Part 4 out of 6
did not like discussing anything or reading solid books, and she
was a little angry with such women as did. It pleased him to make
these concessions, for they touched nothing in her that he
valued. He looked round the restaurant, which was in Soho and
decided that she was incomparable.
"At half-past two I call on the editor of the 'Holborn.' He's got
a stray story to look at, and he's written about it."
"Oh, Rickie! Rickie! Why didn't you put on a boiled shirt!"
He laughed, and teased her. "'The soul's what matters. We
literary people don't care about dress."
"Well, you ought to care. And I believe you do. Can't you
"Too far." He had rooms in South Kensington. "And I've forgot my
card-case. There's for you!"
She shook her head. "Naughty, naughty boy! Whatever will you do?"
"Send in my name, or ask for a bit of paper and write it. Hullo!
Tilliard blushed, partly on account of the faux pas he had made
last June, partly on account of the restaurant. He explained how
he came to be pigging in Soho: it was so frightfully convenient
and so frightfully cheap.
"Just why Rickie brings me," said Miss Pembroke.
"And I suppose you're here to study life?" said Tilliard, sitting
"I don't know," said Rickie, gazing round at the waiters and the
"Doesn't one want to see a good deal of life for writing? There's
life of a sort in Soho,--Un peu de faisan, s'il vows plait."
Agnes also grabbed at the waiter, and paid. She always did the
paying, Rickie muddled with his purse.
"I'm cramming," pursued Tilliard, "and so naturally I come into
contact with very little at present. But later on I hope to see
things." He blushed a little, for he was talking for Rickie's
edification. "It is most frightfully important not to get a
narrow or academic outlook, don't you think? A person like
Ansell, who goes from Cambridge, home--home, Cambridge--it must
tell on him in time."
"But Mr. Ansell is a philosopher."
"A very kinky one," said Tilliard abruptly. "Not my idea of a
philosopher. How goes his dissertation?"
"He never answers my letters," replied Rickie. "He never would.
I've heard nothing since June."
"It's a pity he sends in this year. There are so many good people
in. He'd have afar better chance if he waited."
"So I said, but he wouldn't wait. He's so keen about this
"What is it?" asked Agnes.
"About things being real, wasn't it, Tilliard?"
"That's near enough."
"Well, good luck to him!" said the girl. "And good luck to you,
Mr. Tilliard! Later on, I hope, we'll meet again."
They parted. Tilliard liked her, though he did not feel that she
was quite in his couche sociale. His sister, for instance,
would never have been lured into a Soho restaurant--except for
the experience of the thing. Tilliard's couche sociale permitted
experiences. Provided his heart did not go out to the poor and
the unorthodox, he might stare at them as much as he liked. It
was seeing life.
Agnes put her lover safely into an omnibus at Cambridge Circus.
She shouted after him that his tie was rising over his collar,
but he did not hear her. For a moment she felt depressed, and
pictured quite accurately the effect that his appearance would
have on the editor. The editor was a tall neat man of forty, slow
of speech, slow of soul, and extraordinarily kind. He and Rickie
sat over a fire, with an enormous table behind them whereon stood
many books waiting to be reviewed.
"I'm sorry," he said, and paused.
Rickie smiled feebly.
"Your story does not convince." He tapped it. "I have read it
with very great pleasure. It convinces in parts, but it does not
convince as a whole; and stories, don't you think, ought to
convince as a whole?"
"They ought indeed," said Rickie, and plunged into
self-depreciation. But the editor checked him.
"No--no. Please don't talk like that. I can't bear to hear any
one talk against imagination. There are countless openings for
imagination,--for the mysterious, for the supernatural, for all
the things you are trying to do, and which, I hope, you will
succeed in doing. I'm not OBJECTING to imagination; on the
contrary, I'd advise you to cultivate it, to accent it. Write a
really good ghost story and we'd take it at once. Or"--he
suggested it as an alternative to imagination--"or you might get
inside life. It's worth doing."
"Life?" echoed Rickie anxiously.
He looked round the pleasant room, as if life might be fluttering
there like an imprisoned bird. Then he looked at the editor:
perhaps he was sitting inside life at this very moment.
"See life, Mr. Elliot, and then send us another story." He held
out his hand. "I am sorry I have to say 'No, thank you'; it's so
much nicer to say, 'Yes, please.'" He laid his hand on the young
man's sleeve, and added, "Well, the interview's not been so
alarming after all, has it?"
"I don't think that either of us is a very alarming person," was
not Rickie's reply. It was what he thought out afterwards in the
omnibus. His reply was "Ow," delivered with a slight giggle.
As he rumbled westward, his face was drawn, and his eyes moved
quickly to the right and left, as if he would discover something
in the squalid fashionable streets some bird on the wing, some
radiant archway, the face of some god beneath a beaver hat. He
loved, he was loved, he had seen death and other things; but the
heart of all things was hidden. There was a password and he could
not learn it, nor could the kind editor of the "Holborn" teach
him. He sighed, and then sighed more piteously. For had he not
known the password once--known it and forgotten it already?
But at this point his fortunes become intimately connected with
those of Mr. Pembroke.
PART 2 SAWSTON
In three years Mr. Pembroke had done much to solidify the
day-boys at Sawston School. If they were not solid, they were at
all events curdling, and his activities might reasonably turn
elsewhere. He had served the school for many years, and it was
really time he should be entrusted with a boarding-house. The
headmaster, an impulsive man who darted about like a minnow and
gave his mother a great deal of trouble, agreed with him, and
also agreed with Mrs. Jackson when she said that Mr. Jackson had
served the school for many years and that it was really time he
should be entrusted with a boarding-house. Consequently, when
Dunwood House fell vacant the headmaster found himself in rather
a difficult position.
Dunwood House was the largest and most lucrative of the
boarding-houses. It stood almost opposite the school buildings.
Originally it had been a villa residence--a red-brick villa,
covered with creepers and crowned with terracotta dragons. Mr.
Annison, founder of its glory, had lived here, and had had one or
two boys to live with him. Times changed. The fame of the bishops
blazed brighter, the school increased, the one or two boys became
a dozen, and an addition was made to Dunwood House that more than
doubled its size. A huge new building, replete with every
convenience, was stuck on to its right flank. Dormitories,
cubicles, studies, a preparation-room, a dining-room, parquet
floors, hot-air pipes--no expense was spared, and the twelve boys
roamed over it like princes. Baize doors communicated on every
floor with Mr. Annison's part, and he, an anxious gentleman,
would stroll backwards and forwards, a little depressed at the
hygienic splendours, and conscious of some vanished intimacy.
Somehow he had known his boys better when they had all muddled
together as one family, and algebras lay strewn upon the drawing
room chairs. As the house filled, his interest in it decreased.
When he retired--which he did the same summer that Rickie left
Cambridge--it had already passed the summit of excellence and was
beginning to decline. Its numbers were still satisfactory, and
for a little time it would subsist on its past reputation. But
that mysterious asset the tone had lowered, and it was therefore
of great importance that Mr. Annison's successor should be a
first-class man. Mr. Coates, who came next in seniority, was
passed over, and rightly. The choice lay between Mr. Pembroke and
Mr. Jackson, the one an organizer, the other a humanist. Mr.
Jackson was master of the Sixth, and--with the exception of the
headmaster, who was too busy to impart knowledge--the only
first-class intellect in the school. But he could not or rather
would not, keep order. He told his form that if it chose to
listen to him it would learn; if it didn't, it wouldn't. One half
listened. The other half made paper frogs, and bored holes in the
raised map of Italy with their penknives. When the penknives
gritted he punished them with undue severity, and then forgot to
make them show the punishments up. Yet out of this chaos two
facts emerged. Half the boys got scholarships at the University,
and some of them--including several of the paper-frog sort--
remained friends with him throughout their lives. Moreover, he
was rich, and had a competent wife. His claim to Dunwood House
was stronger than one would have supposed.
The qualifications of Mr. Pembroke have already been indicated.
They prevailed--but under conditions. If things went wrong, he
must promise to resign.
"In the first place," said the headmaster, "you are doing so
splendidly with the day-boys. Your attitude towards the parents
is magnificent. I--don't know how to replace you there. Whereas,
of course, the parents of a boarder--"
"Of course," said Mr. Pembroke.
The parent of a boarder, who only had to remove his son if he was
discontented with the school, was naturally in a more independent
position than the parent who had brought all his goods and
chattels to Sawston, and was renting a house there.
"Now the parents of boarders--this is my second point--
practically demand that the house-master should have a wife."
"A most unreasonable demand," said Mr. Pembroke.
"To my mind also a bright motherly matron is quite sufficient.
But that is what they demand. And that is why--do you see?--we
HAVE to regard your appointment as experimental. Possibly Miss
Pembroke will be able to help you. Or I don't know whether if
ever--" He left the sentence unfinished. Two days later Mr.
Pembroke proposed to Mrs. Orr.
He had always intended to marry when he could afford it; and once
he had been in love, violently in love, but had laid the passion
aside, and told it to wait till a more convenient season. This
was, of course, the proper thing to do, and prudence should have
been rewarded. But when, after the lapse of fifteen years, he
went, as it were, to his spiritual larder and took down Love from
the top shelf to offer him to Mrs. Orr, he was rather dismayed.
Something had happened. Perhaps the god had flown; perhaps he had
been eaten by the rats. At all events, he was not there.
Mr. Pembroke was conscientious and romantic, and knew that
marriage without love is intolerable. On the other hand, he could
not admit that love had vanished from him. To admit this, would
argue that he had deteriorated.
Whereas he knew for a fact that he had improved, year by year.
Each year be grew more moral, more efficient, more learned, more
genial. So how could he fail to be more loving? He did not speak
to himself as follows, because he never spoke to himself; but the
following notions moved in the recesses of his mind: "It is not
the fire of youth. But I am not sure that I approve of the fire
of youth. Look at my sister! Once she has suffered, twice she has
been most imprudent, and put me to great inconvenience besides,
for if she was stopping with me she would have done the
housekeeping. I rather suspect that it is a nobler, riper emotion
that I am laying at the feet of Mrs. Orr." It never took him long
to get muddled, or to reverse cause and effect. In a short time
he believed that he had been pining for years, and only waiting
for this good fortune to ask the lady to share it with him.
Mrs. Orr was quiet, clever, kindly, capable, and amusing and they
were old acquaintances. Altogether it was not surprising that he
should ask her to be his wife, nor very surprising that she
should refuse. But she refused with a violence that alarmed them
both. He left her house declaring that he had been insulted, and
she, as soon as he left, passed from disgust into tears.
He was much annoyed. There was a certain Miss Herriton who,
though far inferior to Mrs. Orr, would have done instead of her.
But now it was impossible. He could not go offering himself about
Sawston. Having engaged a matron who had the reputation for being
bright and motherly, he moved into Dunwood House and opened the
Michaelmas term. Everything went wrong. The cook left; the boys
had a disease called roseola; Agnes, who was still drunk with her
engagement, was of no assistance, but kept flying up to London to
push Rickie's fortunes; and, to crown everything, the matron was
too bright and not motherly enough: she neglected the little boys
and was overattentive to the big ones. She left abruptly, and the
voice of Mrs. Jackson arose, prophesying disaster.
Should he avert it by taking orders? Parents do not demand that a
house-master should be a clergyman, yet it reassures them when he
is. And he would have to take orders some time, if he hoped for a
school of his own. His religious convictions were ready to hand,
but he spent several uncomfortable days hunting up his religious
enthusiasms. It was not unlike his attempt to marry Mrs. Orr. But
his piety was more genuine, and this time he never came to the
point. His sense of decency forbade him hurrying into a Church
that he reverenced. Moreover, he thought of another solution:
Agnes must marry Rickie in the Christmas holidays, and they must
come, both of them, to Sawston, she as housekeeper, he as
assistant-master. The girl was a good worker when once she was
settled down; and as for Rickie, he could easily be fitted in
somewhere in the school. He was not a good classic, but good
enough to take the Lower Fifth. He was no athlete, but boys might
profitably note that he was a perfect gentleman all the same. He
had no experience, but he would gain it. He had no decision, but
he could simulate it. "Above all," thought Mr. Pembroke, "it will
be something regular for him to do." Of course this was not
"above all." Dunwood House held that position. But Mr. Pembroke
soon came to think that it was, and believed that he was planning
for Rickie, just as he had believed he was pining for Mrs. Orr.
Agnes, when she got back from the lunch in Soho, was told of the
plan. She refused to give any opinion until she had seen her
lover. A telegram was sent to him, and next morning he arrived.
He was very susceptible to the weather, and perhaps it was
unfortunate that the morning was foggy. His train had been
stopped outside Sawston Station, and there he had sat for half an
hour, listening to the unreal noises that came from the line, and
watching the shadowy figures that worked there. The gas was
alight in the great drawing-room, and in its depressing rays he
and Agnes greeted each other, and discussed the most momentous
question of their lives. They wanted to be married: there was no
doubt of that. They wanted it, both of them, dreadfully. But
should they marry on these terms?
"I'd never thought of such a thing, you see. When the scholastic
agencies sent me circulars after the Tripos, I tore them up at
"There are the holidays," said Agnes. "You would have three
months in the year to yourself, and you could do your writing
"But who'll read what I've written?" and he told her about the
editor of the "Holborn."
She became extremely grave. At the bottom of her heart she had
always mistrusted the little stories, and now people who knew
agreed with her. How could Rickie, or any one, make a living by
pretending that Greek gods were alive, or that young ladies could
vanish into trees? A sparkling society tale, full of verve and
pathos, would have been another thing, and the editor might have
been convinced by it.
"But what does he mean?" Rickie was saying. "What does he mean by
"I know what he means, but I can't exactly explain. You ought to
see life, Rickie. I think he's right there. And Mr. Tilliard was
right when he said one oughtn't to be academic."
He stood in the twilight that fell from the window, she in the
twilight of the gas. "I wonder what Ansell would say," he
"Oh, poor Mr. Ansell!"
He was somewhat surprised. Why was Ansell poor? It was the first
time the epithet had been applied to him.
"But to change the conversation," said Agnes.
"If we did marry, we might get to Italy at Easter and escape this
"Yes. Perhaps there--" Perhaps life would be there. He thought of
Renan, who declares that on the Acropolis at Athens beauty and
wisdom do exist, really exist, as external powers. He did not
aspire to beauty or wisdom, but he prayed to be delivered from
the shadow of unreality that had begun to darken the world. For
it was as if some power had pronounced against him--as if, by
some heedless action, he had offended an Olympian god. Like many
another, he wondered whether the god might be appeased by work--
hard uncongenial work. Perhaps he had not worked hard enough, or
had enjoyed his work too much, and for that reason the shadow was
"--And above all, a schoolmaster has wonderful opportunities for
doing good; one mustn't forget that."
To do good! For what other reason are we here? Let us give up our
refined sensations, and our comforts, and our art, if thereby we
can make other people happier and better. The woman he loved had
urged him to do good! With a vehemence that surprised her, he
exclaimed, "I'll do it."
"Think it over," she cautioned, though she was greatly pleased.
"No; I think over things too much."
The room grew brighter. A boy's laughter floated in, and it
seemed to him that people were as important and vivid as they had
been six months before. Then he was at Cambridge, idling in the
parsley meadows, and weaving perishable garlands out of flowers.
Now he was at Sawston, preparing to work a beneficent machine.
No man works for nothing, and Rickie trusted that to him also
benefits might accrue; that his wound might heal as he laboured,
and his eyes recapture the Holy Grail.
In practical matters Mr. Pembroke was often a generous man. He
offered Rickie a good salary, and insisted on paying Agnes as
well. And as he housed them for nothing, and as Rickie would also
have a salary from the school, the money question disappeared--if
not forever, at all events for the present.
"I can work you in," he said. "Leave all that to me, and in a few
days you shall hear from the headmaster.
He shall create a vacancy. And once in, we stand or fall
together. I am resolved on that."
Rickie did not like the idea of being "worked in," but he was
determined to raise no difficulties. It is so easy to be refined
and high-minded when we have nothing to do. But the active,
useful man cannot be equally particular. Rickie's programme
involved a change in values as well as a change of occupation.
"Adopt a frankly intellectual attitude," Mr. Pembroke continued.
"I do not advise you at present even to profess any interest in
athletics or organization. When the headmaster writes, he will
probably ask whether you are an all-round man. Boldly say no. A
bold 'no' is at times the best. Take your stand upon classics and
Classics! A second in the Tripos. General culture. A smattering
of English Literature, and less than a smattering of French.
"That is how we begin. Then we get you a little post--say that of
librarian. And so on, until you are indispensable."
Rickie laughed; the headmaster wrote, the reply was satisfactory,
and in due course the new life began.
Sawston was already familiar to him. But he knew it as an
amateur, and under an official gaze it grouped itself afresh. The
school, a bland Gothic building, now showed as a fortress of
learning, whose outworks were the boarding-houses. Those
straggling roads were full of the houses of the parents of the
day-boys. These shops were in bounds, those out. How often had he
passed Dunwood House! He had once confused it with its rival,
Cedar View. Now he was to live there--perhaps for many years. On
the left of the entrance a large saffron drawing-room, full of
cosy corners and dumpy chairs: here the parents would be
received. On the right of the entrance a study, which he shared
with Herbert: here the boys would be caned--he hoped not often.
In the hall a framed certificate praising the drains, the bust of
Hermes, and a carved teak monkey holding out a salver. Some of
the furniture had come from Shelthorpe, some had been bought from
Mr. Annison, some of it was new. But throughout he recognized a
certain decision of arrangement. Nothing in the house was
accidental, or there merely for its own sake. He contrasted it
with his room at Cambridge, which had been a jumble of things
that he loved dearly and of things that he did not love at all.
Now these also had come to Dunwood House, and had been
distributed where each was seemly--Sir Percival to the
drawing-room, the photograph of Stockholm to the passage, his
chair, his inkpot, and the portrait of his mother to the study.
And then he contrasted it with the Ansells' house, to which their
resolute ill-taste had given unity. He was extremely sensitive to
the inside of a house, holding it an organism that expressed the
thoughts, conscious and subconscious, of its inmates. He was
equally sensitive to places. He would compare Cambridge with
Sawston, and either with a third type of existence, to which, for
want of a better name, he gave the name of "Wiltshire."
It must not be thought that he is going to waste his time. These
contrasts and comparisons never took him long, and he never
indulged in them until the serious business of the day was over.
And, as time passed, he never indulged in them at all.
The school returned at the end of January, before he had been
settled in a week. His health had improved, but not greatly, and
he was nervous at the prospect of confronting the assembled
house. All day long cabs had been driving up, full of boys in
bowler hats too big for them; and Agnes had been superintending
the numbering of the said hats, and the placing of them in
cupboards, since they would not be wanted till the end of the
term. Each boy had, or should have had, a bag, so that he need
not unpack his box till the morrow, One boy had only a
brown-paper parcel, tied with hairy string, and Rickie heard the
firm pleasant voice say, "But you'll bring a bag next term," and
the submissive, "Yes, Mrs. Elliot," of the reply. In the passage
he ran against the head boy, who was alarmingly like an
undergraduate. They looked at each other suspiciously, and
parted. Two minutes later he ran into another boy, and then into
another, and began to wonder whether they were doing it on
purpose, and if so, whether he ought to mind. As the day wore on,
the noises grew louder-trampings of feet, breakdowns, jolly
little squawks--and the cubicles were assigned, and the bags
unpacked, and the bathing arrangements posted up, and Herbert
kept on saying, "All this is informal--all this is informal. We
shall meet the house at eight fifteen."
And so, at eight ten, Rickie put on his cap and gown,--hitherto
symbols of pupilage, now to be symbols of dignity,--the very cap
and gown that Widdrington had so recently hung upon the college
fountain. Herbert, similarly attired, was waiting for him in
their private dining-room, where also sat Agnes, ravenously
devouring scrambled eggs. "But you'll wear your hoods," she
cried. Herbert considered, and them said she was quite right. He
fetched his white silk, Rickie the fragment of rabbit's wool that
marks the degree of B.A. Thus attired, they proceeded through the
baize door. They were a little late, and the boys, who were
marshalled in the preparation room, were getting uproarious. One,
forgetting how far his voice carried, shouted, "Cave! Here comes
the Whelk." And another young devil yelled, "The Whelk's brought
a pet with him!"
"You mustn't mind," said Herbert kindly. "We masters make a point
of never minding nicknames--unless, of course, they are applied
openly, in which case a thousand lines is not too much." Rickie
assented, and they entered the preparation room just as the
prefects had established order.
Here Herbert took his seat on a high-legged chair, while Rickie,
like a queen-consort, sat near him on a chair with somewhat
shorter legs. Each chair had a desk attached to it, and Herbert
flung up the lid of his, and then looked round the preparation
room with a quick frown, as if the contents had surprised him. So
impressed was Rickie that he peeped sideways, but could only see
a little blotting-paper in the desk. Then he noticed that the
boys were impressed too. Their chatter ceased. They attended.
The room was almost full. The prefects, instead of lolling
disdainfully in the back row, were ranged like councillors
beneath the central throne. This was an innovation of Mr.
Pembroke's. Carruthers, the head boy, sat in the middle, with his
arm round Lloyd. It was Lloyd who had made the matron too bright:
he nearly lost his colours in consequence. These two were grown
up. Beside them sat Tewson, a saintly child in the spectacles,
who had risen to this height by reason of his immense learning.
He, like the others, was a school prefect. The house prefects, an
inferior brand, were beyond, and behind came the
indistinguishable many. The faces all looked alike as yet--except
the face of one boy, who was inclined to cry.
"School," said Mr. Pembroke, slowly closing the lid of the desk,
--"school is the world in miniature." Then he paused, as a man
well may who has made such a remark. It is not, however, the
intention of this work to quote an opening address. Rickie, at
all events, refused to be critical: Herbert's experience was far
greater than his, and he must take his tone from him. Nor
could any one criticize the exhortations to be patriotic,
athletic, learned, and religious, that flowed like a four-part
fugue from Mr. Pembroke's mouth. He was a practised speaker--that
is to say, he held his audience's attention. He told them that
this term, the second of his reign, was THE term for Dunwood
House; that it behooved every boy to labour during it for his
house's honour, and, through the house, for the honour of the
school. Taking a wider range, he spoke of England, or rather of
Great Britain, and of her continental foes. Portraits of
empire-builders hung on the wall, and he pointed to them. He
quoted imperial poets. He showed how patriotism had broadened
since the days of Shakespeare, who, for all his genius,
could only write of his country as--
"This fortress built by nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This hazy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea."
And it seemed that only a short ladder lay between the
preparation room and the Anglo-Saxon hegemony of the globe. Then
he paused, and in the silence came "sob, sob, sob," from a little
boy, who was regretting a villa in Guildford and his mother's
half acre of garden.
The proceeding terminated with the broader patriotism of the
school anthem, recently composed by the organist. Words and tune
were still a matter for taste, and it was Mr. Pembroke (and he
only because he had the music) who gave the right intonation to
"Perish each laggard! Let it not be said
That Sawston such within her walls hath bred."
"Come, come," he said pleasantly, as they ended with harmonies in
the style of Richard Strauss. "This will never do. We must
grapple with the anthem this term--you're as tuneful as--as
Hearty laughter, and then the whole house filed past them and
"But how did it impress you?" Herbert asked, as soon as they were
back in their own part. Agnes had provided them with a tray of
food: the meals were still anyhow, and she had to fly at once to
see after the boys.
"I liked the look of them."
"I meant rather, how did the house impress you as a house?"
"I don't think I thought," said Rickie rather nervously. "It is
not easy to catch the spirit of a thing at once. I only saw a
roomful of boys."
"My dear Rickie, don't be so diffident. You are perfectly right.
You only did see a roomful of boys. As yet there's nothing else
to see. The house, like the school, lacks tradition. Look at
Winchester. Look at the traditional rivalry between Eton and
Harrow. Tradition is of incalculable importance, if a school is
to have any status. Why should Sawston be without?"
"Yes. Tradition is of incalculable value. And I envy those
schools that have a natural connection with the past. Of course
Sawston has a past, though not of the kind that you quite want.
The sons of poor tradesmen went to it at first. So wouldn't its
traditions be more likely to linger in the Commercial School?" he
"You have a great deal to learn--a very great deal. Listen to me.
Why has Sawston no traditions?" His round, rather foolish, face
assumed the expression of a conspirator. Bending over the mutton,
he whispered, "I can tell you why. Owing to the day-boys. How can
traditions flourish in such soil? Picture the day-boy's life--at
home for meals, at home for preparation, at home for sleep,
running home with every fancied wrong. There are day-boys in your
class, and, mark my words, they will give you ten times as much
trouble as the boarders, late, slovenly, stopping away at the
slightest pretext. And then the letters from the parents! 'Why
has my boy not been moved this term?' 'Why has my boy been moved
this term?' 'I am a dissenter, and do not wish my boy to
subscribe to the school mission.' 'Can you let my boy off early
to water the garden?' Remember that I have been a day-boy
house-master, and tried to infuse some esprit de corps into them.
It is practically impossible. They come as units, and units they
remain. Worse. They infect the boarders. Their pestilential,
critical, discontented attitude is spreading over the school. If
I had my own way--"
He stopped somewhat abruptly.
"Was that why you laughed at their singing?"
"Not at all. Not at all. It is not my habit to set one section of
the school against the other."
After a little they went the rounds. The boys were in bed now.
"Good-night!" called Herbert, standing in the corridor of the
cubicles, and from behind each of the green curtains came the
sound of a voice replying, "Good-night, sir!" "Good-night," he
observed into each dormitory.
Then he went to the switch in the passage and plunged the whole
house into darkness. Rickie lingered behind him, strangely
impressed. In the morning those boys had been scattered over
England, leading their own lives. Now, for three months, they
must change everything--see new faces, accept new ideals. They,
like himself, must enter a beneficent machine, and learn the
value of esprit de corps. Good luck attend them--good luck and a
happy release. For his heart would have them not in these
cubicles and dormitories, but each in his own dear home, amongst
faces and things that he knew.
Next morning, after chapel, he made the acquaintance of his
class. Towards that he felt very differently. Esprit de corps was
not expected of it. It was simply two dozen boys who were
gathered together for the purpose of learning Latin. His duties
and difficulties would not lie here. He was not required to
provide it with an atmosphere. The scheme of work was already
mapped out, and he started gaily upon familiar words--
"Pan, ovium custos, tua si tibi Maenala curae
Adsis, O Tegaee, favens."
"Do you think that beautiful?" he asked, and received the honest
answer, "No, sir; I don't think I do." He met Herbert in high
spirits in the quadrangle during the interval. But Herbert
thought his enthusiasm rather amateurish, and cautioned him.
"You must take care they don't get out of hand. I approve of a
lively teacher, but discipline must be established first."
"I felt myself a learner, not a teacher. If I'm wrong over a
point, or don't know, I mean to tell them at once."
Herbert shook his head.
"It's different if I was really a scholar. But I can't pose as
one, can I? I know much more than the boys, but I know very
little. Surely the honest thing is to be myself to them. Let them
accept or refuse me as that. That's the only attitude we shall
any of us profit by in the end."
Mr. Pembroke was silent. Then he observed, "There is, as you say,
a higher attitude and a lower attitude. Yet here, as so often,
cannot we find a golden mean between them?"
"What's that?" said a dreamy voice. They turned and saw a tall,
spectacled man, who greeted the newcomer kindly, and took hold of
his arm. "What's that about the golden mean?"
"Mr. Jackson--Mr. Elliot: Mr. Elliot--Mr. Jackson," said Herbert,
who did not seem quite pleased. "Rickie, have you a moment to
But the humanist spoke to the young man about the golden mean and
the pinchbeck mean, adding, "You know the Greeks aren't broad church
clergymen. They really aren't, in spite of much conflicting
evidence. Boys will regard Sophocles as a kind of enlightened
bishop, and something tells me that they are wrong."
"Mr. Jackson is a classical enthusiast," said Herbert. "He makes
the past live. I want to talk to you about the humdrum present."
"And I am warning him against the humdrum past. "That's another
point, Mr. Elliot. Impress on your class that many Greeks and
most Romans were frightfully stupid, and if they disbelieve you,
read Ctesiphon with them, or Valerius Flaccus. Whatever is
"It comes from your class-room, I think," snapped the other
"So it does. Ah, yes. I expect they are putting your little
Tewson into the waste-paper basket."
"I always lock my class-room in the interval--"
"--and carry the key in my pocket."
"Ah. But, Mr. Elliot, I am a cousin of Widdrington's. He wrote to
me about you. I am so glad. Will you, first of all, come to
supper next Sunday?"
"I am afraid," put in Herbert, "that we poor housemasters must
deny ourselves festivities in term time."
"But mayn't he come once, just once?"
"May, my dear Jackson! My brother-in-law is not a baby. He
decides for himself."
Rickie naturally refused. As soon as they were out of hearing,
Herbert said, "This is a little unfortunate. Who is Mr.
"I knew him at Cambridge."
"Let me explain how we stand," he continued, after a pause.
"Jackson is the worst of the reactionaries here, while I--why
should I conceal it?--have thrown in my lot with the party of
progress. You will see how we suffer from him at the masters'
meetings. He has no talent for organization, and yet he is always
inflicting his ideas on others. It was like his impertinence to
dictate to you what authors you should read, and meanwhile the
sixth-form room like a bear-garden, and a school prefect being
put into the waste-paper basket. My good Rickie, there's nothing
to smile at. How is the school to go on with a man like that? It
would be a case of 'quick march,' if it was not for his brilliant
intellect. That's why I say it's a little unfortunate. You will
have very little in common, you and he."
Rickie did not answer. He was very fond of Widdrington, who was a
quaint, sensitive person. And he could not help being attracted
by Mr. Jackson, whose welcome contrasted pleasantly with the
official breeziness of his other colleagues. He wondered, too,
whether it is so very reactionary to contemplate the antique.
"It is true that I vote Conservative," pursued Mr. Pembroke,
apparently confronting some objector. "But why? Because the
Conservatives, rather than the Liberals, stand for progress. One
must not be misled by catch-words."
"Didn't you want to ask me something?"
"Ah, yes. You found a boy in your form called Varden?"
"Varden? Yes; there is."
"Drop on him heavily. He has broken the statutes of the school.
He is attending as a day-boy. The statutes provide that a boy
must reside with his parents or guardians. He does neither. It
must be stopped. You must tell the headmaster."
"Where does the boy live?"
"At a certain Mrs. Orr's, who has no connection with the school
of any kind. It must be stopped. He must either enter a
boarding-house or go."
"But why should I tell?" said Rickie. He remembered the boy, an
unattractive person with protruding ears, "It is the business of
"House-master--exactly. Here we come back again. Who is now the
day-boys' house-master? Jackson once again--as if anything was
Jackson's business! I handed the house back last term in a most
flourishing condition. It has already gone to rack and ruin for
the second time. To return to Varden. I have unearthed a put-up
job. Mrs. Jackson and Mrs. Orr are friends. Do you see? It all
"I see. It does--or might."
"The headmaster will never sanction it when it's put to him
"But why should I put it?" said Rickie, twisting the ribbons of
his gown round his fingers.
"Because you're the boy's form-master."
"Is that a reason?"
"Of course it is."
"I only wondered whether--" He did not like to say that he
wondered whether he need do it his first morning.
"By some means or other you must find out--of course you know
already, but you must find out from the boy. I know--I have it!
Where's his health certificate?"
"He had forgotten it."
"Just like them. Well, when he brings it, it will be signed by
Mrs. Orr, and you must look at it and say, 'Orr--Orr--Mrs.
Orr?' or something to that effect, and then the whole thing will
come naturally out."
The bell rang, and they went in for the hour of school that
concluded the morning. Varden brought his health certificate--a
pompous document asserting that he had not suffered from roseola
or kindred ailments in the holidays--and for a long time Rickie
sat with it before him, spread open upon his desk. He did not
quite like the job. It suggested intrigue, and he had come to
Sawston not to intrigue but to labour. Doubtless Herbert was
right, and Mr. Jackson and Mrs. Orr were wrong. But why could
they not have it out among themselves? Then he thought, "I am a
coward, and that's why I'm raising these objections," called the
boy up to him, and it did all come out naturally, more or less.
Hitherto Varden had lived with his mother; but she had left
Sawston at Christmas, and now he would live with Mrs. Orr. "Mr.
Jackson, sir, said it would be all right."
"Yes, yes," said Rickie; "quite so." He remembered Herbert's
dictum: "Masters must present a united front. If they do not--the
deluge." He sent the boy back to his seat, and after school took
the compromising health certificate to the headmaster. The
headmaster was at that time easily excited by a breach of the
constitution. "Parents or guardians," he reputed--"parents or
guardians," and flew with those words on his lips to Mr. Jackson.
To say that Rickie was a cat's-paw is to put it too strongly.
Herbert was strictly honourable, and never pushed him into an
illegal or really dangerous position; but there is no doubt that
on this and on many other occasions he had to do things that he
would not otherwise have done. There was always some diplomatic
corner that had to be turned, always something that he had to say
or not to say. As the term wore on he lost his independence--
almost without knowing it. He had much to learn about boys, and
he learnt not by direct observation--for which he believed he was
unfitted--but by sedulous imitation of the more experienced
masters. Originally he had intended to be friends with his
pupils, and Mr. Pembroke commended the intention highly; but you
cannot be friends either with boy or man unless you give yourself
away in the process, and Mr. Pembroke did not commend this. He,
for "personal intercourse," substituted the safer "personal
influence," and gave his junior hints on the setting of kindly
traps, in which the boy does give himself away and reveals his
shy delicate thoughts, while the master, intact, commends or
corrects them. Originally Rickie had meant to help boys in the
anxieties that they undergo when changing into men: at Cambridge
he had numbered this among life's duties. But here is a subject
in which we must inevitably speak as one human being to another,
not as one who has authority or the shadow of authority, and for
this reason the elder school-master could suggest nothing but a
few formulae. Formulae, like kindly traps, were not in Rickie's
line, so he abandoned these subjects altogether and confined
himself to working hard at what was easy. In the house he did as
Herbert did, and referred all doubtful subjects to him. In his
form, oddly enough, he became a martinet. It is so much simpler
to be severe. He grasped the school regulations, and insisted on
prompt obedience to them. He adopted the doctrine of collective
responsibility. When one boy was late, he punished the whole
form. "I can't help it," he would say, as if he was a power of
nature. As a teacher he was rather dull. He curbed his own
enthusiasms, finding that they distracted his attention, and that
while he throbbed to the music of Virgil the boys in the back row
were getting unruly. But on the whole he liked his form work: he
knew why he was there, and Herbert did not overshadow him so
What was amiss with Herbert? He had known that something was
amiss, and had entered into partnership with open eyes. The man
was kind and unselfish; more than that he was truly charitable,
and it was a real pleasure to him to give--pleasure to others.
Certainly he might talk too much about it afterwards; but it was
the doing, not the talking, that he really valued, and
benefactors of this sort are not too common. He was, moreover,
diligent and conscientious: his heart was in his work, and his
adherence to the Church of England no mere matter of form. He was
capable of affection: he was usually courteous and tolerant. Then
what was amiss? Why, in spite of all these qualities, should
Rickie feel that there was something wrong with him--nay, that he
was wrong as a whole, and that if the Spirit of Humanity should
ever hold a judgment he would assuredly be classed among the
goats? The answer at first sight appeared a graceless one--it was
that Herbert was stupid. Not stupid in the ordinary sense--he had
a business-like brain, and acquired knowledge easily--but stupid
in the important sense: his whole life was coloured by a contempt
of the intellect. That he had a tolerable intellect of his own
was not the point: it is in what we value, not in what we have,
that the test of us resides. Now, Rickie's intellect was not
remarkable. He came to his worthier results rather by imagination
and instinct than by logic. An argument confused him, and he
could with difficulty follow it even on paper. But he saw in this
no reason for satisfaction, and tried to make such use of his
brain as he could, just as a weak athlete might lovingly exercise
his body. Like a weak athlete, too, he loved to watch the
exploits, or rather the efforts, of others--their efforts not so
much to acquire knowledge as to dispel a little of the darkness
by which we and all our acquisitions are surrounded. Cambridge
had taught him this, and he knew, if for no other reason, that
his time there had not been in vain. And Herbert's contempt for
such efforts revolted him. He saw that for all his fine talk
about a spiritual life he had but one test for things--success:
success for the body in this life or for the soul in the life to
come. And for this reason Humanity, and perhaps such other
tribunals as there may be, would assuredly reject him.
Meanwhile he was a husband. Perhaps his union should have been
emphasized before. The crown of life had been attained, the vague
yearnings, the misread impulses, had found accomplishment at
last. Never again must he feel lonely, or as one who stands out
of the broad highway of the world and fears, like poor Shelley,
to undertake the longest journey. So he reasoned, and at first
took the accomplishment for granted. But as the term passed he
knew that behind the yearning there remained a yearning, behind
the drawn veil a veil that he could not draw. His wedding had
been no mighty landmark: he would often wonder whether such and
such a speech or incident came after it or before. Since that
meeting in the Soho restaurant there had been so much to do--
clothes to buy, presents to thank for, a brief visit to a
Training College, a honeymoon as brief. In such a bustle, what
spiritual union could take place? Surely the dust would settle
soon: in Italy, at Easter, he might perceive the infinities of
love. But love had shown him its infinities already. Neither by
marriage nor by any other device can men insure themselves a
vision; and Rickie's had been granted him three years before,
when he had seen his wife and a dead man clasped in each other's
arms. She was never to be so real to him again.
She ran about the house looking handsomer than ever. Her cheerful
voice gave orders to the servants. As he sat in the study
correcting compositions, she would dart in and give him a kiss.
"Dear girl--" he would murmur, with a glance at the rings on her
hand. The tone of their marriage life was soon set. It was to be
a frank good-fellowship, and before long he found it difficult to
speak in a deeper key.
One evening he made the effort. There had been more beauty than
was usual at Sawston. The air was pure and quiet. Tomorrow the
fog might be here, but today one said, "It is like the country."
Arm in arm they strolled in the side-garden, stopping at times to
notice the crocuses, or to wonder when the daffodils would
flower. Suddenly he tightened his pressure, and said, "Darling,
why don't you still wear ear-rings?"
"Ear-rings?" She laughed. "My taste has improved, perhaps."
So after all they never mentioned Gerald's name. But he hoped it
was still dear to her. He did not want her to forget the greatest
moment in her life. His love desired not ownership but
confidence, and to a love so pure it does not seem terrible to
He valued emotion--not for itself, but because it is the only
final path to intimacy. She, ever robust and practical, always
discouraged him. She was not cold; she would willingly embrace
him. But she hated being upset, and would laugh or thrust him off
when his voice grew serious. In this she reminded him of his
mother. But his mother--he had never concealed it from himself--
had glories to which his wife would never attain: glories that
had unfolded against a life of horror--a life even more horrible
than he had guessed. He thought of her often during these earlier
months. Did she bless his union, so different to her own? Did she
love his wife? He tried to speak of her to Agnes, but again she
was reluctant. And perhaps it was this aversion to acknowledge
the dead, whose images alone have immortality, that made her own
image somewhat transient, so that when he left her no mystic
influence remained, and only by an effort could he realize that
God had united them forever.
They conversed and differed healthily upon other topics. A rifle
corps was to be formed: she hoped that the boys would have proper
uniforms, instead of shooting in their old clothes, as Mr.
Jackson had suggested. There was Tewson; could nothing be done
about him? He would slink away from the other prefects and go
with boys of his own age. There was Lloyd: he would not learn the
school anthem, saying that it hurt his throat. And above all
there was Varden, who, to Rickie's bewilderment, was now a member
of Dunwood House.
"He had to go somewhere," said Agnes. "Lucky for his mother that
we had a vacancy."
"Yes--but when I meet Mrs. Orr--I can't help feeling ashamed."
"Oh, Mrs. Orr! Who cares for her? Her teeth are drawn. If she
chooses to insinuate that we planned it, let her. Hers was rank
dishonesty. She attempted to set up a boarding-house."
Mrs. Orr, who was quite rich, had attempted no such thing. She
had taken the boy out of charity, and without a thought of being
unconstitutional. But in had come this officious "Limpet" and
upset the headmaster, and she was scolded, and Mrs. Varden was
scolded, and Mr. Jackson was scolded, and the boy was scolded and
placed with Mr. Pembroke, whom she revered less than any man in
the world. Naturally enough, she considered it a further attempt
of the authorities to snub the day-boys, for whose advantage the
school had been founded. She and Mrs. Jackson discussed the
subject at their tea-parties, and the latter lady was sure that
no good, no good of any kind, would come to Dunwood House from
such ill-gotten plunder.
"We say, 'Let them talk,'" persisted Rickie, "but I never did
like letting people talk. We are right and they are wrong, but I
wish the thing could have been done more quietly. The headmaster
does get so excited. He has given a gang of foolish people their
opportunity. I don't like being branded as the day-boy's foe,
when I think how much I would have given to be a day-boy myself.
My father found me a nuisance, and put me through the mill, and I
can never forget it particularly the evenings."
"There's very little bullying here," said Agnes.
"There was very little bullying at my school. There
was simply the atmosphere of unkindness, which no discipline can
dispel. It's not what people do to you, but what they mean, that
"I don't understand."
"Physical pain doesn't hurt--at least not what I call hurt--if a
man hits you by accident or play. But just a little tap, when you
know it comes from hatred, is too terrible. Boys do hate each
other: I remember it, and see it again. They can make strong
isolated friendships, but of general good-fellowship they haven't
"All I know is there's very little bullying here."
"You see, the notion of good-fellowship develops late: you can
just see its beginning here among the prefects: up at Cambridge
it flourishes amazingly. That's why I pity people who don't go up
to Cambridge: not because a University is smart, but because
those are the magic years, and--with luck--you see up there what
you couldn't see before and mayn't ever see again.
"Aren't these the magic years?" the lady demanded.
He laughed and hit at her. "I'm getting somewhat involved. But
hear me, O Agnes, for I am practical. I approve of our public
schools. Long may they, flourish. But I do not approve of the
boarding-house system. It isn't an inevitable adjunct--"
"Good gracious me!" she shrieked. "Have you gone mad?"
"Silence, madam. Don't betray me to Herbert, or I'll give us the
sack. But seriously, what is the good of, throwing boys so much
together? Isn't it building their lives on a wrong basis? They
don't understand each other. I wish they did, but they don't.
They don't realize that human beings are simply marvellous.
When they do, the whole of life changes, and you get the true
thing. But don't pretend you've got it before you have.
Patriotism and esprit de corps are all very well, but masters a
little forget that they must grow from sentiment. They cannot
create one. Cannot-cannot--cannot. I never cared a straw for
England until I cared for Englishmen, and boys can't love the
school when they hate each other. Ladies and gentlemen, I will
now conclude my address. And most of it is copied out of Mr.
The truth is, he was suddenly ashamed. He had been carried away
on the flood of his old emotions. Cambridge and all that it meant
had stood before him passionately clear, and beside it stood his
mother and the sweet family life which nurses up a boy until he
can salute his equals. He was ashamed, for he remembered his new
resolution--to work without criticizing, to throw himself
vigorously into the machine, not to mind if he was pinched now
and then by the elaborate wheels.
"Mr. Ansell!" cried his wife, laughing somewhat shrilly. "Aha!
Now I understand. It's just the kind of thing poor Mr. Ansell
would say. Well, I'm brutal. I believe it does Varden good to
have his ears pulled now and then, and I don't care whether they
pull them in play or not. Boys ought to rough it, or they never
grow up into men, and your mother would have agreed with me. Oh
yes; and you're all wrong about patriotism. It can, can, create a
She was unusually precise, and had followed his thoughts with an
attention that was also unusual. He wondered whether she was not
right, and regretted that she proceeded to say, "My dear boy, you
mustn't talk these heresies inside Dunwood House! You sound just
like one of that reactionary Jackson set, who want to fling the
school back a hundred years and have nothing but day-boys all
"The Jackson set have their points."
"You'd better join it."
"The Dunwood House set has its points." For Rickie suffered from
the Primal Curse, which is not--as the Authorized Version
suggests--the knowledge of good and evil, but the knowledge of
"Then stick to the Dunwood House set."
"I do, and shall." Again he was ashamed. Why would he see the
other side of things? He rebuked his soul, not unsuccessfully,
and then they returned to the subject of Varden.
"I'm certain he suffers," said he, for she would do nothing but
laugh. "Each boy who passes pulls his ears--very funny, no doubt;
but every day they stick out more and get redder, and this
afternoon, when he didn't know he was being watched, he was
holding his head and moaning. I hate the look about his eyes."
"I hate the whole boy. Nasty weedy thing."
"Well, I'm a nasty weedy thing, if it comes to that."
"No, you aren't," she cried, kissing him. But he led her back to
the subject. Could nothing be suggested? He drew up some new
rules--alterations in the times of going to bed, and so on--the
effect of which would be to provide fewer opportunities for the
pulling of Varden's ears. The rules were submitted to Herbert,
who sympathized with weakliness more than did his sister, and
gave them his careful consideration. But unfortunately they
collided with other rules, and on a closer examination he found
that they also ran contrary to the fundamentals on which the
government of Dunwood House was based. So nothing was done. Agnes
was rather pleased, and took to teasing her husband about Varden.
At last he asked her to stop. He felt uneasy about the boy--
almost superstitious. His first morning's work had brought sixty
pounds a year to their hotel.
They did not get to Italy at Easter. Herbert had the offer of
some private pupils, and needed Rickie's help. It seemed
unreasonable to leave England when money was to be made in it, so
they went to Ilfracombe instead. They spent three weeks among the
natural advantages and unnatural disadvantages of that resort. It
was out of the season, and they encamped in a huge hotel, which
took them at a reduction. By a disastrous chance the Jacksons
were down there too, and a good deal of constrained civility had
to pass between the two families. Constrained it was not in Mr.
Jackson's case. At all times he was ready to talk, and as long as
they kept off the school it was pleasant enough. But he was very
indiscreet, and feminine tact had often to intervene. "Go away,
dear ladies," he would then observe. "You think you see life
because you see the chasms in it. Yet all the chasms are full of
female skeletons." The ladies smiled anxiously. To Rickie he was
friendly and even intimate. They had long talks on the deserted
Capstone, while their wives sat reading in the Winter Garden and
Mr. Pembroke kept an eye upon the tutored youths. "Once I had
tutored youths," said Mr. Jackson, "but I lost them all by
letting them paddle with my nieces. It is so impossible to
remember what is proper." And sooner or later their talk
gravitated towards his central passion--the Fragments of
Sophocles. Some day ("never," said Herbert) he would edit them.
At present they were merely in his blood. With the zeal of a
scholar and the imagination of a poet he reconstructed lost
dramas--Niobe, Phaedra, Philoctetes against Troy, whose names,
but for an accident, would have thrilled the world. "Is it worth
it?" he cried. "Had we better be planting potatoes?" And then:
"We had; but this is the second best."
Agnes did not approve of these colloquies. Mr. Jackson was not a
buffoon, but he behaved like one, which is what matters; and from
the Winter Garden she could see people laughing at him, and at
her husband, who got excited too. She hinted once or twice, but
no notice was taken, and at last she said rather sharply, "Now,
you're not to, Rickie. I won't have it."
"He's a type that suits me. He knows people I know, or would like
to have known. He was a friend of Tony Failing's. It is so hard
to realize that a man connected with one was great. Uncle Tony
seems to have been. He loved poetry and music and pictures, and
everything tempted him to live in a kind of cultured paradise,
with the door shut upon squalor. But to have more decent people
in the world--he sacrificed everything to that. He would have
'smashed the whole beauty-shop' if it would help him. I really
couldn't go as far as that. I don't think one need go as far--
pictures might have to be smashed, but not music or poetry;
surely they help--and Jackson doesn't think so either."
"Well, I won't have it, and that's enough." She laughed, for her
voice had a little been that of the professional scold. "You see
we must hang together. He's in the reactionary camp."
"He doesn't know it. He doesn't know that he is in any camp at
"His wife is, which comes to the same."
"Still, it's the holidays--" He and Mr. Jackson had drifted apart
in the term, chiefly owing to the affair of Varden. "We were to
have the holidays to ourselves, you know." And following some
line of thought, he continued, "He cheers one up. He does believe
in poetry. Smart, sentimental books do seem absolutely absurd to
him, and gods and fairies far nearer to reality. He tries to
express all modern life in the terms of Greek mythology, because
the Greeks looked very straight at things, and Demeter or
Aphrodite are thinner veils than 'The survival of the fittest',
or 'A marriage has been arranged,' and other draperies of modern
"And do you know what that means?"
"It means that poetry, not prose, lies at the core."
"No. I can tell you what it means--balder-dash."
His mouth fell. She was sweeping away the cobwebs with a
vengeance. "I hope you're wrong," he replied, "for those are the
lines on which I've been writing, however badly, for the last two
"But you write stories, not poems."
He looked at his watch. "Lessons again. One never has a moment's
"Poor Rickie. You shall have a real holiday in the summer." And
she called after him to say, "Remember, dear, about Mr. Jackson.
Don't go talking so much to him."
Rather arbitrary. Her tone had been a little arbitrary of late.
But what did it matter? Mr. Jackson was not a friend, and he must
risk the chance of offending Widdrington. After the lesson he
wrote to Ansell, whom he had not seen since June, asking him to
come down to Ilfracombe, if only for a day. On reading the letter
over, its tone displeased him. It was quite pathetic: it sounded
like a cry from prison. "I can't send him such nonsense," he
thought, and wrote again. But phrase it as he would the letter
always suggested that he was unhappy. "What's wrong?" he
wondered. "I could write anything I wanted to him once." So he
scrawled "Come!" on a post-card. But even this seemed too
serious. The post-card followed the letters, and Agnes found them
all in the waste-paper basket.
Then she said, "I've been thinking--oughtn't you to ask Mr.
Ansell over? A breath of sea air would do the poor thing good."
There was no difficulty now. He wrote at once, "My dear Stewart,
We both so much wish you could come over." But the invitation was
refused. A little uneasy he wrote again, using the dialect of
their past intimacy. The effect of this letter was not pathetic
but jaunty, and he felt a keen regret as soon as it slipped into
the box. It was a relief to receive no reply.
He brooded a good deal over this painful yet intangible episode.
Was the pain all of his own creating? or had it been produced by
something external? And he got the answer that brooding always
gives--it was both. He was morbid, and had been so since his
visit to Cadover--quicker to register discomfort than joy. But,
none the less, Ansell was definitely brutal, and Agnes definitely
jealous. Brutality he could understand, alien as it was to
himself. Jealousy, equally alien, was a harder matter. Let
husband and wife be as sun and moon, or as moon and sun. Shall
they therefore not give greeting to the stars? He was willing to
grant that the love that inspired her might be higher than his
own. Yet did it not exclude them both from much that is gracious?
That dream of his when he rode on the Wiltshire expanses--a
curious dream: the lark silent, the earth dissolving. And he
awoke from it into a valley full of men.
She was jealous in many ways--sometimes in an open humorous
fashion, sometimes more subtly, never content till "we" had
extended our patronage, and, if possible, our pity. She began to
patronize and pity Ansell, and most sincerely trusted that he
would get his fellowship. Otherwise what was the poor fellow to
do? Ridiculous as it may seem, she was even jealous of Nature.
One day her husband escaped from Ilfracombe to Morthoe, and came
back ecstatic over its fangs of slate, piercing an oily sea.
"Sounds like an hippopotamus," she said peevishly. And when they
returned to Sawston through the Virgilian counties, she disliked
him looking out of the windows, for all the world as if Nature
was some dangerous woman.
He resumed his duties with a feeling that he had never left
them. Again he confronted the assembled house. This term was
again the term; school still the world in miniature. The music of
the four-part fugue entered into him more deeply, and he began to
hum its little phrases. The same routine, the same diplomacies,
the same old sense of only half knowing boys or men--he returned
to it all: and all that changed was the cloud of unreality, which
ever brooded a little more densely than before. He spoke to his
wife about this, he spoke to her about everything, and she was
alarmed, and wanted him to see a doctor. But he explained that it
was nothing of any practical importance, nothing that interfered
with his work or his appetite, nothing more than a feeling that
the cow was not really there. She laughed, and "how is the cow
today?" soon passed into a domestic joke.
Ansell was in his favourite haunt--the reading-room of the British Museum.
In that book-encircled space he always could find peace. He loved
to see the volumes rising tier above tier into the misty dome. He loved
the chairs that glide so noiselessly, and the radiating desks, and the central
area, where the catalogue shelves curve, round the superintendent's throne.
There he knew that his life was not ignoble. It was worth while to grow old
and dusty seeking for truth though truth is unattainable, restating questions
that have been stated at the beginning of the world. Failure would await him,
but not disillusionment. It was worth while reading books, and writing a book
or two which few would read, and no one, perhaps, endorse. He was not a hero,
and he knew it. His father and sister, by their steady goodness, had
made this life possible. But, all the same, it was not the life
of a spoilt child.
In the next chair to him sat Widdrington, engaged in his
historical research. His desk was edged with enormous volumes,
and every few moments an assistant brought him more. They rose
like a wall against Ansell. Towards the end of the morning a gap
was made, and through it they held the following conversation.
"I've been stopping with my cousin at Sawston."
"It was quite exciting. The air rang with battle. About
two-thirds of the masters have lost their heads, and are trying
to produce a gimcrack copy of Eton. Last term, you know, with a
great deal of puffing and blowing, they fixed the numbers of the
school. This term they want to create a new boarding-house."
"They are very welcome."
"But the more boarding-houses they create, the less room they
leave for day-boys. The local mothers are frantic, and so is my
queer cousin. I never knew him so excited over sub-Hellenic
things. There was an indignation meeting at his house. He is
supposed to look after the day-boys' interests, but no one
thought he would--least of all the people who gave him the post.
The speeches were most eloquent. They argued that the school was
founded for day-boys, and that it's intolerable to handicap them.
One poor lady cried, 'Here's my Harold in the school, and my
Toddie coming on. As likely as not I shall be told there is no
vacancy for him. Then what am I to do? If I go, what's to become
of Harold; and if I stop, what's to become of Toddie?' I must say
I was touched. Family life is more real than national life--at
least I've ordered all these books to prove it is--and I fancy
that the bust of Euripides agreed with me, and was sorry for the
hot-faced mothers. Jackson will do what he can. He didn't quite
like to state the naked truth-which is, that boardinghouses pay.
He explained it to me afterwards: they are the only, future open
to a stupid master. It's easy enough to be a beak when you're
young and athletic, and can offer the latest University
smattering. The difficulty is to keep your place when you get old
and stiff, and younger smatterers are pushing up behind you.
Crawl into a boarding-house and you're safe. A master's life is
frightfully tragic. Jackson's fairly right himself, because he
has got a first-class intellect. But I met a poor brute who was
hired as an athlete. He has missed his shot at a boarding-house,
and there's nothing in the world for him to do but to trundle
down the hill."
"I saw Rickie too. Once I dined there."
"My cousin thinks Mrs. Elliot one of the most horrible women he
has ever seen. He calls her 'Medusa in Arcady.' She's so
pleasant, too. But certainly it was a very stony meal."
"What kind of stoniness"
"No one stopped talking for a moment."
"That's the real kind," said Ansell moodily. "The only kind."
"Well, I," he continued, "am inclined to compare her to an
electric light. Click! she's on. Click! she's off. No waste. No
"I wish she'd fuse."
"She'll never fuse--unless anything was to happen at the main."
"What do you mean by the main?" said Ansell, who always pursued a
Widdrington did not know what he meant, and suggested that Ansell
should visit Sawston to see whether one could know.
"It is no good me going. I should not find Mrs. Elliot: she has
no real existence."
"I very much doubt it. I had two letters from Ilfracombe last
April, and I very much doubt that the man who wrote them can
exist." Bending downwards he began to adorn the manuscript of his
dissertation with a square, and inside that a circle, and inside
that another square. It was his second dissertation: the first
"I think he exists: he is so unhappy."
Ansell nodded. "How did you know he was unhappy?"
"Because he was always talking." After a pause he added, "What
clever young men we are!"
"Aren't we? I expect we shall get asked in marriage soon. I say,
Widdrington, shall we--?"
"Accept? Of course. It is not young manly to say no."
"I meant shall we ever do a more tremendous thing,--fuse Mrs.
"No," said Widdrington promptly. "We shall never do that in all
our lives." He added, "I think you might go down to Sawston,
"I have already refused or ignored three invitations."
"So I gathered."
"What's the good of it?" said Ansell through his teeth. "1 will
not put up with little things. I would rather be rude than to
listen to twaddle from a man I've known.
"You might go down to Sawston, just for a night, to see him."
"I saw him last month--at least, so Tilliard informs me. He says
that we all three lunched together, that Rickie paid, and that
the conversation was most interesting."
"Well, I contend that he does exist, and that if you go--oh, I
can't be clever any longer. You really must go, man. I'm certain
he's miserable and lonely. Dunwood House reeks of commerce and
snobbery and all the things he hated most. He doesn't do
anything. He doesn't make any friends. He is so odd, too. In this
day-boy row that has just started he's gone for my cousin. Would
you believe it? Quite spitefully. It made quite a difficulty when
I wanted to dine. It isn't like him either the sentiments or the
behaviour. I'm sure he's not himself. Pembroke used to look after
the day-boys, and so he can't very well take the lead against
them, and perhaps Rickie's doing his dirty work--and has overdone
it, as decent people generally do. He's even altering to talk to.
Yet he's not been married a year. Pembroke and that wife simply
run him. I don't see why they should, and no more do you; and
that's why I want you to go to Sawston, if only for one night."
Ansell shook his head, and looked up at the dome as other men
look at the sky. In it the great arc lamps sputtered and flared,
for the month was again November. Then he lowered his eyes from
the cold violet radiance to the books.
"No, Widdrington; no. We don't go to see people because they are
happy or unhappy. We go when we can talk to them. I cannot talk
to Rickie, therefore I will not waste my time at Sawston."
"I think you're right," said Widdrington softly. "But we are
bloodless brutes. I wonder whether-If we were different
people--something might be done to save him. That is the curse of
being a little intellectual. You and our sort have always seen
too clearly. We stand aside--and meanwhile he turns into stone.
Two philosophic youths repining in the British Museum! What have
we done? What shall we ever do? Just drift and criticize, while
people who know what they want snatch it away from us and laugh."
"Perhaps you are that sort. I'm not. When the moment comes I
shall hit out like any ploughboy. Don't believe those lies about
intellectual people. They're only written to soothe the majority.
Do you suppose, with the world as it is, that it's an easy matter
to keep quiet? Do you suppose that I didn't want to rescue him
from that ghastly woman? Action! Nothing's easier than action; as
fools testify. But I want to act rightly."
"The superintendent is looking at us. I must get back to my
"You think this all nonsense," said Ansell, detaining him.
"Please remember that if I do act, you are bound to help me."
Widdrington looked a little grave. He was no anarchist. A few
plaintive cries against Mrs. Elliot were all that he prepared to
"There's no mystery," continued Ansell. "I haven't the shadow of
a plan in my head. I know not only Rickie but the whole of his
history: you remember the day near Madingley. Nothing in either
helps me: I'm just watching."
"But what for?"
"For the Spirit of Life."
Widdrington was surprised. It was a phrase unknown to their
philosophy. They had trespassed into poetry.
"You can't fight Medusa with anything else. If you ask me what
the Spirit of Life is, or to what it is attached, I can't tell
you. I only tell you, watch for it. Myself I've found it in
books. Some people find it out of doors or in each other. Never
mind. It's the same spirit, and I trust myself to know it
anywhere, and to use it rightly."
But at this point the superintendent sent a message.
Widdrington then suggested a stroll in the galleries. It was
foggy: they needed fresh air. He loved and admired his friend,
but today he could not grasp him. The world as Ansell saw it
seemed such a fantastic place, governed by brand-new laws. What
more could one do than to see Rickie as often as possible, to
invite his confidence, to offer him spiritual support? And Mrs.
Elliot--what power could "fuse" a respectable woman?
Ansell consented to the stroll, but, as usual, only breathed
depression. The comfort of books deserted him among those marble
goddesses and gods. The eye of an artist finds pleasure in
texture and poise, but he could only think of the vanished
incense and deserted temples beside an unfurrowed sea.
"Let us go," he said. "I do not like carved stones."
"You are too particular," said Widdrington. "You are always
expecting to meet living people. One never does. I am content
with the Parthenon frieze." And he moved along a few yards of it,
while Ansell followed, conscious only of its pathos.
"There's Tilliard," he observed. "Shall we kill him?"
"Please," said Widdrington, and as he spoke Tilliard joined them.
He brought them news. That morning he had heard from Rickie: Mrs.
Elliot was expecting a child.
"A child?" said Ansell, suddenly bewildered.
"Oh, I forgot," interposed Widdrington. "My cousin did tell me."
"You forgot! Well, after all, I forgot that it might be, We are
indeed young men." He leant against the pedestal of Ilissus and
remembered their talk about the Spirit of Life. In his ignorance
of what a child means he wondered whether the opportunity he
sought lay here.
"I am very glad," said Tilliard, not without intention. "A child
will draw them even closer together. I like to see young people
wrapped up in their child."
"I suppose I must be getting back to my dissertation," said
Ansell. He left the Parthenon to pass by the monuments of our
more reticent beliefs--the temple of the Ephesian Artemis, the
statue of the Cnidian Demeter. Honest, he knew that here were
powers he could not cope with, nor, as yet, understand.
The mists that had gathered round Rickie seemed to be breaking.
He had found light neither in work for which he was unfitted nor
in a woman who had ceased to respect him, and whom he was ceasing
to love. Though he called himself fickle and took all the blame
of their marriage on his own shoulders, there remained in Agnes
certain terrible faults of heart and head, and no self-reproach
would diminish them. The glamour of wedlock had faded; indeed, he
saw now that it had faded even before wedlock, and that during
the final months he had shut his eyes and pretended it was still
there. But now the mists were breaking.
That November the supreme event approached. He saw it with
Nature's eyes. It dawned on him, as on Ansell, that personal
love and marriage only cover one side of the shield, and that on
the other is graven the epic of birth. In the midst of lessons he
would grow dreamy, as one who spies a new symbol for the
universe, a fresh circle within the square. Within the square
shall be a circle, within the circle another square, until the
visual eye is baffled. Here is meaning of a kind. His mother had
forgotten herself in him. He would forget himself in his son.
He was at his duties when the news arrived--taking preparation.
Boys are marvellous creatures. Perhaps they will sink below the
brutes; perhaps they will attain to a woman's tenderness. Though
they despised Rickie, and had suffered under Agnes's meanness,
their one thought this term was to be gentle and to give no
His face grew ashen. He followed Herbert into the passage,
closing the door of the preparation room behind him. "Oh, is she
safe?" he whispered.
"Yes, yes," said Herbert; but there sounded in his answer a
sombre hostile note.
"Girl--a girl, dear Rickie; a little daughter. She--she is in many
ways a healthy child. She will live--oh yes." A flash of horror
passed over his face. He hurried into the preparation room,
lifted the lid of his desk, glanced mechanically at the boys, and
came out again.
Mrs. Lewin appeared through the door that led into their own part
of the house.
"Both going on well!" she cried; but her voice also was grave,
"What is it?" he gasped. "It's something you daren't tell me."
"Only this--stuttered Herbert. "You mustn't mind when you see--
Mrs. Lewin disappeared. "Lame! but not as lame as I am?"
"Oh, my dear boy, worse. Don't--oh, be a man in this. Come away
from the preparation room. Remember she'll live--in many ways
healthy--only just this one defect."
The horror of that week never passed away from him. To the end of
his life he remembered the excuses--the consolations that the
child would live; suffered very little, if at all; would walk
with crutches; would certainly live. God was more merciful. A
window was opened too wide on a draughty day--after a short,
painless illness his daughter died. But the lesson he had learnt
so glibly at Cambridge should be heeded now; no child should ever
be born to him again.
That same term there took place at Dunwood House another event.
With their private tragedy it seemed to have no connection; but
in time Rickie perceived it as a bitter comment. Its developments
were unforeseen and lasting. It was perhaps the most terrible
thing he had to bear.
Varden had now been a boarder for ten months. His health had
broken in the previous term,--partly, it is to be feared, as the
result of the indifferent food--and during the summer holidays he
was attacked by a series of agonizing earaches. His mother, a
feeble person, wished to keep him at home, but Herbert dissuaded
her. Soon after the death of the child there arose at Dunwood
House one of those waves of hostility of which no boy knows the
origin nor any master can calculate the course. Varden had never
been popular--there was no reason why he should be--but he had
never been seriously bullied hitherto. One evening nearly the
whole house set on him. The prefects absented themselves, the
bigger boys stood round and the lesser boys, to whom power was
delegated, flung him down, and rubbed his face under the desks,
and wrenched at his ears. The noise penetrated the baize doors,
and Herbert swept through and punished the whole house, including
Varden, whom it would not do to leave out. The poor man was
horrified. He approved of a little healthy roughness, but this
was pure brutalization. What had come over his boys? Were they
not gentlemen's sons? He would not admit that if you herd to-
gether human beings before they can understand each other the
great god Pan is angry, and will in the end evade your
regulations and drive them mad. That night the victim was
screaming with pain, and the doctor next day spoke of an
operation. The suspense lasted a whole week. Comment was made in
the local papers, and the reputation not only of the house but of
the school was imperilled. "If only I had known," repeated
Herbert--"if only I had known I would have arranged it all
differently. He should have had a cubicle." The boy did not die,
but he left Sawston, never to return.
The day before his departure Rickie sat with him some time, and
tried to talk in a way that was not pedantic. In his own sorrow,
which he could share with no one, least of all with his wife, he
was still alive to the sorrows of others. He still fought against
apathy, though he was losing the battle.
"Don't lose heart," he told him. "The world isn't all going to be
like this. There are temptations and trials, of course, but
nothing at all of the kind you have had here."
"But school is the world in miniature, is it not, sir?" asked the
boy, hoping to please one master by echoing what had been told
him by another. He was always on the lookout for sympathy--: it
was one of the things that had contributed to his downfall.
"I never noticed that myself. I was unhappy at school, and in the
world people can be very happy."
Varden sighed and rolled about his eyes. "Are the fellows sorry
for what they did to me?" he asked in an affected voice. "I am
sure I forgive them from the bottom of my heart. We ought to
forgive our enemies, oughtn't we, sir?"
"But they aren't your enemies. If you meet in five years' time
you may find each other splendid fellows."
The boy would not admit this. He had been reading some
revivalistic literature. "We ought to forgive our enemies," he
repeated; "and however wicked they are, we ought not to wish them
evil. When I was ill, and death seemed nearest, I had many kind
letters on this subject."
Rickie knew about these "many kind letters." Varden had induced
the silly nurse to write to people--people of all sorts, people
that he scarcely knew or did not know at all--detailing his
misfortune, and asking for spiritual aid and sympathy.
"I am sorry for them," he pursued. "I would not like to be like
Rickie sighed. He saw that a year at Dunwood House had produced a
sanctimonious prig. "Don't think about them, Varden. Think about
anything beautiful--say, music. You like music. Be happy. It's
your duty. You can't be good until you've had a little happiness.
Then perhaps you will think less about forgiving people and more
about loving them."
"I love them already, sir." And Rickie, in desperation, asked if
he might look at the many kind letters.
Permission was gladly given. A neat bundle was produced, and for
about twenty minutes the master perused it, while the invalid
kept watch on his face. Rooks cawed out in the playing-fields,
and close under tile window there was the sound of delightful,
good-tempered laughter. A boy is no devil, whatever boys may be.
The letters were chilly productions, somewhat clerical in tone,
by whomsoever written. Varden, because he was ill at the time,
had been taken seriously. The writers declared that his illness
was fulfilling some mysterious purpose: suffering engendered
spiritual growth: he was showing signs of this already. They
consented to pray for him, some majestically, others shyly. But
they all consented with one exception, who worded his refusal as
Dear A.C. Varden,--
I ought to say that I never remember seeing you. I am sorry that
you are ill, and hope you are wrong about it. Why did you not
write before, for I could have helped you then? When they pulled
your ear, you ought to have gone like this (here was a rough
sketch). I could not undertake praying, but would think of you
instead, if that would do. I am twenty-two in April, built rather
heavy, ordinary broad face, with eyes, etc. I write all this
because you have mixed me with some one else, for I am not
married, and do not want to be. I cannot think of you always, but
will promise a quarter of an hour daily (say 7.00-7.15 A.M.), and
might come to see you when you are better--that is, if you are a
kid, and you read like one. I have been otter-hunting--
Riekie went straight from Varden to his wife, who lay on the sofa
in her bedroom. There was now a wide gulf between them. She, like
the world she had created for him, was unreal.
"Agnes, darling," he began, stroking her hand, "such an awkward
little thing has happened."
"What is it, dear? Just wait till I've added up this hook."
She had got over the tragedy: she got over everything.
When she was at leisure he told her. Hitherto they had seldom
mentioned Stephen. He was classed among the unprofitable dead.
She was more sympathetic than he expected. "Dear Rickie," she
murmured with averted eyes. "How tiresome for you."
"I wish that Varden had stopped with Mrs. Orr."
"Well, he leaves us for good tomorrow."
"Yes, yes. And I made him answer the letter and apologize. They
had never met. It was some confusion with a man in the Church
Army, living at a place called Codford. I asked the nurse. It is
"There the matter ends."
"I suppose so--if matters ever end."
"If, by ill-luck, the person does call. I will just see him and
say that the boy has gone."
"You, or I. I have got over all nonsense by this time. He's
absolutely nothing to me now." He took up the tradesman's book
and played with it idly. On its crimson cover was stamped a
grotesque sheep. How stale and stupid their life had become!
"Don't talk like that, though," she said uneasily. "Think how
disastrous it would be if you made a slip in speaking to him."
"Would it? It would have been disastrous once. But I expect, as a
matter of fact, that Aunt Emily has made the slip already."
His wife was displeased. "You need not talk in that cynical way.
I credit Aunt Emily with better feeling. When I was there she did
mention the matter, but only once. She, and I, and all who have
any sense of decency, know better than to make slips, or to think
of making them."
Agnes kept up what she called "the family connection." She had
been once alone to Cadover, and also corresponded with Mrs.
Failing. She had never told Rickie anything about her visit nor
had he ever asked her. But, from this moment, the whole subject
"Most certainly he knows nothing," she continued. "Why, he does
not even realize that Varden lives in our house! We are perfectly
safe--unless Aunt Emily were to die. Perhaps then--but we are
perfectly safe for the present."
"When she did mention the matter, what did she say?"
"We had a long talk," said Agnes quietly. "She told me nothing
new--nothing new about the past, I mean. But we had a long talk
about the present. I think" and her voice grew displeased again--
"that you have been both wrong and foolish in refusing to make up
your quarrel with Aunt Emily."
"Wrong and wise, I should say."
"It isn't to be expected that she--so much older and so
sensitive--can make the first step. But I know she'd he glad to
"As far as I can remember that final scene in the garden, I
accused her of 'forgetting what other people were like.' She'll
never pardon me for saying that."
Agnes was silent. To her the phrase was meaningless. Yet Rickie
was correct: Mrs. Failing had resented it more than anything.
"At all events," she suggested, "you might go and see her."
"No, dear. Thank you, no."
"She is, after all--" She was going to say "your father's
sister," but the expression was scarcely a happy one, and she
turned it into, "She is, after all, growing old and lonely."
"So are we all!" he cried, with a lapse of tone that was now
characteristic in him.
"She oughtn't to be so isolated from her proper relatives.
There was a moment's silence. Still playing with the book, he
remarked, "You forget, she's got her favourite nephew."
A bright red flush spread over her cheeks. "What is the matter
with you this afternoon?" she asked. "I should think you'd better
go for a walk."
"Before I go, tell me what is the matter with you." He also
flushed. "Why do you want me to make it up with my aunt?"
"Because it's right and proper."
"So? Or because she is old?"
"I don't understand," she retorted. But her eyes dropped. His
sudden suspicion was true: she was legacy hunting.
"Agnes, dear Agnes," he began with passing tenderness, "how can
you think of such things? You behave like a poor person. We don't
want any money from Aunt Emily, or from any one else. It isn't
virtue that makes me say it: we are not tempted in that way: we
have as much as we want already."
"For the present," she answered, still looking aside.
"There isn't any future," he cried in a gust of despair.
"Rickie, what do you mean?"
What did he mean? He meant that the relations between them were
fixed--that there would never be an influx of interest, nor even
of passion. To the end of life they would go on beating time, and
this was enough for her. She was content with the daily round,
the common task, performed indifferently. But he had dreamt of
another helpmate, and of other things.
"We don't want money--why, we don't even spend any on travelling.
I've invested all my salary and more. As far as human foresight
goes, we shall never want money." And his thoughts went out to
the tiny grave. "You spoke of 'right and proper,' but the right
and proper thing for my aunt to do is to leave every penny she's
got to Stephen."
Her lip quivered, and for one moment he thought that she was
going to cry. "What am I to do with you?" she said. "You talk
like a person in poetry."
"I'll put it in prose. He's lived with her for twenty years, and
he ought to be paid for it."
Poor Agnes! Indeed, what was she to do? The first moment she set
foot in Cadover she had thought, "Oh, here is money. We must try
and get it." Being a lady, she never mentioned the thought to her
husband, but she concluded that it would occur to him too. And
now, though it had occurred to him at last, he would not even
write his aunt a little note.
He was to try her yet further. While they argued this point he
flashed out with, "I ought to have told him that day when he
called up to our room. There's where I went wrong first."
"In those days I was sentimental. I minded. For two pins I'd
write to him this afternoon. Why shouldn't he know he's my
brother? What's all this ridiculous mystery?"
She became incoherent.
"But WHY not? A reason why he shouldn't know."
"A reason why he SHOULD know," she retorted. "I never heard such
rubbish! Give me a reason why he should know."
"Because the lie we acted has ruined our lives."
She looked in bewilderment at the well-appointed room.
"It's been like a poison we won't acknowledge. How many times
have you thought of my brother? I've thought of him every day--
not in love; don't misunderstand; only as a medicine I shirked.
Down in what they call the subconscious self he has been hurting
me." His voice broke. "Oh, my darling, we acted a lie then, and
this letter reminds us of it and gives us one more chance. I have
to say 'we' lied. I should be lying again if I took quite all the
blame. Let us ask God's forgiveness together. Then let us write,
as coldly as you please, to Stephen, and tell him he is my
Her reply need not be quoted. It was the last time he
attempted intimacy. And the remainder of their conversation,
though long and stormy, is also best forgotten.
Thus the first effect of Varden's letter was to make them
quarrel. They had not openly disagreed before. In the evening he
kissed her and said, "How absurd I was to get angry about things
that happened last year. I will certainly not write to the
person." She returned the kiss. But he knew that they had
destroyed the habit of reverence, and would quarrel again.
On his rounds he looked in at Varden and asked nonchalantly for
the letter. He carried it off to his room. It was unwise of him,
for his nerves were already unstrung, and the man he had tried to
bury was stirring ominously. In the silence he examined the
handwriting till he felt that a living creature was with him,
whereas he, because his child had died, was dead. He perceived
more clearly the cruelty of Nature, to whom our refinement and
piety are but as bubbles, hurrying downwards on the turbid
waters. They break, and the stream continues. His father, as a
final insult, had brought into the world a man unlike all the
rest of them, a man dowered with coarse kindliness and rustic
strength, a kind of cynical ploughboy, against whom their own
misery and weakness might stand more vividly relieved. "Born an
Elliot--born a gentleman." So the vile phrase ran. But here was
an Elliot whose badness was not even gentlemanly. For that
Stephen was bad inherently he never doubted for a moment and he
would have children: he, not Rickie, would contribute to the
stream; he, through his remote posterity, might mingled with the
Thus musing he lay down to sleep, feeling diseased in body and
soul. It was no wonder that the night was the most terrible he
had ever known. He revisited Cambridge, and his name was a grey
ghost over the door. Then there recurred the voice of a gentle
shadowy woman, Mrs. Aberdeen, "It doesn't seem hardly right."
Those had been her words, her only complaint against the
mysteries of change and death. She bowed her head and laboured to
make her "gentlemen" comfortable. She was labouring still. As he
lay in bed he asked God to grant him her wisdom; that he might
keep sorrow within due bounds; that he might abstain from extreme
hatred and envy of Stephen. It was seldom that he prayed so
definitely, or ventured to obtrude his private wishes. Religion
was to him a service, a mystic communion with good; not a means
of getting what he wanted on the earth. But tonight, through
suffering, he was humbled, and became like Mrs. Aberdeen.
Hour after hour he awaited sleep and tried to endure the faces