It is not good for man, woman, or child to be alone; and the companionship of girls of her own age did much toward deepening and broadening Elisabeth's character. The easy give-and-take of perfect equality was beneficial to her, as it is to everybody She did not forget her Cousin Anne—the art of forgetting was never properly acquired by Elisabeth; but new friendships and new interests sprang up out of the grave of the old one, and changed its resting-place from a cemetery into a garden. Elisabeth Farringdon could not be happy—could not exist, in fact—without some absorbing affection and interest in life. There are certain women to whom "the trivial round" and "the common task" are all-sufficing who ask nothing more of life than that they shall always have a dinner to order or a drawing-room to dust, and to whom the delinquencies of the cook supply a drama of never-failing attraction and a subject of never-ending conversation; but Elisabeth was made of other material; vital interests and strong attachments were indispensable to her well-being. The death of Anne Farringdon had left a cruel blank in the young life which was none too full of human interest to begin with; but this blank was to a great measure filled up by Elisabeth's adoration for the beloved personage who ruled over Fox How, and by her devoted friendship for Felicia Herbert.
In after years she often smiled tenderly when she recalled the absolute worship which the girls at Fox How offered to their "Dear Lady," as they called her, and of which the "Dear Lady" herself was supremely unconscious. It was a feeling of loyalty stronger than any ever excited by crowned heads (unless, perhaps, by the Pope himself), as she represented to their girlish minds the embodiment of all that was right, as well as of all that was mighty—and represented it so perfectly that through all their lives her pupils never dissociated herself from the righteousness which she taught and upheld and practised. And this attitude was wholly good for girls born in a century when it was the fashion to sneer at hero-worship and to scoff at authority when the word obedience in the Marriage Service was accused of redundancy, and the custom of speaking evil of dignities was mistaken for self-respect.
As for Felicia Herbert, she became for a time the very mainspring of Elisabeth's life. She was a beautiful girl, with fair hair and clear-cut features; and Elisabeth adored her with the adoration that is freely given, as a rule, to the girl who has beauty by the girl who has not. She was, moreover, gifted with a sweet and calm placidity, which was very restful to Elisabeth's volatile spirit; and the latter consequently greeted her with that passionate and thrilling friendship which is so satisfying to the immature female soul, but which is never again experienced by the woman who has once been taught by a man the nature of real love. Felicia was much more religious than Elisabeth, and much more prone to take serious views of life. The training of Fox How made for seriousness, and in that respect Felicia entered into the spirit of the place more profoundly than Elisabeth was capable of doing; for Elisabeth was always tender rather than serious, and broad rather than deep.
"I shall never go to balls when I leave school," said Felicia to her friend one day of their last term at Fox How, as the two were sitting in the arbour at the end of the long walk. "I don't think it is right to go to balls."
"Why not? There can be no harm in enjoying oneself, and I don't believe that God ever thinks there is."
"Not in enjoying oneself in a certain way; but the line between religious people and worldly people ought to be clearly marked. I think that dancing is a regular worldly amusement, and that good people should openly show their disapproval of it by not joining in it."
"But God wants us to enjoy ourselves," Elisabeth persisted. "And He wouldn't really love us if He didn't."
"God wants us to do what is right, and it doesn't matter whether we enjoy ourselves or not."
"But it does; it matters awfully. We can't really be good unless we are happy."
Felicia shook her head. "We can't really be happy unless we are good; and if we are good we shall 'love not the world,' but shall stand apart from it."
"But I must love the world; I can't help loving the world, it is so grand and beautiful and funny. I love the whole of it: all the trees and the fields, and the towns and the cities, and the prim old people and the dear little children. I love the places—the old places because I have known them so long, and the new places because I have never seen them before; and I love the people best of all. I adore people, Felicia; don't you?"
"No; I don't think that I do. Of course I like the people that I like; but the others seem to me dreadfully uninteresting."
"But they are not; they are all frightfully interesting when once you get to know them, and see what they really are made of inside. Outsides may seem dull; but insides are always engrossing. That's why I always love people when once I've seen them cry, because when they cry they are themselves, and not any make-ups."
"How queer to like people because you have seen them cry!"
"Well, I do. I'd do anything for a person that I had seen cry; I would really."
Felicia opened her large hazel eyes still wider. "What a strange idea! It seems to me that you think too much about feelings and not enough about principles."
"But thinking about feelings makes you think about principles; feelings are the only things that ever make me think about principles at all."
After a few minutes' silence Elisabeth asked suddenly:
"What do you mean to do with your life when you leave here and take it up?"
"I don't know. I suppose I shall fall in love and get married. Most girls do. And I hope it will be with a clergyman, for I do so love parish work."
"I don't think I want to get married," said Elisabeth slowly, "not even to a clergyman."
"How queer of you! Why not?"
"Because I want to paint pictures and to become a great artist. I feel there is such a lot in me that I want to say, and that I must say; and I can only say it by means of pictures. It would be dreadful to die before you had delivered the message that you had been sent into the world to deliver, don't you think?"
"It would be more dreadful to die before you had found one man to whom you would be everything, and who would be everything to you," replied Felicia.
"Oh! I mean to fall in love, because everybody does, and I hate to be behindhand with things; but I shall do it just as an experience, to make me paint better pictures. I read in a book the other day that you must fall in love before you can become a true artist; so I mean to do so. But it won't be as important to me as my art," said Elisabeth, who was as yet young enough to be extremely wise.
"Still, it must be lovely to know there is one person in the world to whom you can tell all your thoughts, and who will understand them, and be interested in them."
"It must be far lovelier to know that you have the power to tell all your thoughts to the whole world, and that the world will understand them and be interested in them," Elisabeth persisted.
"I don't think so. I should like to fall in love with a man who was so much better than I, that I could lean on him and learn from him in everything; and I should like to feel that whatever goodness or cleverness there was in me was all owing to him, and that I was nothing by myself, but everything with him."
"I shouldn't. I should like to feel that I was so good and clever that I was helping the man to be better and cleverer even than he was before."
"I should like all my happiness and all my interest to centre in that one particular man," said Felicia; "and to feel that he was a fairy prince, and that I was a poor beggar-maid, who possessed nothing but his love."
"Oh! I shouldn't. I would rather feel that I was a young princess, and that he was a warrior, worn-out and wounded in the battle of life; but that my love would comfort and cheer him after all the tiresome wars that he'd gone through. And as for whether he'd lost or won in the wars, I shouldn't care a rap, as long as I was sure that he couldn't be happy without me."
"You and I never think alike about things," said Felicia sadly.
"You old darling! What does it matter, as long as we agree in being fond of each other?"
At eighteen Elisabeth said farewell to Fox How with many tears, and came back to live at the Willows with Miss Farringdon. While she had been at school, Christopher had been first in Germany and then in America, learning how to make iron, so that they had never met during Elisabeth's holidays; therefore, when he beheld her transformed from a little girl into a full-blown young lady, he straightway fell in love with her. He was, however, sensible enough not to mention the circumstance, even to Elisabeth herself, as he realized, as well as anybody, that the nephew of Richard Smallwood would not be considered a fitting mate for a daughter of the house of Farringdon; but the fact that he did not mention the circumstance in no way prevented him from dwelling upon it in his own mind, and deriving much pleasurable pain and much painful pleasure therefrom. In short, he dwelt upon it so exclusively and so persistently that it went near to breaking his heart; but that was not until his heart was older, and therefore more capable of being broken past mending again.
Miss Farringdon and the people of Sedgehill were alike delighted to have Elisabeth among them once more; she was a girl with a strong personality; and people with strong personalities have a knack of making themselves missed when they go away.
"It's nice, and so it is, to have Miss Elisabeth back again," remarked Mrs. Bateson to Mrs. Hankey; "and it makes it so much cheerfuller for Miss Farringdon, too."
"Maybe it'll only make it the harder for Miss Farringdon when the time comes for Miss Elisabeth to be removed by death or by marriage; and which'll be the best for her—poor young lady!—the Lord must decide, for I'm sure I couldn't pass an opinion, only having tried one, and that nothing to boast of."
"I wonder if Miss Farringdon will leave her her fortune," said Mrs. Bateson, who, in common with the rest of her class, was consumed with an absorbing curiosity as to all testamentary dispositions.
"She may, and she may not; there's no prophesying about wills. I'm pleased to say I can generally foretell when folks is going to die, having done a good bit of sick-nursing in my time afore I married Hankey; but as to foretelling how they're going to leave their money, I can no more do it than the babe unborn; nor nobody can, as ever I heard tell on."
"That's so, Mrs. Hankey. Wills seem to me to have been invented by the devil for the special upsetting of the corpse's memory. Why, some of the peaceablest folks as I've ever known—folks as wouldn't have scared a lady-cow in their lifetime—have left wills as have sent all their relations to the right-about, ready to bite one another's noses off. Bateson often says to me, 'Kezia,' he says, 'call no man honest till his will's read.' And I'll be bound he's in the right. Still, it would be hard to see Miss Elisabeth begging her bread after the way she's been brought up, and Miss Farringdon would never have the conscience to let her do it."
"Folks leave their consciences behind with their bodies," said Mrs. Hankey; "and I've lived long enough to be surprised at nothing where wills are concerned."
"That is quite true," replied Mrs. Bateson. "Now take Miss Anne, for instance: she seemed so set on Miss Elisabeth that you'd have thought she'd have left her a trifle; but not she! All she had went to her sister, Miss Maria, who'd got quite enough already. Miss Anne was as sweet and gentle a lady as you'd wish to see; but her will was as hard as the nether millstone."
"There's nothing like a death for showing up what a family is made of."
"There isn't. Now Mr. William Farringdon's will was a very cruel one, according to my ideas, leaving everything to his niece and nothing to his son. True, Mr. George was but a barber's block with no work in him, and I'm the last to defend that; and then he didn't want to marry his cousin, Miss Maria, for which I shouldn't blame him so much; if a man can't choose his own wife and his own newspaper, what can he choose?—certainly not his own victuals, for he isn't fit. But if folks only leave their money to them that have followed their advice in everything, most wills would be nothing but a blank sheet of paper."
"And if they were, it wouldn't be a bad thing, Mrs. Bateson; there would be less sorrow on some sides, and less crape on others, and far less unpleasantness all round. For my part, I doubt if Miss Farringdon will leave her fortune to Miss Elisabeth, and her only a cousin's child; for when all is said and done, cousins are but elastic relations, as you may say. The well-to-do ones are like sisters and brothers, and the poor ones don't seem to be no connection at all."
"Well, let's hope that Miss Elisabeth will marry, and have a husband to work for her when Miss Farringdon is dead and gone."
"Husbands are as uncertain as wills, Mrs. Bateson, and more sure to give offence to them that trust in them; besides, I doubt if Miss Elisabeth is handsome enough to get a husband. The gentry think a powerful lot of looks in choosing a wife."
Mrs. Bateson took up the cudgels on Elisabeth's behalf. "She mayn't be exactly handsome—I don't pretend as she is; but she has a wonderful way of dressing herself, and looking for all the world like a fashion-plate; and some men have a keen eye for clothes."
"I think nothing of fine clothes myself. Saint Peter warns us against braiding of hair and putting on of apparel; and when all's said and done it don't go as far as a good complexion, and we don't need any apostle to tell us that—we can see it for ourselves."
"And as for cleverness, there ain't her like in all Mershire," continued Mrs. Bateson.
"Bless you! cleverness never yet helped a woman in getting a husband, and never will; though if she's got enough of it, it may keep her from ever having one. I don't hold with cleverness in a woman myself; it has always ended in mischief, from the time when the woman ate a bit of the Tree of Knowledge, and there was such a to-do about it."
"I wish she'd marry Mr. Christopher; he worships the very ground she walks on, and she couldn't find a better man if she swept out all the corners of the earth looking for one."
"Well, at any rate, she knows all about him; that is something. I always say that men are the same as kittens—you should take 'em straight from their mothers, or else not take 'em at all; for, if you don't, you never know what bad habits they may have formed or what queer tricks they will be up to."
"Maybe the manager's nephew ain't altogether the sort of husband you'd expect for a Farringdon," said Mrs. Bateson thoughtfully; "I don't deny that. But he's wonderful fond of her, Mr. Christopher is; and there's nothing like love for smoothing things over when the oven ain't properly heated, and the meat is done to a cinder on one side and all raw on the other. You find that out when you're married."
"You find a good many things out when you're married, Mrs. Bateson, and one is that this world is a wilderness of care. But as for love, I don't rightly know much about it, since Hankey would always rather have had my sister Sarah than me, and only put up with me when she gave him the pass-by, being set on marrying one of the family. I'm sure, for my part, I wish Sarah had had him; though I've no call to say so, her always having been a good sister to me."
"Well, love's a fine thing; take my word for it. It keeps the men from grumbling when nothing else will; except, of course, the grace of God," added Mrs. Bateson piously, "though even that don't always seem to have much effect, when things go wrong with their dinners."
"That's because they haven't enough of it; they haven't much grace in their hearts, as a rule, haven't men, even the best of them; and the best of them don't often come my way. But as for Miss Elisabeth, she isn't a regular Farringdon, as you may say—not the real daughter of the works; and so she shouldn't take too much upon herself, expecting dukes and ironmasters and the like to come begging to her on their bended knees. She is only Miss Farringdon's adopted daughter, at best; and I don't hold with adopted children, I don't; I think it is better and more natural to be born of your own parents, like most folk are."
"So do I," agreed Mrs. Bateson; "I'd never have adopted a child myself. I should always have been expecting to see its parents' faults coming out in it—so different from the peace you have with your own flesh and blood."
Mrs. Hankey groaned. "Your own flesh and blood may take after their father; you never can tell."
"So they may, Mrs. Hankey—so they may; but, as the Scripture says, it is our duty to whip the old man out of them."
"Just so. And that's another thing against adopted children—you'd hesitate about punishing them enough; I don't fancy as you'd ever feel the same pleasure in whipping 'em as you do in whipping your own. You'd feel you ought to be polite-like, as if they was sort of visitors."
"My children always took after my side of the house, I'm thankful to say," said Mrs. Bateson; "so I hadn't much trouble with them."
"I wish I could say as much; I do, indeed. But the Lord saw fit to try me by making my son Peter the very moral of his father; as like as two peas they are. And when you find one poor woman with such a double portion, you are tempted to doubt the workings of Providence."
Mrs. Bateson looked sympathetic. "That's bad for you, Mrs. Hankey!"
"It is so; but I take up my cross and don't complain. You know what a feeble creature Hankey is—never doing the right thing; and, when he does, doing it at the wrong time; well, Peter is just such another. Only the other day he was travelling by rail, and what must he do but get an attack of the toothache? Those helpless sort of folks are always having the toothache, if you notice."
"So they are."
"Peter's toothache was so bad that he must needs take a dose of some sleeping-stuff or other—I forget the name—and fell so sound asleep that he never woke at the station, but was put away with the carriage into a siding. Fast asleep he was, with his handkerchief over his face to keep the sun off, and never heard the train shunted, nor nothing."
"Well, to be sure! Them sleeping-draughts are wonderful soothing, as I've heard tell, but I never took one on 'em. The Lord giveth His beloved sleep, and His givings are enough for them as are in health; but them as are in pain want something a bit stronger, doubtless."
"So it appears," agreed Mrs. Hankey. "Well, there lay Peter fast asleep in the siding, with his handkerchief over his face. And one of the porters happens to come by, and sees him, and jumps to the conclusion that there's been a murder in the train, and that our Peter is the corpse. So off he goes to the station-master and tells him as there's a murdered body in one of the carriages in the siding; and the station-master's as put out as never was."
Mrs. Bateson's eyes and mouth opened wide in amazement and interest. "What a tale, to be sure!"
"And then," added Peter's mother, growing more dramatic as the story proceeded, "the station-master sends for the police, and the police sends for the crowner, so as everything shall be decent and in order; and they walks in a solemn procession—with two porters carrying a shutter—to the carriage where Peter lies, all as grand and nice as if it was a funeral."
"I never heard tell of such a thing in my life—never!"
"Then the station-master opens the door with one of them state keys which always take such a long time to open a door which you could open with your own hands in a trice—you know 'em by sight."
Mrs. Bateson nodded. Of course she knew them by sight; who does not?
"And then the crowner steps forward to take the handkerchief off the face of the body, it being the perquisite of a crowner so to do," Mrs. Hankey continued, with the maternal regret of a mother whose son has been within an inch of fame, and missed it; "and just picture to yourself the vexation of them all, when it was no murdered corpse they found, but only our Peter with an attack of the toothache!"
"Well, I never! They must have been put about; as you would have been yourself, Mrs. Hankey, if you'd found so little after expecting so much."
"In course I should; it wasn't in flesh and blood not to be, and station-master and crowner are but mortal, like the rest of us. I assure you, when I first heard the story, I pitied them from the bottom of my heart."
"And what became of Peter in the midst of it all, Mrs. Hankey?"
"Oh! it woke him up with a vengeance; and, of course, it flustered him a good deal, when he rightly saw how matters stood, to have to make his excuses to all them grand gentlemen for not being a murdered corpse. But as I says to him afterward, he'd no one but himself to blame; first for being so troublesome as to have the toothache, and then for being so presumptuous as to try and cure it. And his father is just the same; if you take your eye off him for a minute he is bound to be in some mischief or another."
"There's no denying that husbands is troublesome, Mrs. Hankey, and sons is worse; but all the same I stand up for 'em both, and I wish Miss Elisabeth had got one of the one and half a dozen of the other. Mark my words, she'll never do better, taking him all round, than Master Christopher."
Mrs. Hankey sighed. "I only hope she'll find it out before it is too late, and he is either laid in an early grave or else married to a handsomer woman, as the case may be, and both ways out of her reach. But I doubt it. She was a dark baby, if you remember, was Miss Elisabeth; and I never trust them as has been dark babies, and never shall."
"And how is Peter's toothache now?" inquired Mrs. Bateson, who was a more tender-hearted matron than Peter's mother.
"Oh! it's no better; and I know no one more aggravating than folks who keep sayin' they are no better when you ask 'em how they are. It always seems so ungrateful. Only this morning I asked our Peter how his tooth was, and he says, 'No better, mother; it was so bad in the night that I fairly wished I was dead.' 'Don't go wishing that,' says I; 'for if you was dead you'd have far worse pain, and it 'ud last for ever and ever.' I really spoke quite sharp to him, I was that sick of his grumbling; but it didn't seem to do him no good."
"Speaking sharp seldom does do much good," Mrs. Bateson remarked sapiently, "except to them as speaks."
THE MOAT HOUSE
You thought you knew me in and out And yet you never knew That all I ever thought about Was you.
Sedgehill High Street is nothing but a part of the great high road which leads from Silverhampton to Studley and Slipton and the other towns of the Black Country; but it calls itself Sedgehill High Street as it passes through the place, and so identifies itself with its environment, after the manner of caterpillars and polar bears and other similarly wise and adaptable beings. At the point where this road adopts the pseudonym of the High Street, close by Sedgehill Church, a lane branches off from it at right angles, and runs down a steep slope until it comes to a place where it evidently experiences a difference of opinion as to which is the better course to pursue—an experience not confined to lanes. But in this respect lanes are happier than men and women, in that they are able to pursue both courses, and so learn for themselves which is the wiser one, as is the case with this particular lane. One course leads headlong down another steep hill—so steep that unwary travellers usually descend from their carriages to walk up or down it, and thus are enabled to ensure relief to their horses and a chill to themselves at the same time; for it is hot work walking up or down that sunny precipice, and the cold winds of Mershire await one with equal gusto at the top and at the bottom. At the foot of the hill stretches a breezy common, wide enough to make one think "long, long thoughts"; and if the traveller looks backward when he has crossed this common, he will see Sedgehill Church, crowning and commanding the vast expanse, and pointing heavenward with its slender spire to remind him, and all other wayfaring men, that the beauty and glory of this present world is only an earnest and a foretaste of something infinitely fairer.
The second course of the irresolute lane is less adventurous, and wanders peacefully through Badgering Woods, a dark and delightful spot, once mysterious enough to be a fitting hiding-place for the age-long slumbers of some sleeping princess. As a matter of fact, so it was; the princess was black but comely, and her name was Coal. There she had slept for a century of centuries, until Prince Iron needed and sought and found her, and awakened her with the noise of his kisses. So now the wood is not asleep any more, but is filled with the tramping of the prince's men. The old people wring their hands and mourn that the former things are passing away, and that Mershire's youthful beauty will soon be forgotten; but the young people laugh and are glad, because they know that life is greater than beauty, and that it is by her black coalfields, and not by her green woodlands, that Mershire will save her people from poverty, and will satisfy her poor with bread.
When Elisabeth Farringdon was a girl, the princess was still asleep in the heart of the wood, and no prince had yet attempted to disturb her; and the lane passed through a forest of silence until it came to a dear little brown stream, which, by means of a dam, was turned into a moat, encircling one of the most ancient houses in England. The Moat House had been vacant for some time, as the owner was a delicate man who preferred to live abroad; and great was the interest at Sedgehill when, a year or two after Elisabeth left school, it was reported that a stranger, Alan Tremaine by name, had taken the Moat House for the sake of the hunting, which was very good in that part of Mershire.
So Alan settled there, and became one of the items which went to the making of Elisabeth's world. He was a small, slight man, interesting-looking rather than regularly handsome, of about five-and-twenty, who had devoted himself to the cultivation of his intellect and the suppression of his soul. Because his mother had been a religious woman, he reasoned that faith was merely an amiable feminine weakness, and because he himself was clever enough to make passable Latin verses, he argued that no Supernatural Being could have been clever enough to make him.
"Have you seen the new man who has come to the Moat House?" asked Elisabeth of Christopher. The latter had now settled down permanently at the Osierfield, and was qualifying himself to take his uncle's place as general manager of the works, when that uncle should retire from the post. He was also qualifying himself to be Elisabeth's friend instead of her lover—a far more difficult task.
"Yes; I have seen him."
"What is he like? I am dying to know."
"When I saw him he was exactly like a man riding on horseback; but as he was obviously too well-dressed to be a beggar, I have no reason to believe that the direction in which he was riding was the one which beggars on horseback are proverbially expected to take."
"How silly you are! You know what I mean."
"Perfectly. You mean that if you had seen a man riding by, at the rate of twelve miles an hour, it would at once have formed an opinion as to all the workings of his mind and the meditations of his heart. But my impressions are of slower growth, and I am even dull enough to require some foundation for them." Christopher loved to tease Elisabeth.
"I am awfully quick in reading character," remarked that young lady, with some pride.
"You are. I never know which impresses me more—the rapidity with which you form opinions, or their inaccuracy when formed."
"I'm not as stupid as you think."
"Pardon me, I don't think you are at all stupid; but I am always hoping that the experience of life will make you a little stupider."
"Don't be a goose, but tell me all you know about Mr. Tremaine."
"I don't know much about him, except that he is well-off, that he apparently rides about ten stone, and that he is not what people call orthodox. By the way. I didn't discover his unorthodoxy by seeing him ride by, as you would have done; I was told about it by some people who know him."
"How very interesting!" cried Elisabeth enthusiastically. "I wonder how unorthodox he is. Do you think he doesn't believe in anything?"
"In himself, I fancy. Even the baldest creed is usually self-embracing. But I believe he indulges in the not unfashionable luxury of doubts. You might attend to them, Elisabeth; you are the sort of girl who would enjoy attending to doubts."
"I suppose I really am too fond of arguing."
"There you misjudge yourself. You are instructive rather than argumentative. Saying the same thing over and over again in different language is not arguing, you know; I should rather call it preaching, if I were not afraid of hurting your feelings."
"You are a very rude boy! But, anyway, I have taught you a lot of things; you can't deny that."
"I don't wish to deny it; I am your eternal debtor. To tell the truth, I believe you have taught me everything I know, that is worth knowing, except the things that you have tried to teach me. There, I must confess, you have signally failed."
"What have I tried to teach you?"
"Heaps of things: that pleasure is more important than duty; that we are sent into the world to enjoy ourselves; that the worship of art is the only soul-satisfying form of faith; that conscience is an exhausted force; that feelings and emotions ought to be labelled and scheduled; that lobster is digestible; that Miss Herbert is the most attractive woman in the world; etcetera, etcetera."
"And what have I taught you without trying?"
"Ah! that is a large order; and it is remarkable that the things you have taught me are just the things that you have never learned yourself."
"Then I couldn't have taught them."
"But you did; that is where your genius comes in."
"I really am tremendously quick in judging character," repeated Elisabeth thoughtfully; "if I met you for the first time I should know in five minutes that you were a man with plenty of head, and heaps of soul, and very little heart."
"That would show wonderful penetration on your part."
"You may laugh, but I should. Of course, as it is, it is not particularly clever of me to understand you thoroughly; I have known you so long."
"Exactly; it would only be distinctly careless of you if you did not."
"Of course it would; but I do. I could draw a map of your mind with my eyes shut, I know it so well."
"I wish you would. I should value it even if it were drawn with your eyes open, though possibly in that case it might be less correct."
"I will, if you will give me a pencil and a sheet of paper."
Christopher produced a pencil, and tore a half-sheet off a note that he had in his pocket. The two were walking through the wood at the Willows at that moment, and Elisabeth straightway sat down upon a felled tree that happened to be lying there, and began to draw.
The young man watched her with amusement. "An extensive outline," he remarked; "this is gratifying."
"Oh yes! you have plenty of mind, such as it is; nobody could deny that."
"But why is the coast-line all irregular, with such a lot of bays and capes and headlands?"
"To show that you are an undecided person, and given to split hairs, and don't always know your own opinion. First you think you'll do a thing because it is nice; and then you think you won't do it because it is wrong; and in the end you drop between two stools, like Mahomet's coffin."
"I see. And please what are the mountain-ranges that you are drawing now?"
"These," replied Elisabeth, covering her map with herring-bones, "are your scruples. Like all other mountain-ranges they hinder commerce, make pleasure difficult, and render life generally rather uphill work." "Don't I sound exactly as if I was taking a geography class?"
"Or conducting an Inquisition," added Christopher.
"I thought an Inquisition was a Spanish thing that hurt."
"So certain ignorant people say; but it was originally invented, I believe, to eradicate error and to maintain truth."
"I am going on with my geography class, so don't interrupt. The rivers in this map, which are marked by a few faint lines, are narrow and shallow; they are only found near the coast, and never cross the interior of the country at all. These represent your feelings."
"Very ingenious of you! And what is that enormous blotch right in the middle of the country, which looks like London and its environs?"
"That is your conscience; its outlying suburbs cover nearly the whole country, you will perceive. You will also notice that there are no seaports on the coast of my map; that shows that you are self-contained, and that you neither send exports to, nor receive imports from, the hearts and minds of other people."
"What ever are those queer little castellated things round the coast that you are drawing now?"
"Those are floating icebergs, to show that it is a cold country. There, my map is finished," concluded Elisabeth, half closing her eyes and contemplating her handiwork through her eyelashes; "and I consider it a most successful sketch."
"It is certainly clever."
"And true, too."
Christopher's eyes twinkled. "Give it me," he said, stretching out his hand; "but sign it with your name first. Not there," he added hastily, as Elisabeth began writing a capital E in one corner; "right across the middle."
Elisabeth looked up in surprise. "Right across the map itself, do you mean?"
"But it is such a long name that it will cover the whole country."
"I know that."
"It will spoil it."
"I shouldn't be surprised; nevertheless, I always am in favour of realism."
"I don't know where the realism comes in; but I am such an obliging person that I will do what you want," said Elisabeth, writing her name right across the half-sheet of paper, in her usual dashing style.
"Thank you," said Christopher, taking the paper from her; and he smiled to himself as he saw that the name "Elisabeth Farringdon" covered the whole of the imaginary continent from east to west. Elisabeth naturally did not know that this was the only true image in her allegory; she was as yet far too clever to perceive obvious things. As Chris said, it was not when her eyes were open that she was most correct.
"I have seen Mr. Tremaine," said Elisabeth to him, a day or two after this. "Cousin Maria left her card upon him, and he returned her call yesterday and found us at home. I think he is perfectly delightful."
"You do, do you? I knew you would."
"Because, like the Athenians, you live to see or to hear some new thing."
"It wasn't his newness that made me like him; I liked him because he was so interesting. I do adore interesting people! I hadn't known him five minutes before he began to talk about really deep things; and then I felt I had known him for ages, he was so very understanding."
"Indeed," Christopher said drily.
"By the time we had finished tea he understood me better than you do after all these years. I wonder if I shall get to like him better than I like you?"
"I wonder, too." And he really did, with an amount of curiosity that was positively painful.
"Of course," remarked Elisabeth thoughtfully, "I shall always like you, because we have been friends so long, and you are overgrown with the lichen of old memories and associations. But you are not very interesting in the abstract, you see; you are nice and good, but you have not heart enough to be really thrilling."
"Still, even if I had a heart, it is possible I might not always wear it on my sleeve for Miss Elisabeth Farringdon to peck at."
"Oh yes, you would; you couldn't help it. If you tried to hide it I should see through your disguises. I have X rays in my eyes."
"Have you? They must be a great convenience."
"Well, at any rate, they keep me from making mistakes," Elisabeth confessed.
"That is fortunate for you. It is a mistake to make mistakes."
"I remember our Dear Lady at Fox How once saying," continued the girl, "that nothing is so good for keeping women from making mistakes as a sense of humour."
"I wonder if she was right?"
"She was always right; and in that as in everything else. Have you never noticed that it is not the women with a sense of humour who make fools of themselves? They know better than to call a thing romantic which is really ridiculous."
"Possibly; but they are sometimes in danger of calling a thing ridiculous which is really romantic; and that also is a mistake."
"I suppose it is. I wonder which is worse—to think ridiculous things romantic, or romantic things ridiculous? It is rather an interesting point. Which do you think?"
"I don't know. I never thought about it."
"You never do think about things that really matter," exclaimed Elisabeth, with reproof in her voice; "that is what makes you so uninteresting to talk to. The fact is you are so wrapped up in that tiresome old business that you never have time to attend to the deeper things and the hidden meanings of life; but are growing into a regular money-grubber."
"Perhaps so; but you will have the justice to admit it isn't my own money that I am grubbing," replied Christopher, who had only reconciled himself to giving up all his youthful ambitions and becoming sub-manager of the Osierfield by the thought that he might thereby in some roundabout way serve Elisabeth. Like other schoolboys he had dreamed his dreams, and prospected wonderful roads to success which his feet were destined never to tread; and at first he had asked something more of life than the Osierfield was capable of offering him. But finally he had submitted contentedly to the inevitable, because—in spite of all his hopes and ambitions—his boyish love for Elisabeth held him fast; and now his manly love for Elisabeth held him faster still. But even the chains which love had rivetted are capable of galling us sometimes; and although we would not break them, even if we could, we grumble at them occasionally—that is to say, if we are merely human, as is the case with so many of us.
"It is a great pity," Elisabeth went on, "that you deliberately narrow yourself down to such a small world and such petty interests. It is bad enough for old people to be practical and sensible and commonplace and all that; but for a man as young as you are it is simply disgusting. I can not understand you, because you really are clever and ought to know better; but although I am your greatest friend, you never talk to me about anything except the merest frivolities."
Christopher bowed his head to the storm and was still—he was one of the people who early learn the power of silence; but Elisabeth, having once mounted her high horse, dug her spurs into her steed and rode on to victory. In those days she was so dreadfully sure of herself that she felt competent to teach anybody anything.
"You laugh at me as long as I am funny and I amuse you; but the minute I begin to talk about serious subjects—such as feelings and sentiments and emotions—you lose your interest at once, and turn everything into a joke. The truth is, you have so persistently suppressed your higher self that it is dying of inanition; you'll soon have no higher self left at all. If people don't use their hearts they don't have any, like the Kentucky fish that can't see in the dark because they are blind, don't you know? Now you should take a leaf out of Mr. Tremaine's book. The first minute I saw him I knew that he was the sort of man that cultivated his higher self; he was interested in just the things that interest me."
The preacher paused for breath, and looked up to see whether her sermon was being "blessed" to her hearer; then suddenly her voice changed—
"What is the matter, Chris?"
"Because you look so awfully white. I was talking so fast that I didn't notice it; but I expect it is the heat. Do sit down on the grass and rest a bit; it is quite dry; and I'll fan you with a big dock leaf."
"I'm all right," replied Christopher, trying to laugh, and succeeding but indifferently.
"But I'm sure you are not, you are so pale; you look just as you looked the day that I tumbled off the rick—do you remember it?—and you took me into Mrs. Bateson's to have my head bound up. She said you'd got a touch of the sun, and I'm afraid you've got one now."
"Yes, I remember it well enough; but I'm all right now, Betty. Don't worry about me."
"But I do worry when you're ill; I always did. Don't you remember that when you had measles and I wasn't allowed to see you, I cried myself to sleep for three nights running, because I thought you were going to die, and that everything would be vile without you? And then I had a prayer-meeting about you in Mrs. Bateson's parlour, and I wrote the hymns for it myself. The Batesons wept over them and considered them inspired, and foretold that I should die early in consequence." And Elisabeth laughed at the remembrance of her fame.
Christopher laughed too. "That was hard on you! I admit that verse-writing is a crime in a woman, but I should hardly call it a capital offence. Still, I should like to have heard the hymns. You were great at writing poetry in those days."
"Wasn't I? And I used to be so proud when you said that my poems weren't 'half bad'!"
"No wonder; that was high praise from me. But can't you recall those hymns?"
The hymnist puckered her forehead. "I can remember the beginning of the opening one," she said; "it was a six-line-eights, and we sang it to a tune called Stella; it began thus:
"How can we sing like little birds, And hop about among the boughs? How can we gambol with the herds, Or chew the cud among the cows? How can we pop with all the weasles Now Christopher has got the measles?"
"Bravo!" exclaimed the subject of the hymn. "You are a born hymn-writer, Elisabeth. The shades of Charles Wesley and Dr. Watts bow to your obvious superiority."
"Well, at any rate, I don't believe they ever did better at fourteen; and it shows how anxious I was about you even then when you were ill. I am just the same now—quite as fond of you as I was then; and you are of me, too, aren't you?"
"Quite." Which was perfectly true.
"Then that's all right," said Elisabeth contentedly; "and, you see, it is because I am so fond of you that I tell you of your faults. I think you are so good that I want you to be quite perfect."
The missionary spirit is an admirable thing; but a man rarely does it full justice when it is displayed—toward himself—by the object of his devotion.
"If I wasn't so fond of you I shouldn't try to improve you."
"Of course not; and if you were a little fonder of me you wouldn't want to improve me. I perfectly understand."
"Dear old Chris! You really are extremely nice in some ways; and if you had only a little more heart you would be adorable. And I don't believe you are naturally unfeeling, do you?"
"No—I do not; but I sometimes wish I was."
"Don't say that. It is only that you haven't developed that side of you sufficiently; I feel sure the heart is there, but it is dormant. So now you will talk more about feelings, won't you?"
"I won't promise that. It is rather stupid to talk about things that one doesn't understand; I am sure this is correct, for I have often heard you say so."
"But talking to me about your feelings might help you to understand them, don't you see?"
"Or might help you."
"Oh! I don't want any help; feelings are among the few things that I can understand without any assistance. But you are sure you are all right, Chris, and haven't got a headache or anything?" And the anxious expression returned to Elisabeth's face.
"My head is very well, thank you."
"You don't feel any pain?"
"In my head? distinctly not."
"You are quite well, you are certain?"
"Perfectly certain and quite well. What a fidget you are! Apparently you attach as much importance to rosy cheeks as Mother Hankey does."
"A pale face and dark hair are in her eyes the infallible signs of a depraved nature," laughed Elisabeth; "and I have both."
"Yet you fly at me for having one, and that only for a short time. Considering your own shortcomings, you should be more charitable."
Elisabeth laughed again as she patted his arm in a sisterly fashion. "Nice old boy! I am awfully glad you are all right. It would make me miserable if anything went really wrong with you, Chris."
"Then nothing shall go really wrong with me, and you shall not be miserable," said Christopher stoutly; "and, therefore, it is fortunate that I don't possess much heart—things generally go wrong with the people who have hearts, you know, and not with the people who have not; so we perceive how wise was the poet in remarking that whatever is is made after the best possible pattern, or words to that effect." With which consoling remark he took leave of his liege-lady.
The friendship between Alan Tremaine and Elisabeth Farringdon grew apace during the next twelve months. His mind was of the metaphysical and speculative order, which is interesting to all women; and hers was of the volatile and vivacious type which is attractive to some men. They discussed everything under the sun, and some things over it; they read the same books and compared notes afterward; they went out sketching together, and instructed each other in the ways of art; and they carefully examined the foundations of each other's beliefs, and endeavoured respectively to strengthen and undermine the same. Gradually they fell into the habit of wondering every morning whether or not they should meet during the coming day; and of congratulating themselves nearly every evening that they had succeeded in so meeting.
As for Christopher, he was extremely and increasingly unhappy, and, it must be admitted, extremely and increasingly cross in consequence. The fact that he had not the slightest right to control Elisabeth's actions, in no way prevented him from highly disapproving of them; and the fact that he was too proud to express this disapproval in words, in no way prevented him from displaying it in manner. Elisabeth was wonderfully amiable with him, considering how very cross he was; but are we not all amiable with people toward whom we—in our inner consciousness—know that we are behaving badly?
"I can not make out what you can see in that conceited ass?" he said to her, when Alan Tremaine had been living at the Moat House for something over a year.
"Perhaps not; making things out never is your strong point," replied Elisabeth suavely.
"But he is such an ass! I'm sure the other evening, when he trotted out his views on the Higher Criticism for your benefit, he made me feel positively ill."
"I found it very interesting; and if, as you say, he did it for my benefit, he certainly succeeded in his aim." There were limits to the patience of Elisabeth.
"Well, how women can listen to bosh of that kind I can not imagine! What can it matter to you what he disbelieves or why he disbelieves it? And it is beastly cheek of him to suppose that it can."
"But he is right in supposing it, and it does matter to me. I like to know how old-fashioned truths accord or do not accord with modern phases of thought."
"Modern phases of nonsense, you mean! Well, the old-fashioned truths are good enough for me, and I'll stick to them, if you please, in spite of Mr. Tremaine's overwhelming arguments; and I should advise you to stick to them, too."
"Oh! Chris, I wish you wouldn't be so disagreeable." And Elisabeth sighed. "It is so difficult to talk to you when you are like this."
"I'm not disagreeable," replied Christopher mendaciously; "only I can not let you be taken in by a stuck-up fool without trying to open your eyes; I shouldn't be your friend if I could." And he actually believed that this was the case. He forgot that it is not the trick of friendship, but of love, to make "a corner" in affection, and to monopolize the whole stock of the commodity.
"You see," Elisabeth explained, "I am so frightfully modern, and yet I have been brought up in such a dreadfully old-fashioned way. It was all very well for the last generation to accept revealed truth without understanding it, but it won't do for us."
"Oh! because we are young and modern."
"So were they at one time, and we shall not be so for long."
Elisabeth sighed again. "How difficult you are! Of course, the sort of religion that did for Cousin Maria and Mr. Smallwood won't do for Mr. Tremaine and me. Can't you see that?"
"I can not, I am sorry to say."
"Their religion had no connection with their intellects."
"Still, it changed their hearts, which I have heard is no unimportant operation."
"They accepted what they were told without trying to understand it," Elisabeth continued, "which is not, after all, a high form of faith."
"Indeed. I should have imagined that it was the highest."
"But can't you see that to accept blindly what you are told is not half so great as to sift it all, and to separate the chaff from the wheat, and to find the kernel of truth in the shell of tradition?" Elisabeth had not talked to Alan Tremaine for over a year without learning his tricks of thought and even of expression. "Don't you think that it is better to believe a little with the whole intellect than a great deal apart from it?"
Christopher looked obstinate. "I can't and don't."
"Have you no respect for 'honest doubt'?"
Elisabeth's face flushed. "You really are too rude for anything."
Christopher was penitent at once; he could not bear really to vex her. "I am sorry if I was rude; but it riles me to hear you quoting Tremaine's platitudes by the yard—such rotten platitudes as they are, too!"
"You don't do Mr. Tremaine justice, Chris. Even though he may have outgrown the old faiths, he is a very good man; and he has such lovely thoughts about truth and beauty and love and things like that."
"His thoughts are nothing but empty windbags; for he is the type of man who is too ignorant to accept truth, too blind to appreciate beauty, and too selfish to be capable of loving any woman as a woman ought to be loved."
"I think his ideas about love are quite ideal," persisted the girl. "Only yesterday he was abusing the selfishness of men in general, and saying that a man who is really in love thinks of the woman he loves as well as of himself."
"He said that, did he? Then he was mistaken."
Elisabeth looked surprised. "Then don't you agree with him that a man in love thinks of the woman as well as of himself?"
"No; I don't. A man who is really in love never thinks of himself at all, but only of the woman. It strikes me that Master Alan Tremaine knows precious little about the matter."
"I think he knows a great deal. He said that love was the discovery of the one woman whereof all other women were but types. That really was a sweet thing to say!"
"My dear Betty, you know no more about the matter than he does. Falling in love doesn't merely mean that a man has found a woman who is dearer to him than all other women, but that he has found a woman who is dearer to him than himself."
Elisabeth changed her ground. "I admit that he isn't what you might call orthodox," she said—"not the sort of man who would clothe himself in the rubric, tied on with red tape; but though he may not be a Christian, as we count Christianity, he believes with all his heart in an overruling Power which makes for righteousness."
"That is very generous of him," retorted Christopher; "still, I can not for the life of me see that the possession of three or four thousand a year, without the trouble of earning it, gives a man the right to patronize the Almighty."
"You are frightfully narrow, Chris."
"I know I am, and I am thankful for it. I had rather be as narrow as a plumbing-line than indulge in the sickly latitudinarianism that such men as Tremaine nickname breadth."
"Oh! I am tired of arguing with you; you are too stupid for anything."
"But you haven't been arguing—you have only been quoting Tremaine verbatim; and that that may be tiring I can well believe."
"Well, you can call it what you like; but by any other name it will irritate you just as much, because you have such a horrid temper. Your religion may be very orthodox, but I can not say much for its improving qualities; it is the crossest, nastiest, narrowest, disagreeablest sort of religion that I ever came across."
And Elisabeth walked away in high dudgeon, leaving Christopher very angry with himself for having been disagreeable, and still angrier with Tremaine for having been the reverse.
Light shadows—hardly seen as such— Crept softly o'er the summer land In mute caresses, like the touch Of some familiar hand.
"I want to give your work-people a treat," said Tremaine to Elisabeth, in the early summer.
"That is very nice of you; but this goes without saying, as you are always planning and doing something nice. I shall be very glad for our people to have a little pleasure, as at present the annual tea-meeting at East Lane Chapel seems to be their one and only dissipation; and although tea-meetings may be very well in their way, they hardly seem to fulfil one's ideal of human joy."
"Ah! you have touched upon a point to which I was coming," said Alan earnestly; "it is wonderful how often our minds jump together! Not only am I anxious to give the Osierfield people something more enjoyable than a tea-meeting—I also wish to eliminate the tea-meeting spirit from their idea of enjoyment."
"How do you mean?" It was noteworthy that while Elisabeth was always ready to teach Christopher, she was equally willing to learn from Alan.
"I mean that I want to show people that pleasure and religion have nothing to do with each other. It always seems to me such a mistake that the pleasures of the poor—the innocent pleasures, of course—are generally inseparable from religious institutions. If they attend a tea-party, they open it with prayer; if they are taken for a country drive, they sing hymns by the way."
"Oh! but I think they do this because they like it, and not because they are made to do it," said Elisabeth eagerly.
"Not a bit of it; they do it because they are accustomed to do it, and they feel that it is expected of them. Religion is as much a part of their dissipation as evening dress is of ours, and just as much a purely conventional part; and I want to teach them to dissociate the two ideas in their own minds."
"I doubt if you will succeed, Mr. Tremaine."
"Yes, I shall; I invariably succeed. I have never failed in anything yet, and I never mean to fail. And I do so want to make the poor people enjoy themselves thoroughly. Of course, it is a good thing to have one's pills always hidden in jam; but it must be a miserable thing to belong to a section of society where one's jam is invariably full of pills."
Elisabeth smiled, but did not speak; Alan was the one person of her acquaintance to whom she would rather listen than talk.
"It is a morbid and unhealthy habit," he went on, "to introduce religion into everything, in the way that English people are so fond of doing. It decreases their pleasures by casting its shadow over purely human and natural joys; and it increases their sorrow and want by teaching them to lean upon some hypothetical Power, instead of trying to do the best that they can for themselves. Also it enervates their reasoning faculties; for nothing is so detrimental to one's intellectual strength as the habit of believing things which one knows to be impossible."
"Then don't you believe in religion of any kind?"
"Most certainly I do—in many religions. I believe in the religion of art and of science and of humanity, and countless more; in fact, the only religion I do not believe in is Christianity, because that spoils all the rest by condemning art as fleshly, science as untrue, and humanity as sinful. I want to bring the old Pantheism to life again, and to teach our people to worship beauty as the Greeks worshipped it of old; and I want you to help me."
Elisabeth gasped as Elisha might have gasped when Elijah's mantle fell upon him. She was as yet too young to beware of false prophets. "I should love to make people happy," she said; "there seems to be so much happiness in the world and so few that find it."
"The Greeks found it; therefore, why should not the English? I mean to teach them to find it, and I shall begin with your work-people on Whit Monday."
"What shall you do?" asked the girl, with intense interest.
"It is no good taking away old lamps until you are prepared to offer new ones in their place; therefore I shall not take away the consolations (so called) of religion until I have shown the people a more excellent way. I shall first show them nature, and then art—nature to arouse their highest instincts, and art to express the same; and I am convinced that after they have once been brought face to face with the beautiful thus embodied, the old faiths will lose the power to move them."
When Whit Monday came round, the throbbing heart of the Osierfield stopped beating, as it was obliged to stop on a bank-holiday; and the workmen, with their wives and sweethearts, were taken by Alan Tremaine in large brakes to Pembruge Castle, which the owner had kindly thrown open to them, at Alan's request, for the occasion.
It was a long drive and a wonderfully beautiful one, for the year was at its best. All the trees had put on their new summer dresses, and never a pair of them were of the same shade. The hedges were covered with a wreath of white May-blossom, and seemed like interminable drifts of that snow in summer which is as good news from a far country; and the roads were bordered by the feathery hemlock, which covered the face of the land as with a bridal veil.
"Isn't the world a beautiful place?" said Elisabeth, with a sigh of content, to Alan, who was driving her in his mail-phaeton. "I do hope all the people will see and understand how beautiful it is."
"They can not help seeing and understanding; beauty such as this is its own interpreter. Surely such a glimpse of nature as we are now enjoying does people more good than a hundred prayer-meetings in a stuffy chapel."
"Beauty slides into one's soul on a day like this, just as something—I forget what—slid into the soul of the Ancient Mariner; doesn't it?"
"Of course it does; and you will find that these people—now that they are brought face to face with it—will be just as ready to worship abstract beauty as ever the Greeks were. The fault has not been with the poor for not having worshipped beauty, but with the rich for not having shown them sufficient beauty to worship. The rich have tried to choke them off with religion instead, because it came cheaper and was less troublesome to produce."
"Then do you think that the love of beauty will elevate these people more and make them happier than Christianity has done?"
"Most assuredly I do. Had our climate been sunnier and the fight for existence less bitter, I believe that Christianity would have died out in England years ago; but the worship of sorrow will always have its attractions for the sorrowful; and the doctrine of renunciation will never be without its charm for those unfortunate ones to whom poverty and disease have stood sponsors, and have renounced all life's good things in their name before ever they saw the light. Man makes his god in his own image; and thus it comes to pass that while the strong and joyous Greek adored Zeus on Olympus, the anaemic and neurotic Englishman worships Christ on Calvary. Do you tell me that if people were happy they would bow down before a stricken and crucified God? Not they. And I want to make them so happy that they shall cease to have any desire for a suffering Deity."
"Well, you have made them happy enough for to-day, at any rate," said Elisabeth, as she looked up at him with gratitude and admiration. "I saw them all when they were starting, and there wasn't one face among them that hadn't joy written on every feature in capital letters."
"Then in that case they won't be troubling their minds to-day about their religion; they will save it for the gloomy days, as we save narcotics for times of pain. You may depend upon that."
"I'm not so sure: their religion is more of a reality to them than you think," Elisabeth replied.
While Alan was thus, enjoying himself in his own fashion, his guests were enjoying themselves in theirs; and as they drove through summer's fairyland, they, too, talked by the way.
"Eh! but the May-blossom's a pretty sight," exclaimed Caleb Bateson, as the big wagonettes rolled along the country roads. "I never saw it finer than it is this year—not in all the years I've lived in Mershire; and Mershire's the land for May-blossom."
"It do look pretty," agreed his wife. "I only wish Lucy Ellen was here to see it; she was always a one for the May-blossom. Why, when she was ever such a little girl she'd come home carrying branches of it bigger than herself, till she looked like nothing but a walking May-pole."
"Poor thing!" said Mrs. Hankey, who happened to be driving in the same vehicle as the Batesons, "she'll be feeling sad and homesick to see it all again, I'll be bound."
Lucy Ellen's mother laughed contentedly. "Folks haven't time to feel homesick when they've got a husband to look after; he soon takes the place of May-blossom, bless you!"
"You're in luck to see all your children married and settled before the Lord has been pleased to take you," remarked Mrs. Hankey, with envy in her voice.
"Well, I'm glad for the two lads to have somebody to look after them, I'm bound to say; I feel now as they've some one to air their shirts when I'm not there, for you never can trust a man to look after himself—never. Men have no sense to know what is good for 'em and what is bad for 'em, poor things! But Lucy Ellen is a different thing. Of course I'm pleased for her to have a home of her own, and such nice furniture as she's got, too, and in such a good circuit; but when your daughter is married you don't see her as often as you want to, and it is no good pretending as you do."
"That's true," agreed Caleb Bateson, with a big sigh; "and I never cease to miss my little lass."
"She ain't no little lass now, Mr. Bateson," argued Mrs. Hankey; "Lucy Ellen must be forty, if she's a day."
"So she be, Mrs. Hankey—so she be; but she is my little lass to me, all the same, and always will be. The children never grow up to them as loves 'em. They are always our children, just as we are always the Lord's children; and we never leave off a-screening and a-sheltering o' them, any more than He ever leaves off a-screening and a-sheltering of us."
"I'm glad to hear as Lucy Ellen has married into a good circuit. Unless the Lord build the house we know how they labour in vain that build it; and the Lord can't do much unless He has a good minister to help Him. I don't deny as He may work through local preachers; but I like a regular superintendent myself, with one or more ministers under him."
"Oh! Lucy Ellen lives in one of the best circuits in the Connexion," said Mrs. Bateson proudly; "they have an ex-president as superintendent, and three ministers under him, and a supernumerary as well. They never hear the same preached more than once a month; it's something grand!"
"Eh! it's a fine place is Craychester," added Caleb; "they held Conference there two years ago."
"It must be a grand thing to live in a place where they hold Conference," remarked Mrs. Hankey.
"It is indeed," agreed Mrs. Bateson; "Lucy Ellen said it seemed for all the world like heaven, to see so many ministers about, all in their black coats and white neckcloths. And then such preaching as they heard! It isn't often young folks enjoy such privileges, and so I told her."
"When all's said and done, there's nothing like a good sermon for giving folks real pleasure. Nothing in this world comes up to it, and I doubt if there'll be anything much better in the next," said Caleb; "I don't see as how there can be."
His friends all agreed with him, and continued, for the rest of the drive, to discuss the respective merits of various discourses they had been privileged to hear.
It was a glorious day. The sky was blue, with just enough white clouds flitting about to show how blue the blue part really was; and the varying shadows kept passing, like the caress of some unseen yet ever-protecting Hand, over the green nearnesses and the violet distances of a country whose foundations seemed to be of emerald and amethyst, and its walls and gateways of pearl. The large company from the Osierfield drove across the breezy common at the foot of Sedgehill Ridge, and then plunged into a network of lanes which led them, by sweet and mysterious ways, to the great highway from the Midlands to the coast of the western sea. On they went, past the little hamlet where the Danes and the Saxons fought a great fight more than a thousand years ago, and which is still called by a strange Saxon name, meaning "the burying-place of the slain"; and the little hamlet smiled in the summer sunshine, as if with kindly memories of those old warriors whose warfare had been accomplished so many centuries ago, and who lie together, beneath the white blossom, in the arms of the great peacemaker called Death, waiting for the resurrection morning which that blossom is sent to foretell. On, between man's walls of gray stone, till they came to God's walls of red sandstone; and then up a steep hill to another common, where the sweet-scented gorse made a golden pavement, and where there suddenly burst upon their sight a view so wide and so wonderful that those who look upon it with the seeing eye and the understanding heart catch glimpses of the King in His beauty through the fairness of the land that is very far off. On past the mossy stone, like an overgrown and illiterate milestone, which marks the boundary between Mershire and Salopshire; and then through a typical English village, noteworthy because the rites of Mayday, with May-queen and May-pole to boot, are still celebrated there exactly as they were celebrated some three hundred years ago. At last they came to a picturesque wall and gateway, built of the red stone which belongs to that part of the country, and which has a trick of growing so much redder at evening-time that it looks as if the cold stone were blushing with pleasure at being kissed Good-night by the sun; and then through a wood sloping on the left side down to a little stream, which was so busy talking to itself about its own concerns that it had not time to leap and sparkle for the amusement of passers-by; until they drew up in front of a quaint old castle, built of the same stone as the outer walls and gateway.
The family were away from home, so the whole of the castle was at the disposal of Alan and his party, and they had permission to go wherever they liked. The state-rooms were in front of the building and led out of each other, so that when all the doors were open any one could see right from one end of the castle to the other. Dinner was to be served in the large saloon at the back, built over what was once the courtyard; and while his servants were laying the tables with the cold viands which they had brought with them, Alan took his guests through the state-rooms to see the pictures, and endeavoured to carry out his plan of educating them by pointing out to them some of the finer works of art.
"This," he said, stopping in front of a portrait, "is a picture of Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu, who was born here, painted by one of the first portrait-painters of her day. I want you to look at her hands, and to notice how exquisitely they are painted. Also I wish to call your attention to the expression of her face. You know that it is the duty of art to interpret nature—that is to say, to show to ordinary people those hidden beauties and underlying meanings of common things which they would never be able to find out for themselves; and I think that in the expression on this woman's face the artist has shown forth, in a most wonderful way, the dissatisfaction and bitterness of her heart. As you look at her face you seem to see right into her soul, and to understand how she was foredoomed by nature and temperament to ask too much of life and to receive too little."
"Well, to be sure!" remarked Mrs. Bateson, in an undertone, to her lord and master; "she is a bit like our superintendent's wife, only not so stout. And what a gown she has got on! I should say that satin is worth five-and-six a yard if it is worth a penny. And I call it a sin and a shame to have a dirty green parrot sitting on your shoulder when you're wearing satin like that. If she'd had any sense she'd have fed the animals before she put her best gown on."
"I never could abide parrots," joined in Mrs. Hankey; "they smell so."
"And as for her looking dissatisfied and all that," continued Mrs. Bateson, "I for one can't see it. But if she did, it was all a pack of rubbish. What had she to grumble at, I should like to know, with a satin gown on at five-and-six a yard?"
By this time Alan had moved on to another picture. "This represents an unhappy marriage," he explained. "At first sight you see nothing but two well-dressed people sitting at table; but as you look into the picture you perceive the misery in the woman's face and the cruelty in the man's, and you realize all that they mean."
"Well, I see nothing more at second sight," whispered Mrs. Hankey; "except that the tablecloth might have been cleaner. There's another of your grumbling fine ladies! Now for sure she'd nothing to grumble at, sitting so grand at table with a glass of sherry-wine to drink."
"The husband looks a cantankerous chap," remarked Caleb.
"Poor thing! it's his liver," said Mrs. Bateson, taking up the cudgels as usual on behalf of the bilious and oppressed. "You can see from his complexion that he is out of order, and that all that rich dinner will do him no good. It was his wife's duty to see that he had something plain to eat, with none of them sauces and fal-lals, instead of playing the fine lady and making troubles out of nothing. I've no patience with her!"
"Still, he do look as if he'd a temper," persisted Mr. Bateson.
"And if he do, Caleb, what of that? If a man in his own house hasn't the right to show a bit of temper, I should like to know who has? I've no patience with the women that will get married and have a man of their own; and then cry their eyes out because the man isn't an old woman. If they want meekness and obedience, let 'em remain single and keep lapdogs and canaries; and leave the husbands for those as can manage 'em and enjoy 'em, for there ain't enough to go round as it is." And Mrs. Bateson waxed quite indignant.
Here Tremaine took up his parable. "This weird figure, clothed in skins, and feeding upon nothing more satisfying than locusts and wild honey, is a type of all those who are set apart for the difficult and unsatisfactory lot of heralds and forerunners. They see the good time coming, and make ready the way for it, knowing all the while that its fuller light and wider freedom are not for them; they lead their fellows to the very borders of the promised land, conscious that their own graves are already dug in the wilderness. No great social or political movement has ever been carried on without their aid; and they have never reaped the benefits of those reforms which they lived and died to compass. Perhaps there are no sadder sights on the page of history than those solitary figures, of all nations and all times, who have foretold the coming of the dawn and yet died before it was yet day."'
"Did you ever?" exclaimed Mrs. Bateson sotto voce; "a grown man like that, and not to know John the Baptist when he sees him! Forerunners and heralds indeed! Why, it's John the Baptist as large as life, and those as don't recognise him ought to be ashamed of theirselves."
"Lucy Ellen would have known who it was when she was three years old," said Caleb proudly.
"And so she ought; I'd have slapped her if she hadn't, and richly she'd have deserved it."
"It's a comfort as Mr. Tremaine's mother is in her grave," remarked Mrs. Hankey, not a whit behind the others as regards shocked sensibilities; "this would have been a sad day for her if she had been alive."
"And it would!" agreed Mrs. Bateson warmly. "I know if one of my children hadn't known John the Baptist by sight, I should have been that ashamed I should never have held up my head again in this world—never!"
Mr. Bateson endeavoured to take a charitable view of the situation. "I expect as the poor lad's schooling was neglected through having lost his parents; and there's some things as you never seem to master at all except you master 'em when you're young—the Books of the Bible being one of them."
"My lads could say the Books of the Bible through, without stopping to take breath, when they were six, and Lucy Ellen when she was five and a half."
"Well, then, Kezia, you should be all the more ready to take pity on them poor orphans as haven't had the advantages as our children have had."
"So I am, Caleb; and if it had been one of the minor prophets I shouldn't have said a word—I can't always tell Jonah myself unless there's a whale somewhere at the back; but John the Baptist——!"
When the inspection of the pictures had been accomplished, the company sat down to dinner in the large saloon; and Alan was slightly disconcerted when they opened the proceedings by singing, at the top of their voices, "Be present at our table, Lord." Elisabeth, on seeing the expression of his face, sorely wanted to laugh; but she stifled this desire, as she had learned by experience that humour was not one of Alan's strong points. Now Christopher could generally see when a thing was funny, even when the joke was at his own expense; but Alan took life more seriously, which—as Elisabeth assured herself—showed what a much more earnest man than Christopher he was, in spite of his less orthodox opinions. So she made up her mind that she would not catch Christopher's eye on the present occasion, as she usually did when anything amused her, because it was cruel to laugh at the frustration of poor Alan's high-flown plans; and then naturally she looked straight at the spot where Chris was presiding over a table, and returned his smile of perfect comprehension. It was one of Elisabeth's peculiarities that she invariably did the thing which she had definitely made up her mind not to do.
After dinner the party broke up and wandered about, in small detachments, over the park and through the woods and by the mere, until it was tea-time. Alan spent most of his afternoon in explaining to Elisabeth the more excellent ways whereby the poor may be enabled to share the pleasures of the rich; and Christopher spent most of his in carrying Johnnie Stubbs to the mere and taking him for a row, and so helping the crippled youth to forget for a short time that he was not as other men are, and that it was out of pity that he, who never worked, had been permitted to take the holiday which he could not earn.
After tea Alan and Elisabeth were standing on the steps leading from the saloon to the garden.
"What a magnificent fellow that is!" exclaimed Alan, pointing to the huge figure of Caleb Bateson, who was talking to Jemima Stubbs on the far side of the lawn. Caleb certainly justified this admiration, for he was a fine specimen of a Mershire puddler—and there is no finer race of men to be found anywhere than the puddlers of Mershire.
Elisabeth's eyes twinkled. "That is one of your anaemic and neurotic Christians," she remarked demurely.
Displeasure settled on Alan's brow; he greatly objected to Elisabeth's habit of making fun of things, and had tried his best to cure her of it. To a great extent he had succeeded (for the time being); but even yet the cloven foot of Elisabeth's levity now and then showed itself, much to his regret.
"Exceptions do not disprove rules," he replied coldly. "Moreover, Bateson is probably religious rather from the force of convention than of conviction." Tremaine never failed to enjoy his own rounded sentences, and this one pleased him so much that it almost succeeded in dispelling the cloud which Elisabeth's ill-timed gibe had created.
"He is a class-leader and a local preacher," she added.
"Those terms convey no meaning to my mind."
"Don't they? Well, they mean that Caleb not only loyally supports the government of Providence, but is prepared to take office under it," Elisabeth explained.
Alan never quarrelled with people; he always reproved them. "You make a great mistake—and an extremely feminine one—Miss Farringdon, in invariably deducting general rules from individual instances. Believe me, this is a most illogical form of reasoning, and leads to erroneous, and sometimes dangerous, conclusions."
Elisabeth tossed her head; she did not like to be reproved, even by Alan Tremaine. "My conclusions are nearly always correct, anyhow," she retorted; "and if you get to the right place, I don't see that it matters how you go there. I never bother my head about the 'rolling stock' or the 'permanent way' of my intuitions; I know they'll bring me to the right conclusion, and I leave them to work out their Bradshaw for themselves."
In the meantime Jemima Stubbs was pouring out a recital of her grievances into the ever-sympathetic ear of Caleb Bateson.
"You don't seem to be enjoying yourself, my lass," he had said in his cheery voice, laying a big hand in tender caress upon the girl's narrow shoulders.
"And how should I, Mr. Bateson, not having a beau nor nobody to talk to?" she replied in her quavering treble. "What with havin' first mother to nurse when I was a little gell, and then havin' Johnnie to look after, I've never had time to make myself look pretty and to get a beau, like other gells. And now I'm too old for that sort of thing, and yet I've never had my chance, as you may say."
"Poor lass! It's a hard life as you've had, and no mistake."
"That it is, Mr. Bateson. Men wants gells as look pretty and make 'em laugh; they don't care for the dull, dowdy ones, such as me; and yet how can a gell be light-hearted and gay, I should like to know, when it's work, work, work, all the day, and nurse, nurse, nurse, all the night? Yet the men don't make no allowance for that—not they. They just see as a gell is plain and stupid, and then they has nothing more to do with her, and she can go to Jericho for all they cares."
"You've had a hard time of it, my lass," repeated Bateson, in his full, deep voice.
"Right you are, Mr. Bateson; and it's made my hair gray, and my face all wrinkles, and my hands a sight o' roughness and ugliness, till I'm a regular old woman and a fright at that. And I'm but thirty-five now, though no one 'ud believe it to look at me."
"Thirty-five, are you? B'ain't you more than that, Jemima, for surely you look more?"
"I know I does, but I ain't; and lots o' women—them as has had easy times and their way made smooth for them—look little more than gells when they are thirty-five; and the men run after 'em as fast as if they was only twenty. But I'm an old woman, I am, and I've never had time to be a young one, and I've never had a beau nor nothing."
"It seems now, Jemima, as if the Lord was dealing a bit hard with you; but never you fret yourself; He'll explain it all and make it all up to you in His own good time."
"I only hope He may, Mr. Bateson."
"My lass, do you remember how Saint Paul said, 'From henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus'? Now it seems to me that all the gray hairs and the wrinkles and the roughness that come to us when we are working for others and doing our duty, are nothing more nor less than the marks of the Lord Jesus."
"That's a comfortin' view of the matter, I don't deny."
"There are lots o' men in this world, Jemima, and still more women, who grow old before their time working for other people; and I take it that when folks talk o' their wrinkles, the Lord says, 'My Name shall be in their foreheads'; and when folks talk o' their gray hairs, He says, 'They shall walk with Me in white: for they are worthy.' And why do we mark the things that belong to us? Why, so as we can know 'em again and can claim 'em as our own afore the whole world. And that's just why the Lord marks us: so as all the world shall know as we are His, and so as no man shall ever pluck us out of His Hand."
Jemima looked gratefully up at the kindly prophet who was trying to comfort her. "Law! Mr. Bateson, that's a consolin' way of looking at things, and I only hope as you're right. But all the same, I'd have liked to have had a beau of my own just for onst, like other gells. I dessay it's very wicked o' me to feel like this, and it's enough to make the Lord angry with me; but it don't seem to me as there's anything in religion that quite makes up for never havin' had a beau o' your own."
"The Lord won't be angry with you, my lass; don't you fear. He made women and He understands 'em, and He ain't the one to blame 'em for being as He Himself made 'em. Remember the Book says, 'as one whom his mother comforteth'; and I hold that means as He understands women and their troubles better than the kindest father ever could. And He won't let His children give up things for His sake without paying them back some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred fold; and don't you ever get thinking that He will."
"As Jemima says, yours is a comfortable doctrine, Bateson, but I am afraid you have no real foundation for your consoling belief," exclaimed Alan Tremaine, coming up and interrupting the conversation.
"Eh! but I have, sir, saving your presence; I know in Whom I have believed; and what a man has once known for certain, he can never not know again as long as he lives."
"But Christianity is a myth, a fable. You may imagine and pretend that it is true, but you can not know that it is."
"But I do know, sir, begging your pardon, as well as I know you are standing here and the sun is shining over yonder."
Alan smiled rather scornfully: how credulous were the lower classes, he thought in his pride of intellectual superiority. "I do not understand how you can know a thing that has never been proved," he said.
The giant turned and looked on his fragile frame with eyes full of a great pity. "You do not understand, you say, sir that's just it; and I am too foolish and ignorant to be able to explain things rightly to a gentleman like you; but the Lord will explain it to you when He thinks fit. You are young yet, sir, and the way stretches long before you, and the mysteries of God are hidden from your eyes. But when you have loved and cherished a woman as your own flesh, and when you have had little children clinging round your knees, you'll understand rightly enough then without needing any man to teach you."
"My good man, do you suppose a wife and children would teach me more than the collected wisdom of the ages?"
"A sight more, Mr. Tremaine—a sight more. Folks don't learn the best things from books, sir. Why, when the Lord Himself wrote the law on tables of stone, they got broken; but when He writes it on the fleshly tables of our hearts, it lives forever. And His Handwriting is the love we bear for our fellow-creatures, and—through them—for Him; at least, so it seems to me."
"That is pure imagination and sentiment, Bateson. Very pretty and poetic, no doubt; but it won't hold water."
Caleb smiled indulgently. "Wait till you've got a little lass of your own, like my Lucy Ellen, sir. Not that you'll ever have one quite as good as her, bless her! for her equal never has been seen in this world, and never will. But when you've got a little lass of your own, and know as you'd be tortured to death quite cheerful-like just to save her a minute's pain, you'll laugh at all the nonsense that's written in books, and feel you know a sight better than all of 'em put together."
"I don't quite see why."
"Well, you see, sir, it's like this. When the dove came back to the ark with the olive leaf in her mouth, Noah didn't begin sayin' how wonderful it was for a leaf to have grown out of nothing all of a sudden, as some folks are so fond of saying. Not he; he'd too much sense. He says to his sons, 'Look here: a leaf here means a tree somewhere, and the sooner we make for that tree the better!' And so it is with us. When we feel that all at onst there's somebody that matters more to us than ourselves, we know that this wonderful feelin' hasn't sprung out of the selfishness that filled our hearts before, but is just a leaf off a great Tree which is a shadow and resting-place for the whole world."
Tremaine looked thoughtful; Caleb's childlike faith and extensive vocabulary were alike puzzles to him. He did not understand that in homes—however simple—where the Bible is studied until it becomes as household words, the children are accustomed to a "well of English undefiled"; and so, unconsciously, mould their style upon and borrow their expressions from the Book which, even when taken only from a literary standpoint, is the finest Book ever read by man.
After a minute's silence he said: "I have been wondering whether it really is any pleasure to the poor to see the homes of the rich, or whether it only makes them dissatisfied. Now, what do you think, Bateson?"
"Well, sir, if it makes 'em dissatisfied it didn't ought to."
"Perhaps not. Still, I have a good deal of sympathy with socialism myself; and I know I should feel it very hard if I were poor, while other men, not a whit better and probably worse than myself, were rich."
"And so it would be hard, sir, if this was the end of everything, and it was all haphazard, as it were; so hard that no sensible man could see it without going clean off his head altogether. But when you rightly understand as it's all the Master's doing, and that He knows what He's about a sight better than we could teach Him, it makes a wonderful difference. Whether we're rich or poor, happy or sorrowful, is His business and He can attend to that; but whether we serve Him rightly in the place where He has put us, is our business, and it'll take us all our time to look after it without trying to do His work as well."
Tremaine merely smiled, and Bateson went on—
"You see, sir, there's work in the world of all kinds for all sorts; and whether they be lords and ladies, or just poor folks like we, they've got to do the work that the Lord has set them to do, and not to go hankering after each other's. Why, Mr. Tremaine, if at our place the puddlers wanted to do the work of the shinglers, and the shinglers wanted to do the work of the rollers, and the rollers wanted to do the work of the masters, the Osierfield wouldn't be for long the biggest ironworks in Mershire. Not it! You have to use your common sense in religion as in everything else."
"You think that religion is the only thing to make people contented and happy? So do I; but I don't think that the religion to do this effectually is Christianity."
"No more do I, sir; that's where you make a mistake, begging your pardon; you go confusing principles with persons. It isn't my love for my wife that lights the fire and cooks the dinner and makes my little home like heaven to me—it's my wife herself; it wasn't my children's faith in their daddy that fed 'em and clothed 'em when they were too little to work for themselves—it was me myself; and it isn't the religion of Christ that keeps us straight in this world and makes us ready for the next—it is Christ Himself."
Thus the rich man and the poor man talked together, moving along parallel lines, neither understanding, and each looking down upon the other—Alan with the scornful pity of the scholar who has delved in the dust of dreary negatives which generations of doubters have gradually heaped up; and Caleb with the pitiful scorn of one who has been into the sanctuary of God, and so learned to understand the end of these men.
Late that night, when all the merrymakers had gone to their homes, Tremaine sat smoking in the moonlight on the terrace of the Moat House.
"It is strange," he said to himself, "what a hold the Christian myth has taken upon the minds of the English people, and especially of the working classes. I can see how its pathos might appeal to those whose health was spoiled and whose physique was stunted by poverty and misery; but it puzzles me to find a magnificent giant such as Bateson, a man too strong to have nerves and too healthy to have delusions, as thoroughly imbued with its traditions as any one. I fail to understand the secret of its power."
At that very moment Caleb was closing the day, as was his custom, with family prayer, and his prayer ran thus—
"We beseech Thee, O Lord, look kindly upon the stranger who has this day shown such favour unto Thy servants; pay back all that he has given us sevenfold into his bosom. He is very young, Lord, and very ignorant and very foolish; his eyes are holden so that he can not see the operations of Thy Hands; but he is not very far from Thy Kingdom. Lead him, Heavenly Father, in the way that he should go; open his eyes that he may behold the hidden things of Thy Law; look upon him and love him, as Thou didst aforetime another young man who had great possessions. Lord, tell him that this earth is only Thy footstool; show him that the beauty he sees all around him is the hem of Thy garment; and teach him that the wisdom of this world is but foolishness with Thee. And this we beg, O Lord, for Christ's sake. Amen."
Thus Caleb prayed, and Alan could not hear him, and could not have understood him even if he had heard.
But there was One who heard, and understood.
He proved that Man is nothing more Than educated sod, Forgetting that the schoolmen's lore Is foolishness with God.
"Do you know what I mean to do as soon as Cousin Maria will let me?" Elisabeth asked of Christopher, as the two were walking together—as they walked not unfrequently—in Badgering Woods.
"No; please tell me."
"I mean to go up to the Slade School, and study there, and learn to be a great artist."
"It is sometimes a difficult lesson to learn to be great."
"Nevertheless, I mean to learn it." The possibility of failure never occurred to Elisabeth. "There is so much I want to teach the world, and I feel I can only do it through my pictures; and I want to begin at once, for fear I shouldn't get it all in before I die. There is plenty of time, of course; I'm only twenty-one now, so that gives me forty-nine years at the least; but forty-nine years will be none too much in which to teach the world all that I want to teach it."
"And what time shall you reserve for learning all that the world has to teach you?"
"I never thought of that. I'm afraid I sha'n't have much time for learning."
"Then I am afraid you won't do much good by teaching."
Elisabeth laughed in all the arrogance of youth. "Yes, I shall; the things you teach best are the things you know, and not the things you have learned."
"I am not so sure of that."
"Surely genius does greater things than culture."
"I grant you that culture without genius does no great things; neither, I think, does genius without culture. Untrained genius is a terrible waste of power. So many people seem to think that if they have a spark of genius they can do without culture; while really it is because they have a spark of genius that they ought to be, and are worthy to be, cultivated to the highest point."
"Well, anyway—culture or no culture—I mean to set the Thames on fire some day."
"You do, do you? Well, it is a laudable and not uncommon ambition."
"Yes, I do; and you mustn't look so doubtful on the subject, as it isn't pretty manners."
"Did I look doubtful? I'm very sorry."
"Horribly so. I know exactly what you will do, you are so shockingly matter-of-fact. First you will prove to a demonstration that it is utterly impossible for such an inferior being as a woman to set the Thames on fire at all. Then—when I've done it and London is illuminated—you will write to the papers to show that the 'flash-point' of the river is decidedly too low, or else such an unlooked-for catastrophe could never have occurred. Then you will get the Government to take the matter up, and to bring a charge of arson against the New Woman. And, finally, you will have notices put up all along the banks from Goring to Greenwich, 'Ladies are requested not to bring inflammatory articles near the river; the right of setting the Thames on fire is now—as formerly—reserved specially for men.' And then you will try to set it on fire yourself."
"A most characteristic programme, I must confess. But now tell me; when you have set your Thames on fire, and covered yourself with laurels, and generally turned the world upside down, sha'n't you allow some humble and devoted beggarman to share your kingdom with you? You might find it a little dull alone in your glory, as you are such a sociable person."
"Well, if I do, of course I shall let some nice man share it with me."
"I see. You will stoop from your solitary splendour and say to the devoted beggarman, 'Allow me to offer you the post of King Consort; it is a mere sinecure, and confers only the semblance and not the reality of power; but I hope you will accept it, as I have nothing better to give you, and if you are submissive and obedient I will make you as comfortable as I can under the circumstances.'"
"Good gracious! I hope I am too wise ever to talk to a man in that way. No, no, Chris; I shall find some nice man, who has seen through me all the time and who hasn't been taken in by me, as the world has; and I shall say to him, 'By the way, here is a small fire and a few laurel leaves; please warm your hands at the one and wear the others in your button-hole.' That is the proper way in which a woman should treat fame—merely as a decoration for the man whom she has chosen."
"O noble judge! O excellent young woman!" exclaimed Christopher. "But what are some of the wonderful things which you are so anxious to teach?"
Elisabeth's mood changed at once, and her face grew serious. "I want to teach people that they were sent into the world to be happy, and not to be miserable; and that there is no virtue in turning their backs to the sunshine and choosing to walk in the shade. I want to teach people that the world is beautiful, and that it is only a superficial view that finds it common and unclean. I want to teach people that human nature is good and not evil, and that life is a glorious battlefield and not a sordid struggle. In short, I want to teach people the dignity of themselves; and there is no grander lesson."
"Except, perhaps, the unworthiness of themselves," suggested Christopher.
"No, no, Chris; you are wrong to be so hard and cynical. Can't you understand how I am longing to help the men and women I see around me, who are dying for want of joy and beauty in their lives? It is the old struggle between Hellenism and Hebraism—between happiness and righteousness. We are sorely in need, here in England to-day, of the Greek spirit of Pantheism, which found God in life and art and nature, 'as well as in sorrow and renunciation and death."
"But it is in sorrow and renunciation and death that we need Him; and you, who have always had everything you want, can not understand this: no more could the Pagans and the Royalists; but the early Christians and the persecuted Puritans could."
"Puritanism has much to answer for in England," said Elisabeth; "we have to thank Puritanism for teaching men that only by hurting themselves can they please their Maker, and that God has given them tastes and hopes and desires merely in order to mortify the same. And it is all false—utterly false. The God of the Pagan is surely a more merciful Being than the God of the Puritan."
"A more indulgent Being, perhaps, but not necessarily a more merciful one, Elisabeth. I disagree with the Puritans on many points, but I can not help admitting that their conception of God was a fine one, even though it erred on the side of severity. The Pagan converted the Godhead into flesh, remember; but the Puritan exalted manhood into God."
"Still, I never could bear the Puritans," Elisabeth went on; "they turned the England of Queen Elizabeth—the most glorious England the world has ever known—into one enormous Nonconformist Conscience; and England has never been perfectly normal since. Besides, they discovered that nature, and art, and human affection, which are really revelations of God, were actually sins against Him. As I said before, I can never forgive the Puritans for eradicating the beauty from holiness, and for giving man the spirit of heaviness in place of the garment of praise."