When William Came by Saki - HTML preview
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Some Reflections And A “te Deum”
Cicely awoke, on the morning after the “memorable evening,” with the satisfactory feeling of victory achieved, tempered by a troubled sense of having achieved it in the face of a reasonably grounded opposition. She had burned her boats, and was glad of it, but the reek of their burning drifted rather unpleasantly across the jubilant incense-swinging of her Te Deum service.
Last night had marked an immense step forward in her social career; without running after the patronage of influential personages she had seen it quietly and tactfully put at her service. People such as the Gräfin von Tolb were going to be a power in the London world for a very long time to come. Herr von Kwarl, with all his useful qualities of brain and temperament, might conceivably fall out of favour in some unexpected turn of the political wheel, and the Shalems would probably have their little day and then a long afternoon of diminishing social importance; the placid dormouse-like Gräfin would outlast them all. She had the qualities which make either for contented mediocrity or else for very durable success, according as circumstances may dictate. She was one of those characters that can neither thrust themselves to the front, nor have any wish to do so, but being there, no ordinary power can thrust them away.
With the Gräfin as her friend Cicely found herself in altogether a different position from that involved by the mere interested patronage of Lady Shalem. A vista of social success was opened up to her, and she did not mean it to be just the ordinary success of a popular and influential hostess moving in an important circle. That people with naturally bad manners should have to be polite and considerate in their dealings with her, that people who usually held themselves aloof should have to be gracious and amiable, that the selfassured should have to be just a little humble and anxious where she was concerned, these things of course she intended to happen; she was a woman. But, she told herself, she intended a great deal more than that when she traced the pattern for her scheme of social influence. In her heart she detested the German occupation as a hateful necessity, but while her heart registered the hatefulness the brain recognised the necessity. The great fighting-machines that the Germans had built up and maintained, on land, on sea, and in air, were three solid crushing facts that demonstrated the hopelessness of any immediate thought of revolt. Twenty years hence, when the present generation was older and greyer, the chances of armed revolt would probably be equally hopeless, equally remote-seeming. But in the meantime something could have been effected in another way. The conquerors might partially Germanise London, but, on the other hand, if the thing were skilfully managed, the British element within the Empire might impress the mark of its influence on everything German. The fighting men might remain Prussian or Bavarian, but the thinking men, and eventually the ruling men, could gradually come under British influence, or even be of British blood. An English Liberal-Conservative “Centre” might stand as a bulwark against the Junkerdom and Socialism of Continental Germany. So Cicely reasoned with herself, in a fashion induced perhaps by an earlier apprenticeship to the reading of Nineteenth Century articles, in which the possible political and racial developments of various countries were examined and discussed and put away in the pigeon-holes of probable happenings. She had sufficient knowledge of political history to know that such a development might possibly come to pass, she had not sufficient insight into actual conditions to know that the possibility was as remote as that of armed resistance. And the rôle which she saw herself playing was that of a deft and courtly political intriguer, rallying the British element and making herself agreeable to the German element, a political inspiration to the one and a social distraction to the other. At the back of her mind there lurked an honest confession that she was probably over-rating her powers of statecraft and personality, that she was more likely to be carried along by the current of events than to control or divert its direction; the political daydream remained, however, as day-dreams will, in spite of the clear light of probability shining through them. At any rate she knew, as usual, what she wanted to do, and as usual she had taken steps to carry out her intentions. Last night remained in her mind a night of important victory. There also remained the anxious proceeding of finding out if the victory had entailed any serious losses.
Cicely was not one of those ill-regulated people who treat the first meal of the day as a convenient occasion for serving up any differences or contentions that have been left over from the day before or overlooked in the press of other matters. She enjoyed her breakfast and gave Yeovil unhindered opportunity for enjoying his; a discussion as to the right cooking of a dish that he had first tasted among the Orenburg Tartars was the prevailing topic on this particular morning, and blended well with trout and toast and coffee. In a cosy nook of the smoking-room, in participation of the after-breakfast cigarettes, Cicely made her dash into debatable ground.“You haven’t asked me how my supper-party went off,” she said. “There is a notice of it in two of the morning papers, with a list of those present,” said Yeovil; “the conquering race seems to have been very well represented.”
“Several races were represented,” said Cicely; “a function of that sort, celebrating a dramatic first-night, was bound to be cosmopolitan. In fact, blending of races and nationalities is the tendency of the age we live in.”
“The blending of races seems to have been consummated already in one of the individuals at your party,” said Yeovil drily; “the name Mentieth-Mendlesohnn struck me as a particularly happy obliteration of racial landmarks.”Cicely laughed.
“A noisy and very wearisome sort of woman,” she commented; “she reminds one of garlic that’s been planted by mistake in a conservatory. Still, she’s useful as an advertising agent to any one who rubs her the right way. She’ll be invaluable in proclaiming the merits of Gorla’s performance to all and sundry; that’s why I invited her. She’ll probably lunch to-day at the Hotel Cecil, and every one sitting within a hundred yards of her table will hear what an emotional education they can get by going to see Gorla dance at the Caravansery.”
“She seems to be like the Salvation Army,” said Yeovil; “her noise reaches a class of people who wouldn’t trouble to read press notices.”
“The one that took my fancy most was the one in the Standard,” said Yeovil, picking up that paper from a table by his side and searching its columns for the notice in question. “‘The wolves which appeared earlier in the evening’s entertainment are, the programme assures us, trained entirely by kindness. It would have been a further kindness, at any rate to the audience, if some of the training, which the wolves doubtless do not appreciate at its proper value, had been expended on Miss Mustelford’s efforts at stage dancing. We are assured, again on the authority of the programme, that the much-talked-of Suggestion Dances are the last word in Posture dancing. The last word belongs by immemorial right to the sex which Miss Mustelford adorns, and it would be ungallant to seek to deprive her of her privilege. As far as the educational aspect of her performance is concerned we must admit that the life of the fern remains to us a private life still. Miss Mustelford has abandoned her own private life in an unavailing attempt to draw the fern into the gaze of publicity. And so it was with her other suggestions. They suggested many things, but nothing that was announced on the programme. Chiefly they suggested one outstanding reflection, that stage-dancing is not like those advertised breakfast foods that can be served up after three minutes’ preparation. Half a life-time, or rather half a youth-time is a much more satisfactory allowance.’”
“The Standard is prejudiced,” said Cicely; “some of the other papers are quite enthusiastic. The Dawn gives her a column and a quarter of notice, nearly all of it complimentary. It says the report of her fame as a dancer went before her, but that her performance last night caught it up and outstripped it.”
“I should not like to suggest that the Dawn is prejudiced,” said Yeovil, “but Shalem is a managing director on it, and one of its biggest shareholders. Gorla’s dancing is an event of the social season, and Shalem is one of those most interested in keeping up the appearance, at any rate, of a London social season. Besides, her début gave the opportunity for an Imperial visit to the theatre—the first appearance at a festive public function of the Conqueror among the conquered. Apparently the experiment passed off well; Shalem has every reason to feel pleased with himself and well-disposed towards Gorla. By the way,” added Yeovil, “talking of Gorla, I’m going down to Torywood one day next week.”“To Torywood?” exclaimed Cicely. The tone of her exclamation gave the impression that the announcement was not very acceptable to her.
“I promised the old lady that I would go and have a talk with her when I came back from my Siberian trip; she travelled in eastern Russia, you know, long before the TransSiberian railway was built, and she’s enormously interested in those parts. In any case I should like to see her again.”
“She does not see many people nowadays,” said Cicely; “I fancy she is breaking up rather. She was very fond of the son who went down, you know.”
“She has seen a great many of the things she cared for go down,” said Yeovil; “it is a sad old life that is left to her, when one thinks of all that the past has been to her, of the part she used to play in the world, the work she used to get through. It used to seem as though she could never grow old, as if she would die standing up, with some unfinished command on her lips. And now I suppose her tragedy is that she has grown old, bitterly old, and cannot die.”Cicely was silent for a moment, and seemed about to leave the room. Then she turned back and said: “I don’t think I would say anything about Gorla to her if I were you.”
“It would not have occurred to me to drag her name into our conversation,” said Yeovil coldly, “but in any case the accounts of her dancing performance will have reached Torywood through the newspapers—also the record of your racially-blended supperparty.”
Cicely said nothing. She knew that by last night’s affair she had definitely identified herself in public opinion with the Shalem clique, and that many of her old friends would look on her with distrust and suspicion on that account. It was unfortunate, but she reckoned it a lesser evil than tearing herself away from her London life, its successes and pleasures and possibilities. These social dislocations and severing of friendships were to be looked for after any great and violent change in State affairs. It was Yeovil’s attitude that really troubled her; she would not give way to his prejudices and accept his point of view, but she knew that a victory that involved estrangement from him would only bring a mockery of happiness. She still hoped that he would come round to an acceptance of established facts and deaden his political malaise in the absorbing distraction of field sports. The visit to Torywood was a misfortune; it might just turn the balance in the undesired direction. Only a few weeks of late summer and early autumn remained before the hunting season, and its preparations would be at hand, and Yeovil might be caught in the meshes of an old enthusiasm; in those few weeks, however, he might be fired by another sort of enthusiasm, an enthusiasm which would sooner or later mean voluntary or enforced exile for his part, and the probable breaking up of her own social plans and ambitions.
But Cicely knew something of the futility of improvising objections where no real obstacle exists. The visit to Torywood was a graceful attention on Yeovil’s part to an old friend; there was no decent ground on which it could be opposed. If the influence of that visit came athwart Yeovil’s life and hers with disastrous effect, that was “Kismet.”
And once again the reek from her burned and smouldering boats mingled threateningly with the incense fumes of her Te Deum for victory. She left the room, and Yeovil turned once more to an item of news in the morning’s papers that had already arrested his attention. The Imperial Aufklärung on the subject of military service was to be made public in the course of the day.
The Tea Shop
Yeovil wandered down Piccadilly that afternoon in a spirit of restlessness and expectancy. The long-awaited Aufklärung dealing with the new law of military service had not yet appeared; at any moment he might meet the hoarse-throated newsboys running along with their papers, announcing the special edition which would give the terms of the edict to the public. Every sound or movement that detached itself with isolated significance from the general whirr and scurry of the streets seemed to Yeovil to herald the oncoming clamour and rush that he was looking for. But the long endless succession of motors and ’buses and vans went by, hooting and grunting, and such newsboys as were to be seen hung about listlessly, bearing no more attractive bait on their posters than the announcement of an “earthquake shock in Hungary: feared loss of life.”
The Green Park end of Piccadilly was a changed, and in some respects a livelier thoroughfare to that which Yeovil remembered with affectionate regret. A great political club had migrated from its palatial home to a shrunken habitation in a less prosperous quarter; its place was filled by the flamboyant frontage of the Hotel Konstantinopel. Gorgeous Turkey carpets were spread over the wide entrance steps, and boys in Circassian and Anatolian costumes hung around the doors, or dashed forth in un-Oriental haste to carry such messages as the telephone was unable to transmit. Picturesque sellers of Turkish delight, attar-of-roses, and brass-work coffee services, squatted under the portico, on terms of obvious good understanding with the hotel management. A few doors further down a service club that had long been a Piccadilly landmark was a landmark still, as the home of the Army Aeronaut Club, and there was a constant coming and going of gay-hued uniforms, Saxon, Prussian, Bavarian, Hessian, and so forth, through its portals. The mastering of the air and the creation of a scientific aerial war fleet, second to none in the world, was an achievement of which the conquering race was pardonably proud, and for which it had good reason to be duly thankful. Over the gateways was blazoned the badge of the club, an elephant, whale, and eagle, typifying the three armed forces of the State, by land and sea and air; the eagle bore in its beak a scroll with the proud legend: “The last am I, but not the least.”
To the eastward of this gaily-humming hive the long shuttered front of a deserted ducal mansion struck a note of protest and mourning amid the noise and whirl and colour of a seemingly uncaring city. On the other side of the roadway, on the gravelled paths of the Green Park, small ragged children from the back streets of Westminster looked wistfully at the smooth trim stretches of grass on which it was now forbidden, in two languages, to set foot. Only the pigeons, disregarding the changes of political geography, walked about as usual, wondering perhaps, if they ever wondered at anything, at the sudden change in the distribution of park humans.
Yeovil turned his steps out of the hot sunlight into the shade of the Burlington Arcade, familiarly known to many of its newer frequenters as the Passage. Here the change that new conditions and requirements had wrought was more immediately noticeable than anywhere else in the West End. Most of the shops on the western side had been cleared away, and in their place had been installed an “open-air” café, converting the long alley into a sort of promenade tea-garden, flanked on one side by a line of haberdashers’, perfumers’, and jewellers’ show windows. The patrons of the café could sit at the little round tables, drinking their coffee and syrups and apéritifs, and gazing, if they were so minded, at the pyjamas and cravats and Brazilian diamonds spread out for inspection before them. A string orchestra, hidden away somewhere in a gallery, was alternating grand opera with the Gondola Girl and the latest gems of Transatlantic melody. From around the tightly-packed tables arose a babble of tongues, made up chiefly of German, a South American rendering of Spanish, and a North American rendering of English, with here and there the sharp shaken-out staccato of Japanese. A sleepy-looking boy, in a nondescript uniform, was wandering to and fro among the customers, offering for sale the Matin, New York Herald, Berliner Tageblatt, and a host of crudely coloured illustrated papers, embodying the hard-worked wit of a world-legion of comic artists. Yeovil hurried through the Arcade; it was not here, in this atmosphere of staring alien eyes and jangling tongues, that he wanted to read the news of the Imperial Aufklärung.
By a succession of by-ways he reached Hanover Square, and thence made his way into Oxford Street. There was no commotion of activity to be noticed yet among the newsboys; the posters still concerned themselves with the earthquake in Hungary, varied with references to the health of the King of Roumania, and a motor accident in South London. Yeovil wandered aimlessly along the street for a few dozen yards, and then turned down into the smoking-room of a cheap tea-shop, where he judged that the flourishing foreign element would be less conspicuously represented. Quiet-voiced, smooth-headed youths, from neighbouring shops and wholesale houses, sat drinking tea and munching pastry, some of them reading, others making a fitful rattle with dominoes on the marble-topped tables. A clean, wholesome smell of tea and coffee made itself felt through the clouds of cigarette smoke; cleanliness and listlessness seemed to be the dominant notes of the place, a cleanliness that was commendable, and a listlessness that seemed unnatural and undesirable where so much youth was gathered together for refreshment and recreation. Yeovil seated himself at a table already occupied by a young clergyman who was smoking a cigarette over the remains of a plateful of buttered toast. He had a keen, clever, hard-lined face, the face of a man who, in an earlier stage of European history, might have been a warlike prior, awkward to tackle at the councilboard, greatly to be avoided where blows were being exchanged. A pale, silent damsel drifted up to Yeovil and took his order with an air of being mentally some hundreds of miles away, and utterly indifferent to the requirements of those whom she served; if she had brought calf’s-foot jelly instead of the pot of China tea he had asked for, Yeovil would hardly have been surprised. However, the tea duly arrived on the table, and the pale damsel scribbled a figure on a slip of paper, put it silently by the side of the teapot, and drifted silently away. Yeovil had seen the same sort of thing done on the musicalcomedy stage, and done rather differently.
“Can you tell me, sir, is the Imperial announcement out yet?” asked the young clergyman, after a brief scrutiny of his neighbour.
“No, I have been waiting about for the last half-hour on the look-out for it,” said Yeovil; “the special editions ought to be out by now.” Then he added: “I have only just lately come from abroad. I know scarcely anything of London as it is now. You may imagine that a good deal of it is very strange to me. Your profession must take you a good deal among all classes of people. I have seen something of what one may call the upper, or, at any rate, the richer classes, since I came back; do tell me something about the poorer classes of the community. How do they take the new order of things?”
“Badly,” said the young cleric, “badly, in more senses than one. They are helpless and they are bitter—bitter in the useless kind of way that produces no great resolutions. They look round for some one to blame for what has happened; they blame the politicians, they blame the leisured classes; in an indirect way I believe they blame the Church. Certainly, the national disaster has not drawn them towards religion in any form. One thing you may be sure of, they do not blame themselves. No true Londoner ever admits that fault lies at his door. ‘No, I never!’ is an exclamation that is on his lips from earliest childhood, whenever he is charged with anything blameworthy or punishable. That is why school discipline was ever a thing repugnant to the schoolboard child and its parents; no schoolboard scholar ever deserved punishment. However obvious the fault might seem to a disciplinarian, ‘No, I never’ exonerated it as something that had not happened. Public schoolboys and private schoolboys of the upper and middle class had their fling and took their thrashings, when they were found out, as a piece of bad luck, but ‘our Bert’ and ‘our Sid’ were of those for whom there is no condemnation; if they were punished it was for faults that ‘no, they never’ committed. Naturally the grown-up generation of Berts and Sids, the voters and householders, do not realise, still less admit, that it was they who called the tune to which the politicians danced. They had to choose between the vote-mongers and the so-called ‘scare-mongers,’ and their verdict was for the votemongers all the time. And now they are bitter; they are being punished, and punishment is not a thing that they have been schooled to bear. The taxes that are falling on them are a grievous source of discontent, and the military service that will be imposed on them, for the first time in their lives, will be another. There is a more lovable side to their character under misfortune, though,” added the young clergyman. “Deep down in their hearts there was a very real affection for the old dynasty. Future historians will perhaps be able to explain how and why the Royal Family of Great Britain captured the imaginations of its subjects in so genuine and lasting a fashion. Among the poorest and the most matter-offact, for whom the name of no public man, politician or philanthropist, stands out with any especial significance, the old Queen, and the dead King, the dethroned monarch and the young prince live in a sort of domestic Pantheon, a recollection that is a proud and wistful personal possession when so little remains to be proud of or to possess. There is no favour that I am so often asked for among my poorer parishioners as the gift of the picture of this or that member of the old dynasty. ‘I have got all of them, only except Princess Mary,’ an old woman said to me last week, and she nearly cried with pleasure when I brought her an old Bystander portrait that filled the gap in her collection. And on Queen Alexandra’s day they bring out and wear the faded wild-rose favours that they bought with their pennies in days gone by.”
“The tragedy of the enactment that is about to enforce military service on these people is that it comes when they’ve no longer a country to fight for,” said Yeovil.
“That is the cruel mockery of the whole thing. Every now and then in the course of my work I have come across lads who were really drifting to the bad through the good qualities in them. A clean combative strain in their blood, and a natural turn for adventure, made the ordinary anæmic routine of shop or warehouse or factory almost unbearable for them. What splendid little soldiers they would have made, and how grandly the discipline of a military training would have steadied them in after-life when steadiness was wanted. The only adventure that their surroundings offered them has been the adventure of practising mildly criminal misdeeds without getting landed in reformatories and prisons; those of them that have not been successful in keeping clear of detection are walking round and round prison yards, experiencing the operation of a discipline that breaks and does not build. They were merry-hearted boys once, with nothing of the criminal or ne’er-do-weel in their natures, and now—have you ever seen a prison yard, with that walk round and round and round between grey walls under a blue sky?”Yeovil nodded.
“It’s good enough for criminals and imbeciles,” said the parson, “but think of it for those boys, who might have been marching along to the tap of the drum, with a laugh on their lips instead of Hell in their hearts. I have had Hell in my heart sometimes, when I have come in touch with cases like those. I suppose you are thinking that I am a strange sort of parson.”“I was just defining you in my mind,” said Yeovil, “as a man of God, with an infinite tenderness for little devils.” The clergyman flushed.
“Rather a fine epitaph to have on one’s tombstone,” he said, “especially if the tombstone were in some crowded city graveyard. I suppose I am a man of God, but I don’t think I could be called a man of peace.”Looking at the strong young face, with its suggestion of a fighting prior of bygone days more marked than ever, Yeovil mentally agreed that he could not.
“I have learned one thing in life,” continued the young man, “and that is that peace is not for this world. Peace is what God gives us when He takes us into His rest. Beat your sword into a ploughshare if you like, but beat your enemy into smithereens first.”A long-drawn cry, repeated again and again, detached itself from the throb and hoot and whir of the street traffic. “Speshul! Military service, spesh-ul!”
The young clergyman sprang from his seat and went up the staircase in a succession of bounds, causing the domino players and novelette readers to look up for a moment in mild astonishment. In a few seconds he was back again, with a copy of an afternoon paper. The Imperial Rescript was set forth in heavy type, in parallel columns of English and German. As the young man read a deep burning flush spread over his face, then ebbed away into a chalky whiteness. He read the announcement to the end, then handed the paper to Yeovil, and left without a word.
Beneath the courtly politeness and benignant phraseology of the document ran a trenchant searing irony. The British born subjects of the Germanic Crown, inhabiting the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, had habituated themselves as a people to the disuse of arms, and resolutely excluded military service and national training from their political system and daily life. Their judgment that they were unsuited as a race to bear arms and conform to military discipline was not to be set aside. Their new Overlord did not propose to do violence to their feelings and customs by requiring from them the personal military sacrifices and services which were rendered by his subjects German-born. The British subjects of the Crown were to remain a people consecrated to peaceful pursuits, to commerce and trade and husbandry. The defence of their coasts and shipping and the maintenance of order and general safety would be guaranteed by a garrison of German troops, with the co-operation of the Imperial war fleet. German-born subjects residing temporarily or permanently in the British Isles would come under the same laws respecting compulsory military service as their fellow-subjects of German blood in the other parts of the Empire, and special enactments would be drawn up to ensure that their interests did not suffer from a periodical withdrawal on training or other military calls. Necessarily a heavily differentiated scale of war taxation would fall on British taxpayers, to provide for the upkeep of the garrison and to equalise the services and sacrifices rendered by the two branches of his Majesty’s subjects. As military service was not henceforth open to any subject of British birth no further necessity for any training or exercise of a military nature existed, therefore all rifle clubs, drill associations, cadet corps and similar bodies were henceforth declared to be illegal. No weapons other than guns for specified sporting purposes, duly declared and registered and open to inspection when required, could be owned, purchased, or carried. The science of arms was to be eliminated altogether from the life of a people who had shown such marked repugnance to its study and practice.
The cold irony of the measure struck home with the greater force because its nature was so utterly unexpected. Public anticipation had guessed at various forms of military service, aggressively irksome or tactfully lightened as the case might be, in any event certain to be bitterly unpopular, and now there had come this contemptuous boon, which had removed, at one stroke, the bogey of compulsory military service from the troubled imaginings of the British people, and fastened on them the cruel distinction of being in actual fact what an enemy had called them in splenetic scorn long years ago—a nation of shopkeepers. Aye, something even below that level, a race of shopkeepers who were no longer a nation.
Yeovil crumpled the paper in his hand and went out into the sunlit street. A sudden roll of drums and crash of brass music filled the air. A company of Bavarian infantry went by, in all the pomp and circumstance of martial array and the joyous swing of rapid rhythmic movement. The street echoed and throbbed in the Englishman’s ears with the exultant pulse of youth and mastery set to loud Pagan music. A group of lads from the tea-shop clustered on the pavement and watched the troops go by, staring at a phase of life in which they had no share. The martial trappings, the swaggering joy of life, the comradeship of camp and barracks, the hard discipline of drill yard and fatigue duty, the long sentry watches, the trench digging, forced marches, wounds, cold, hunger, makeshift hospitals, and the blood-wet laurels—these were not for them. Such things they might only guess at, or see on a cinema film, darkly; they belonged to the civilian nation.
The function of afternoon tea was still being languidly observed in the big drawing-room when Yeovil returned to Berkshire Street. Cicely was playing the part of hostess to a man of perhaps forty-one years of age, who looked slightly older from his palpable attempts to look very much younger. Percival Plarsey was a plump, pale-faced, shortlegged individual, with puffy cheeks, over-prominent nose, and thin colourless hair. His mother, with nothing more than maternal prejudice to excuse her, had discovered some twenty odd years ago that he was a well-favoured young man, and had easily imbued her son with the same opinion. The slipping away of years and the natural transition of the unathletic boy into the podgy unhealthy-looking man did little to weaken the tradition; Plarsey had never been able to relinquish the idea that a youthful charm and comeliness still centred in his person, and laboured daily at his toilet with the devotion that a hopelessly lost cause is so often able to inspire. He babbled incessantly about himself and the accessory futilities of his life in short, neat, complacent sentences, and in a voice that Ronald Storre said reminded one of a fat bishop blessing a butter-making competition. While he babbled he kept his eyes fastened on his listeners to observe the impression which his important little announcements and pronouncements were making. On the present occasion he was pattering forth a detailed description of the upholstery and fittings of his new music-room.
“All the hangings, violette de Parme, all the furniture, rosewood. The only ornament in the room is a replica of the Mozart statue in Vienna. Nothing but Mozart is to be played in the room. Absolutely, nothing but Mozart.”“You will get rather tired of that, won’t you?” said Cicely, feeling that she was expected to comment on this tremendous announcement.
“One gets tired of everything,” said Plarsey, with a fat little sigh of resignation. “I can’t tell you how tired I am of Rubenstein, and one day I suppose I shall be tired of Mozart, and violette de Parme and rosewood. I never thought it possible that I could ever tire of jonquils, and now I simply won’t have one in the house. Oh, the scene the other day because some one brought some jonquils into the house! I’m afraid I was dreadfully rude, but I really couldn’t help it.”
He could talk like this through a long summer day or a long winter evening. Yeovil belonged to a race forbidden to bear arms. At the moment he would gladly have contented himself with the weapons with which nature had endowed him, if he might have kicked and pommelled the abhorrent specimen of male humanity whom he saw before him.Instead he broke into the conversation with an inspired flash of malicious untruthfulness.
“It is wonderful,” he observed carelessly, “how popular that Viennese statue of Mozart has become. A friend who inspects County Council Art Schools tells me you find a copy of it in every class-room you go into.”
It was a poor substitute for physical violence, but it was all that civilisation allowed him in the way of relieving his feelings; it had, moreover, the effect of making Plarsey profoundly miserable.
The Travelling Companions
The train bearing Yeovil on his visit to Torywood slid and rattled westward through the hazy dreamland of an English summer landscape. Seen from the train windows the stark bare ugliness of the metalled line was forgotten, and the eye rested only on the green solitude that unfolded itself as the miles went slipping by. Tall grasses and meadowweeds stood in deep shocks, field after field, between the leafy boundaries of hedge or coppice, thrusting themselves higher and higher till they touched the low sweeping branches of the trees that here and there overshadowed them. Broad streams, bordered with a heavy fringe of reed and sedge, went winding away into a green distance where woodland and meadowland seemed indefinitely prolonged; narrow streamlets, lost to view in the growth that they fostered, disclosed their presence merely by the water-weed that showed in a riband of rank verdure threading the mellower green of the fields. On the stream banks moorhens walked with jerky confident steps, in the easy boldness of those who had a couple of other elements at their disposal in an emergency; more timorous partridges raced away from the apparition of the train, looking all leg and neck, like little forest elves fleeing from human encounter. And in the distance, over the tree line, a heron or two flapped with slow measured wing-beats and an air of being bent on an immeasurably longer journey than the train that hurtled so frantically along the rails. Now and then the meadowland changed itself suddenly into orchard, with close-growing trees already showing the measure of their coming harvest, and then strawyard and farm buildings would slide into view; heavy dairy cattle, roan and skewbald and dappled, stood near the gates, drowsily resentful of insect stings, and bunched-up companies of ducks halted in seeming irresolution between the charms of the horse-pond and the alluring neighbourhood of the farm kitchen. Away by the banks of some rushing millstream, in a setting of copse and cornfield, a village might be guessed at, just a hint of red roof, grey wreathed chimney and old church tower as seen from the windows of the passing train, and over it all brooded a happy, settled calm, like the dreaming murmur of a trout-stream and the far-away cawing of rooks.
It was a land where it seemed as if it must be always summer and generally afternoon, a land where bees hummed among the wild thyme and in the flower beds of cottage gardens, where the harvest-mice rustled amid the corn and nettles, and the mill-race flowed cool and silent through water-weeds and dark tunnelled sluices, and made soft droning music with the wooden mill-wheel. And the music carried with it the wording of old undying rhymes, and sang of the jolly, uncaring, uncared-for miller, of the farmer who went riding upon his grey mare, of the mouse who lived beneath the merry mill-pin, of the sweet music on yonder green hill and the dancers all in yellow—the songs and fancies of a lingering olden time, when men took life as children take a long summer day, and went to bed at last with a simple trust in something they could not have explained.
Yeovil watched the passing landscape with the intent hungry eyes of a man who revisits a scene that holds high place in his affections. His imagination raced even quicker than the train, following winding roads and twisting valleys into unseen distances, picturing farms and hamlets, hills and hollows, clattering inn yards and sleepy woodlands. “A beautiful country,” said his only fellow-traveller, who was also gazing at the fleeting landscape; “surely a country worth fighting for.”He spoke in fairly correct English, but he was unmistakably a foreigner; one could have allotted him with some certainty to the Eastern half of Europe. “A beautiful country, as you say,” replied Yeovil; then he added the question, “Are you German?” “No, Hungarian,” said the other; “and you, you are English?” he asked.
“I have been much in England, but I am from Russia,” said Yeovil, purposely misleading his companion on the subject of his nationality in order to induce him to talk with greater freedom on a delicate topic. While living among foreigners in a foreign land he had shrunk from hearing his country’s disaster discussed, or even alluded to; now he was anxious to learn what unprejudiced foreigners thought of the catastrophe and the causes which had led up to it.
“It is a strange spectacle, a wonder, is it not so?” resumed the other, “a great nation such as this was, one of the greatest nations in modern times, or of any time, carrying its flag and its language into all parts of the world, and now, after one short campaign, it is—”And he shrugged his shoulders many times and made clucking noises at the roof of his voice, like a hen calling to a brood of roving chickens.
“They grew soft,” he resumed; “great world-commerce brings great luxury, and luxury brings softness. They had everything to warn them, things happening in their own time and before their eyes, and they would not be warned. They had seen, in one generation, the rise of the military and naval power of the Japanese, a brown-skinned race living in some island rice fields in a tropical sea, a people one thought of in connection with paper fans and flowers and pretty tea-gardens, who suddenly marched and sailed into the world’s gaze as a Great Power; they had seen, too, the rise of the Bulgars, a poor herd of zaptieh-ridden peasants, with a few students scattered in exile in Bukarest and Odessa, who shot up in one generation to be an armed and aggressive nation with history in its hands. The English saw these things happening around them, and with a war-cloud growing blacker and bigger and always more threatening on their own threshold they sat down to grow soft and peaceful. They grew soft and accommodating in all things in religion—”“In religion?” said Yeovil.
“In religion, yes,” said his companion emphatically; “they had come to look on the Christ as a sort of amiable elder Brother, whose letters from abroad were worth reading. Then, when they had emptied all the divine mystery and wonder out of their faith naturally they grew tired of it, oh, but dreadfully tired of it. I know many English of the country parts, and always they tell me they go to church once in each week to set the good example to the servants. They were tired of their faith, but they were not virile enough to become real Pagans; their dancing fauns were good young men who tripped Morris dances and ate health foods and believed in a sort of Socialism which made for the greatest dulness of the greatest number. You will find plenty of them still if you go into what remains of social London.”Yeovil gave a grunt of acquiescence.
“They grew soft in their political ideas,” continued the unsparing critic; “for the old insular belief that all foreigners were devils and rogues they substituted another belief, equally grounded on insular lack of knowledge, that most foreigners were amiable, good fellows, who only needed to be talked to and patted on the back to become your friends and benefactors. They began to believe that a foreign Minister would relinquish longcherished schemes of national policy and hostile expansion if he came over on a holiday and was asked down to country houses and shown the tennis court and the rock-garden and the younger children. Listen. I once heard it solemnly stated at an after-dinner debate in some literary club that a certain very prominent German statesman had a daughter at school in England, and that future friendly relations between the two countries were improved in prospect, if not assured, by that circumstance. You think I am laughing; I am recording a fact, and the men present were politicians and statesmen as well as literary dilettanti. It was an insular lack of insight that worked the mischief, or some of the mischief. We, in Hungary, we live too much cheek by jowl with our racial neighbours to have many illusions about them. Austrians, Roumanians, Serbs, Italians, Czechs, we know what they think of us, and we know what to think of them, we know what we want in the world, and we know what they want; that knowledge does not send us flying at each other’s throats, but it does keep us from growing soft. Ah, the British lion was in a hurry to inaugurate the Millennium and to lie down gracefully with the lamb. He made two mistakes, only two, but they were very bad ones; the Millennium hadn’t arrived, and it was not a lamb that he was lying down with.”“You do not like the English, I gather,” said Yeovil, as the Hungarian went off into a short burst of satirical laughter.
“I have always liked them,” he answered, “but now I am angry with them for being soft. Here is my station,” he added, as the train slowed down, and he commenced to gather his belongings together. “I am angry with them,” he continued, as a final word on the subject, “because I hate the Germans.”
He raised his hat punctiliously in a parting salute and stepped out on to the platform. His place was taken by a large, loose-limbed man, with florid face and big staring eyes, and an immense array of fishing-basket, rod, fly-cases, and so forth. He was of the type that one could instinctively locate as a loud-voiced, self-constituted authority on whatever topic might happen to be discussed in the bars of small hotels.
“Are you English?” he asked, after a preliminary stare at Yeovil. This time Yeovil did not trouble to disguise his nationality; he nodded curtly to his questioner.“Glad of that,” said the fisherman; “I don’t like travelling with Germans.” “Unfortunately,” said Yeovil, “we have to travel with them, as partners in the same State concern, and not by any means the predominant partner either.” “Oh, that will soon right itself,” said the other with loud assertiveness, “that will right itself damn soon.” “Nothing in politics rights itself,” said Yeovil; “things have to be righted, which is a different matter.” “What d’y’mean?” said the fisherman, who did not like to have his assertions taken up and shaken into shape.
“We have given a clever and domineering people a chance to plant themselves down as masters in our land; I don’t imagine that they are going to give us an easy chance to push them out. To do that we shall have to be a little cleverer than they are, a little harder, a little fiercer, and a good deal more self-sacrificing than we have been in my lifetime or in yours.”
“We’ll be that, right enough,” said the fisherman; “we mean business this time. The last war wasn’t a war, it was a snap. We weren’t prepared and they were. That won’t happen again, bless you. I know what I’m talking about. I go up and down the country, and I hear what people are saying.”Yeovil privately doubted if he ever heard anything but his own opinions.
“It stands to reason,” continued the fisherman, “that a highly civilised race like ours, with the record that we’ve had for leading the whole world, is not going to be held under for long by a lot of damned sausage-eating Germans. Don’t you believe it! I know what I’m talking about. I’ve travelled about the world a bit.”
Yeovil shrewdly suspected that the world travels amounted to nothing more than a trip to the United States and perhaps the Channel Islands, with, possibly, a week or fortnight in Paris.
“It isn’t the past we’ve got to think of, it’s the future,” said Yeovil. “Other maritime Powers had pasts to look back on; Spain and Holland, for instance. The past didn’t help them when they let their sea-sovereignty slip from them. That is a matter of history and not very distant history either.”
“Ah, that’s where you make a mistake,” said the other; “our sea-sovereignty hasn’t slipped from us, and won’t do, neither. There’s the British Empire beyond the seas; Canada, Australia, New Zealand, East Africa.”
“If it was a list of first-class battleships, and armoured cruisers and destroyers and airships that you were reeling off, there would be some comfort and hope in the situation,” said Yeovil; “the loyalty of the colonies is a splendid thing, but it is only pathetically splendid because it can do so little to recover for us what we’ve lost. Against the Zeppelin air fleet, and the Dreadnought sea squadrons and the new Gelberhaus cruisers, the last word in maritime mobility, of what avail is loyal devotion plus half-adozen warships, one keel to ten, scattered over one or two ocean coasts?”
“Ah, but they’ll build,” said the fisherman confidently; “they’ll build. They’re only waiting to enlarge their dockyard accommodation and get the right class of artificers and engineers and workmen together. The money will be forthcoming somehow, and they’ll start in and build.”
“And do you suppose,” asked Yeovil in slow bitter contempt, “that the victorious nation is going to sit and watch and wait till the defeated foe has created a new war fleet, big enough to drive it from the seas? Do you suppose it is going to watch keel added to keel, gun to gun, airship to airship, till its preponderance has been wiped out or even threatened? That sort of thing is done once in a generation, not twice. Who is going to protect Australia or New Zealand while they enlarge their dockyards and hangars and build their dreadnoughts and their airships?”
“Here’s my station and I’m not sorry,” said the fisherman, gathering his tackle together and rising to depart; “I’ve listened to you long enough. You and me wouldn’t agree, not if we was to talk all day. Fact is, I’m an out-and-out patriot and you’re only a halfhearted one. That’s what you are, half-hearted.”
And with that parting shot he left the carriage and lounged heavily down the platform, a patriot who had never handled a rifle or mounted a horse or pulled an oar, but who had never flinched from demolishing his country’s enemies with his tongue.“England has never had any lack of patriots of that type,” thought Yeovil sadly; “so many patriots and so little patriotism.”
Yeovil got out of the train at a small, clean, wayside station, and rapidly formed the conclusion that neatness, abundant leisure, and a devotion to the cultivation of wallflowers and wyandottes were the prevailing influences of the station-master’s life. The train slid away into the hazy distance of trees and meadows, and left the traveller standing in a world that seemed to be made up in equal parts of rock garden, chicken coops, and whiskey advertisements. The station-master, who appeared also to act as emergency porter, took Yeovil’s ticket with the gesture of a kind-hearted person brushing away a troublesome wasp, and returned to a study of the Poultry Chronicle, which was giving its readers sage counsel concerning the ailments of belated July chickens. Yeovil called to mind the station-master of a tiny railway town in Siberia, who had held him in long and rather intelligent converse on the poetical merits and demerits of Shelley, and he wondered what the result would be if he were to engage the English official in a discussion on Lermontoff—or for the matter of that, on Shelley. The temptation to experiment was, however, removed by the arrival of a young groom, with brown eyes and a friendly smile, who hurried into the station and took Yeovil once more into a world where he was of fleeting importance.
In the roadway outside was a four-wheeled dogcart with a pair of the famous Torywood blue roans. It was an agreeable variation in modern locomotion to be met at a station with high-class horseflesh instead of the ubiquitous motor, and the landscape was not of such a nature that one wished to be whirled through it in a cloud of dust. After a quick spin of some ten or fifteen minutes through twisting hedge-girt country roads, the roans turned in at a wide gateway, and went with dancing, rhythmic step along the park drive. The screen of oak-crowned upland suddenly fell away and a grey sharp-cornered building came into view in a setting of low growing beeches and dark pines. Torywood was not a stately, reposeful-looking house; it lay amid the sleepy landscape like a couched watchdog with pricked ears and wakeful eyes. Built somewhere about the last years of Dutch William’s reign, it had been a centre, ever since, for the political life of the countryside; a storm centre of discontent or a rallying ground for the well affected, as the circumstances of the day might entail. On the stone-flagged terrace in front of the house, with its quaint leaden figures of Diana pursuing a hound-pressed stag, successive squires and lords of Torywood had walked to and fro with their friends, watching the thunderclouds on the political horizon or the shifting shadows on the sundial of political favour, tapping the political barometer for indications of change, working out a party campaign or arranging for the support of some national movement. To and fro they had gone in their respective generations, men with the passion for statecraft and political combat strong in their veins, and many oft-recurring names had echoed under those wakeful-looking casements, names spoken in anger or exultation, or murmured in fear and anxiety: Bolingbroke, Charles Edward, Walpole, the Farmer King, Bonaparte, Pitt, Wellington, Peel, Gladstone—echo and Time might have graven those names on the stone flags and grey walls. And now one tired old woman walked there, with names on her lips that she never uttered.
A friendly riot of fox terriers and spaniels greeted the carriage, leaping and rolling and yelping in an exuberance of sociability, as though horses and coachman and groom were comrades who had been absent for long months instead of half an hour. An indiscriminately affectionate puppy lay flat and whimpering at Yeovil’s feet, sending up little showers of gravel with its wildly thumping tail, while two of the terriers raced each other madly across lawn and shrubbery, as though to show the blue roans what speed really was. The laughing-eyed young groom disentangled the puppy from between Yeovil’s legs, and then he was ushered into the grey silence of the entrance hall, leaving sunlight and noise and the stir of life behind him.
There was something tragic in the sudden contrast between the vigour and youth and pride of life that Yeovil had seen crystallised in those dancing, high-stepping horses, scampering dogs, and alert, clean-limbed young men-servants, and the age-frail woman who came forward to meet him.
Eleanor, Dowager Lady Greymarten, had for more than half a century been the ruling spirit at Torywood. The affairs of the county had not sufficed for her untiring activities of mind and body; in the wider field of national and Imperial service she had worked and schemed and fought with an energy and a far-sightedness that came probably from the blend of caution and bold restlessness in her Scottish blood. For many educated minds the arena of politics and public life is a weariness of dust and disgust, to others it is a fascinating study, to be watched from the comfortable seat of a spectator. To her it was a home. In her town house or down at Torywood, with her writing-pad on her knee and the telephone at her elbow, or in personal counsel with some trusted colleague or persuasive argument with a halting adherent or half-convinced opponent, she had laboured on behalf of the poor and the ill-equipped, had fought for her idea of the Right, and above all, for the safety and sanity of her Fatherland. Spadework when necessary and leadership when called for, came alike within the scope of her activities, and not least of her achievements, though perhaps she hardly realised it, was the force of her example, a lone, indomitable fighter calling to the half-caring and the half-discouraged, to the laggard and the slowmoving.
And now she came across the room with “the tired step of a tired king,” and that look which the French so expressively called l’air défait. The charm which Heaven bestows on old ladies, reserving its highest gift to the end, had always seemed in her case to be lost sight of in the dignity and interest of a great dame who was still in the full prime of her fighting and ruling powers. Now, in Yeovil’s eyes, she had suddenly come to be very old, stricken with the forlorn languor of one who knows that death will be weary to wait for. She had spared herself nothing in the long labour, the ceaseless building, the watch and ward, and in one short autumn week she had seen the overthrow of all that she had built, the falling asunder of the world in which she had laboured. Her life’s end was like a harvest home when blight and storm have laid waste the fruit of long toil and unsparing outlay. Victory had been her goal, the death or victory of old heroic challenge, for she had always dreamed to die fighting to the last; death or victory—and the gods had given her neither, only the bitterness of a defeat that could not be measured in words, and the weariness of a life that had outlived happiness or hope. Such was Eleanor, Dowager Lady Greymarten, a shadow amid the young red-blooded life at Torywood, but a shadow that was too real to die, a shadow that was stronger than the substance that surrounded it.
Yeovil talked long and hurriedly of his late travels, of the vast Siberian forests and rivers, the desolate tundras, the lakes and marshes where the wild swans rear their broods, the flower carpet of the summer fields and the winter ice-mantle of Russia’s northern sea. He talked as a man talks who avoids the subject that is uppermost in his mind, and in the mind of his hearer, as one who looks away from a wound or deformity that is too cruel to be taken notice of.
Tea was served in a long oak-panelled gallery, where generations of Mustelfords had romped and played as children, and remained yet in effigy, in a collection of more or less faithful portraits. After tea Yeovil was taken by his hostess to the aviaries, which constituted the sole claim which Torywood possessed to being considered a show place. The third Earl of Greymarten had collected rare and interesting birds, somewhere about the time when Gilbert White was penning the last of his deathless letters, and his successors in the title had perpetuated the hobby. Little lawns and ponds and shrubberies were partitioned off for the various ground-loving species, and higher cages with interlacing perches and rockwork shelves accommodated the birds whose natural expression of movement was on the wing. Quails and francolins scurried about under low-growing shrubs, peacock-pheasants strutted and sunned themselves, pugnacious ruffs engaged in perfunctory battles, from force of habit now that the rivalry of the mating season was over; choughs, ravens, and loud-throated gulls occupied sections of a vast rockery, and bright-hued Chinese pond-herons and delicately stepping egrets waded among the waterlilies of a marble-terraced tank. One or two dusky shapes seen dimly in the recesses of a large cage built round a hollow tree would be lively owls when evening came on.
In the course of his many wanderings Yeovil had himself contributed three or four inhabitants to this little feathered town, and he went round the enclosures, renewing old acquaintances and examining new additions.
“The falcon cage is empty,” said Lady Greymarten, pointing to a large wired dome that towered high above the other enclosures, “I let the lanner fly free one day. The other birds may be reconciled to their comfortable quarters and abundant food and absence of dangers, but I don’t think all those things could make up to a falcon for the wild range of cliff and desert. When one has lost one’s own liberty one feels a quicker sympathy for other caged things, I suppose.”
There was silence for a moment, and then the Dowager went on, in a wistful, passionate voice:
“I am an old woman now, Murrey, I must die in my cage. I haven’t the strength to fight. Age is a very real and very cruel thing, though we may shut our eyes to it and pretend it is not there. I thought at one time that I should never really know what it meant, what it brought to one. I thought of it as a messenger that one could keep waiting out in the yard till the very last moment. I know now what it means. . . . But you, Murrey, you are young, you can fight. Are you going to be a fighter, or the very humble servant of the fait accompli?”
“I shall never be the servant of the fait accompli,” said Yeovil. “I loathe it. As to fighting, one must first find out what weapon to use, and how to use it effectively. One must watch and wait.”
“One must not wait too long,” said the old woman. “Time is on their side, not ours. It is the young people we must fight for now, if they are ever to fight for us. A new generation will spring up, a weaker memory of old glories will survive, the éclat of the ruling race will capture young imaginations. If I had your youth, Murrey, and your sex, I would become a commercial traveller.”“A commercial traveller!” exclaimed Yeovil.
“Yes, one whose business took him up and down the country, into contact with all classes, into homes and shops and inns and railway carriages. And as I travelled I would work, work on the minds of every boy and girl I came across, every young father and young mother too, every young couple that were going to be man and wife. I would awaken or keep alive in their memory the things that we have been, the grand, brave things that some of our race have done, and I would stir up a longing, a determination for the future that we must win back. I would be a counter-agent to the agents of the fait accompli. In course of time the Government would find out what I was doing, and I should be sent out of the country, but I should have accomplished something, and others would carry on the work. That is what I would do. Murrey, even if it is to be a losing battle, fight it, fight it!”Yeovil knew that the old lady was fighting her last battle, rallying the discouraged, and spurring on the backward.
A footman came to announce that the carriage waited to take him back to the station. His hostess walked with him through the hall, and came out on to the stone-flagged terrace, the terrace from which a former Lady Greymarten had watched the twinkling bonfires that told of Waterloo.
Yeovil said good-bye to her as she stood there, a wan, shrunken shadow, yet with a greater strength and reality in her flickering life than those parrot men and women that fluttered and chattered through London drawing-rooms and theatre foyers. As the carriage swung round a bend in the drive Yeovil looked back at Torywood, a lone, grey building, couched like a watchdog with pricked ears and wakeful eyes in the midst of the sleeping landscape. An old pleading voice was still ringing in his ears:
Imperious and yet forlorn,
Came through the silence of the trees, The echoes of a golden horn,
Calling to distances.
Somehow Yeovil knew that he would never hear that voice again, and he knew, too, that he would hear it always, with its message, “Be a fighter.” And he knew now, with a shamefaced consciousness that sprang suddenly into existence, that the summons would sound for him in vain.
The weary brain-torturing months of fever had left their trail behind, a lassitude of spirit and a sluggishness of blood, a quenching of the desire to roam and court adventure and hardship. In the hours of waking and depression between the raging intervals of delirium he had speculated, with a sort of detached, listless indifference, on the chances of his getting back to life and strength and energy. The prospect of filling a corner of some lonely Siberian graveyard or Finnish cemetery had seemed near realisation at times, and for a man who was already half dead the other half didn’t particularly matter. But when he had allowed himself to dwell on the more hopeful side of the case it had always been a complete recovery that awaited him; the same Yeovil as of yore, a little thinner and more lined about the eyes perhaps, would go through life in the same way, alert, resolute, enterprising, ready to start off at short notice for some desert or upland where the eagles were circling and the wild-fowl were calling. He had not reckoned that Death, evaded and held off by the doctors’ skill, might exact a compromise, and that only part of the man would go free to the West.
And now he began to realise how little of mental and physical energy he could count on. His own country had never seemed in his eyes so comfort-yielding and to-be-desired as it did now when it had passed into alien keeping and become a prison land as much as a homeland. London with its thin mockery of a Season, and its chattering horde of emptyhearted self-seekers, held no attraction for him, but the spell of English country life was weaving itself round him, now that the charm of the desert was receding into a mist of memories. The waning of pleasant autumn days in an English woodland, the whir of game birds in the clean harvested fields, the grey moist mornings in the saddle, with the magical cry of hounds coming up from some misty hollow, and then the delicious abandon of physical weariness in bathroom and bedroom after a long run, and the heavenly snatched hour of luxurious sleep, before stirring back to life and hunger, the coming of the dinner hour and the jollity of a well-chosen house-party.That was the call which was competing with that other trumpet-call, and Yeovil knew on which side his choice would incline.
“a Perfectly Glorious Afternoon”
It was one of the last days of July, cooled and freshened by a touch of rain and dropping back again to a languorous warmth. London looked at its summer best, rain-washed and sun-lit, with the maximum of coming and going in its more fashionable streets.
Cicely Yeovil sat in a screened alcove of the Anchorage Restaurant, a feeding-ground which had lately sprung into favour. Opposite her sat Ronnie, confronting the ruins of what had been a dish of prawns in aspic. Cool and clean and fresh-coloured, he was good to look on in the eyes of his companion, and yet, perhaps, there was a ruffle in her soul that called for some answering disturbance on the part of that superbly tranquil young man, and certainly called in vain. Cicely had set up for herself a fetish of onyx with eyes of jade, and doubtless hungered at times with an unreasonable but perfectly natural hunger for something of flesh and blood. It was the religion of her life to know exactly what she wanted and to see that she got it, but there was no possible guarantee against her occasionally experiencing a desire for something else. It is the golden rule of all religions that no one should really live up to their precepts; when a man observes the principles of his religion too exactly he is in immediate danger of founding a new sect.
“To-day is going to be your day of triumph,” said Cicely to the young man, who was wondering at the moment whether he would care to embark on an artichoke; “I believe I’m more nervous than you are,” she added, “and yet I rather hate the idea of you scoring a great success.”“Why?” asked Ronnie, diverting his mind for a moment from the artichoke question and its ramifications of sauce hollandaise or vinaigre.
“I like you as you are,” said Cicely, “just a nice-looking boy to flatter and spoil and pretend to be fond of. You’ve got a charming young body and you’ve no soul, and that’s such a fascinating combination. If you had a soul you would either dislike or worship me, and I’d much rather have things as they are. And now you are going to go a step beyond that, and other people will applaud you and say that you are wonderful, and invite you to eat with them and motor with them and yacht with them. As soon as that begins to happen, Ronnie, a lot of other things will come to an end. Of course I’ve always known that you don’t really care for me, but as soon as the world knows it you are irrevocably damaged as a plaything. That is the great secret that binds us together, the knowledge that we have no real affection for one another. And this afternoon every one will know that you are a great artist, and no great artist was ever a great lover.”
“I shan’t be difficult to replace, anyway,” said Ronnie, with what he imagined was a becoming modesty; “there are lots of boys standing round ready to be fed and flattered and put on an imaginary pedestal, most of them more or less good-looking and well turned out and amusing to talk to.”
“Oh, I dare say I could find a successor for your vacated niche,” said Cicely lightly; “one thing I’m determined on though, he shan’t be a musician. It’s so unsatisfactory to have to share a grand passion with a grand piano. He shall be a delightful young barbarian who would think Saint Saëns was a Derby winner or a claret.”
“Don’t be in too much of a hurry to replace me,” said Ronnie, who did not care to have his successor too seriously discussed. “I may not score the success you expect this afternoon.”
“My dear boy, a minor crowned head from across the sea is coming to hear you play, and that alone will count as a success with most of your listeners. Also, I’ve secured a real Duchess for you, which is rather an achievement in the London of to-day.”“An English Duchess?” asked Ronnie, who had early in life learned to apply the Merchandise Marks Act to ducal titles.
“English, oh certainly, at least as far as the title goes; she was born under the constellation of the Star-spangled Banner. I don’t suppose the Duke approves of her being here, lending her countenance to the fait accompli, but when you’ve got republican blood in your veins a Kaiser is quite as attractive a lodestar as a King, rather more so. And Canon Mousepace is coming,” continued Cicely, referring to a closely-written list of guests; “the excellent von Tolb has been attending his church lately, and the Canon is longing to meet her. She is just the sort of person he adores. I fancy he sincerely realises how difficult it will be for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and he tries to make up for it by being as nice as possible to them in this world.”Ronnie held out his hand for the list. “I think you know most of the others,” said Cicely, passing it to him. “Leutnant von Gabelroth?” read out Ronnie; “who is he?”
“In one of the hussar regiments quartered here; a friend of the Gräfin’s. Ugly but amiable, and I’m told a good cross-country rider. I suppose Murrey will be disgusted at meeting the ‘outward and visible sign’ under his roof, but these encounters are inevitable as long as he is in London.”“I didn’t know Murrey was coming,” said Ronnie.
“I believe he’s going to look in on us,” said Cicely; “it’s just as well, you know, otherwise we should have Joan asking in her loudest voice when he was going to be back in England again. I haven’t asked her, but she overheard the Gräfin arranging to come and hear you play, and I fancy that will be quite enough.”
“How about some Turkish coffee?” said Ronnie, who had decided against the artichoke. “Turkish coffee, certainly, and a cigarette, and a moment’s peace before the serious business of the afternoon claims us. Talking about peace, do you know, Ronnie, it has just occurred to me that we have left out one of the most important things in our affaire; we have never had a quarrel.”“I hate quarrels,” said Ronnie, “they are so domesticated.” “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard you talk about your home,” said Cicely. “I fancy it would apply to most homes,” said Ronnie.
“The last boy-friend I had used to quarrel furiously with me at least once a week,” said Cicely reflectively; “but then he had dark slumberous eyes that lit up magnificently when he was angry, so it would have been a sheer waste of God’s good gifts not to have sent him into a passion now and then.”
“With your excursions into the past and the future you are making me feel dreadfully like an instalment of a serial novel,” protested Ronnie; “we have now got to ‘synopsis of earlier chapters.’”
“It shan’t be teased,” said Cicely; “we will live in the present and go no further into the future than to make arrangements for Tuesday’s dinner-party. I’ve asked the Duchess; she would never have forgiven me if she’d found out that I had a crowned head dining with me and hadn’t asked her to meet him.”* * * * *
A sudden hush descended on the company gathered in the great drawing-room at Berkshire Street as Ronnie took his seat at the piano; the voice of Canon Mousepace outlasted the others for a moment or so, and then subsided into a regretful but gracious silence. For the next nine or ten minutes Ronnie held possession of the crowded room, a tense slender figure, with cold green eyes aflame in a sudden fire, and smooth burnished head bent low over the keyboard that yielded a disciplined riot of melody under his strong deft fingers. The world-weary Landgraf forgot for the moment the regrettable trend of his subjects towards Parliamentary Socialism, the excellent Gräfin von Tolb forgot all that the Canon had been saying to her for the last ten minutes, forgot the depressing certainty that he would have a great deal more that he wanted to say in the immediate future, over and above the thirty-five minutes or so of discourse that she would contract to listen to next Sunday. And Cicely listened with the wistful equivocal triumph of one whose goose has turned out to be a swan and who realises with secret concern that she has only planned the rôle of goosegirl for herself.
The last chords died away, the fire faded out of the jade-coloured eyes, and Ronnie became once more a well-groomed youth in a drawing-room full of well-dressed people. But around him rose an explosive clamour of applause and congratulation, the sincere tribute of appreciation and the equally hearty expression of imitative homage. “It is a great gift, a great gift,” chanted Canon Mousepace, “You must put it to a great use. A talent is vouchsafed to us for a purpose; you must fulfil the purpose. Talent such as yours is a responsibility; you must meet that responsibility.”The dictionary of the English language was an inexhaustible quarry, from which the Canon had hewn and fashioned for himself a great reputation.
“You must gom and blay to me at Schlachsenberg,” said the kindly-faced Landgraf, whom the world adored and thwarted in about equal proportions. “At Christmas, yes, that will be a good time. We still keep the Christ-Fest at Schlachsenberg, though the ‘Sozi’ keep telling our schoolchildren that it is only a Christ myth. Never mind, I will have the Vice-President of our Landtag to listen to you; he is ‘Sozi’ but we are good friends outside the Parliament House; you shall blay to him, my young friendt, and gonfince him that there is a Got in Heaven. You will gom? Yes?”“It was beautiful,” said the Gräfin simply; “it made me cry. Go back to the piano again, please, at once.”
Perhaps the near neighbourhood of the Canon inspired this command, but the Gräfin had been genuinely charmed. She adored good music and she was unaffectedly fond of goodlooking boys.
Ronnie went back to the piano and tasted the matured pleasure of a repeated success. Any measure of nervousness that he may have felt at first had completely passed away. He was sure of his audience and he played as though they did not exist. A renewed clamour of excited approval attended the conclusion of his performance.
“It is a triumph, a perfectly glorious triumph,” exclaimed the Duchess of Dreyshire, turning to Yeovil, who sat silent among his wife’s guests; “isn’t it just glorious?” she demanded, with a heavy insistent intonation of the word.“Is it?” said Yeovil. “Well, isn’t it?” she cried, with a rising inflection, “isn’t it just perfectly glorious?”
“I don’t know,” confessed Yeovil; “you see glory hasn’t come very much my way lately.” Then, before he exactly realised what he was doing, he raised his voice and quoted loudly for the benefit of half the room:
“‘Other Romans shall arise,
Heedless of a soldier’s name,
Sounds, not deeds, shall win the prize, Harmony the path to fame.’”
Tony Luton confronted him, an angry scowl on his face, a blaze in his heavy-lidded eyes. The boy was without a conscience, almost without a soul, as priests and parsons reckon souls, but there was a slumbering devil-god within him, and Yeovil’s taunting words had broken the slumber. Life had been for Tony a hard school, in which right and wrong, high endeavour and good resolve, were untaught subjects; but there was a sterling something in him, just that something that helped poor street-scavenged men to die brave-fronted deaths in the trenches of Salamanca, that fired a handful of apprentice boys to shut the gates of Derry and stare unflinchingly at grim leaguer and starvation. It was just that nameless something that was lacking in the young musician, who stood at the further end of the room, bathed in a flood of compliment and congratulation, enjoying the honey-drops of his triumph.Luton pushed his way through the crowd and left the room, without troubling to take leave of his hostess. “What a strange young man,” exclaimed the Duchess; “now do take me into the next room,” she went on almost in the same breath, “I’m just dying for some iced coffee.” Yeovil escorted her through the throng of Ronnie-worshippers to the desired haven of refreshment.
“Marvellous!” Mrs. Menteith-Mendlesohnn was exclaiming in ringing trumpet tones; “of course I always knew he could play, but this is not mere piano playing, it is tone-mastery, it is sound magic. Mrs. Yeovil has introduced us to a new star in the musical firmament. Do you know, I feel this afternoon just like Cortez, in the poem, gazing at the newly discovered sea.”
“‘Silent upon a peak in Darien,’” quoted a penetrating voice that could only belong to Joan Mardle; “I say, can any one picture Mrs. Menteith-Mendlesohnn silent on any peak or under any circumstances?”If any one had that measure of imagination, no one acknowledged the fact.
“A great gift and a great responsibility,” Canon Mousepace was assuring the Gräfin; “the power of evoking sublime melody is akin to the power of awakening thought; a musician can appeal to dormant consciousness as the preacher can appeal to dormant conscience. It is a responsibility, an instrument for good or evil. Our young friend here, we may be sure, will use it as an instrument for good. He has, I feel certain, a sense of his responsibility.”“He is a nice boy,” said the Gräfin simply; “he has such pretty hair.”
In one of the window recesses Rhapsodie Pantril was talking vaguely but beautifully to a small audience on the subject of chromatic chords; she had the advantage of knowing what she was talking about, an advantage that her listeners did not in the least share. “All through his playing there ran a tone-note of malachite green,” she declared recklessly, feeling safe from immediate contradiction; “malachite green, my colour—the colour of striving.”
Having satisfied the ruling passion that demanded gentle and dextrous self-advertisement, she realised that the Augusta Smith in her craved refreshment, and moved with one of her over-awed admirers towards the haven where peaches and iced coffee might be considered a certainty.
The refreshment alcove, which was really a good-sized room, a sort of chapel-of-ease to the larger drawing-room, was already packed with a crowd who felt that they could best discuss Ronnie’s triumph between mouthfuls of fruit salad and iced draughts of hockcup. So brief is human glory that two or three independent souls had even now drifted from the theme of the moment on to other more personally interesting topics.
“Iced mulberry salad, my dear, it’s a spécialité de la maison, so to speak; they say the roving husband brought the recipe from Astrakhan, or Seville, or some such outlandish place.”
“I wish my husband would roam about a bit and bring back strange palatable dishes. No such luck, he’s got asthma and has to keep on a gravel soil with a south aspect and all sorts of other restrictions.”“I don’t think you’re to be pitied in the least; a husband with asthma is like a captive golfball, you can always put your hand on him when you want him.”
“All the hangings, violette de Parme, all the furniture, rosewood. Nothing is to be played in it except Mozart. Mozart only. Some of my friends wanted me to have a replica of the Mozart statue at Vienna put up in a corner of the room, with flowers always around it, but I really couldn’t. I couldn’t. One is so tired of it, one sees it everywhere. I couldn’t do it. I’m like that, you know.”
“Yes, I’ve secured the hero of the hour, Ronnie Storre, oh yes, rather. He’s going to join our yachting trip, third week of August. We’re going as far afield as Fiume, in the Adriatic—or is it the Ægean? Won’t it be jolly. Oh no, we’re not asking Mrs. Yeovil; it’s quite a small yacht you know—at least, it’s a small party.”
The excellent von Tolb took her departure, bearing off with her the Landgraf, who had already settled the date and duration of Ronnie’s Christmas visit.
“It will be dull, you know,” he warned the prospective guest; “our Landtag will not be sitting, and what is a bear-garden without the bears? However, we haf some wildt schwein in our woods, we can show you some sport in that way.”
Ronnie instantly saw himself in a well-fitting shooting costume, with a Tyrolese hat placed at a very careful angle on his head, but he confessed that the other details of boarhunting were rather beyond him.
With the departure of the von Tolb party Canon Mousepace gravitated decently but persistently towards a corner where the Duchess, still at concert pitch, was alternatively praising Ronnie’s performance and the mulberry salad. Joan Mardle, who formed one of the group, was not openly praising any one, but she was paying a silent tribute to the salad.“We were just talking about Ronnie Storre’s music, Canon,” said the Duchess; “I consider it just perfectly glorious.”
“It’s a great talent, isn’t it, Canon,” put in Joan briskly, “and of course it’s a responsibility as well, don’t you think? Music can be such an influence, just as eloquence can; don’t you agree with me?”
The quarry of the English language was of course a public property, but it was disconcerting to have one’s own particular barrow-load of sentence-building material carried off before one’s eyes. The Canon’s impressive homily on Ronnie’s gift and its possibilities had to be hastily whittled down to a weakly acquiescent, “Quite so, quite so.”“Have you tasted this iced mulberry salad, Canon?” asked the Duchess; “it’s perfectly luscious. Just hurry along and get some before it’s all gone.” And her Grace hurried along in an opposite direction, to thank Cicely for past favours and to express lively gratitude for the Tuesday to come.
The guests departed, with a rather irritating slowness, for which perhaps the excellence of Cicely’s buffet arrangements was partly responsible. The great drawing-room seemed to grow larger and more oppressive as the human wave receded, and the hostess fled at last with some relief to the narrower limits of her writing-room and the sedative influences of a cigarette. She was inclined to be sorry for herself; the triumph of the afternoon had turned out much as she had predicted at lunch time. Her idol of onyx had not been swept from its pedestal, but the pedestal itself had an air of being packed up ready for transport to some other temple. Ronnie would be flattered and spoiled by half a hundred people, just because he could conjure sounds out of a keyboard, and Cicely felt no great incentive to go on flattering and spoiling him herself. And Ronnie would acquiesce in his dismissal with the good grace born of indifference—the surest guarantor of perfect manners. Already he had social engagements for the coming months in which she had no share; the drifting apart would be mutual. He had been an intelligent and amusing companion, and he had played the game as she had wished it to be played, without the fatigue of keeping up pretences which neither of them could have believed in. “Let us have a wonderfully good time together” had been the single stipulation in their unwritten treaty of comradeship, and they had had the good time. Their whole-hearted pursuit of material happiness would go on as keenly as before, but they would hunt in different company, that was all. Yes, that was all. . . .
Cicely found the effect of her cigarette less sedative than she was disposed to exact. It might be necessary to change the brand. Some ten or eleven days later Yeovil read an announcement in the papers that, in spite of handsome offers of increased salary, Mr. Tony Luton, the original singer of the popular ditty “Eccleston Square,” had terminated his engagement with Messrs. Isaac Grosvenor and Leon Hebhardt of the Caravansery Theatre, and signed on as a deck hand in the Canadian Marine.Perhaps after all there had been some shred of glory amid the trumpet triumph of that July afternoon.
The Intelligent Anticipator Of Wants
Two of Yeovil’s London clubs, the two that he had been accustomed to frequent, had closed their doors after the catastrophe. One of them had perished from off the face of the earth, its fittings had been sold and its papers lay stored in some solicitor’s office, a tit-bit of material for the pen of some future historian. The other had transplanted itself to Delhi, whither it had removed its early Georgian furniture and its traditions, and sought to reproduce its St. James’s Street atmosphere as nearly as the conditions of a tropical Asiatic city would permit. There remained the Cartwheel, a considerably newer institution, which had sprung into existence somewhere about the time of Yeovil’s last sojourn in England; he had joined it on the solicitation of a friend who was interested in the venture, and his bankers had paid his subscription during his absence. As he had never been inside its doors there could be no depressing comparisons to make between its present state and aforetime glories, and Yeovil turned into its portals one afternoon with the adventurous detachment of a man who breaks new ground and challenges new experiences.
He entered with a diffident sense of intrusion, conscious that his standing as a member might not be recognised by the keepers of the doors; in a moment, however, he realised that a rajah’s escort of elephants might almost have marched through the entrance hall and vestibule without challenge. The general atmosphere of the scene suggested a blend of the railway station at Cologne, the Hotel Bristol in any European capital, and the second act in most musical comedies. A score of brilliant and brilliantined pages decorated the foreground, while Hebraic-looking gentlemen, wearing tartan waistcoats of the clans of their adoption, flitted restlessly between the tape machines and telephone boxes. The army of occupation had obviously established a firm footing in the hospitable premises; a kaleidoscopic pattern of uniforms, sky-blue, indigo, and bottle-green, relieved the civilian attire of the groups that clustered in lounge and card rooms and corridors. Yeovil rapidly came to the conclusion that the joys of membership were not for him. He had turned to go, after a very cursory inspection of the premises and their human occupants, when he was hailed by a young man, dressed with strenuous neatness, whom he remembered having met in past days at the houses of one or two common friends.
Hubert Herlton’s parents had brought him into the world, and some twenty-one years later had put him into a motor business. Having taken these pardonable liberties they had completely exhausted their ideas of what to do with him, and Hubert seemed unlikely to develop any ideas of his own on the subject. The motor business elected to conduct itself without his connivance; journalism, the stage, tomato culture (without capital), and other professions that could be entered on at short notice were submitted to his consideration by nimble-minded relations and friends. He listened to their suggestions with polite indifference, being rude only to a cousin who demonstrated how he might achieve a settled income of from two hundred to a thousand pounds a year by the propagation of mushrooms in a London basement. While his walk in life was still an undetermined promenade his parents died, leaving him with a carefully-invested income of thirty-seven pounds a year. At that point of his career Yeovil’s knowledge of him stopped short; the journey to Siberia had taken him beyond the range of Herlton’s domestic vicissitudes.The young man greeted him in a decidedly friendly manner. “I didn’t know you were a member here,” he exclaimed.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been in the club,” said Yeovil, “and I fancy it will be the last. There is rather too much of the fighting machine in evidence here. One doesn’t want a perpetual reminder of what has happened staring one in the face.”
“We tried at first to keep the alien element out,” said Herlton apologetically, “but we couldn’t have carried on the club if we’d stuck to that line. You see we’d lost more than two-thirds of our old members so we couldn’t afford to be exclusive. As a matter of fact the whole thing was decided over our heads; a new syndicate took over the concern, and a new committee was installed, with a good many foreigners on it. I know it’s horrid having these uniforms flaunting all over the place, but what is one to do?”Yeovil said nothing, with the air of a man who could have said a great deal.
“I suppose you wonder, why remain a member under those conditions?” continued Herlton. “Well, as far as I am concerned, a place like this is a necessity for me. In fact, it’s my profession, my source of income.”“Are you as good at bridge as all that?” asked Yeovil; “I’m a fairly successful player myself, but I should be sorry to have to live on my winnings, year in, year out.”
“I don’t play cards,” said Herlton, “at least not for serious stakes. My winnings or losings wouldn’t come to a tenner in an average year. No, I live by commissions, by introducing likely buyers to would-be sellers.”“Sellers of what?” asked Yeovil.
“Anything, everything; horses, yachts, old masters, plate, shootings, poultry-farms, weekend cottages, motor cars, almost anything you can think of. Look,” and he produced from his breast pocket a bulky note-book illusorily inscribed “engagements.”
“Here,” he explained, tapping the book, “I’ve got a double entry of every likely client that I know, with a note of the things he may have to sell and the things he may want to buy. When it is something that he has for sale there are cross-references to likely purchasers of that particular line of article. I don’t limit myself to things that I actually know people to be in want of, I go further than that and have theories, carefully indexed theories, as to the things that people might want to buy. At the right moment, if I can get the opportunity, I mention the article that is in my mind’s eye to the possible purchaser who has also been in my mind’s eye, and I frequently bring off a sale. I started a chance acquaintance on a career of print-buying the other day merely by telling him of a couple of good prints that I knew of, that were to be had at a quite reasonable price; he is a man with more money than he knows what to do with, and he has laid out quite a lot on old prints since his first purchase. Most of his collection he has got through me, and of course I net a commission on each transaction. So you see, old man, how useful, not to say necessary, a club with a large membership is to me. The more mixed and socially chaotic it is, the more serviceable it is.”“Of course,” said Yeovil, “and I suppose, as a matter of fact, a good many of your clients belong to the conquering race.”
“Well, you see, they are the people who have got the money,” said Herlton; “I don’t mean to say that the invading Germans are usually people of wealth, but while they live over here they escape the crushing taxation that falls on the British-born subject. They serve their country as soldiers, and we have to serve it in garrison money, ship money and so forth, besides the ordinary taxes of the State. The German shoulders the rifle, the Englishman has to shoulder everything else. That is what will help more than anything towards the gradual Germanising of our big towns; the comparatively lightly-taxed German workman over here will have a much bigger spending power and purchasing power than his heavily taxed English neighbour. The public-houses, bars, eating-houses, places of amusement and so forth, will come to cater more and more for money-yielding German patronage. The stream of British emigration will swell rather than diminish, and the stream of Teuton immigration will be equally persistent and progressive. Yes, the military-service ordinance was a cunning stroke on the part of that old fox, von Kwarl. As a civilian statesman he is far and away cleverer than Bismarck was; he smothers with a feather-bed where Bismarck would have tried to smash with a sledge-hammer.”“Have you got me down on your list of noteworthy people?” asked Yeovil, turning the drift of the conversation back to the personal topic.
“Certainly I have,” said Herlton, turning the pages of his pocket directory to the letter Y. “As soon as I knew you were back in England I made several entries concerning you. In the first place it was possible that you might have a volume on Siberian travel and natural history notes to publish, and I’ve cross-referenced you to a publisher I know who rather wants books of that sort on his list.”“I may tell you at once that I’ve no intentions in that direction,” said Yeovil, in some amusement.
“Just as well,” said Herlton cheerfully, scribbling a hieroglyphic in his book; “that branch of business is rather outside my line—too little in it, and the gratitude of author and publisher for being introduced to one another is usually short-lived. A more serious entry was the item that if you were wintering in England you would be looking out for a hunter or two. You used to hunt with the East Wessex, I remember; I’ve got just the very animal that will suit that country, ready waiting for you. A beautiful clean jumper. I’ve put it over a fence or two myself, and you and I ride much the same weight. A stiffish price is being asked for it, but I’ve got the letters D.O. after your name.”
“In Heaven’s name,” said Yeovil, now openly grinning, “before I die of curiosity tell me what D.O. stands for.”
“It means some one who doesn’t object to pay a good price for anything that really suits him. There are some people of course who won’t consider a thing unless they can get it for about a third of what they imagine to be its market value. I’ve got another suggestion down against you in my book; you may not be staying in the country at all, you may be clearing out in disgust at existing conditions. In that case you would be selling a lot of things that you wouldn’t want to cart away with you. That involves another set of entries and a whole lot of cross references.”“I’m afraid I’ve given you a lot of trouble,” said Yeovil drily.
“Not at all,” said Herlton, “but it would simplify matters if we take it for granted that you are going to stay here, for this winter anyhow, and are looking out for hunters. Can you lunch with me here on Wednesday, and come and look at the animal afterwards? It’s only thirty-five minutes by train. It will take us longer if we motor. There is a two-fiftythree from Charing Cross that we could catch comfortably.”“If you are going to persuade me to hunt in the East Wessex country this season,” said Yeovil, “you must find me a convenient hunting box somewhere down there.”
“I have found it,” said Herlton, whipping out a stylograph, and hastily scribbling an “order to view” on a card; “central as possible for all the meets, grand stabling accommodation, excellent water-supply, big bathroom, game larder, cellarage, a bakehouse if you want to bake your own bread—”“Any land with it?”
“Not enough to be a nuisance. An acre or two of paddock and about the same of garden. You are fond of wild things; a wood comes down to the edge of the garden, a wood that harbours owls and buzzards and kestrels.”“Have you got all those details in your book?” asked Yeovil; “‘wood adjoining property, O.B.K.’” “I keep those details in my head,” said Herlton, “but they are quite reliable.”
“I shall insist on something substantial off the rent if there are no buzzards,” said Yeovil; “now that you have mentioned them they seem an indispensable accessory to any decent hunting-box. Look,” he exclaimed, catching sight of a plump middle-aged individual, crossing the vestibule with an air of restrained importance, “there goes the delectable Pitherby. Does he come on your books at all?”
“I should say!” exclaimed Herlton fervently. “The delectable P. nourishes expectations of a barony or viscounty at an early date. Most of his life has been spent in streets and squares, with occasional migrations to the esplanades of fashionable watering-places or the gravelled walks of country house gardens. Now that noblesse is about to impose its obligations on him, quite a new catalogue of wants has sprung into his mind. There are things that a plain esquire may leave undone without causing scandalised remark, but a fiercer light beats on a baron. Trigger-pulling is one of the obligations. Up to the present Pitherby has never hit a partridge in anger, but this year he has commissioned me to rent him a deer forest. Some pedigree Herefords for his ‘home farm’ was another commission, and a dozen and a half swans for a swannery. The swannery, I may say, was my idea; I said once in his hearing that it gave a baronial air to an estate; you see I knew a man who had got a lot of surplus swan stock for sale. Now Pitherby wants a heronry as well. I’ve put him in communication with a client of mine who suffers from superfluous herons, but of course I can’t guarantee that the birds’ nesting arrangements will fall in with his territorial requirement. I’m getting him some carp, too, of quite respectable age, for a carp pond; I thought it would look so well for his lady-wife to be discovered by interviewers feeding the carp with her own fair hands, and I put the same idea into Pitherby’s mind.”
“I had no idea that so many things were necessary to endorse a patent of nobility,” said Yeovil. “If there should be any miscarriage in the bestowal of the honour at least Pitherby will have absolved himself from any charge of contributory negligence.”“Shall we say Wednesday, here, one o’clock, lunch first, and go down and look at the horse afterwards?” said Herlton, returning to the matter in hand. Yeovil hesitated, then he nodded his head. “There is no harm in going to look at the animal,” he said.
Mrs. Kerrick sat at a little teak-wood table in the verandah of a low-pitched teak-built house that stood on the steep slope of a brown hillside. Her youngest child, with the grave natural dignity of nine-year old girlhood, maintained a correct but observant silence, looking carefully yet unobtrusively after the wants of the one guest, and checking from time to time the incursions of ubiquitous ants that were obstinately disposed to treat the table-cloth as a foraging ground. The wayfaring visitor, who was experiencing a British blend of Eastern hospitality, was a French naturalist, travelling thus far afield in quest of feathered specimens to enrich the aviaries of a bird-collecting Balkan King. On the previous evening, while shrugging his shoulders and unloosing his vocabulary over the meagre accommodation afforded by the native rest-house, he had been enchanted by receiving an invitation to transfer his quarters to the house on the hillside, where he found not only a pleasant-voiced hostess and some drinkable wine, but three brown-skinned English youngsters who were able to give him a mass of intelligent first-hand information about the bird life of the region. And now, at the early morning breakfast, ere yet the sun was showing over the rim of the brown-baked hills, he was learning something of the life of the little community he had chanced on. “I was in these parts many years ago,” explained the hostess, “when my husband was alive and had an appointment out here. It is a healthy hill district and I had pleasant memories of the place, so when it became necessary, well, desirable let us say, to leave our English home and find a new one, it occurred to me to bring my boys and my little girl here—my eldest girl is at school in Paris. Labour is cheap here and I try my hand at farming in a small way. Of course it is very different work to just superintending the dairy and poultry-yard arrangements of an English country estate. There are so many things, insect ravages, bird depredations, and so on, that one only knows on a small scale in England, that happen here in wholesale fashion, not to mention droughts and torrential rains and other tropical visitations. And then the domestic animals are so disconcertingly different from the ones one has been used to; humped cattle never seem to behave in the way that straight-backed cattle would, and goats and geese and chickens are not a bit the same here that they are in Europe—and of course the farm servants are utterly unlike the same class in England. One has to unlearn a good deal of what one thought one knew about stock-keeping and agriculture, and take note of the native ways of doing things; they are primitive and unenterprising of course, but they have an accumulated store of experience behind them, and one has to tread warily in initiating improvements.”
The Frenchman looked round at the brown sun-scorched hills, with the dusty empty road showing here and there in the middle distance and other brown sun-scorched hills rounding off the scene; he looked at the lizards on the verandah walls, at the jars for keeping the water cool, at the numberless little insect-bored holes in the furniture, at the heat-drawn lines on his hostess’s comely face. Notwithstanding his present wanderings he had a Frenchman’s strong homing instinct, and he marvelled to hear this lady, who should have been a lively and popular figure in the social circle of some English county town, talking serenely of the ways of humped cattle and native servants.
“And your children, how do they like the change?” he asked.
“It is healthy up here among the hills,” said the mother, also looking round at the landscape and thinking doubtless of a very different scene; “they have an outdoor life and plenty of liberty. They have their ponies to ride, and there is a lake up above us that is a fine place for them to bathe and boat in; the three boys are there now, having their morning swim. The eldest is sixteen and he is allowed to have a gun, and there is some good wild fowl shooting to be had in the reed beds at the further end of the lake. I think that part of the joy of his shooting expeditions lies in the fact that many of the duck and plover that he comes across belong to the same species that frequent our English moors and rivers.”
It was the first hint that she had given of a wistful sense of exile, the yearning for other skies, the message that a dead bird’s plumage could bring across rolling seas and scorching plains.“And the education of your boys, how do you manage for that?” asked the visitor.
“There is a young tutor living out in these wilds,” said Mrs. Kerrick; “he was assistant master at a private school in Scotland, but it had to be given up when—when things changed; so many of the boys left the country. He came out to an uncle who has a small estate eight miles from here, and three days in the week he rides over to teach my boys, and three days he goes to another family living in the opposite direction. To-day he is due to come here. It is a great boon to have such an opportunity for getting the boys educated, and of course it helps him to earn a living.”“And the society of the place?” asked the Frenchman. His hostess laughed.
“I must admit it has to be looked for with a strong pair of field-glasses,” she said; “it is almost as difficult to get a good bridge four together as it would have been to get up a tennis tournament or a subscription dance in our particular corner of England. One has to ignore distances and forget fatigue if one wants to be gregarious even on a limited scale. There are one or two officials who are our chief social mainstays, but the difficulty is to muster the few available souls under the same roof at the same moment. A road will be impassable in one quarter, a pony will be lame in another, a stress of work will prevent some one else from coming, and another may be down with a touch of fever. When my little girl gave a birthday party here her only little girl guest had come twelve miles to attend it. The Forest officer happened to drop in on us that evening, so we felt quite festive.”
The Frenchman’s eyes grew round in wonder. He had once thought that the capital city of a Balkan kingdom was the uttermost limit of social desolation, viewed from a Parisian standpoint, and there at any rate one could get café chantant, tennis, picnic parties, an occasional theatre performance by a foreign troupe, now and then a travelling circus, not to speak of Court and diplomatic functions of a more or less sociable character. Here, it seemed, one went a day’s journey to reach an evening’s entertainment, and the chance arrival of a tired official took on the nature of a festivity. He looked round again at the rolling stretches of brown hills; before he had regarded them merely as the background to this little shut-away world, now he saw that they were foreground as well. They were everything, there was nothing else. And again his glance travelled to the face of his hostess, with its bright, pleasant eyes and smiling mouth.“And you live here with your children,” he said, “here in this wilderness? You leave England, you leave everything, for this?”
His hostess rose and took him over to the far side of the verandah. The beginnings of a garden were spread out before them, with young fruit trees and flowering shrubs, and bushes of pale pink roses. Exuberant tropical growths were interspersed with carefully tended vestiges of plants that had evidently been brought from a more temperate climate, and had not borne the transition well. Bushes and trees and shrubs spread away for some distance, to where the ground rose in a small hillock and then fell away abruptly into bare hillside.“In all this garden that you see,” said the Englishwoman, “there is one tree that is sacred.” “A tree?” said the Frenchman. “A tree that we could not grow in England.”
The Frenchman followed the direction of her eyes and saw a tall, bare pole at the summit of the hillock. At the same moment the sun came over the hilltops in a deep, orange glow, and a new light stole like magic over the brown landscape. And, as if they had timed their arrival to that exact moment of sunburst, three brown-faced boys appeared under the straight, bare pole. A cord shivered and flapped, and something ran swiftly up into the air, and swung out in the breeze that blew across the hills—a blue flag with red and white crosses. The three boys bared their heads and the small girl on the verandah steps stood rigidly to attention. Far away down the hill, a young man, cantering into view round a corner of the dusty road, removed his hat in loyal salutation.“That is why we live out here,” said the Englishwoman quietly.
The Event Of The Season
In the first swelter room of the new Osmanli Baths in Cork Street four or five recumbent individuals, in a state of moist nudity and self-respecting inertia, were smoking cigarettes or making occasional pretence of reading damp newspapers. A glass wall with a glass door shut them off from the yet more torrid regions of the further swelter chambers; another glass partition disclosed the dimly-lit vault where other patrons of the establishment had arrived at the stage of being pounded and kneaded and sluiced by Oriental-looking attendants. The splashing and trickling of taps, the flip-flap of wet slippers on a wet floor, and the low murmur of conversation, filtered through glass doors, made an appropriately drowsy accompaniment to the scene.
A new-comer fluttered into the room, beamed at one of the occupants, and settled himself with an air of elaborate languor in a long canvas chair. Cornelian Valpy was a fair young man, with perpetual surprise impinged on his countenance, and a chin that seemed to have retired from competition with the rest of his features. The beam of recognition that he had given to his friend or acquaintance subsided into a subdued but lingering simper.“What is the matter?” drawled his neighbour lazily, dropping the end of a cigarette into a small bowl of water, and helping himself from a silver case on the table at his side.
“Matter?” said Cornelian, opening wide a pair of eyes in which unhealthy intelligence seemed to struggle in undetermined battle with utter vacuity; “why should you suppose that anything is the matter?”“When you wear a look of idiotic complacency in a Turkish bath,” said the other, “it is the more noticeable from the fact that you are wearing nothing else.” “Were you at the Shalem House dance last night?” asked Cornelian, by way of explaining his air of complacent retrospection. “No,” said the other, “but I feel as if I had been; I’ve been reading columns about it in the Dawn.” “The last event of the season,” said Cornelian, “and quite one of the most amusing and lively functions that there have been.” “So the Dawn said; but then, as Shalem practically owns and controls that paper, its favourable opinion might be taken for granted.”
“The whole idea of the Revel was quite original,” said Cornelian, who was not going to have his personal narrative of the event forestalled by anything that a newspaper reporter might have given to the public; “a certain number of guests went as famous personages in the world’s history, and each one was accompanied by another guest typifying the prevailing characteristic of that personage. One man went as Julius Cæsar, for instance, and had a girl typifying ambition as his shadow, another went as Louis the Eleventh, and his companion personified superstition. Your shadow had to be someone of the opposite sex, you see, and every alternate dance throughout the evening you danced with your shadow-partner. Quite a clever idea; young Graf von Schnatelstein is supposed to have invented it.”“New York will be deeply beholden to him,” said the other; “shadow-dances, with all manner of eccentric variations, will be the rage there for the next eighteen months.”
“Some of the costumes were really sumptuous,” continued Cornelian; “the Duchess of Dreyshire was magnificent as Aholibah, you never saw so many jewels on one person, only of course she didn’t look dark enough for the character; she had Billy Carnset for her shadow, representing Unspeakable Depravity.”“How on earth did he manage that?”
“Oh, a blend of Beardsley and Bakst as far as get-up and costume, and of course his own personality counted for a good deal. Quite one of the successes of the evening was Leutnant von Gabelroth, as George Washington, with Joan Mardle as his shadow, typifying Inconvenient Candour. He put her down officially as Truthfulness, but every one had heard the other version.”“Good for the Gabelroth, though he does belong to the invading Horde; it’s not often that any one scores off Joan.”
“Another blaze of magnificence was the loud-voiced Bessimer woman, as the Goddess Juno, with peacock tails and opals all over her; she had Ronnie Storre to represent Greeneyed Jealousy. Talking of Ronnie Storre and of jealousy, you will naturally wonder whom Mrs. Yeovil went with. I forget what her costume was, but she’d got that darkheaded youth with her that she’s been trotting round everywhere the last few days.”
Cornelian’s neighbour kicked him furtively on the shin, and frowned in the direction of a dark-haired youth reclining in an adjacent chair. The youth in question rose from his seat and stalked into the further swelter room.
“So clever of him to go into the furnace room,” said the unabashed Cornelian; “now if he turns scarlet all over we shall never know how much is embarrassment and how much is due to the process of being boiled. La Yeovil hasn’t done badly by the exchange; he’s better looking than Ronnie.”“I see that Pitherby went as Frederick the Great,” said Cornelian’s neighbour, fingering a sheet of the Dawn.
“Isn’t that exactly what one would have expected Pitherby to do?” said Cornelian. “He’s so desperately anxious to announce to all whom it may concern that he has written a life of that hero. He had an uninspiring-looking woman with him, supposed to represent Military Genius.”“The Spirit of Advertisement would have been more appropriate,” said the other.
“The opening scene of the Revel was rather effective,” continued Cornelian; “all the Shadow people reclined in the dimly-lit centre of the ballroom in an indistinguishable mass, and the human characters marched round the illuminated sides of the room to solemn processional music. Every now and then a shadow would detach itself from the mass, hail its partner by name, and glide out to join him or her in the procession. Then, when the last shadows had found their mates and every one was partnered, the lights were turned up in a blaze, the orchestra crashed out a whirl of nondescript dance music, and people just let themselves go. It was Pandemonium. Afterwards every one strutted about for half an hour or so, showing themselves off, and then the legitimate programme of dances began. There were some rather amusing incidents throughout the evening. One set of lancers was danced entirely by the Seven Deadly Sins and their human exemplars; of course seven couples were not sufficient to make up the set, so they had to bring in an eighth sin, I forget what it was.”“The sin of Patriotism would have been rather appropriate, considering who were giving the dance,” said the other. “Hush!” exclaimed Cornelian nervously. “You don’t know who may overhear you in a place like this. You’ll get yourself into trouble.” “Wasn’t there some rather daring new dance of the ‘bunny-hug’ variety?” asked the indiscreet one. “The ‘Cubby-Cuddle,’” said Cornelian; “three or four adventurous couples danced it towards the end of the evening.” “The Dawn says that without being strikingly new it was strikingly modern.”
“The best description I can give of it,” said Cornelian, “is summed up in the comment of the Gräfin von Tolb when she saw it being danced: ‘if they really love each other I suppose it doesn’t matter.’ By the way,” he added with apparent indifference, “is there any detailed account of my costume in the Dawn?”His companion laughed cynically. “As if you hadn’t read everything that the Dawn and the other morning papers have to say about the ball hours ago.”
“The naked truth should be avoided in a Turkish bath,” said Cornelian; “kindly assume that I’ve only had time to glance at the weather forecast and the news from China.” “Oh, very well,” said the other; “your costume isn’t described; you simply come amid a host of others as ‘Mr. Cornelian Valpy, resplendent as the Emperor Nero; with him Miss Kate Lerra, typifying Insensate Vanity.’ Many hard things have been said of Nero, but his unkindest critics have never accused him of resembling you in feature. Until some very clear evidence is produced I shall refuse to believe it.”
Cornelian was proof against these shafts; leaning back gracefully in his chair he launched forth into that detailed description of his last night’s attire which the Dawn had so unaccountably failed to supply.
“I wore a tunic of white Nepaulese silk, with a collar of pearls, real pearls. Round my waist I had a girdle of twisted serpents in beaten gold, studded all over with amethysts. My sandals were of gold, laced with scarlet thread, and I had seven bracelets of gold on each arm. Round my head I had a wreath of golden laurel leaves set with scarlet berries, and hanging over my left shoulder was a silk robe of mulberry purple, broidered with the signs of the zodiac in gold and scarlet; I had it made specially for the occasion. At my side I had an ivory-sheathed dagger, with a green jade handle, hung in a green Cordova leather—”
At this point of the recital his companion rose softly, flung his cigarette end into the little water-bowl, and passed into the further swelter room. Cornelian Valpy was left, still clothed in a look of ineffable complacency, still engaged, in all probability, in reclothing himself in the finery of the previous evening.
The Dead Who Do Not Understand
The pale light of a November afternoon faded rapidly into the dusk of a November evening. Far over the countryside housewives put up their cottage shutters, lit their lamps, and made the customary remark that the days were drawing in. In barn yards and poultry-runs the greediest pullets made a final tour of inspection, picking up the stray remaining morsels of the evening meal, and then, with much scrambling and squawking, sought the places on the roosting-pole that they thought should belong to them. Labourers working in yard and field began to turn their thoughts homeward or tavernward as the case might be. And through the cold squelching slush of a waterlogged meadow a weary, bedraggled, but unbeaten fox stiffly picked his way, climbed a high bramble-grown bank, and flung himself into the sheltering labyrinth of a stretching tangle of woods. The pack of fierce-mouthed things that had rattled him from copse and gorse-cover, along fallow and plough, hedgerow and wooded lane, for nigh on an hour, and had pressed hard on his life for the last few minutes, receded suddenly into the background of his experiences. The cold, wet meadow, the thick mask of woods, and the oncoming dusk had stayed the chase—and the fox had outstayed it. In a short time he would fall mechanically to licking off some of the mud that caked on his weary pads; in a shorter time horsemen and hounds would have drawn off kennelward and homeward.
Yeovil rode through the deepening twilight, relying chiefly on his horse to find its way in the network of hedge-bordered lanes that presumably led to a high road or to some human habitation. He was desperately tired after his day’s hunting, a legacy of weakness that the fever had bequeathed to him, but even though he could scarcely sit upright in his saddle his mind dwelt complacently on the day’s sport and looked forward to the snug cheery comfort that awaited him at his hunting box. There was a charm, too, even for a tired man, in the eerie stillness of the lone twilight land through which he was passing, a grey shadow-hung land which seemed to have been emptied of all things that belonged to the daytime, and filled with a lurking, moving life of which one knew nothing beyond the sense that it was there. There, and very near. If there had been wood-gods and wickedeyed fauns in the sunlit groves and hill sides of old Hellas, surely there were watchful, living things of kindred mould in this dusk-hidden wilderness of field and hedge and coppice.
It was Yeovil’s third or fourth day with the hounds, without taking into account a couple of mornings’ cub-hunting. Already he felt that he had been doing nothing different from this all his life. His foreign travels, his illness, his recent weeks in London, they were part of a tapestried background that had very slight and distant connection with his present existence. Of the future he tried to think with greater energy and determination. For this winter, at any rate, he would hunt and do a little shooting, entertain a few of his neighbours and make friends with any congenial fellow-sportsmen who might be within reach. Next year things would be different; he would have had time to look round him, to regain something of his aforetime vigour of mind and body. Next year, when the hunting season was over, he would set about finding out whether there was any nobler game for him to take a hand in. He would enter into correspondence with old friends who had gone out into the tropics and the backwoods—he would do something.
So he told himself, but he knew thoroughly well that he had found his level. He had ceased to struggle against the fascination of his present surroundings. The slow, quiet comfort and interest of country life appealed with enervating force to the man whom death had half conquered. The pleasures of the chase, well-provided for in every detail, and dovetailed in with the assured luxury of a well-ordered, well-staffed establishment, were exactly what he wanted and exactly what his life down here afforded him. He was experiencing, too, that passionate recurring devotion to an old loved scene that comes at times to men who have travelled far and willingly up and down the world. He was very much at home. The alien standard floating over Buckingham Palace, the Crown of Charlemagne on public buildings and official documents, the grey ships of war riding in Plymouth Bay and Southampton Water with a flag at their stern that older generations of Britons had never looked on, these things seemed far away and inconsequent amid the hedgerows and woods and fallows of the East Wessex country. Horse and hound-craft, harvest, game broods, the planting and felling of timber, the rearing and selling of stock, the letting of grasslands, the care of fisheries, the up-keep of markets and fairs, they were the things that immediately mattered. And Yeovil saw himself, in moments of disgust and self-accusation, settling down into this life of rustic littleness, concerned over the late nesting of a partridge or the defective draining of a loose-box, hugely busy over affairs that a gardener’s boy might grapple with, ignoring the struggle-cry that went up, low and bitter and wistful, from a dethroned dispossessed race, in whose glories he had gloried, in whose struggle he lent no hand. In what way, he asked himself in such moments, would his life be better than the life of that parody of manhood who upholstered his rooms with art hangings and rosewood furniture and babbled over the effect?
The lanes seemed interminable and without aim or object except to bisect one another; gates and gaps disclosed nothing in the way of a landmark, and the night began to draw down in increasing shades of darkness. Presently, however, the tired horse quickened its pace, swung round a sharp corner into a broader roadway, and stopped with an air of thankful expectancy at the low doorway of a wayside inn. A cheerful glow of light streamed from the windows and door, and a brighter glare came from the other side of the road, where a large motorcar was being got ready for an immediate start. Yeovil tumbled stiffly out of his saddle, and in answer to the loud rattle of his hunting crop on the open door the innkeeper and two or three hangers-on hurried out to attend to the wants of man and beast. Flour and water for the horse and something hot for himself were Yeovil’s first concern, and then he began to clamour for geographical information. He was rather dismayed to find that the cumulative opinions of those whom he consulted, and of several others who joined unbidden in the discussion, placed his destination at nothing nearer than nine miles. Nine miles of dark and hilly country road for a tired man on a tired horse assumed enormous, far-stretching proportions, and although he dimly remembered that he had asked a guest to dinner for that evening he began to wonder whether the wayside inn possessed anything endurable in the way of a bedroom. The landlord interrupted his desperate speculations with a really brilliant effort of suggestion. There was a gentleman in the bar, he said, who was going in a motorcar in the direction for which Yeovil was bound, and who would no doubt be willing to drop him at his destination; the gentleman had also been out with the hounds. Yeovil’s horse could be stabled at the inn and fetched home by a groom the next morning. A hurried embassy to the bar parlour resulted in the news that the motorist would be delighted to be of assistance to a fellow-sportsman. Yeovil gratefully accepted the chance that had so obligingly come his way, and hastened to superintend the housing of his horse in its night’s quarters. When he had duly seen to the tired animal’s comfort and foddering he returned to the roadway, where a young man in hunting garb and a livened chauffeur were standing by the side of the waiting car.
“I am so very pleased to be of some use to you, Mr. Yeovil,” said the car-owner, with a polite bow, and Yeovil recognised the young Leutnant von Gabelroth, who had been present at the musical afternoon at Berkshire Street. He had doubtless seen him at the meet that morning, but in his hunting kit he had escaped his observation.
“I, too, have been out with the hounds,” the young man continued; “I have left my horse at the Crow and Sceptre at Dolford. You are living at Black Dene, are you not? I can take you right past your door, it is all on my way.”
Yeovil hung back for a moment, overwhelmed with vexation and embarrassment, but it was too late to cancel the arrangement he had unwittingly entered into, and he was constrained to put himself under obligation to the young officer with the best grace he could muster. After all, he reflected, he had met him under his own roof as his wife’s guest. He paid his reckoning to mine host, tipped the stable lad who had helped him with his horse, and took his place beside von Gabelroth in the car.
As they glided along the dark roadway and the young German reeled off a string of comments on the incidents of the day’s sport, Yeovil lay back amid his comfortable wraps and weighed the measure of his humiliation. It was Cicely’s gospel that one should know what one wanted in life and take good care that one got what one wanted. Could he apply that test of achievement to his own life? Was this what he really wanted to be doing, pursuing his uneventful way as a country squire, sharing even his sports and pastimes with men of the nation that had conquered and enslaved his Fatherland?
The car slackened its pace somewhat as they went through a small hamlet, past a schoolhouse, past a rural police-station with the new monogram over its notice-board, past a church with a little tree-grown graveyard. There, in a corner, among wild-rose bushes and tall yews, lay some of Yeovil’s own kinsfolk, who had lived in these parts and hunted and found life pleasant in the days that were not so very long ago. Whenever he went past that quiet little gathering-place of the dead Yeovil was wont to raise his hat in mute affectionate salutation to those who were now only memories in his family; to-night he somehow omitted the salute and turned his head the other way. It was as though the dead of his race saw and wondered.
Three or four months ago the thing he was doing would have seemed an impossibility, now it was actually happening; he was listening to the gay, courteous, tactful chatter of his young companion, laughing now and then at some joking remark, answering some question of interest, learning something of hunting ways and traditions in von Gabelroth’s own country. And when the car turned in at the gate of the hunting lodge and drew up at the steps the laws of hospitality demanded that Yeovil should ask his benefactor of the road to come in for a few minutes and drink something a little better than the wayside inn had been able to supply. The young officer spent the best part of a half hour in Yeovil’s snuggery, examining and discussing the trophies of rifle and collecting gun that covered the walls. He had a good knowledge of woodcraft, and the beasts and birds of Siberian forests and North African deserts were to him new pages in a familiar book. Yeovil found himself discoursing eagerly with his chance guest on the European distribution and local variation of such and such a species, recounting peculiarities in its habits and incidents of its pursuit and capture. If the cold observant eyes of Lady Shalem could have rested on the scene she would have hailed it as another root-fibre thrown out by the fait accompli.
Yeovil closed the hall door on his departing visitor, and closed his mind on the crowd of angry and accusing thoughts that were waiting to intrude themselves. His valet had already got his bath in readiness and in a few minutes the tired huntsman was forgetting weariness and the consciousness of outside things in the languorous abandonment that steam and hot water induce. Brain and limbs seemed to lay themselves down in a contented waking sleep, the world that was beyond the bathroom walls dropped away into a far unreal distance; only somewhere through the steam clouds pierced a hazy consciousness that a dinner, well chosen, was being well cooked, and would presently be well served—and right well appreciated. That was the lure to drag the bather away from the Nirvana land of warmth and steam. The stimulating after-effect of the bath took its due effect, and Yeovil felt that he was now much less tired and enormously hungry. A cheery fire burned in his dressing-room and a lively black kitten helped him to dress, and incidentally helped him to require a new tassel to the cord of his dressing-gown. As he finished his toilet and the kitten finished its sixth and most notable attack on the tassel a ring was heard at the front door, and a moment later a loud, hearty, and unmistakably hungry voice resounded in the hall. It belonged to the local doctor, who had also taken part in the day’s run and had been bidden to enliven the evening meal with the entertainment of his inexhaustible store of sporting and social reminiscences. He knew the countryside and the countryfolk inside out, and he was a living unwritten chronicle of the East Wessex hunt. His conversation seemed exactly the right accompaniment to the meal; his stories brought glimpses of wet hedgerows, stiff ploughlands, leafy spinneys and muddy brooks in among the rich old Worcester and Georgian silver of the dinner service, the glow and crackle of the wood fire, the pleasant succession of well-cooked dishes and mellow wines. The world narrowed itself down again to a warm, drowsyscented dining-room, with a productive hinterland of kitchen and cellar beyond it, and beyond that an important outer world of loose box and harness-room and stable-yard; further again a dark hushed region where pheasants roosted and owls flitted and foxes prowled.
Yeovil sat and listened to story after story of the men and women and horses of the neighbourhood; even the foxes seemed to have a personality, some of them, and a personal history. It was a little like Hans Andersen, he decided, and a little like the Reminiscences of an Irish R.M., and perhaps just a little like some of the more probable adventures of Baron Munchausen. The newer stories were evidently true to the smallest detail, the earlier ones had altered somewhat in repetition, as plants and animals vary under domestication.
And all the time there was one topic that was never touched on. Of half the families mentioned it was necessary to add the qualifying information that they “used to live” at such and such a place; the countryside knew them no longer. Their properties were for sale or had already passed into the hands of strangers. But neither man cared to allude to the grinning shadow that sat at the feast and sent an icy chill now and again through the cheeriest jest and most jovial story. The brisk run with the hounds that day had stirred and warmed their pulses; it was an evening for comfortable forgetting. Later that night, in the stillness of his bedroom, with the dwindling noises of a retiring household dropping off one by one into ordered silence, a door shutting here, a fire being raked out there, the thoughts that had been held away came crowding in. The body was tired, but the brain was not, and Yeovil lay awake with his thoughts for company. The world grew suddenly wide again, filled with the significance of things that mattered, held by the actions of men that mattered. Hunting-box and stable and gun-room dwindled to a mere pin-point in the universe, there were other larger, more absorbing things on which the mind dwelt. There was the grey cold sea outside Dover and Portsmouth and Cork, where the great grey ships of war rocked and swung with the tides, where the sailors sang, in doggerel English, that bitter-sounding adaptation, “Germania rules t’e waves,” where the flag of a World-Power floated for the world to see. And in oven-like cities of India there were men who looked out at the white sun-glare, the heat-baked dust, the welter of crowded streets, who listened to the unceasing chorus of harsh-throated crows, the strident creaking of cart-wheels, the buzz and drone of insect swarms and the rattle call of the tree lizards; men whose thoughts went hungrily to the cool grey skies and wet turf and moist ploughlands of an English hunting country, men whose memories listened yearningly to the music of a deep-throated hound and the call of a game-bird in the stubble. Yeovil had secured for himself the enjoyment of the things for which these men hungered; he had known what he wanted in life, slowly and with hesitation, yet nevertheless surely, he had arrived at the achievement of his unconfessed desires. Here, installed under his own roof-tree, with as good horseflesh in his stable as man could desire, with sport lying almost at his door, with his wife ready to come down and help him to entertain his neighbours, Murrey Yeovil had found the life that he wanted—and was accursed in his own eyes. He argued with himself, and palliated and explained, but he knew why he had turned his eyes away that evening from the little graveyard under the trees; one cannot explain things to the dead.
The Little Foxes“Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines”
On a warm and sunny May afternoon, some ten months since Yeovil’s return from his Siberian wanderings and sickness, Cicely sat at a small table in the open-air restaurant in Hyde Park, finishing her after-luncheon coffee and listening to the meritorious performance of the orchestra. Opposite her sat Larry Meadowfield, absorbed for the moment in the slow enjoyment of a cigarette, which also was not without its short-lived merits. Larry was a well-dressed youngster, who was, in Cicely’s opinion, distinctly good to look on—an opinion which the boy himself obviously shared. He had the healthy, well-cared-for appearance of a country-dweller who has been turned into a town dandy without suffering in the process. His blue-black hair, growing very low down on a broad forehead, was brushed back in a smoothness that gave his head the appearance of a rain-polished sloe; his eyebrows were two dark smudges and his large violet-grey eyes expressed the restful good temper of an animal whose immediate requirements have been satisfied. The lunch had been an excellent one, and it was jolly to feed out of doors in the warm spring air—the only drawback to the arrangement being the absence of mirrors. However, if he could not look at himself a great many people could look at him.
Cicely listened to the orchestra as it jerked and strutted through a fantastic dance measure, and as she listened she looked appreciatively at the boy on the other side of the table, whose soul for the moment seemed to be in his cigarette. Her scheme of life, knowing just what you wanted and taking good care that you got it, was justifying itself by results. Ronnie, grown tiresome with success, had not been difficult to replace, and no one in her world had had the satisfaction of being able to condole with her on the undesirable experience of a long interregnum. To feminine acquaintances with fewer advantages of purse and brains and looks she might figure as “that Yeovil woman,” but never had she given them justification to allude to her as “poor Cicely Yeovil.” And Murrey, dear old soul, had cooled down, as she had hoped and wished, from his white heat of disgust at the things that she had prepared herself to accept philosophically. A new chapter of their married life and man-and-woman friendship had opened; many a rare gallop they had had together that winter, many a cheery dinner gathering and long bridge evening in the cosy hunting-lodge. Though he still hated the new London and held himself aloof from most of her Town set, yet he had not shown himself rigidly intolerant of the sprinkling of Teuton sportsmen who hunted and shot down in his part of the country.The orchestra finished its clicking and caracoling and was accorded a short clatter of applause.
“The Danse Macabre,” said Cicely to her companion; “one of Saint-Saëns’ best known pieces.”
“Is it?” said Larry indifferently; “I’ll take your word for it. ’Fraid I don’t know much about music.”
“The fashion of having one’s lunch in the open air has quite caught on this season,” said Cicely; “one sees everybody here on a fine day. There is Lady Bailquist over there. She used to be Lady Shalem you know, before her husband got the earldom—to be more correct, before she got it for him. I suppose she is all agog to see the great review.”It was in fact precisely the absorbing topic of the forthcoming Boy-Scout march-past that was engaging the Countess of Bailquist’s earnest attention at the moment.
“It is going to be an historical occasion,” she was saying to Sir Leonard Pitherby (whose services to literature had up to the present received only a half-measure of recognition); “if it miscarries it will be a serious set-back for the fait accompli. If it is a success it will be the biggest step forward in the path of reconciliation between the two races that has yet been taken. It will mean that the younger generation is on our side—not all, of course, but some, that is all we can expect at present, and that will be enough to work on.”“Supposing the Scouts hang back and don’t turn up in any numbers,” said Sir Leonard anxiously.
“That of course is the danger,” said Lady Bailquist quietly; “probably two-thirds of the available strength will hold back, but a third or even a sixth would be enough; it would redeem the parade from the calamity of fiasco, and it would be a nucleus to work on for the future. That is what we want, a good start, a preliminary rally. It is the first step that counts, that is why to-day’s event is of such importance.”“Of course, of course, the first step on the road,” assented Sir Leonard.
“I can assure you,” continued Lady Bailquist, “that nothing has been left undone to rally the Scouts to the new order of things. Special privileges have been showered on them, alone among all the cadet corps they have been allowed to retain their organisation, a decoration of merit has been instituted for them, a large hostelry and gymnasium has been provided for them in Westminster, His Majesty’s youngest son is to be their Scoutmaster-in-Chief, a great athletic meeting is to be held for them each year, with valuable prizes, three or four hundred of them are to be taken every summer, free of charge, for a holiday in the Bavarian Highlands and the Baltic Seaboard; besides this the parent of every scout who obtains the medal for efficiency is to be exempted from part of the new war taxation that the people are finding so burdensome.”“One certainly cannot say that they have not had attractions held out to them,” said Sir Leonard.
“It is a special effort,” said Lady Bailquist; “it is worth making an effort for. They are going to be the Janissaries of the Empire; the younger generation knocking at the doors of progress, and thrusting back the bars and bolts of old racial prejudices. I tell you, Sir Leonard, it will be an historic moment when the first corps of those little khaki-clad boys swings through the gates of the Park.”“When do they come?” asked the baronet, catching something of his companion’s zeal.
“The first detachment is due to arrive at three,” said Lady Bailquist, referring to a small time-table of the afternoon’s proceedings; “three, punctually, and the others will follow in rapid succession. The Emperor and Suite will arrive at two-fifty and take up their positions at the saluting base—over there, where the big flag-staff has been set up. The boys will come in by Hyde Park Corner, the Marble Arch, and the Albert Gate, according to their districts, and form in one big column over there, where the little flags are pegged out. Then the young Prince will inspect them and lead them past His Majesty.”“Who will be with the Imperial party?” asked Sir Leonard.
“Oh, it is to be an important affair; everything will be done to emphasise the significance of the occasion,” said Lady Bailquist, again consulting her programme. “The King of Würtemberg, and two of the Bavarian royal Princes, an Abyssinian Envoy who is over here—he will lend a touch of picturesque barbarism to the scene—the general commanding the London district and a whole lot of other military bigwigs, and the Austrian, Italian and Roumanian military attachés.”
She reeled off the imposing list of notables with an air of quiet satisfaction. Sir Leonard made mental notes of personages to whom he might send presentation copies of his new work “Frederick-William, the Great Elector, a Popular Biography,” as a souvenir of today’s auspicious event.“It is nearly a quarter to three now,” he said; “let us get a good position before the crowd gets thicker.”
“Come along to my car, it is just opposite to the saluting base,” said her ladyship; “I have a police pass that will let us through. We’ll ask Mrs. Yeovil and her young friend to join us.”
Larry excused himself from joining the party; he had a barbarian’s reluctance to assisting at an Imperial triumph.
“I think I’ll push off to the swimming-bath,” he said to Cicely; “see you again about teatime.”
Cicely walked with Lady Bailquist and the literary baronet towards the crowd of spectators, which was steadily growing in dimensions. A newsboy ran in front of them displaying a poster with the intelligence “Essex wickets fall rapidly”—a semblance of county cricket still survived under the new order of things. Near the saluting base some thirty or forty motorcars were drawn up in line, and Cicely and her companions exchanged greetings with many of the occupants.
“A lovely day for the review, isn’t it?” cried the Gräfin von Tolb, breaking off her conversation with Herr Rebinok, the little Pomeranian banker, who was sitting by her side. “Why haven’t you brought young Mr. Meadowfield? Such a nice boy. I wanted him to come and sit in my carriage and talk to me.”“He doesn’t talk you know,” said Cicely; “he’s only brilliant to look at.” “Well, I could have looked at him,” said the Gräfin. “There’ll be thousands of other boys to look at presently,” said Cicely, laughing at the old woman’s frankness.
“Do you think there will be thousands?” asked the Gräfin, with an anxious lowering of the voice; “really, thousands? Hundreds, perhaps; there is some uncertainty. Every one is not sanguine.”“Hundreds, anyway,” said Cicely. The Gräfin turned to the little banker and spoke to him rapidly and earnestly in German.
“It is most important that we should consolidate our position in this country; we must coax the younger generation over by degrees, we must disarm their hostility. We cannot afford to be always on the watch in this quarter; it is a source of weakness, and we cannot afford to be weak. This Slav upheaval in south-eastern Europe is becoming a serious menace. Have you seen to-day’s telegrams from Agram? They are bad reading. There is no computing the extent of this movement.”“It is directed against us,” said the banker.
“Agreed,” said the Gräfin; “it is in the nature of things that it must be against us. Let us have no illusions. Within the next ten years, sooner perhaps, we shall be faced with a crisis which will be only a beginning. We shall need all our strength; that is why we cannot afford to be weak over here. To-day is an important day; I confess I am anxious.”“Hark! The kettledrums!” exclaimed the commanding voice of Lady Bailquist. “His
Majesty is coming. Quick, bundle into the car.”
The crowd behind the police-kept lines surged expectantly into closer formation; spectators hurried up from side-walks and stood craning their necks above the shoulders of earlier arrivals.
Through the archway at Hyde Park Corner came a resplendent cavalcade, with a swirl of colour and rhythmic movement and a crash of exultant music; life-guards with gleaming helmets, a detachment of Würtemberg lancers with a flutter of black and yellow pennons, a rich medley of staff uniforms, a prancing array of princely horsemen, the Imperial Standard, and the King of Prussia, Great Britain, and Ireland, Emperor of the West. It was the most imposing display that Londoners had seen since the catastrophe.
Slowly, grandly, with thunder of music and beat of hoofs, the procession passed through the crowd, across the sward towards the saluting base, slowly the eagle standard, charged with the leopards, lion and harp of the conquered kingdoms, rose mast-high on the flagstaff and fluttered in the breeze, slowly and with military precision the troops and suite took up their position round the central figure of the great pageant. Trumpets and kettledrums suddenly ceased their music, and in a moment there rose in their stead an eager buzz of comment from the nearest spectators.
“How well the young Prince looks in his scout uniform.” . . . “The King of Würtemberg is a much younger man than I thought he was.” . . . “Is that a Prussian or Bavarian uniform, there on the right, the man on a black horse?” . . . “Neither, it’s Austrian, the Austrian military attaché” . . . “That is von Stoppel talking to His Majesty; he organised the Boy Scouts in Germany, you know.” . . . “His Majesty is looking very pleased.” “He has reason to look pleased; this is a great event in the history of the two countries. It marks a new epoch.” . . . “Oh, do you see the Abyssinian Envoy? What a picturesque figure he makes. How well he sits his horse.” . . . “That is the Grand Duke of Baden’s nephew, talking to the King of Würtemberg now.”On the buzz and chatter of the spectators fell suddenly three sound strokes, distant, measured, sinister; the clang of a clock striking three.
“Three o’clock and not a boy scout within sight or hearing!” exclaimed the loud ringing voice of Joan Mardle; “one can usually hear their drums and trumpets a couple of miles away.”
“There is the traffic to get through,” said Sir Leonard Pitherby in an equally high-pitched voice; “and of course,” he added vaguely, “it takes some time to get the various units together. One must give them a few minutes’ grace.”
Lady Bailquist said nothing, but her restless watchful eyes were turned first to Hyde Park Corner and then in the direction of the Marble Arch, back again to Hyde Park Corner. Only the dark lines of the waiting crowd met her view, with the yellow newspaper placards flitting in and out, announcing to an indifferent public the fate of Essex wickets. As far as her searching eyes could travel the green stretch of tree and sward remained unbroken, save by casual loiterers. No small brown columns appeared, no drum beat came throbbing up from the distance. The little flags pegged out to mark the positions of the awaited scout-corps fluttered in meaningless isolation on the empty parade ground.
His Majesty was talking unconcernedly with one of his officers, the foreign attachés looked steadily between their chargers’ ears, as though nothing in particular was hanging in the balance, the Abyssinian Envoy displayed an untroubled serenity which was probably genuine. Elsewhere among the Suite was a perceptible fidget, the more obvious because it was elaborately cloaked. Among the privileged onlookers drawn up near the saluting point the fidgeting was more unrestrained.“Six minutes past three, and not a sign of them!” exclaimed Joan Mardle, with the explosive articulation of one who cannot any longer hold back a truth. “Hark!” said some one; “I hear trumpets!” There was an instant concentration of listening, a straining of eyes. It was only the toot of a passing motorcar. Even Sir Leonard Pitherby, with the eye of faith, could not locate as much as a cloud of dust on the Park horizon.
And now another sound was heard, a sound difficult to define, without beginning, without dimension; the growing murmur of a crowd waking to a slowly dawning sensation.“I wish the band would strike up an air,” said the Gräfin von Tolb fretfully; “it is stupid waiting here in silence.”
Joan fingered her watch, but she made no further remark; she realised that no amount of malicious comment could be so dramatically effective now as the slow slipping away of the intolerable seconds.
The murmur from the crowd grew in volume. Some satirical wit started whistling an imitation of an advancing fife and drum band; others took it up and the air resounded with the shrill music of a phantom army on the march. The mock throbbing of drum and squealing of fife rose and fell above the packed masses of spectators, but no answering echo came from beyond the distant trees. Like mushrooms in the night a muster of uniformed police and plain clothes detectives sprang into evidence on all sides; whatever happened there must be no disloyal demonstration. The whistlers and mockers were pointedly invited to keep silence, and one or two addresses were taken. Under the trees, well at the back of the crowd, a young man stood watching the long stretch of road along which the Scouts should come. Something had drawn him there, against his will, to witness the Imperial Triumph, to watch the writing of yet another chapter in the history of his country’s submission to an accepted fact. And now a dull flush crept into his grey face; a look that was partly new-born hope and resurrected pride, partly remorse and shame, burned in his eyes. Shame, the choking, searing shame of self-reproach that cannot be reasoned away, was dominant in his heart. He had laid down his arms—there were others who had never hoisted the flag of surrender. He had given up the fight and joined the ranks of the hopelessly subservient; in thousands of English homes throughout the land there were young hearts that had not forgotten, had not compounded, would not yield.The younger generation had barred the door.
And in the pleasant May sunshine the Eagle standard floated and flapped, the black and yellow pennons shifted restlessly, Emperor and Princes, Generals and guards, sat stiffly in their saddles, and waited.And waited. . . .