this was really too atrocious! The Le Bretons were all as mad as hatters, that she knew well; all except the mother, who was a sensible person, and quite rational. But old Sir Owen was a man with the most absurd religious fancies—took an interest in the souls of the soldiers; quite right and proper, of course, in a chaplain, but really too ridiculous in a regular field officer. No doubt Ernest Le Breton had taken up some equally extraordinary notions—liberty, equality, fraternity, and a general massacre, probably; and he had picked up Harry Oswald as a suitable companion in his revolutionary schemes and fancies. There was no knowing what stone wall one of those mad Le Bretons might choose to run his head against. Still, the practical difficulty remained—how could she extricate herself from this awkward dilemma in such a way as to cover herself with glory, and inflict another bitter humiliation on poor Mrs. Oswald? If only she had known sooner that Ernest was stopping at the Oswalds, she wouldn't have been so loud in praise of the Le Breton family; she would in that case have dexterously insinuated that Lady Le Breton was only a half-pay officer's widow, living on her pension; and that her boys had got promotion at Oxford as poor scholars, through the Archdeacon's benevolent influence. It was too late now, however, to adopt that line of defence; and she fell back accordingly upon the secondary position afforded her by the chance of taking down Mrs. Oswald's intolerable insolence in another fashion.
'Oh, he's out walking with your daughter, is he?' she said, maliciously. 'Out walking with your daughter, Mrs. Oswald, NOT with your son. I saw her passing down the meadows half an hour ago with a strange young man; and her brother stopped behind near the millpond. A strange young man; yes, I noticed particularly that he looked like a gentleman, and I was quite surprised that you should let her walk out with him in that extraordinary manner. Depend upon it, Mrs. Oswald, when young gentlemen in Mr. Le Breton's position go out walking with young women in your daughter's position, they mean no good by it—they mean no good by it. Take my advice, Mrs. Oswald, and don't permit it. Mr. Le Breton's a very nice young man, and well brought up no doubt—I know his mother's a woman of principle—still, young men will be young men; and if your son goes bringing down his fine Oxford acquaintances to Calcombe Pomeroy, and you and your husband go flinging Miss Jemima—her name's Jemima, I think—at the young men's heads, why, then, of course, you must take the consequences—you must take the consequences!' And with this telling Parthian shot discharged carefully from the shadow of the doorway, accompanied by a running comment of shrugs, nods, and facial distortions, old Miss Luttrell successfully shuffled herself out of the shop, her list unfinished, leaving poor Mrs. Oswald alone and absolutely speechless with indignation. Ernest Le Breton never got a note of invitation from the Squire's sister: but before nightfall all that was visitable in Calcombe Pomeroy had heard at full length of the horrid conspiracy by which those pushing upstart Oswalds had inveigled a son of poor Lady Le Breton's down to stop with them, and were now trying to ruin his prospects by getting him to marry their brazen-faced hussey, Jemima Edith.
When Edie returned from her walk that afternoon, Mrs. Oswald went up into her bedroom to see her daughter. She knew at once from Edie's radiant blushing face and moist eyes what had taken place, and she kissed the pretty shrinking girl tenderly on her forehead. 'Edie darling, I hope you will be happy,' she whispered significantly.
'Then you guess it all, mother dear?' asked Edie, relieved that she need not tell her story in set words.
'Yes, darling,' said the mother, kissing her again. 'And you said "yes."'
Edie coloured once more. 'I said "yes," mother, for I love him dearly.'
'He's a dear fellow,' the mother answered gently; 'and I'm sure he'll do his best to make you happy.'
Later on in the day, Harry came up and knocked at Edie's door. His mother had told him all about it, and so had Ernest. 'Popsy,' he said, kissing her also, 'I congratulate you. I'm so glad about it. Le Breton's the best fellow I know, and I couldn't wish you a better or a kinder husband. You'll have to wait for him, but he's worth waiting for. He's a good fellow and a clever fellow, and an affectionate fellow; and his family are everything that could be desired. It'll be a splendid thing for you to be able to talk in future about "my mother-in law, Lady Le Breton." Depend upon it, Edie dear, that always counts for something in society.'
Edie blushed again, but this time with a certain tinge of shame and disappointment. She had never thought of that herself, and she was hurt that Harry should think and speak of it at such a moment. She felt with a sigh it was unworthy of him and unworthy of the occasion. Truly the iron of Pi and its evaluations had entered deeply into his soul!
CULTURE AND CULTURE.
'I wonder, Berkeley,' said Herbert Le Breton, examining a coin curiously, 'what on earth can ever have induced you, with your ideas and feelings, to become a parson!'
'My dear Le Breton, your taste, like good wine, improves with age,' answered Berkeley, coldly. 'There are many reasons, any one of which may easily induce a sensible man to go into the Church. For example, he may feel a disinterested desire to minister to the souls of his poorer neighbours; or he may be first cousin to a bishop; or he may be attracted by an ancient and honourable national institution; or he may possess a marked inclination for albs and chasubles; or he may reflect upon the distinct social advantages of a good living; or he may have nothing else in particular to do; or he may simply desire to rouse the impertinent curiosity of all the indolent quidnuncs of his acquaintance, without the remotest intention of ever gratifying their underbred Paul Pry proclivities.'
Herbert Le Breton winced a little—he felt he had fairly laid himself open to this unmitigated rebuff—but he did not retire immediately from his untenable position. 'I suppose,' he said quietly, 'there are still people who really do take a practical interest in other people's souls—my brother Ronald does for one—but the idea is positively too ridiculous. Whenever I read any argument upon immortality it always seems to me remarkably cogent, if the souls in question were your soul and my soul; but just consider the transparent absurdity of supposing that every Hodge Chawbacon, and every rheumatic old Betty Martin, has got a soul, too, that must go on enduring for all eternity! The notion's absolutely ludicrous. What an infinite monotony of existence for the poor old creatures to endure for ever—being bored by their own inane personalities for a million aeons! It's simply appalling to think of!'
But Berkeley wasn't going to be drawn into a theological discussion—that was a field which he always sedulously and successfully avoided. 'The immortality of the soul,' he said quietly, 'is a Platonic dogma too frequently confounded, even by moderately instructed persons like yourself, Le Breton, with the Church's very different doctrine of the resurrection of the body. Upon this latter subject, my dear fellow, about which you don't seem to be quite clear or perfectly sound in your views, you'll find some excellent remarks in Bishop Pearson on the Creed—a valuable work which I had the pleasure of studying intimately for my ordination examination.'
'Really, Berkeley, you're the most incomprehensible and mysterious person I ever met in my whole lifetime!' said Herbert, dryly. 'I believe you take a positive delight in deceiving and mystifying one. Do you seriously mean to tell me you feel any interest at the present time of day in books written by bishops?'
'A modern bishop,' Berkeley answered calmly, 'is an unpicturesque but otherwise estimable member of a very distinguished ecclesiastical order, who ought not lightly to be brought into ridicule by lewd or lay persons. On that ground, I have always been in favour myself of gradually reforming his hat, his apron, and even his gaiters, which doubtless serve to render him at least conspicuous if not positively absurd in the irreverent eyes of a ribald generation. But as to criticising his literary or theological productions, my dear fellow, that would be conduct eminently unbecoming in a simple curate, and savouring of insubordination even in the person of an elderly archdeacon. I decline, therefore, to discuss the subject, especially with a layman on whose orthodoxy I have painful doubts.—Where's Oswald? Is he up yet?'
'No; he's down in Devonshire, my brother Ernest writes me.'
'What, at Dunbude? What's Oswald doing there?'
'Oh dear no; not at Dunbude: the peerage hasn't yet adopted him—at a place called Calcombe Pomeroy, where it seems he lives. Ernest has gone down there from Exmoor for a fortnight's holiday. You remember, Oswald has a pretty sister—I met her here in your rooms last October, in fact—and I apprehend she may possibly form a measurable portion of the local attractions. A pretty face goes a long way with some people.'
Berkeley drew a deep breath, and looked uneasily out of the window. This was dangerous news, indeed! What, little Miss Butterfly, has the boy with the gauze net caught sight of you already? Will he trap you and imprison you so soon in his little gilded matrimonial cage, enticing you thereinto with soft words and, sugared compliments to suit your dainty, delicate palate? and must I, who have meant to chase you for the chief ornament of my own small cabinet, be only in time to see you pinioned and cabined in your white lace veils and other pretty disguised entanglements, for his special and particular delectation? This must be looked into, Miss Butterfly; this must be prevented. Off to Calcombe Pomeroy, then, or other parts unknown, this very next to-morrow; and let us fight out the possession of little Miss Butterfly with our two gauze nets in opposition—mine tricked as prettily as I can trick it with tags and ends of art-allurements and hummed to in a delicate tune—before this interloping anticipating Le Breton has had time to secure you absolutely for himself. Too austere for you, little Miss Butterfly; good in his way, and kindly meaning, but too austere. Better come and sun yourself in the modest wee palace of art that I mean to build myself some day in some green, sunny, sloping valley, where your flittings will not be rudely disturbed by breath of poverty, nor your pretty feathery wings ruthlessly clipped with a pair of doctrinaire, ethico-socialistic scissors. To Calcombe, then, to Calcombe—and not a day's delay before I get there. So much of thought, in his own quaint indefinite fashion, flitted like lightning through Arthur Berkeley's perturbed mind, as he stood gazing wistfully for one second out of his pretty latticed creeper-clad window. Then he remembered himself quickly with a short little sigh, and turned to answer Herbert Le Breton's last half-sneering innuendo.
'Something more than a pretty face merely,' he said, surveying Herbert coldly from head to foot; 'a heart too, and a mind, for all her flitting, not wholly unfurnished with good, sensible, solid mahogany English furniture. You may be sure Harry Oswald's sister isn't likely to be wanting in wits, at any rate.'
'Oswald's a curious fellow,' Herbert went on, changing the venue, as he always did when he saw Berkeley was really in earnest; 'he's very clever, certainly, but he can never outlive his bourgeois origin. The smell of tea sticks about him somehow to the end of the chapter. Don't you know, Berkeley, there are some fellows whose clothes seem to have been born with them, they fit so perfectly and impede their movement so little; while there are other fellows whose clothes look at once as if they'd been made for them by a highly respectable but imperfectly successful tailor. That's just what I always think about Harry Oswald in the matter of culture. He's got a great deal of culture, the very best culture, from the very best shop—Oxford, in fact—dressed himself up in the finest suit of clothes from the most fashionable mental tailor; but it doesn't seem to fit him naturally. He moves about in it uneasily, like a man unaccustomed to be clothed by a good workman. He looks in his mental upholstery like a greengrocer in evening dress. Now there's all the difference in the world between that sort of put-on culture and culture in the grain, isn't there? You may train up a grocer's son to read Dante, and to play Mendelssohn's Lieder, and to admire Fra Angelico; but you can't train him up to wear these things lightly and gracefully upon him as you and I do, who come by them naturally. WE are born to the sphere; HE rises to it.'
'You think so, Le Breton?' asked the curate with a quiet and suppressed smile, as he thought silently of the placid old shoemaker.
'Think so! my dear fellow, I'm sure of it. I can spot a man of birth from a man of mere exterior polish any day, anywhere. Talk as much nonsense as you like about all men being born free and equal—they're not. They're born with natural inequalities in their very nerve and muscle. When I was an undergraduate, I startled one of the tutors of that time by beginning my English essay once, "All men are by nature born free and unequal." I stick to it still; it's the truth. They say it takes three generations to make a gentleman; nonsense utterly; it takes at least a dozen. You can't work out the common fibre in such a ridiculous hurry. That results as a simple piece of deductive reasoning from all modern theories of heredity and variation.'
'I agree with you in part, Le Breton,' the parson said, eyeing him closely; 'in part but not altogether. What you say about Oswald's very largely true. His culture sits upon him like a suit made to order, not like a skin in which he was born. But don't you think that's due more to the individual man than to the class he happens to belong to? It seems to me there are other men who come from the same class as Oswald, or even from lower classes, but whose culture is just as much ingrained as, say, my dear fellow, yours is. They were born, no doubt, of naturally cultivated parents. And that's how your rule about the dozen generations that go to make a gentleman comes really true. I believe myself it takes a good many generations; but then none of them need have been gentlemen, in the ordinary sense of the word, before him. A gentleman, if I'm to use the expression as implying the good qualities conventionally supposed to be associated with it, a gentleman may be the final outcome and efflorescence of many past generations of quiet, unobtrusive, working-man culture—don't you think so?'
Herbert Le Breton smiled incredulously. 'I don't know that I do, quite,' he answered languidly. 'I confess I attach more importance than you do to the mere question of race and family. A thoroughbred differs from a cart-horse, and a greyhound from a vulgar mongrel, in mind and character as well as in body. Oswald seems to me in all essentials a bourgeois at heart even now.'
'But remember,' Berkeley said, rather warmly for him, 'the bourgeois class in England is just the class which must necessarily find it hardest to throw off the ingrained traces of its early origin. It has intermarried for a long time—long enough to have produced a distinct racial type like those you speak of among dogs and horses—the Philistine type, in fact—and when it tries to emerge, it must necessarily fight hard against the innate Philistinism of which it is conscious in its own constitution. No class has had its inequality with others, its natural inferiority, so constantly and cruelly thrust in its face; certainly the working-man has not. The working-man who makes efforts to improve himself is encouraged; the working-man who rises is taken by the hand; the working-man, whatever he does, is never sneered at. But it's very different with the shopkeeper. Naturally a little prone to servility—that comes from the very necessities of the situation—and laudably anxious to attain the level of those he considers his superiors, he gets laughed at on every hand. Being the next class below society, society is always engaged in trying to keep him out and keep him down. On the other hand, he naturally forms his ideal of what is fine and worth imitating from the example of the class above him; and therefore, considering what that class is, he has unworthy aims and snobbish desires. Either in his own person, or in the persons of his near relations, the wholesale merchant and the manufacturer—all bourgeois alike—he supplies the mass of nouveaux riches who are the pet laughing-stock of all our playwrights, and novelists, and comic papers. So the bourgeois who really knows he has something in him, like Harry Oswald, feels from the beginning painfully conscious of the instability of his position, and of the fact that men like you are cutting jokes behind his back about the smell of tea that still clings to him. That's a horrible drag to hold a man back—the sense that he must always be criticised as one of his own class—and that a class with many recognised failings. It makes him self-conscious, and I believe self-consciousness is really at the root of that slight social awkwardness you think you notice in Harry Oswald. A working-man's son need never feel that. I feel sure there are working-men's sons who go through the world as gentlemen mixing with gentlemen, and never give the matter of their birth one moment's serious consideration. Their position never troubles them, and it never need trouble them. Put it to yourself, now, Le Breton. Suppose I were to tell you my father was a working shoemaker, for example, or a working carpenter, you'd never think anything more about it; but if I were to tell you he was a grocer, or a baker, or a confectioner, or an ironmonger, you'd feel a certain indefinable class barrier set up between us two immediately and ever after. Isn't it so, now?'
'Perhaps it is,' Herbert answered dubitatively. 'But as he's probably neither the one nor the other, the hypothesis isn't worth seriously discussing. I must go off now; I've got a lecture at twelve. Good-bye. Don't forget the tickets for Thursday's concert.'
Arthur Berkeley looked after him with a contemptuous smile. 'The outcome of a race himself,' he thought, 'and not the best side of that race either. I was half tempted, in the heat of argument, to blurt out to him the whole truth about the dear gentle old Progenitor; but I'm glad I didn't now. After all, it's no use to cast your pearls before swine. For Herbert's essentially a pig—a selfish self-centred pig; no doubt a very refined and cultivated specimen of pigdom—the best breed; but still a most emphatic and consummate pig for all that. Not the same stuff in him that there is in Ernest—a fibre or two wanting somewhere. But I mustn't praise Ernest—a rival! a rival! It's war to the death between us two now, and no quarter. He's a good fellow, and I like him dearly; but all's fair in love and war; and I must go down to Calcombe to-morrow morning and forestall him immediately. Dear little Miss Butterfly, 'tis for your sake; you shall not be pinched and cramped to suit the Procrustean measure of Ernest Le Breton's communistic fancies. You shall fly free in the open air, and flash your bright silken wings, decked out bravely in scales of many hues, not toned down to too sober and quaker-like a suit of drab and dove-colour. You were meant by nature for the sunshine and the summer; you shall not be worried and chilled and killed with doses of heterodox political economy and controversial ethics. Better even a country rectory (though with a bad Late Perpendicular church), and flowers, and picnics, and lawn-tennis, and village small-talk, and the squire's dinner-parties, than bread and cheese and virtuous poverty in a London lodging with Ernest Le Breton. Romance lives again. The beautiful maiden is about to be devoured by a goggle-eyed monster, labelled on the back "Experimental Socialism"; the red cross knight flies to her aid, and drives away the monster by his magic music. Lance in rest! lyre at side! third class railway ticket in pocket! A Berkeley to the rescue! and there you have it.' And as he spoke, he tilted with his pen at an imaginary dragon supposed to be seated in the crimson rocking-chair by the wainscotted fireplace.
'Yes, I must certainly go down to Calcombe. No use putting it off any longer. I've arranged to go next summer to London, to keep house for the dear old Progenitor; the music is getting asked for, two requests for more this very morning; trade is looking up. I shall throw the curacy business overboard (what chance for modest merit that ISN'T first cousin to a Bishop in the Church as at present constituted?) and take to composing entirely for a livelihood. I wouldn't ask Miss Butterfly before, because I didn't wish to tie her pretty wings prematurely; but a rival! that's quite a different matter. What right has he to go poaching on my preserves, I should like to know, and trying to catch the little gold fish I want to entice for my own private and particular fish-pond! An interloper, to be turned out unmercifully. So off to Calcombe, and that quickly.'
He sat down to his desk, and taking out some sheets of blank music-paper, began writing down the score of a little song at which he had been working. So he continued till lunch-time, and then, turning to the table when the scout called him, took his solitary lunch of bread and butter, with a volume of Petrarch set open before him as he eat. He was lazily Englishing the soft lines of the original into such verse as suited his fastidious ear, when the scout came in suddenly once more, bringing in his hand the mid-day letters. One of them bore the Calcombe postmark. 'Strange,' Berkeley said to himself; 'at the very moment when I was thinking of going there. An invitation perhaps; the age of miracles is not yet past—don't they see spirits in a conjuror's room in Regent Street?—from Oswald, too; by Jove, it must be an invitation.' And he ran his eye down the page rapidly, to see if there was any mention of little Miss Butterfly. Yes; there was her name on the second sheet; what could her brother have to say to him about her?
'We have Ernest Le Breton down here now,' Oswald wrote, 'on a holiday from the Exmoors', and you may be surprised to hear that I shall probably have him sooner or later for a brother-in-law. He has proposed to and been accepted by my sister Edith; and though it is likely, as things stand at present, to be a rather long engagement (for Le Breton has nothing to marry upon), we are all very much pleased about it here at Calcombe. He is just the exact man I should wish my sister to marry; so pleasant and good and clever, and so very well connected. Felicitate us, my dear Berkeley!'
Arthur Berkeley laid the letter down with a quiet sigh, and folded his hands despondently before him. He hadn't seen very much of Edie, yet the disappointment was to him a very bitter one. It had been a pleasant day-dream, truly, and he was both to part with it so unexpectedly. 'Poor little Miss Butterfly,' he said to himself, tenderly and compassionately; 'poor, airy, flitting, bright-eyed little Miss Butterfly. I must give you up, must I, and Ernest Le Breton must take you for better, for worse, must he? La reyne le veult, it seems, and her word is law. I'm afraid he's hardly the man to make you happy, little lady; kind-hearted, well-meaning, but too much in earnest, too much absorbed in his ideas of right for a world where right's impossible, and every man for himself is the wretched sordid rule of existence. He will overshadow and darken your bright little life, I fear me; not intentionally—he couldn't do that—but by his Quixotic fads and fancies; good fads, honest fads, but fads wholly impracticable in this jarring universe of clashing interests, where he who would swim must keep his own head steadily above water, and he who minds his neighbour must sink like lead to the unfathomable bottom. He will sink, I doubt not, poor little Miss Butterfly; he will sink inevitably, and drag you down with him, down, down, down to immeasurable depths of poverty and despair. Oh, my poor little butterfly, I'm sorry for you, and sorry for myself. It was a pretty dream, and I loved it dearly. I had made you a queen in my fancy, and throned you in my heart, and now I have to dethrone you again, me miserable, and have my poor lonely heart bare and queenless!'
The piano was open, and he went over to it instinctively, strumming a few wild bars out of his own head, made up hastily on the spur of the moment. 'No, not dethrone you,' he went on, leaning back on the music-stool, and letting his hand wander aimlessly over the keys; 'not dethrone you; I shall never, never be able to do that. Little Miss Butterfly, your image is stamped there too deep for dethronement, stamped there for ever, indelibly, ineffaceably, not to be washed out by tears or laughter. Ernest Le Breton may take you and keep you; you are his; you have chosen him, and you have chosen in most things not unwisely, for he's a good fellow and true (let me be generous in the hour of disappointment even to the rival, the goggle-eyed impracticable dragon monstrosity), but you are mine, too, for I won't give you up; I can't give you up; I must live for you still, even if you know it not. Little woman, I will work for you and I will watch over you; I will be your earthly Providence; I will try to extricate you from the quagmires into which the well-meaning, short-sighted dragon will infallibly lead you. Dear little bright soul, my heart aches for you; I know the trouble you are bringing upon yourself; but la reyne le veult, and it is not your humble servitor's business to interfere with your royal pleasure. Still, you are mine, for I am yours; yours, body and soul; what else have I to live for? The dear old Progenitor can't be with us many years longer; and when he is gone there will be nothing left me but to watch over little Miss Butterfly and her Don Quixote of a future husband. A man can't work and slave and compose sonatas for himself alone—the idea's disgusting, piggish, worthy only of Herbert Le Breton; I must do what I can for the little queen, and for her balloon-navigating Utopian Ernest. Thank heaven, no law prevents you from loving in your own heart the one woman whom you have once loved, no matter who may chance to marry her. Go, day-dream, fly, vanish, evaporate; the solid core remains still—my heart, and little Miss Butterfly. I have loved her once, and I shall love her, I shall love her for ever!'
He crumpled the letter up in his fingers, and flung it half angrily into the waste-paper basket, as though it were the embodied day-dream he was mentally apostrophising. It was sermon-day, and he had to write his discourse that very afternoon. A quaint idea seized him. 'Aha,' he said, almost gaily, in his volatile irresponsible fashion, 'I have my text ready; the hour brings it to me unsought; a quip, a quip! I shall preach on the Pool of Bethesda: "While I am coming, another steppeth down before me." The verse seems as if it were made on purpose for me; what a pity nobody else will understand it!' And he smiled quietly at the conceit, as he got the scented sheets of sermon-paper out of his little sandalwood davenport. For Arthur Berkeley was one of those curiously compounded natures which can hardly ever be perfectly serious, and which can enjoy a quaintness or a neat literary allusion even at a moment of the bitterest personal disappointment. He could solace himself for a minute for the loss of Edie by choosing a text for his Sunday's sermon with a prettily-turned epigram on his own position.