Part 4 out of 8
is not to go pigeon-shooting. I object to his going, because the
sport is a cruel and a brutal one, whoever may practise it. If
I have any authority over him, I insist upon it that he shall not
go. If he goes, I shall not stop here any longer. You can do as
you like about it, of course, but you have my final word upon the
matter. Lynmouth, go down to the study.'
'Stop, Lynmouth,' cried his father, boiling over visibly with
indignation: 'Stop. Never mind what Mr. Le Breton says to you; do
you hear me? Go out if you choose with Gerald Talfourd.'
Lynmouth didn't wait a moment for any further permission. He ran
downstairs at once and banged the front door soundly after him
with a resounding clatter. Lady Hilda looked imploringly at Ernest,
and whispered half audibly, 'Now you've done it.' Ernest stood a
second irresolute, while the Earl tramped angrily up and down the
drawing-room, and then he said in a calmer voice, 'When would it
be convenient, Lord Exmoor, that I should leave you?'
'Whenever you like,' Lord Exmoor answered violently. 'To-day if
you can manage to get your things together. This is intolerable,
absolutely intolerable! Gross and palpable impertinence; in my
own house, too! "Cruel and brutal," indeed! "Cruel and brutal."
Fiddlesticks! Why, it's not a bit different from partridge-shooting!'
And he went out, closely followed by Ernest, leaving Lady Hilda
alone and frightened in the drawing-room.
Ernest ran lightly upstairs to his own little study sitting-room.
'I've done it this time, certainly, as Lady Hilda said,' he thought
to himself; 'but I don't see how I could possibly have avoided it.
Even now, when all's done, I haven't succeeded in saving the lives
of the poor innocent tortured pigeons. They'll be mangled and hunted
for their poor frightened lives, anyhow. Well, now I must look out
for that imaginary schoolmastership, and see what I can do for dear
Edie. I shan't be sorry to get out of this after all, for the place
was an impossible one for me from the very beginning. I shall sit
down this moment and write to Edie, and after that I shall take out
my portmanteau and get the man to help me put my luggage up to go
away this very evening. Another day in the house after this would
be obviously impossible.'
At that moment there came a knock at the door--a timid, tentative
sort of knock, and somebody put her head inquiringly halfway through
the doorway. Ernest looked up in sudden surprise. It was Lady Hilda.
'Mr. Le Breton,' she said, coming over towards the table where
Ernest had just laid out his blotting-book and writing-paper: 'I
couldn't prevent myself from coming up to tell you how much I admire
your conduct in standing up so against papa for what you thought
was right and proper. I can't say how greatly I admire it. I'm so
glad you did as you did do. You have acted nobly.' And Hilda looked
straight into his eyes with the most speaking and most melting
of glances. 'Now,' she said to herself, 'according to all correct
precedents, he ought to seize my hand fervently with a gentle
pressure, and thank me with tears in his eyes for my kind sympathy.'
But Ernest, only looking puzzled and astonished, answered in the
quietest of voices, 'Thank you very much, Lady Hilda: but I assure
you there was really nothing at all noble, nothing at all to admire,
in what I said or did in any way. In fact, I'm rather afraid,
now I come to think of it, that I lost my temper with your father
'Then you won't go away?' Hilda put in quickly. 'You think better
of it now, do you? You'll apologise to papa, and go with us to
Dunbude for the autumn? Do say you will, please, Mr. Le Breton.'
'Oh dear, no,' Ernest answered, smiling quietly at the bare idea
of his apologising to Lord Exmoor. 'I certainly won't do that,
whatever I do. To tell you the truth, Lady Hilda, I have not been
very anxious to stop with Lynmouth all along: I've found it a most
unprofitable tutorship--no sense of any duty performed, or any
work done for society: and I'm not at all sorry that this accident
should have broken up the engagement unexpectedly. At the same time,
it's very kind of you to come up and speak to me about it, though
I'm really quite ashamed you should have thought there was anything
particularly praiseworthy or commendable in my standing out against
such an obviously cruel sport as pigeon-shooting.'
'Ah, but I do think so, whatever you may say, Mr. Le Breton,' Hilda
went on eagerly. 'I do think so, and I think it was very good of
you to fight it out so against papa for what you believe is right
and proper. For my own part, you know, I don't see any particular
harm in pigeon-shooting. Of course it's very dreadful that the
poor dear little things should be shot and wounded and winged and
so forth; but then everything, almost, gets shot, you see--rabbits,
and grouse, and partridges, and everything; so that really it's
hardly worth while, it seems to me, making a fuss about it. Still,
that's not the real question. You think it's wrong; which is very
original and nice and proper of you; and as you think it's wrong,
you won't countenance it in any way. I don't care, myself, whether
it's wrong or not--I'm not called upon, thank goodness, to decide
the question; but I do care very much that you should suffer for
what you think the right course of action.' And Lady Hilda in her
earnestness almost laid her hand upon his arm, and looked up to
him in the most unmistakable and appealing fashion.
'You're very good, I'm sure, Lady Hilda,' Ernest replied, half
hesitatingly, wondering much in his own mind what on earth she
could be driving at.
There was a moment's pause, and then Hilda said pensively, 'And
so we shall never walk together at Dunbude on the Clatter any more,
Mr. Le Breton! We shall never climb again among the big boulders
on those Devonshire hillsides! We shall never watch the red deer
from the big pool on top of the sheep-walk! I'm sorry for it, Mr.
Le Breton, very sorry for it. Oh, I do wish you weren't going to
Ernest began to feel that this was really growing embarrassing. 'I
dare say we shall often see one another,' he said evasively; for
simple-minded as he was, a vague suspicion of what Lady Hilda wanted
him to say had somehow forced itself timidly upon him. 'London's
a very big place, no doubt; but still, people are always running
together unexpectedly in it.'
Hilda sighed and looked at him again intently without speaking.
She stood so, face to face with him across the table for fully two
minutes; and then, seeming suddenly to awake from a reverie, she
started and sighed once more, and turned at last reluctantly to leave
the little study. 'I must go,' she said hastily; 'mamma would be
very angry indeed with me if she knew I'd come here; but I couldn't
let you leave the house without coming up to tell you how greatly
I admire your spirit, and how very, very much I shall always miss
you, Mr. Le Breton. Will you take this, and keep it as a memento?'
As she spoke, she laid an envelope upon the table, and glided
quietly out of the room.
Ernest took the envelope up with a smile, and opened it with some
curiosity. It contained a photograph, with a brief inscription on
the back, 'E. L. B., from Hilda Tregellis.'
As he did so, Hilda Tregellis, red and pale by turns, had rushed
into her own room, locked the door wildly, and flung herself in a
perfect tempest of tears on her own bed, where she lay and tossed
about in a burning agony of shame and self-pity for twenty minutes.
'He doesn't love me,' she said to herself bitterly; 'he doesn't
love me, and he doesn't care to love me, or want to marry me either!
I'm sure he understood what I meant, this time; and there was no
response in his eyes, no answer, no sympathy. He's like a block
of wood--a cold, impassive, immovable, lifeless creature! And yet
I could love him--oh, if only he would say a word to me in answer,
how I could love him! I loved him when he stood up there and bearded
papa in his own drawing-room, and asked him how dare he speak so,
how dare he address him in such a manner; I KNEW then that I really
loved him. If only he would let me! But he won't! To think that I
could have half the Algies and Berties in London at my feet for the
faintest encouragement, and I can't have this one poor penniless Ernest
Le Breton, though I go down on my knees before him and absolutely
ask him to marry me! That's the worst of it! I've humiliated myself
before him by letting him see, oh, ever so much too plainly, that
I wanted him to ask me; and I've been repulsed, rejected, positively
refused and slighted by him! And yet I love him! I shall never love
any other man as I love Ernest Le Breton.'
Poor Lady Hilda Tregellis! Even she too had, at times, her sentimental
moments! And there she lay till her eyes were red and swollen with
crying, and till it was quite hopeless to expect she could ever
manage to make herself presentable for the Cecil Faunthorpes'
garden-party that afternoon at Twickenham.
Ernest had packed his portmanteau, and ordered a hansom, meaning
to take temporary refuge at Number 28 Epsilon Terrace; and he went
down again for a few minutes to wait in the breakfast-room, where
he saw the 'Times' lying casually on the little table by the front
window. He took it up, half dreamily, by way of having something to
do, and was skimming the telegrams in an unconcerned manner, when
his attention was suddenly arrested by the name Le Breton, printed
in conspicuous type near the bottom of the third column. He looked
closer at the paragraph, and saw that it was headed 'Accident
to British Tourists in Switzerland.' A strange tremor seized him
immediately. Could anything have happened, then, to Herbert? He
read the telegram through at once, and found this bald and concise
summary before him of the fatal Pontresina accident:--
'As Mr. H. Oswald, F.R.S., of Oriel College, Oxford, and Mr.
Le Breton, Fellow and Bursar of St. Aldate's College, along with
three guides, were making the ascent of the Piz Margatsch, in the
Bernina Alps, this morning, one of the party happened to slip near
the great gulley known as the Gouffre. Mr. Oswald and two of the
guides were precipitated over the edge of the cliff and killed
immediately: the breaking of the rope at a critical moment alone
saved the lives of Mr. Le Breton and the remaining guide. The bodies
have been recovered this evening, and brought back to Pontresina.'
Ernest laid down the paper with a thrill of horror. Poor Edie! How
absolutely his own small difficulties with Lord Exmoor faded out
of has memory at once in the face of that terrible, irretrievable
calamity. Harry dead! The hope and mainstay of the family--the
one great pride and glory of all the Oswalds, on whom their whole
lives and affections centred, taken from them unexpectedly, without
a chance of respite, without a moment's warning! Worst of all, they
would probably learn it, as he did, for the first time by reading
it accidentally in the curt language of the daily papers. Pray
heaven the shock might not kill poor Edie!
There was only a minute in which to make up his mind, but in that
minute Ernest had fully decided what he ought to do, and how to
do it. He must go at once down to Calcombe Pomeroy, and try to
lighten this great affliction for poor little Edie. Nay, lighten
it he could not, but at least he could sympathise with her in it,
and that, though little, was still some faint shade better than
nothing at all. How fortunate that his difference with the Exmoors
allowed him to go that very evening without a moment's delay. When
the hansom arrived at the door, Ernest told the cabman to drive
at once to Paddington Station. Almost before he had had time to
realise the full meaning of the situation, he had taken a third-class
ticket for Calcombe Road, and was rushing out of London by the
Plymouth express, in one of the convenient and commodious little
wooden horse-boxes which the Great Western Railway Company provide
as a wholesome deterrent for economical people minded to save half
their fare by going third instead of first or second.
Didcot, Swindon, Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Newton Abbot, all followed
one after another, and by the time Ernest had reached Calcombe
Road Station he had begun to frame for himself a definite plan of
future action. He would stop at the Red Lion Inn that evening, send
a telegram from Exeter beforehand to Edie, to say he was coming
next day, and find out as much as possible about the way the family
had borne the shock before he ventured actually to see them.
The Calcombe omnibus, drawn by two lean and weary horses, toiled
its way slowly up the long steep incline for six miles to the
Cross Foxes, and then rattled down the opposite slope, steaming and
groaning, till it drew up at last with a sudden jerk and a general
collapse in front of the old Red Lion Inn in the middle of the
High Street. There Ernest put up for the present, having seen by
the shutters at the grocer's shop on his way down that the Oswalds
had already heard of Harry's accident. He had dinner by himself,
with a sick heart, in the gloomy, close little coffee-room of the
village inn, and after dinner he managed to draw in the landlord
in person for a glass of sherry and half an hour's conversation.
'Very sad thing, sir, this 'ere causality in Switzerland,' said
the red-faced landlord, coming round at once to the topic of the
day at Calcombe, after a few unimportant preliminary generalities.
'Young Mr. Oswald, as has been killed, he lived here, sir;
leastways his parents do. He was a very promising young gentleman
up at Oxford, they do tell me--not much of a judge of horses, I
should say, but still, I understand, quite the gentleman for all
that. Very sad thing, the causality, sir, for all his family. 'Pears
he was climbing up some of these 'ere Alps they have over there in
them parts, covered with snow from head to foot in the manner of
speaking, and there was another gentleman from Oxford with him, a
Mr. Le Breton----'
'My brother,' Ernest put in, interrupting him; for he thought it
best to let the landlord know at once who he was talking to.
'Oh, your brother, sir!' said the red-faced landlord, with a gleam
of recognition, growing redder and hotter than ever; 'well, now you
mention it, sir, I find I remember your face somehow. No offence,
sir, but you're the young gentleman as come down in the spring to
see young Mr. Oswald, aren't you?'
Ernest nodded assent.
'Ah, well, sir,' the landlord went on more freely--for of course
all Calcombe had heard long since that Ernest was engaged to Edie
Oswald--'you're one of the family like, in that case, if I may make
bold to say so. Well, sir, this is a shocking trouble for poor old
Mr. Oswald, and no mistake. The old gentleman was sort of centred
on his son, you see, as the saying is: never thought of nobody else
hardly, he didn't. Old Mr. Oswald, sir, was always a wonderful hand
at figgers hisself, and powerful fond of measurements and such kinds
of things. I've heard tell, indeed, as how he knew more mathematics,
and trigononomy, and that, than the rector and the schoolmaster both
put together. There's not one in fifty as knows as much mathematics
as he do, I'll warrant. Well, you see, he brought up this son of
his, little Harry as was--I can remember him now, running to and
from the school, and figgerin' away on the slates, doin' the sums in
algemer for the other boys when they went a-mitchin'--he brought
him up like a gentleman, as you know very well, sir, and sent him to
Oxford College: "to develop his mathematical talents, Mr. Legge,"
his father says to me here in this very parlour. What's the
consequence? He develops that boy's talent sure enough, sir, till
he comes to be a Fellow of Oxford College, they tell me, and even
admitted into the Royal Society up in London. But this is how he
did it, sir: and as you're a friend of the family like, and want
to know all about it, no doubt, I don't mind tellin' you on the
strict confidential, in the manner of speakin'.' Here the landlord
drew his chair closer, and sipped the last drop in his glass of sherry
with a mysterious air of very private and important disclosures.
Ernest listened to his roundabout story with painful attention.
'Well, sir,' the landlord went on after a short and pensive pause,
'old Mr. Oswald's business ain't never been a prosperous one--though
he was such a clover hand at figgers, he never made it remunerative;
a bare livin' for the family, I don't mind sayin'; and he always
spent more'n he ought to 'a done on Mr. Harry, and on the young
lady too, sir, savin' your presence. So when Mr. Harry was goin' to
Oxford to college, he come to me, and he says to me, "Mr. Legge,"
says he, "it's a very expensive thing sending my boy to the University,"
says he, "and I'm going to borrow money to send him with." "Don't
you go a-doin' that, Mr. Oswald," says I; "your business don't
justify you in doin' it, sir," says I. For you see, I knowed all
the ins and outs of that there business, and I knowed he hadn't
never made more'n enough just to keep things goin' decent like, as
you may say, without any money saved or put by against a emergence.
"Yes, I will, Mr. Legge," says he; "I can trust confidentially in
my son's abilities," says he; "and I feel confidential he'll be
in a position to repay me before long." So he borrowed the money on
an insurance of Mr. Harry's life. Mr. Harry he always acted very
honourable, sir; he was a perfect gentleman in every way, as YOU
know, sir; and he began repayin' his father the loan as fast as
he was able, and I daresay doin' a great deal for the family, and
especially for the young lady, sir, out of his own pocket besides.
But he still owed his father a couple of hundred pound an' more
when this causality happened, while the business, I know, had been
a-goin' to rack and ruin for the last three year. To-day I seen the
agent of the insurance, and he says to me, "Legge," says he, most
private like, "this is a bad job about young Oswald, I'm afeard,
worse'n they know for." "Why, sir?" says I. "Well, Legge," says
he, "they'll never get a penny of that there insurance, and the
old gentleman'll have to pay up the defissit on his own account,"
says he. "How's that, Mr. Micklethwaite?" says I. "Because," says
he, "there's a clause in the policy agin exceptional risks, in
which is included naval and military services, furrin residences,
topical voyages, and mountain-climbin'," says he; "and you mark my
words," says he, "they'll never get a penny of it." In which case,
sir, it's my opinion that old Mr. Oswald'll be clean broke, for he
can't never make up the defissit out of his own business, can he
Ernest listened with sad forebodings to the red-faced landlord's
pitiful story, and feared in his heart that it was a bad look-out
for the poor Oswalds. He didn't sleep much that evening, and next
day he went round early to see Edie. The telegram he found would
be a useless precaution, for the gossip of Calcombe Pomeroy had
recognised him at once, and news had reached the Oswalds almost
as soon as he arrived that young Mr. Le Breton was stopping that
evening at the Red Lion.
Edie opened the door for him herself, pale of face and with eyes
reddened by tears, yet looking beautiful even so in her simple black
morning dress, her mourning of course hadn't yet come home--and
her deep white linen collar. 'It's very good of you to have come
so soon, Mr. Le Breton,' she said, taking his hand quietly--he
respected her sorrow too deeply to think of kissing her; 'he will
be back with us to-morrow. Your brother is bringing him back to us,
to lay him in our little churchyard, and we are all so very very
grateful to him for it.'
Ernest was more than half surprised to hear it. It was an unusual
act of kindly thoughtfulness on the part of Herbert.
Next day the body came home as Edie had said, and Ernest helped
to lay it reverently to rest in Calcombe churchyard. Poor old Mr.
Oswald, standing bowed and broken-hearted by the open grave side,
looked as though he could never outlive that solemn burial of all
his hopes and aspirations in a single narrow coffin. Yet it was
wonderful to Ernest to see how much comfort he took, even in this
terrible grief, from the leader which appeared in the 'Times' that
morning on the subject of the Pontresina accident. It contained
only a few of the stock newspaper platitudes of regret at the loss
of a distinguished and rising young light of science--the ordinary
glib commonplaces of obituary notices which a practised journalist
knows so well how to adapt almost mechanically to the passing event
of the moment; but they seemed to afford the shattered old country
grocer an amount of consolation and solemn relief that no mere
spoken condolences could ever possibly have carried with them. 'See
what a wonderful lot they thought of our boy up in London, Mr. Le
Breton,' he said, looking up from the paper tearfully, and wiping
his big gold spectacles, dim with moisture. 'See what the "Times"
says about him: "One of the ablest among our young academical
mathematicians, a man who, if his life had been spared to us, might
probably have attained the highest distinction in his own department
of pure science." That's our Harry, Mr. Le Breton; that's what
the "Times" says about our dear, dead Harry! I wish he could have
lived to read it himself, Edie--"a scholar of singularly profound
attainments, whose abilities had recently secured him a place upon
the historic roll of the Royal Society, and whom even the French
Academy of Sciences had held worthy out of all the competitors
of the civilised world, to be adjudged the highest mathematical
honours of the present season." My poor boy! my poor, dear, lost
boy! I wish you could have lived to hear it! We must keep the paper,
Edie: we must keep all the papers; they'll show us at least what
people who are real judges of these things thought about our dear,
loved, lost Harry.'
Ernest dared hardly glance towards poor Edie, with the tears trickling
slowly down her face; but he felt thankful that the broken-hearted
old father could derive so much incomprehensible consolation from
those cold and stereotyped conventional phrases. Truly a wonderful
power there is in mere printer's ink properly daubed on plain
absorbent white paper. And truly the human heart, full to bursting
and just ready to break will allow itself to be cheated and cajoled
in marvellous fashions by extraordinary cordials and inexplicable
little social palliatives. The concentrated hopes of that old man's
life were blasted and blighted for ever; and he found a temporary
relief from that stunning shock in the artificial and insincere
condolences of a stock leader-writer on a daily paper!
Walking back by himself in such sad meditations to the Red Lion,
and sitting there by the open window, Ernest overheard a tremulous
chattering voice mumbling out a few incoherent words at the Rector's
doorway opposite. 'Oh, yes,' chirped out the voice in a tone of
cheerful resignation, 'it's very sad indeed, very sad and shocking,
and I'm naturally very sorry for it, of course. I always knew
how it would be: I warned them of it; but they're a pig-headed,
heedless, unmannerly family, and they wouldn't be guided by me. I
said to him, "Now, Oswald, this is all very wrong and foolish of
you. You go and put your son to Oxford, when he ought to be stopping
at home, minding the shop and learning your business. You borrow
money foolishly to send him there with. He'll go to Oxford; he'll
fall in with a lot of wealthy young gentlemen--people above his
own natural station--he'll take up expensive, extravagant ways, and
in the end he'll completely ruin himself. He won't pay you back a
penny, you may depend upon it--these boys never do, when you make
fine gentlemen of them; they think only of their cigars and their
horses, and their dog-carts and so forth, and neglect their poor
old fathers and mothers, that brought them up and scraped and saved
to make fine gentlemen of them. You just take my advice, Oswald, and
don't send him to college." But Oswald was always a presumptuous,
high-headed, independent sort of man, and instead of listening to
me, what does he do but go and send this sharp boy of his up to
Oxford. Well, now the boy's gone to Switzerland with one of the
young Le Bretons--brother of the poor young man they've inveigled
into what they call an engagement with Miss Edith, or Miss Jemima,
or whatever the girl's name is--very well-connected people, the Le
Bretons, and personal friends of the Archdeacon's--and there he's
thrown himself over a precipice or something of the sort, no doubt
to avoid his money-matters and debts and difficulties. At any
rate, Micklethwaite tells me the poor old father'll have to pay
up a couple of hundred pound to the insurance company: and how on
earth he's ever to do it _I_ don't know, for to my certain knowledge
the rent of the shop is in arrears half-a-year already. But it's
no business of mine, thank goodness!--and I only hope that exposure
will serve to open that poor young Le Breton's eyes, and to warn him
against having anything further to say to Miss Jemima. A designing
young minx, if ever there was one! Poor young Le Breton's come down
here for the funeral, I hear, which I must say was very friendly
and proper and honourable of him; but now it's over, I hope he'll
go back again, and see Miss Jemima in her true colours.'
Ernest turned back into the stuffy little coffee-room with his face
on fire and his ears tingling with mingled shame and indignation.
'Whatever happens,' he thought to himself, 'I can't permit Edie
to be subjected any longer to such insolence as this! Poor, dear,
guileless, sorrowing little maiden! One would have thought her
childish innocence and her terrible loss would have softened the
heart even of such a cantankerous, virulent old harridan as that,
till a few weeks were over, at least. She spoke of the Archdeacon:
it must be old Miss Luttrell! Whoever it is, though, Edie shan't
much longer be left where she can possibly come in contact with
such a loathsome mass of incredible and unprovoked malice. That
Edie should lose her dearly-loved brother is terrible enough; but
that she should be exposed afterwards to be triumphed over in her
most sacred grief by that bad old woman's querulous "I told you
so" is simply intolerable!' And he paced up and down the room with
a boiling heart, unable to keep down his righteous anger.
For the next fortnight Ernest remained at the Red Lion, though
painfully conscious that he was sadly wasting his little reserve of
funds from his late tutorship, in order to find out exactly what
the Oswalds' position would be after the loss of poor Harry. Towards
the end of that time he took Edie, pale and pretty in her simple
new mourning, out once more into the Bourne Close for half an hour's
quiet conversation. Very delicate and sweet and refined that tiny
girlish face and figure looked in the plain unostentatious black
and white of her great sorrow, and Ernest felt as he walked along
by her side that she seemed to lean upon him naturally now; the
loss of her main support and chief advisor in life seemed to draw
her closer and closer every day to her one remaining prop and future
'Edie,' he said to her, as they rested once more beside the
old wooden bridge across the little river, 'I think it's time now
we should begin to talk definitely over our common plans for the
future. I know you'd naturally rather wait a little longer before
discussing them; I wish for both our sakes we could have deferred
it; but time presses, and I'm afraid from what I hear in the village
that things won't go on henceforth exactly as they used to do with
your dear father and mother.'
Edie coloured slightly as she answered, 'Then you've heard of all
that already, Ernest'--she was learning to call him 'Ernest' now
quite naturally. 'The Calcombe tattle has got round to you so soon!
I'm glad of it, though, for it saves me the pain of having to tell
you. Yes, it's quite true, and I'm afraid it will be a terrible,
dreadful struggle for poor darling father and mother.' And the
tears came up afresh, as she spoke, into her big black eyes--too
familiar with them of late to make her even try to brush them away
hastily from Ernest's sight with her little handkerchief.
'I'm sorry to know it's true,' Ernest said, taking her hand gently;
'very, very sorry. We must do what we can to lighten the trouble
'Yes,' Edie replied, looking at him through her tears; 'I mean to
try. At any rate, I won't be a burden to them myself any longer.
I've written already up to an agency in London to see whether they
can manage to get me a place as a nursery-governess.'
'You a governess, Edie!' Ernest exclaimed hastily, with a gesture
of deprecation. 'You a governess! Why, my own precious darling,
you would never do for it!'
'Oh yes, indeed,' Edie answered quickly, 'I really think I could,
Ernest. Of course I don't know very much--not judged by a standard
like yours or our dear Harry's. Harry used to say all a woman
could ever know was to find out how ignorant she was. Dear fellow!
he was so very learned himself he couldn't understand the complacency
of little perky, half-educated schoolmistresses. But still, I know
quite as much, I think, in my little way, as a great many girls
who get good places in London as governesses. I can speak French
fairly well, you know, and read German decently; and then dear
Harry took such a lot of pains to make me get up books that he
thought were good for me--history and so forth--and even to teach
me a little, a very little, Latin. Of course I know I'm dreadfully
ignorant; but not more so, I really believe, than a great many
girls whom people consider quite well-educated enough to teach
their daughters. After all, the daughters themselves are only women,
too, you see, Ernest, and don't expect more than a smattering of
book-knowledge, and a few showy fashionable accomplishments.'
'My dear Edie,' Ernest answered, smiling at her gently in spite
of her tearful earnestness; 'you quite misunderstand me. It wasn't
THAT I was thinking of at all. There are very few governesses and
very few women anywhere who have half the knowledge and accomplishments
and literary taste and artistic culture that you have; very few
who have had the advantage of associating daily with such a man as
poor Harry; and if you really wanted to get a place of the sort,
the mere fact that you're Harry's sister, and that he interested
himself in superintending your education, ought, by itself, to
ensure your getting a very good one. But what I meant was rather
this--I couldn't endure to think that you should be put to all the
petty slights and small humiliations that a governess has always
to endure in rich families. You don't know what it is, Edie; you
can't imagine the endless devices for making her feel her dependence
and her artificial inferiority that these great people have devised
in their cleverness and their Christian condescension. You don't
know what it is, Edie, and I pray heaven you may never know; but
_I_ do, for I've seen it--and, darling, I CAN'T let you expose
yourself to it.'
To say the truth, at that moment there rose very vividly before
Ernest's eyes the picture of poor shy Miss Merivale, the governess
at Dunbude to little Lady Sybil, Lynmouth's younger sister. Miss
Merivale was a rector's daughter--an orphan, and a very nice girl
in her way; and Ernest had often thought to himself while he lived
at the Exmoors', 'With just the slightest turn of Fortune's wheel
that might be my own Edie.' Now, for himself he had never felt any
sense of social inferiority at all at Dunbude; he was an Oxford
man, and by the ordinary courtesy of English society he was always
treated accordingly in every way as an equal. But there were
galling distinctions made in Miss Merivale's case which he could
not think of even at the time without a blush of ingenuous shame,
and which he did not like now even to mention to pretty, shrinking,
eager little Edie. One thing alone was enough to make his cheeks burn
whenever he thought of it--a little thing, and yet how unendurable!
Miss Merivale lunched with the family and with her pupil in the
middle of the day, but she did not dine with them in the evening.
She had tea by herself instead in Lady Sybil's little school-room.
Many a time when Ernest had been out walking with her on the
terrace just before dinner, and the dressing-gong sounded, he had
felt almost too ashamed to go in at the summons and leave the poor
little governess out there alone with her social disabilities.
The gong seemed to raise such a hideous artificial barrier between
himself and that delicately-bred, sensitive, cultivated English
lady. That Edie should be subjected to such a life of affronts as
that was simply unendurable. True, there are social distinctions
of the sort which even Ernest Le Breton, communist as he was,
could not practically get over; but then they were distinctions
familiarised to the sufferers from childhood upward, and so perhaps
a little less insupportable. But that Harry Oswald's sister--that
Edie, his own precious delicate little Edie, a dainty English
wild-flower of the tenderest, should be transplanted from her own
appreciative home to such a chilly and ungenial soil as that--the
very idea of it was horribly unspeakable.
'But, Ernest,' Edie answered, breaking in upon his bitter meditation,
'I assure you I wouldn't mind it a bit. I know--it's very dreadful,
but then,'--and here she blushed one of her pretty apologetic little
blushes--'you know I'm used to it. People in business always are.
They expect to be treated just like servant--now THAT, I know you'll
say, is itself a piece of hubris, the expression of a horrid class
prejudice. And so it is, no doubt. But they do, for all that. As
dear Harry used to say, even the polypes in aristocratic useless
sponges at the sea-bottom won't have anything to say to the sponges
of commerce. I'm sure nobody I could meet in a governess's place
could possibly be worse in that respect than poor old Miss Catherine
'That may be true, Edie darling,' Ernest answered, not caring
to let her know that he had overheard a specimen of the Calcombe
squirearchy, 'but in any case I don't want you to be troubled now,
either with old Miss Luttrell or any other bitter old busybodies.
I want to speak seriously to you about a very different project.
Just look at this advertisement.'
He took a scrap of paper from his pocket and handed it to Edie. It
'WANTED at Pilbury Regis Grammar School, Dorset, a
Third Classical Master. Must be a Graduate of Oxford or
Cambridge; University Prizeman preferred. If unmarried,
to take house duty. Commence September 20th. Salary,
200L a year. Apply, as above, to the Rev. J. Greatrex,
D.D., Head Master.'
Edie read it through slowly. 'Well, Ernest?' she said, looking up
from it into his face. 'Do you think of taking this mastership?'
'If I can get it,' Ernest answered. 'You see, I'm not a University
Prizeman, and that may be a difficulty in the way; but otherwise
I'm not unlikely to suit the requirements. Herbert knows something
of the school--he's been down there to examine; and Mrs. Greatrex
had a sort of distant bowing acquaintance with my mother; so I hope
their influence might help me into it.'
'Well, Ernest?' Edie cried again, feeling pretty certain in her
own heart what was coming next, and reddening accordingly.
'Well, Edie, in that case, would you care to marry at once, and try
the experiment of beginning life with me upon two hundred a year?
I know it's very little, darling, for our wants and necessities,
brought up as you and I have been: but Herr Max says, you know,
it's as much as any one family ought ever to spend upon its own
gratifications; and at any rate I dare say you and I could manage
to be very happy upon it, at least for the present. In any case it
wnuld be better than being a governess. Will you risk it, Edie?'
'To me, Ernest,' Edie answered with her unaffected simplicity,
'it really seems quite a magnificent income. I don't suppose any
of our friends or neighbours in Calcombe spend nearly as much as
two hundred a year upon their own families.'
'Ah, yes, they do, darling. But that isn't the only thing. Two
hundred a year is a very different matter in quiet, old-world,
little Calcombe and in a fashionable modern watering-place like
Pilbury Regis. We shall have to live in lodgings, Edie, and live
very quietly indeed; but epen so I think it will be better than for
you to go out and endure the humiliation of becoming a governess.
Then I may understand that, if I can get this mastership, you'll
consent to be married, Edie, before the end of September?'
'Oh, Ernest, that's dreadfully soon!'
'Yes, it is, darling; but you must have a very quiet wedding; and
I can't bear to leave you here now any longer without Harry to
cheer and protect you. Shall we look upon it as settled?'
Edie blushed and looked down as she answered almost inaudibly,
'As you think best, dear Ernest.'
So that very evening Ernest sent off an application to Pilbury
Regis, together with such testimonials as he had by him, mentioning
at the same time his intention to marry, and his recent engagement
at Lord Exmoor's. 'I hope they won't make a point about the
University Prize, Edie,' he said timidly; 'but I rather think they
don't mean to insist upon it. I'm afraid it may be put in to some
extent mainly as a bait to attract parents. Advertisements are often
so very dishonest. At any rate, we can only try; and if I get it,
I shall be able to call you my little wife in September.'
So soon after poor Harry's death he hardly liked to say much about
how happy that consciousness would make him; but he sent off the
letter with a beating heart, and waited anxiously for the head
'Maria,' said Dr. Greatrex to his wife next morning, turning over
the pile of letters at the breakfast table, 'who do you think has
applied for the third mastership? Very lucky, really, isn't it?'
'Considering that there are some thirty millions of people
in England, I believe, Dr. Greatrex,' said his wife with dignity,
'that some seventy of those have answered your advertisement, and
that you haven't yet given me an opportunity even of guessing which
it is of them all, I'm sure I can't say so far whether it's lucky
'You're pleased to be satirical, my dear,' the doctor answered
blandly; he was in too good a humour to pursue the opening further.
'But no matter. Well, I'll tell you, then; it's young Le Breton.'
'Not Lady Le Breton's son!' cried Mrs. Greatrex, forgetting her
dignity in her surprise. 'Well, that certainly is very lucky. Now,
if we could only get her to come down and stay with us for a week
sometimes, after he's been here a little while, what a splendid
advertisement it would be for the place, to be sure, Joseph!'
'Capital!' the head master said, eyeing the letter complacently
as he sipped his coffee. 'A perfect jewel of a master, I should
say, from every possible point of view. Just the sort of person
to attract parents and pupils. "Allow me to introduce you to our
third master, Mr. Le Breton; I hope Lady Le Breton was quite well
when you heard from her last, Le Breton?" and all that sort of
thing. Depend upon it, Maria, there's nothing in the world that
makes a middle-class parent--and our parents are unfortunately
all middle-class--prick up his ears like the faintest suspicion or
echo of a title. "Very good school," he goes back and says to his
wife immediately; "we'll send Tommy there; they have a master who's
an honourable or something of the sort; sure to give the boys a
thoroughly high gentlemanly tone." It's snobbery, I admit, sheer
snobbery: but between ourselves, Maria, most people are snobs,
and we have to live, professionally, by accommodating ourselves
to their foolish prejudices.'
'At the same time, doctor,' said his wife severely, 'I don't think
we ought to allow it too freely, at least with the door open.'
'You're quite right, my dear,' the head master answered submissively,
rising at the same time to shut the door. 'But what makes this
particular application all the better is that young Le Breton would
come here straight from the Earl of Exmoor's where he has been
acting as tutor to the son and heir, Viscount Lynmouth. That's
really admirable, now, isn't it? Just consider the advantages of
the situation. A doubtful parent comes to inspect the arrangements;
sniffs at the dormitories, takes the gauge of the studies, snorts
over the playground, condescends to approve of the fives courts.
Then, after doing the usual Christian principles business and
working in the high moral tone a little, we invite him to lunch,
and young Le Breton to meet him. You remark casually in the most
unconscious and natural fashion--I admit, my dear, that you do these
little things much better than I do--"Oh, talking of cricket, Mr.
Le Breton, your old pupil, Lord Lynmouth, made a splendid score the
other day at the Eton and Harrow." Fixes the wavering parent like
a shot. "Third master something or other in the peerage, and has
been tutor to a son of Lord Exmoor's. Place to send your boys to
if you want to make perfect gentlemen of them." I think we'd better
close at once with this young man's offer, Maria. He's got a very
decent degree, too; a first in Mods and Greats; really very decent.'
'But will he take a house-mastership do you think, doctor?' asked
the careful lady.
'No, he won't; he's married or soon going to be. We must let him
off the house duty.'
'Married!' said Mrs. Greatrex, turning it over cautiously. 'Who's
he going to marry, I wonder? I hope somebody presentable.'
'Why, of course!' Dr. Greatrex answered, as who should feel shocked
at the bare suggestion that a young man of Ernest Le Breton's
antecedents could conceivably marry otherwise.
'His wife, or rather his wife that is to be, is a sister, he tells
me, of that poor Mr. Oswald--the famous mathematician, you know,
of Oriel--who got killed, you remember, by falling off the Matterhorn
or somewhere, just the other day. You must have seen about it in
'I remember,' Mrs. Greatrex answered, in placid contentment; 'and
I should say you can't do better than take him immediately. It'd
be an excellent thing for the school, certainly. As the third
mastership's worth only two hundred a year, of course he can't
intend to marry upon THAT; so he must have means of his own, which
is always a good thing to encourage in an under-master: or if his
wife has money, that comes in the end to the same thing. They'll take
a house of their own, no doubt; and she'll probably entertain--very
quietly, I daresay; still, a small dinner now and then gives a very
excellent tone to the school in its own way. Social considerations,
as I always say, Joseph, are all-important in school management;
and I think we may take it for granted that Mr. Le Breton would be
socially a real acquisition.'
So it was shortly settled that Dr. Greatrex should write back
accepting Ernest Le Breton as third master; and Mrs. Greatrex
began immediately dropping stray allusions to 'Lady Le Breton, our
new master's mother, you know,' among her various acquaintance,
especially those with rising young families. The doctor and she
thought a good deal of this catch they were making in the person of
Ernest Le Breton. Poor souls, they little knew what sort of social
qualities they were letting themselves in for. A firebrand or a
bombshell would really have been a less remarkable guest to drop
down straight into the prim and proper orthodox society of Pilbury
When Ernest received the letter in which Dr. Greatrex informed him
that he might have the third mastership, he hardly knew how to contain
his joy. He kissed Edie a dozen times over in his excitement, and
sat up late making plans with her which would have been delightful
but for poor Edie's lasting sorrow. In a short time it was all duly
arranged, and Ernest began to think that he must go back to London
for a day or two, to let Lady Le Breton hear of his change of plans,
and got everything in order for their quiet wedding. He grudged the
journey sadly, for he was beginning to understand now that he must
take care of the pence for Edie's sake as well as for humanity's--his
abstraction was individualising itself in concrete form--but
he felt so much at least was demanded of him by filial duty, and,
besides, he had one or two little matters to settle at Epsilon
Terrace which could not so well be managed in his absence even
by his trusty deputy, Ronald. So he ran up to town once more in a
hurry, and dropped in as if nothing had happened, at his mother's
house. It was no unusual matter for him to pass a fortnight at
Wilton Place without finding time to call round at Epsilon Terrace
to see Ronald, and his mother had not heard at all as yet of his
recent change of engagement.
Lady Le Breton listened with severe displeasure to Ernest's account of
his quarrel with Lord Exmoor. It was quite unnecessary and wrong,
she said, to prevent Lynmnouth from his innocent boyish amusements.
Pigeon-shooting was practised by the very best people, and she was
quite sure, therefore, there could be no harm of any sort in it.
She believed the sport was countenanced, not only by bishops, but
even by princes. Pigeons, she supposed, had been specially created
by Providence for our use and enjoyment--'their final cause
being apparently the manufacture of pigeon-pie,' Ronald suggested
parenthetically: but we couldn't use them without killing them,
unfortunately; and shooting was probably as painless a form of
killing as any other. Peter or somebody, she distinctly remembered,
had been specially commanded to arise, kill, and eat. To object to
pigeon-shooting indeed, in Lady Le Breton's opinion, was clearly
flying in the face of Providence. Of Ronald's muttered reference
to five sparrows being sold for two farthings, and yet not one of
them being forgotten, she would not condescend to take any notice.
However, thank goodness, the fault was none of hers; she could
wash her hands entirely of all responsibility in the matter. She
had done her best to secure Ernest a good place in a thoroughly
nice family, and if he chose to throw it up at a moment's notice
for one of his own absurd communistical fads, it was happily none
of her business. She was glad, at any rate, that he'd got another
berth, with a conscientious, earnest, Christian man like Dr.
Greatrex. 'And indeed, Ernest,' she said, returning once more to
the pigeon-shooting question, 'even your poor dear papa, who was
full of such absurd religious fancies, didn't think that sport
was unchristian, I'm certain; for I remember once, when we were
quartered at Moozuffernugger in the North-West Provinces, he went
out into a nullah near our compound one day, and with his own hand
shot a man-eating tiger, which had carried off three little native
children from the thanah; so that shows that he couldn't really
object to sport; and I hope you don't mean to cast disrespect upon
the memory of your own poor father!'. All of which profound moral
and religious observations Ernest, as in duty bound, received with
the most respectful and acquiescent silence.
And now he had to approach the more difficult task of breaking
to his mother his approaching marriage with Edie Oswald. He began
the subject as delicately as he could, dwelling strongly upon poor
Harry Oswald's excellent position as an Oxford tutor, and upon
Herbert's visit with him to Switzerland--he knew his mother too
well to suppose that the real merits of the Oswald family would
impress her in any way, as compared with their accidental social
status; and then he went on to speak as gently as possible about
his engagement with little Edie. At this point, to his exceeding
discomfiture, Lady Le Breton adopted the unusual tactics of bursting
suddenly into a flood of tears.
'Oh, Ernest,' she sobbed out inarticulately through her scented
cambric handkerchief, 'for heaven's sake don't tell me that you've
gone and engaged yourself to that designing girl! Oh, my poor,
poor, misguided boy! Is there really no way to save you?'
'No way to save me!' exclaimed Ernest, astonished and disconcerted
by this unexpected outburst.
'Yes, yes!' Lady Le Breton went on, almost passionately. 'Can't
you manage somehow to get yourself out of it? I hope you haven't
utterly compromised yourself! Couldn't dear Herbert go down
to What's-his-name Pomeroy, and induce the father--a grocer, if
I remember right--induce him, somehow or other, to compromise the
'Compromise!' cried Ernest, uncertain whether to laugh or be angry.
'Yes, compromise it!' Lady Le Breton answered, endeavouring to
calm herself. 'Of course that Machiavellian girl has tried to drag
you into it; and the family have aided and abetted her; and you've
been weak and foolish--though not, I trust, wicked--and allowed them
to get their net closed almost imperceptibly around you. But it
isn't too late to withdraw even now, my poor, dear, deluded Ernest.
It isn't too late to withdraw even now. Think of the disgrace and
shame to the family! Think of your dear brothers and their blighted
prospects! Don't allow this designing girl to draw you helplessly
into such an ill-assorted marriage! Reflect upon your own future
happiness! Consider what it will be to drag on years of your life
with a woman, no longer perhaps externally attractive, whom you
could never possibly respect or love for her own internal qualities!
Don't go and wreck your own life, and your brothers' lives, for any
mistaken and Quixotic notions of false honour! You mayn't like to
throw her over, after you've once been inveigled into saying "Yes"
(and the feeling, though foolish, does your heart credit); but
reflect, my dear boy, such a promise, so obtained, can hardly be
considered binding upon your conscience! I've no doubt dear Herbert,
who's a capital man of business, would get them readily enough to
agree to a compromise or a compensation.'
'My dear mother,'said Ernest white with indignation, but speaking
very quietly, as soon as he could edge in a word, 'you quite
misunderstand the whole question. Edie Oswald is a lady by nature,
with all a lady's best feelings--I hate the word because of its
false implications, but I can't use any other that will convey to
you my meaning--and I love and admire and respect and worship her
with all my heart and with all my soul. She hasn't inveigled me or
set her cap at me, as you call it, in any way; she's the sweetest,
timidest, most shrinking little thing that ever existed; on the contrary,
it is I who have humbly asked her to accept me, because I know no
other woman to whom I could give my whole heart so unreservedly.
To tell you the truth, mother, with my ideas and opinions, I could
hardly be happy with any girl of the class that you would call
distinctively ladies: their class prejudices and their social
predilections would jar and grate upon me at every turn. But Edie
Oswald's a girl whom I could worship and love without any reserve--whom
I can reverence for her beautiful character, her goodness, and her
delicacy of feeling. She has honoured me by accepting me, and I'm
going to marry her at the end of this month, and I want, if possible,
to get your consent to the marriage before I do so. She's a wife
of whom I shall be proud in every way; I wish I could think she
would have equal cause to be proud of her husband.'
Lady Le Breton threw herself once more into a paroxysm of tears.
'Oh, Ernest,' she cried, 'do spare me! do spare me! This is too
wicked, too unfeeling, too cruel of you altogether! I knew already
you were very selfish and heartless and headstrong, but I didn't
know you were quite so unmanageable and so unkind as this. I appeal
to your better nature--for you HAVE a better nature--I'm sure you
have a better nature: you're MY son, and you can't be utterly devoid
of good impulses. I appeal confidently to your better nature to
throw off this unhappy, designing, wicked girl before it is too
late! She has made you forget your duty to your mother, but not,
I hope, irrevocably. Oh, my poor, dear, wandering boy, won't you
listen to the voice of reason? won't you return once more like the
prodigal son, to your neglected mother and your forgotten duty?'
'My dear mother,' Ernest said, hardly knowing how to answer, 'you
WILL persist in completely misunderstanding me. I love Edie Oswald
with all my heart; I have promised to marry her, because she has
done me the great and undeserved honour of accepting me as her
future husband; and even if I wanted to break off the engagement
(which it would break my own heart to do), I certainly couldn't
break it off now without the most disgraceful and dishonourable
wickedness. That is quite fixed and certain, and I can't go back
upon it in any way.'
'Then you insist, you unnatural boy,' said Lady Le Breton, wiping
her eyes, and assuming the air of an injured parent, 'you insist,
against my express wish, in marrying this girl Osborne, or whatever
you call her?'
'Yes, I do, mother,' Ernest answered quietly.
'In that case,' said Lady Le Breton, coldly, 'I must beg of you
that you won't bring this lady, whether as your wife or otherwise,
under my roof. I haven't been accustomed to associate with the
daughters of tradesmen, and I don't wish to associate with them
now in any way.'
'If so,' Ernest said, very softly, 'I can't remain under your roof
myself any longer. I can go nowhere at all where my future wife
will not be received on exactly the same terms that I am.'
'Then you had bettor go,' said Lady Le Breton, in her chilliest
manner. 'Ronald, do me the favour to ring ihe bell for a cab for
your brother Ernest.'
'I shall walk, thank you, mother,' said Ernest quietly. 'Good
morning, dear Ronald.'
Ronald rose solemnly and opened the door for him. 'Therefore shall
a man leave his father and mother,' he said in his clear, soft
voice, 'and shall cleave unto his wife; and they twain shall be
one flesh. Amen.'
Lady Le Breton darted a withering glance at her younger son as
Ernest shut the door after him, and burst once more into a sudden
flood of uncontrollable tears.
'COME YE OUT AND BE YE SEPARATE.'
Arthur Berkeley's London lodgings were wonderfully snug and
comfortable for the second floor of a second-rate house in a small
retired side street near the Embankment at Chelsea. He had made
the most of the four modest little rooms, with his quick taste and
his deft, cunning fingers:--four rooms, or rather boxes, one might
almost call them; a bedroom each for himself and the Progenitor;
a wee sitting-room for meals and music--the two Berkeleys would
doubtless as soon have gone without the one as the other; and a tiny
study where Arthur might work undisturbed at his own desk upon his
new and original magnum opus, destined to form the great attraction
of the coming season at the lately-opened Ambiguities Theatre. Things
had prospered well with the former Oxford curate during the last
twelve-month. His cantata at Leeds had proved a wonderful success,
and had finally induced him to remove to London, and take to
composing as a regular profession. He had his qualms about it, to
be sure, as one who had put his hand to the plough and then turned
back; he did not feel quite certain in his own mind how far he
was justified in giving up the more spiritual for the more worldly
calling; but natures like Arthur Berkeley's move rather upon passing
feeling than upon deeper sentiment; and had he not ample ground, he
asked himself, for this reconsideration of the monetary position?
He had the Progenitor's happiness to insure before thinking of the
possible injury to his non-existent parishioners. If he was doing
Whippingham Parva or Norton-cum-Sutton out of an eloquent and
valuable potential rector, if he was depriving the Church in the
next half-century of a dignified and portly prospective archdeacon,
he is at least making his father's last days brighter and more
comfortable than his early ones had ever been. And then, was not
music, too, in its own way, a service, a liturgy, a worship? Surely
he could do higher good to men's souls--as they call them--to
whatever little spark of nobler and better fire there might lurk
within those dull clods of common clay he saw all around him--by
writing such a work as his Leeds cantata, than by stringing together
for ever those pretty centos of seventeenth-century conceits and
nineteenth-century doubts or hesitations which he was accustomed
to call his sermons! Whatever came of it, he must give up the
miserable pittance of a curacy, and embrace the career open to the
So he fitted up his little Chelsea rooms in his own economically
sumptuous fashion with some bits of wall paper, a few jugs and vases,
and an etching or two after Meissonier; planted the Progenitor down
comfortably in a large easy-chair, with a melodious fiddle before
him; and set to work himself to do what he could towards elevating
the British stage and pocketing a reasonable profit on his own
account from that familiar and ever-rejuvenescent process. He was
quite in earnest, now, about producing a totally new effect of his
own; and believing in his work, as a good workman ought to do,
he wrought at it indefatigably and well in the retirement of a
second-pair back, overlooking a yardful of fluttering clothes, and
a fine skyline vista of bare, yellowish brick chimneys.
'What part are you working at to-day, Artie?' said the old shoemaker,
looking over his son's shoulder at the blank music paper before
him. 'Quartette of Biological Professors, eh?'
'Yes, father,' Berkeley answered with a smile. 'How do you think
it runs now?' and he hummed over a few lines of his own words, set
with a quaint lilt to his own inimitable and irresistible music:--
And though in unanimous chorus
We mourn that from ages before us
No single enaliosaurus
To-day should survive,
Yet joyfully may we bethink us,
With the earliest mammal to link us,
We still have the ornithorhyncus
Extant and alive!
'How do you think the score does for that, father, eh? Catching
air rather, isn't it?'
'Not a better air in the whole piece, Artie; but, my boy, who do
you think will ever understand the meaning of the words. The gods
themselves won't know what you're driving at.'
'But I'm going to strike out a new line, Daddie dear. I'm not going
to play to the gallery; I mean to play to the stalls and boxes.'
'Was there ever such a born aristocrat as this young parson is!' cried
the old man, lifting up both his hands with a playful gesture of
mock-deprecation. 'He's hopeless! He's terrible! He's incorrigible!
Why, you unworthy son of a respectable Paddington shoemaker, if even
the intelligent British artizans in the gallery don't understand
you, how the dickens do you suppose the oiled and curled Assyrian
bulls in the stalls and boxes will have a glimmering idea of what
you're driving at? The supposition's an insult to the popular
intelligence--in other words, to me, sir, your Progenitor.'
Berkeley laughed. 'I don't know about that, father,' he said, holding
up the page of manuscript music at arm's length admiringly before
him; 'but I do know one thing: this comic opera of mine is going
to be a triumphant success.'
'So I've thought ever since you began it, Artie. You see, my boy,
there's a great many points in its favour. In the first place you
can write your own libretto, or whatever you call it; and you know
I've always held that though that Wagner man was wrong in practice--a
most inflated thunder-bomb, his Lohengrin--yet he was right in
theory, right in theory, Artie; every composer ought to be his own
poet. Well, then, again, you've got a certain peculiar vein of
humour of your own, a kind of delicate semi-serious burlesque turn
about you that's quite original, both in writing and in composing;
you're a humourist in verse and a humourist in music, that's the
long and the short of it. Now, you've hit upon a fresh lode of
dramatic ore in this opera of yours, and if my judgment goes for
anything, it'll bring the house down the first evening. I'm a bit
of a critic, Artie; by hook or by crook, you know, paper or money,
I've heard every good opera, comic or serious, that's been given
in London these last thirty years, and I flatter myself I know
something by this time about operatic criticism.'
'You're wrong about Wagner, father,' said Arthur, still glancing
with paternal partiality at his sheet of manuscript: 'Lohengrin's
a very fine work, a grand work, I assure you. I won't let you run
it down. But, barring that, I think you're pretty nearly right in
your main judgment. I'm not modest, and it strikes me somehow that
I've invented a genre. That's about what it comes to.'
'If you'd confine yourself to your native tongue, Mr. Parson,
your ignorant old father might have some chance of agreeing or
disagreeing with you; but as he doesn't even know what the thingumbob
you say you've invented may happen to be, he can't profitably
continue the discussion of that subject. However, my only fear is
that you may perhaps be writing above the heads of the audience.
Not in the music, Artie; they can't fail to catch that; it rings
in one's head like the song of a hedge warbler--tirree, tirree,
lu-lu-lu, la-la, tirree, tu-whit, tu-whoo, tra-la-la--but in the
words and the action. I'm half afraid that'll be over their heads,
even in the gallery. What do you think you'll finally call it?'
'I'm hesitating, Daddy, between "Evolution" and "The Primate of
Fiji." Which do you recommend--tell me?'
'The Primate, by all means,' said the old man gaily. 'And you
still mean to open with the debate in the Fijian Parliament on the
Deceased Grandmother's Second Cousin Bill?'
'No, I don't, Daddy. I've written a new first scene this week, in
which the President of the Board of Trade remonstrates with the
mermaids on their remissness in sending their little ones to the
Fijian Board Schools, in order to receive primary instruction in the
art of swimming. I've got a capital chorus of mermaids to balance
the other chorus of Biological Professors on the Challenger Expedition.
I consider it's a happy cross between Ariosto and Aristophanes.
If you like, I'll give you the score, and read over the words to
you.' 'Do,' said the old man, settling himself down in comfort in
his son's easy-chair, and assuming the sternest air of an impartial
critic. Arthur Berkeley read on dramatically, in his own clever
airy fashion, suiting accent and gesture to the subject matter
through the whole first three acts of that exquisitely humorous
opera, the Primate of Fiji. Sometimes he hummed the tune over to
himself as he went; sometimes he played a few notes upon his flute
by way of striking the key-note; sometimes he rose from his seat in
his animation, and half acted the part he was reading with almost
unconscious and spontaneous mimicry. He read through the famous
song of the President of the Local Government Board, that everybody
has since heard played by every German band at the street corners;
through the marvellously catching chorus of the superannuated
tide-waiters; through the culminating dialogue between the London
Missionary Society's Agent and the Hereditary Grand Sacrificer to
the King of Fiji. Of course the recital lacked everything of the
scenery and dresses that give it so much vogue upon the stage; but
it had at least the charmingly suggestive music, the wonderful
linking of sound to sense, the droll and inimitable intermixture
of the plausible and the impossible which everybody has admired
and laughed at in the acted piece.
The old shoemaker listened in breathless silence, keeping his eye
fixed steadily all the time upon the clean copy of the score. Only
once he made a wry face to himself, and that was in the chorus to
the debate in the Fijian Parliament on the proposal to leave off
the practice of obligatory cannibalism. The conservative party
were of opinion that if you began by burying instead of eating your
deceased wife, you might end by the atrocious practice of marrying
your deceased wife's sister; and they opposed the revolutionary
measure in that well known refrain:--
Of change like this we're naturally chary,
Nolumus leges Fijiae mutari.
That passage evidently gave the Progenitor deep pain.
'Stick to your own language, my boy,' he murmured; 'stick to your
own language. The Latin may be very fine, but the gallery wil never
understand it.' However, when Arthur finished at last, he drew a
long breath, and laid down the roll of manuscript with an involuntary
little cry of half-stifled applause.
'Artie,' he said rising from the chair slowly, 'Artie, that's not
so bad for a parson, I can tell you. I hope the Archbishop won't
be tempted to cite you for displaying an amount of originality
unworthy of your cloth.'
'Father,' said Arthur, suddenly, after a short pause, with a tinge
of pensiveness in his tone that was not usual with him, in speaking
at least; 'Father, I often think I ought never to have become a
parson at all.'
'Well, my boy,' said the old man, looking up at him sharply with
his keen eyes, 'I knew that long ago. You've never really believed
in the thing, and you oughtn't to have gone in for it from the very
beginning. It was the music, and the dresses, and the decorations
that enticed you, Artie, and not the doctrine.'
Arthur turned towards him with a pained expression. 'Father,' he
said, half reproachfully, 'Father, dear father, dou't talk to me
like that. Don't think I'm so shallow or so dishonest as to subscribe
to opinions I don't believe in. It's a curious thing to say, a
curious thing in this unbelieving age, and I'm half ashamed to say
it, even to you; but do you know, father, I really do believe it:
in my very heart of hearts, I fancy I believe every word of it.'
The old man listened to him compassionately and tenderly, as
a woman listens to the fears and troubles of a little child. To
him, that plain confession of faith was, in truth, a wonder and a
stumbling-block. Good, simple-hearted, easy-going, logical-minded,
sceptical shoemaker that he was, with his head all stuffed full of
Malthus, and John Stuart Mill, and political economy, and the hard
facts of life and science, how could he hope to understand the
complex labyrinth of metaphysical thinking, and childlike faith,
and aesthetic attraction, and historical authority, which made a
sensitive man like Arthur Berkeley, in his wayward, half-serious,
emotional fashion, turn back lovingly and regretfully to the fair
old creed that his father had so long deserted? How strange that
Artie, a full-grown male person, with all the learning of the schools
behind him, should relapse at last into these childish and exploded
mediaeval superstitions! How incredible that, after having been
brought up from his babyhood upward on the strong meat of the agnostic
philosophers, he should fall back in his manhood on the milk for
babes administered to him by orthodox theology! The simple-minded
old sceptic could hardly credit it, now that Arthur told him so
with his own lips, though he had more than once suspected it when he
heard him playing sacred music with that last touch of earnestness
in his execution which only the sincerest conviction and most intimate
realisation of its import can ever give. Ah well, ah well, good
sceptical old shoemaker; there are perhaps more things in heaven
and earth and in the deep soul of man than are dreamt of in your
Still, though the avowal shocked and disappointed him a little, the
old man could not find it in his heart to say one word of sorrow
or disapproval, far less of ridicule or banter, to his dearly loved
boy. He felt instinctively, what Herbert Le Breton could not feel,
that this sentimental tendency of his son's, as he thought it,
lay far too deep and seemed far too sacred for mere argument or
common discussion. 'Perhaps,' he said to himself softly, 'Artie's
emotional side has got the better of his intellectual. I brought
him up without telling him any thing of these things, except
negatively, and by way of warning against superstitious tendencies;
and when he went to Oxford, and saw the doctrines tricked out in
all the authority of a great hierarchy, with its cathedrals, and
chapels, and choirs, and altars, and robes, and fal-lal finery,
it got the better of him; got the better of him, very naturally.
Artie's a cleverer fellow than his old father--had more education,
and so on; and I'm fond of him, very fond of him; but his logical
faculty isn't quite straight, somehow: he lets his feelings have
too much weight and prominence against his calmer reason! I can
easily understand how, with his tastes and leanings, the clericals
should have managed to get a hold over him. The clericals are such
insinuating cunning fellows. A very impressionable boy Artie was,
always; the poetical temperament and the artistic temperament
always is impressionable, I suppose; but shoemaking certainly does
develop the logical faculties. Seems as though the logical faculties
were situated in the fore-part of the brain, as they mark them
out on the phrenological heads; and the leaning forward that gives
us the shoemaker's forehead must tend to enlarge them--give them
plenty of room to expand and develop!' Saying which thing to himself
musingly, the father took his son's hand gently in his, and only
smoothed it quietly as he looked deep into Arthur's eyes, without
uttering a single word.
As for Arthur Berkeley, he sat silent, too, half averting his face
from his father's gaze, and feeling a little blush of shame upon his
cheek at having been surprised unexpectedly into such an unwonted
avowal. How could he ever expect his father to understand the nature
of his feelings! To him, good old man that he was, all these things
were just matters of priestcraft and obscurantism--fables invented
by the ecclesiastical mind as a means of getting fat livings and
comfortable deaneries out of the public pocket. And, indeed, Arthur
was well accustomed at Oxford to keeping his own opinions to himself
on such subjects. What chance of sympathy or response was there for
such a man as he in that coldly critical and calmly deliberative
learned society? Not, of course, that all Oxford was wholly given
over even then to extreme agnosticism. There were High Churchmen,
and Low Churchmen, and Broad Churchmen enough, to be sure: men
learned in the Fathers, and the Canons, and the Acts of the General
Councils; men ready to argue on the intermediate state, or on the
three witnesses, or on the heretical nature of the Old Catholic
schism; men prepared with minute dogmatic opinions upon every
conceivable or inconceivable point of abstract theology. There were
people who could trace the Apostolic succession of the old Cornish
bishops, and people who could pronounce authoritatively upon the
exact distinction between justification and remission of sins. But
for all these things Arthur Berkeley cared nothing. Where, then,
among those learned exegetical theologians, was there room for one
whose belief was a matter, not of reason and argument, but of feeling
and of sympathy? He did not want to learn what the Council of Trent
had said about such and such a dogma; he wanted to be conscious
of an inner truth, to find the world permeated by an informing
righteousness, to know himself at one with the inner essence of
the entire universe. And though he could never feel sure whether
it was all illusion or not, he had hungered and thirsted after
believing it, till, as he told his father timidly that day, he
actually did believe it somehow in his heart of hearts. Let us not
seek to probe too deeply into those inner recesses, whose abysmal
secrets are never perfectly clear even to the introspective eyes
of the conscious self-dissector himself.
After a pause Arthur spoke again. He spoke this time in a very low
voice, as one afraid to open his soul too much, even to his father.
'Dear, dear father,' he said, releasing his hand softly, 'you don't
quite understand what I mean about it. It isn't because I don't
believe, or try to believe, or hope I believe, that I think I ought
never to have become a parson. In my way, as in a glass, darkly,
I do strive my best to believe, though perhaps my belief is hardly
more in its way than Ernest Le Breton's unbelieving. I do want to
think that this great universe we see around us isn't all a mistake
and an abortion. I want to find a mind and an order and a purpose
in it; and, perhaps because I want it, I make myself believe that
I have really found it. In that hope and belief, with the ultimate
object of helping on whatever is best and truest in the world, I
took orders. But I feel now that it was an error for me. I'm not
the right man to make a parson. There are men who are born for that
rôle; men who know how to conduct themselves in it decently and
in seemly fashion; men who can quietly endure all its restraints,
and can fairly rise to the height of all its duties. But I can't.
I was intended for something lighter and less onerous than that.
If I stop in the Church I shall do no good to myself or to it; if
I come out of it, I shall make both parties freer, and shall be able
to do more good in my own generation. And so, father, for the very
same reasons that made me go into it, I mean to come out again. Not
in any quarrel with it, nor as turning my back upon it, but just
as the simple acknowledgment of a mistaken calling. It wouldn't
be seemly, for example, for a parson to write comic operas. But
I feel I can do more good by writing comic operas than by talking
dogmatically about things I hardly understand to people who hardly
understand me. So before I get this opera acted I mean to leave off
my white tie, and be known in future, henceforth and for ever, as
plain Arthur Berkeley.'
The old shoemaker listened in respectful silence. 'It isn't for me,
Artie,' he said, as his son finished, 'to stand between a man and
his conscience. As John Stuart Mill says in his essay on "Liberty,"
we must allow full play to every man's individuality. Wonderful
man, John Stuart Mill; I understand his grandfather was a shoemaker.
Well, I won't talk with you about the matter of conviction; but I
never wanted you to be a parson, and I shall feel all the happier
myself when you've ceased to be one.'
'And I,' said Arthur, 'shall feel all the freer; but if I had been
able to remain where I was, I should have felt all the worthier,
for all that.'
A QUIET WEDDING.
Fate was adverse for the moment to Arthur Berkeley's well meant
designs for shuffling off the trammels of his ecclesiastical habit.
He was destined to appear in public at least once more, not only in
the black coat and white tie of his everyday professional costume,
but even in the flowing snowy surplice of a solemn and decorous
spiritual function. The very next morning's post brought him
a little note from Ernest Le Breton specially begging him, in his
own name and Edie's, to come down to Calcombe Pomeroy, and officiate
as parson at their approaching wedding. The note had cost Ernest
a conscientious struggle, for he would have personally preferred
to be married at a Registry Office, as being more in accordance
with the duties of a good citizen, and savouring less of effete
ecclesiastical superstition; but he felt he couldn't even propose
such a step to Edie; she wouldn't have considered herself married
at all, unless she were married quite regularly by a duly qualified
clerk in holy orders of the Church of England as by law established.
Already, indeed, Ernest was beginning to recognise with a sigh
that if he was going to live in the world at all, he must do so by
making at least a partial sacrifice of political consistency. You
may step out of your own century, if you choose, yourself, but you
can't get all the men and women with whom you come in contact to
step out of it also in unison just to please you.
So Ernest had sat down reluctantly to his desk, and consented
to ask Arthur Berkeley to assist at the important ceremony in his
professional clerical capacity. If he was going to have a medicine
man or a priest at all to marry him to the girl of his choice--a
barbaric survival, at the best, he thought it--he would, at any
rate, prefer having his friend Arthur--a good man and true--to
having the fat, easy-going, purse-proud rector of the parish; the
younger son of a wealthy family who had gone into the Church for
the sake of the living, and who rolled sumptuously down the long
hilly High Street every day in his comfortable carriage, leaning
back with his fat hands folded complacently over his ample knees,
and gazing abstractedly, with his little pigs'-eyes half buried
in his cheek, at the beautiful prospect afforded him by the broad
livery-covered backs of his coachman and his footman. Ernest could
never have consented to lot that lazy, overfed, useless encumbrance
on a long-suffering commonwealth, that idle gorger of dainty meats
and choice wines from the tithes of the tolling, suffering people,
bear any part in what was after all the most solemn and serious
contract of his whole lifetime. And, to say the truth, Edie quite
agreed with him on that point, too. Though her moral indignation
against poor, useless, empty-headed old Mr. Walters didn't burn
quite so fierce or so clear as Ernest's--she regarded the fat
old parson, indeed, rather from the social point of view, as a
ludicrously self-satisfied specimen of the lower stages of humanity,
than from the political point of view, as a greedy swallower of
large revenues for small work inefficiently performed--she would
still have felt that his presence at her wedding jarred and grated
on all the finer sensibilities of her nature, as out of accord
with the solemn and tender associations of that supreme moment.
To have been married by prosy old Mr. Walters, to have taken the
final benediction on the greatest act of her life from those big
white fat fingers, would have spoilt the reminiscence of the wedding
day for her as long as she lived. But when Ernest suggested Arthur
Berkeley's name to her, she acquiesced with all her heart in the
happy selection. She liked Berkeley better than anybody else she
had ever met, except Ernest; and she knew that his presence would
rather add one more bright association to the day than detract from
it in the coming years. Her poor little wedding would want all the
additions that friends could make to its cheerfulness, to get over
the lasting gloom and blank of dear Harry's absence.
'You will come and help us, I know, Berkeley,' Ernest wrote to
Arthur in his serious fashion. 'We feel there is nobody else we
should so like to have present at our wedding as yourself. Come
soon, too, for there are lots of things I want to talk over with
you. It's a very solemn responsibility, getting married: you
have to take upon yourself the duty of raising up future citizens
for the state; and with our present knowledge of how nature works
through the laws of heredity, you have to think whether you two
who contemplate marriage are well fitted to act as parents to the
generations that are to be. When I remember that all my own faults
and failings may be handed on relentlessly to those that come after
us--built up in the very fibre of their being--I am half appalled
at my own temerity. Then, again, there is the inexorable question
of money; is it prudent or is it wrong of us to marry on such
an uncertainty? I'm afraid that Schurz and Malthas would tell us
--very wrong. I have turned over these things by myself till I'm
tired of arguing them out in my own head, and I want you to come
down beforehand, so as to cheer me up a bit with your lighter and
brighter philosophy. On the very eve of my marriage, I'm somehow
getting dreadfully pessimistic.'
Arthur read the letter through impatiently and crumpled it up in his
hands with a gesture of despondency. 'Poor little Miss Butterfly,'
he said to himself, pityingly, 'was there ever such an abstraction
of an ethical unit as this good, solemn, self-torturing Ernest! How
will she ever live with him? How will he ever live with her? Poor
little soul! Harry is gone like the sunshine out of her life; and
now this well-meaning, gloomy, conscientious cloud comes caressingly
to overspread her with the shadowing pall of its endless serious
doubts and hesitations. Fancy a man who has won little Miss
Butterfly's heart--dear little Miss Butterfly's gay, laughing,
tender little heart--writing such a letter as that to the friend
who's going to marry them! Upon my word, I've half a mind to go
into the concientious scruples business on my own account! Have I
any right to be a party to fettering poor airy fairy little Miss
Butterfly, with a heavy iron chain for life and always, to this
great lumbering elephantine moral Ernest? Am I justified in tying
the cable round her dainty little neck with a silken thread, and
then fastening it round his big leg with rivets of hardened steel
on the patent Bessemer process? If a couple of persons, duly called
by banns in their own respective parishes, or furnished with the
right reverend's perquisite, a licence, come to me, a clerk in holy
orders, and ask me to marry them, I've a vague idea that unless I
comply I lay myself open to the penalties of praemunire, or something
else equally awful and mysterious. But if the couple write and
ask me to come down into Devonshire and marry them, that's quite
another matter. I can lawfully answer, 'Non possumus.' There's a
fine ecclesiastical ring, by the way, about answering 'Non possumus;'
it sums up the entire position of the Church in a nutshell! Well,
I doubt whether I ought to go; but as a matter of friendship, I'll
throw overboard my poor conscience. It's used to the process by
this time, no doubt, like eels to skinning; and as Hudibras says,
However tender it may be,
'Tis passing blind where 'twill not see.
If she'd only have taken ME, now, who knows but I might in time
have risen to be a Prebendary or even a Dean? 'They that have used
the office of a deacon well, purchase to themselves a good degree,'
Paul wrote to Timothy once; but it's not so now, it's not so now;
preferment goes by favour, and the deacon must e'en shift as best
he can on his own account.' So, in the end, Arthur packed up his
surplice in his little handbag, and took his way peacefully down
to Calcombe Pomeroy.
It was a very quiet, almost a sombre wedding, for the poor Oswalds
were still enveloped in the lasting gloom of their great loss,
and not much outward show or preparation, such as the female heart
naturally delights in, could possibly be made under these painful
circumstances. Still, all the world of Calcombe came to see little
Miss Oswald married to the grave gentleman from Oxford; and most
of them gave her their hearty good wishes, for Edie was a general
favourite with gentle and simple throughout the whole borough.
Herbert was there, like a decorous gentleman, to represent the
bridegroom's family, and so was Ronald, who had slipped away from
London without telling Lady Le Breton, for fear of another distressful
scone at the last moment. Arthur Berkeley read the service in
his beautiful impressive manner, and looked his part well in his
flowing white surplice. But as he uttered the solemn words, 'Whom
God hath joined together, let no man put asunder,' the musical
ring of his own voice sounded to his heart like the knell of his
own one love--the funeral service over the only romance he could
ever mix in throughout his whole lifetime. Poor fellow, he had
taken the duty upon him with all friendly heartiness; but he felt
an awful and lonely feeling steal over him when it was all finished,
and when he knew that his little Miss Butterfly was now Ernest Le
Breton's lawful wife for ever and ever.
In the vestry, after signing the books, Herbert and Ronald and
some of the others insisted on their ancient right of kissing the
bride in good old English fashion. But Arthur did not. It would
not have been loyal. He felt in his heart that he had loved little
Miss Butterfly too deeply himself for that; to claim a kiss would
be abusing the formal dues of his momentary position. Henceforth
he would not even think of her to himself in that little pet name
of his brief Oxford dream: he would call her nothing in his own
mind but Mrs. Le Breton.
Edie's simple little presents were all arranged in the tiny parlour
behind the shop. Most of them were from her own personal friends:
a few were from the gentry of the surrounding neighbourhood: but
there were two handsomer than the rest: they came from outside the
narrow little circle of Calcombe Pomeroy society. One was a plain
gold bracelet from Arthur Berkeley; and on the gold of the inner
face, though neither Edie nor Ernest noticed it, he had lightly
cut with his knife on the soft metal the one word, 'Frustra.' The
other was a dressing-case, with a little card inside, 'Miss Oswald,
from Lady Hilda Tregellis.' Hilda had heard of Ernest's approaching
wedding from Herbert (who took an early opportunity of casually
lunching at Dunbude, in order to show that he mustn't be identified
with his socialistic brother); and the news had strangely proved a
slight salve to poor Hilda's wounded vanity--or, perhaps it would
be fairer to say, to her slighted higher instincts. 'A country
grocer's daughter!' she said to herself: 'the sister of a great
mathematical scholar! How very original of him to think of marrying
a grocer's daughter! Why, of course, he must have been engaged to
her all along before he came here! And even if he hadn't been,
one might have known at once that such a man as he is would never
go and marry a girl whose name's in the peerage, when he could strike
out a line for himself by marrying a grocer's daughter. I really
like him better than ever for it. I must positively send her a
little present. They'll be as poor as church mice, I've no doubt.
I ought to send her something that'll be practically useful.' And
by way of sending something practically useful, Lady Hilda chose
at last a handsome silver-topped Russia leather dressing-case.
It was not such a wedding as Edie had pictured to herself in her
first sweet maidenly fancies; but still, when they drove away alone
in the landau from the side-door of the Red Lion to Calcombe Road
Station, she felt a quiet pride and security in her heart from the
fact that she was now the wedded wife of a man she loved so dearly
as Ernest Le Breton. And even Ernest so far conquered his social
scruples that he took first-class tickets, for the first time in
his life, to Ilfracombe, where they were to spend their brief and
hasty fragment of a poor little honeymoon. It's so extremely hard
to be a consistent socialist where women are concerned, especially
on the very day of your own wedding!
INTO THE FIRE.
'Let me see, Le Breton,' Dr. Greatrex observed to the new master,
'you've taken rooms for yourself in West Street for the present--you'll
take a house on the parade by-and-by, no doubt. Now, which church
do you mean to go to?'
'Well, really,' Ernest answered, taken a little aback at the
suddenness of the question, 'I haven't had time to think about it
The doctor frowned slightly. 'Not had time to think about it,'
he repeated, rather severely. 'Not had time to think about such
a serious question as your particular place of worship! You quite
surprise me. Well, if you'll allow me to make a suggestion in the
matter it would be that you and Mrs. Le Breton should take seats,
for the present at least, at St. Martha's. The parish church is high,
decidedly high, and I wouldn't recommend you to go there; most of
our parents don't approve of it. You're an Oxford man, I know, and
so I suppose you're rather high yourself; but in this particular
matter I would strongly advise you to subordinate your own personal
feelings to the parents' wishes. Then there's St. Jude's; St.
Jude's is distinctly low--quite Evangelical in fact: indeed, I may
say, scarcely what I should consider sound church principles at
all in any way; and I think you ought most certainly to avoid it
sedulously. Evangelicism is on the decline at present in Pilbury
Regis. As to St. Barnabas--Barabbas they call it generally, a most
irreverent joke, but, of course, inevitable--Barabbas is absolutely
Ritualistic. Many of our parents object to it most strongly. But
St. Martha's is a quiet, moderate, inoffensive church in every
respect--sound and sensible, and free from all extremes. You can
give no umbrage to anybody, even the most cantankerous, by going
to St. Martha's. The High Church people fraternise with it on the
one hand, and the moderate church people fraternise with it on the
other, while as to the Evangelicals and the dissenters, they hardly
contribute any boys to the school, or if they do, they don't object
to unobtrusive church principles. Indeed, my experience has been,
Le Breton, that even the most rabid dissenters prefer to have their
sons educated by a sound, moderate, high-principled, and, if I may
say so, neutral-tinted church clergyman.' And the doctor complacently
pulled his white tie straight before the big gilt-framed drawing-room
'Then, again,' the doctor went on placidly in a bland tone of
mild persuasion, 'there's the question of politics. Politics are
a very ticklish matter, I can assure you, in Pilbury Regis. Have
you any fixed political opinions of your own, Le Breton, or are
you waiting to form them till you've had some little experience in
'My opinions,' Ernest answered timidly, 'so far as they can be
classed under any of the existing political formulas at all, are
decidedly Liberal--I may even say Radical.'
The doctor bit his lip and frowned severely. 'Radical,' he said,
slowly, with a certain delicate tinge of acerbity in his tone.
'That's bad. If you will allow me to interpose in the matter, I
should strongly advise you, for your own sake, to change them at
once and entirely. I don't object to moderate Liberalism--perhaps
as many as one-third of our parents are moderate Liberals;
but decidedly the most desirable form of political belief for a
successful schoolmaster is a quiet and gentlemanly, but unswerving
Conservatism. I don't say you ought to be an uncompromising
old-fashioned Tory--far from it: that alienates not only the
dissenters, but even the respectable middle-class Liberals. What
is above all things expected in a schoolmaster is a central position
in politics, so to speak--a careful avoidance of all extremes--a
readiness to welcome all reasonable progress, while opposing in
a conciliatory spirit all revolutionary or excessive changes--in
short, an attitude of studied moderation. That, if you will allow
me to advise you, Le Breton, is the sort of thing, you may depend
upon it, that most usually meets the wishes of the largest possible
number of pupils' parents.'
'I'm afraid,' Ernest answered, as respectfully as possible, 'my
political convictions are too deeply seated to be subordinated to
my professional interests.'
'Eh! What!' the doctor cried sharply. 'Subordinate your principles
to your personal interests! Oh, pray don't mistake me so utterly
as that! Not at all, not at all, my dear Le Breton. I don't mean
that for the shadow of a second. What I mean is rather this,' and
here the doctor cleared his throat and pulled round his white tie
a second time, 'that a schoolmaster, considering attentively what
is best for his pupils, mark you--we all exist for our pupils, you
know, my dear fellow, don't we?--a schoolmaster should avoid such
action as may give any unnecessary scandal, you see, or seem to
clash with the ordinary opinion of the pupils' parents. Of course, if
your views are fully formed, and are of a mildly Liberal complexion
(put it so, I beg of you, and don't use that distressful word
Radical), I wouldn't for the world have you act contrary to them.
But I wouldn't have you obtrude them too ostentatiously--for your
own sake, Le Breton, for your own sake, I assure you. Remember,
you're a very young man yet: you have plenty of time before you to
modify your opinions in: as you go on, you'll modify them--moderate
them--bring them into harmony with the average opinions of ordinary
parents. Don't commit yourself at present--that's all I would
say to you--don't commit yourself at present. When you're as old
as I am, my dear fellow, you'll see through all these youthful
'And as to the church, Mr. Le Breton,' said Mrs. Greatrex, with
bland suggestiveness from the ottoman, 'of course, we regard the
present very unsatisfactory arrangement as only temporary. The
doctor hopes in time to get a chapel built, which is much nicer
for the boys, and also more convenient for the masters and their
families--they all have seats, of course, in the chancel. At Charlton
College, where the doctor was an assistant for some years, before
we came to Pilbury, there was one of the under-masters, a young man
of very good family, who took such an interest in the place that
he not only contributed a hundred pounds out of his own pocket
towards building a chapel, but also got ever so many of his wealthy
friends elsewhere to subscribe, first to that, and then to the organ
and stained-glass window. We've got up a small building fund here
ourselves already, of which the doctor's treasurer, and we hope
before many years to have a really nice chapel, with good music
and service well done--the kind of thing that'll be of use to the
school, and have an excellent moral effect upon the boys in the
way of religious training.'
'No doubt,' Ernest answered evasively, 'you'll soon manage to raise
the money in such a place as Pilbury.'
'No doubt,' the doctor replied, looking at him with a searching
glance, and evidently harbouring an uncomfortable suspicion,
already, that this young man had not got the moral and religious
welfare of the boys quite so deeply at heart as was desirable in
a model junior assistant master. 'Well, well, we shall see you at
school to-morrow morning, Le Breton: till then I hope you'll find
yourselves quite comfortable in your new lodgings.'
Ernest went back from this visit of ceremony with a doubtful heart,
and left Dr. and Mrs. Greatrex alone to discuss their new acquisition.
'Well, Maria,' said the doctor, in a dubious tone of voice, as soon
as Ernest was fairly out of hearing, 'what do you think of him?'
'Think!' answered Mrs. Greatrex, energetically. 'Why, I don't think
at all. I feel sure he'll never, never, never make a schoolmaster!'
'I'm afraid not,' the doctor responded, pensively. 'I'm afraid
not, Maria. He's got ideas of his own, I regret to say; and, what's
worse, they're not the right ones.'
'Oh, he'll never do,' Mrs. Greatrex continued, scornfully. 'Nothing
at all professional about him in any way. No interest or enthusiasm
in the matter of the chapel; not a spark of responsiveness even
about the stained-glass window; hardly a trace of moral or religious
earnestness, of care for the welfare and happiness of the dear boys.
He wouldn't in the least impress intending parents--or, rather, I
feel sure he'd impress them most unfavourably. The best thing we
can do, now we've got him, is to play off his name on relations in
society, but to keep the young man himself as far as possible in
the background. I confess he's a disappointment--a very great and
'He is, he is certainly,' the doctor acquiesced, with a sigh of
regretfulness. 'I'm afraid we shall never be able to make much of
him. But we must do our best--for his own sake, and the sake of the
boys and parents, it's our duty, Maria, to do our best with him.'
'Oh, of course,' Mrs. Greatrex replied, languidly: 'but I'm bound
to say, I'm sure it'll prove a very thankless piece of duty. Young
men of his sort have never any proper sense of gratitude.'
Meanwhile, Edie, in the little lodgings in a side street near the
school-house, had run out quickly to open the door for Ernest, and
waited anxiously to hear his report upon their new employers.
'Well, Ernest dear,' she asked, with something of the old childish
brightness in her eager manner, 'and what do you think of them?'
'Why, Edie,' Ernest answered, kissing her white forehead gently,
'I don't want to judge them too hastily, but I'm inclined to
fancy, on first sight, that both the doctor and his wife are most
egregious and unmitigated humbugs.'
'Humbugs, Ernest! why, how do you mean?'
'Well, Edie, they've got the moral and religious welfare of the
boys at their very finger ends; and, do you know--I don't want to
be uncharitable--but I somehow imagine they haven't got it at heart
as well. However, we must do our best, and try to fall in with
And for a whole year Ernest and Edie did try to fall in with them
to the best of their ability. It was hard work, for though the
doctor himself was really at bottom a kind-hearted man, with a mere
thick veneer of professional humbug inseparable from his unhappy
calling, Mrs. Greatrex was a veritable thorn in the flesh to poor
little natural honest-hearted Edie. When she found that the Le
Bretons didn't mean to take a house on the Parade or elsewhere,
but were to live ingloriously in wee side street lodgings, her
disappointment was severe and extreme; but when she incidentally
discovered that Mrs. Le Breton was positively a grocer's daughter
from a small country town, her moral indignation against the baseness
of mankind rose almost to white heat. To think that young Le Breton
should have insinuated himself into the position of third master
under false pretences--should have held out as qualifications for
the post his respectable connections, when he knew perfectly well
all the time that he was going to marry somebody who was not in
Society--it was really quite too awfully wicked and deceptive and
unprincipled of him! A very bad, dishonest young man, she was very
much afraid; a young man with no sense of truth or honour about
him, though, of course, she wouldn't say so for the world before
any of the parents, or do anything to injure the poor young fellow's
future prospects if she could possibly help it. But Mrs. Greatrex
felt sure that Ernest had come to Pilbury of malice prepense, as
part of a deep-laid scheme to injure and ruin the doctor by his
horrid revolutionary notions. 'He does it on purpose,' she used to
say; 'he talks in that way because he knows it positively shocks
and annoys us. He pretends to be very innocent all the time; but
at heart he's a malignant, jealous, uncharitable creature. I'm sure
I wish he had never come to Pilbury Regis! And to go quarrelling
with his own mother, too--the unnatural man! The only respectable
relation he had, and the only one at all likely to produce any good
or salutary effect upon intending parents!'
'My dear,' the doctor would answer apologetically, 'you're really
quite too hard upon young Le Breton. As far as school-work goes, he's
a capital master, I assure you--so conscientious, and hard-working,
and systematic. He does his very best with the boys, even with that
stupid lout, Blenkinsopp major; and he has managed to din something
into them in mathematics somehow, so that I'm sure the fifth form
will pass a better examination this term than any term since we
first came here. Now that, you know, is really a great thing, even
if he doesn't quite fall in with our preconceived social requirements.'
'I'm sure I don't know about the mathematics or the fifth form,
Joseph,' Mrs. Geatrex used to reply, with great dignity. 'That
sort of thing falls under your department, I'm aware, not under
mine. But I'm sure that for all social purposes, Mr. Le Breton
is really a great deal worse than useless. A more unchristian,
disagreeable, self-opinionated, wrong-headed, objectionable young
man I never came across in the whole course of my experience. However,
you wouldn't listen to my advice upon the subject, so it's no use
talking any longer about it. I always advised you not to take him
without further enquiry into his antecedents; and you overbore me:
you said he was so well-connected, and so forth, and would hear
nothing against him; so I wish you joy now of your precious bargain.
The only thing left for us is to find some good opportunity of
getting rid of him.'
'I like the young man, as far as he goes,' Dr. Greatrex replied
once, with unwonted spirit, 'and I won't get rid of him at all, my
dear, unless he obliges me to. He's really well meaning, in spite
of all his absurdities, and upon my word, Maria, I believe he's
thoroughly honest in his opinions.'
Mrs. Greatrex only met this flat rebellion by an indirect remark
to the effect that some people seemed absolutely destitute of the
very faintest glimmering power of judging human character.
LITERATURE, MUSIC, AND THE DRAMA.
'The Primate of Fiji' was duly accepted and put into rehearsal by
the astute and enterprising manager of the Ambiguities Theatre.
'It's a risk,' he said candidly, when he read the manuscript over,
'a decided risk, Mr. Berkeley; I acknowledge the riskiness, but I
don't mind trying it for all that. You see, you've staked everything
upon the doubtful supposition that the Public possesses a certain
amount of elementary intelligence, and a certain appreciation
of genuine original wit and humour. Your play's literature, good
literature; and that's rather a speculative element to introduce
into the regular theatre nowadays. Illegitimate, I should call it;
decidedly illegitimate--but still, perhaps, worth trying. Do you
know the story about old Simon Burbury, the horsedealer? Young Simon
says to him one morning, "Father, don't you think we might manage
to conduct this business of ours without always telling quite
so many downright lies about it?" The old man looks back at him
reproachfully, and says with a solemn shake of the head, "Ah, Simon,
Simon, little did I ever think I should live to see a son of mine
go in for speculation!" Well, my dear sir, that's pretty much how
a modern manager feels about the literary element in the drama.
The Public isn't accustomed to it, and there's no knowing how they
may take it. Shakespeare, now, they stand readily enough, because
he's an old-established and perfectly respectable family purveyor.
Sheridan, too, of course, and one play of Goldsmith's, and a trifle
or so of George Colman--all recognised and all tolerated because
of their old prescriptive respectability. But for a new author to
aim at being literary's rather presumptuous; now tell me yourself,
isn't it? Seems as if he was setting himself up for a heaven-sent
genius, and trying to sit upon the older dramatists of the present
generation. Melodrama, sensation, burlesque--that's all right
enough--perfectly legitimate; but a real literary comic opera, with
good words and good music--it IS a little strong, for a beginner,
Mr. Berkeley, you WILL acknowledge.'
'But don't you think,' Arthur answered, smiling good-humouredly at
his cynical frankness, 'an educated and cultured Public is beginning
to grow up that may, perhaps, really prefer a little literature,
provided it's made light enough and attractive enough for their
rapid digestion? Don't you think intelligent people are beginning
to get just a trifle sick of burlesque, and spectacle, and sensation,
'Why, my dear sir,' the manager answered promptly, 'that's the exact
chance on which I'm calculating when I venture to accept your comic
opera from an unknown beginner. It's clever, there's no denying
that, and I hope the fact won't be allowed to tell against it: but
the music's bright and lively; the songs are quaint and catching;
the dialogue's brisk and not too witty; and there's plenty of
business--plenty of business in it. I incline to think we can get
together a house at the Ambiguities that'll enter into the humour
of the thing, and see what your play's driving at. How did you learn
all about stage requirements, though? I never saw a beginner's
play with so little in it that was absolutely impossible.'
'I was a Shooting Star at Oxford,' Berkeley answered simply,
'so that I know something--like a despised amateur--about stage
necessities; and I've written one or two little pieces before for
private acting. Besides, Watkiss has helped me with all the technical
arrangements of the little opera.'
'It'll do,' the manager answered, more confidently; 'I won't predict
a success, because you know a manager should never prophesy unless
he knows; but I think there's a Public in London that'll take it
in, just as they took in "Caste" and "Society," twenty years back,
at the Prince of Wales's. Anyhow, I'm quite prepared to give it
a fair trial.'
On the first night, Arthur Berkeley and the Progenitor went down
in fear and trembling to the stage door of the Ambiguities. There
was a full house, and the critics were all present, in some surprise
at the temerity of this new man; for it was noised abroad already
by those who had seen the rehearsals that 'The Primate of Fiji' was
a fresh departure, after its own fashion, in the matter of English
comic opera. The curtain rose upon the chorus of mermaids, and
the first song was a decided hit. Still the Public, as becomes a
first night, maintained a dignified and critical reserve. When the
President of the Board of Trade, in full court costume, appeared
upon the scene, in the midst of the very realistic long-haired
sea-ladies, the audience was half shocked for a moment by the
utter incongruity of the situation; but after a while they began
to discover that the incongruity was part of the joke, and they
laughed quietly a sedate and moderate laugh of suspended judgment.
As the Progenitor had predicted, the gods were the first to enter
into the spirit of the fun, and to give a hand to the Primate's
first sermon. The scuntific professors on the Challenger Expedition
took the fancy of the house a little more decidedly; and even the
stalls thawed visibly when the professor of biology delivered his
famous exposition of the evolution hypothesis to the assembled
chiefs of Raratouga. But it was the one feeble second-hand old joke
of the piece that really brought pit and boxes down together in a
sudden fit of inextinguishable laughter. The professor of political
economy enquired diligently, with note book in hand, of the Princess
of Fiji, whether she thought the influence of the missionaries
beneficial or otherwise; whether she considered these preachers
of a new religion really good or not; to which the unsophisticated
child of nature responded naively, 'Good, very good--roasted; but
not quite so good boiled,' and the professor gravely entered the
answer in his philosophic note-book. It was a very ancient jest
indeed, but it tickled the ribs of the house mightily, as ancient
jests usually do, and they burst forthwith into a hearty roar of
genuine approval. Then Arthur began to breathe more freely. After
that the house toned down again quietly, and gave no decided token
of approbation till the end of the piece. When the curtain dropped
there was a lull of hushed expectation for poor Arthur Berkeley;
and at its close the house broke out into a storm of applause, and
'The Primate of Fiji' had firmly secured its position as the one
great theatrical success of the present generation.
There was a loud cry of 'Author! Author!' and Arthur Berkeley,
hardly knowing how he got there, or what he was standing on, found
himself pushed from behind by friendly hands, on to the narrow
space between the curtain and the footlights. He became aware that
a very hot and red body, presumably himself, was bowing mechanically
to a seething and clapping mass of hands and faces over the whole
theatre. Backing out again, in the same semi-conscious fashion,
with the universe generally reeling on more than one distinct axis
all around him, he was seized and hand-shaken violently, first
by the Progenitor, then by the manager, and then by half a dozen
other miscellaneous and unknown persons. At last, after a lot more
revolutions of the universe, he found himself comfortably pitched
into a convenient hansom, with the Progenitor by his side; and
hardly knew anything further till he discovered his own quiet supper
table at the Chelsea lodgings, and saw his father mixing a strong
glass of brandy and seltzer for him. to counteract the strength of
Next morning Arthur Berkeley 'awoke, and found himself famous.'
'The Primate of Fiji' was the rage of the moment. Everybody went to
hear it--everybody played its tunes at their own pianos--everybody
quoted it, and adapted it, and used its clever catchwords as the
pet fashionable slang expressions of the next three seasons. Arthur
Berkeley was the lion of the hour; and the mantelpiece of the
quiet little Chelsea study was ranged three rows deep with cards
of invitation from people whose very names Arthur had never heard
of six months before, and whom the Progenitor declared it was a
sin and shame for any respectable young man of sound economical
education even to countenance. There were countesses, and marchionesses,
too, among the senders of those coronetted parallelograms of waste
pasteboard, as the Progenitor called them--nay, there was even one
invitation on the mantelpiece that bore the three strawberry leaves
and other insignia of Her Grace the Duchess of Leicestershire.
'Can't you give us just ONE evening, Mr. Berkeley,' said Lady
Hilda Tregellis, as she sat on the centre ottoman in Mrs. Campbell
Moncrieff's drawing-room with Arthur Berkeley talking lightly
to her about the nothings which constitute polite conversation in
the nineteenth century. 'Just one evening, any day after the next
fortnight? We should be so delighted if you could manage to favour
'No, I'm afraid I can't, Lady Hilda,' Arthur answered. 'My evenings
are so dreadfully full just now; and besides, you know, I'm not
accustomed to so much society, and it unsettles me for my daily work.
After all, you see, I'm a journeyman playwright now, and I have to
labour at my unholy calling just like the theatrical carpenter.'
'How delightfully frank,' thought Lady Hilda. 'Really I like him
quite immensely.--Not even the afternoon on Wednesday fortnight?'
she went on aloud. 'You might come to our garden party on Wednesday
'Quite impossible,' Arthur Berkeley answered. 'That's my regular
day at Pilbury Regis.'
'Pilbury Regis!' cried Lady Hilda, starting a little. 'You don't
mean to say you have engagements, and in the thick of the season,
too, at Pilbury Regis!'
'Yes, I have, every Wednesday fortnight,' Berkeley answered, with
a smile. 'I go there regularly. You see, Lady Hilda, Wednesday's
a half-holiday at Pilbury Grammar School; so every second week I
run down for the day to visit an old friend of mine, who's also an
acquaintance of yours, I believe,--Ernest Le Breton. He's married
now, you know, and has got a mastership at the Pilbury Grammar
'Then you know Mr. Le Breton!' cried Lady Hilda, charmed at this
rapprochement of two delightfully original men. 'He is so nice.
I like him immensely, and I'm so glad you're a friend of his. And
Mrs. Le Breton, too; wasn't it nice of him? Tell me, Mr. Berkeley,
was she really and truly a grocer's daughter?'
Berkeley's voice grew a little stiffer and colder as he answered,
'She was a sister of Oswald of Oriel, the great mathematician, who
was killed last year by falling from the summit of a peak in the
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