Part 3 out of 3
"Aurora, I have failed in my duty, and the errand on which you sent me is
unfulfilled. Mrs. Pullbody's sister's husband's sister's husband is
still, largely speaking, at large."
"I knew he would be," replied the young lady, with her joyous smile,
"that's why I put her on to you--the cat!"
At a loss to understand her meaning, Mr. Lavender, who had bent forward
above the hedge in his eagerness to explain, lost his balance, and,
endeavouring to save the hedge, fell over into some geranium pots.
"Dear Don Pickwixote," cried the young lady, assisting him to rise, "have
you hurt your nose?"
"It is not that," said Mr. Lavender, removing some mould from his hair,
and stifling the attentions of Blink; "but rather my honour, for I have
allowed my duty to my country to be overridden by the common emotion of
"Hurrah!" cried the young lady. "It'll do you ever so much good."
"Aurora!" cried Mr. Lavender aghast, walking at her side. But the young
lady only uttered her enchanting laugh.
"Come and lie down in the hammock!" she said you're looking like a ghost.
I'll cover you up with a rug, and smoke a cigarette to keep the midges
off you. Tuck up your legs; that's right!"
"No!" said Mr. Lavender from the recesses of the hammock, feeling his
nose, "let the bidges bide me. I deserve they should devour me alive.
"All right," said the young lady. "But have a nap, anyway! "And sitting
down in a low chair, she opened her book and lit a cigarette.
Mr. Lavender remained silent, watching her with the eyes of an acolyte,
and wondering whether he was in his senses to have alighted on so rare a
fortune. Nor was it long before he fell into a hypnotic doze.
How long Mr. Lavender had been asleep he could not of course tell before
he dreamed that he was caught in a net, the meshes of which were formed
of the cries of newspaper boys announcing atrocities by land and sea. He
awoke looking into the eyes of Aurora, who, to still his struggles, had
taken hold of his ankles.
"My goodness! You are thin!" were the first words he heard. "No wonder
Mr. Lavender, whose returning chivalry struggled with unconscious
delight, murmured with difficulty:
"Let me go, let me go; it is too heavenly!
"Well, have you finished kicking?" asked the young lady.
"Yes," returned Mr. Lavender in a fainting voice----" alas!"
The young lady let go of his ankles, and, aiding him to rise from the
hammock, said: "I know what's the matter with you now--you're starving
yourself. You ought to be kept on your back for three months at least,
and fed on butter."
Mr. Lavender, soothing the feelings of Blink, who, at his struggles, had
begun to pant deeply, answered with watering lips:
"Everyone in these days must do twice as much as he ought, and I eat
half, for only in this way can we compass the defeat of our common
enemies." The young lady's answer, which sounded like "Bosh!" was lost
in Mr. Lavender's admiration of her magnificent proportions as she bent
to pick up her yellow book.
"Aurora," he said, "I know not what secret you share with the goddesses;
suffer me to go in and give thanks for this hour spent in your company."
And he was about to recross the privet hedge when she caught him by the
"No, Don Pickwixote, you must dine with us. I want you to meet my
father. Come along!" And, linking her arm in his, she led him towards
her castle. Mr. Lavender, who had indeed no, option but to obey, such
was the vigour of her arm, went with a sense of joy not unmingled with
consternation lest the personage she spoke of should have viewed him in
the recent extravagance of his dreaming moments.
"I don't believe," said the young lady, gazing down at him, "that you
weigh an ounce more than seven stone. It's appalling!
"Not," returned Mr. Lavender, "by physical weight and force shall we win
this war, for it is at bottom a question of morale. Right is, ever
victorious in the end, and though we have infinitely greater material
resources than our foes, we should still triumph were we reduced to the
last ounce, because of the inherent nobility of our cause."
"You'll be reduced to the last ounce if we don't feed, you up somehow,"
said the young lady.
"Would you like to wash your hands?"
Mr. Lavender having signified his assent, she left him alone in a place
covered with linoleum. When, at length, followed by Blink, he emerged
from dreamy ablutions, Mr. Lavender, saw that she had changed her dress
to a flowing blue garment of diaphanous character, which made her appear,
like an emanation of the sky. He was about to say so when he noticed a
gentleman in khaki scrutinizing him with lively eyes slightly injected
"Don Pickwixote," said the young lady; "my father, Major Scarlet."
Mr. Lavender's hand was grasped by one which seemed to him made of iron.
"I am honoured, sir," he said painfully, "to meet the father of my
charming young neighbour."
The Major answered in a voice as clipped as his grey bottle-brush
moustache, "Delighted! Dinner's ready. Come along!"
Mr. Lavender saw that he had a mouth which seemed to have a bitt in it;
several hairs on a finely rounded head; and an air of efficient and
truculent bonhomie tanned and wrinkled by the weather.
The table at which they became seated seemed to one accustomed to
frugality to groan with flowers and china and glass; and Mr. Lavender had
hardly supped his rich and steaming soup before his fancy took fire; nor
did he notice that he was drinking from a green glass in which was a
"I get Army rations," said the Major, holding a morsel of fillet of beef
towards Blink. "Nice dog, Mr. Lavender."
"Yes," replied Mr. Lavender, ever delighted that his favourite should
receive attention, "she is an angel."
"Too light," said the Major, "and a bit too narrow in front; but a nice
dog. What's your view of the war?"
Before Mr. Lavender could reply he felt Aurora's foot pressing his, and
heard her say:
"Don Pickwixote's views are after your own heart, Dad; he's for the
complete destruction of the Hun."
"Indeed, yes," cried Mr. Lavender with shining eyes. "Right and justice
demand it. We seek to gain nothing!"
"But we'll take all we can get," said the Major.
"They'll never get their Colonies back. We'll stick to them fast enough."
Mr. Lavender stared at him for a moment, then, remembering what he had so
often read, he murmured:
"Aggrandizement is not our object; but we can never forget that so long
as any territory remains in the hands of our treacherous foe the arteries
of our far-flung Empire are menaced at the roots."
"Right-o," said the Major, "we've got the chance of our lives, and we're
going to take it."
Mr. Lavender sat forward a little on his chair. "I shall never admit,"
he said, "that we are going to take anything, for that would be contrary
to the principles which we are pledged to support, and to our avowed
intention of seeking only the benefit of the human race; but our inhuman
foes have compelled us to deprive them of the power to injure others."
"Yes," said the Major, "we must just go on killing Germans and collaring
every bit of their property we can."
Mr. Lavender sat a little further forward on his chair, and the trouble
in his eyes grew.
"After all's said and done," continued the Major; "it's a simple war--us
or them! And in the long run it's bound to be us. We've got the cards."
Mr. Lavender started, and said in a weak and wavering voice:
"We shall never sheathe the sword until----"
"The whole bag of tricks is in our hands. Might isn't Right, but Right's
Might, Mr. Lavender; ha, ha!"
Mr. Lavender's eyes lighted on his glass, and he emptied it in his
confusion. When he looked up again he could not see the Major very well,
but could distinctly hear the truculent bonhomie of his voice.
"Every German ought to be interned; all their property ought to be
confiscated; all their submarines' and Zeppelins' crews ought to be hung;
all German prisoners ought to be treated as they treat our men. We ought
to give 'em no quarter. We ought to bomb their towns out of existence.
I draw the line at their women. Short of that there's nothing too bad
for them. I'd treat 'em like rabbits. Vermin they were, and vermin they
During this speech the most astounding experience befell Mr. Lavender, so
that his eyes nearly started from his head. It seemed to him, indeed,
that he was seated at dinner with a Prussian, and the Major's voice had
no sooner ceased its genial rasping than with a bound forward on his
chair, he ejaculated:
"Behold the man--the Prussian in his jack-boot!" And, utterly oblivious
of the fact that he was addressing Aurora's father, he went on with
almost terrible incoherence: "Although you have conquered this country,
sir, never shall you subdue in my breast the sentiments of liberty and
generosity which make me an Englishman. I abhor you--invader of the
world--trampler underfoot of the humanities--enemy of mankind--apostle of
force! You have blown out the sparks of love and kindliness, and have
for ever robbed the Universe. Prussian!"
The emphasis with which he spoke that word caused his chair, on the edge
of which he was sitting, to tilt up under him so that he slid under the
table, losing the vision of that figure in helmet and field-grey which he
had been apostrophizing.
"Hold up!" said a voice, while Blink joined him nervously beneath the
"Never!" cried Mr. Lavender. "Imprison, maltreat me do what you will.
You have subdued her body, but never will I admit that you have conquered
the honour of Britain and trodden her gentle culture into the mud."
And, convinced that he would now be dragged away to be confined in some
dungeon on bread and water, he clasped the leg of the dining-table with
all his might, while Blink, sagaciously aware that something peculiar was
occurring to her master, licked the back of his neck. He had been
sitting there perhaps half a minute, with his ears stretched to catch the
half-whispered sounds above, when he saw a shining object appear under
the table, the head, indeed, of the Prussian squatting there to look at
"Go up, thou bald-head," he called out at once; "I will make no terms
with the destroyer of justice and humanity."
"All right, my dear sir," replied the head.
"Will you let my daughter speak to you?"
"Prussian blasphemer," responded Mr. Lavender, shifting his position so
as to be further away, and clasping instead of the table leg some soft
silken objects, which he was too excited to associate with Aurora, "you
have no daughter, for no woman would own one whose hated presence poisons
"Well, well," said the Major. "How shall we get him out?"
Hearing these words, and believing them addressed to a Prussian guard,
Mr. Lavender clung closer to the objects, but finding them wriggle in his
clasp let go, and, bolting forward like a rabbit on his hands and knees,
came into contact with the Major's head. The sound of the concussion,
the Major's oaths, Mr. Lavender's moans, Blink's barking, and the peals
of laughter from Aurora made up a noise which might have been heard in
Portugal. The situation was not eased until Mr. Lavender crawled out,
and taking up a dinner-knife, rolled his napkin round his arm, and
prepared to defend himself against the German Army.
"Well, I'm damned," said the Major when he saw these preparations;
"I am damned."
Aurora, who had been leaning against the wall from laughter, here came
"Go away, Dad, and leave him to me."
"To you!" cried the Major. "He's not safe!"
"Oh yes, he is; it's only you that are exciting him. Come along!"
And taking her father by the arm she conducted him from the room.
Closing the door behind him, and putting her back against it, she said,
"Dear Don Pickwixote, all danger is past. The enemy has been repulsed,
and we are alone in safety. Ha, ha, ha!"
Her voice recalled. Mr. Lavender from his strange hallucination.
"What?" he said weakly.
"Why? Who? Where? When?"
"You have been dreaming again. Let me take you home, and tuck you into
bed." And taking from him the knife and napkin, she opened the French-
window, and passed out on to the lawn.
Lavender, who now that his reason had come back, would have followed her
to the death, passed out also, accompanied by Blink, and watched by the
Major, who had put his head in again at the door. Unfortunately, the
spirit moved Mr. Lavender to turn round at this moment, and seeing the
head he cried out in a loud voice:
"He is there! He is there! Arch enemy of mankind! Let me go and die
under his jackboot, for never over my living body shall he rule this
land." And the infatuated gentleman would certainly have rushed at his
host had not Aurora stayed him by the slack of his nether garments. The
Major withdrawing his head, Mr. Lavender's excitement again passed from
him, and he suffered himself to be led dazedly away and committed to the
charge of Mrs. Petty and Joe, who did not leave him till he was in bed
with a strong bromide to keep him company.
FIGHTS THE FIGHT OF FAITH
The strenuous experiences through which Mr. Lavender had passed resulted
in what Joe Petty called "a fair knock-out," and he was forced to spend
three days in the seclusion of his bed, deprived of his newspapers. He
instructed Mrs. Petty, however, on no account to destroy or mislay any
journal, but to keep them in a pile in his study. This she did, for
though her first impulse was to light the kitchen fire with the five of
them every morning, deliberate reflection convinced her that twenty
journals read at one sitting would produce on him a more soporific effect
than if he came down to a mere five.
Mr. Lavender passed his three days, therefore, in perfect repose, feeding
Blink, staring at the ceiling, and conversing with Joe. An uneasy sense
that he had been lacking in restraint caused his mind to dwell on life as
seen by the monthly rather than the daily papers, and to hold with his
chauffeur discussions of a somewhat philosophical character.
"As regards the government of this country, Joe," he said, on the last
evening of his retirement, "who do you consider really rules? For it is
largely on this that our future must depend."
"Can't say, sir," answered Joe, "unless it's Botty."
"I do not know whom or what you signify by that word," replied Mr.
Lavender; "I am wondering if it is the People who rule."
"The People!" replied Joe;" the People's like a gent in a lunatic asylum,
allowed to 'ave instinks but not to express 'em. One day it'll get aht,
and we shall all step lively."
"It is, perhaps, Public Opinion," continued Mr. Lavender to himself, "as
expressed in the Press."
"Not it," said Joe the nearest opinion the Press gets to expressin' is
that of Mayors. 'Ave you never noticed, sir, that when the Press is 'ard
up for support of an opinion that the public don't 'old, they go to the
Mayors, and get 'em in two columns?"
"Mayors are most valuable public men," said Mr. Lavender.
"I've nothin' against 'em," replied Joe; "very average lot in their walk
of life; but they ain't the People."
Mr. Lavender sighed. "What, then, is the People, Joe?"
"I am," replied Joe; "I've got no opinions on anything except that I want
to live a quiet life--just enough beer and 'baccy, short hours, and no
"'If you compare that with the aspirations of Mayors you will see how
sordid such a standard is," said Mr. Lavender, gravely.
"Sordid it may be, sir," replied Joe; "but there's, a thing abaht it you
'aven't noticed. I don't want to sacrifice nobody to satisfy my
aspirations. Why? Because I've got none. That's priceless. Take the
Press, take Parlyment, take Mayors--all mad on aspirations. Now it's
Free Trade, now it's Imperialism; now it's Liberty in Europe; now it's
Slavery in Ireland; now it's sacrifice of the last man an' the last
dollar. You never can tell what aspiration'll get 'em next. And the
'ole point of an aspiration is the sacrifice of someone else. Don't you
make a mistake, sir. I defy you to make a public speech which 'asn't got
that at the bottom of it."
"We are wandering from the point, Joe," returned Mr. Lavender. "Who is
it that governs, the country?"
"A Unseen Power," replied Joe promptly.
"Well, sir, we're a democratic country, ain't we? Parlyment's elected by
the People, and Gover'ment's elected by Parlyment. All right so far; but
what 'appens? Gover'ment says 'I'm going to do this.' So long as it
meets with the approval of the Unseen Power, well an' good. But what if
it don't? The U.P. gets busy; in an 'undred papers there begins to
appear what the U.P. calls Public Opinion, that's to say the opinion of
the people that agree with the U.P. There you 'ave it, sir, only them--
and it appears strong. Attacks on the Gover'ment policy, nasty things
said abaht members of it that's indiscreet enough to speak aht what, they
think--German fathers, and other secret vices; an' what's more than all,
not a peep at any opinion that supports the Gover'ment. Well, that goes
on day after day, playin' on the mind of Parlyment, if they've got any,
and gittin' on the Gover'ment's nerves, which they've got weak, till they
says: 'Look 'ere, it's no go; Public Opinion won't stand it. We shall be
outed; and that'll never do, because there's no other set of fellows that
can save this country.' Then they 'ave a meetin' and change their
policy. And what they've never seen is that they've never seen Public
Opinion at all. All they've seen is what the U.P. let 'em. Now if I
was the Gover'ment, I'd 'ave it out once for all with the U. P."
"Ah!" cried Mr. Lavender, whose eyes were starting from his, head, so
profoundly was he agitated by what was to him a new thought.
"Yes," continued Joe, "if I was the Gover'ment, next time it 'appened,
I'd say: 'All right, old cock, do your damnedest. I ain't responsible to
you. Attack, suppress, and all the rest of it. We're goin' to do what
we say, all the same!' And then I'd do it. And what'd come of it?
Either the U.P. would go beyond the limits of the Law--and then I'd jump
on it, suppress its papers, and clap it into quod--or it'd take it lyin'
down. Whichever 'appened it'd be all up with the U. P. I'd a broke its
chain off my neck for good. But I ain't the Gover'ment, an Gover'ment's
got tender feet. I ask you, sir, wot's the good of havin' a
Constitooshion, and a the bother of electing these fellows, if they can't
act according to their judgment for the short term of their natural
lives? The U.P. may be patriotic and estimable, and 'ave the best
intentions and all that, but its outside the Constitooshion; and what's
more, I'm not goin' to spend my last blood an' my last money in a
democratic country to suit the tastes of any single man, or triumpherate,
or wotever it may be made of. If the Government's uncertain wot the
country wants they can always ask it in the proper way, but they never
ought to take it on 'earsay from the papers. That's wot I think."
While he was speaking Mr. Lavender had become excited to the point of
fever, for, without intending it, Joe had laid bare to him a yawning
chasm between his worship of public men and his devotion to the Press.
And no sooner had his chauffeur finished than he cried: "Leave me, Joe,
for I must think this out."
"Right, sir," answered Joe with his smile, and taking the tea-tray from
off his master, he set it where it must infallibly be knocked over, and
"Can it be possible," thought Mr. Lavender, when he was alone, "that I am
serving God and Mammon? And which is God and which is Mammon?" he added,
letting his thoughts play over the countless speeches and leading
articles which had formed his spiritual diet since the war began. "Or,
indeed, are they not both God or both Mammon? If what Joe says is true,
and nothing is recorded save what seems good to this Unseen Power, have I
not been listening to ghosts and shadows; and am I, indeed, myself
anything but the unsubstantial image of a public man? For it is true
that I have no knowledge of anything save what is recorded in the
papers." And perceiving that the very basis of his faith was endangered,
he threw off the bedclothes, and began to pace the room. "Are we, then,
all," he thought, "being bounded like india-rubber balls by an unseen
hand; and is there no one of us strong enough to bounce into the eye of
our bounder and overthrow him? My God, I am unhappy; for it is a
terrible thing not to know which my God is, and whether I am a public man
or an india-rubber ball. "And the more he thought the more dreadful it
seemed to him, now that he perceived that all those journals, pamphlets,
and reports with which his study walls were lined might not be the truth,
but merely authorized versions of it.
"This," he said aloud, "is a nightmare from which I must awaken or lose
all my power of action and my ability to help my country in its peril."
And sudden sweat broke out on his brow, for he perceived that he had now
no means of telling even whether there was a peril, so strangely had
Joe's words affected his powers of credulity.
"But surely," he thought, steadying himself by gripping his washstand,
"there was, at least, a peril once. And yet, how do I know even that,
for I have only been told so; and the tellers themselves were only told
so by this Unseen Power; and suppose it has made a mistake or has some
private ends to serve! Oh! it is terrible, and there is no end to it.
"And he shook the crockery in the spasms which followed the first
awakenings of these religious doubts. "Where, then, am I to go," he
cried, "for knowledge of the truth? For even books would seem dependent
on the good opinion of this Unseen Power, and would not reach my eyes
unless they were well spoken of by it."
And the more he thought the more it seemed to him that nothing could help
him but to look into the eyes of this Unseen Power, so that he might see
for himself whether it was the Angel of Truth or some Demon jumping on
the earth. No sooner had this conviction entered his brain than he
perceived how in carrying out such an enterprise he would not only be
setting his own mind at rest, and re-establishing or abolishing his
faith, but would be doing the greatest service which he could render to
his country and to all public men. "Thus," he thought, "shall I
cannonize my tourney, and serve Aurora, who is the dawn of truth and
beauty in the world. I am not yet worthy, however, of this adventure,
which will, indeed, be far more arduous and distressing to accomplish
than any which I have yet undertaken. What can I do to brighten and
equip my mind and divest it of all those prejudices in which it may
unconsciously have become steeped? If I could 1eave the earth a short
space and commune with the clouds it might be best. I will go to Hendon
and see if someone will take me up for a consideration; for on earth I
can no longer be sure of anything."
And having rounded off his purpose with this lofty design, he went back
to bed with his head lighter than a puff-ball.
ADDRESSES THE CLOUDS
On the morning following his resurrection Mr. Lavender set out very early
for the celebrated flying ground without speaking of his intention to
anyone. At the bottom of the hill he found to his annoyance that Blink
had divined his purpose and was following. This, which compelled him to
walk, greatly delayed his arrival. But chance now favoured him, for he
found he was expected, and at once conducted to a machine which was about
to rise. A taciturn young man, with a long jaw, and wings on his breast,
was standing there gazing at it with an introspective eye.
"Ready, sir?" he said.
"Yes," replied Mr. Lavender, enveloped to the eyes in a garment of fur
and leather. "Will you kindly hold my dog?" he added, stroking Blink
with the feeling that he was parting for ever with all that was most dear
An attendant having taken hold of her by the collar, Mr. Lavender was
heaved into the machine, where the young airman was already seated in
front of him.
"Shall I feel sick?" asked Mr. Lavender.
"Probably," said the young airman.
"That will not deter me, for the less material I become the better it
The young airman turned his head, and Mr. Lavender caught the surprised
yellow of his eye.
"Hold on," said the airman, "I'm going to touch her off."
Mr. Lavender held on, and the machine moved but at this moment Blink,
uttering a dismal howl, leapt forward, and, breaking from the attendant's
grasp, landed in the machine against Mr. Lavender's chest.
"Stop! stop he cried!" my dog.
"Stuff her down," said the unmoved airman, "between your legs. She's not
the first to go up and won't be the last to come down."
Mr. Lavender stuffed her down as best he could. "If we are to be
killed," he thought, "it will be together. Blink!" The faithful
creature, who bitterly regretted her position now that the motion had
begun, looked up with a darkened eye at Mr. Lavender, who was stopping
his ears against the horrible noises which had now begun. He too, had
become aware of the pit of his stomach; but this sensation soon passed
away in the excitement he felt at getting away from the earth, for they
were already at the height of a house, and rising rapidly.
"It is not at all like a little bird," he thought, but rather resembles a
slow train on the surface of the sea, or a horse on a switchback merry-
go-round. I feel, however, that my spirit will soon be free, for the
earth is becoming like a board whereon a game is played by an unseen
hand, and I am leaving it." And craning his head out a little too far he
felt his chin knock against his spine. Drawing it in with difficulty he
concentrated his attention upon that purification of his spirit which was
the object of his journey.
"I am now," he thought, "in the transcendent ether. It should give me an
amazing power of expression such as only the greatest writers and orators
attain; and, divorced as I am rapidly becoming from all sordid reality,
truth will appear to me like one of those stars towards which I am
undoubtedly flying though I cannot as yet see it."
Blink, who between his legs had hitherto been unconscious of their
departure from the earth, now squirmed irresistibly up till her forepaws
were on her master's chest, and gazed lugubriously at the fearful
prospect. Mr. Lavender clasped her convulsively. They were by now
rapidly nearing a flock of heavenly sheep, which as they approached
became ever more gigantic till they were transformed into monstrous snow-
fleeces intersected by wide drifts of blue.
"Can it be that we are to adventure above them?" thought Mr. Lavender.
"I hope not, for they seem to me fearful." His alarm was soon appeased,
for the machine began to take a level course a thousand feet, perhaps,
below the clouds, whence little wraiths wandering out now and again
dimmed Mr. Lavender's vision and moistened his brow.
Blink having retired again between her master's legs, a sense of security
and exaltation was succeeding to the natural trepidation of Mr.
Lavender's mood. "I am now," he thought, "lifted above all petty plots
and passions on the wings of the morning. Soon will great thoughts begin
to jostle in my head, and I shall see the truth of all things made clear
But the thoughts did not jostle, a curious lethargy began stealing over
him instead, so that his head fell back, and his mouth fell open. This
might have endured until he returned to earth had not the airman stopped
the engines so that they drifted ruminantly in space below the clouds.
With the cessation of the noise Mr. Lavender's brain regained its
activity, and he was enchanted to hear the voice of his pilot saying:
"How are you getting on, sir?"
"As regards the sensation," Mr. Lavender replied, "it is marvellous, for
after the first minute or two, during which the unwonted motion causes a
certain inconvenience, one grasps at once the exhilaration and joy of
this great adventure. To be in motion towards the spheres, and see the
earth laid out like a chess-board below you; to feel the lithe creature
beneath your body responding so freely to every call of its gallant young
pilot; to be filled with the scream of the engines, as of an eagle at
sport; to know that at the least aberration of the intrepid airman we
should be dashed into a million pieces; all this is largely to experience
an experience so unforgettable that one will never--er--er--forget it."
"Gosh!" said the young airman.
"Yes," pursued Mr. Lavender, who was now unconsciously reading himself in
his morning's paper, "one can only compare the emotion to that which the
disembodied spirit might feel passing straight from earth to heaven. We
saw at a great depth below us on a narrow white riband of road two
crawling black specks, and knew that they were human beings, the same and
no more than we had been before we left that great common place called
"Gum!" said the young airman, as Lavender paused, "you're getting it
fine, sir! Where will it appear?"
"Those great fleecy beings the clouds," went on Mr. Lavender, without
taking on the interruption, "seemed to await our coming in the morning
glory of their piled-up snows; and we, with the rarefied air in our
lungs, felt that we must shout to them." And so carried away was Mr.
Lavender by his own style that he really did begin to address the clouds:
"Ghosts of the sky, who creep cold about this wide blue air, we small
adventuring mortals great-hearted salute you. Humbly proud of our daring
have we come to sport with you and the winds of Ouranos, and, in the
rapturous corridors between you, play hide-and seek, avoiding your
glorious moisture with the dips and curves and skimming of our swallow
flights--we, the little unconquerable Spirits of the Squirth!"
The surprise which Mr. Lavender felt at having uttered so peculiar a
word, in the middle of such a flow of poetry reduced him to sudden
"Golly!" said the airman with sudden alarm in his voice. "Hold tight!"
And they began to shoot towards earth faster than they had risen. They
came down, by what seemed a miracle to Mr. Lavender, who was still
contemplative, precisely where they had gone up. A little group was
collected there, and as they stepped out a voice said, "I beg your
pardon," in a tone so dry that it pierced even the fogged condition in
which Mr. Lavender alighted. The gentleman who spoke had a dark
moustache and thick white hair, and, except that he wore a monocle, and
was perhaps three inches taller, bore a striking resemblance to himself.
"Thank you," he replied, "certainly."
"No," said the gentleman, "not at all--on the contrary, Who the hell are
"A public man," said Mr. Lavender, surprised; "at least," he added
conscientiously, "I am not quite certain."
"Well," said the gentleman, "you've jolly well stolen my stunt."
"Who, then, are you?" asked Mr. Lavender.
"I?" replied the gentleman, evidently intensely surprised that he was not
known; "I--my name----"
But at this moment Mr. Lavender's attention was diverted by the sight of
Blink making for the horizon, and crying out in a loud voice: "My dog!"
he dropped the coat in which he was still enveloped and set off running
after her at full speed, without having taken in the identity of the
gentleman or disclosed his own. Blink, indeed, scenting another flight
in the air, had made straight for the entrance of the enclosure, and
finding a motor cab there with the door open had bolted into it, taking
it for her master's car. Mr. Lavender sprang in after her. At the shake
which this imparted to the cab, the driver, who had been dozing, turned
"Want to go back, sir?" he said.
"Yes," replied Mr. Lavender, breathless; "London."
SEES TRUTH FACE TO FACE
"I fear," thought Mr. Lavender, as they sped towards Town, "that I have
inadvertently taken a joy-ride which belonged to that distinguished
person with the eyeglass. No matter, my spirit is now bright for the
adventure I have in hand. If only I knew where I could find the Unseen
Power--but possibly its movements may be recorded in these journals.
"And taking from his pocket his morning papers, which he had not yet had
time to peruse, he buried himself in their contents. He was still deeply
absorbed when the cab stopped and the driver knocked on the window. Mr.
Lavender got out, followed by Blink, and was feeling in his pocket for
the fare when an exclamation broke from the driver:
"Gorblimy! I've brought the wrong baby!"
And before Mr. Lavender had recovered from his surprise, he had whipped
the car round and was speeding back towards the flying ground.
"How awkward!" thought Mr. Lavender, who was extremely nice in money
matters; "what shall I do now?" And he looked around him. There, as it
were by a miracle, was the office of a great journal, whence obviously
his distinguished colleague had set forth to the flying grounds, and to
which he had been returned in error by the faithful driver.
Perceiving in all this the finger of Providence, Mr. Lavender walked in.
Those who have followed his experiences so far will readily understand
how no one could look on Mr. Lavender without perceiving him to be a man
of extreme mark, and no surprise need be felt when he was informed that
the Personage he sought was on the point of visiting Brighton to open a
hospital, and might yet be overtaken at Victoria Station.
With a beating heart he took up the trail in another taxi-cab, and,
arriving at Victoria, purchased tickets for himself and Blink, and
inquired for the Brighton train.
"Hurry up!" replied the official. Mr. Lavender ran, searching the
carriage windows for any indication of his objective. The whistle had
been blown, and he was in despair, when his eye caught the label
"Reserved" on a first-class window, and looking in he saw a single person
evidently of the highest consequence smoking a cigar, surrounded by
papers. Without a moment's hesitation he opened the door, and, preceded
by Blink, leaped in. "This carriage is reserved, sir," said the
Personage, as the train moved out.
"I know," said Mr. Lavender, who had fallen on to the edge of the seat
opposite; "and only the urgency of my business would have caused me to
violate the sanctity of your retreat, for, believe me, I have the
instincts if not the habits of a gentleman."
The Personage, who had made a move of his hand as if to bring the train
to a standstill, abandoning his design, replaced his cigar, and
contemplated Mr. Lavender from above it.
The latter remained silent, returning that remarkable stare, while Blink
withdrew beneath the seat and pressed her chin to the ground, savouring
the sensation of a new motion.
"Yes," he thought, "those eyes have an almost superhuman force and
cunning. They are the eyes of a spider in the centre of a great web.
They seem to draw me."
"You are undoubtedly the Unseen Power, sir," he said suddenly, "and I
have reached the heart of the mystery. From your own lips I shall soon
know whether I am a puppet or a public man."
The Personage, who by his movements was clearly under the impression that
he had to do with a lunatic, sat forward with his hands on his knees
ready to rise at a moment's notice; he kept his cigar in his mouth,
however, and an enforced smile on the folds of his face.
"What can I do for you, sir?" he said.
"Will you have a cigar?"
"No, thank you," replied Mr. Lavender, "I must keep the eyes of my spirit
clear, and come to the point. Do you rule this country or do you not?
For it is largely on the answer to this that my future depends. In
telling others what to do am I speaking as my conscience or as your
conscience dictates; and, further, if indeed I am speaking as your
conscience dictates, have you a conscience?"
The Personage, who had evidently made up his mind to humour the intruder,
flipped the ash off his cigar.
Well, sir, he said, I don't know who the devil you may be, but my
conscience is certainly as good as yours."
"That," returned Mr: Lavender with a sigh, is a great relief, for whether
you rule the country or not, you are undoubtedly the source from which I,
together with the majority of my countrymen, derive our inspirations.
You are the fountainhead at which we draw and drink. And to know that
your waters are pure, unstained by taint of personal prejudice and the
love of power, will fortify us considerably. Am I to assume, then, that
above all passion and pettiness, you are an impersonal force whose
innumerable daily editions reflect nothing but abstract truth, and are in
no way the servants of a preconceived and personal view of the
"You want to know too much, don't you think?" said the Personage with a
"How can that be, sir?" asked Mr. Lavender: If you are indeed the
invisible king swaying the currents of national life, and turning its
tides at will, it is essential that we should believe in you; and before
we can believe in you must we not know all about you?"
"By Jove, sir," replied the Personage, "that strikes me as being contrary
to all the rules of religion. I thought faith was the ticket."
By this answer Mr. Lavender was so impressed that he sat for a moment in
silence, with his eyebrow working up and down.
"Sir," he said at last, "you have given me a new thought. If you are
right, to disbelieve in you and the acts which you perform, or rather the
editions which you issue, is blasphemy."
"I should think so," said the Personage, emitting a long whiff of smoke.
Hadn't that ever occurred to you before?"
"No," replied Mr. Lavender, naively, "for I have never yet disbelieved
anything in those journals."
The Personage coughed heartily.
"I have always regarded them," went on Mr. Lavender, "as I myself should
wish to be regarded, 'without fear and without reproach.' For that is,
as I understand it, the principle on which a gentleman must live, ever
believing of others what he would wish believed of himself. With the
exception of Germans," he added hastily.
"Naturally," returned the Personage. "And I'll defy you to find anything
in them which disagrees with that formula. Everything they print refers
to Germans if not directly then obliquely. Germans are the 'idee fixe',
and without an 'idee fixe', as you know, there's no such thing as
religion. Do you get me?"
"Yes, indeed," cried Mr. Lavender, enthused, for the whole matter now
seemed to him to fall into coherence, and, what was more, to coincide
with his preconceptions, so that he had no longer any doubts. "You, sir-
-the Unseen Power--are but the crystallized embodiment of the national
sentiment in time of war; in serving you, and fulfilling the ideas which
you concrete in your journals, we public men are servants of the general
animus, which in its turn serves the blind and burning instinct of
justice. This is eminently satisfactory to me, who would wish no better
fate than to be a humble lackey in that house." He had no sooner,
however, spoken those words than Joe Petty's remarks about Public Opinion
came back to him, and he added: "But are you really the general animus,
or are you only the animus of Mayors, that is the question?"
The personage seemed to follow this thought with difficulty. "What's
that?" he said.
Mr. Lavender ran his hands through his hair.
"And turns," he said, "on what is the unit of national feeling and
intelligence? Is it or is it not a Mayor?"
The Personage smiled. "Well, what do you think?" he said. "Haven't you
ever heard them after dinner? There's no question about it. Make your
mind easy if that's your only trouble."
Mr. Lavender, greatly cheered by the genial certainty in this answer,
said: "I thank you, sir. I shall go back and refute that common scoffer,
that caster of doubts. I have seen the Truth face, to face, and am
greatly encouraged to further public effort. With many apologies I can
now get out," he added, as the train stopped at South Croydon. "Blink!"
And, followed by his dog, he stepped from the train.
The Personage, who was indeed no other than the private secretary of the
private secretary of It whom Mr. Lavender had designated as the Truth
watched him from the window.
"Well, that WAS a treat, dear papa!" he murmured to himself, emitting a
sigh of smoke after his retreating interlocutor.
IS IN PERIL OF THE STREET
On the Sunday following this interview with the Truth Mr. Lavender, who
ever found the day of rest irksome to his strenuous spirit, left his
house after an early supper. It, had been raining all day, but the
sinking sun had now emerged and struck its level light into the tree tops
from a still cloudy distance. Followed by Blink, he threaded the puddled
waste which lies to the west of the Spaniard's Road, nor was it long
before the wild beauty of the scene infected his spirit, and he stood
still to admire the world spread out. The smoke rack of misted rain was
still drifting above the sunset radiance in an apple-green sky; and
behind Mr. Lavender, as he gazed at those clouds symbolical of the
world's unrest, a group of tall, dark pine-trees, wild and witch-like,
had collected as if in audience of his cosmic mood. He formed a striking
group for a painter, with the west wind flinging back his white hair, and
fluttering his dark moustache along his cheeks, while Blink, a little in
front of him, pointed at the prospect and emitted barks whose vigour
tossed her charming head now to this side now to that.
"How beautiful is this earth!" thought Mr. Lavender, "and how simple to
be good and happy thereon. Yet must we journey ten leagues beyond the
wide world's end to find justice and liberty. There are dark powers like
lions ever in the path. Yes," he continued, turning round to the
pinetrees, who were creaking slightly in the wind, "hate and oppression,
greed, lust, and ambition! There you stand malevolently regarding me.
Out upon you, dark witches of evil! If I had but an axe I would lay you
lower than the dust." But the poor pine-trees paid no attention save to
creak a little louder. And so incensed was Mr. Lavender by this
insensibility on the part of those which his own words had made him
perceive were the powers of darkness that he would very likely have
barked his knuckles on them if Blink by her impatience had not induced
him to resume his walk and mount on to the noble rampart of the
Along this he wandered and down the hill with the countless ghosts and
shadows of his brain, liberating the world in fancy from all the
hindrances which beset the paths of public men, till dark fell, and he
was compelled to turn towards home. Closely attended by the now sobered
Blink he had reached the Tube Station when he perceived in the inky war-
time dusk that a woman was following him. Dimly aware that she was tall
and graceful he hurried to avoid her, but before long could but note that
she was walking parallel and turning her face towards him. Her gloved
hand seemed to make a beckoning movement, and perceiving at once that he
was the object of that predatory instinct which he knew from the many
letters and protests in his journals to be one of the most distressing
features of the War, he would have broken into a run if he had not been
travelling up-hill; being deprived of this means of escape, his public
nature prevailed, and he saw that it was his duty to confront the woman,
and strike a blow at, the national evil stalking beside him. But he was
in a difficulty, for his natural delicacy towards women seemed to
preclude him from treating her as if she were what she evidently was,
while his sense of duty--urged him with equal force to do so.
A whiff of delicious scent determined him. "Madam," he said, without
looking in her face, which, indeed, was not visible--so great was the
darkness, "it is useless to pursue one who not only has the greatest
veneration for women but regards you as a public danger at a time when
all the energies of the country should be devoted to the defeat of our
The woman, uttering a sound like a laugh, edged towards him, and Mr.
Lavender edged away, so that they proceeded up the street crabwise, with
Blink adhering jealously to her master's heels.
"Do you know," said Mr. Lavender, with all the delicacy in his power,
"how terribly subversive of the national effort it is to employ your
beauty and your grace to snare and slacken the sinews of our glorious
youth? The mystery of a woman's glance in times like these should be
used solely to beckon our heroes on to death in the field. But you,
madam, than whom no one indeed has a more mysterious glance, have turned
it to ends which, in the words of a great public man, profane the temple
Mr. Lavender stopped, for his delicacy would not allow him even in so
vital a cause to call bodies bodies. The woman here edged so close that
he bolted across her in affright, and began to slant back towards the
opposite side of the street.
"Madam," he said, you must have perceived by now that I am, alas! not
privileged by age to be one of the defenders of my country; and though I
am prepared to yield to you, if by so doing I can save some young hero
from his fate, I wish you to clearly understand that only my sense of
duty as a public man would induce me to do any such thing." At this he
turned his eyes dreadfully upon her graceful form still sidling towards
him, and, conscious again of that delightful scent, felt a swooning
sensation which made him lean against a lamp-post. "Spare me, madam," he
said in a faint voice for my country's sake I am ready to do anything,
but I must tell you that I worship another of your sex from afar, and if
you are a woman you will not seek to make me besmirch that adoration or
imperil my chivalry."
So saying, he threw his arms round the lamppost and closed his eyes,
expecting every moment to be drawn away against his will into a life of
A well-known voice, strangled to the pitch almost of inaudibility, said
in his ear:
"Oh, Don Pickwixote, Don Pickwixote, you will be the death of me!"
Electrified, Mr. Lavender opened his eyes, and in the dull orange rays of
the heavily shaded lamp he saw beside him no other than the writhing,
choking figure of Aurora herself. Shocked beyond measure by the mistake
he had made, Mr. Lavender threw up his hands and bolted past her through
the gateway of his garden; nor did he cease running till he had reached
his bedroom and got under the bed, so terribly was he upset. There, in
the company of Blink, he spent perhaps the most shame-stricken hours of
his existence, cursing the memory of all those bishops and novelists who
had caused him to believe that every woman in a dark street was a danger
to the State; nor could the persuasion of Mrs. Petty or Joe induce him to
come out, so that in despair they were compelled to leave him to pass the
night in this penitential position, which he did without even taking out
RECEIVES A REVELATION
Fully a week elapsed before Mr. Lavender recovered from the effects of
the night which he had spent under his bed and again took his normal
interest in the course of national affairs. That which at length tore
him from his torpid condition and refixed his imagination was an article
in one of, his journals on the League of Nations, which caused him
suddenly to perceive that this was the most important subject of the day.
Carefully extracting the address of the society who had the matter in
hand, he determined to go down forthwith and learn from their own lips
how he could best induce everybody to join them in their noble
undertaking. Shutting every window, therefore and locking Blink
carefully into his study, he set forth and took the Tube to Charing
Arriving at the premises indicated he made his way in lifts and corridors
till he came to the name of this great world undertaking upon the door of
Room 443, and paused for a moment to recover from the astonishment he
felt that the whole building at least was not occupied by the energies of
such a prodigious association.
"Appearances, however, are deceptive," he thought; "and from a single
grain of mustard-seed whole fields will flower." He knocked on the door,
therefore, and receiving the reply, "Cub id," in a female voice, he
entered a room where two young ladies with bad colds were feebly tapping
"Can I see the President?" asked Mr. Lavender.
"Dot at the bobent," said one of the young ladies. "Will the Secretary
"Yes," replied Mr. Lavender "for I seek information."
The young ladies indulged in secret confabulation, from which the
perpetual word "He" alone escaped to Mr. Lavender's ears.
Then one of them slipped into an inner room, leaving behind her a
powerful trail of eucalyptus. She came back almost directly, saying,
The room which Mr Lavender entered contained two persons, one seated at a
bureau and the other pacing up and down and talking in a powerful bass
voice. He paused, looked at Mr. Lavender from under bushy brows, and at
once went on walking and talking, with a sort of added zest.
"This must be He," thought Mr. Lavender, sitting down to listen, for
there was something about the gentleman which impressed him at once. He
had very large red ears, and hardly a hair on his head, while his full,
bearded face and prominent eyes were full of force and genius.
"It won't do a little bit, Titmarsh," he was saying, "to allow the
politicians to meddle in this racket. We want men of genius, whose
imaginations carry them beyond the facts of the moment. This is too big
a thing for those blasted politicians. They haven't shown a sign so far
of paying attention to what I've been telling them all this time. We
must keep them out, Titmarsh. Machinery without mechanism, and a change
of heart in the world. It's very simple. A single man of genius from
each country, no pettifogging opposition, no petty prejudices."
The other gentleman, whom Mr. Lavender took for the Secretary, and who
was leaning his head rather wearily on his hand, interjected: "Quite so!
And whom would you choose besides yourself? In France, for instance?"
He who was walking stopped a moment, again looked at Mr. Lavender
intently, and again began to speak as if he were not there.
"France?" he said. "There isn't anybody--Anatole's too old--there isn't
"America, then?" hazarded the Secretary.
"America!" replied the other; "they haven't got even half a man. There's
that fellow in Germany that I used to influence; but I don't know--no, I
don't think he'd be any good."
"D'Annunzio, surely----" began the Secretary.
"D'Annunzio? My God! D'Annunzio! No! There's nobody in Italy or
Holland--she's as bankrupt as Spain; and there's not a cat in Austria.
Russia might, perhaps, give us someone, but I can't at the moment think
of him. No, Titmarsh, it's difficult."
Mr. Lavender had been growing more and more excited at each word he
overheard, for a scheme of really stupendous proportions was shaping
itself within him. He suddenly rose, and said: "I have an idea."
The Secretary sat up as if he had received a Faradic shock, and he who
was walking up and down stood still. "The deuce you have, sir," he said.
"Yes," cried Mr. Lavender and in concentration and marvellous simplicity,
"it has, I am sure, never been surpassed. It is clear to me, sir, that
you, and you alone, must be this League of Nations. For if it is
entirely in your hands there will be no delay. The plan will spring full
fledged from the head of Jove, and this great and beneficial change in
the lot of mankind will at once become an accomplished fact. There will
be no need for keeping in touch with human nature, no call for patience
and all that laborious upbuilding stone by stone which is so apt to
discourage mankind and imperil the fruition of great reforms. No, sir;
you--you must be this League, and we will all work to the end that
tomorrow at latest there may be perfected this crowning achievement of
the human species."
The gentleman, who had commenced to walk again, looked furtively from Mr.
Lavender to the Secretary, and said:
"By Jingo! some idea!"
"Yes," cried Mr. Lavender, entranced that his grand notion should be at
once accepted; "for it is only men like you who can both soaringly
conceive and immediately concrete in action; and, what is more, there
will be no fear of your tiring of this job and taking up another, for you
will be IT; and one cannot change oneself."
The gentleman looked at Mr. Lavender very suddenly at the words "tiring
of this job," and transferred his gaze to the Secretary, who had bent his
face down to his papers, and was smothering a snigger with his hand.
"Who are you, sir?" he said sharply.
"Merely one," returned Mr. Lavender, "who wishes to do all in his power
to forward a project so fraught with beneficence to all mankind. I count
myself fortunate beyond measure to have come here this morning and found
the very Heart of the matter, the grain of mustard-seed."
The gentleman, who had begun to walk again, here muttered words which
would have sounded like "Damned impudence" if Mr. Lavender had not been
too utterly carried away by his idea to hear them.
"I shall go forth at once," he said, "and make known the good tidings
that the fields are sown, the League formed. Henceforth there are no
barriers between nations, and the reign of perpetual Peace is assured.
It is colossal."
The gentleman abruptly raised his boot, but, seeming to think better of
it, lowered it again, and turned away to the window.
Mr. Lavender, having bowed to his back, went out, and, urged on by his
enthusiasm, directed his steps at once towards Trafalgar Square.
Arriving at this hub of the universe he saw that Chance was on his side,
for a meeting was already in progress, and a crowd of some forty persons
assembled round one of the lions. Owing to his appearance Mr. Lavender
was able without opposition to climb up on the plinth and join the
speaker, a woman of uncertain years. He stood there awaiting his turn
and preparing his oration, while she continued her discourse, which
seemed to be a protest against any interference with British control of
the freedom of the seas. A Union Jack happened to be leaning against the
monument, and when she had at last finished, Mr. Lavender seized it and
came forward to the edge.
"Great tidings!" he said at once, waving the flag, and without more ado
plunged into an oration, which, so far as it went, must certainly
be ranked among his masterpieces. "Great tidings, Friends! I have
planted the grain of mustard seed or, in common parlance, have just come
from the meeting which has incepted the League of Nations; and it will be
my task this morning briefly to make known to you the principles which in
future must dominate the policy of the world. Since it is for the closer
brotherhood of man and the reign of perpetual peace that we are
struggling, we must first secure the annihilation of our common enemies.
Those members of the human race whose infamies have largely placed them
beyond the pale must be eliminated once for all."
Loud cheers greeted this utterance, and stimulated by the sound Mr.
Lavender proceeded: "What, however, must the civilized nations do when
at last they have clean sheets? In the first place, all petty prejudices
and provincial aspirations must be set aside; and though the world must
be firmly founded upon the principle of nationality it must also act as
one great people. This, my fellow-countrymen, is no mere contradiction
in terms, for though in their new solidarities each nation will be
prouder of itself, and more jealous of its good name and independence
than ever, that will not prevent its' sacrificing its inalienable rights
for the good of the whole human nation of which it is a member. Friends,
let me give you a simple illustration, which in a nutshell will make the
whole thing clear. We, here in Britain, are justly proud and tenacious
of our sea power--in the words of the poet, 'We hold all the gates of the
water.' Now it is abundantly and convincingly plain that this reinforced
principle of nationality bids us to retain and increase them, while
internationalism bids us give--them up."
His audience--which had hitherto listened with open mouths, here closed
them, and a strident voice exclaimed:
"Give it a name, gov'nor. D'you say we ought to give up Gib?"
This word pierced Mr. Lavender, standing where he was, to the very
marrow, and he fell into such confusion of spirit that his words became
"My God!" he thought, appalled; "is it possible that I have not got to
the bottom of this question?" And, turning his back on the audience, he
gazed in a sort of agony at the figure of Nelson towering into the sky
above him. He was about to cry out piteously: "Countrymen, I know not
what I think. Oh! I am unhappy!" when he inadvertently stepped back
over the edge of the plinth, and, still entangled in the flag, was picked
up by two policemen and placed in a dazed condition and a deserted spot
opposite the National Gallery.
It was while he was standing there, encircled by, pigeons and forgotten
by his fellow man, that there came to him a spiritual revelation.
"Strange!" he thought; "I notice a certain inconsistency in myself, and
even in my utterances. I am two men, one of whom is me and one not me;
and the one which is not me is the one which causes me to fall into the
arms of policemen and other troubles. The one which is me loves these
pigeons, and desires to live quietly with my dog, not considering public
affairs, which, indeed, seem to be suited to persons of another sort.
Whence, then, comes the one which is not me? Can it be that it is
derived from the sayings and writings of others, and is but a spurious
spirit only meet to be outcast? Do I, to speak in the vernacular, care
any buttons whether we stick to Gibraltar or not so long as men do but
live in kindness? And if that is so, have I the right to say I do?
Ought I not, rather, to be true to my private self and leave the course
of public affairs to those who have louder voices and no private selves?"
The thought was extremely painful, for it seemed to disclose to him grave
inconsistency in the recent management of his life. And, thoroughly
mortified, he turned round with a view of entering the National Gallery
and soothing his spirit with art, when he was arrested by the placard
which covered it announcing which town had taken which sum of bonds.
This lighted up such a new vista of public utility that his brain would
certainly have caught fire again if one of the policemen who had
conducted him across the Square had not touched him on the arm, and said:
"How are you now, sir?"
"I am pretty well, thank you, policeman," replied Mr. Lavender, "and
sorry that I occasioned so much disturbance."
"Don't mention it, sir," answered the policeman; "you came a nasty
"Tell me," said Mr. Lavender, suddenly looking up into his face, "do you
consider that a man is justified in living a private life? For, as
regards my future, it is largely on your opinion that I shall act."
The policeman, whose solid face showed traces of astonishment, answered
slowly: "As a general thing, a man's private life don't bear lookin'
into, as you know, sir."
"I have not lived one for some time," said Mr. Lavender.
"Well," remarked the policeman, "if you take my advice you won't try it
a-gain. I should say you 'adn't the constitution."
"I fear you do not catch my meaning," returned Mr. Lavender, whose whole
body was aching from his fall; "it is my public life which tries me."
"Well, then, I should chuck it," said the policeman.
"Really?" murmured Mr. Lavender eagerly, "would you?"
"Why not?" said the policeman.
So excited was Mr. Lavender by this independent confirmation of his
sudden longing that he took out half a crown.
"You will oblige me greatly," he said, "by accepting this as a token of my
"Well, sir, I'll humour you," answered the policeman; "though it was no
trouble, I'm sure; you're as light as a feather. Goin' anywhere in
particular?" he added.
"Yes," said Mr. Lavender, rather faintly, "the Tube Station."
"Come along with me, then."
Mr. Lavender went along, not sorry to have the protection of that
stalwart form, for his nerve was shaken, not so much by physical
suffering as by the revelation he had received.
"If you'll take my tip, sir," said the policeman, parting from him, "you
won't try no private life again; you don't look strong."
"Thank you, policeman," said Mr. Lavender musingly; "it is kind of you to
take an interest in me. Good-bye!"
Safely seated in the Tube for Hampstead he continued the painful struggle
of his meditations. "If, indeed," he thought, "as a public man I do more
harm than good, I am prepared to sacrifice all for my country's sake and
retire into private life. But the policeman said that would be dangerous
for me. What, then, is left? To live neither a public nor a private
This thought, at once painful and heroic, began to take such hold of him
that he arrived at his house in a high fever of the brain.
AND ASCENDS TO PARADISE
Now when Mr. Lavender once slept over an idea it became so strong that no
power on earth could prevent his putting it into execution, and all night
long he kept Blink awake by tramping up and down his bedroom and planning
the details of such a retirement as would meet his unfortunate case. For
at once he perceived that to retire from both his lives without making
the whole world know of it would be tantamount to not retiring. "Only by
a public act," he thought, "of so striking a character that nobody can
miss it can I bring the moral home to all public and private men." And a
hundred schemes swarmed like ants in his brain. Nor was it till the cock
crew that one adequate to this final occasion occurred to him.
"It will want very careful handling," he thought, "for otherwise I shall
be prevented, and perhaps even arrested in the middle, which will be both
painful and ridiculous. So sublime, however, was his idea that he shed
many tears over it, and often paused in his tramping to regard the
unconscious Blink with streaming eyes. All the next day he went about
the house and heath taking a last look at objects which had been dear,
and at mealtimes ate and drank even less than usual, absorbed by the
pathos of his coming renunciation. He determined to make his
preparations for the final act during the night, when Mrs. Petty would be
prevented by Joe's snoring from hearing the necessary sounds; and at
supper he undertook the delicate and harrowing task of saying good-bye
to, his devoted housekeeper without letting her know that he, was doing
"Mrs--Petty," he said, trifling with a morsel of cheese, "it is useless
to disguise, from you that I may be going a journey, and I feel that I
shall not be able to part from all the care you have, bestowed on me
without recording in words my heartfelt appreciation of your devotion. I
shall miss it, I shall miss it terribly, if, that is, I am permitted to
Mrs. Petty, whose mind instantly ran to his bed socks, answered: "Don't
you worry, sir; I won't forget them. But wherever are you going now?"
"Ah!" said Mr. Lavender subtly, "it is all in the air at present; but now
that the lime-trees are beginning to smell a certain restlessness is upon
me, and you may see some change in my proceedings. Whatever happens to
me, however, I commit my dear Blink to your care; feed her as if she were
myself, and love her as if she were Joe, for it is largely on food and
affection that dogs depend for happiness.
"Why, good gracious, sir," said Mrs. Petty, "you talk as if you were
going for a month of Sundays. Are you thinking of Eastbourne?"
Mr. Lavender sighed deeply at that word, for the memory of a town where
he had spent many happy days added to the gentle melancholy of his
feelings on this last evening.
"As regards that I shall not inform you at present; for, indeed, I am by
no means certain what my destination will be. Largely speaking, no pub--
public man," he stammered, doubtful whether he was any longer that,
"knows where he will be going to-morrow. Sufficient unto the day are the
intentions in his head.
"Well, sir," said Mrs. Petty frankly, "you can't go anywhere without Joe
or me, that's flat."
Mr. Lavender smiled.
"Dear Mrs. Petty," he murmured, "there are sacrifices one cannot demand
even of the most faithful friends. But," he went on with calculated
playfulness, "we need not consider that point until the day after to-
morrow at least, for I have much to do in the meantime."
Reassured by those words and the knowledge that Mr. Lavender's plans
seldom remained the same for more than two days, Mrs. Petty tossed her
head slightly and went to the door. "Well, it is a mystery, I'm sure,"
"I should like to see Joe," said Mr. Lavender, with a lingering look at
his devoted housekeeper.
"The beauty!" muttered Mrs. Petty; "I'll send him," and withdrew.
Giving the morsel of cheese to Blink, who, indeed, had eaten practically
the whole of this last meal, Mr. Lavender took the moon-cat on his
shoulder, and abandoned himself for a moment to the caresses of his two
"Blink," he said in a voice which trembled slightly, "be good to this
moon-cat while I am away; and if I am longer than you expect, darling, do
not be unhappy. Perhaps some day you will rejoin me; and even if we are
not destined to meet again, I would not, in the fashion of cruel men,
wish to hinder your second marriage, or to stand in the way of your happy
forgetfulness of me. Be as light-hearted as you can, my dear, and wear
no mourning for your master."
So saying, he flung his arms round her, and embraced her warmly, inhaling
with the most poignant emotion her sheep-like odour. He was still
engaged with her when the door was opened, and Joe came in.
"Joe," said Mr. Lavender resolutely, "sit down and light your pipe. You
will find a bottle of pre-war port in the sideboard. Open it, and, drink
my health; indeed, I myself will drink it too, for it may give me
courage. We have been good friends, Joe," he went on while Joe was
drawing the cork," and have participated in pleasant and sharp
adventures. I have called you in at this moment, which may some day seem
to you rather solemn, partly to shake your hand and partly to resume the
discussion on public men which we held some days ago, if you remember."
"Ah!" said Joe, with his habitual insouciance, "when I told you that they
give me the 'ump."
"Yes, what abaht it, sir? 'Ave they been sayin' anything particular
vicious?" His face flying up just then with the cork which he was
extracting encountered the expression on Mr. Lavender's visage, and he
added: "Don't take wot I say to 'eart, sir; try as you like you'll never
be a public man."
Those words, which seemed to Mr. Lavender to seal his doom, caused a
faint pink flush to invade his cheeks.
"No," continued Joe, pouring out the wine; you 'aven't got the brass in
times like these. I dare say you've noticed, sir, that the times is
favourable for bringing out the spots on the body politic. 'Ere's
"Joe," said Mr. Lavender, raising the glass to his lips with solemnity,
"I wish you a most happy and prosperous life. Let us drink to all those
qualities which make you par excellence one of that great race, the best
hearted in the world, which never thinks of to-morrow, never knows when
it is beaten, and seldom loses its sense of humour.
"Ah!" returned Joe enigmatically, half-closing one of his greenish eyes,
and laying the glass to one side of his reddish nose. Then, with a quick
movement, he swallowed its contents and refilled it before Mr. Lavender
had succeeded in absorbing more than a drop.
"I don't say," he continued, "but what there's a class o' public man
that's got its uses, like the little 'un that keeps us all alive, or the
perfect English gentleman what did his job, and told nobody nothin' abaht
it. You can 'ave confidence in a man like that----that's why 'e's gone
an' retired; 'e's civilized, you see, the finished article; but all this
raw material, this 'get-on' or 'get-out' lot, that's come from 'oo knows
where, well, I wish they'd stayed there with their tell-you-how-to-do-it
and their 'ymns of 'ate."
"Joe," said Mr. Lavender, "are you certain that therein does not speak
the snob inherent in the national bosom? Are you not unconsciously
paying deference to the word gentleman?"
"Why not, sir?" replied Joe, tossing off his second glass. "It'd be a
fine thing for the country if we was all gentlemen--straight, an' a
little bit stupid, and 'ad 'alf a thought for others." And he refilled
his master's glass. "I don't measure a gentleman by 'is money, or 'is
title, not even by 'is clothes--I measure 'im by whether he can stand
'avin' power in 'is 'ands without gettin' unscrupled or swollen 'eaded,
an' whether 'e can do what he thinks right without payin' attention, to
clamour. But, mind you, 'e's got to 'ave right thoughts too, and a
feelin' 'eart. 'Ere's luck, sir."
Mr. Lavender, who, absorbed in his chauffeur's sentiments, had now drunk
two glasses, rose from his, chair, and clutching his hair said: "I will
not conceal from you, Joe, that I have always assumed every public man
came up to that standard, at least."
"Crikey said Joe. 'Ave you really, sir? My Gawd! Got any use for the
rest of this bottle?"
"No, Joe, no. I shall never have use for a bottle again."
"In that case I might as well," said Joe, pouring what remained into a
tumbler and drinking it off. "Is there any other topic you'd like to
mention? If I can 'ave any influence on you, I shall be very glad."
"Thank you, Joe," returned Mr. Lavender, "what I have most need of at
this moment is solitude and your good wishes. And will you kindly take
Blink away, and when she has had her run, place her in my bedroom, with
the window closed. Good-night, Joe. Call me late tomorrow morning.
"Certainly, sir. Good-night, sir."
"Good-night, Joe. Shake hands."
When Joe was gone, accompanied by the unwilling Blink, turning her
beautiful dark eyes back to the last, Mr. Lavender sat down at his
bureau, and drawing a sheet of paper to him, wrote at the top of it.
"My last Will and Testament."
It was a long time before he got further, and then entirely omitted to
leave anything in it, completely preoccupied by the preamble, which
gradually ran as follows:
"I, John Lavender, make known to all men by these presents that the
act which I contemplate is symbolical, and must in no sense be taken
as implying either weariness of life or that surrender to misfortune
which is unbecoming to an English public gentleman." (Over this
description of himself Mr. Lavender was obliged to pause some time
hovering between the two designations, and finally combining them as
the only way out of his difficulty.) "Long and painful experience
has convinced me that only by retiring from the former can I retain
the latter character, and only by retiring from both can I point the
moral ever demanded by my countrymen. Conscious, indeed, that a
mere act of private resignation would have no significance to the
body politic, nor any deflecting influence on the national life, I
have chosen rather to disappear in blue flame, so that every
Englishman may take to heart my lesson, and learn from my strange
fate how to be himself uninfluenced by the verbiage of others. At
the same time, with the utmost generosity, I wish to acknowledge in
full my debt towards all those great writers and speakers on the war
who have exercised so intoxicating an influence on my mind." (Here
followed an alphabetical list of names beginning with B and ending
"I wish to be dissociated firmly from the views of my chauffeur Joe
Petty, and to go to my last account with an emphatic assertion that
my failure to become a perfect public gentleman is due to private
idiosyncrasies rather than to any conviction that it is impossible,
or to anything but admiration of the great men I have mentioned. If
anybody should wish to paint me after I am dead, I desire that I may
he represented with my face turned towards the Dawn; for it is at
that moment so symptomatic of a deep adoration--which I would scorn
to make the common property of gossiping tongues--that I intend to
depart. If there should be anything left of me--which is less than
probable considering the inflammatory character of the material I
design for my pyre--I would be obliged if, without giving anybody
any trouble, it could be buried in my garden, with the usual
THE PUBLIC MAN, WHO DIED FOR HIS
COUNTRY'S GOOD, LIVED HERE.'
"In conclusion, I would say a word to that land I have loved and
served: 'Be not extreme! Distrust the words, of others. To
yourself be true! As you are strong be gentle, as you are brave be
modest! Beloved country, farewell!'"
Having written that final sentence he struggled long with himself before
he could lay down the pen. But by this time the port he had drunk had
begun to have its usual effect, and he fell into a doze, from which he
was awakened five hours later by the beams of a full moon striking in on
"The hour has come," he thought, and, opening the French-window, he went
out on to the lawn, where the dew lay white. The freshness in the air,
the glamour of the moonlight, and the fumes of the port combined to make
him feel strangely rhumantic, and if he had possessed a musical
instrument he would very likely have begun to play on it. He spent some
moments tracking to and fro in the dew before he settled on the centre of
the lawn as the most suitable spot for the act which he contemplated, for
thence he would be able to turn his last looks towards Aurora's bedroom-
window without interference from foliage. Having drawn a twelve-foot
circle in the dew with his toe he proceeded in the bright moonlight to
the necessary accumulation of his funeral pile, conveying from his study,
book by book, journal by journal, pamphlet by pamphlet, the hoarded
treasures of the last four years; and as he carefully placed each one,
building up at once a firm and cunning structure, he gave a little groan,
thinking of the intoxications of the past, and all the glorious thoughts
embodied in that literature. Underneath, in the heart of the pile, he
reserved a space for the most inflammable material, which he selected
from a special file of a special journal, and round the circumference of
the lofty and tapering mound he carefully deposited the two hundred and
four war numbers of a certain weekly, so that a ring of flame might lick
well up the sides and permeate the more solid matter on which he would be
sitting. For two hours he worked in the waning moonlight till he had
completed this weird and heroic erection; and just before the dawn, sat
down by the light of the candle with which he meant to apply the
finishing touch, to compose that interview with himself whereby he
intended to convey to the world the message of his act.
"I found him," he began, in the words of the interviewer, "sitting upon a
journalistic pile of lovely leaves of thought, which in the dawning of a
new day glowed with a certain restrained flamboyance, as though the
passion stored within those exotic pages gave itself willingly to the
'eclaircissement' of the situation, and of his lineaments on which
suffering had already set their stamp.
"'I should like you,' I said, approaching as near as I could, for the
sparks, like little fireflies on a Riviera evening, were playing
profoundly round my trousers, 'I should like to hear from your own lips
the reasons which have caused you to resign.'
"'Certainly,' he replied, with the courtesy which I have always found
characteristic of him in moments which would try the suavity of more
ordinary men; and with the utmost calm and clarity he began to tell me
the inner workings of his mind, while the growing dawn-light irradiated
his wasted and expressive features, and the flames slowly roasted his
"'Yes,' he said quietly, and his eyes turned inwards, 'I have at last
seen the problem clearly, and seen it whole. It is largely because of
this that I have elected to seek the seclusion of another world. What
that world contains for me I know not, though so many public men have
tried to tell me; but it has never been my way to recoil from the
Unknown, and I am ready for my journey beyond the wide world's end.'
"I was greatly struck by the large-hearted way in which he spoke those
words, and I interrupted him to ask whether he did not think that there
was something fundamental in the British character which would leap as
one man at such an act of daring sacrifice and great adventure.
"'As regards that,' he replied fearlessly, while in the light of the
ever-brightening dawn I could, see the suspender on his right leg
gradually charring, so that he must already have been in great pain, 'as
regards that, it is largely the proneness of the modern British to leap
to verbal extremity which is inducing me to afford them this object-
lesson in restraint and commonsense. Ouch !'
"This momentary ejaculation seemed to escape him in spite of all his iron
control; and the smell of burning flesh brought home to me as nothing
else, perhaps, could have done the tortures he must have been suffering.
"'I feel,' he went on very gravely, 'that extravagance of word and
conduct is fatal to my country, and having so profoundly experienced its
effects upon myself, I am now endeavouring by a shining example to supply
a remedy for a disease which is corroding the vitals and impairing the
sanity of my countrymen and making them a race of second-hand spiritual
"I confess that at this moment the tears started to my eyes, for a more
sublime show than the spectacle of this devoted man slowly roasting
himself to death before my eyes for the good of his country I had seldom
seen. It had a strange, an appalling interest, and for nothing on earth
could I have torn my gaze away. I now realized to the full for the first
time the will-power and heroism of the human species, and I rejoiced with
a glorious new feeling that I was of the same breed as this man, made of
such stern stuff that not even a tear rolled down his cheeks to quench
the flames that leaped around him ever higher and higher. And the dawn
came up in the eastern sky; and I knew that a great day was preparing for
mankind; and with my eyes fixed upon him as he turned blacker and blacker
I let my heart loose in a great thanksgiving that I had lived to see this
moment. It was then that he cried out in a loud voice:
"'I call Aurora to witness that I have died without a falter, grasping a
burning spear, to tilt at the malpractice which has sent me mad!' And I
saw that he held in his fast-consuming hand a long roll of journals
sharpened to a point of burning flame.
"'Aurora!' he cried again, and with that enigmatic word on his lips was
incinerated in the vast and towering belch of the devouring element.
"It was among the most inspiring sights I have ever witnessed."
When Mr. Lavender had completed that record, whose actuality and wealth
of moving detail had greatly affected him, and marked it "For the Press-
Immediate," he felt very cold. It was, in fact, that hour of dawn when a
shiver goes through the world; and, almost with pleasurable anticipation
he took up his lighted candle and stole shivering out to his pile, rising
ghostly to the height of some five feet in the middle of the dim lawn
whereon a faint green tinge was coming with the return of daylight.
Having reached it, he walked round it twice, and readjusted four volumes
of the history of the war as stepping-stones to the top; then lowering
the candle, whose flame burned steadily in the stillness, he knelt down
in the grey dew and set fire to an article in a Sunday paper. Then,
sighing deeply, he returned to his little ladder and, with some
difficulty preserving his balance, mounted to the top, and sat down with
his legs towards the house and his eyes fixed on Aurora's bedroom-window.
He had been there perhaps ten minutes before he realized that nothing was
happening below him, and, climbing down again, proceeded to the aperture
where he had inserted the burning print. There, by the now considerable
daylight, he saw that the flame had gone out at the words "The Stage is
now set for the last act of this colossal world drama." And convinced
that Providence had intended that heartening sentence to revive his
somewhat drooping courage, he thought, "I, too, shall be making history
this morning," and relighting the journal, went on his hands and knees
and began manfully to blow the flames. . . . . .
Now the young lady in the adjoining castle, who had got out of bed,
happened, as she sometimes did, to go to the window for a look at the sun
rising over Parliament Hill. Attracted by the smell of burning paper she
saw Mr. Lavender in this act of blowing up the flames.
"What on earth is the poor dear doing now?" she thought. "This is
really the limit!" And slipping on her slippers and blue dressing-gown
she ensconced herself behind the curtain to await developments.
Mr. Lavender had now backed away from the flames at which he had been
blowing, and remained on his hands and knees, apparently assuring himself
that they had really obtained hold. He then rose, and to her intense
surprise began climbing up on to the pile. She watched him at first with
an amused astonishment, so ludicrous was his light little figure, crowned
by stivered-up white hair, and the expression of eager melancholy on his
thin, high-cheekboned face upturned towards her window. Then, to her
dismay, she saw that the flame had really caught, and, suddenly persuaded
that he had some crazy intention of injuring himself with the view,
perhaps, of attracting her attention, she ran out of her room and down
the stairs, and emerging from the back door just as she was, circled her
garden, so that she might enter Mr. Lavender's garden from behind him,
ready for any eventuality. She arrived within arm's reach of him without
his having heard her, for Blink, whose anxious face as she watched her
master wasting, could be discerned at the bedroom-window, was whining,
and Mr. Lavender himself had now broken into a strange and lamentable
chantey, which, in combination with the creeping flutter of the flames in
the weekly journals encircling the base of the funeral pyre, well-nigh
made her blood curdle.
"Aurora," sang Mr. Lavender, in that most dolorous voice,
"Aurora, my heart I bring,
For I know well it will not burn,
Oh! when the leaves puff out in Spring
And when the leaves in Autumn turn
Think, think of me!
Aurora, I pass away!
Upon my horse of air I ride;
Here let my grizzled ashes stay,
But take, ah! take my heart inside!
At this moment, just as a fit of the most uncontrollable laughter was
about to seize her, she saw a flame which had just consumed the word
Horatio reach Mr. Lavender's right calf.
"Oh!" he cried out in desperate tones, stretching up his arms to the sky.
"Now is my hour come! Sweet-sky, open and let me see her face! Behold!
behold her with the eyes of faith. It is enough. Courage, brother; let
me now consume in silence!" So saying, he folded his arm tightly across
his breast and closed his lips. The flame rising to the bottom of the
weekly which had indeed been upside down, here nipped him vigorously, so
that with a wholly unconscious movement he threw up his little legs, and,
losing his balance, fell backwards into the arms of Aurora, watchfully
outstretched to receive him. Uplifted there, close to that soft blue
bosom away from the reek of the flame, he conceived that he was consumed
and had passed already from his night of ghosts and shadows into the arms
of the morning, and through his swooning lips came forth the words:
"I am in Paradise."