Part 2 out of 8
we can hardly blame him for not seeing these things as we should
'Well, Harry, I don't know. I like them both immensely. Mr.
Berkeley's very nice, but perhaps I like Mr. Le Breton the best
of the two.'
ASKELON VILLA, GATH.
Number, 28, Epsilon Terrace, Bayswater, was one of the very smallest
houses that a person with any pretensions to move in that Society
which habitually spells itself with a capital initial could ever
possibly have dreamt of condescending to inhabit. Indeed, if
Dame Eleanor, relict of the late Sir Owen Le Breton, Knight, had
consulted merely the length of her purse and the interests of her
personal comfort, she would doubtless have found for the same rental
a far more convenient and roomy cottage in Upper Clapton or Stoke
Newington. But Lady Le Breton was a thoroughly and conscientiously
religious woman, who in all things consulted first and foremost
the esoteric interests of her ingrained creed. It was a prime
article of this cherished social faith that nobody with any shadow
of personal self-respect could endure to live under any other
postal letter than W. or S.W. Better not to be at all than to drag
out a miserable existence in the painful obscurity of N. or S.E.
Happily for people situated like Lady Le Breton, the metropolitan
house-contractor (it would be gross flattery to describe him
as a builder) has divined, with his usual practical sagacity, the
necessity for supplying this felt want for eligible family residences
at once comparatively cheap and relatively fashionable. By driving
little culs-de-sac and re-entrant alleys at the back of his larger
rows of shoddy mansions, he is enabled to run up a smaller terrace,
or crescent, or place, as the case may be, composed of tiny shallow
cottages with the narrowest possible frontage, and the tallest
possible elevation, which will yet entitle their occupiers to feel
themselves within the sacred pale of social salvation, in the blest
security of the mystic W. Narrowest, shallowest, and tallest of
these marginal Society residences is the little block of blank-faced,
stucco-fronted, porticoed rabbit-hutches, which blazons itself
forth in the Court Guide under the imposing designation of Epsilon
The interior of No. 28 in this eminently respectable back alley was
quite of a piece, it must be confessed, with the vacant Philistinism
of its naked exterior. 'Mother has really an immense amount of
taste,' Herbert Le Breton used to say, blandly, 'and all of it of
the most atrocious description; she picked it up, I believe, when
my poor father was quartered at Lahore, a station absolutely fatal
to the aesthetic faculties; and she will never get rid of it again
as long as she lives.' Indeed, when once Lady Le Breton got anything
whatsoever into her head, it was not easy for anybody else to get
it out again; you might much more readily expect to draw one of her
double teeth than to eliminate one of her pet opinions. Not that
she was a stupid or a near-sighted woman--the mother of clever
sons never is--but she was a perfectly immovable rock of social
and political orthodoxy. The three Le Breton boys--for there was
a third at home--would gladly have reformed the terrors of that
awful drawing-room if they had dared; but they knew it was as much
as their places were worth, Herbert said, to attempt a remonstrance,
and they wisely left it alone, and said nothing.
Of course the house was not vulgarly furnished, at least in the
conventional sense of the word; Lady Le Breton was far too rigid
in her social orthodoxy to have admitted into her rooms anything
that savoured of what she considered bad form, according to her
lights. It was only vulgar with the underlying vulgarity of mere
tasteless fashionable uniformity. There was nothing in it that any
well-bred footman could object to; nothing that anybody with one
grain of genuine originality could possibly tolerate. The little
occasional chairs and tables set casually about the room were of
the strictest négligé Belgravian type, a sort of studied protest
against the formal stiffness of the ordinary unused middle-class
drawing-room. The portrait of the late Sir Owen in the wee library,
presented by his brother-officers, was painted by that distinguished
R. A., Sir Francis Thomson, a light of the middle of this century;
and an excellent work of art it was too, in its own solemn academic
kind. The dining-room, tiny as it was, possessed that inevitable
Canaletti without which no gentleman's dining-room in England
is ever considered to be complete. Everything spoke at once the
stereotyped Society style of a dozen years ago (before Mr. Morris
had reformed the outer aspect of the West End), entirely free from
anything so startling or indecorous as a gleam of spontaneity in
the possessor's mind. To be sure, it was very far indeed from the
centre round-table and brilliant-flowered-table-cover style of the
utter unregenerate Philistine household; but it was further still
from the simple natural taste acd graceful fancy of Edie Oswald's
cosy little back parlour behind the village grocer's shop at
The portrait and the Canaletti were relics of Lady Le Breton's best
days, when Sir Owen was alive, and the boys were still in their
first babyhood. Sir Owen was an Indian officer of the old school,
a simple-minded, gentle, brave man, very religious after his
own fashion, and an excellent soldier, with the true Anglo-Indian
faculty for administration and organisation. It was partly from
him, no doubt, that the boys inherited their marked intelligence;
and it was wholly from him, beyond any doubt at all, that Ernest
and his younger brother Ronald inherited their moral or religious
sincerity--for that was an element in which poor formally orthodox
Lady Le Breton was wholly deficient. The good General had been
brought up in the strictest doctrines of the Clapham sect; he had
gone to India young, as a cadet from Haileybury; and he had applied
his intellect all his life long rather to the arduous task of
extending 'the blessings of British rule' to Sikhs and Ghoorkas, than
to those abstract ethical or theological questions which agitated
the souls of a later generation. If a new district had to be
assimilated in settlement to the established model of the British
raj, if a tribe of hill-savages had to be conciliated by gentler
means than rifles or bayonets, if a difficult bit of diplomatic
duty had to be performed on the debateable frontiers, Sir Owen Le
Breton was always the person chosen to undertake it. An earnest,
honest, God-fearing man he remained to the end, impressed by a
profound sense of duty as he understood it, and a firm conviction
that his true business in life consisted in serving his Queen and
country, and in bringing more and more of the native populations
within the pale of the Company's empire, and the future evangelisation
that was ultimately to follow. But during the great upheaval of
the Mutiny, he fell at the head of his own unrevolted regiment in
one of the hottest battles of that terrible time, and my Lady Le
Breton found herself left alone with three young children, on little
more than the scanty pension of a general officer's widow on the
late Company's establishment.
Happily, enough remained to bring up the boys, with the aid
of their terminable annuities (which fell in on their attaining
their majority), in decent respect for the feelings and demands of
exacting Society; and as the two elder were decidedly clever boys,
they managed to get scholarships at Oxford, which enabled them
to tide over the dangerous intermediate period as far as their
degree. Herbert then stepped at once into a fellowship and sundry
other good things of like sort; and Ernest was even now trying to
follow in his brother's steps, in this particular. Only the youngest
boy, Ronald, still remained quite unprovided for. Ronald was a
tall, pale, gentle, weakly, enthusiastic young fellow of nineteen,
with so marked a predisposition to lung disease that it had not been
thought well to let him run the chance of over-reading himself; and
so he had to be content with remaining at home in the uncongenial
atmosphere of Epsilon Terrace, instead of joining his two elder
brothers at the university. Uncongenial, because Ronald alone
followed Sir Owen in the religious half of his nature, and found
the 'worldliness' and conventionality of his unflinching mother a
serious bar to his enjoyment of home society.
'Ronald,' said my lady, at the breakfast-table on the very morning
of Arthur Berkeley's little luncheon party, 'here's a letter for
you from Mackenzie and Anderson. No doubt your Aunt Sarah's will
has been recovered and proved at last, and I hope it'll turn out
satisfactory, as we wish it.'
'For my part, I really almost hope it won't, mother,' said Ronald,
turning it over; 'for I don't want to be compelled to profit by
Ernest's excessive generosity. He's too good to me, just because he
thinks me the weaker vessel; but though we must bear one another's
burdens, you know, we should each bear his own cross as well,
shouldn't we, mother?'
'Well, it can't be much in any case,' said his mother, a little
testily, 'whoever gets it. Open the envelope at once, my boy, and
don't stand looking at it like a goose in that abstracted way.'
'Oh, mother, she was my father's only sister, and I'm not in such
a hurry to find out how she has disposed of her mere perishing
worldly goods,' answered Ronald, gravely. 'It seems to me a terrible
thing that before poor dear good Aunt Sarah is cold in her grave
almost, we should be speculating and conjecturing as to what she
has done with her poor little trifle of earthly riches.'
'It's always usual to read the will immediately after the funeral,'
said Lady Le Breton, firmly, to whom the ordinary usage of society
formed an absolutely unanswerable argument; 'and how you, Ronald,
who haven't even the common decency to wear a bit of crape around
your arm for her--a thing that Ernest himself, with all his
nonsensical theories, consents to do--can talk in that absurd way
about what's quite right and proper to be done, I for my part,
really can't imagine.'
'Ah, but you know, mother, I object to wearing crape on the ground
that it isn't allowable for us to sorrow as them that have no hope:
and I'm sure I'm paying no disrespect to dear Aunt Sarah's memory
in this matter, for she was always the first herself, you remember,
to wish that I should follow the dictates of my own conscience.'
'I remember she always upheld you in acts of opposition to your own
mother, Ronald,' Lady Le Breton said coldly, 'and I suppose you're
going to do honour to her religious precepts now by not opening
that letter when your mother tells you to do so. In MY Bible, sir,
I find a place for the Fourth Commandment.'
Ronald looked at her gently and unreprovingly; but though a quiet
smile played involuntarily around the corners of his mouth, he
resisted the natural inclination to correct her mistake, and to
suggest blandly that she probably alluded to the fifth. He knew
he must turn his left cheek also--a Christian virtue which he had
abundant opportunities of practising in that household; and he felt
that to score off his mother for such a verbal mistake as the one
she had just made would not be in keeping with the spirit of the
commandment to which, no doubt, she meant to refer him. So without
another word he opened the envelope and glanced rapidly at the
contents of the letter it enclosed.
'They've found the second will,' he said, after a moment, with a
rather husky voice, 'and they're taking steps to get it confirmed,
whatever that may be.'
'Broad Scotch for getting probate, I believe,' said Lady Le Breton,
in a slight tone of irony; for to her mind any departure from the
laws or language she was herself accustomed to use, assumed at once
the guise of a rank and offensive provincialism. 'Your poor Aunt
WOULD go and marry a Scotchman, and he a Scotch business man too;
so of course we must expect to put up with all kinds of ridiculous
technicalities and Edinburgh jargon accordingly. All law's bad
enough in the way of odd words, but commend me to Scotch law for
utter and meaningless incomprehensibility. Well, and what does
the second will say, Ronald?'
'There, mother,' cried Ronald, flinging the letter down hurriedly
with a burst of tears. 'Read it yourself, if you will, for I can't.
Poor dear Aunt Sarah, and dear, good unselfish Ernest! It makes me
cry even to think of them.'
Lady Le Breton took the paper up from the table without a word and
read it carefully through. 'I am very glad to hear it,' she said,
'very glad indeed to hear it. "And in order to guard against any
misinterpretation of my reasons for making this disposition of my
property," your Aunt says, "I wish to put it on record that I had
previously drawn up another will, bequeathing my effects to be divided
between my two nephews Ernest and Ronald Le Breton equally; that I
communicated the contents of that will"--a horrid Scotticism--"to
my nephew Ernest; and that at his express desire I have now revoked
it, and drawn up this present testament, leaving the share intended
for him to his brother Ronald." Why, she never even mentions dear
'She knew that Herbert had provided for himself,' Ronald answered,
raising his head from his hands, 'while Ernest and I were unprovided
for. But Ernest said he could fight the world for himself, while
I couldn't; and that unearned wealth ought only to be accepted
in trust for those who were incapacitated by nature or misfortune
from earning their own bread. I don't always quite agree with
all Ernest's theories any more than you do, but we must both admit
that at least he always conscientiously acts up to them himself,
mother, mustn't we?'
'It's a very extraordinary thing,' Lady Le Breton went on, 'that Aunt
Sarah invariably encouraged both you boys in all your absurdities
and Quixotisms. She was Quixotic herself at heart, that's the truth
of it, just like your poor dear father. I remember once, when we
were quartered at Meean Meer in the Punjaub, poor dear Sir Owen
nearly got into disgrace with the colonel--he was only a sub. in
those days--because he wanted to go trying to convert his syces,
which was a most imprudent thing to do, and directly opposed to
the Company's orders. Aunt Sarah was just the same. Herbert's the
only one of you three who has never given me one moment's anxiety,
and of course poor Herbert must be passed over in absolute silence.
However, I'm very glad she's left the money to you, Ronald, as
you need it the most, and Mackenzie and Anderson say it'll come to
about a hundred and sixty a year.'
'One can do a great deal of good with that much money,' said Ronald
meditatively. 'I mean, after arranging with you, mother, for the
expenses of my maintenance at home, which of course I shall do, as
soon as the pension ceases, and after meeting one's own necessary
expenditure in the way of clothing and so forth. It's more than
any one Christian man ought to spend upon himself, I'm sure.'
'It's not at all too much for a young man in your position in
society, Ronald; but there--I know you'll want to spend half of
it on indiscriminate charity. However, there'll be time enough to
talk about that when you've actually got it, thank goodness.'
Ronald murmured a few words softly to himself, of which Lady Le
Breton only caught the last echo--'laid them down at the apostles'
feet; and distribution was made unto every man according as he had
'Just like Ernest's communistic notions,' she murmured in return,
half audibly. 'I do declare, between them both, a plain woman hardly
knows whether she's standing on her head or on her heels. I live
in daily fear that one or other of them will be taken up by the
police, for being implicated in some dynamite plot or other, to blow
up the Queen or destroy the Houses of Parliament.' Ronald smiled
again, gently, but answered nothing. 'There's another letter for
you there, though, with the Exmoor coronet upon it. Why don't you
open it? I hope it's an invitation for you to go down and stop at
Dunbude for a week or two. Nothing on earth would do you so much
good as to get away for a while from your ranters and canters, and
mix occasionally in a little decent and rational society.'
Ronald took up the second letter with a sigh. He feared as much
himself, and had doleful visions of a painful fortnight to be
spent in a big country house, where the conversation would be all
concerning the slaughter of pheasants and the torture of foxes,
which his soul loathed to listen to. 'It's from Lady Hilda,' he
said, glancing through it, 'and it ISN'T an invitation after all.'
He could hardly keep down a faint tone of gratification as he
discovered this reprieve. 'Here's what she says:--
'"DEAR MR. LE BRETON,--Mamma wishes me to write and tell you that
Lynmouth's tutor, Mr. Walsh, is going to leave us at Christmas,
and she thinks it just possible that one of your two brothers at
Oxford might like to come down to Dunbude and give us their kind
aid in taking charge of Lynmouth. He's a dreadful pickle, as you
know; but we are very anxious to get somebody to look after him in
whom mamma can have perfect confidence. We don't know your brothers'
addresses or we would have written to them direct about it. Perhaps
you will kindly let them hear this suggestion; and if they think
the matter worth while, we might afterwards arrange details as to
business and so forth. With kind regards to Lady Le Breton, believe
'"Yours very sincerely,
'My dear Ronald,' said Lady Le Breton, much more warmly than before,
'this is really quite providential. Are they at Dunbude now?'
'No, mother. She writes from Wilton Place. They're up in town for
Lord Exmoor's gout, I know. I heard they were on Sunday.'
'Then I shall go and see Lady Exmoor this very morning about it.
It's exactly the right place for Ernest. A little good society
will get rid of all his nonsensical notions in a month or two. He's
lived too exclusively among his radical set at Oxford. And then
it'll be such a capital thing for him to be in the house continually
with Hilda; she's a girl of such excellent tone. I fancy--I'm not
quite sure, but I fancy--that Ernest has a decided taste for the
company of people, and even of young girls, who are not in Society.
He's so fond of that young man Oswald, who Herbert tells me is
positively the son of a grocer--yes, I'm sure he said a grocer!--and
it seems, from what Herbert writes me, that this Oswald has brought
a sister of his up this term from behind the counter, on purpose
to set her cap at Ernest. Now you boys have, unfortunately, no
sisters, and therefore you haven't seen as much of girls of a good
stamp--not daily and domestically I mean--as is desirable for you,
from the point of view of Society. But if Ernest can only be induced
to take this tutorship at the Exmoors', he'll have an opportunity
of meeting daily with a really nice girl, like Hilda; and though
of course it isn't likely that Hilda would take a fancy to her
brother's tutor--the Exmoors are such VERY conservative people
in matters of rank and wealth and family and so forth--quite
un-Christianly so, I consider--yet it can't fail to improve Ernest's
tone a great deal, and raise his standard of female society generally.
It's really a very distressing thought to me, Ronald, that all my
boys, except dear Herbert, should show such a marked preference for
low and vulgar companionship. It seems to me, you both positively
prefer as far as possible the society of your natural inferiors.
There's Ernest must go and take up with the friendship of that
snuffy old German Socialist glass-cutter; while you are always
running after your Plymouth Brethren and your Bible Christians,
and your other ignorant fanatical people, instead of going with
me respectably to St. Alphege's to hear the dear Archdeacon! It's
very discouraging to a mother, really, very discouraging.'
DOWN THE RIVER.
'Berkeley couldn't come to-day, Le Breton: it's Thursday, of
course: I forgot about it altogether,' Oswald said, on the barge
at Salter's. 'You know he pays a mysterious flying visit to town
every Thursday afternoon--to see an imprisoned lady-love, I always
'It's very late in the season for taking ladies on the water, Miss
Oswald,' said Ernest, putting his oar into the rowlock, and secretly
congratulating himself on the deliverance; 'but better go now than
not see Iffley church and Nuneham woods at all. You ought to have
come up in summer term, and let us have the pleasure of showing you
over the place when it was in its full leafy glory. May's decidedly
the time to see Oxford to the greatest advantage.'
'So Harry tells me, and he wanted me to come up then, but it wasn't
convenient for them at home to spare me just at that moment, so I
was obliged to put it off till late in the autumn. I have to help
my mother a good deal in the house, you know, and I can't always
go dancing about the world whenever I should like to. Which string
must I pull, Harry, to make her turn into the middle of the river?
She always seems to twist round the exact way I don't want her to.'
'Right, right, hard right,' cried Harry irom the bow--they were in
a tub pair bound down the river for Iffley. 'Keep to the Oxfordshire
shore as far as the willows; then cross over to the Berkshire. Le
Breton'll tell you when and where to change sides; he knows the
river as well as I do.'
'That'll do splendidly for the present,' Ernest said, looking
ahead over his shoulder. 'Mind the flags there; don't go too near
the corner. You certainly ought to see these meadows in early
spring, when the fritillaries are all out over the spongy places,
Miss Oswald. Has your brother ever sent you any of the fritillaries?'
'What? snake-heads? Oh, boxes full of them. They're lovely flowers,
but not lovelier than our own Devonshire daffodils. You should see
a Devonshire water-meadow in April! Why don't you come down some
time to Calcombe Pomeroy? It's the dearest little peaceful seaside
corner in all England.'
Harry bit his lip, for he was not over-fond of bringing people down
to spy out his domestic sanctities; but Ernest answered cordially,
'I should like it above everything in the world, Miss Oswald. If
you will let me, I certainly shall as soon as possible. Mind, quick,
get out of the way of that practising eight, or we shall foul her!
Left, as hard as you can! That'll do. The cox was getting as red
as a salamander, till he saw it was a lady steering. When coxes
catch a man fouling them, their language is apt to be highly
unparliamentary.--Yes, I shall try to get away to Calcombe as soon
as ever I can manage to leave Oxford. It wouldn't surprise me if
I were to run down and spend Christmas there.'
'You'd find it as dull as ditch-water at Christmas, Le Breton,'
said Harry. 'Much better wait till next summer.'
'I'm sure I don't think so, Harry dear,' Edie interrupted, with that
tell-tale blush of hers. 'If Mr. Le Breton wants to come then, I
believe he'd really find it quite delightful. Of course he wouldn't
expect theatres, or dances, or anything like that, in a country
village; and we're dreadfully busy just about Christmas day itself,
sending out orders, and all that sort of thing,'--Harry bit his
lip again:--'but if you don't mind a very quiet place and a very
quiet time, Mr. Le Breton, I don't think myself our cliffs ever look
grander, or our sea more impressive, than in stormy winter weather.'
'I wish to goodness she wasn't so transparently candid and guileless,'
thought Harry to himself. 'I never CAN teach her duly to respect
the prejudices of Pi. Not that it matters twopence to Le Breton,
of course: but if she talks that way to any of the other men here,
they'll be laughing in every common-room in Oxford over my Christmas
raisins and pounds of sugar--commonplace cynics that they are.
I must tell her about it the moment we get home again, and adjure
her by all that's holy not to repeat the indiscretion.'
'A penny for your thoughts, Harry,' cried Edie, seeing by his look
that she had somehow vexed him. 'What are you thinking of?'
'Thinking that all Oxford men are horrid cynics,' said Harry, boldly
shaming the devil.
'Why are they?' Edie asked.
'I suppose because it's an inexpensive substitute for wit or
intellect,' Harry answered. 'Indeed, I'm a bit of a cynic myself,
I believe, for the same reason and on strictly economical principles.
It saves one the trouble of having any intelligible or original
opinion of one's own upon any subject.'
Below Iffley Lock they landed for half an hour, in order to give
Edie time for a pencil sketch of the famous old Norman church-tower,
with its quaint variations on the dog-tooth ornament, and its
ancient cross and mouldering yew-tree behind. Harry sat below in
the boat, propped on the cushions, reading the last number of the
'Nineteenth Century;' Ernest and Edie took their seat upon the
bank above, and had a first chance of an unbroken tête-à-tête.
'How delicious to live in Oxford always!' said Edie, sketching in
the first outline of the great round arches. 'I would give anything
to have the opportunity of settling here for life. Some day I shall
make Harry set up house, and bring me up here as his housekeeper:--I
mean,' she added with a blush, thinking of Harry's warning look
just before, 'as soon as they can spare me from home.' She purposely
avoided saying 'when they retire from business,' the first phrase
that sprang naturally to her simple little lips. 'Let me see, Mr.
Le Breton; you haven't got any permanent appointment here yourself,
'Oh no,' Ernest answered: 'no appointment of any sort at all, Miss
Oswald. I'm loitering up casually on the look-out for a fellowship.
I've been in for two or three already, but haven't got them.'
'Why didn't you?' asked Edie, with a look of candid surprise.
'I suppose I wasn't clever enough,' Ernest answered simply. 'Not
so clever, I mean, as the men who actually got them.'
'Oh, but you MUST be,' Edie replied confidently; 'and a great deal
cleverer, too, I'm sure. I know you must, because Harry told me
you were one of the very cleverest men in the whole 'Varsity. And
besides, I see you are, myself. And Harry says most of the men who
get fellowships are really great donkeys.'
'Harry must have been talking in one of those cynical moods he
told us about,' said Ernest, laughing. 'At any rate, the examiners
didn't feel satisfied with my papers, and I've never got a fellowship
yet. Perhaps they thought my political economy just a trifle too
advanced for them.'
'You may depend upon it, that's it,' said Edie, jumping at the
conclusion with the easy omniscience of a girl of nineteen. 'Next
time, make your political economy a little more moderate, you
know, without any sacrifice of principle, just to suit them. What
fellowship are you going in for now?'
'Pembroke, in November.'
'Oh, I do hope you'll get it.'
'Thank you very much. So do I. It would be very nice to have one.'
'But of course it won't matter so much to you as it did to Harry.
Your family are such very great people, aren't they?'
Ernest smiled a broad smile at her delicious simplicity. 'If by
very great people you mean rich,' he said, 'we couldn't very well
be poorer--for people of our sort, I mean. My mother lives almost
entirely on her pension; and we boys have only been able to come
up to Oxford, just as Harry was, by the aid of our scholarships. If
we hadn't saved in our first two years, while we had our government
allowances, we shouldn't have been able to stop up for our degrees
at all. So if I don't get a fellowship I shall have to take
to school-mastering or something of the sort, for a livelihood.
Indeed, this at Pembroke will be my very last chance, for I can't
hold on much longer.'
'And if you got a fellowship you could never marry, could you?'
asked Edie, going on with her work.
'Not, while I held it, certainly. But I wouldn't hold it long. I
regard it only as a makeshift for a time. Unhappily, I don't know
how to earn my own bread by the labour of my hands, as I think we
ought all to do in a well-constituted society; so unless I choose
to starve (about the rightfulness of which I don't feel quite certain),
I MUST manage somehow to get over the interval. But as soon as I
could I would try to find some useful work to do, in which I could
repay society the debt I owe it for my bringing up. You see, I've
been fed and educated by a Government grant, which of course came
out of the taxes--your people have had to help, whether they would
or not, in paying for my board and lodging--and I feel that I owe
it as a duty to the world to look out some employment in which I
could really repay it for the cost of my maintenance.'
'How funnily you do look at everything, Mr. Le Breton,' said Edie.
'It would never have struck me to think of a pension from the army
in that light. And yet of course it's the right light; only we don't
most of us take the trouble to go to the bottom of things, as you
do. But what will you do if you don't get the fellowship?'
'In that case, I've just heard from my mother that she would like
me to take a tutorship at Lord Exmoor's,' Ernest answered. 'Lynmouth,
their eldest son, was my junior at school by six or seven years,
and now he's going to prepare for Christ Church. I don't quite know
whether it's a right place for me to accept or not; but I shall ask
Max Schurz about it, if I don't get Pembroke. I always take Herr
Max's advice in all questions of conscience, for I'm quite sure
whatever he approves of is the thing one ought to do for the greatest
good of humanity.'
'Harry told me about Herr Schurz,' Edie said, filling in the details
of the doorway. 'He thinks him a very earnest, self-convinced,
good old man, but a terrible revolutionist. For my part, I believe
I rather like revolutionists, provided, of course, they don't cut
off people's heads. Harry made me read Carlyle, and I positively
fell in love with Camille Desmoulins; only I don't really think he
ought to have approved of QUITE so much guillotining, do you? But
why shouldn't you take the tutorship at the Exmoors'?'
'Oh, because it isn't a very useful work in the world to prepare a
young hereditary loafer like Lynmouth for going to Christ Church.
Lynmouth will be just like his father when he grows up--an amiable
wholesale partridge-slayer; and I don't see that the world at large
will be any the better or the worse off for his being able to grope
his way somehow through two plays of Sophocles and the first six
books of Euclid. If only one were a shoemaker now! What a delightful
thing to sit down at the end of a day and say to oneself, "I have
made two pairs of good, honest boots for a fellow-mortal this
week, and now I deserve to have my supper!" Still, it'll be better,
anyway, than doing nothing at all, and living off my mother.'
'If you went to Dunbude, when would you go?'
'After the Christmas vacation, I suppose, from what Lady Hilda
'Lady Hilda? Oh, so there's a sister, is there?'
'Yes. A very pretty girl, about twenty, I should say, and rather
clever too, I believe. My mother knows them a little.'
Poor little Edie! What made her heart jump so at the mere mention
of Lady Hilda? and what made the last few strokes at the top
of the broken yew-tree look so very weak and shaky? How absurd of
herself, she thought, to feel so much moved at hearing that there
was another girl in the world whom Ernest might possibly fall in
love with! And yet she had never even seen Ernest only ten days
ago! Lady Hilda! What a grand name, to be sure, and what a grand
person she must be. And then Ernest himself belonged by birth to
the same class! For in poor little Edie's mind, innocent as she was
of the nice distinctions of the peerage, Lady So-and-So was Lady
So-and-So still, whoever she might be, from the wife of a premier
marquis to the wife of the latest created knight bachelor. To
her, Lady Hilda Tregellis and Lady Le Breton were both 'ladies of
title'; and the difference between their positions, which seemed
so immense to Ernest, seemed nothing at all to the merry little
country girl who sat sketching beside him. After all, how could
she ever have even vaguely fancied that such a young man as Ernest,
in spite of all his socialistic whims, would ever dream of caring
for a girl of the people like her? No doubt he would go to the
Exmoors', fall naturally in love with Lady Hilda, and marry decorously
in what Edie considered his own proper sphere of life! She went
on with the finishing touches of her little picture in silence, and
folded it up into the tiny portfolio at last with a half-uttered
sigh. So her poor wee castle in the air was knocked down before
she had begun to build it up in any real seriousness, and she turned
to join Harry in the boat almost without speaking.
'I hope you'll get the Pembroke fellowship,' she said again, a
little later, as they rowed onward down the river to Nuneham. 'But
in any case, Mr. Le Breton, you mustn't forget you've half promised
to come and look us up at Calcombe Pomeroy in the Christmas vacation.'
Ernest smiled, and nodded acquiescence.
Meanwhile, on that same Thursday afternoon, Arthur Berkeley had
gone up from Oxford by the fast train to Paddington, as was his
weekly wont, and had dived quickly down one of the small lanes that
open out from the left-hand side of Praed Street. He walked along
it for a little way, humming an air to himself as he went, and
then stopped at last in front of a small, decent brick house, with
a clean muslin blind across the window (clean muslin forms a notable
object in most London back streets), and a printed card hanging from
the central pane, bearing the inscription, 'G. Berkeley, Working
Shoemaker.--The Trade supplied with Ready-closed Uppers.' At the
window a beaming face was watching for his appearance, and Arthur
said to himself as he saw it through the curtain, 'The dear old
Progenitor's looking better again this week, God bless him!' In a
moment he had opened the door, and greeted his father in the old
boyish fashion, with an honest kiss on either cheek. They had kissed
one another so whenever they met from Arthur's childhood upward;
and the Oxford curate had never felt himself grown too much of a
man to keep up a habit which seemed to him by far the most sacred
thing in his whole existence.
'Well, father dear, I needn't ask you how you are to-day,' said
Arthur, seating himself comfortably in the second easy-chair of
the trim little workshop parlour. 'I can see at once you're a good
deal better. Any more pain in the head and eyes, eh, or any trouble
about the forehead?'
The old shoemaker passed his hand over his big, bulging brow, bent
outward as it is so often in men of his trade by the constant habit
of stooping over their work, and said briskly, 'No, Artie, my boy,
not a sign of it this week--not a single sign of it. I've been
taking a bit of holiday, you see, and it's done me a lot of good,
I can tell you;--made me feel another man entirely. I've been
playing my violin till the neighbours began to complain of it; and
if I hadn't asked them to come and hear me tune up a bit, I really
believe they'd have been having me up before the magistrate for a
'That's right, Daddy dear; I'm always glad when you've been having
a little music. It does you more good than anything. And the jelly--I
hope you've eaten the jelly?'
'Oh, I've eaten it right enough, Artie, thank your dear heart;
and the soup too, dearie. Came by a boy from Walters's every day,
addressed to "Berkeley, Esquire, 42 Whalley Street;" and the boy
wouldn't leave it the first day, because he thought there must
have been a mistake about the address. His contention was that a
journeyman shoemaker wasn't an esquire; and my contention was that
the "Berkeley" was essential, and the "Esquire" accidental, which
was beyond his logic, bless you, Artie; for I've often noticed, my
son, that your errand-boy is a naturally illogical and contradictory
creature. Now, shoemakers aren't, you know. I've always taken a just
pride in the profession, and I've always asserted that it develops
logic; it develops logic, Artie, or else why are all cobblers good
Liberals, I should like to know? Eh, can you tell me that; with
all your Oxford training, sir, can you tell me that?'
'It develops logic beyond the possibility of a doubt. Daddy;
and it develops a good kind heart as well,' said Arthur, smiling.
'And it develops musical taste, and literary talent, and a marked
predilection for the beautiful in art and nature. In fact, whenever
I meet a good man of any sort, anywhere, I always begin now by
inquiring which of his immediate ancestors can have been a journeyman
shoemaker. Depend upon it, Daddy, there's nothing like leather.'
'There you are, poking fun at your poor old Progenitor again,' said
the old cobbler, with a merry twinkle in the corner of his eye.
'If it weren't for the jelly, and the natural affections always
engendered by shoemaking, I think I should almost feel inclined to
cut you off with a shilling, Artie, my boy--to cut you off with a
shilling. Well, Artie, I'm quite convalescent now (don't you call
it? I'm afraid of my long shoemaker's words before you, nowadays,
you've grown so literary; for I suppose parsons are more literary
than even shoemakers). I'm quite convalescent now, and I think, my
boy, I must get to work again this week, and have no more of your
expensive soups and jellies. If I didn't keep a sharp look-out
upon you, Artie, lad, I believe you'd starve yourself outright up
there at Oxford to pamper your poor old useless father here with
luxuries he's never been accustomed to in his whole life.'
'My dear simple old Progenitor, you don't know how utterly you're
mistaken,' cried Arthur, eagerly. 'I believe I'm really the most
selfish and unnatural son in all Christendom. I'm positively
rolling in wealth up there at Magdalen; I've had my room papered
again since you saw it last long vacation; and I live like a prince,
absolutely like a Russian prince, upon my present income. I assure
you on my solemn word of honour, Father, that I eat meat for
lunch--that's my dinner--every day; and an egg for tea as regular
as clockwork. I often think when I look around my palatial rooms
in college, what a shame it is that I should let you, who are worth
ten of me, any day, live any longer in a back street up here in
London; and I won't allow it, Daddy, I really won't allow it from
this day forth, I'm determined. I've come up especially to speak
to you about it this afternoon, for I've made up my mind that
this abnormal state of things can't continue.'--'Very good word,
abnormal,' murmured his father.--'And I've also made up my mind,'
Arthur said, almost firmly, for him, 'that you shall come up and
live at Oxford. I can't bear having you so far away from me, now
that you're weaker than you used to be, Father dear, and so often
The old shoemaker laughed aloud. 'Oh no, Artie, my boy,' he
said cheerily, shaking his head with a continuous series of merry
chuckles. 'It won't do at all, it won't do, I assure you. I may be
a terrible free-thinker and all that kind of thing, as the neighbours
say I am--poor bodies, they never read a word of modern criticism
in their lives, heaven bless 'em--stragglers from the march of
intellect, mere stragglers--but I've too much respect for the cloth
to bring a curate of St. Fredegond's into such disgrace as that
would mean for you, Artie. You shan't have your career at Oxford
spoiled by its being said of you that your father was a working
shoemaker. What with the ready-closed uppers, and what with your
ten shillings a week, and what with all the presents you give me,
and what with the hire of the piano, I'm as comfortable as ever I
want to be, growing into a gentleman in my old age, Artie, and I
even begin to have my doubts as to whether it's quite consistent
in me as a good Radical to continue my own acquaintance with
myself--I'm getting to be such a regular idle do-nothing aristocrat!
Go to Oxford and mend shoes, indeed, with you living there as a
full-fledged parson in your own rooms at Magdalen! No, no, I won't
hear of it. I'll come up for a day or two in long vacation, my boy,
as I've always done hitherto, and take a room in Holywell, and look
in upon you a bit, accidentally, so as not to shame you before the
scouts (who are a servile set of flunkeys, incapable of understanding
the elevated feelings of a journeyman shoemaker); but I wouldn't
dream of going to live in the place, any more than I'd dream of
asking to be presented at court on the occasion of my receiving a
commission for a pair of evening shoes for the Queen's head footman.'
'Father,' said Arthur, smiling, 'you're absolutely incorrigible. Such
a dreadful old rebel against all constituted authority, human and
divine, I never did meet in the course of my existence, I believe
you're really capable of arguing a point of theology against an
archbishop. But I don't want you to come up to Oxford as a shoemaker;
I mean you to come up and live with me in rooms of our own, out
of college. Whenever I think of you, dear Father--you, who are
so infinitely nobler, and better, and truer, and more really a
gentleman than any other than I ever knew in my life--whenever I
think of you, coming secretly up to Oxford as if you were ashamed
of yourself, and visiting your own son by stealth in his rooms in
college as if you were a dun coming to ask him for money, instead
of the person whom he delights to honour--whenever I think of it,
Father, it makes my cheeks burn with shame, and I loathe myself for
ever allowing you so to bemean your own frank, true, noble nature.
I oughtn't to permit it, Father, I oughtn't to permit it; and I
won't permit it any longer.'
'Well, you never would have permitted it, Artie, if I hadn't compelled
you; for I've got all the prudence and common sense of the family
bottled up here in my own forehead,' said the old man, tapping
his bulging brow significantly. 'I don't deny that Oxford may be
an excellent school for Greek and Latin, and philosophy, and so
forth; but if you want prudence and sagacity and common-sense it's
a well-known fact that there's nothing like the practice of making
ready-closed uppers, sir, to develop 'em. If I'd taken your advice,
my boy, I'd have come up to visit you when you were an undergraduate,
and ruined your prospects at the very outset. No, no, Artie, I shall
stop here, and stick to my last, my dear boy, stick to my last, to
the end of all things.'
'You shall do nothing of the sort, Daddy; that I'm determined upon,'
Arthur cried vehemently. 'I'm not going to let you do any more
shoemaking. The time has come when you must retire, and devote all
your undivided energies to the constant study of modern criticism.
Whether you come to Oxford or stop in London, I've made up my mind
that you shan't do another stroke of work as long as you live. Look
here, dear old Daddy, I'm getting to be a perfect millionaire, I
assure you. Do you see this fiver? well, I got that for knocking
out that last trashy little song for Fradelli; and it cost me no
more trouble to compose it than to sit down and write the score out
on a sheet of ruled paper. I'm as rich as Croesus--made a hundred
and eighty pounds last year, and expect to make over two hundred
this one. Now, if a man with that perfectly prodigious fortune
can't afford to keep his own father in comfort and affluence, what
an absolute Sybarite and gourmand of a fellow he must be himself.'
'It's a lot of money, certainly, Artie,' said the old shoemaker,
turning it over thoughtfully: 'two hundred pounds is a lot of money;
but I doubt very much whether it's more than enough to keep you up
to the standard of your own society, up there at Oxford. As John
Stuart Mill says, these things are all comparative to the standard
of comfort of your class. Now, Artie, I believe you have to stint
yourself of things that everybody else about you has at Oxford, to
keep me in luxuries I was never used to.'
'My dear Dad, it's only of the nature of a repayment,' cried Arthur,
earnestly. 'You slaved and sacrificed and denied yourself when I
was a boy to send me to school, without which I would never have
got to Oxford at all; and you taught me music in your spare hours
(when you had any); and I owe everything I have or am or ever will
be to your unceasing and indefatigable kindness. So now you've
got to take repayment whether you will or not, for I insist upon
it. And if you won't come up to Oxford, which perhaps would be an
uncongenial place for you in many ways, I'll tell you what I'll do,
Daddy; I'll look out for a curacy somewhere in London, and we'll
take a little house together, and I'll furnish it nicely, and there
we shall live, sir, whatever you say, so not another word about
it. And now I want you to listen to the very best thing I've ever
composed, and tell me what you think of it.'
He sat down to the little hired cottage piano that occupied the
corner of the neat small room, and began to run his deft fingers
lightly over the keys. It was the Butterfly fantasia. The father
sat back in his red easy-chair, listening with all his ears, first
critically, then admiringly, at last enthusiastically. As Arthur's
closing notes died away softly towards the end, the old shoemaker's
delight could be restrained no longer. 'Artie,' he cried, gloating
over it, 'that's music! That's real music! You're quite right, my
boy; that's far and away the best thing you've ever written. It's
exquisite--so light, so airy, so unearthlike. But, Artie, there's
more than that in it. There's soul in it; and I know what it means.
You don't deceive your poor old Progenitor in a matter of musical
inspiration, I can tell you. I know where you got that fantasia
from as well as if I'd seen you getting it. You got it out of your
own heart, my boy, out of your own heart. And the thing it says to me
as plain as language is just this--you're in love! You're in love,
Artie, and there's no good denying it. If any man ever wrote that fantasia
without being in love at the time--first love--ecstasy--tremor--tiptoe
of expectation--why, then, I tell you, music hasn't got such a
thing as a tongue or a meaning in it.'
Arthur looked at him gently and smiled, but said nothing.
'Will you tell me about her, Artie?' asked the old man, caressingly,
laying his hand upon his son's arm.
'Not now, Father; not just now, please. Some other time, perhaps,
but not now. I hardly know about it myself, yet. It may be
something--it may be nothing; but, at any rate, it was peg enough
to hang a fantasia upon. You've surprised my little secret, Father,
and I dare say it's no real secret at all, but just a passing whiff
of fancy. If it ever comes to anything, you shall know first of
all the world about it. Now take out your violin, there's a dear
old Dad, and give me a tune upon it.'
The father took the precious instrument from its carefully covered
case with a sort of loving reverence, and began to play a piece
of Arthur's own composition. From the moment the bow touched the
chords it was easy enough to see whence the son got his musical
instincts. Old George Berkeley was a born musician, and he could
make his violin discourse to him with rare power of execution.
There they sat, playing and talking at intervals, till nearly eight,
when Arthur went out hurriedly to catch the last train to Oxford,
and left the old shoemaker once more to his week's solitude. 'Not
for much longer,' the curate whispered to himself, as he got into
his third-class carriage quickly; 'not for much longer, if I can
help it. A curacy in or near London's the only right thing for me
to look out for!'
November came, and with it came the Pembroke fellowship examination.
Ernest went in manfully, and tried hard to do his best; for
somehow, in spite of the immorality of fellowships, he had a sort
of floating notion in his head that he would like to get one,
because he was beginning to paint himself a little fancy picture
of a home that was to be, with a little fairy Edie flitting through
it, and brightening it all delightfully with her dainty airy
presence. So he even went so far as to mitigate considerably the
native truculence of his political economy paper, after Edie's
advice--not, of course, by making any suggestion of opinions he did
not hold, but by suppressing the too-prominent expression of those
he actually believed in. Max Schurz's name was not once mentioned
throughout the whole ten or twelve pages of closely written foolscap;
'Gold and the Proletariate' was utterly ignored; and in place of
the strong meat served out for men by the apostles of socialism in
the Marylebone dancing-saloon, Ernest dished up for his examiner's
edification merely such watery milk for babes as he had extracted
from the eminently orthodox economical pages of Fawcett, Mill, and
Thorold Rogers. He went back to his rooms, satisfied that he had
done himself full justice, and anxiously waited for the result to
be duly announced on the Saturday morning.
Was it that piece of Latin prose, too obviously modelled upon the
Annals of Tacitus, while the senior tutor was a confirmed Ciceronian,
with the Second Philippic constitutionally on the brain? Was
it the Greek verse, containing one senarius with a long syllable
before the caesura in the fifth foot, as Herbert pointed out to
his brother on the very evening when that hideous oversight--say
rather crime--had been openly perpetrated in plain black and white
on a virgin sheet of innocent paper? Was it some faint ineffaceable
savour of the Schurzian economics, peeping through in spite of all
disguises, like the garlic in an Italian ragout, from under the
sedulous cloak of Ricardo's theory of rent? Was it some flying
rumour, extra-official, and unconnected with the examination in
any way, to the effect that young Le Breton was a person of very
dubious religious, political, and social orthodoxy? Or was it merely
that fortunate dispensation of Providence whereby Oxford almost
invariably manages to let her best men slip unobserved through her
fingers, and so insures a decent crop of them to fill up her share
of the passing vacancies in politics, literature, science, and art?
Heaven or the Pembroke examiners alone can answer these abstruse
and difficult questions; but this much at least is certain, that
when Ernest Le Breton went into the Pembroke porter's lodge on the
predestined Saturday, he found another name than his placarded upon
the notice board, and turned back, sick at heart and disappointed,
to his lonely lodgings. There he spent an unhappy hour or two, hewing
down what remained of his little aerial castle off-hand; and then
he went out for a solitary row upon the upper river, endeavouring
to work off his disappointment like a man, with a good hard spell
of muscular labour.
Edie had already returned to Calcombe-Pomeroy, so in the evening
he went to tell his misfortune to Harry Oswald. Harry was really
sorry to hear it, for Ernest was his best friend in Oxford, and
he had hoped to have him settled close by. 'You'll stop up and
try again for Christ Church in February, won't you, Le Breton?' he
'No,' said Ernest, shaking his head a little gloomily; 'I don't
think I will. It's clear I'm not up to the Oxford standard for a
fellowship, and I couldn't spend another term in residence without
coming down upon my mother to pay my expenses--a thing she can't
easily afford to do. So I suppose I must fall back for the present
upon the Exmoor tutorship. That'll give me time to look about me,
till I can get something else to do; and after all, it isn't a bit
more immoral than a fellowship, when one comes to look it fairly
in the face. However, I shall go first and ask Herr Max's opinion
upon the matter.'
'I'm going to spend a fortnight in town in the Christmas vac,'
said Oswald, 'and I should like to go with you to Max's again, if
Ernest coloured up a little, for he would have liked to invite Oswald
to his mother's house; and yet he felt there were two reasons why
he should not do so; he must himself be dependent this time upon
his mother's hospitality, and he didn't think Lady Le Breton would
be perfectly cordial in her welcome to Harry Oswald.
In the end, however, it was arranged that Harry should engage rooms
at his former lodgings in London, and that Ernest should take him
once more to call upon the old socialist when he went to consult
him on the question of conscience.
'For my part, Ernest,' said Lady Le Breton to her son, the morning
after his return from Oxford, 'I'm not altogether sorry you didn't
get this Pembroke fellowship. It would have kept you among the
same set you are at present mixing in for an indefinite period.
Of course now you'll accept Lady Exmoor's kind proposal. I saw her
about it the same morning we got Hilda's letter; and she offers
200L. a year, which, of course, is mere pocket money, as your board
and lodging are all found for you, so to speak, and you'll have
nothing to do but to dress and amuse yourself.'
'Well, mother, I shall see about it. I'm going to consult Herr
Schurz upon the subject this morning.'
'Herr Schurz!' said Lady Le Breton, in her bitterest tone of irony.
'It appears to me you make that snuffy old German microscope man
your father confessor. It's very disagreeable to a mother to find
that her sons, instead of taking her advice about what is most
material to their own interests, should invariably go to confer
with communist refugees and ignorant ranters. Ronald, what is your
programme, if you please, for this morning's annoyance?'
Ronald, with the fear of the fifth commandment steadily before
his eyes, took no notice of the last word, and answered calmly,
'You know, mother, this is the regular day for the mission-house
'The mission-house prayer-meeting! I know nothing of the sort, I
assure you. I don't keep a perfect calendar in my mind of all your
meetings and your religious engagements. Then I suppose I must go
alone to the Waltons' to see Mr. Walton's water-colours?'
'I'll give up the prayer-meeting, if you wish it,' Ronald answered,
with his unvarying meekness. 'Only, I'm afraid I must walk very
slowly. My cough's rather bad this morning.'
'No, no,' Ernest put in, 'you mustn't dream of going, Ronald;
I couldn't allow you to walk so far on any account. I'll put off
my engagement with Oswald, who was going with me to Herr Schurz's,
and I'll take you round to the Waltons', mother, whenever you like.'
'Dear me, dear me,' moaned Lady Le Breton, piteously, pretending
to wring her hands in lady-like and mitigated despair; 'I can't
do anything without its being made the opportunity for a scene, it
seems. I shall NOT go to the Waltons'; and I shall leave you both
to follow your own particular devices to your heart's content. I'm
sorry I proposed anything whatsoever, I'm sure, and I shall take
care never to do such an imprudent thing again.' And her ladyship
walked in her stateliest and most chilly manner out of the freezing
'It's a great cross, living always with poor mother, Ernest,' said
Ronald, his eyes filling with tears as he spoke; 'but we must try
to bear with her, you know, for after all she leads a very lonely
life herself, because she's so very unsympathetic.' Ernest took
the spare white hand in his and smoothed it compassionately. 'My
dear, dear Ronald,' he said, 'I know it's hard for you. I must try
the best I can to make it a little easier!'
They walked together as far as the mission-house, arm in arm, for
though in some things the two young Le Bretons were wide apart
as the poles, in others they were fundamentally at one in inmost
spirit; and even Ronald, in spite of his occasional little narrow
sectarianisms, felt the underlying unity of purpose no less than
Ernest. He was one of those enthusiastic ethereal natures which
care little for outer forms or ceremonies, and nothing at all for
churches and organisations, but love to commune as pure spirit
with pure spirit, living every day a life of ecstatic spirituality,
and never troubling themselves one whit about theological controversy
or established religious constitutions. As long as Ronald Le Breton
could read his Greek Testament every morning, and talk face to
face in their own tongue with the Paul of First Corinthians or the
John of the Epistles, in the solitude of his own bedroom, he was
supremely indifferent about the serious question, of free-will
and fore-knowledge, or about the important question of apostolical
succession, or even about that other burning question of eternal
punishment, which was just then setting his own little sect of
Apostolic Christian Missioners roundly by the ears. These things
seemed to his enthusiastic mind mere fading echoes of an alien
language; all that he himself really cared for in religion was the
constant sense of essential personal communion with that higher
Power which spoke directly to his soul all day long and always; or
the equally constant sense of moral exaltation which he drew from
the reading of the written Word in its own original language. He
had never BECOME an Apostolic Christian; he had grown up to be one,
unconsciously to himself. 'Your son Ronald's religion, my dear
Lady Le Breton,' Archdeacon Luttrell used often to say, 'is, I
fear, too purely emotional. He cannot be made to feel sufficiently
the necessity for a sound practical grasp of doctrinal Christianity.'
To Ronald himself, he might as well have talked about the necessity
for a sound practical grasp of doctrinal Buddhism. And if Ronald
had really met a devout Buddhist, he would doubtless have found,
after half an hour's conversation, that they were at one in everything
save the petty matter of dialect and vocabulary.
At Oswald's lodging, Ernest found his friend ready and waiting for
him. They went on together to the same street in Marylebone as
before, and mounted the stair till they reached Herr Schurz's gloomy
little work-room on the third floor. The old apostle was seated
at his small table by the half-open window, grinding the edges of
a lens to fit the brass mounting at his side; while his daughter
Uta, a still good-looking, quiet, broad-faced South German woman,
about forty or a little more, sat close by, busily translating a
scientific book into English by alternate reading and consultation
with her father. Harry saw the title on her page was 'Researches
into the Embryology of the Isopodal Crustaceans,' and conceived
at once an immense respect for the learning and wisdom of the
communist exile's daughter. Herr Schurz hardly stopped a moment
from his work--he never allowed his numerous visitors to interfere
in any way with his daily duties--but motioned them both to seats
on the bare bench beside him, and waited to bear the nature of
their particular business. It was an understood thing that no one
came to see the Socialist leader on week days except for a good
and sufficient reason.
The talk at first was general and desultory; but after a little time
Ernest brought conversation round to its proper focus, and placed
his case of conscience fairly before his father confessor. Was it
allowable for a consistent socialist to accept the place of tutor
to the son of a peer and a landowner?
'For my part, Herr Schurz,' Oswald said confidently, 'I don't see
any reason on earth, from the point of view of any political economy
whatsoever, why Ernest shouldn't take the position. The question
isn't how the Exmoors have come by their money, even allowing that
private property in land is in itself utterly indefensible; which
is a proposition I don't myself feel inclined unreservedly to admit,
though I know you and Le Breton do: the real question's this,--since
they've got this money into their hands to distribute, and since
in any case they will have the distribution of it, isn't it better
that some of it should go into Le Breton's pocket than that it
should go into any other person's? That's the way I for my part
look at the matter.'
'What do you say to that, friend Ernest?' asked the old German,
smiling and waiting to see whether Ernest would detect what from
their own standpoint he regarded as the ethical fallacy of Harry
'Well, to tell you the truth, Herr Schurz,' answered Ernest, in his
deliberate, quiet way, 'I don't think I've envisaged the subject
to myself from quite the same point of view as Oswald has done. I
have rather asked myself whether it was right of a man to accept
a function in which he would really be doing nothing worthy for
humanity in return for his daily board and lodging. It isn't so much
a question who exactly is to get certain sums out of the Exmoors'
pockets, which ought no doubt never to have been in them; it's more
a question whether a man has any right to live off the collective
labour of the world, and do nothing of any good to the world on
his own part by way of repayment.'
'That's it, friend Ernest,' cried the old man, with a pleased nod
of his big grey head; 'the socialistic Iliad in a nutshell! That's
the very root of the question. Don't be deceived by capitalist
sophisms. So long as we go on each of us trying to get as much as
we can individually out of the world, instead of asking what the
world is getting out of us, in return, there will be no revolution
and no millennium. We must make sure that we're doing some good
ourselves, instead of sponging upon the people perpetually to feed
us for nothing. What's the first gospel given to man at the creation
in your popular cosmogonies? Why, that in the sweat of his face
shall he eat bread, and till the ground from which he was taken.
That's the native gospel of the toiling many, always; your doctrines
of fair exchange, and honest livelihoods, and free contract, and
all the rest of it, are only the artificial gospel of the political
economists, and of the bourgeoisie and the aristocrats into whose
hands they play--the rascals!'
'Then you think I oughtn't to take the post?' asked Ernest, a little
'I don't say that, Le Breton--I don't say that,' said Herr Schurz,
more quietly than before, still grinding away at his lens. 'The
question's a broad one, and it has many aspects. The best work
a man can do is undoubtedly the most useful work--the work that
conduces most to the general happiness. But we of the proletariate
can't take our choice always: as your English proverb plainly puts
it, with your true English bluntness, "beggars mustn't be choosers."
We must, each in his place, do the work that's set before us by the
privileged classes. It's impossible for us to go nicely discriminating
between work that's useful for the community, work that's merely
harmless, and work that's positively detrimental. How can we insure
it? A man's a printer, say. There's a generally useful trade, in
which, on the whole, he labours for the good and enlightenment of
the world--for he may print scientific books, good books, useful
books; and most printing, on the average, is useful. But how's he
to know what sort of thing he's printing? He may be printing "Gold
and the Proletariate," or he may be printing obscurantist and
retrogressive treatises by the enemies of humanity. Look at my own
trade, again. You'd say at first sight, Mr. Oswald, that to make
microscopes must be a good thing in the end for the world at large:
and so it is, no doubt; but half of them--ay, more than half of
them--are thrown away: mere wasted labour, a good workman's time
and skill lavished needlessly on some foolish rich man's caprices
and amusement. Often enough, now, I make a good instrument--an
instrument, with all its fittings, worth fifty or a hundred pounds.
That takes a long time to make, and I'm a skilled workman; and
the instrument may fall into the hands of a scientific man who'll
use it in discovery, in verification, in promoting knowledge, in
lessening disease and mitigating human suffering. That's the good
side of my trade. But, mark you, now,' and the old man wiped his
forehead rapidly with his sleeve, 'it has its bad side too. As often
as not, I know, some rich man will buy that machine, that cost me
so much time and trouble to make, and will buy a few dozen stock
slides with it, and will bring it out once in a moon to show his
children or a few idle visitors the scales on a butterfly's wing,
or the hairs on the leg of a common flea. Uta sets those things
up by the thousand for the dealers to sell to indolent dilettanti.
The appetite of the world at large for the common flea is simply
insatiable. And it's for that, perhaps, that I'm spoiling my
eyesight now, grinding and grinding and grinding at this very lens,
and fitting the thing to an accurate fraction of a millimetre, as
we always fit these things--we who are careful and honest workmen--to
show an idle man's friends the hairs on a flea's fore-leg. If that
isn't enough to make a man ashamed of our present wasteful and
chaotic organisation, I should think he must be a survival from
the preglacial epoch--as, indeed, most of us actually are!'
'But, after all, Herr Schurz,' said Harry, expostulating, 'you get
paid for your labour, and the rich man is doing better by encouraging
your skill than by encouraging the less useful skill of other
'Ah, yes,' cried Herr Schurz, warmly, 'that's the doctrine of the
one-eyed economists; that's the capitalist way of looking at it;
but it isn't our way--it isn't ours. Is it nothing, think you,
that all that toil of mine--of a sensible man's--goes to waste,
to gratify the senseless passing whim of a wealthy nobody? Is it
nothing that he uselessly monopolises the valuable product of my
labour, which in other and abler hands might be bringing forth good
fruit for the bettering and furthering of universal humanity? I
tell you, Mr. Oswald, half the best books, half the best apparatus,
half the best appliances in all Europe, are locked up idle in
rich men's cabinets, effecting no good, begetting no discoveries,
bringing forth no interest, doing nothing but foster the anti-social
pride of their wealthy possessors. But that isn't what friend
Ernest wants to ask me about to-day. He wants to know about his own
course in a difficult case; and instead of answering him, here am
I, maundering away, like an old man that I am, into the generalised
platitudes of "Gold and the Proletariate." Well, Le Breton, what
I should say in your particular instance is this. A man with the
fear of right before his eyes may, under existing circumstances,
lawfully accept any work that will keep him alive, provided he sees
no better and more useful work equally open to him. He may take
the job the capitalists impose, if he can get nothing worthier to
do elsewhere. Now, if you don't teach this young Tregellis, what
alternative have you? Why, to become a master in a school--Eton,
perhaps, or Rugby, or Marlborough--and teach other equally useless
members of prospective aristocratic society. That being so, I think
you ought to do what's best for yourself and your family for the
present--for the present--till the time of deliverance comes. You
see, there is one member of your family to whom the matter is of
'Ronald,' said Ernest, interrupting him.
'Yes, Ronald. A good boy; a socialist, too, though he doesn't know
it--one of us, born of us, and only apart from us in bare externals.
Well, would it be most comfortable for poor Ronald that you should
go to these Exmoor people, or that you should take a mastership,
get rooms somewhere, and let him live with you? He's not very happy
with your mother, you say. Wouldn't he be happier with you? What
think you? Charity begins at home, you know: a good proverb--a
good, sound, sensible, narrow-minded, practical English proverb!'
'I've thought of that,' Ernest said, 'and I'll ask him about it.
Whichever he prefers, then, I'd better decide upon, had I?'
'Do so,' Herr Max answered, with a nod. 'Other things equal, our
first duty is to those nearest to us.'
What Herr Max said was law to his disciples, and Ernest went his
'Mr. Oswald seems a very nice young man,' Uta Schurz said, looking
up from the microscope slides she had begun to mount at the moment
her regular translating work was interrupted by their sudden entry.
She had been taking quiet glances at Harry all the while, in her
unobtrusive fashion; for Uta had learned always to be personally
unobtrusive--'the prophet's donkey,' those irreverent French exiles
used to call her--and she had come to the conclusion that he was
a decidedly handsome and manly fellow.
'Which do you like best, Uta--Oswald or Le Breton?' asked her
'Personally,' Uta answered, 'I should prefer Mr. Oswald. To live
always with Mr. Le Breton would be like living with an abstraction.
No woman would ever care for him; she might just as well marry
Spinoza's Ethics or the Ten Commandments. He's a perfect model of
a socialist, and nothing else. Mr. Oswald has some human nature in
him as well.'
'There are two kinds of socialists,' said Herr Max, bending once
more over his glasses; 'the one kind is always thinking most of
its rights; the other kind is always thinking most of its duties.
Oswald belongs to the first, Le Breton to the second. I've often
observed it so among men of their two sorts. The best socialists
never come from the bourgeoisie, nor even from the proletariate;
they come from among the voluntarily déclassés aristocrats. Your
workman or your bourgeois who has risen, and who interests himself
in social or political questions, is always thinking, "Why shouldn't
I have as many rights and privileges as these other people have?"
The aristocrat who descends is always thinking, "Why shouldn't
these other people have as many rights and privileges as I have?"
The one type begets aggressive self-assertion, the other type
begets a certain gentle spirit of self-effacement. You don't often
find men of the aristocratic class with any ethical element in
them--their hereditary antecedents, their breeding, their environment,
are all hostile to it; but when you do find them, mark my words,
Uta, they make the truest and most earnest friends of the popular
cause of any. Their sympathy and interest in it is all unselfish.'
'And yet,' Uta answered firmly, 'I still prefer Mr. Oswald. And
if you care for my opinion, I should say that the aristocrat does
all the dreaming, but the bourgeois does all the fighting; and
that's the most important thing practically, after all.'
An hour later, Ernest was talking his future plans over with his
brother Ronald. Would it be best for Ronald that he should take
a mastership, and both should live together, or that he should go
for the present to the Exmoors', and leave the question of Ronald's
home arrangements still unsettled?
'It's so good of you to think of me in the matter, Ernest,' Ronald
said, pressing his hand gently; 'but I don't think I ought to
go away from mother before I'm twenty-one. To tell you the truth,
Ernest, I hardly flatter myself she'd be really sorry to get rid
of me; I'm afraid I'm a dreadful thorn in her side at present; she
doesn't understand my ways, and perhaps I don't sympathise enough
with hers; but still, if I were to propose to go, I feel sure
she'd be very much annoyed, and treat it as a serious act of
insubordination on my part. While I'm a minor, at least, I ought
to remain with her; the Apostle tells us to obey our parents, in
the Lord; and as long as she requires nothing from me that doesn't
involve a dereliction of principle I think I must bear with it,
though I acknowledge it's a cross, a heavy cross. Thank you so much
for thinking of it, dearest Ernest.' And his eyes filled once more
with tears as he spoke.
So it was finally arranged that for the present at least Ernest
should accept Lady Exmoor's offer, and that as soon as Ronald
was twenty-one he should look about for a suitable mastership, in
order for the two brothers to go immediately into rooms together.
Lady Le Breton was surprised at the decision; but as it was in her
favour, she wisely abstained from gratifying her natural desire to
make some more uncomplimentary references to the snuffy old German
socialist. Sufficient unto the day was the triumph thereof; and she
had no doubt in her own mind that if once Ernest could be induced
to live for a while in really good society the well-known charms
and graces of that society must finally tame his rugged breast,
and wean him away from his unaccountable devotion to those horrid
IN THE CAMP OF THE PHILISTINES.
Dunbude Castle, Lord Exmoor's family seat, stands on the last spurs
of the great North Devon uplands, overlooking the steep glen of a
little boulder-encumbered stream, and commanding a distant view of
the Severn Sea and the dim outlines of the blue Welsh hills beyond
it. Behind the house, a castle only by courtesy (on the same
principle as that by which every bishop lives in a palace), rises
the jagged summit of the Cleave, a great weather-worn granite hill,
sculptured on top by wind and rain into those fantastic lichen-covered
pillars and tora and logans in which antiquarian fancy used so long
to find the visible monuments of Druidical worship. All around, a
wide brown waste of heather undulates and tosses wildly to the sky;
and on the summit of the rolling moor where it rises and swells in
one of its many rounded bosses, the antlered heads and shoulders
of the red deer may often be seen etched in bold relief against
the clear sky-line to the west, on sunny autumn evenings. But the
castle itself and the surrounding grounds are not planned to harmonise
with the rough moorland English scenery into whose midst they were
unceremoniously pitchforked by the second earl. That distinguished
man of taste, a light of the artistic world in his own day,
had brought back from his Grand Tour his own ideal of a strictly
classical domestic building, formed by impartially compounding a
Palladian palace, a Doric temple, and a square redbrick English
manor-house. After pulling down the original fourteenth-century
castle, he had induced an eminent architect of the time to conspire
with him in giving solid and permanent reality to this his awful
imagining; and when he had completed it all, from portico to attic,
he had extorted even the critical praise of Horace Walpole, who
described it in one of his letters as a 'singular triumph of classical
taste and architectural ingenuity.' It still remains unrivalled in
its kind, the ugliest great country-seat in the county of Devon--some
respectable authorities even say in the whole of England.
In front of the house an Italian garden, with balustrades of very
doubtful marble, leads down by successive terraces and broad flights
of steps to an artificial octagonal pool, formed by carefully
destroying the whole natural beauty of the wild and rocky little
English glen beneath. To feed it by fitting a conduit, the moss-grown
boulders that strew the bed of the torrent above and below have
been carefully removed, and the unwilling stream, as it runs into
the pool, has been coerced into a long straight channel, bordered
on either side by bedded turf, and planed off at measured intervals
so as to produce a series of eminently regular and classical
cascades. Even Lord Exmoor himself, who was a hunting man, without
any pretence to that stupid rubbish about taste, did not care for
the hopeless exterior of Dunbude Castle: he frankly admitted that
the place was altogether too doosid artificial for the line of
country. If they'd only left it alone, he said, in its own native
condition, it would have been really pretty; but as they'd doctored
it and spoilt it, why, there was nothing on earth to be done but
just put up with it and whistle over it. What with the hounds, and
the mortgages, and the settlements, and the red deer, and Goodwood,
the estate couldn't possibly afford any money for making alterations
down in the gardens.
The dog-cart was in waiting at the station to carry Ernest up to
the castle; and as he reached the front door, Lady Hilda Tregellis
strolled up the broad flight of steps from the garden to meet him.
Lady Hilda was tall and decidedly handsome, as Ernest had rightly
told Edie, but not pretty, and she was also just twenty. There was
a free, careless, bold look in her face, that showed her at once
a girl of spirit; indeed, if she had not been born a Tregellis, it
was quite clear that she would have been predestined to turn out
a strong-minded woman. There was nothing particularly delicate in
Lady Hilda's features; they were well-modelled, but neither regular
nor cold, nor with that peculiar stamp of artificial breeding which
is so often found in the faces of English ladies. On the contrary,
she looked like a perfectly self-confident handsome actress, too
self-confident to be self-conscious, and accustomed to admiration
wherever she turned. As Ernest jumped down from the dog-cart she
advanced quickly to shake hands with him, and look him over critically
from head to foot like a schoolboy taking stock of a new fellow.
'I'm so glad you've come, Mr. Le Breton,' she said, with an open
smile upon her frank face. 'I was dreadfully afraid you wouldn't
care for our proposition. Dunbude's the dullest hole in England,
and we want somebody here to brighten it up, sadly. Did you ever
see such an ugly monstrosity before, anywhere?'
'The country about's lovely,' Ernest answered, 'but the house itself
is certainly rather ugly.'
'Ugly! It's hideous. And it's as dull as it's big,' said Hilda
vehemently. 'You can't think what a time we have of it here half
the year! I'm always longing for the season to come. Papa fills
the house here with hunting men and shooting men--people without
two ideas in their heads, you know, just like himself; and even THEY
go out all day, and leave us women from morning till night to the
society of their wives and daughters, who are exactly like them.
Mr. Walsh--that's Lynmouth's last tutor--he was a perfect stick,
a Cambridge man; Cambridge men always ARE sticks, I believe; you're
Oxford, of course, aren't you? I thought so. Still, even Mr. Walsh
was a little society, for I assure you, if it hadn't been for him,
I should never have seen anybody, to talk to, from year's end to
year's end. So when Mr. Walsh was going to leave us, I said to
mamma, "Why not ask one of the Mr. Le Bretons?" I wanted to have
somebody sensible here, and so I got her to let me write to your
brother Ronald about the tutorship. Did he send you the letter? I
hope you didn't think it was mine. Mamma dictated it, for I don't
write such formal letters as that on my own account, I can tell
you. I hate conventionality of any sort. At Dunbude we're all
conventional, except me; but I won't be. Come up into the billiard-room,
here, and sit down awhile; William will see about your portmanteau
and things. Papa's out, of course, and so's Lynmouth; and mamma's
somewhere or other, I don't know where; and so there's nobody in
particular at home for you to report yourself to. You may as well
come in here while I ring for them to get you some lunch ready.
Nobody ever gets anything ready beforehand in this house. We
lunched ourselves an hour ago.'
Ernest smiled at her volubility, and followed her quickly into the
big bare billiard-room. He walked over to the fire and began to
warm himself, while Hilda took down a cue and made stray shots in
extraordinary angles at impossible cannons, all the time, as she
went on talking to him. 'Was it very cold on the way down?' she
'Yes, fairly. I'm not sorry to see the fire again. Why, you're
quite an accomplished player.'
'There's nothing else to do at Dunbude, that's why. I practise
about half my lifetime. So I wrote to your brother Ronald, as I
was telling you, from mamma's dictation; and when I heard you were
really coming, I was quite delighted about it. Do you remember, I
met you twice last year, once at the Dolburys', and once somewhere
else; and I thought you'd be a very good sort of person for Dunbude,
you know, and about as much use to Lynmouth as anybody could be,
which isn't saying much, of course, for he's a dreadful pickle.
I insisted on putting in my letter that he was a dreadful pickle
(that's a good stroke off the red; just enough side on), though
mamma didn't want me to; because I thought you ought to know about
it beforehand. But you remember him at Marlborough, of course; he
was only a little fellow then, but still a pickle. He always was and
he always will be. He's out shooting, now, with papa; and you'll
never get him to settle down to anything, as long as there's a
snipe or a plover banging about on the moor anywhere. He's quite
incorrigible. Do you play at all? Won't you take a cue till your
'No, I don't play,' Ernest answered, half hesitating, 'or at least
'Oh, then you'll learn here, because you'll find nothing else to
do. Do you shoot?'
'Oh no, never. I don't think it right.'
'Ah, yes, I remember. How delightful! Lady Le Breton told me all
about it. You've got notions, haven't you? You're a Nihilist or
a Fenian or something of that sort, and you don't shoot anything
but czars and grand dukes, do you? I believe you want to cut all
our heads off and have a red republic. Well, I'm sure that's very
refreshing; for down here we're all as dull as sticks together;
Tories, every one of us to a man; perfect unanimity; no differences
of opinion; all as conventional and proper as the vicar's sermons.
Now, to have somebody who wants to cut your head off, in the house,
is really delightful. I love originality. Not that I've ever seen
anybody original in all my life, for I haven't, but I'm sure it
would be delightful if I did. One reads about original people in
novels, you know, Dickens and that sort of thing; and I often think
I should like to meet some of them (good stroke again; legs, legs,
legs, if you please--no, it hasn't legs enough); but here, or for
the matter of that, in town either, we never see anybody but the same
eternal round of Algies, and Monties, and Berties, and Hughs--all
very nice young men, no doubt; exceedingly proper, nothing against
them; good shots, capital partners, excellent families, everything on
earth that anybody could desire, except a single atom of personal
originality. I assure you, if they were all shaken up in a bag
together and well mixed, in evening clothes (so as not to tell them
apart by the tweeds, you know), their own mothers wouldn't be able
to separate them afterwards. But if you don't shoot and don't play
billiards, I'm sure I don't know what you'll ever find to do with
yourself here at Dunbude.'
'Don't you think,' Ernest said quietly, taking down a, cue, 'one
ought to have something better to do with one's time than shooting
and playing billiards? In a world where so many labouring people
are toiling and slaving in poverty and misery on our behalf, don't
you think we should be trying to do something or other in return
for universal humanity, to whom we owe so much for our board and
lodging and clothing and amusement?'
'Well, now, that's just what I mean,' said Hilda ecstatically, with
a neat shot off the cushion against the red and into the middle
pocket; 'that's such a delightfully original way of looking at
things, you see. We all of us here talk always about the partridges,
and the red deer, and the turnips, and the Church, and dear Lady
This, and that odious Lady That, and the growing insolence of the
farmers, and the shocking insubordination of the lower classes, and
the difficulty of getting really good servants, and the dreadful
way those horrid Irish are shooting their kind-hearted indulgent
landlords; or else we talk--the women especially--about how awfully
bored we are. Lawn-tennis, you know, and dinners, and what a bad
match Ethel Thingumbob has made. But you talk another kind of slang;
I dare say it doesn't mean much; you know you're not working at
anything very much more serious than we are; still it's a novelty.
When we go to a coursing meeting, we're all on the hounds; but
you're on the hare, and that's so delightfully original. I haven't
the least doubt that if we were to talk about the Irish, you'd say
you thought they ought to shoot their landlords. I remember you
shocked mamma by saying something like it at the Dolburys'. Now, of
course, it doesn't matter to me a bit which is right; you say the
poor tenants are starving, and papa says the poor landlords can't
get in their rents, and actually have to give up their hounds, poor
fellows; and I don't know which of you is the most to be believed;
only, what papa says is just the same thing that everybody says,
and what you say has a certain charming freshness and variety
about it. It's so funny to be told that one ought really to take
the tenants into consideration. Exactly like your brother Ronald's
notions about servants!'
'Your lunch is ready in the dining-room, sir,' said a voice at the
'Come back here when you've finished, Mr. Le Breton,' Hilda called
after him. 'I'll teach you how to make that cannon you missed
just now. If you mean to exist at Dunbude at all, it's absolutely
necessary for you to learn billiards.'
Ernest turned in to lunch with an uncomfortable misgiving on his
mind already that Dunbude was not exactly the right place for such
a man as he to live in.
During the afternoon he saw nothing more of the family, save Lady
Hilda; and it was not till the party assembled in the drawing-room
before dinner that he met Lord and Lady Exmoor and his future pupil.
Lynmouth had grown into a tall, handsome, manly-looking boy since
Ernest last saw him; but he certainly looked exactly what Hilda
had called him--a pickle. A few minutes' introductory conversation
sufficed to show Ernest that whatever mind he possessed was wholly
given over to horses, dogs, and partridges, and that the post of
tutor at Dunbude Castle was not likely to prove a bed of roses.
'Seen the paper, Connemara?' Lord Exmoor asked of one of his
guests, as they sat down to dinner. 'I haven't had a moment myself
to snatch a look at the "Times" yet this evening; I'm really too
busy almost even to read the daily papers. Anything fresh from
'Haven't seen it either,' Lord Connemara answered, glancing towards
Lady Hilda. 'Perhaps somebody else has looked at the papers'?'
Nobody answered, so Ernest ventured to remark that the Irish news
was rather worse again. Two bailiffs had been murdered near Castlebar.
'That's bad,' Lord Exmoor said, turning towards Ernest. 'I'm afraid
there's a deal of distress in the West.'
'A great deal,' Ernest answered; 'positive starvation, I believe,
in some parts of County Galway.'
'Well, not quite so bad as that,' Lord Exmoor replied, a little
startled. 'I don't think any of the landlords are actually starving
yet, though I've no doubt many of them are put to very great straits
indeed by their inability to get in their rents.'
Ernest couldn't forbear gently smiling to himself at the misapprehension.
'Oh, I didn't mean the landlords,' he said quickly: 'I meant among
the poor people.' As he spoke he was aware that Lady Hilda's eyes
were fixed keenly upon him, and that she was immensely delighted
at the temerity and originality displayed in the notion of his
publicly taking Irish tenants into consideration at her father's
'Ah, the poor people,' Lord Exmoor answered with a slight sigh of
relief, as who should say that THEIR condition didn't much matter
to a philosophic mind. 'Yes, to be sure; I've no doubt some of
them are very badly off, poor souls. But then they're such an idle
improvident lot. Why don't they emigrate now, I should like to
Ernest reflected silently that the inmates of Dunbude Castle did
not exactly set them a model of patient industry; and that Lady
Hilda's numerous allusions during the afternoon to the fact that
the Dunbude estates were 'mortgaged up to the eyelids' (a condition
of affairs to which she always alluded as though it were rather a
subject of pride and congratulation than otherwise) did not speak
very highly for their provident economy either. But even Ernest Le
Breton had a solitary grain of worldly wisdom laid up somewhere
in a corner of his brain, and he didn't think it advisable to give
them the benefit of his own views upon the subject.
'There's a great deal of rubbish talked in England about Irish
affairs, you know, Exmoor,' said Lord Connemara confidently. 'People
never understand Ireland, I'm sure, until they've actually lived
there. Would you believe it now, the correspondent of one of the
London papers was quite indignant the other day because my agent
had to evict a man for three years' rent at Ballynamara, and the
man unfortunately went and died a week later on the public roadside.
We produced medical evidence to show that he had suffered for years
from heart disease, and would have died in any case, wherever he
had been; but the editor fellow wanted to make political capital
out of it, and kicked up quite a fuss about my agent's shocking
inhumanity. As if we could possibly help ourselves in the matter!
People must get their rents in somehow, mustn't they?'
'People must get their rents in somehow, of course,' Lord Exmoor
assented, sympathetically; 'and I know all you men who are unlucky
enough to own property in Ireland have a lot of trouble about it
nowadays. Upon my word, what with Fenians, and what with Nihilists,
and what with Communards, I really don't know what the world is
'Most unchristian conduct, I call it,' said Lady Exmoor, who went
in for being mildly and decorously religious. 'I really can't
understand how people can believe such wicked doctrines as these
communistic notions that are coming over people in these latter
'No better than downright robbery,' Lord Connemara answered.
'Shaking the very foundations of society, I think it. All done so
recklessly, too, without any care or any consideration.'
Ernest thought of old Max Schurz, with his lifelong economical
studies, and wondered when Lord Connemara had found time to turn
his own attention from foxes and fishing to economical problems;
but, by a perfect miracle, he said nothing.
'You wouldn't believe the straits we're put to, Lady Exmoor,' the
Irish Earl went on, 'through this horrid no-rent business. Absolute
poverty, I assure you--absolute downright poverty. I've had to
sell the Maid of Garunda this week, you know, and three others of
the best horses in my stable, just to raise money for immediate
necessities. Wanted to buy a most interesting missal, quite
unique in its way, offered me by Menotti and Cicolari, dirt cheap,
for three thousand guineas. It's quite a gem of late miniaturist
art--vellum folio, with borders and head-pieces by Giulio Clovio.
A marvellous bargain!'
'Giulio Clovio,' said Lord Exmoor, doubtfully. 'Who was he? Never
heard of him in my life before.'
'Never heard of Giulio Clovio!' cried Lord Connemara, seizing the
opportunity with well-affected surprise. 'You really astonish me.
He was a Croatian, I believe, or an Illyrian--I forget which--and
he studied at Rome under Giulio Romano. Wonderful draughtsman in
the nude, and fine colourist; took hints from Raphael and Michael
Angelo.' So much he had picked up from Menotti and Cicolari, and,
being a distinguished connoisseur, had made a mental note of the
facts at once, for future reproduction upon a fitting occasion.
'Well, this missal was executed for Cardinal Farnese, as a companion
volume to the famous Vita Christi in the Towneley collection. You
know it, of course, Lady Exmoor?'
'Of course,' Lady Exmoor answered faintly, with a devout hope that
Lord Connemara wouldn't question her any further upon the subject;
in which case she thought it would probably be the safest guess to
say that she had seen it at the British Museum or in the Hamilton
But Lord Connemara luckily didn't care to press his advantage.
'The Towneley volume, you see,' he went on fluently--he was primed
to the muzzle with information on that subject--'was given by
the Cardinal to the Pope of that time--Paul the Third, wasn't it,
Mr. Le Breton?--and so got into the possession of old Christopher
Towneley, the antiquary. But this companion folio, it seems, the
Cardinal wouldn't let go out of his own possession; and so it's
been handed down in his own family (with a bar sinister, of course,
Exmoor--you remember the story of Beatrice Malatesta?) to the present
time. It's very existence wasn't suspected till Cicolari--wonderfully
smart fellow, Cicolari--unearthed it the other day from a descendant
of the Malatestas, in a little village in the Campagna. He offered it
to me, quite as an act of friendship, for three thousand guineas;
indeed, he begged me not to let Menotti know how cheap he was
selling it. for fear he might interfere and ask a higher price for
it. Well, I naturally couldn't let such a chance slip me--for the
credit of the family, it ought to be in the collection--and the
consequence was, though I was awfully sorry to part with her, I was
absolutely obliged to sell the Maid for pocket-money, Lady Hilda--I
assure you, for pocket-money. My tenants won't pay up, and nothing
will make them. They've got the cash actually in the bank; but they
keep it there, waiting for a set of sentimentalists in the House
of Commons to interfere between us, and make them a present of
my property. Rolling in money, some of them are, I can tell you.
One man, I know as a positive fact, sold a pig last week, and yet
pretends he can't pay me. All the fault of these horrid communists
that you were speaking of, Lady Exmoor--all the fault of these
'You're rather a communist yourself, aren't you, Mr. Le Breton?'
asked Lady Hilda boldly from across the table. 'I remember you told
me something once about cutting the throats of all the landlords.'
Lady Exmoor looked as though a bomb-shell had dropped into the
drawing-room. 'My dear Hilda,' she said, 'I'm sure you must have
misunderstood Mr. Le Breton. You can't have meant anything so
dreadful as that, Mr. Le Breton, can you?'
'Certainly not,' Ernest answered, with a clear conscience. 'Lady
Hilda has put her own interpretation upon my casual words. I haven't
the least desire to cut anybody's throat, even metaphorically.'
Hilda looked a little disappointed; she had hoped for a good rattling
discussion, in which Ernest was to shock the whole table--it does
people such a lot of good, you know, to have a nice round shocking;
but Ernest was evidently not inclined to show fight for her sole
gratification, and so she proceeded to her alternative amusement
of getting Lord Connemara to display the full force of his own
inanity. This was an easy and unending source of innocent enjoyment
to Lady Hilda, enhanced by the fact that she knew her father and
mother were anxious to see her Countess of Connemara, and that they
would be annoyed by her public exposition of that eligible young
man's intense selfishness and empty-headedness.
Altogether, Ernest did not enjoy his first week at the Exmoors'.
Nor did he enjoy the second, or the third, or the fourth week much
better. The society was profoundly distasteful to him: the world
was not his world, nor the talk his talk; and he grew so sick of
the perpetual discussion of horses, dogs, pheasants, dances, and
lawn tennis, with occasional digressions on Giulio Clovio and the
Connemara gallery, that he found even a chat with Lady Hilda (who
knew and cared for nothing, but liked to chat with him because
he was 'so original') a pleasant relief, by comparison, from the
eternal round of Lord Exmoor's anecdotes about famous racers or
celebrated actresses. But worst of all he did not like his work;
he felt that, useless as he considered it, he was not successfully
performing even the useless function he was paid to fulfil. Lynmouth
couldn't learn, wouldn't learn, and wasn't going to learn. Ernest
might as well have tried to din the necessary three plays of Euripides
into the nearest lamp-post. Nobody encouraged him to learn in any
way, indeed Lord Exmoor remembered that he himself had scraped
through somehow at Christ Church, with the aid of a private tutor
and the magic of his title, and he hadn't the least doubt that
Lynmouth would scrape through in his turn in like manner. And so,
though most young men would have found the Dunbude tutorship the
very acme of their wishes--plenty of amusements and nothing to do
for them--Ernest Le Breton found it to the last degree irksome and
unsatisfactory. Not that he had ever to complain of any unkindliness
on the part of the Exmoor family; they were really in their own
way very kind-hearted, friendly sort of people--that is to say,
towards all members of their own circle; and as they considered
Ernest one of themselves, in virtue of their acquaintance with
his mother, they really did their best to make him as happy and
comfortable as was in their power. But then he was such a very
strange young man! 'For what on earth can you do,' as Lord Exmoor
justly asked, 'with a young fellow who won't shoot, and who won't
fish, and who won't hunt, and who won't even play lansquenet?'
Such a case was clearly hopeless. He would have liked to see more
of Miss Merivale, little Lady Sybil's governess (for there were three
children in the family); but Miss Merivale was a timid, sensitive
girl, and she did not often encourage his advances, lest my lady
should say she was setting her cap at the tutor. The consequence
was that he was necessarily thrown much upon Lady Hilda's society;
and as Lady Hilda was laudably eager to instruct him in billiards,
lawn tennis, and sketching, he rapidly grew to be quite an adept at
those relatively moral and innocuous amusements, under her constant
instruction and supervision.
'It seems to me,' said that acute observer, Lord Lynmouth, to his
special friend and confidante, the lady's-maid, 'that Hilda makes
a doocid sight too free with that fellow Le Breton. Don't you think
'I should hope, my lord,' Euphemia answered demurely, 'that Lady
Hilda would know her own place too well to demean herself with such
as your lordship's tutor. If I didn't feel sure of that, I should
have to mention the matter seriously to my lady.'
Nevertheless, the lady's-maid immediately stored up a mental note
on the subject in the lasting tablets of her memory, and did not fail
gently to insinuate her views upon the question to Lady Exmoor, as
she arranged the pearls in the false plaits for dinner that very
THE WOMEN OF THE LAND.
'Mr. Le Breton! Mr. Le Breton! Papa says Lynmouth may go
out trout-fishing with him this afternoon. Come up with me to the
Clatter. I'm going to sketch there.'
'Very well, Lady Hilda; if you want my criticism, I don't mind if
I do. Let me carry your things; it's rather a pull up, even for
you, with your box and easel!'
Hilda gave him her sketch-book and colours, and they turned together
up the Cleave behind the Castle.
A Clatter is a peculiar Devonshire feature, composed of long loose
tumbled granite blocks piled in wild disorder along the narrow summit
of a saddle-backed hill. It differs from a tor in being less high
and castellated, as well as in its longer and narrower contour.
Ernest and Hilda followed the rough path up through the gorse
and heather to the top of the ridge, and then scrambled over the
grey lichen-covered rooks together to the big logan-stone whose
evenly-poised and tilted mass crowned the actual summit. The granite
blocks were very high and rather slippery in places, for it was
rainy April weather, so that Ernest had to take his companion's
hand more than once in his to help her over the tallest boulders.
It was a small delicate hand, though Hilda was a tall well-grown
woman; ungloved, too, for the sake of the sketching; and Hilda
didn't seem by any means unwilling to accept Ernest's proffered help,
though if it had been Lord Connemara who was with her instead, she
would have scorned assistance, and scaled the great mossy masses
by herself like a mountain antelope. Light-footed and lithe of
limb was Lady Hilda, as befitted a Devonshire lass accustomed to
following the Exmoor stag-hounds across their wild country on her
own hunter. Yet she seemed to find a great deal of difficulty in
clambering up the Clatter on that particular April morning, and
move than once Ernest half fancied to himself that she leaned on his
arm longer than was absolutely necessary for support or assistance
over the stiffest places.
'Here, by the logan, Mr. Le Breton,' she said, motioning him where
to put her camp-stool and papers. 'That's a good point of view
for the rocks yonder. You can lie down on the rug and give me the
benefit of your advice and assistance.'
'My advice is not worth taking,' said Ernest. 'I'm a regular duffer
at painting and sketching. You should ask Lord Connemara. He knows
all about art and that sort of thing.'
'Lord Connemara!' echoed Hilda contemptuously. 'He has a lot of
pictures in his gallery at home, and he's been told by sensible men
what's the right thing for him to say about them; but he knows no
more about art, really, than he knows about fiddlesticks.'
'Doesn't he, indeed?' Ernest answered languidly, not feeling any
burning desire to discuss Lord Connemara's artistic attainments or
'No, he doesn't,' Hilda went on, rather defiantly, as though Ernest
had been Lady Exmoor; 'and most of these people that come here
don't either. They have galleries, and they get artists and people
who understand about pictures to talk with them, and so they learn
what's considered the proper thing to say of each of them. But
as to saying anything spontaneous or original of their own about a
picture or any other earthly thing--why, you know, Mr. Le Breton,
they couldn't possibly do it to save their lives.'
'Well, there I should think you do them, as a class, a great
injustice,' said Ernest, quietly; 'you're evidently prejudiced
against your own people. I should think that if there's any subject
on which our old families really do know anything, it's art. Look
at their great advantages.'
'Nonsense,' Hilda answered, decisively. 'Fiddlesticks for their
advantages. What's the good of advantages without a head on your
shoulders, I should like to know. And they haven't got heads on
their shoulders, Mr. Le Breton; you know they haven't.'
'Why, surely,' said Ernest, in his simple fashion, looking the
question straight in the face as a matter of abstract truth, 'there
must be a great deal of ability among peers and peers' sons. All
history shows it; and it would be absurd if it weren't so; for the
mass of peers have got their peerages by conspicuous abilities of
one sort or another, as barristers, or soldiers, or politicians,
or diplomatists, and they would naturally hand on their powers to
their different descendants.'
'Oh, yes, there are some of them with brains, I suppose,' Hilda
answered, as one who makes a great concession. 'There's Herbert
Alderney, who's member for somewhere or other--Church Stretton, I
think--and makes speeches in the House; he's clever, they say, but
such a conceited fellow to talk to. And there's Wilfrid Faunthorp,
who writes poems, and gets them printed in the magazines, too,
because he knows the editors. And there's Randolph Hastings, who
goes in for painting, and has little red and blue daubs at the
Grosvenor by special invitation of the director. But somehow they
none of them strike me as being really original. Whenever I meet
anybody worth talking to anywhere--in a railway train or so on--I
feel sure at once he's an ordinary commoner, not even Honourable;
and he is invariably, you may depend upon it.'
'That would naturally happen on the average of instances,' Ernest
put in, smiling, 'considering the relative frequency of peers
and commoners in this realm of England. Peers, you know, or even
Honourables are not common objects of the country, numerically
'They are to me, unfortunately,' Hilda replied, looking at him
inquiringly. 'I hardly ever meet anybody else, you know, and I'm
positively bored to death by them, and that's the truth, really.
It's most unlucky, under the circumstances, that I should happen
to be the daughter of one peer, and be offered promiscuously as
wife to the highest bidder among half a dozen others, if only I
would have them. But I won't, Mr. Le Breton, I really won't. I'm
not going to marry a fool, just to please my mother. Nothing on
earth would induce me to marry Lord Connemara, for example.'
Ernest looked at her and smiled, but said nothing.
Lady Hilda put in a stroke or two more to her pencil outline, and
then continued her unsolicited confidences. 'Do you know, Mr. Le
Breton,' she went on, 'there's a conspiracy--the usual conspiracy,
but still a regular conspiracy I call it--between Papa and Mamma
to make me marry that stick of a Connemara. What is there in him,
I should like to know, to make any girl admire or love him? And
yet half the girls in London would be glad to get him, for all his
absurdity. It's monstrous, it's incomprehensible, it's abominable;
but it's the fact. For my part, I must say I do like a little
originality. And whenever I hear Papa, and Uncle Sussex, and Lord
Connemara talking at dinner, it does seem to me too ridiculously
absurd that they should each have a separate voice in Parliament,
and that you shouldn't even have a fraction of a vote for a county
member. What sort of superiority has Lord Connemara over you, I
wonder?' And she looked at Ernest again with a searching glance,
to see whether he was to be moved by such a personal and emphatic
way of putting the matter.
Ernest looked back at her curiously in his serious simplicity,
and only answered, 'There are a great many queer inequalities and
absurdities in all our existing political systems, Lady Hilda.'
Hilda smiled to herself--a quiet smile, half of disappointment,
half of complacent feminine superiority. What a stupid fellow he
was in some ways, after all! Even that silly Lord Connemara would
have guessed what she was driving at, with only a quarter as much
encouragement. But Ernest must be too much afraid of the social
barrier clearly; so she began again, this time upon a slightly
different but equally obvious tack.
'Yes, there are; absurd inequalities really, Mr. Le Breton; very
absurd inequalities. You'd get rid of them all, I know. You told me
that about cutting all the landlords' heads off, I'm sure, though
you said when I spoke about it before Mamma, the night you first
came here, that you didn't mean it. I remember it perfectly well,
because I recollect thinking at the time the idea was so charmingly
and deliciously original.'
'You must be quite mistaken, Lady Hilda,' Ernest answered calmly. 'You
misunderstood my meaning. I said I would get rid of landlords--by
which I meant to say, get rid of them as landlords, not as individuals.
I don't even know that I'd take away the land from them all at once,
you know (though I don't think it's justly theirs); I'd deprive
them of it tentatively and gradually.'
'Well, I can't see the justice of that, I'm sure,' Hilda answered
carelessly. 'Either the land's ours by right, or it isn't ours. If
it's ours, you ought to leave it to us for ever; and if it isn't
ours, you ought to take it away from us at once, and make it over
to the people to whom it properly belongs. Why on earth should you
keep them a day longer out of their own?'
Ernest laughed heartily at this vehement and uncompromising
sans-culottism. 'You're a vigorous convert, anyhow,' he said, with
some amusement; 'I see you've profited by my instruction. You've
put the question very plump and straightforward. But in practice it
would be better, no doubt, gradually to educate out the landlords,
rather than to dispossess them at one blow of what they honestly,
though wrongly, imagine to be their own. Let all existing holders
keep the land during their own lifetime and their heirs', and resume
it for the nation after their lives, allowing for the rights of
all children born of marriages between people now living.'
'Not at all,' Hilda answered in a tone of supreme conviction. 'I'm
in favour of simply cutting our heads off once for all, and making
our families pay all arrears of rent from the very beginning.
That or nothing. Put the case another way. Suppose, Mr. Le Breton,
there was somebody who had got a grant from a king a long time ago,
allowing him to hang any three persons he chose annually. Well,
suppose this person and his descendants went on for a great many
generations extorting money out of other people by threatening to
kill them and letting them off on payment of a ransom. Suppose,
too, they always killed three a year, some time or other, pour
encourager les autres--just to show that they really meant it.
Well, then, if one day the people grew wise enough to inquire into
the right of these licensed extortioners to their black mail, would
you say, "Don't deprive them of it too unexpectedly. Let them keep
it during their own lifetime. Let their children hang three of us
annually after them. But let us get rid of this fine old national
custom in the third generation." Would that be fair to the people
who would be hanged for the sake of old prescription in the interval,
do you think?'
Ernest laughed again at the serious sincerity with which ehe
was ready to acquiesce in his economical heresies. 'You're quite
right,' he said: 'the land is the people's, and there's no reason
on earth why they should starve a minute longer in order to let
Lord Connemara pay three thousand guineas for spurious copies of
early Italian manuscripts. And yet it would be difficult to get
most people to see it. I fancy, Lady Hilda, you must really be
rather cleverer than most people.'
'I score one,' thought Hilda to herself, 'and whatever happens,
whether I marry a peer or a revolutionist, I certainly won't marry
a fool.' 'I'm glad you think so,' she went on aloud, 'because I
know your opinion's worth having. I should like to be clever, Mr.
Le Breton, and I should like to know all about everything, but
what chance has one at Dunbude? Do you know, till you came here, I