Part 3 out of 5
Wonderful woman! The uncomplicated optimism that carried her through
good and ill had not descended to her son.
>From pole to pole he had been thrown that day, from the French
barber, whose intellect accepted nothing without carping, and whose
little fingers worked all day, to save himself from dying out, to his
own mother, whose intellect accepted anything presented with
sufficient glow, but who, until she died, would never stir a finger.
When Shelton reached his rooms, he wrote to Antonia:
I can't wait about in London any longer; I am going down to Bideford
to start a walking tour. I shall work my way to Oxford, and stay
there till I may come to Holm Oaks. I shall send you my address; do
write as usual.
He collected all the photographs he had of her--amateur groups, taken
by Mrs. Dennant--and packed them in the pocket of his shooting-
jacket. There was one where she was standing just below her little
brother, who was perched upon a wall. In her half-closed eyes, round
throat, and softly tilted chin, there was something cool and
watchful, protecting the ragamuffin up above her head. This he kept
apart to be looked at daily, as a man says his prayers.
THE INDIAN CIVILIAN
One morning then, a week later, Shelton found himself at the walls of
He had seen this lugubrious stone cage before. But the magic of his
morning walk across the moor, the sight of the pagan tors, the songs
of the last cuckoo, had unprepared him for that dreary building. He
left the street, and, entering the fosse, began a circuit, scanning
the walls with morbid fascination.
This, then, was the system by which men enforced the will of the
majority, and it was suddenly borne in on him that all the ideas and
maxims which his Christian countrymen believed themselves to be
fulfilling daily were stultified in every cellule of the social
honeycomb. Such teachings as "He that is without sin amongst you"
had been pronounced unpractical by peers and judges, bishops,
statesmen, merchants, husbands--in fact, by every truly Christian
person in the country.
"Yes," thought Shelton, as if he had found out something new, "the
more Christian the nation, the less it has to do with the Christian
Society was a charitable organisation, giving nothing for nothing,
little for sixpence; and it was only fear that forced it to give at
He took a seat on a wall, and began to watch a warder who was slowly
paring a last year's apple. The expression of his face, the way he
stood with his solid legs apart, his head poked forward and his lower
jaw thrust out, all made him a perfect pillar of Society. He was
undisturbed by Shelton's scrutiny, watching the rind coil down below
the apple; until in a springing spiral it fell on the path and
collapsed like a toy snake. He took a bite; his teeth were jagged;
and his mouth immense. It was obvious that he considered himself a
most superior man. Shelton frowned, got down slowly, from the wall,
and proceeded on his way.
A little further down the hill he stopped again to watch a group of
convicts in a field. They seemed to be dancing in a slow and sad
cotillon, while behind the hedge on every side were warders armed
with guns. Just such a sight, substituting spears could have been
seen in Roman times.
While he thus stood looking, a man, walking, rapidly, stopped beside
him, and asked how many miles it was to Exeter. His round visage;
and long, brown eyes, sliding about beneath their, brows, his cropped
hair and short neck, seemed familiar.
"Your name is Crocker, is n't it?"
"Why! it's the Bird!" exclaimed the traveller; putting out his
hand. "Have n't seen you since we both went down."
Shelton returned his handgrip. Crocker had lived above his head at
college, and often kept him, sleepless half the night by playing on
"Where have you sprung from?"
"India. Got my long leave. I say, are you going this way? Let's go
They went, and very fast; faster and faster every minute.
"Where are you going at this pace?" asked Shelton.
"Oh! only as far as London?"
"I 've set myself to do it in a week."
"Are you in training?"
"You 'll kill yourself."
Crocker answered with a chuckle.
Shelton noted with alarm the expression of his eye; there was a sort
of stubborn aspiration in it. "Still an idealist!" he thought;
"poor fellow!" "Well," he inquired, "what sort of a time have you
had in India?"
"Oh," said the Indian civilian absently, "I've, had the plague."
Crocker smiled, and added:
"Caught it on famine duty."
"I see," said Shelton; "plague and famine! I suppose you fellows
really think you 're doing good out there?"
His companion looked at him surprised, then answered modestly:
"We get very good screws."
"That 's the great thing," responded Shelton.
After a moment's silence, Crocker, looking straight before him,
"Don't you think we are doing good?"
"I 'm not an authority; but, as a matter of fact, I don't."
Crocker seemed disconcerted.
"Why?" he bluntly asked.
Shelton was not anxious to explain his views, and he did not reply.
His friend repeated:
"Why don't you think we're doing good in India?"
"Well," said Shelton gruffly, "how can progress be imposed on
nations from outside?"
The Indian civilian, glancing at Shelton in an affectionate and
doubtful way, replied:
"You have n't changed a bit, old chap."
"No, no," said Shelton; "you 're not going to get out of it that way.
Give me a single example of a nation, or an individual, for that
matter, who 's ever done any good without having worked up to it from
Crocker, grunting, muttered, "Evils."
"That 's it," said Shelton; "we take peoples entirely different from
our own, and stop their natural development by substituting a
civilisation grown for our own use. Suppose, looking at a tropical
fern in a hothouse, you were to say: 'This heat 's unhealthy for me;
therefore it must be bad for the fern, I 'll take it up and plant it
outside in the fresh air.'"
"Do you know that means giving up India?" said the Indian civilian
"I don't say that; but to talk about doing good to India is--h'm!"
Crocker knitted his brows, trying to see the point of view his friend
was showing him.
"Come, now! Should we go on administering India if it were dead
loss? No. Well, to talk about administering the country for the
purpose of pocketing money is cynical, and there 's generally some
truth in cynicism; but to talk about the administration of a country
by which we profit, as if it were a great and good thing, is cant.
I hit you in the wind for the benefit of myself--all right: law of
nature; but to say it does you good at the same time is beyond me."
"No, no," returned Crocker, grave and anxious; "you can't persuade me
that we 're not doing good."
"Wait a bit. It's all a question of horizons; you look at it from
too close. Put the horizon further back. You hit India in the wind,
and say it's virtuous. Well, now let's see what happens. Either the
wind never comes back, and India gasps to an untimely death, or the
wind does come back, and in the pant of reaction your blow--that's to
say your labour--is lost, morally lost labour that you might have
spent where it would n't have been lost."
"Are n't you an Imperialist?" asked Crocker, genuinely concerned.
"I may be, but I keep my mouth shut about the benefits we 're
conferring upon other people."
"Then you can't believe in abstract right, or justice?"
"What on earth have our ideas of justice or right got to do with
"If I thought as you do," sighed the unhappy Crocker, "I should be
"Quite so. We always think our standards best for the whole world.
It's a capital belief for us. Read the speeches of our public men.
Does n't it strike you as amazing how sure they are of being in the
right? It's so charming to benefit yourself and others at the same
time, though, when you come to think of it, one man's meat is usually
another's poison. Look at nature. But in England we never look at
nature--there's no necessity. Our national point of view has filled
our pockets, that's all that matters."
"I say, old chap, that's awfully bitter," said Crocker, with a sort
of wondering sadness.
"It 's enough to make any one bitter the way we Pharisees wax fat,
and at the same time give ourselves the moral airs of a balloon.
I must stick a pin in sometimes, just to hear the gas escape."
Shelton was surprised at his own heat, and for some strange reason
thought of Antonia--surely, she was not a Pharisee.
His companion strode along, and Shelton felt sorry for the signs of
trouble on his face.
"To fill your pockets," said Crocker, "is n't the main thing. One
has just got to do things without thinking of why we do them."
"Do you ever see the other side to any question?" asked Shelton.
"I suppose not. You always begin to act before you stop thinking,
"He's a Pharisee, too," thought Shelton, "without a Pharisee's pride.
Queer thing that!"
After walking some distance, as if thinking deeply, Crocker chuckled
"You 're not consistent; you ought to be in favour of giving up
Shelton smiled uneasily.
"Why should n't we fill our pockets? I only object to the humbug
that we talk."
The Indian civilian put his hand shyly through his arm.
"If I thought like you," he said, "I could n't stay another day in
And to this Shelton made no reply.
The wind had now begun to drop, and something of the morning's magic
was stealing again upon the moor. They were nearing the outskirt
fields of cultivation. It was past five when, dropping from the
level of the tors, they came into the sunny vale of Monkland.
"They say," said Crocker, reading from his guide-book--"they say this
place occupies a position of unique isolation."
The two travellers, in tranquil solitude, took their seats under an
old lime-tree on the village green. The smoke of their pipes, the
sleepy air, the warmth from the baked ground, the constant hum, made
"Do you remember," his companion asked, "those 'jaws' you used to
have with Busgate and old Halidome in my rooms on Sunday evenings?
How is old Halidome?"
"Married," replied Shelton.
Crocker sighed. "And are you?" he asked.
"Not yet," said Shelton grimly; "I 'm--engaged."
Crocker took hold of his arm above the elbow, and, squeezing it, he
grunted. Shelton had not received congratulations that pleased him
more; there was the spice of envy in them.
"I should like to get married while I 'm home," said the civilian
after a long pause. His legs were stretched apart, throwing shadows
on the green, his hands deep thrust into his pockets, his head a
little to one side. An absent-minded smile played round his mouth.
The sun had sunk behind a tor, but the warmth kept rising from the
ground, and the sweet-briar on a cottage bathed them with its spicy
perfume. From the converging lanes figures passed now and then,
lounged by, staring at the strangers, gossiping amongst themselves,
and vanished into the cottages that headed the incline. A clock
struck seven, and round the shady lime-tree a chafer or some heavy
insect commenced its booming rushes. All was marvellously sane and
slumbrous. The soft air, the drawling voices, the shapes and
murmurs, the rising smell of wood-smoke from fresh-kindled fires--
were full of the spirit of security and of home. The outside world
was far indeed. Typical of some island nation was this nest of
refuge--where men grew quietly tall, fattened, and without fuss
dropped off their perches; where contentment flourished, as
sunflowers flourished in the sun.
Crocker's cap slipped off; he was nodding, and Shelton looked at him.
>From a manor house in some such village he had issued; to one of a
thousand such homes he would find his way at last, untouched by the
struggles with famines or with plagues, uninfected in his fibre, his
prejudices, and his principles, unchanged by contact with strange
peoples, new conditions, odd feelings, or queer points of view!
The chafer buzzed against his shoulder, gathered flight again, and
boomed away. Crocker roused himself, and, turning his amiable face,
jogged Shelton's arm.
"What are you thinking about, Bird?" he asked.
Shelton continued to travel with his college friend, and on Wednesday
night, four days after joining company, they reached the village of
Dowdenhame. All day long the road had lain through pastureland, with
thick green hedges and heavily feathered elms. Once or twice they
had broken the monotony by a stretch along the towing-path of a
canal, which, choked with water-lily plants and shining weeds,
brooded sluggishly beside the fields. Nature, in one of her ironic
moods, had cast a grey and iron-hard cloak over all the country's
bland luxuriance. From dawn till darkness fell there had been no
movement in the steely distant sky; a cold wind ruffed in the hedge-
tops, and sent shivers through the branches of the elms. The cattle,
dappled, pied, or bay, or white, continued grazing with an air of
grumbling at their birthright. In a meadow close to the canal
Shelton saw five magpies, and about five o'clock the rain began, a
steady, coldly-sneering rain, which Crocker, looking at the sky,
declared was going to be over in a minute. But it was not over in a
minute; they were soon drenched. Shelton was tired, and it annoyed
him very much that his companion, who was also tired, should grow
more cheerful. His thoughts kept harping upon Ferrand: "This must be
something like what he described to me, tramping on and on when
you're dead-beat, until you can cadge up supper and a bed." And
sulkily he kept on ploughing through the mud with glances at the
exasperating Crocker, who had skinned one heel and was limping
horribly. It suddenly came home to him that life for three quarters
of the world meant physical exhaustion every day, without a
possibility of alternative, and that as soon as, for some cause
beyond control, they failed thus to exhaust themselves, they were
reduced to beg or starve. "And then we, who don't know the meaning
of the word exhaustion, call them 'idle scamps,'" he said aloud.
It was past nine and dark when they reached Dowdenhame. The street
yielded no accommodation, and while debating where to go they passed
the church, with a square tower, and next to it a house which was
certainly the parsonage.
"Suppose," said Crocker, leaning on his arms upon the gate, "we ask
him where to go"; and, without waiting for Shelton's answer, he rang
The door was opened by the parson, a bloodless and clean-shaven man,
whose hollow cheeks and bony hands suggested a perpetual struggle.
Ascetically benevolent were his grey eyes; a pale and ghostly smile
played on the curves of his thin lips.
"What can I do for you?" he asked. "Inn? yes, there's the Blue
Chequers, but I 'm afraid you 'll find it shut. They 're early
people, I 'm glad to say"; and his eyes seemed to muse over the
proper fold for these damp sheep. "Are you Oxford men, by any
chance?" he asked, as if that might throw some light upon the matter.
"Of Mary's? Really! I'm of Paul's myself. Ladyman--Billington
Ladyman; you might remember my youngest brother. I could give you a
room here if you could manage without sheets. My housekeeper has two
days' holiday; she's foolishly taken the keys."
Shelton accepted gladly, feeling that the intonation in the parson's
voice was necessary unto his calling, and that he did not want to
"You 're hungry, I expect, after your tramp. I'm very much afraid
there 's--er--nothing in the house but bread; I could boil you water;
hot lemonade is better than nothing."
Conducting them into the kitchen, he made a fire, and put a kettle on
to boil; then, after leaving them to shed their soaking clothes,
returned with ancient, greenish coats, some carpet slippers, and some
blankets. Wrapped in these, and carrying their glasses, the
travellers followed to the study, where, by doubtful lamp-light, he
seemed, from books upon the table, to have been working at his
"We 're giving you a lot of trouble," said Shelton, "it's really very
good of you."
"Not at all," the parson answered; "I'm only grieved the house is
It was a truly dismal contrast to the fatness of the land they had
been passing through, and the parson's voice issuing from bloodless
lips, although complacent, was pathetic. It was peculiar, that voice
of his, seeming to indicate an intimate acquaintanceship with what
was fat and fine, to convey contempt for the vulgar need of money,
while all the time his eyes--those watery, ascetic eyes--as plain as
speech they said, "Oh, to know what it must be like to have a pound
or two to spare just once a year, or so!"
Everything in the room had been bought for cheapness; no luxuries
were there, and necessaries not enough. It was bleak and bare; the
ceiling cracked, the wall-paper discoloured, and those books--prim,
shining books, fat-backed, with arms stamped on them--glared in the
"My predecessor," said the parson, "played rather havoc with the
house. The poor fellow had a dreadful struggle, I was told. You
can, unfortunately, expect nothing else these days, when livings have
come down so terribly in value! He was a married man--large family!"
Crocker, who had drunk his steaming lemonade, was smiling and already
nodding in his chair; with his black garment buttoned closely round
his throat, his long legs rolled up in a blanket, and stretched
towards the feeble flame of the newly-lighted fire, he had a rather
patchy air. Shelton, on the other hand, had lost his feeling of
fatigue; the strangeness of the place was stimulating his brain; he
kept stealing glances at the scantiness around; the room, the parson,
the furniture, the very fire, all gave him the feeling caused by
seeing legs that have outgrown their trousers. But there was
something underlying that leanness of the landscape, something
superior and academic, which defied all sympathy. It was pure
nervousness which made him say:
"Ah! why do they have such families?"
A faint red mounted to the parson's cheeks; its appearance there was
startling, and Crocker chuckled, as a sleepy man will chuckle who
feels bound to show that he is not asleep.
"It's very unfortunate," murmured the parson, "certainly, in many
Shelton would now have changed the subject, but at this moment the
unhappy Crocker snored. Being a man of action, he had gone to sleep.
"It seems to me," said Shelton hurriedly, as he saw the parson's
eyebrows rising at the sound, "almost what you might call wrong."
"Dear me, but how can it be wrong?"
Shelton now felt that he must justify his saying somehow.
"I don't know," he said, "only one hears of such a lot of cases--
clergymen's families; I've two uncles of my own, who---"
A new expression gathered on the parson's face; his mouth had
tightened, and his chin receded slightly. "Why, he 's like a mule!"
thought Shelton. His eyes, too, had grown harder, greyer, and more
parroty. Shelton no longer liked his face.
"Perhaps you and I," the parson said, "would not understand each
other on such matters."
And Shelton felt ashamed.
"I should like to ask you a question in turn, however," the parson
said, as if desirous of meeting Shelton on his low ground: "How do
you justify marriage if it is not to follow the laws of nature?"
"I can only tell you what I personally feel."
"My dear sir, you forget that a woman's chief delight is in her
"I should have thought it a pleasure likely to pall with too much
repetition. Motherhood is motherhood, whether of one or of a dozen."
"I 'm afraid," replied the parson, with impatience, though still
keeping on his guest's low ground, "your theories are not calculated
to populate the world."
"Have you ever lived in London?" Shelton asked. "It always makes me
feel a doubt whether we have any right to have children at all."
"Surely," said the parson with wonderful restraint, and the joints of
his fingers cracked with the grip he had upon his chair, "you are
leaving out duty towards the country; national growth is paramount!"
"There are two ways of looking at that. It depends on what you want
your country to become."
"I did n't know," said the parson--fanaticism now had crept into his
smile--"there could be any doubt on such a subject."
The more Shelton felt that commands were being given him, the more
controversial he naturally became--apart from the merits of this
subject, to which he had hardly ever given thought.
"I dare say I'm wrong," he said, fastening his eyes on the blanket in
which his legs were wrapped; "but it seems to me at least an open
question whether it's better for the country to be so well populated
as to be quite incapable of supporting itself."
"Surely," said the parson, whose face regained its pallor, "you're
not a Little Englander?"
On Shelton this phrase had a mysterious effect. Resisting an impulse
to discover what he really was, he answered hastily:
" Of course I'm not!"
The parson followed up his triumph, and, shifting the ground of the
discussion from Shelton's to his own, he gravely said:
"Surely you must see that your theory is founded in immorality. It
is, if I may say so, extravagant, even wicked."
But Shelton, suffering from irritation at his own dishonesty, replied
"Why not say at once, sir, 'hysterical, unhealthy'? Any opinion
which goes contrary to that of the majority is always called so, I
"Well," returned the parson, whose eyes seemed trying to bind Shelton
to his will, "I must say your ideas do seem to me both extravagant
and unhealthy. The propagation of children is enjoined of marriage."
Shelton bowed above his blanket, but the parson did not smile.
"We live in very dangerous times," he said, "and it grieves me when a
man of your standing panders to these notions."
"Those," said Shelton, "whom the shoe does n't pinch make this rule
of morality, and thrust it on to such as the shoe does pinch."
"The rule was never made," said the parson; "it was given us."
"Oh!" said Shelton, "I beg your pardon." He was in danger of
forgetting the delicate position he was in. "He wants to ram his
notions down my throat," he thought; and it seemed to him that the
parson's face had grown more like a mule's, his accent more superior,
his eyes more dictatorial: To be right in this argument seemed now of
great importance, whereas, in truth, it was of no importance
whatsoever. That which, however, was important was the fact that in
nothing could they ever have agreed.
But Crocker had suddenly ceased to snore; his head had fallen so that
a peculiar whistling arose instead. Both Shelton and the parson
looked at him, and the sight sobered them.
"Your friend seems very tired," said the parson.
Shelton forgot all his annoyance, for his host seemed suddenly
pathetic, with those baggy garments, hollow cheeks, and the slightly
reddened nose that comes from not imbibing quite enough. A kind
fellow, after all!
The kind fellow rose, and, putting his hands behind his back, placed
himself before the blackening fire. Whole centuries of authority
stood behind him. It was an accident that the mantelpiece was
chipped and rusty, the fire-irons bent and worn, his linen frayed
about the cuffs.
"I don't wish to dictate," said he, "but where it seems to me that
you are wholly wrong in that your ideas foster in women those lax
views of the family life that are so prevalent in Society nowadays."
Thoughts of Antonia with her candid eyes, the touch of freckling on
her pink-white skin, the fair hair gathered back, sprang up in
Shelton, and that word--"lax" seemed ridiculous. And the women he
was wont to see dragging about the streets of London with two or
three small children, Women bent beneath the weight of babies that
they could not leave, women going to work with babies still unborn,
anaemic-looking women, impecunious mothers in his own class, with
twelve or fourteen children, all the victims of the sanctity of
marriage, and again the word "lax" seemed to be ridiculous.
"We are not put into the world to exercise our wits,"--muttered
"Our wanton wills," the parson said severely.
"That, sir, may have been all right for the last generation, the
country is more crowded now. I can't see why we should n't decide it
"Such a view of morality," said the parson, looking down at Crocker
with a ghostly smile, "to me is unintelligible."
Cracker's whistling grew in tone and in variety.
"What I hate," said Shelton, "is the way we men decide what women are
to bear, and then call them immoral, decadent, or what you will, if
they don't fall in with our views."
"Mr. Shelton," said the parson, "I think we may safely leave it in
the hands of God."
Shelton was silent.
"The questions of morality," said the parson promptly, "have always
lain through God in the hands of men, not women. We are the
Shelton stubbornly replied
"We 're certainly the greater humbugs, if that 's the same."
"This is too bad," exclaimed the parson with some heat.
"I 'm sorry, sir; but how can you expect women nowadays to have the
same views as our grandmothers? We men, by our commercial
enterprise, have brought about a different state of things; yet, for
the sake of our own comfort, we try to keep women where they were.
It's always those men who are most keen about their comfort"--and in
his heat the sarcasm of using the word "comfort" in that room was
lost on him--"who are so ready to accuse women of deserting the old
The parson quivered with impatient irony.
"Old morality! new morality!" he said. "These are strange words."
"Forgive me," explained Shelton; "we 're talking of working morality,
I imagine. There's not a man in a million fit to talk of true
The eyes of his host contracted.
"I think," he said--and his voice sounded as if he had pinched it in
the endeavour to impress his listener--"that any well-educated man
who honestly tries to serve his God has the right humbly--I say
humbly--to claim morality."
Shelton was on the point of saying something bitter, but checked
himself. "Here am I," thought he, "trying to get the last word, like
an old woman."
At this moment there was heard a piteous mewing; the parson went
towards the door.
"Excuse me a moment; I 'm afraid that's one of my cats out in the
wet." He returned a minute later with a wet cat in his arms. "They
will get out," he said to Shelton, with a smile on his thin face,
suffused by stooping. And absently he stroked the dripping cat,
while a drop of wet ran off his nose. "Poor pussy, poor pussy!" The
sound of that "Poor pussy!" like nothing human in its cracked
superiority, the softness of that smile, like the smile of gentleness
itself, haunted Shelton till he fell asleep.
The last sunlight was playing on the roofs when the travellers
entered that High Street grave and holy to all Oxford men. The
spirit hovering above the spires was as different from its
concretions in their caps and gowns as ever the spirit of Christ was
from church dogmas.
"Shall we go into Grinnings'?" asked Shelton, as they passed the
But each looked at his clothes, for two elegant young men in flannel
suits were coming out.
"You go," said Crocker, with a smirk.
Shelton shook his head. Never before had he felt such love for this
old city. It was gone now from out his life, but everything about it
seemed so good and fine; even its exclusive air was not ignoble.
Clothed in the calm of history, the golden web of glorious tradition,
radiant with the alchemy of memories, it bewitched him like the
perfume of a woman's dress. At the entrance of a college they
glanced in at the cool grey patch of stone beyond, and the scarlet of
a window flowerbox--secluded, mysteriously calm--a narrow vision of
the sacred past. Pale and trencher-capped, a youth with pimply face
and random nose, grabbing at his cloven gown, was gazing at the
noticeboard. The college porter--large man, fresh-faced, and small-
mouthed--stood at his lodge door in a frank and deferential attitude.
An image of routine, he looked like one engaged to give a decorous
air to multitudes of pecadilloes. His blue eyes rested on the
travellers. "I don't know you, sirs, but if you want to speak I
shall be glad to hear the observations you may have to make," they
seemed to say.
Against the wall reposed a bicycle with tennis-racquet buckled to its
handle. A bull-dog bitch, working her snout from side to side, was
snuffling horribly; the great iron-studded door to which her chain
was fastened stayed immovable. Through this narrow mouth, human
metal had been poured for centuries--poured, moulded, given back.
"Come along," said Shelton.
They now entered the Bishop's Head, and had their dinner in the room
where Shelton had given his Derby dinner to four-and-twenty well-bred
youths; here was the picture of the racehorse that the wineglass,
thrown by one of them, had missed when it hit the waiter; and there,
serving Crocker with anchovy sauce, was the very waiter. When they
had finished, Shelton felt the old desire to rise with difficulty
from the table; the old longing to patrol the streets with arm hooked
in some other arm; the old eagerness to dare and do something heroic
--and unlawful; the old sense that he was of the forest set, in the
forest college, of the forest country in the finest world. The
streets, all grave and mellow in the sunset, seemed to applaud this
after-dinner stroll; the entrance quad of his old college--spaciously
majestic, monastically modern, for years the heart of his universe,
the focus of what had gone before it in his life, casting the shadow
of its grey walls over all that had come after-brought him a sense of
rest from conflict, and trust in his own important safety. The
garden-gate, whose lofty spikes he had so often crowned with empty
water-bottles, failed to rouse him. Nor when they passed the
staircase where he had flung a leg of lamb at some indelicate
disturbing tutor, did he feel remorse. High on that staircase were
the rooms in which he had crammed for his degree, upon the system by
which the scholar simmers on the fire of cramming, boils over at the
moment of examination, and is extinct for ever after. His coach's
face recurred to him, a man with thrusting eyes, who reeled off
knowledge all the week, and disappeared to town on Sundays.
They passed their tutor's staircase.
"I wonder if little Turl would remember us?" said Crocker; "I should
like to see him. Shall we go and look him up?"
"Little Turl?" said Shelton dreamily.
Mounting, they knocked upon a solid door.
"Come in," said the voice of Sleep itself.
A little man with a pink face and large red ears was sitting in a fat
pink chair, as if he had been grown there.
"What do you want?" he asked of them, blinking.
"Don't you know me, sir?"
"God bless me! Crocker, isn't it? I didn't recognise you with a
Crocker, who had not been shaved since starting on his travels,
"You remember Shelton, sir?" he said.
"Shelton? Oh yes! How do you do, Shelton? Sit down; take a cigar";
and, crossing his fat little legs, the little gentleman looked them
up and down with drowsy interest, as who should say, "Now, after, all
you know, why come and wake me up like this?"
Shelton and Crocker took two other chairs; they too seemed thinking,
"Yes, why did we come and wake him up like this? "And Shelton, who
could not tell the reason why, took refuge in the smoke of his cigar.
The panelled walls were hung with prints of celebrated Greek remains;
the soft, thick carpet on the floor was grateful to his tired feet;
the backs of many books gleamed richly in the light of the oil lamps;
the culture and tobacco smoke stole on his senses; he but vaguely
comprehended Crocker's amiable talk, vaguely the answers of his
little host, whose face, blinking behind the bowl of his huge
meerschaum pipe, had such a queer resemblance to a moon. The door
was opened, and a tall creature, whose eyes were large and brown,
whose face was rosy and ironical, entered with a manly stride.
"Oh!" he said, looking round him with his chin a little in the air,
"am I intruding, Turl?"
The little host, blinking more than ever, murmured,
"Not at all, Berryman--take a pew!"
The visitor called Berryman sat down, and gazed up at the wall with
his fine eyes.
Shelton had a faint remembrance of this don, and bowed; but the new-
comer sat smiling, and did not notice the salute.
"Trimmer and Washer are coming round," he said, and as he spoke the
door opened to admit these gentlemen. Of the same height, but
different appearance, their manner was faintly jocular, faintly
supercilious, as if they tolerated everything. The one whose name
was Trimmer had patches of red on his large cheek-bones, and on his
cheeks a bluish tint. His lips were rather full, so that he had a
likeness to a spider. Washer, who was thin and pale, wore an
The little fat host moved the hand that held the meerschaum.
"Crocker, Shelton," he said.
An awkward silence followed. Shelton tried to rouse the cultured
portion of his wits; but the sense that nothing would be treated
seriously paralysed his faculties; he stayed silent, staring at the
glowing tip of his cigar. It seemed to him unfair to have intruded
on these gentlemen without its having been made quite clear to them
beforehand who and what he was; he rose to take his leave, but Washer
had begun to speak.
"Madame Bovary!" he said quizzically, reading the title of the book
on the little fat man's bookrest; and, holding it closer to his
boiled-looking eyes, he repeated, as though it were a joke, "Madame
"Do you mean to say, Turl, that you can stand that stuff?" said
As might have been expected, this celebrated novel's name had
galvanised him into life; he strolled over to the bookcase, took down
a book, opened it, and began to read, wandering in a desultory way
about the room.
"Ha! Berryman," said a conciliatory voice behind--it came from
Trimmer, who had set his back against the hearth, and grasped with
either hand a fistful of his gown--"the book's a classic!"
"Classic!" exclaimed Berryman, transfixing Shelton with his eyes;
"the fellow ought to have been horsewhipped for writing such
A feeling of hostility instantly sprang up in Shelton; he looked at
his little host, who, however, merely blinked.
"Berryman only means," explains Washer, a certain malice in his
smile, "that the author is n't one of his particular pets."
"For God's sake, you know, don't get Berryman on his horse!" growled
the little fat man suddenly.
Berryman returned his volume to the shelf and took another down.
There was something almost godlike in his sarcastic absent-
"Imagine a man writing that stuff," he said, "if he'd ever been at
Eton! What do we want to know about that sort of thing? A writer
should be a sportsman and a gentleman"; and again he looked down over
his chin at Shelton, as though expecting him to controvert the
"Don't you--" began the latter.
But Berryman's attention had wandered to the wall.
"I really don't care," said he, "to know what a woman feels when she
is going to the dogs; it does n't interest me."
The voice of Trimmer made things pleasant:
"Question of moral standards, that, and nothing more."
He had stretched his legs like compasses,--and the way he grasped his
gown-wings seemed to turn him to a pair of scales. His lowering
smile embraced the room, deprecating strong expressions. "After
all," he seemed to say, "we are men of the world; we know there 's
not very much in anything. This is the modern spirit; why not give
it a look in?"
"Do I understand you to say, Berryman, that you don't enjoy a spicy
book?" asked Washer with his smile; and at this question the little
fat man sniggered, blinking tempestuously, as if to say, "Nothing
pleasanter, don't you know, before a hot fire in cold weather."
Berryman paid no attention to the impertinent inquiry, continuing to
dip into his volume and walk up and down.
"I've nothing to say," he remarked, stopping before Shelton, and
looking down, as if at last aware of him, "to those who talk of being
justified through Art. I call a spade a spade."
Shelton did not answer, because he could not tell whether Berryman
was addressing him or society at large. And Berryman went on:
"Do we want to know about the feelings of a middle-class woman with a
taste for vice? Tell me the point of it. No man who was in the
habit of taking baths would choose such a subject."
"You come to the question of-ah-subjects," the voice of Trimmer
genially buzzed he had gathered his garments tight across his back-
"my dear fellow, Art, properly applied, justifies all subjects."
"For Art," squeaked Berryman, putting back his second volume and
taking down a third, "you have Homer, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Ossian;
for garbage, a number of unwashed gentlemen."
There was a laugh; Shelton glanced round at all in turn. With the
exception of Crocker, who was half asleep and smiling idiotically,
they wore, one and all, a look as if by no chance could they consider
any subject fit to move their hearts; as if, one and all, they were
so profoundly anchored on the sea of life that waves could only seem
impertinent. It may have been some glimmer in this glance of
Shelton's that brought Trimmer once more to the rescue with his
"The French," said he, "have quite a different standard from
ourselves in literature, just as they have a different standard in
regard to honour. All this is purely artificial."
What he, meant, however, Shelton found it difficult to tell.
"Honour," said Washer, "'l'honneur, die Ehre' duelling, unfaithful
He was clearly going to add to this, but it was lost; for the little
fat man, taking the meerschaum with trembling fingers, and holding it
within two inches of his chin, murmured:
"You fellows, Berryman's awf'ly strong on honour."
He blinked twice, and put the meerschaum back between his lips.
Without returning the third volume to its shelf, Berryman took down a
fourth; with chest expanded, he appeared about to use the books as
"Quite so," said Trimmer; "the change from duelling to law courts is
Whether he were going to say "significant" or "insignificant," in
Shelton's estimate he did not know himself. Fortunately Berryman
"Law courts or not, when a man runs away with a wife of mine, I shall
punch his head!"
"Come, come!" said Turner, spasmodically grasping his two wings.
Shelton had a gleam of inspiration. "If your wife deceived you," he
thought, looking at Trimmer's eyes, "you 'd keep it quiet, and hold
it over her."
Washer passed his hand over his pale chaps: his smile had never
wavered; he looked like one for ever lost in the making of an
The punching theorist stretched his body, holding the books level
with his shoulders, as though to stone his hearers with his point of
view. His face grew paler, his fine eyes finer, his lips ironical.
Almost painful was this combination of the "strong" man and the
student who was bound to go to pieces if you hit him a smart blow.
"As for forgiving faithless wives," he said, "and all that sort of
thing, I don't believe in sentiment."
The words were high-pitched and sarcastic. Shelton looked hastily
around. All their faces were complacent. He grew red, and suddenly
remarked, in a soft; clear voice:
He was conscious that he had never before made an impression of this
sort, and that he never would again. The cold hostility flashing out
all round was most enlightening; it instantly gave way to the polite,
satirical indulgence peculiar to highly-cultivated men. Crocker rose
nervously; he seemed scared, and was obviously relieved when Shelton,
following his example, grasped the little fat man's hand, who said
good-night in a voice shaken by tobacco.
"Who are your unshaven friends?" he heard as the door was closed
"Eleven o'clock," said Crocker, as they went out of college. "I
don't feel sleepy; shall we stroll along the 'High' a bit?"
Shelton assented; he was too busy thinking of his encounter with the
dons to heed the soreness of his feet. This, too, was the last day
of his travels, for he had not altered his intention of waiting at
Oxford till July.
"We call this place the heart of knowledge," he said, passing a great
building that presided, white and silent, over darkness; "it seems to
me as little that, as Society is the heart of true gentility."
Crocker's answer was a grunt; he was looking at the stars,
calculating possibly in how long he could walk to heaven.
"No," proceeded Shelton; "we've too much common-sense up here to
strain our minds. We know when it's time to stop. We pile up news
of Papias and all the verbs in 'ui' but as for news of life or of
oneself! Real seekers after knowledge are a different sort. They
fight in the dark--no quarter given. We don't grow that sort up
"How jolly the limes smell!" said Crocker.
He had halted opposite a garden, and taken hold of Shelton by a
button of his coat. His eyes, like a dog's, stared wistfully. It
seemed as though he wished to speak, but feared to give offence.
"They tell you," pursued Shelton, "that we learn to be gentlemen up
here. We learn that better through one incident that stirs our
hearts than we learn it here in all the time we're up."
"Hum!" muttered Crocker, twisting at the button; "those fellows who
seemed the best sorts up here have turned out the best sorts
"I hope not," said Shelton gloomily; "I was a snob when I was up
here. I believed all I was told, anything that made things pleasant;
my "set" were nothing but---"
Crocker smiled in the darkness; he had been too "cranky" to belong to
"You never were much like your 'set,' old chap," he said.
Shelton turned away, sniffing the perfume of the limes. Images were
thronging through his mind. The faces of his old friends strangely
mixed with those of people he had lately met--the girl in the train,
Ferrand, the lady with the short, round, powdered face, the little
barber; others, too, and floating, mysterious,--connected with them
all, Antonia's face. The scent of the lime-trees drifted at him with
its magic sweetness. From the street behind, the footsteps of the
passers-by sounded muffled, yet exact, and on the breeze was borne
the strain: "For he's a jolly good fellow!"
"For he's a jolly good fellow! For he's a jolly good fe-ellow! And
so say all of us!"
"Ah!" he said, "they were good chaps."
"I used to think," said Crocker dreamily, "that some of them had too
And Shelton laughed.
"The thing sickens me," said he, "the whole snobbish, selfish
business. The place sickens me, lined with cotton-wool-made so
Crocker shook his head.
"It's a splendid old place," he said, his eyes fastening at last on
Shelton's boots. "You know, old chap," he stammered, "I think you--
you ought to take care!"
"Take care? What of?"
Crocker pressed his arm convulsively.
"Don't be waxy, old boy," he said; "I mean that you seem somehow--to
be--to be losing yourself."
"Losing myself! Finding myself, you mean!"
Crocker did not answer; his face was disappointed. Of what exactly
was he thinking? In Shelton's heart there was a bitter pleasure in
knowing that his friend was uncomfortable on his account, a sort of
contempt, a sort of aching. Crocker broke the silence.
"I think I shall do a bit more walking to-night," he said; "I feel
very fit. Don't you really mean to come any further with me, Bird?"
And there was anxiety in his voice, as though Shelton were in danger
of missing something good. The latter's feet had instantly begun to
ache and burn.
"No!"? he said; "you know what I'm staying here for."
"She lives near here. Well, then, I'll say good-bye. I should like
to do another ten miles to-night."
"My dear fellow, you're tired and lame."
"No," he said; "I want to get on. See you in London. Good-bye!"
and, gripping Shelton's hand, he turned and limped away.
Shelton called after him: "Don't be an idiot: You 'll only knock
But the sole answer was the pale moon of Crocker's face screwed round
towards him in the darkness, and the waving of his stick.
Shelton strolled slowly on; leaning over the bridge, he watched the
oily gleam of lamps, on the dark water underneath the trees. He felt
relieved, yet sorry. His thoughts were random, curious, half
mutinous, half sweet. That afternoon five years ago, when he had
walked back from the river with Antonia across the Christchurch
meadows, was vivid to his mind; the scent of that afternoon had never
died away from him-the aroma of his love. Soon she would be his
wife--his wife! The faces of the dons sprang up before him. They
had wives, perhaps. Fat, lean, satirical, and compromising--what was
it that through diversity they had in common? Cultured intolerance!
. . . Honour! . . . A queer subject to discuss. Honour! The
honour that made a fuss, and claimed its rights! And Shelton smiled.
"As if man's honour suffered when he's injured!" And slowly he
walked along the echoing, empty street to his room at the Bishop's
Head. Next morning he received the following wire:
Thirty miles left eighteen hours heel bad but going
He passed a fortnight at the Bishop's Head, waiting for the end of
his probation, and the end seemed long in coming. To be so near
Antonia, and as far as if he lived upon another planet, was worse
than ever. Each day he took a sculling skiff, and pulled down to
near Holm Oaks, on the chance of her being on the river; but the
house was two miles off, and the chance but slender. She never came.
After spending the afternoons like this he would return, pulling hard
against the stream, with a queer feeling of relief, dine heartily,
and fall adreaming over his cigar. Each morning he awoke in an
excited mood, devoured his letter if he had one, and sat down to
write to her. These letters of his were the most amazing portion of
that fortnight. They were remarkable for failing to express any
single one of his real thoughts, but they were full of sentiments
which were not what he was truly feeling; and when he set himself to
analyse, he had such moments of delirium that he was scared, and
shocked, and quite unable to write anything. He made the discovery
that no two human beings ever tell each other what they really feel,
except, perhaps, in situations with which he could not connect
Antonia's ice-blue eyes and brilliant smile. All the world was too
engaged in planning decency.
Absorbed by longings, he but vaguely realised the turmoil of
Commemoration, which had gathered its hundreds for their annual cure
of salmon mayonnaise and cheap champagne. In preparation for his
visit to Holm Oaks he shaved his beard and had some clothes sent down
from London. With them was forwarded a letter from Ferrand, which
ran as follows:
IMPERIAL PEACOCK HOTEL,
MY DEAR SIR,
Forgive me for not having written to you before, but I have been so
bothered that I have felt no taste for writing; when I have the time,
I have some curious stories to tell you. Once again I have
encountered that demon of misfortune which dogs my footsteps. Being
occupied all day and nearly all night upon business which brings me a
heap of worries and next to no profit, I have no chance to look after
my things. Thieves have entered my room, stolen everything, and left
me an empty box. I am once again almost without clothes, and know
not where to turn to make that figure necessary for the fulfilment of
my duties. You see, I am not lucky. Since coming to your country,
the sole piece of fortune I have had was to tumble on a man like you.
Excuse me for not writing more at this moment. Hoping that you are
in good health, and in affectionately pressing your hand,
Always your devoted
Upon reading this letter Shelton had once more a sense of being
exploited, of which he was ashamed; he sat down immediately and wrote
the following reply:
BISHOPS HEAD HOTEL,
MY DEAR FERRAND,
I am grieved to hear of your misfortunes. I was much hoping that you
had made a better start. I enclose you Post Office Orders for four
pounds. Always glad to hear from you.
He posted it with the satisfaction that a man feels who nobly shakes
off his responsibilities.
Three days before July he met with one of those disturbing incidents
which befall no persons who attend quietly to their, property and
The night was unbearably hot, and he had wandered out with his cigar;
a woman came sidling up and spoke to him. He perceived her to be one
of those made by men into mediums for their pleasure, to feel
sympathy with whom was sentimental. Her face was flushed, her
whisper hoarse; she had no attractions but the curves of a tawdry
figure. Shelton was repelled by her proprietary tone, by her blowzy
face, and by the scent of patchouli. Her touch on his arm startled
him, sending a shiver through his marrow; he almost leaped aside, and
walked the faster. But her breathing as she followed sounded
laboured; it suddenly seemed pitiful that a woman should be panting
after him like that.
"The least I can do," he thought, "is to speak to her." He stopped,
and, with a mixture of hardness and compassion, said, "It 's
In spite of her smile, he saw by her disappointed eyes that she
accepted the impossibility.
"I 'm sorry," he said.
She muttered something. Shelton shook his head.
"I 'm sorry," he said once more. "Good.-night."
The woman bit her lower lip.
"Good-night," she answered dully.
At the corner of the street he turned his head. The woman was
hurrying uneasily; a policeman coming from behind had caught her by
His heart began to beat. "Heavens!" he thought, "what shall I do
now?" His first impulse was to walk away, and think no more about it
--to act, indeed, like any averagely decent man who did not care to
be concerned in such affairs.
He retraced his steps, however, and halted half a dozen paces from
"Ask the gentleman! He spoke to me," she was saying in her brassy
voice, through the emphasis of which Shelton could detect her fear.
"That's all right," returned the policeman, "we know all about that."
"You--police!" cried the woman tearfully; "I 've got to get my
living, have n't I, the same as you?"
Shelton hesitated, then, catching the expression in her frightened
face, stepped forward. The policeman turned, and at the sight of his
pale, heavy jowl, cut by the cheek-strap, and the bullying eyes, he
felt both hate and fear, as if brought face to face with all that he
despised and loathed, yet strangely dreaded. The cold certainty of
law and order upholding the strong, treading underfoot the weak, the
smug front of meanness that only the purest spirits may attack,
seemed to be facing him. And the odd thing was, this man was only
carrying out his duty. Shelton moistened his lips.
"You're not going to charge her?"
"Aren't I?" returned the policeman.
"Look here; constable, you 're making a mistake."
The policeman took out his note-book.
"Oh, I 'm making a mistake? I 'll take your name and address,
please; we have to report these things."
"By all means," said Shelton, angrily giving it. "I spoke to her
"Perhaps you'll come up to the court tomorrow morning, and repeat
that," replied the policeman, with incivility.
Shelton looked at him with all the force at his command.
"You had better be careful, constable," he said; but in the act of
uttering these words he thought how pitiable they sounded.
"We 're not to be trifled with," returned the policeman in a
Shelton could think of nothing but to repeat:
"You had better be careful, constable."
"You're a gentleman," replied the policeman. "I'm only a policeman.
You've got the riches, I've got the power."
Grasping the woman's arm, he began to move along with her.
Shelton turned, and walked away.
He went to Grinnings' Club, and flung himself down upon a sofa. His
feeling was not one of pity for the woman, nor of peculiar anger with
the policeman, but rather of dissatisfaction with himself.
"What ought I to have done?" he thought, "the beggar was within his
He stared at the pictures on the wall, and a tide of disgust surged
up in him.
"One or other of us," he reflected, "we make these women what they
are. And when we've made them, we can't do without them; we don't
want to; but we give them no proper homes, so that they're reduced to
prowl about the streets, and then we run them in. Ha! that's good--
that's excellent! We run them in! And here we sit and carp. But
what do we do? Nothing! Our system is the most highly moral known.
We get the benefit without soiling even the hem of our phylacteries--
the women are the only ones that suffer. And why should n't they--
He lit a cigarette, and ordered the waiter to bring a drink.
"I'll go to the Court," he thought; but suddenly it occurred to him
that the case would get into the local papers. The press would
never miss so nice a little bit of scandal--"Gentleman v. Policeman!"
And he had a vision of Antonia's father, a neighbouring and
conscientious magistrate, solemnly reading this. Someone, at all
events, was bound to see his name and make a point of mentioning it
too good to be missed! And suddenly he saw with horror that to help
the woman he would have to assert again that he had spoken to her
first. "I must go to the Court!" he kept thinking, as if to assure
himself that he was not a coward.
He lay awake half the night worrying over this dilemma.
"But I did n't speak to her first," he told himself; "I shall only be
telling a lie, and they 'll make me swear it, too!"
He tried to persuade himself that this was against his principles,
but at the bottom of his heart he knew that he would not object to
telling such a lie if only guaranteed immune from consequences; it
appeared to him, indeed, but obvious humanity.
"But why should I suffer?" he thought; "I've done nothing. It's
neither reasonable nor just."
He hated the unhappy woman who was causing him these horrors of
uncertainty. Whenever he decided one way or other, the policeman's
face, with its tyrannical and muddy eyes, rose before him like a
nightmare, and forced him to an opposite conviction. He fell asleep
at last with the full determination to go and see what happened.
He woke with a sense of odd disturbance. "I can do no good by
going," he thought, remembering, aid lying very still; "they 're
certain to believe the policeman; I shall only blacken myself for
nothing;" and the combat began again within him, but with far less
fury. It was not what other people thought, not even the risk of
perjury that mattered (all this he made quite clear)--it was Antonia.
It was not fair to her to put himself in such a false position; in
fact, not decent.
He breakfasted. In the room were some Americans, and the face of one
young girl reminded him a little of Antonia. Fainter and fainter
grew the incident; it seemed to have its right proportions.
Two hours later, looking at the clock, he found that it was lunch-
time. He had not gone, had not committed perjury; but he wrote to a
daily paper, pointing out the danger run by the community from the
power which a belief in their infallibility places in the hands of
the police--how, since they are the sworn abettors of right and
justice, their word is almost necessarily taken to be gospel; how one
and all they hang together, from mingled interest and esprit de
corps. Was it not, he said, reasonable to suppose that amongst
thousands of human beings invested with such opportunities there
would be found bullies who would take advantage of them, and rise to
distinction in the service upon the helplessness of the unfortunate
and the cowardice of people with anything to lose? Those who had in
their hands the sacred duties of selecting a practically
irresponsible body of men were bound, for the sake of freedom and
humanity, to exercise those duties with the utmost care and
thoroughness . . . .
However true, none of this helped him to think any better of himself
at heart, and he was haunted by the feeling that a stout and honest
bit of perjury was worth more than a letter to a daily paper.
He never saw his letter printed, containing, as it did, the germs of
an unpalatable truth.
In the afternoon he hired a horse, and galloped on Port Meadow. The
strain of his indecision over, he felt like a man recovering from an
illness, and he carefully abstained from looking at the local papers.
There was that within him, however, which resented the worsting of
Holm Oaks stood back but little from the road--an old manor-house,
not set upon display, but dwelling close to its barns, stables, and
walled gardens, like a good mother; long, flat-roofed, red, it had
Queen Anne windows, on whose white-framed diamond panes the sunbeams
In front of it a fringe of elms, of all trees the tree of most
established principle, bordered the stretch of turf between the
gravel drive and road; and these elms were the homes of rooks of all
birds the most conventional. A huge aspen--impressionable creature--
shivered and shook beyond, apologising for appearance among such
imperturbable surroundings. It was frequented by a cuckoo, who came
once a year to hoot at the rules of life, but seldom made long stay;
for boys threw stones at it, exasperated by the absence of its
The village which clustered in the dip had not yet lost its dread of
motor-cars. About this group of flat-faced cottages with gabled
roofs the scent of hay, manure, and roses clung continually; just now
the odour of the limes troubled its servile sturdiness. Beyond the
dip, again, a square-towered church kept within grey walls the record
of the village flock, births, deaths, and marriages--even the births
of bastards, even the deaths of suicides--and seemed to stretch a
hand invisible above the heads of common folk to grasp the forgers of
the manor-house. Decent and discreet, the two roofs caught the eye
to the exclusion of all meaner dwellings, seeming to have joined in a
conspiracy to keep them out of sight.
The July sun had burned his face all the way from Oxford, yet pale
was Shelton when he walked up the drive and rang the bell.
"Mrs. Dennant at home, Dobson?" he asked of the grave butler, who,
old servant that he was, still wore coloured trousers (for it was not
yet twelve o'clock, and he regarded coloured trousers up to noon as a
sacred distinction between the footmen and himself).
"Mrs. Dennant," replied this personage, raising his round and
hairless face, while on his mouth appeared that apologetic pout which
comes of living with good families--"Mrs. Dennant has gone into the
village, sir; but Miss Antonia is in the morning-room."
Shelton crossed the panelled, low-roofed hall, through whose far side
the lawn was visible, a vision of serenity. He mounted six wide,
shallow steps, and stopped. From behind a closed door there came the
sound of scales, and he stood, a prey to his emotions, the notes
mingling in his ears with the beating of his heart. He softly turned
the handle, a fixed smile on his lips.
Antonia was at the piano; her head was bobbing to the movements of
her fingers, and pressing down the pedals were her slim monotonously
moving feet. She had been playing tennis, for a racquet and her tam-
o'-shanter were flung down, and she was dressed in a blue skirt and
creamy blouse, fitting collarless about her throat. Her face was
flushed, and wore a little frown; and as her fingers raced along the
keys, her neck swayed, and the silk clung and shivered on her arms.
Shelton's eyes fastened on the silent, counting lips, on the fair
hair about her forehead, the darker eyebrows slanting down towards
the nose, the undimpled cheeks with the faint finger-marks beneath
the ice-blue eyes, the softly-pouting and undimpled chin, the whole
remote, sweet, suntouched, glacial face.
She turned her head, and, springing up, cried:
"Dick! What fun!" She gave him both her hands, but her smiling face
said very plainly, "Oh; don't let us be sentimental!"
"Are n't you glad to see me?" muttered Shelton.
"Glad to see you! You are funny, Dick!--as if you did n't know!
Why, you 've shaved your beard! Mother and Sybil have gone into the
village to see old Mrs. Hopkins. Shall we go out? Thea and the boys
are playing tennis. It's so jolly that you 've come! "She caught up
the tam-o'-shanter, and pinned it to her hair. Almost as tall as
Shelton, she looked taller, with arms raised and loose sleeves
quivering like wings to the movements of her fingers. "We might have
a game before lunch; you can have my other racquet."
"I've got no things," said Shelton blankly.
Her calm glance ran over him.
"You can have some of old Bernard's; he's got any amount. I'll wait
for you." She swung her racquet, looked at Shelton, cried, "Be
quick!" and vanished.
Shelton ran up-stairs, and dressed in the undecided way of men
assuming other people's clothes. She was in the hall when he
descended, humming a tune and prodding at her shoe; her smile showed
all her pearly upper teeth. He caught hold of her sleeve and
The colour rushed into her cheeks; she looked back across her
"Come along, old Dick!" she cried; and, flinging open the glass
door, ran into the garden.
The tennis-ground was divided by tall netting from a paddock. A holm
oak tree shaded one corner, and its thick dark foliage gave an
unexpected depth to the green smoothness of the scene. As Shelton
and Antonia carne up, Bernard Dennant stopped and cordially grasped
Shelton's hand. From the far side of the net Thea, in a shortish
skirt, tossed back her straight fair hair, and, warding off the sun,
came strolling up to them. The umpire, a small boy of twelve, was
lying on his stomach, squealing and tickling a collie. Shelton bent
and pulled his hair.
"Hallo, Toddles! you young ruffian!"
One and all they stood round Shelton, and there was a frank and
pitiless inquiry in their eyes, in the angle of their noses something
chaffing and distrustful, as though about him were some subtle
poignant scent exciting curiosity and disapproval.
When the setts were over, and the girls resting in the double hammock
underneath the holm oak, Shelton went with Bernard to the paddock to
hunt for the lost balls.
"I say, old chap," said his old school-fellow, smiling dryly, "you're
in for a wigging from the Mater."
"A wigging?" murmured Shelton.
"I don't know much about it, but from something she let drop it seems
you've been saying some queer things in your letters to Antonia"; and
again he looked at Shelton with his dry smile.
"Queer things?" said the latter angrily. "What d' you mean?"
"Oh, don't ask me. The Mater thinks she's in a bad way--unsettled,
or what d' you call at. You've been telling her that things are not
what they seem. That's bad, you know"; and still smiling he shook
Shelton dropped his eyes.
"Well, they are n't!" he said.
"Oh, that's all right! But don't bring your philosophy down here,
"Philosophy!" said Shelton, puzzled.
"Leave us a sacred prejudice or two."
"Sacred! Nothing's sacred, except--" But Shelton did not finish his
remark. "I don't understand," he said.
"Ideals, that sort of thing! You've been diving down below the line
of 'practical politics,' that's about the size of it, my boy"; and,
stooping suddenly, he picked up the last ball. "There is the Mater!"
Shelton saw Mrs. Dennant coming down the lawn with her second
By the time they reached the holm oak the three girls had departed
towards the house, walking arm in arm, and Mrs. Dennant was standing
there alone, in a grey dress, talking to an undergardener. Her
hands, cased in tan gauntlets, held a basket which warded off the
bearded gardener from the severe but ample lines of her
useful-looking skirt. The collie, erect upon his haunches, looked at
their two faces, pricking his ears in his endeavour to appreciate how
one of these two bipeds differed from the other.
"Thank you; that 'll do, Bunyan. Ah, Dick! Charmin' to see you
here, at last!"
In his intercourse with Mrs. Dennant, Shelton never failed to mark
the typical nature of her personality. It always seemed to him that
he had met so many other ladies like her. He felt that her
undoubtable quality had a non-individual flavour, as if standing for
her class. She thought that standing for herself was not the thing;
yet she was full of character. Tall, with nose a trifle beaked,
long, sloping chin, and an assured, benevolent mouth, showing,
perhaps, too many teeth--though thin, she was not unsubstantial. Her
accent in speaking showed her heritage; it was a kind of drawl which
disregarded vulgar merits such as tone; leaned on some syllables, and
despised the final 'g'--the peculiar accent, in fact, of aristocracy,
adding its deliberate joys to life.
Shelton knew that she had many interests; she was never really idle,
from the time (7 A.M.) when her maid brought her a little china pot
of tea with a single biscuit and her pet dog, Tops, till eleven
o'clock at night, when she lighted a wax candle in a silver
candlestick, and with this in one hand, and in the other a new novel,
or, better still, one of those charming volumes written by great
people about the still greater people they have met, she said good-
night to her children and her guests. No! What with photography,
the presidency of a local league, visiting the rich, superintending
all the poor, gardening, reading, keeping all her ideas so tidy that
no foreign notions might stray in, she was never idle. The
information she collected from these sources was both vast and
varied, but she never let it flavour her opinions, which lacked
sauce, and were drawn from some sort of dish into which, with all her
class, she dipped her fingers.
He liked her. No one could help liking her. She was kind, and of
such good quality, with a suggestion about her of thin, excellent,
and useful china; and she was scented, too--not with verbena,
violets, or those essences which women love, but with nothing, as if
she had taken stand against all meretricity. In her intercourse with
persons not "quite the thing" (she excepted the vicar from this
category, though his father had dealt in haberdashery), her
refinement, gently, unobtrusively, and with great practical good
sense, seemed continually to murmur, "I am, and you--well, are you,
don't you know?" But there was no self-consciousness about this
attitude, for she was really not a common woman. She simply could
not help it; all her people had done this. Their nurses breathed
above them in their cradles something that, inhaled into their
systems, ever afterwards prevented them from taking good, clear
breaths. And her manner! Ah! her manner--it concealed the inner
woman so as to leave doubt of her existence!
Shelton listened to the kindly briskness with which she dwelt upon
"Poor Bunyan! he lost his wife six months ago, and was quite cheerful
just at first, but now he 's really too distressin'. I 've done all
I can to rouse him; it's so melancholy to see him mopin'. And, my
dear Dick, the way he mangles the new rose-trees! I'm afraid he's
goin' mad; I shall have to send him away; poor fellow!"
It was clear that she sympathised with Bunyan, or, rather, believed
him entitled to a modicum of wholesome grief, the loss of wives being
a canonised and legal, sorrow. But excesses! O dear, no!
"I 've told him I shall raise his wages," she sighed. "He used to be
such a splendid gardener! That reminds me, my dear Dick; I want to
have a talk with you. Shall we go in to lunch?"
Consulting the memorandum-book in which she had been noting the case
of Mrs. Hopkins, she slightly preceded Shelton to the house.
It was somewhat late that afternoon when Shelton had his "wigging";
nor did it seem to him, hypnotised by the momentary absence of
Antonia, such a very serious affair.
"Now, Dick," the Honourable Mrs. Dennant said, in her decisive drawl,
"I don't think it 's right to put ideas into Antonia's head."
"Ideas!" murmured Shelton in confusion.
"We all know," continued Mrs. Dennant, "that things are not always
what they ought to be."
Shelton looked at her; she was seated at her writing-table,
addressing in her large, free writing a dinner invitation to a
bishop. There was not the faintest trace of awkwardness about her,
yet Shelton could not help a certain sense of shock. If she--she--
did not think things were what they ought to be--in a bad way things
must be indeed!
"Things!" he muttered.
Mrs. Dennant looked at him firmly but kindly with the eyes that would
remind him of a hare's.
"She showed me some of your letters, you know. Well, it 's not a bit
of use denyin', my dear Dick, that you've been thinkin' too much
Shelton perceived that he had done her an injustice; she handled
"things" as she handled under-gardeners--put them away when they
showed signs of running to extremes.
"I can't help that, I 'm afraid," he answered.
"My dear boy! you'll never get on that way. Now, I want you to
promise me you won't talk to Antonia about those sort of things."
Shelton raised his eyebrows.
"Oh, you know what I mean!"
He saw that to press Mrs. Dennant to say what she meant by "things"
would really hurt her sense of form; it would be cruel to force her
thus below the surface!
He therefore said, "Quite so!"
To his extreme surprise, flushing the peculiar arid pathetic flush of
women past their prime, she drawled out:
"About the poor--and criminals--and marriages--there was that
wedding, don't you know?"
Shelton bowed his head. Motherhood had been too strong for her; in
her maternal flutter she had committed the solecism of touching in so
many words on "things."
"Does n't she really see the fun," he thought, "in one man dining out
of gold and another dining in the gutter; or in two married people
living on together in perfect discord 'pour encourages les autres',
or in worshipping Jesus Christ and claiming all her rights at the
same time; or in despising foreigners because they are foreigners; or
in war; or in anything that is funny?" But he did her a certain
amount of justice by recognising that this was natural, since her
whole life had been passed in trying not to see the fun in all these
But Antonia stood smiling in the doorway. Brilliant and gay she
looked, yet resentful, as if she knew they had been talking of her.
She sat down by Shelton's side, and began asking him about the
youthful foreigner whom he had spoken of; and her eyes made him doubt
whether she, too, saw the fun that lay in one human being patronising
"But I suppose he's really good," she said, "I mean, all those things
he told you about were only---"
"Good!" he answered, fidgeting; "I don't really know what the word
Her eyes clouded. "Dick, how can you?" they seemed to say.
Shelton stroked her sleeve.
"Tell us about Mr. Crocker," she said, taking no heed of his caress.
"The lunatic!" he said.
"Lunatic! Why, in your letters he was splendid."
"So he is," said Shelton, half ashamed; "he's not a bit mad, really
--that is, I only wish I were half as mad."
"Who's that mad?" queried Mrs. Dennant from behind the urn--"Tom
Crocker? Ah, yes! I knew his mother; she was a Springer."
"Did he do it in the week?" said Thea, appearing in the window with a
"I don't know," Shelton was obliged to answer.
Thea shook back her hair.
"I call it awfully slack of you not to have found out," she said.
"You were very sweet to that young foreigner, Dick," she murmured
with a smile at Shelton. "I wish that we could see him."
But Shelton shook his head.
"It seems to me," he muttered, "that I did about as little for him as
Again her face grew thoughtful, as though his words had chilled her.
"I don't see what more you could have done," she answered.
A desire to get close to her, half fear, half ache, a sense of
futility and bafflement, an inner burning, made him feel as though a
flame were licking at his heart.
Just as Shelton was starting to walk back to Oxford he met Mr.
Dennant coming from a ride. Antonia's father was a spare man of
medium height, with yellowish face, grey moustache, ironical
eyebrows, and some tiny crow's-feet. In his old, short grey coat,
with a little slit up the middle of the back, his drab cord breeches,
ancient mahogany leggings, and carefully blacked boats, he had a dry,
threadbare quality not without distinction.
"Ah, Shelton!" he said, in his quietly festive voice; "glad to see
the pilgrim here, at last. You're not off already?" and, laying his
hand on Shelton's arm, he proposed to walk a little way with him
across the fields.
This was the first time they had met since the engagement; and
Shelton began to nerve himself to express some sentiment, however
bald, about it. He squared his shoulders, cleared his throat, and
looked askance at Mr. Dennant. That gentleman was walking stiffly,
his cord breeches faintly squeaking. He switched a yellow, jointed
cane against his leggings, and after each blow looked at his legs
satirically. He himself was rather like that yellow cane-pale, and
slim, and jointed, with features arching just a little, like the
arching of its handle.
"They say it'll be a bad year for fruit," Shelton said at last.
"My dear fellow, you don't know your farmer, I 'm afraid. We ought
to hang some farmers--do a world of good. Dear souls! I've got some
"I suppose," said Shelton, glad to postpone the evil moment, "in a
climate like this a man must grumble."
"Quite so, quite so! Look at us poor slaves of land-owners; if I
couldn't abuse the farmers I should be wretched. Did you ever see
anything finer than this pasture? And they want me to lower their
And Mr. Dennant's glance satirically wavered, rested on Shelton, and
whisked back to the ground as though he had seen something that
alarmed him. There was a pause.
"Now for it!" thought the younger man.
Mr. Dennant kept his eyes fixed on his boots.
"If they'd said, now," he remarked jocosely, "that the frost had
nipped the partridges, there 'd have been some sense in it; but what
can you expect? They've no consideration, dear souls!"
Shelton took a breath, and, with averted eyes, he hurriedly began:
"It's awfully hard, sir, to---"
Mr. Dennant switched his cane against his shin.
"Yes," he said, "it 's awfully hard to put up with, but what can a
fellow do? One must have farmers. Why, if it was n't for the
farmers, there 'd be still a hare or two about the place!"
Shelton laughed spasmodically; again he glanced askance at his future
father-in-law. What did the waggling of his head mean, the deepening
of his crow's-feet, the odd contraction of the mouth? And his eye
caught Mr. Dennant's eye; its expression was queer above the fine,
dry nose (one of the sort that reddens in a wind).
"I've never had much to do with farmers," he said at last.
"Have n't you? Lucky fellow! The most--yes, quite the most trying
portion of the human species--next to daughters."
"Well, sir, you can hardly expect me--" began Shelton.
"I don't--oh, I don't! D 'you know, I really believe we're in for a
A large black cloud had covered up the sun, and some drops were
spattering on Mr. Dennant's hard felt hat.
Shelton welcomed the shower; it appeared to him an intervention on
the part of Providence. He would have to say something, but not now,
"I 'll go on," he said; "I don't mind the rain. But you'd better get
"Dear me! I've a tenant in this cottage," said Mr. Dennant in his,
leisurely, dry manner "and a beggar he is to poach, too. Least we
can do 's to ask for a little shelter; what do you think?" and
smiling sarcastically, as though deprecating his intention to keep
dry, he rapped on the door of a prosperous-looking cottage.
It was opened by a girl of Antonia's age and height.
"Ah, Phoebe! Your father in?"
"No," replied the girl, fluttering; "father's out, Mr. Dennant."
"So sorry! Will you let us bide a bit out of the rain?"
The sweet-looking Phoebe dusted them two chairs, and, curtseying,
left them in the parlour.
"What a pretty girl!" said Shelton.
"Yes, she's a pretty girl; half the young fellows are after her, but
she won't leave her father. Oh, he 's a charming rascal is that
This remark suddenly brought home to Shelton the conviction that he
was further than ever from avoiding the necessity for speaking. He
walked over to the window. The rain. was coming down with fury,
though a golden line far down the sky promised the shower's quick
end. "For goodness' sake," he thought, "let me say something,
however idiotic, and get it over!" But he did not turn; a kind of
paralysis had seized on him.
"Tremendous heavy rain!" he said at last; "coming down in
It would have been just as easy to say: "I believe your daughter to
be the sweetest thing on earth; I love her, and I 'm going to make
her happy!" Just as easy, just about the same amount of breath
required; but he couldn't say it! He watched the rain stream and
hiss against the leaves and churn the dust on the parched road with
its insistent torrent; and he noticed with precision all the details
of the process going on outside how the raindrops darted at the
leaves like spears, and how the leaves shook themselves free a
hundred times a minute, while little runnels of water, ice-clear,
rolled over their edges, soft and quick. He noticed, too, the
mournful head of a sheltering cow that was chewing at the hedge.
Mr. Dennant had not replied to his remark about the rain. So
disconcerting was this silence that Shelton turned. His future
father-in-law, upon his wooden chair, was staring at his well-blacked
boots, bending forward above his parted knees, and prodding at the
carpet; a glimpse at his face disturbed Shelton's resolution. It was
not forbidding, stern, discouraging--not in the least; it had merely
for the moment ceased to look satirical. This was so startling that
Shelton lost his chance of speaking. There seemed a heart to Mr.
Dennant's gravity; as though for once he were looking grave because
he felt so. But glancing up at Shelton, his dry jocosity reappeared
"What a day for ducks!" he said; and again there was unmistakable
alarm about the eye. Was it possible that he, too, dreaded
"I can't express---" began Shelton hurriedly.
"Yes, it's beastly to get wet," said Mr. Dennant, and he sang--
"For we can wrestle and fight, my boys,
And jump out anywhere."
"You 'll be with us for that dinner-party next week, eh? Capital!
There's the Bishop of Blumenthal and old Sir Jack Buckwell; I must
get my wife to put you between them---"
"For it's my delight of a starry night--"
"The Bishop's a great anti-divorce man, and old Buckwell 's been in
the court at least twice---"
"In the season of the year!"
"Will you please to take some tea, gentlemen?" said the voice of
Phoebe in the doorway.
"No, thank you, Phoebe. That girl ought to get married," went on Mr.
Dennant, as Phoebe blushingly withdrew. A flush showed queerly on
his sallow cheeks. "A shame to keep her tied like this to her
father's apron-strings--selfish fellow, that!" He looked up sharply,
as if he had made a dangerous remark.
The keeper he was watching us,
For him we did n't care!
Shelton suddenly felt certain that Antonia's father was just as
anxious to say something expressive of his feelings, and as unable as
himself. And this was comforting.
"You know, sir---" he began.
But Mr. Dennant's eyebrows rose, his crow's-feet twinkled; his
personality seemed to shrink together.
"By Jove!" he said, "it's stopped! Now's our chance! Come along,
my dear fellow; delays are dangerous!" and with his bantering
courtesy he held the door for Shelton to pass out. "I think we'll
part here," he said--"I almost think so. Good luck to you!"
He held out his dry, yellow hand. Shelton seized it, wrung it hard,
and muttered the word:
Again Mr. Dennant's eyebrows quivered as if they had been tweaked; he
had been found out, and he disliked it. The colour in his face had
died away; it was calm, wrinkled, dead-looking under the flattened,
narrow brim of his black hat; his grey moustache drooped thinly; the
crow's-feet hardened round his eyes; his nostrils were distended by
the queerest smile.
"Gratitude!" he said; "almost a vice, is n't it? Good-night!"
Shelton's face quivered; he raised his hat, and, turning as abruptly
as his senior, proceeded on his way. He had been playing in a comedy
that could only have been played in England. He could afford to
smile now at his past discomfort, having no longer the sense of duty
unfulfilled. Everything had been said that was right and proper to
be said, in the way that we such things should say. No violence had
been done; he could afford to smile--smile at himself, at Mr.
Dennant, at to-morrow; smile at the sweet aroma of the earth, the
shy, unwilling sweetness that only rain brings forth.
THE COUNTRY HOUSE
The luncheon hour at Holm Oaks, was, as in many well-bred country
houses--out of the shooting season, be it understood--the soulful
hour. The ferment of the daily doings was then at its full height,
and the clamour of its conversation on the weather, and the dogs, the
horses, neighbours, cricket, golf, was mingled with a literary
murmur; for the Dennants were superior, and it was quite usual to
hear remarks like these "Have you read that charmin' thing of
Poser's?" or, "Yes, I've got the new edition of old Bablington:
delightfully bound--so light." And it was in July that Holm Oaks, as
a gathering-place of the elect, was at its best. For in July it had
become customary to welcome there many of those poor souls from
London who arrived exhausted by the season, and than whom no
seamstress in a two-pair back could better have earned a holiday.