Part 2 out of 7
"You MUST do something, Poff. But it needn't be for a living. The
world is yours without that. And so you see you've got to make
plans. You've got to know the sort of people who'll have things in
their hands. You've got to keep out of--holes and corners. You've
got to think of Parliament and abroad. There's the army, there's
diplomacy. There's the Empire. You can be a Cecil Rhodes if you
like. You can be a Winston. . . ."
Perhaps it was only the innate eagerness of Lady Marayne which made
her feel disappointed in her son's outlook upon life. He did not
choose among his glittering possibilities, he did not say what he
was going to be, proconsul, ambassador, statesman, for days. And he
talked VAGUELY of wanting to do something fine, but all in a fog. A
boy of nearly nineteen ought to have at least the beginnings of
Was he in the right set? Was he indeed in the right college?
Trinity, by his account, seemed a huge featureless place--and might
he not conceivably be LOST in it? In those big crowds one had to
insist upon oneself. Poff never insisted upon himself--except quite
at the wrong moment. And there was this Billy Prothero. BILLY!
Like a goat or something. People called William don't get their
Christian name insisted upon unless they are vulnerable somewhere.
Any form of William stamps a weakness, Willie, Willy, Will, Billy,
Bill; it's a fearful handle for one's friends. At any rate Poff had
escaped that. But this Prothero!
"But who IS this Billy Prothero?" she asked one evening in the
"He was at Minchinghampton."
"But who IS he? Who is his father? Where does he come from?"
Benham sought in his mind for a space. "I don't know," he said at
last. Billy had always been rather reticent about his people. She
demanded descriptions. She demanded an account of Billy's
furniture, Billy's clothes, Billy's form of exercise. It dawned
upon Benham that for some inexplicable reason she was hostile to
Billy. It was like the unmasking of an ambuscade. He had talked a
lot about Prothero's ideas and the discussions of social reform and
social service that went on in his rooms, for Billy read at unknown
times, and was open at all hours to any argumentative caller. To
Lady Marayne all ideas were obnoxious, a form of fogging; all ideas,
she held, were queer ideas. "And does he call himself a Socialist?"
she asked. "I THOUGHT he would."
"Poff," she cried suddenly, "you're not a SOCIALIST?"
"Such a vague term."
"But these friends of yours--they seem to be ALL Socialists. Red
ties and everything complete."
"They have ideas," he evaded. He tried to express it better. "They
give one something to take hold of."
She sat up stiffly on the garden-seat. She lifted her finger at
him, very seriously. "I hope," she said with all her heart, "that
you will have nothing to do with such ideas. Nothing. SOCIALISM!"
"They make a case."
"Pooh! Any one can make a case."
"There's no sense in them. What is the good of talking about
upsetting everything? Just disorder. How can one do anything then?
You mustn't. You mustn't. No. It's nonsense, little Poff. It's
absurd. And you may spoil so much. . . . I HATE the way you talk
of it. . . . As if it wasn't all--absolutely--RUBBISH. . . ."
She was earnest almost to the intonation of tears.
Why couldn't her son go straight for his ends, clear tangible ends,
as she had always done? This thinking about everything! She had
never thought about anything in all her life for more than half an
hour--and it had always turned out remarkably well.
Benham felt baffled. There was a pause. How on earth could he go
on telling her his ideas if this was how they were to be taken?
"I wish sometimes," his mother said abruptly, with an unusually
sharp note in her voice, "that you wouldn't look quite so like your
"But I'm NOT like my father!" said Benham puzzled.
"No," she insisted, and with an air of appealing to his soberer
reason, "so why should you go LOOKING like him? That CONCERNED
expression. . . ."
She jumped to her feet. "Poff," she said, "I want to go and see the
evening primroses pop. You and I are talking nonsense. THEY don't
have ideas anyhow. They just pop--as God meant them to do. What
stupid things we human beings are!"
Her philosophical moments were perhaps the most baffling of all.
Billy Prothero became the symbol in the mind of Lady Marayne for all
that disappointed her in Benham. He had to become the symbol,
because she could not think of complicated or abstract things, she
had to make things personal, and he was the only personality
available. She fretted over his existence for some days therefore
(once she awakened and thought about him in the night), and then
suddenly she determined to grasp her nettle. She decided to seize
and obliterate this Prothero. He must come to Chexington and be
thoroughly and conclusively led on, examined, ransacked, shown up,
and disposed of for ever. At once. She was not quite clear how she
meant to do this, but she was quite resolved that it had to be done.
Anything is better than inaction.
There was a little difficulty about dates and engagements, but he
came, and through the season of expectation Benham, who was now for
the first time in contact with the feminine nature, was delighted at
the apparent change to cordiality. So that he talked of Billy to
his mother much more than he had ever done before.
Billy had been his particular friend at Minchinghampton, at least
during the closing two years of his school life. Billy had fallen
into friendship with Benham, as some of us fall in love, quite
suddenly, when he saw Benham get down from the fence and be sick
after his encounter with the bull. Already Billy was excited by
admiration, but it was the incongruity of the sickness conquered
him. He went back to the school with his hands more than usually in
his pockets, and no eyes for anything but this remarkable strung-up
fellow-creature. He felt he had never observed Benham before, and
he was astonished that he had not done so.
Billy Prothero was a sturdy sort of boy, generously wanting in good
looks. His hair was rough, and his complexion muddy, and he walked
about with his hands in his pockets, long flexible lips protruded in
a whistle, and a rather shapeless nose well up to show he didn't
care. Providence had sought to console him by giving him a keen eye
for the absurdity of other people. He had a suggestive tongue, and
he professed and practised cowardice to the scandal of all his
acquaintances. He was said never to wash behind his ears, but this
report wronged him. There had been a time when he did not do so,
but his mother had won him to a promise, and now that operation was
often the sum of his simple hasty toilet. His desire to associate
himself with Benham was so strong that it triumphed over a defensive
reserve. It enabled him to detect accessible moments, do
inobtrusive friendly services, and above all amuse his quarry. He
not only amused Benham, he stimulated him. They came to do quite a
number of things together. In the language of schoolboy stories
they became "inseparables."
Prothero's first desire, so soon as they were on a footing that
enabled him to formulate desires, was to know exactly what Benham
thought he was up to in crossing a field with a bull in it instead
of going round, and by the time he began to understand that, he had
conceived an affection for him that was to last a lifetime.
"I wasn't going to be bullied by a beast," said Benham.
"Suppose it had been an elephant?" Prothero cried. . . . "A mad
elephant? . . . A pack of wolves?"
Benham was too honest not to see that he was entangled. "Well,
suppose in YOUR case it had been a wild cat? . . . A fierce
mastiff? . . . A mastiff? . . . A terrier? . . . A lap dog?"
"Yes, but my case is that there are limits."
Benham was impatient at the idea of limits. With a faintly
malicious pleasure Prothero lugged him back to that idea.
"We both admit there are limits," Prothero concluded. "But between
the absolutely impossible and the altogether possible there's the
region of risk. You think a man ought to take that risk--" He
reflected. "I think--no--I think NOT."
"If he feels afraid," cried Benham, seeing his one point. "If he
feels afraid. Then he ought to take it. . . ."
After a digestive interval, Prothero asked, "WHY? Why should he?"
The discussion of that momentous question, that Why? which Benham
perhaps might never have dared ask himself, and which Prothero
perhaps might never have attempted to answer if it had not been for
the clash of their minds, was the chief topic of their conversation
for many months. From Why be brave? it spread readily enough to
Why be honest? Why be clean?--all the great whys of life. . . .
Because one believes. . . . But why believe it? Left to himself
Benham would have felt the mere asking of this question was a thing
ignoble, not to be tolerated. It was, as it were, treason to
nobility. But Prothero put it one afternoon in a way that permitted
no high dismissal of their doubts. "You can't build your honour on
fudge, Benham. Like committing sacrilege--in order to buy a cloth
for the altar."
By that Benham was slipped from the recognized code and launched
upon speculations which became the magnificent research.
It was not only in complexion and stature and ways of thinking that
Billy and Benham contrasted. Benham inclined a little to eloquence,
he liked very clean hands, he had a dread of ridiculous outlines.
Prothero lapsed readily into ostentatious slovenliness, when his
hands were dirty he pitied them sooner than scrubbed them, he would
have worn an overcoat with one tail torn off rather than have gone
cold. Moreover, Prothero had an earthy liking for animals, he could
stroke and tickle strange cats until they wanted to leave father and
mother and all earthly possessions and follow after him, and he
mortgaged a term's pocket money and bought and kept a small terrier
in the school house against all law and tradition, under the
baseless pretence that it was a stray animal of unknown origin.
Benham, on the other hand, was shy with small animals and faintly
hostile to big ones. Beasts he thought were just beasts. And
Prothero had a gift for caricature, while Benham's aptitude was for
It was Prothero's eyes and pencil that first directed Benham to the
poor indolences and evasions and insincerities of the masters. It
was Prothero's wicked pictures that made him see the shrivelled
absurdity of the vulgar theology. But it was Benham who stood
between Prothero and that rather coarsely conceived epicureanism
that seemed his logical destiny. When quite early in their
Cambridge days Prothero's revolt against foppery reached a nadir of
personal neglect, and two philanthropists from the rooms below him,
goaded beyond the normal tolerance of Trinity, and assisted by two
sportsmen from Trinity Hall, burnt his misshapen straw hat (after
partly filling it with gunpowder and iron filings) and sought to
duck him in the fountain in the court, it was Benham, in a state
between distress and madness, and armed with a horn-handled cane of
exceptional size, who intervened, turned the business into a blend
of wrangle and scuffle, introduced the degrading topic of duelling
into a simple wholesome rag of four against one, carried him off
under the cloud of horror created by this impropriety and so saved
him, still only slightly wetted, not only from this indignity but
from the experiment in rationalism that had provoked it.
Because Benham made it perfectly clear what he had thought and felt
about this hat.
Such was the illuminating young man whom Lady Marayne decided to
invite to Chexington, into the neighbourhood of herself, Sir
Godfrey, and her circle of friends.
He was quite anxious to satisfy the requirements of Benham's people
and to do his friend credit. He was still in the phase of being a
penitent pig, and he inquired carefully into the needs and duties of
a summer guest in a country house. He knew it was quite a
considerable country house, and that Sir Godfrey wasn't Benham's
father, but like most people, he was persuaded that Lady Marayne had
divorced the parental Benham. He arrived dressed very neatly in a
brown suit that had only one fault, it had not the remotest
suggestion of having been made for him. It fitted his body fairly
well, it did annex his body with only a few slight
incompatibilities, but it repudiated his hands and face. He had a
conspicuously old Gladstone bag and a conspicuously new despatch
case, and he had forgotten black ties and dress socks and a hair
brush. He arrived in the late afternoon, was met by Benham, in
tennis flannels, looking smartened up and a little unfamiliar, and
taken off in a spirited dog-cart driven by a typical groom. He met
his host and hostess at dinner.
Sir Godfrey was a rationalist and a residuum. Very much of him, too
much perhaps, had gone into the acquirement and perfect performance
of the caecal operation; the man one met in the social world was
what was left over. It had the effect of being quiet, but in its
unobtrusive way knobby. He had a knobby brow, with an air about it
of having recently been intent, and his conversation was curiously
spotted with little knobby arrested anecdotes. If any one of any
distinction was named, he would reflect and say, "Of course,--ah,
yes, I know him, I know him. Yes, I did him a little service--in
And something in his manner would suggest a satisfaction, or a
dissatisfaction with confidential mysteries.
He welcomed Billy Prothero in a colourless manner, and made
conversation about Cambridge. He had known one or two of the higher
dons. One he had done at Cambridge quite recently. "The inns are
better than they are at Oxford, which is not saying very much, but
the place struck me as being changed. The men seemed younger. . . ."
The burden of the conversation fell upon Lady Marayne. She looked
extraordinarily like a flower to Billy, a little diamond buckle on a
black velvet band glittered between the two masses of butter-
coloured hair that flowed back from her forehead, her head was
poised on the prettiest neck conceivable, and her shapely little
shoulders and her shapely little arms came decidedly but pleasantly
out of a softness and sparkle of white and silver and old rose. She
talked what sounded like innocent commonplaces a little spiced by
whim, though indeed each remark had an exploratory quality, and her
soft blue eyes rested ever and again upon Billy's white tie. It
seemed she did so by the merest inadvertency, but it made the young
man wish he had after all borrowed a black one from Benham. But the
manservant who had put his things out had put it out, and he hadn't
been quite sure. Also she noted all the little things he did with
fork and spoon and glass. She gave him an unusual sense of being
brightly, accurately and completely visible.
Chexington, it seemed to Billy, was done with a large and costly and
easy completeness. The table with its silver and flowers was much
more beautifully done than any table he had sat at before, and in
the dimness beyond the brightness there were two men to wait on the
four of them. The old grey butler was really wonderfully good. . . .
"You shoot, Mr. Prothero?"
"You hunt, Mr. Prothero?"
"You know Scotland well, Mr. Prothero?"
These questions disturbed Prothero. He did not shoot, he did not
hunt, he did not go to Scotland for the grouse, he did not belong,
and Lady Marayne ought to have seen that he did not belong to the
class that does these things.
"You ride much, Mr. Prothero?"
Billy conceived a suspicion that these innocent inquiries were
designed to emphasize a contrast in his social quality. But he
could not be sure. One never could be sure with Lady Marayne. It
might be just that she did not understand the sort of man he was.
And in that case ought he to maintain the smooth social surface
unbroken by pretending as far as possible to be this kind of person,
or ought he to make a sudden gap in it by telling his realities. He
evaded the shooting question anyhow. He left it open for Lady
Marayne and the venerable butler and Sir Godfrey and every one to
suppose he just happened to be the sort of gentleman of leisure who
doesn't shoot. He disavowed hunting, he made it appear he travelled
when he travelled in directions other than Scotland. But the fourth
question brought him to bay. He regarded his questioner with his
small rufous eye.
"I have never been across a horse in my life, Lady Marayne."
"Tut, tut," said Sir Godfrey. "Why!--it's the best of exercise.
Every man ought to ride. Good for the health. Keeps him fit.
Prevents lodgments. Most trouble due to lodgments."
"I've never had a chance of riding. And I think I'm afraid of
"That's only an excuse," said Lady Marayne. "Everybody's afraid of
horses and nobody's really afraid of horses."
"But I'm not used to horses. You see--I live on my mother. And she
can't afford to keep a stable."
His hostess did not see his expression of discomfort. Her pretty
eyes were intent upon the peas with which she was being served.
"Does your mother live in the country?" she asked, and took her peas
with fastidious exactness.
Prothero coloured brightly. "She lives in London."
"All the year?"
"All the year."
"But isn't it dreadfully hot in town in the summer?"
Prothero had an uncomfortable sense of being very red in the face.
This kept him red. "We're suburban people," he said.
"But I thought--isn't there the seaside?"
"My mother has a business," said Prothero, redder than ever.
"O-oh!" said Lady Marayne. "What fun that must be for her?"
"It's a real business, and she has to live by it. Sometimes it's a
"But a business of her own!" She surveyed the confusion of his
visage with a sweet intelligence. "Is it an amusing sort of
business, Mr. Prothero?"
Prothero looked mulish. "My mother is a dressmaker," he said. "In
Brixton. She doesn't do particularly badly--or well. I live on my
scholarship. I have lived on scholarships since I was thirteen.
And you see, Lady Marayne, Brixton is a poor hunting country."
Lady Marayne felt she had unmasked Prothero almost indecently.
Whatever happened there must be no pause. There must be no sign of
"But it's good at tennis," she said. "You DO play tennis, Mr.
"I--I gesticulate," said Prothero.
Lady Marayne, still in flight from that pause, went off at a
"Poff, my dear," she said, "I've had a diving-board put at the deep
end of the pond."
The remark hung unanswered for a moment. The transition had been
too quick for Benham's state of mind.
"Do you swim, Mr. Prothero?" the lady asked, though a moment before
she had determined that she would never ask him a question again.
But this time it was a lucky question.
"Prothero mopped up the lot of us at Minchinghampton with his diving
and swimming," Benham explained, and the tension was relaxed.
Lady Marayne spoke of her own swimming, and became daring and
amusing at her difficulties with local feeling when first she swam
in the pond. The high road ran along the far side of the pond--"And
it didn't wear a hedge or anything," said Lady Marayne. "That was
what they didn't quite like. Swimming in an undraped pond. . . ."
Prothero had been examined enough. Now he must be entertained. She
told stories about the village people in her brightest manner. The
third story she regretted as soon as she was fairly launched upon
it; it was how she had interviewed the village dressmaker, when Sir
Godfrey insisted upon her supporting local industries. It was very
amusing but technical. The devil had put it into her head. She had
to go through with it. She infused an extreme innocence into her
eyes and fixed them on Prothero, although she felt a certain
deepening pinkness in her cheeks was betraying her, and she did not
look at Benham until her unhappy, but otherwise quite amusing
anecdote, was dead and gone and safely buried under another. . . .
But people ought not to go about having dressmakers for mothers. . . .
And coming into other people's houses and influencing their sons. . . .
That night when everything was over Billy sat at the writing-table
of his sumptuous bedroom--the bed was gilt wood, the curtains of the
three great windows were tremendous, and there was a cheval glass
that showed the full length of him and seemed to look over his head
for more,--and meditated upon this visit of his. It was more than
he had been prepared for. It was going to be a great strain. The
sleek young manservant in an alpaca jacket, who said "Sir" whenever
you looked at him, and who had seized upon and unpacked Billy's most
private Gladstone bag without even asking if he might do so, and put
away and displayed Billy's things in a way that struck Billy as
faintly ironical, was unexpected. And it was unexpected that the
brown suit, with its pockets stuffed with Billy's personal and
confidential sundries, had vanished. And apparently a bath in a
bathroom far down the corridor was prescribed for him in the
morning; he hadn't thought of a dressing-gown. And after one had
dressed, what did one do? Did one go down and wander about the
house looking for the breakfast-room or wait for a gong? Would Sir
Godfrey read Family Prayers? And afterwards did one go out or hang
about to be entertained? He knew now quite clearly that those
wicked blue eyes would mark his every slip. She did not like him.
She did not like him, he supposed, because he was common stuff. He
didn't play up to her world and her. He was a discord in this rich,
cleverly elaborate household. You could see it in the servants'
attitudes. And he was committed to a week of this.
Billy puffed out his cheeks to blow a sigh, and then decided to be
angry and say "Damn!"
This way of living which made him uncomfortable was clearly an
irrational and objectionable way of living. It was, in a cumbersome
way, luxurious. But the waste of life of it, the servants, the
observances, all concentrated on the mere detail of existence?
There came a rap at the door. Benham appeared, wearing an
expensive-looking dressing-jacket which Lady Marayne had bought for
him. He asked if he might talk for a bit and smoke. He sat down in
a capacious chintz-covered easy chair beside Prothero, lit a
cigarette, and came to the point after only a trivial hesitation.
"Prothero," he said, "you know what my father is."
"I thought he ran a preparatory school."
There was the profoundest resentment in Prothero's voice.
"And, all the same, I'm going to be a rich man."
"I don't understand," said Prothero, without any shadow of
Benham told Prothero as much as his mother had conveyed to him of
the resources of his wealth. Her version had been adapted to his
tender years and the delicacies of her position. The departed Nolan
had become an eccentric godfather. Benham's manner was apologetic,
and he made it clear that only recently had these facts come to him.
He had never suspected that he had had this eccentric godfather. It
altered the outlook tremendously. It was one of the reasons that
made Benham glad to have Prothero there, one wanted a man of one's
own age, who understood things a little, to try over one's new
ideas. Prothero listened with an unamiable expression.
"What would you do, Prothero, if you found yourself saddled with
some thousands a year?"
"Godfathers don't grow in Brixton," said Prothero concisely.
"Well, what am I to do, Prothero?"
"Does all THIS belong to you?"
"No, this is my mother's."
"I've not thought. . . . I suppose so. Or her own."
"THIS life," he said at last, "this large expensiveness-- . . ."
He left his criticism unfinished.
"I agree. It suits my mother somehow. I can't understand her
living in any other way. But--for me. . . ."
"What can one do with several thousands a year?"
Prothero's interest in this question presently swamped his petty
personal resentments. "I suppose," he said, "one might have rather
a lark with money like that. One would be free to go anywhere. To
set all sorts of things going. . . . It's clear you can't sell all
you have and give it to the poor. That is pauperization nowadays.
You might run a tremendously revolutionary paper. A real upsetting
paper. How many thousands is it?"
"I don't know. SOME."
Prothero's interest was growing as he faced the possibilities.
"I've dreamt of a paper," he said, "a paper that should tell the
brute truth about things."
"I don't know that I'm particularly built to be a journalist,"
"You're not," said Billy. . . . "You might go into Parliament as a
perfectly independent member. . . . Only you wouldn't get in. . . ."
"I'm not a speaker," said Benham.
"Of course," said Billy, "if you don't decide on a game, you'll just
go on like this. You'll fall into a groove, you'll--you'll hunt.
You'll go to Scotland for the grouse."
For the moment Prothero had no further suggestions.
Benham waited for a second or so before he broached his own idea.
"Why, first of all, at any rate, Billy, shouldn't one use one's
money to make the best of oneself? To learn things that men without
money and leisure find it difficult to learn? By an accident,
however unjust it is, one is in the position of a leader and a
privileged person. Why not do one's best to give value as that?"
"Benham, that's the thin end of aristocracy!"
"I hate aristocracy. For you it means doing what you like. While
you are energetic you will kick about and then you will come back to
"That's one's own look-out," said Benham, after reflection.
"No, it's bound to happen."
Benham retreated a little from the immediate question.
"Well, we can't suddenly at a blow change the world. If it isn't to
be plutocracy to-day it has to be aristocracy."
Prothero frowned over this, and then he made a sweeping proposition.
"YOU CANNOT HAVE ARISTOCRACY," he said, "BECAUSE, YOU SEE--ALL MEN
ARE RIDICULOUS. Democracy has to fight its way out from under
plutocracy. There is nothing else to be done."
"But a man in my position--?"
"It's a ridiculous position. You may try to escape being
ridiculous. You won't succeed."
It seemed to Benham for a moment as though Prothero had got to the
bottom of the question, and then he perceived that he had only got
to the bottom of himself. Benham was pacing the floor.
He turned at the open window, held out a long forefinger, and
uttered his countervailing faith.
"Even if he is ridiculous, Prothero, a man may still be an
aristocrat. A man may anyhow be as much of an aristocrat as he can
Prothero reflected. "No," he said, "it sounds all right, but it's
wrong. I hate all these advantages and differences and
distinctions. A man's a man. What you say sounds well, but it's
the beginning of pretension, of pride--"
He stopped short.
"Better, pride than dishonour," said Benham, "better the pretentious
life than the sordid life. What else is there?"
"A life isn't necessarily sordid because it isn't pretentious," said
Prothero, his voice betraying a defensive disposition.
"But a life with a large income MUST be sordid unless it makes some
sort of attempt to be fine. . . ."
By transitions that were as natural as they were complicated and
untraceable Prothero found his visit to Chexington developing into a
tangle of discussions that all ultimately resolved themselves into
an antagonism of the democratic and the aristocratic idea. And his
part was, he found, to be the exponent of the democratic idea. The
next day he came down early, his talk with Benham still running
through his head, and after a turn or so in the garden he was
attracted to the front door by a sound of voices, and found Lady
Marayne had been up still earlier and was dismounting from a large
effective black horse. This extorted an unwilling admiration from
him. She greeted him very pleasantly and made a kind of
introduction of her steed. There had been trouble at a gate, he was
a young horse and fidgeted at gates; the dispute was still bright in
her. Benham she declared was still in bed. "Wait till I have a
mount for him." She reappeared fitfully in the breakfast-room, and
then he was left to Benham until just before lunch. They read and
afterwards, as the summer day grew hot, they swam in the nude pond.
She joined them in the water, splashing about in a costume of some
elaboration and being very careful not to wet her hair. Then she
came and sat with them on the seat under the big cedar and talked
with them in a wrap that was pretty rather than prudish and entirely
unmotherly. And she began a fresh attack upon him by asking him if
he wasn't a Socialist and whether he didn't want to pull down
Chexington and grow potatoes all over the park.
This struck Prothero as an inadequate statement of the Socialist
project and he made an unsuccessful attempt to get it amended.
The engagement thus opened was renewed with great energy at lunch.
Sir Godfrey had returned to London and the inmost aspect of his
fellow-creatures, but the party of three was supplemented by a vague
young lady from the village and an alert agent from the neighbouring
Tentington estate who had intentions about a cottage. Lady Marayne
insisted upon regarding Socialism as a proposal to reinaugurate the
first French Revolution, as an inversion of society so that it would
be bottom upward, as an attack upon rule, order, direction. "And
what good are all these proposals? If you had the poor dear king
beheaded, you'd only get a Napoleon. If you divided all the
property up between everybody, you'd have rich and poor again in a
Billy perceived no way of explaining away this version of his
Socialism that would not involve uncivil contradictions--and nobody
ever contradicted Lady Marayne.
"But, Lady Marayne, don't you think there is a lot of disorder and
injustice in the world?" he protested.
"There would be ever so much more if your Socialists had their way."
"But still, don't you think-- . . ."
It is unnecessary even to recapitulate these universal controversies
of our time. The lunch-table and the dinner-table and the general
talk of the house drifted more and more definitely at its own level
in the same direction as the private talk of Prothero and Benham,
towards the antagonism of the privileged few and the many, of the
trained and traditioned against the natural and undisciplined, of
aristocracy against democracy. At the week-end Sir Godfrey returned
to bring fresh elements. He said that democracy was unscientific.
"To deny aristocracy is to deny the existence of the fittest. It is
on the existence of the fittest that progress depends."
"But do our social conditions exalt the fittest?" asked Prothero.
"That is another question," said Benham.
"Exactly," said Sir Godfrey. "That is another question. But
speaking with some special knowledge, I should say that on the whole
the people who are on the top of things OUGHT to be on the top of
things. I agree with Aristotle that there is such a thing as a
"So far as I can understand Mr. Prothero," said Lady Marayne, "he
thinks that all the inferiors are the superiors and all the
superiors inferior. It's quite simple. . . ."
It made Prothero none the less indignant with this, that there was
indeed a grain of truth in it. He hated superiors, he felt for
At last came the hour of tipping. An embarrassed and miserable
Prothero went slinking about the house distributing unexpected gold.
It was stupid, it was damnable; he had had to borrow the money from
his mother. . . .
Lady Marayne felt he had escaped her. The controversy that should
have split these two young men apart had given them a new interest
in each other. When afterwards she sounded her son, very
delicately, to see if indeed he was aware of the clumsiness, the
social ignorance and uneasiness, the complete unsuitability of his
friend, she could get no more from him than that exasperating
phrase, "He has ideas!"
What are ideas? England may yet be ruined by ideas.
He ought never to have gone to Trinity, that monster packet of
everything. He ought to have gone to some little GOOD college, good
all through. She ought to have asked some one who KNEW.
One glowing afternoon in October, as these two young men came over
Magdalen Bridge after a long disputatious and rather tiring walk to
Drayton--they had been talking of Eugenics and the "family"--Benham
was almost knocked down by an American trotter driven by Lord
Breeze. "Whup there!" said Lord Breeze in a voice deliberately
brutal, and Benham, roused from that abstraction which is partly
fatigue, had to jump aside and stumbled against the parapet as the
gaunt pacer went pounding by.
Lord Breeze grinned the sort of grin a man remembers. And passed.
"Damnation!" said Benham with a face that had become suddenly very
Then presently. "Any fool can do that who cares to go to the
"That," said Prothero, taking up their unquenchable issue, "that is
the feeling of democracy."
"I walk because I choose to," said Benham.
The thing rankled.
"This equestrianism," he began, "is a matter of time and money--time
even more than money. I want to read. I want to deal with ideas. . . .
"Any fool can drive. . . ."
"Exactly," said Prothero.
"As for riding, it means no more than the elaborate study and
cultivation of your horse. You have to know him. All horses are
individuals. A made horse perhaps goes its round like an omnibus,
but for the rest. . . ."
Prothero made a noise of sympathetic assent.
"In a country where equestrianism is assertion I suppose one must be
equestrian. . . ."
That night some malignant spirit kept Benham awake, and great
American trotters with vast wide-striding feet and long yellow
teeth, uncontrollable, hard-mouthed American trotters, pounded over
his angry soul.
"Prothero," he said in hall next day, "we are going to drive to-
Next day, so soon as they had lunched, he led the way towards
Maltby's, in Crosshampton Lane. Something in his bearing put a
question into Prothero's mind. "Benham," he asked, "have you ever
"NEVER," said Benham.
"I'm going to now."
Something between pleasure and alarm came into Prothero's eyes. He
quickened his pace so as to get alongside his friend and scrutinize
his pale determination. "Why are you doing this?" he asked.
"I want to do it."
"Benham, is it--EQUESTRIAN?"
Benham made no audible reply. They proceeded resolutely in silence.
An air of expectation prevailed in Maltby's yard. In the shafts of
a high, bleak-looking vehicle with vast side wheels, a throne-like
vehicle that impressed Billy Prothero as being a gig, a very large
angular black horse was being harnessed.
"This is mine," said Benham compactly.
"This is yours, sir," said an ostler.
"You'll find him fresh enough, sir."
Benham made a complicated ascent to the driver's seat and was handed
the reins. "Come on," he said, and Prothero followed to a less
exalted seat at Benham's side. They seemed to be at a very great
height indeed. The horse was then led out into Crosshampton Lane,
faced towards Trinity Street and discharged. "Check," said Benham,
and touched the steed with his whip. They started quite well, and
the ostlers went back into the yard, visibly unanxious. It struck
Prothero that perhaps driving was less difficult than he had
They went along Crosshampton Lane, that high-walled gulley, with
dignity, with only a slight suggestion of the inaccuracy that was
presently to become apparent, until they met a little old bearded
don on a bicycle. Then some misunderstanding arose between Benham
and the horse, and the little bearded don was driven into the narrow
pavement and had to get off hastily. He made no comment, but his
face became like a gargoyle. "Sorry," said Benham, and gave his
mind to the corner. There was some difficulty about whether they
were to turn to the right or the left, but at last Benham, it
seemed, carried his point, and they went along the narrow street,
past the grey splendours of King's, and rather in the middle of the
Prothero considered the beast in front of him, and how proud and
disrespectful a horse in a dogcart can seem to those behind it!
Moreover, unaccustomed as he was to horses, he was struck by the
strong resemblance a bird's-eye view of a horse bears to a fiddle, a
fiddle with devil's ears.
"Of course," said Prothero, "this isn't a trotter."
"I couldn't get a trotter," said Benham.
"I thought I would try this sort of thing before I tried a trotter,"
And then suddenly came disaster.
There was a butcher's cart on the right, and Benham, mistrusting the
intelligence of his steed, insisted upon an excessive amplitude of
clearance. He did not reckon with the hand-barrow on his left,
piled up with dirty plates from the lunch of Trinity Hall. It had
been left there; its custodian was away upon some mysterious errand.
Heaven knows why Trinity Hall exhibited the treasures of its
crockery thus stained and deified in the Cambridge streets. But it
did--for Benham's and Prothero's undoing. Prothero saw the great
wheel over which he was poised entangle itself with the little wheel
of the barrow. "God!" he whispered, and craned, fascinated. The
little wheel was manifestly intrigued beyond all self-control by the
great wheel; it clung to it, it went before it, heedless of the
barrow, of which it was an inseparable part. The barrow came about
with an appearance of unwillingness, it locked against the great
wheel; it reared itself towards Prothero and began, smash, smash,
smash, to shed its higher plates. It was clear that Benham was
grappling with a crisis upon a basis of inadequate experience. A
number of people shouted haphazard things. Then, too late, the
barrow had persuaded the little wheel to give up its fancy for the
great wheel, and there was an enormous crash.
"Whoa!" cried Benham. "Whoa!" but also, unfortunately, he sawed
hard at the horse's mouth.
The animal, being in some perplexity, danced a little in the narrow
street, and then it had come about and it was backing, backing, on
the narrow pavement and towards the plate-glass window of a book and
newspaper shop. Benham tugged at its mouth much harder than ever.
Prothero saw the window bending under the pressure of the wheel. A
sense of the profound seriousness of life and of the folly of this
expedition came upon him. With extreme nimbleness he got down just
as the window burst. It went with an explosion like a pistol shot,
and then a clatter of falling glass. People sprang, it seemed, from
nowhere, and jostled about Prothero, so that he became a peripheral
figure in the discussion. He perceived that a man in a green apron
was holding the horse, and that various people were engaged in
simultaneous conversation with Benham, who with a pale serenity of
face and an awful calm of manner, dealt with each of them in turn.
"I'm sorry," he was saying. "Somebody ought to have been in charge
of the barrow. Here are my cards. I am ready to pay for any
damage. . . .
"The barrow ought not to have been there. . . .
"Yes, I am going on. Of course I'm going on. Thank you."
He beckoned to the man who had held the horse and handed him half-a-
crown. He glanced at Prothero as one might glance at a stranger.
"Check!" he said. The horse went on gravely. Benham lifted out his
whip. He appeared to have clean forgotten Prothero. Perhaps
presently he would miss him. He went on past Trinity, past the
ruddy brick of St. John's. The curve of the street hid him from
Prothero started in pursuit. He glimpsed the dog-cart turning into
Bridge Street. He had an impression that Benham used the whip at
the corner, and that the dog-cart went forward out of sight with a
startled jerk. Prothero quickened his pace.
But when he got to the fork between the Huntingdon Road and the
Cottenham Road, both roads were clear.
He spent some time in hesitation. Then he went along the Huntingdon
Road until he came upon a road-mender, and learnt that Benham had
passed that way. "Going pretty fast 'e was," said the road-mender,
"and whipping 'is 'orse. Else you might 'a thought 'e was a boltin'
with 'im." Prothero decided that if Benham came back at all he
would return by way of Cottenham, and it was on the Cottenham Road
that at last he encountered his friend again.
Benham was coming along at that good pace which all experienced
horses when they are fairly turned back towards Cambridge display.
And there was something odd about Benham, as though he had a large
circular halo with a thick rim. This, it seemed, had replaced his
hat. He was certainly hatless. The warm light of the sinking sun
shone upon the horse and upon Benham's erect figure and upon his
face, and gleams of fire kept flashing from his head to this rim,
like the gleam of drawn swords seen from afar. As he drew nearer
this halo detached itself from him and became a wheel sticking up
behind him. A large, clumsy-looking bicycle was attached to the
dog-cart behind. The expression of Benham's golden face was still a
stony expression; he regarded his friend with hard eyes.
"You all right, Benham?" cried Prothero, advancing into the road.
His eye examined the horse. It looked all right, if anything it was
a trifle subdued; there was a little foam about its mouth, but not
"Whoa!" said Benham, and the horse stopped. "Are you coming up,
Prothero clambered up beside him. "I was anxious," he said.
"There was no need to be."
"You've broken your whip."
"Yes. It broke. . . . GET up!"
They proceeded on their way to Cambridge.
"Something has happened to the wheel," said Prothero, trying to be
at his ease.
"Merely a splinter or so. And a spoke perhaps."
"And what is this behind?"
Benham made a half-turn of the head. "It's a motor-bicycle."
Prothero took in details.
"Some of it is missing."
"No, the front wheel is under the seat."
"Did you find it?" Prothero asked, after an interval.
"He ran into a motor-car--as I was passing. I was perhaps a little
to blame. He asked me to bring his machine to Cambridge. He went
on in the car. . . . It is all perfectly simple."
Prothero glanced at the splinters in the wheel with a renewed
"Did your wheel get into it?" he asked. Benham affected not to
hear. He was evidently in no mood for story-telling.
"Why did you get down, Prothero?" he asked abruptly, with the note
of suppressed anger thickening his voice.
Prothero became vividly red. "I don't know," he said, after an
"I DO," said Benham, and they went on in a rich and active silence
to Cambridge, and the bicycle repair shop in Bridge Street, and
Trinity College. At the gate of Trinity Benham stopped, and
conveyed rather by acts than words that Prothero was to descend. He
got down meekly enough, although he felt that the return to Maltby's
yard might have many points of interest. But the spirit had gone
out of him.
For three days the two friends avoided each other, and then Prothero
went to Benham's room. Benham was smoking cigarettes--Lady Marayne,
in the first warmth of his filial devotion, had prohibited his pipe--
and reading Webb's INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY. "Hello!" he said coldly,
scarcely looking up, and continued to read that absorbing work.
"I keep on thinking how I jumped down from that damned dog-cart,"
said Prothero, without any preface.
"It didn't matter in the least," said Benham distantly.
"Oh! ROT," said Prothero. "I behaved like a coward."
Benham shut his book.
"Benham," said Prothero. "You are right about aristocracy, and I am
wrong. I've been thinking about it night and day."
Benham betrayed no emotion. But his tone changed. "Billy," he
said, "there are cigarettes and whiskey in the corner. Don't make a
fuss about a trifle."
"No whiskey," said Billy, and lit a cigarette. "And it isn't a
He came to Benham's hearthrug. "That business," he said, "has
changed all my views. No--don't say something polite! I see that
if one hasn't the habit of pride one is bound to get off a dogcart
when it seems likely to smash. You have the habit of pride, and I
haven't. So far as the habit of pride goes, I come over to the
theory of aristocracy."
Benham said nothing, but he put down Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and
reached out for and got and lit a cigarette.
"I give up 'Go as you please.' I give up the natural man. I admit
training. I perceive I am lax and flabby, unguarded, I funk too
much, I eat too much, and I drink too much. And, yet, what I have
always liked in you, Benham, is just this--that you don't."
"I do," said Benham.
"Benham, I believe that naturally you funk as much as I do. You're
more a thing of nerves than I am, far more. But you keep yourself
up to the mark, and I have let myself get flabby. You're so right.
You're so utterly right. These last nights I've confessed it--
aloud. I had an inkling of it--after that rag. But now it's as
clear as daylight. I don't know if you mean to go on with me, after
what's happened, but anyhow I want you to know, whether you end our
friendship or not-- "
"Billy, don't be an old ass," said Benham.
Both young men paused for a moment. They made no demonstrations.
But the strain was at an end between them.
"I've thought it all out," Billy went on with a sudden buoyancy.
"We two are both of the same kind of men. Only you see, Benham, you
have a natural pride and I haven't. You have pride. But we are
both intellectuals. We both belong to what the Russians call the
Intelligentsia. We have ideas, we have imagination, that is our
strength. And that is our weakness. That makes us moral light-
weights. We are flimsy and uncertain people. All intellectuals are
flimsy and uncertain people. It's not only that they are critical
and fastidious; they are weak-handed. They look about them; their
attention wanders. Unless they have got a habit of controlling
themselves and forcing themselves and holding themselves together."
"The habit of pride."
"Yes. And then--then we are lords of the world."
"All this, Billy," said Benham, "I steadfastly believe."
"I've seen it all now," said Prothero. "Lord! how clearly I see it!
The intellectual is either a prince or he is a Greek slave in a
Roman household. He's got to hold his chin up or else he becomes--
even as these dons we see about us--a thing that talks appointments,
a toady, a port-wine bibber, a mass of detail, a conscious maker of
neat sayings, a growing belly under a dwindling brain. Their
gladness is drink or gratified vanity or gratified malice, their
sorrow is indigestion or--old maid's melancholy. They are the lords
of the world who will not take the sceptre. . . . And what I want
to say to you, Benham, more than anything else is, YOU go on--YOU
make yourself equestrian. You drive your horse against Breeze's,
and go through the fire and swim in the ice-cold water and climb the
precipice and drink little and sleep hard. And--I wish I could do
"But why not?"
"Because I can't. Now I admit I've got shame in my heart and pride
in my head, and I'm strung up. I might do something--this
afternoon. But it won't last. YOU--you have pride in your bones.
My pride will vanish at a laugh. My honour will go at a laugh. I'm
just exalted by a crisis. That's all. I'm an animal of
intelligence. Soul and pride are weak in me. My mouth waters, my
cheek brightens, at the sight of good things. And I've got a
lickerish tail, Benham. You don't know. You don't begin to
imagine. I'm secretive. But I quiver with hot and stirring
desires. And I'm indolent--dirty indolent. Benham, there are days
when I splash my bath about without getting into it. There are days
when I turn back from a walk because there's a cow in the field. . . .
But, I spare you the viler details. . . . And it's that makes me
hate fine people and try so earnestly to persuade myself that any
man is as good as any man, if not a trifle better. Because I know
it isn't so. . . ."
"Billy," said Benham, "you've the boldest mind that ever I met."
Prothero's face lit with satisfaction. Then his countenance fell
again. "I know I'm better there," he said, "and yet, see how I let
in a whole system of lies to cover my secret humiliations. There,
at least, I will cling to pride. I will at least THINK free and
clean and high. But you can climb higher than I can. You've got
the grit to try and LIVE high. There you are, Benham."
Benham stuck one leg over the arm of his chair. "Billy," he said,
"come and be--equestrian and stop this nonsense."
"Damn it--you DIVE!"
"You'd go in before me if a woman was drowning."
"Nonsense. I'm going to ride. Come and ride too. You've a
cleverer way with animals than I have. Why! that horse I was
driving the other day would have gone better alone. I didn't drive
it. I just fussed it. I interfered. If I ride for ever, I shall
never have decent hands, I shall always hang on my horse's mouth at
a gallop, I shall never be sure at a jump. But at any rate I shall
get hard. Come and get hard too."
"You can," said Billy, "you can. But not I! Heavens, the TROUBLE
of it! The riding-school! The getting up early! No!--for me the
Trumpington Road on foot in the afternoon. Four miles an hour and
panting. And my fellowship and the combination-room port. And,
besides, Benham, there's the expense. I can't afford the equestrian
"It's not so great."
"Not so great! I don't mean the essential expense. But--the
incidentals. I don't know whether any one can realize how a poor
man is hampered by the dread of minor catastrophes. It isn't so
much that he is afraid of breaking his neck, Benham, as that he is
afraid of breaking something he will have to pay for. For instance--.
Benham! how much did your little expedition the other day--?"
He stopped short and regarded his friend with round eyes and raised
A reluctant grin overspread Benham's face. He was beginning to see
the humour of the affair.
"The claim for the motor-bicycle isn't sent in yet. The repair of
the mudguards of the car is in dispute. Trinity Hall's crockery,
the plate-glass window, the whip-lash and wheel and so forth, the
hire of the horse and trap, sundry gratuities. . . . I doubt if the
total will come very much under fifty pounds. And I seem to have
lost a hat somewhere."
Billy regarded his toes and cleared his throat.
"Depending as I do on a widowed mother in Brixton for all the
expenditure that isn't covered by my pot-hunting--"
"Of course," said Benham, "it wasn't a fair sample afternoon."
"There's footer," said Benham, "we might both play footer."
"And, anyhow, you must come with me when I drive again. I'm going
to start a trotter."
"If I miss another drive may I be--lost for ever," said Billy, with
the utmost sincerity. "Never more will I get down, Benham, wherever
you may take me. Short of muffing my fellowship I'm with you
always. . . . Will it be an American trotter?"
"It will be the rawest, gauntest, ungainliest brute that ever scared
the motor-bicycles on the Northampton Road. It will have the legs
and stride of an ostrich. It will throw its feet out like dealing
cards. It will lift its head and look the sun in the eye like a
vulture. It will have teeth like the English spinster in a French
comic paper. . . . And we will fly. . . ."
"I shall enjoy it very much," said Prothero in a small voice after
an interval for reflection. "I wonder where we shall fly. It will
do us both a lot of good. And I shall insure my life for a small
amount in my mother's interest. . . . Benham, I think I will, after
all, take a whiskey. . . . Life is short. . . ."
He did so and Benham strolled to the window and stood looking out
upon the great court.
"We might do something this afternoon," said Benham.
"Splendid idea," reflected Billy over his whiskey. "Living hard and
thinking hard. A sort of Intelligentsia that is BLOODED. . . . I
shall, of course, come as far as I can with you."
In one of the bureau drawers that White in this capacity of literary
executor was examining, there were two documents that carried back
right to these early days. They were both products of this long
wide undergraduate argumentation that had played so large a part in
the making of Benham. One recorded the phase of maximum opposition,
and one was the outcome of the concluding approach of the
antagonists. They were debating club essays. One had been read to
a club in Pembroke, a club called the ENQUIRERS, of which White also
had been a member, and as he turned it over he found the
circumstances of its reading coming back to his memory. He had been
present, and Carnac's share in the discussion with his shrill voice
and stumpy gestures would alone have sufficed to have made it a
memorable occasion. The later one had been read to the daughter
club of the ENQUIRERS, the SOCIAL ENQUIRERS, in the year after White
had gone down, and it was new to him.
Both these papers were folded flat and neatly docketed; they were
rather yellow and a little dog-eared, and with the outer sheet
pencilled over with puzzling or illegible scribblings, Benham's
memoranda for his reply. White took the earlier essay in his hand.
At the head of the first page was written in large letters, "Go
slowly, speak to the man at the back." It brought up memories of
his own experiences, of rows of gaslit faces, and of a friendly
helpful voice that said, "Speak up?"
Of course this was what happened to every intelligent contemporary,
this encounter with ideas, this restatement and ventilation of the
old truths and the old heresies. Only in this way does a man make a
view his own, only so does he incorporate it. These are our real
turning points. The significant, the essential moments in the life
of any one worth consideration are surely these moments when for the
first time he faces towards certain broad ideas and certain broad
facts. Life nowadays consists of adventures among generalizations.
In class-rooms after the lecture, in studies in the small hours,
among books or during solitary walks, the drama of the modern career
begins. Suddenly a man sees his line, his intention. Yet though we
are all of us writing long novels--White's world was the literary
world, and that is how it looked to him--which profess to set out
the lives of men, this part of the journey, this crucial passage
among the Sphinxes, is still done--when it is done at all--slightly,
White fell back on his professionalism. "It does not make a book.
It makes a novel into a treatise, it turns it into a dissertation."
But even as White said this to himself he knew it was wrong, and it
slid out of his thoughts again. Was not this objection to the play
of ideas merely the expression of that conservative instinct which
fights for every old convention? The traditional novel is a love
story and takes ideas for granted, it professes a hero but presents
a heroine. And to begin with at least, novels were written for the
reading of heroines. Miss Lydia Languish sets no great store upon
the contents of a man's head. That is just the stuffing of the
doll. Eyes and heart are her game. And so there is never any more
sphinx in the story than a lady may impersonate. And as inevitably
the heroine meets a man. In his own first success, White reflected,
the hero, before he had gone a dozen pages, met a very pleasant
young woman very pleasantly in a sunlit thicket; the second opened
at once with a bicycle accident that brought two young people
together so that they were never afterwards disentangled; the third,
failing to produce its heroine in thirty pages, had to be
rearranged. The next--
White returned from an unprofitable digression to the matter before
The first of Benham's early essays was written in an almost boyish
hand, it was youthfully amateurish in its nervous disposition to
definitions and distinctions, and in the elaborate linking of part
to part. It was called TRUE DEMOCRACY. Manifestly it was written
before the incident of the Trinity Hall plates, and most of it had
been done after Prothero's visit to Chexington. White could feel
that now inaudible interlocutor. And there were even traces of Sir
Godfrey Marayne's assertion that democracy was contrary to biology.
From the outset it was clear that whatever else it meant, True
Democracy, following the analogy of True Politeness, True Courage,
True Honesty and True Marriage, did not mean democracy at all.
Benham was, in fact, taking Prothero's word, and trying to impose
upon it his own solidifying and crystallizing opinion of life.
They were not as yet very large or well-formed crystals. The
proposition he struggled to develop was this, that True Democracy
did not mean an equal share in the government, it meant an equal
opportunity to share in the government. Men were by nature and in
the most various ways unequal. True Democracy aimed only at the
removal of artificial inequalities. . . .
It was on the truth of this statement, that men were by nature
unequal, that the debate had turned. Prothero was passionately
against the idea at that time. It was, he felt, separating himself
from Benham more and more. He spoke with a personal bitterness.
And he found his chief ally in a rigorous and voluble Frenchman
named Carnac, an aggressive Roman Catholic, who opened his speech by
saying that the first aristocrat was the devil, and shocked Prothero
by claiming him as probably the only other sound Christian in the
room. Several biologists were present, and one tall, fair youth
with a wearisome forefinger tried to pin Carnac with questions.
"But you must admit some men are taller than others?"
"Then the others are broader."
"Some are smaller altogether."
"Some of the smaller are less nimble than the others."
"Then they have better nightmares. How can you tell?"
The biologist was temporarily incapacitated, and the talk went on
over his prostrate attempts to rally and protest.
A second biologist seemed to Benham to come nearer the gist of the
dispute when he said that they were not discussing the importance of
men, but their relative inequalities. Nobody was denying the equal
importance of everybody. But there was a virtue of this man and a
virtue of that. Nobody could dispute the equal importance of every
wheel in a machine, of every atom in the universe. Prothero and
Carnac were angry because they thought the denial of absolute
equality was a denial of equal importance. That was not so. Every
man mattered in his place. But politically, or economically, or
intellectually that might be a lowly place. . . .
At this point Carnac interrupted with a whooping and great violence,
and a volley of obscure French colloquialisms.
He was understood to convey that the speaker was a Jew, and did not
in the least mean what he was saying. . . .
The second paper was an altogether maturer and more characteristic
production. It was no longer necessary to answer Prothero.
Prothero had been incorporated. And Benham had fairly got away with
his great idea. It was evident to White that this paper had been
worked over on several occasions since its first composition and
that Benham had intended to make it a part of his book. There were
corrections in pencil and corrections in a different shade of ink,
and there was an unfinished new peroration, that was clearly the
latest addition of all. Yet its substance had been there always.
It gave the youth just grown to manhood, but anyhow fully grown. It
presented the far-dreaming intellectualist shaped.
Benham had called it ARISTOCRACY. But he was far away by now from
This time he had not begun with definitions and generalizations, but
with a curiously subjective appeal. He had not pretended to be
theorizing at large any longer, he was manifestly thinking of his
own life and as manifestly he was thinking of life as a matter of
difficulty and unexpected thwartings.
"We see life," he wrote, "not only life in the world outside us, but
life in our own selves, as an immense choice of possibilities;
indeed, for us in particular who have come up here, who are not
under any urgent necessity to take this line or that, life is
apparently pure choice. It is quite easy to think we are all going
to choose the pattern of life we like best and work it out in our
own way. . . . And, meanwhile, there is no great hurry. . . .
"I want to begin by saying that choice isn't so easy and so
necessary as it seems. We think we are going to choose presently,
and in the end we may never choose at all. Choice needs perhaps
more energy than we think. The great multitude of older people we
can observe in the world outside there, haven't chosen either in the
matter of the world outside, where they shall go, what they shall
do, what part they shall play, or in the matter of the world within,
what they will be and what they are determined they will never be.
They are still in much the same state of suspended choice as we seem
to be in, but in the meanwhile THINGS HAPPEN TO THEM. And things
are happening to us, things will happen to us, while we still
suppose ourselves in the wings waiting to be consulted about the
casting of the piece. . . .
"Nevertheless this immense appearance of choice which we get in the
undergraduate community here, is not altogether illusion; it is more
reality than illusion even if it has not the stable and complete
reality it appears to have. And it is more a reality for us than it
was for our fathers, and much more a reality now than it was a few
centuries ago. The world is more confused and multitudinous than
ever it was, the practicable world far wider, and ourselves far less
under the pressure of inflexible moulding forces and inevitable
necessities than any preceding generations. I want to put very
clearly how I see the new world, the present world, the world of
novel choice to which our youth and inexperience faces, and I want
to define to you a certain selection of choices which I am going to
call aristocratic, and to which it is our manifest duty and destiny
as the elect and favoured sons of our race to direct ourselves.
"It isn't any choice of Hercules I mean, any mere alternative
whether we will be, how shall I put it?--the bridegrooms of pleasure
or the bridegrooms of duty. It is infinitely vaster and more subtly
moral than that. There are a thousand good lives possible, of which
we may have one, lives which are soundly good, or a thousand bad
lives, if you like, lives which are thoroughly bad--that's the old
and perpetual choice, that has always been--but what is more evident
to me and more remarkable and disconcerting is that there are
nowadays ten thousand muddled lives lacking even so much moral
definition, even so much consistency as is necessary for us to call
them either good or bad, there are planless indeterminate lives,
more and more of them, opening out as the possible lives before us,
a perfect wilderness between salvation and damnation, a wilderness
so vast and crowded that at last it seems as though the way to
either hell or heaven would be lost in its interminable futility.
Such planless indeterminate lives, plebeian lives, mere lives, fill
the world, and the spectacle of whole nations, our whole
civilization, seems to me to re-echo this planlessness, this
indeterminate confusion of purpose. Plain issues are harder and
harder to find, it is as if they had disappeared. Simple living is
the countryman come to town. We are deafened and jostled and
perplexed. There are so many things afoot that we get nothing. . . .
"That is what is in my mind when I tell you that we have to gather
ourselves together much more than we think. We have to clench
ourselves upon a chosen end. We have to gather ourselves together
out of the swill of this brimming world.
"Or--we are lost. . . ."
("Swill of this brimming world," said White. "Some of this sounds
uncommonly like Prothero." He mused for a moment and then resumed
"That is what I was getting at when, three years ago, I made an
attack upon Democracy to the mother society of this society, an
attack that I expressed ill and failed to drive home. That is what
I have come down now to do my best to make plainer. This age of
confusion is Democracy; it is all that Democracy can ever give us.
Democracy, if it means anything, means the rule of the planless man,
the rule of the unkempt mind. It means as a necessary consequence
this vast boiling up of collectively meaningless things.
"What is the quality of the common man, I mean of the man that is
common to all of us, the man who is the Standard for such men as
Carnac, the man who seems to be the ideal of the Catholic Democrat?
He is the creature of a few fundamental impulses. He begins in
blind imitation of the life about him. He lusts and takes a wife,
he hungers and tills a field or toils in some other way to earn a
living, a mere aimless living, he fears and so he does not wander,
he is jealous and stays by his wife and his job, is fiercely yet
often stupidly and injuriously defensive of his children and his
possessions, and so until he wearies. Then he dies and needs a
cemetery. He needs a cemetery because he is so afraid of
dissolution that even when he has ceased to be, he still wants a
place and a grave to hold him together and prevent his returning to
the All that made him. Our chief impression of long ages of mankind
comes from its cemeteries. And this is the life of man, as the
common man conceives and lives it. Beyond that he does not go, he
never comprehends himself collectively at all, the state happens
about him; his passion for security, his gregarious self-
defensiveness, makes him accumulate upon himself until he congests
in cities that have no sense of citizenship and states that have no
structure; the clumsy, inconsecutive lying and chatter of his
newspapers, his hoardings and music-halls gives the measure of his
congested intelligences, the confusion of ugly, half empty churches
and chapels and meeting-halls gauge the intensity of his congested
souls, the tricks and slow blundering dishonesties of Diet and
Congress and Parliament are his statecraft and his wisdom. . . .
"I do not care if this instant I am stricken dead for pride. I say
here now to you and to High Heaven that THIS LIFE IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH
FOR ME. I know there is a better life than this muddle about us, a
better life possible now. I know it. A better individual life and
a better public life. If I had no other assurances, if I were blind
to the glorious intimations of art, to the perpetually widening
promise of science, to the mysterious beckonings of beauty in form
and colour and the inaccessible mockery of the stars, I should still
know this from the insurgent spirit within me. . . .
"Now this better life is what I mean when I talk of Aristocracy.
This idea of a life breaking away from the common life to something
better, is the consuming idea in my mind.
"Constantly, recurrently, struggling out of the life of the farm and
the shop, the inn and the market, the street and the crowd, is
something that is not of the common life. Its way of thinking is
Science, its dreaming is Art, its will is the purpose of mankind.
It is not the common thing. But also it is not an unnatural thing.
It is not as common as a rat, but it is no less natural than a
"For it is as natural to be an explorer as it is to be a potato
grower, it is rarer but it is as natural; it is as natural to seek
explanations and arrange facts as it is to make love, or adorn a
hut, or show kindness to a child. It is a folly I will not even
dispute about, that man's only natural implement is the spade.
Imagination, pride, exalted desire are just as much Man, as are
hunger and thirst and sexual curiosities and the panic dread of
unknown things. . . .
"Now you see better what I mean about choice. Now you see what I am
driving at. We have to choose each one for himself and also each
one for the race, whether we will accept the muddle of the common
life, whether we ourselves will be muddled, weakly nothings,
children of luck, steering our artful courses for mean success and
tawdry honours, or whether we will be aristocrats, for that is what
it amounts to, each one in the measure of his personal quality an
aristocrat, refusing to be restrained by fear, refusing to be
restrained by pain, resolved to know and understand up to the hilt
of his understanding, resolved to sacrifice all the common stuff of
his life to the perfection of his peculiar gift, a purged man, a
trained, selected, artificial man, not simply free, but lordly free,
filled and sustained by pride. Whether you or I make that choice
and whether you or I succeed in realizing ourselves, though a great
matter to ourselves, is, I admit, a small matter to the world. But
the great matter is this, that THE CHOICE IS BEING MADE, that it
will continue to be made, and that all around us, so that it can
never be arrested and darkened again, is the dawn of human
possibility. . . ."
(White could also see his dead friend's face with its enthusiastic
paleness, its disordered hair and the glowing darknesses in the
eyes. On such occasions Benham always had an expression of ESCAPE.
Temporary escape. And thus would his hand have clutched the
reading-desk; thus would his long fingers have rustled these dry
"Man has reached a point when a new life opens before him. . . .
"The old habitual life of man is breaking up all about us, and for
the new life our minds, our imaginations, our habits and customs are
all unprepared. . . .
"It is only now, after some years of study and living, that I begin
to realize what this tremendous beginning we call Science means to
mankind. Every condition that once justified the rules and
imperatives, the manners and customs, the sentiments, the morality,
the laws and limitations which make up the common life, has been or
is being destroyed. . . . Two or three hundred years more and all
that life will be as much a thing past and done with as the life
that was lived in the age of unpolished stone. . . .
"Man is leaving his ancestral shelters and going out upon the
greatest adventure that ever was in space or time, he is doing it
now, he is doing it in us as I stand here and read to you."
CHAPTER THE SECOND
THE YOUNG MAN ABOUT TOWN
The oldest novel in the world at any rate, White reflected, was a
story with a hero and no love interest worth talking about. It was
the story of Tobias and how he came out from the shelters of his
youth into this magic and intricate world. Its heroine was
incidental, part of the spoil, a seven times relict. . . .
White had not read the book of Tobit for many years, and what he was
really thinking of was not that ancient story at all, but
Botticelli's picture, that picture of the sunlit morning of life.
When you say "Tobias" that is what most intelligent people will
recall. Perhaps you will remember how gaily and confidently the
young man strides along with the armoured angel by his side.
Absurdly enough, Benham and his dream of high aristocracy reminded
White of that. . . .
"We have all been Tobias in our time," said White.
If White had been writing this chapter he would have in all
probability called it THE TOBIAS STAGE, forgetful that there was no
Tobit behind Benham and an entirely different Sara in front of him.
From Cambridge Benham came to London. For the first time he was to
live in London. Never before had he been in London for more than a
few days at a time. But now, guided by his mother's advice, he was
to have a flat in Finacue street, just round the corner from
Desborough Street, a flat very completely and delightfully furnished
under her supervision. It had an admirable study, in which she had
arranged not only his books, but a number of others in beautiful old
leather bindings that it had amused her extremely to buy; it had a
splendid bureau and business-like letter-filing cabinets, a neat
little drawing-room and a dining-room, well-placed abundant electric
lights, and a man called Merkle whom she had selected very carefully
and who she felt would not only see to Benham's comfort but keep
him, if necessary, up to the mark.
This man Merkle seemed quite unaware that humanity "here and now"--
even as he was engaged in meticulously putting out Benham's clothes--
was "leaving its ancestral shelters and going out upon the
greatest adventure that ever was in space or time." If he had been
told as much by Benham he would probably have said, "Indeed, sir,"
and proceeded accurately with his duties. And if Benham's voice had
seemed to call for any additional remark, he would probably have
added, "It's 'igh time, sir, something of the sort was done. Will
you have the white wesket as before, sir, or a fresh one this
evening? . . . Unless it's a very special occasion, sir. . . .
Exactly, sir. THANK you, sir."
And when her son was properly installed in his apartments Lady
Marayne came round one morning with a large experienced-looking
portfolio and rendered an account of her stewardship of his estate
that was already some months overdue. It was all very confused and
confusing, and there were inexplicable incidents, a heavy overdraft
at the bank for example, but this was Sir Godfrey's fault, she
explained. "He never would help me with any of this business," she
said. "I've had to add sometimes for HOURS. But, of course, you
are a man, and when you've looked through it all, I know you'll
He did look through it enough to see that it was undesirable that he
should understand too explicitly, and, anyhow, he was manifestly
very well off indeed, and the circumstances of the case, even as he
understood them, would have made any businesslike book-keeping
ungracious. The bankers submitted the corroborating account of
securities, and he found himself possessed of his unconditional six
thousand a year, with, as she put it, "the world at his feet." On
the whole it seemed more wonderful to him now than when he had first
heard of it. He kissed her and thanked her, and left the portfolio
open for Merkle's entirely honest and respectful but very exact
inspection, and walked back with her to Desborough Street, and all
the while he was craving to ask the one tremendous question he knew
he would never ask, which was just how exactly this beneficent Nolan
came in. . . .
Once or twice in the small hours, and on a number of other
occasions, this unspeakable riddle assumed a portentous predominance
in his mind. He was forced back upon his inner consciousness for
its consideration. He could discuss it with nobody else, because
that would have been discussing his mother.
Probably most young men who find themselves with riches at large in
the world have some such perplexity as this mixed in with the gift.
Such men as the Cecils perhaps not, because they are in the order of
things, the rich young Jews perhaps not, because acquisition is
their principle, but for most other intelligent inheritors there
must be this twinge of conscientious doubt. "Why particularly am I
picked out for so tremendous an advantage?" If the riddle is not
Nolan, then it is rent, or it is the social mischief of the
business, or the particular speculative COUP that established their
"PECUNIA NON OLET," Benham wrote, "and it is just as well. Or the
west-ends of the world would reek with deodorizers. Restitution is
inconceivable; how and to whom? And in the meanwhile here we are
lifted up by our advantage to a fantastic appearance of opportunity.
Whether the world looks to us or not to do tremendous things, it
ought to look to us. And above all we ought to look to ourselves.
It is not to be supposed that Benham came to town only with a
general theory of aristocracy. He had made plans for a career.
Indeed, he had plans for several careers. None of them when brought
into contrast with the great spectacle of London retained all the
attractiveness that had saturated them at their inception.
They were all more or less political careers. Whatever a democratic
man may be, Prothero and he had decided that an aristocratic man is
a public man. He is made and protected in what he is by laws and
the state and his honour goes out to the state. The aristocrat has
no right to be a voluptuary or a mere artist or a respectable
nonentity, or any such purely personal things. Responsibility for
the aim and ordering of the world is demanded from him as
imperatively as courage.
Benham's deliberate assumption of the equestrian role brought him
into contact with a new set of acquaintances, conscious of political
destinies. They were amiable, hard young men, almost affectedly
unaffected; they breakfasted before dawn to get in a day's hunting,
and they saw to it that Benham's manifest determination not to
discredit himself did not lead to his breaking his neck. Their
bodies were beautifully tempered, and their minds were as flabby as
Prothero's body. Among them were such men as Lord Breeze and Peter
Westerton, and that current set of Corinthians who supposed
themselves to be resuscitating the Young England movement and Tory
Democracy. Poor movements which indeed have never so much lived as
suffered chronic resuscitation. These were days when Tariff Reform
was only an inglorious possibility for the Tory Party, and Young
England had yet to demonstrate its mental quality in an anti-
socialist campaign. Seen from the perspectives of Cambridge and
Chexington, the Tory party was still a credible basis for the
adventure of a young man with an aristocratic theory in his mind.
These were the days when the strain and extremity of a dangerous
colonial war were fresh in people's minds, when the quality of the
public consciousness was braced up by its recent response to
unanticipated demands. The conflict of stupidities that had caused
the war was overlaid and forgotten by a hundred thousand devotions,
by countless heroic deaths and sufferings, by a pacification largely
conceived and broadly handled. The nation had displayed a belated
regard for its honour and a sustained passion for great unities. It
was still possible for Benham to regard the empire as a splendid
opportunity, and London as the conceivable heart of the world. He
could think of Parliament as a career, and of a mingling of
aristocratic socialism based on universal service with a civilizing
imperialism as a purpose. . . .
But his thoughts had gone wider and deeper than that. . . .
Already when Benham came to London he had begun to dream of
possibilities that went beyond the accidental states and empires of
to-day. Prothero's mind, replete with historical detail, could find
nothing but absurdity in the alliances and dynasties and loyalties
of our time. "Patched up things, Benham, temporary, pretentious.
All very well for the undignified man, the democratic man, to take
shelter under, all very well for the humourist to grin and bear, all
very well for the crowd and the quack, but not for the aristocrat--
No!--his mind cuts like steel and burns like fire. Lousy sheds they
are, plastered hoardings . . . and such a damned nuisance too! For
any one who wants to do honourable things! With their wars and
their diplomacies, their tariffs and their encroachments; all their
humbugging struggles, their bloody and monstrous struggles, that
finally work out to no end at all. . . . If you are going for the
handsome thing in life then the world has to be a united world,
Benham, as a matter of course. That was settled when the railways
and the telegraph came. Telephones, wireless telegraphy, aeroplanes
insist on it. We've got to mediatise all this stuff, all these
little crowns and boundaries and creeds, and so on, that stand in
the way. Just as Italy had to be united in spite of all the rotten
little dukes and princes and republics, just as Germany had to be
united in spite of its scores of kingdoms and duchies and liberties,
so now the world. Things as they are may be fun for lawyers and
politicians and court people and--douaniers; they may suit the loan-
mongers and the armaments shareholders, they may even be more
comfortable for the middle-aged, but what, except as an
inconvenience, does that matter to you or me?"
Prothero always pleased Benham when he swept away empires. There
was always a point when the rhetoric broke into gesture.
"We've got to sweep them away, Benham," he said, with a wide gesture
of his arm. "We've got to sweep them all away."
Prothero helped himself to some more whiskey, and spoke hastily,
because he was afraid some one else might begin. He was never safe
from interruption in his own room. The other young men present
sucked at their pipes and regarded him doubtfully. They were never
quite certain whether Prothero was a prophet or a fool. They could
not understand a mixed type, and he was so manifestly both.
"The only sane political work for an intelligent man is to get the
world-state ready. For that we have to prepare an aristocracy--"
"Your world-state will be aristocratic?" some one interpolated.
"Of course it will be aristocratic. How can uninformed men think
all round the globe? Democracy dies five miles from the parish
pump. It will be an aristocratic republic of all the capable men in
the world. . . ."
"Of course," he added, pipe in mouth, as he poured out his whiskey,
"it's a big undertaking. It's an affair of centuries. . . ."
And then, as a further afterthought: "All the more reason for
getting to work at it. . . ."
In his moods of inspiration Prothero would discourse through the
tobacco smoke until that great world-state seemed imminent--and Part
Two in the Tripos a thing relatively remote. He would talk until
the dimly-lit room about him became impalpable, and the young men
squatting about it in elaborately careless attitudes caught glimpses
of cities that are still to be, bridges in wild places, deserts
tamed and oceans conquered, mankind no longer wasted by bickerings,
going forward to the conquest of the stars. . . .
An aristocratic world-state; this political dream had already taken
hold of Benham's imagination when he came to town. But it was a
dream, something that had never existed, something that indeed may
never materialize, and such dreams, though they are vivid enough in
a study at night, fade and vanish at the rustle of a daily newspaper
or the sound of a passing band. To come back again. . . . So it
was with Benham. Sometimes he was set clearly towards this world-
state that Prothero had talked into possibility. Sometimes he was
simply abreast of the patriotic and socially constructive British
Imperialism of Breeze and Westerton. And there were moods when the
two things were confused in his mind, and the glamour of world
dominion rested wonderfully on the slack and straggling British
Empire of Edward the Seventh--and Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Mr.
Chamberlain. He did go on for a time honestly entertaining both
these projects in his mind, each at its different level, the greater
impalpable one and the lesser concrete one within it. In some
unimaginable way he could suppose that the one by some miracle of
ennoblement--and neglecting the Frenchman, the Russian, the German,
the American, the Indian, the Chinaman, and, indeed, the greater
part of mankind from the problem--might become the other. . . .
All of which is recorded here, without excess of comment, as it
happened, and as, in a mood of astonished reminiscences, he came
finally to perceive it, and set it down for White's meditative
But to the enthusiasm of the young, dreams have something of the
substance of reality and realities, something of the magic of
dreams. The London to which Benham came from Cambridge and the
disquisitions of Prothero was not the London of a mature and
disillusioned vision. It was London seen magnified and distorted
through the young man's crystalline intentions. It had for him a
quality of multitudinous, unquenchable activity. Himself filled
with an immense appetite for life, he was unable to conceive of
London as fatigued. He could not suspect these statesmen he now
began to meet and watch, of jaded wills and petty spites, he
imagined that all the important and influential persons in this
large world of affairs were as frank in their private lives and as
unembarrassed in their financial relationships as his untainted
self. And he had still to reckon with stupidity. He believed in
the statecraft of leader-writers and the sincerity of political
programmes. And so regarded, what an avenue to Empire was
Whitehall! How momentous was the sunrise in St. James's Park, and
how significant the clustering knot of listeners and speakers
beneath the tall column that lifts our Nelson to the windy sky!
For a time Benham was in love with the idea of London. He got maps
of London and books about London. He made plans to explore its
various regions. He tried to grasp it all, from the conscious
picturesqueness of its garden suburbs to the factories of Croydon,
from the clerk-villadoms of Ealing to the inky streams of Bow. In
those days there were passenger steamboats that would take one from
the meadows of Hampton Court past the whole spectacle of London out
to the shipping at Greenwich and the towed liners, the incessant
tugs, the heaving portals of the sea. . . . His time was far too
occupied for him to carry out a tithe of these expeditions he had
planned, but he had many walks that bristled with impressions.
Northward and southward, eastward and westward a dreaming young man
could wander into a wilderness of population, polite or sombre,
poor, rich, or middle-class, but all ceaselessly active, all
urgently pressing, as it seemed, to their part in the drama of the
coming years. He loved the late afternoon, when every artery is
injected and gorged with the multitudinous home-going of the daily
workers, he loved the time of lighting up, and the clustering
excitements of the late hours. And he went out southward and
eastward into gaunt regions of reeking toil. As yet he knew nothing
of the realities of industrialism. He saw only the beauty of the
great chimneys that rose against the sullen smoke-barred sunsets,
and he felt only the romance of the lurid shuddering flares that
burst out from squat stacks of brickwork and lit the emptiness of
strange and slovenly streets. . . .
And this London was only the foreground of the great scene upon
which he, as a prosperous, well-befriended young Englishman, was
free to play whatever part he could. This narrow turbid tidal river
by which he walked ran out under the bridges eastward beneath the
grey-blue clouds towards Germany, towards Russia, and towards Asia,
which still seemed in those days so largely the Englishman's Asia.
And when you turned about at Blackfriars Bridge this sense of the
round world was so upon you that you faced not merely Westminster,
but the icy Atlantic and America, which one could yet fancy was a
land of Englishmen--Englishmen a little estranged. At any rate they
assimilated, they kept the tongue. The shipping in the lower
reaches below the Tower there carried the flags of every country
under the sky. . . . As he went along the riverside he met a group
of dusky students, Chinese or Japanese. Cambridge had abounded in
Indians; and beneath that tall clock tower at Westminster it seemed
as though the world might centre. The background of the
Englishman's world reached indeed to either pole, it went about the
earth, his background it was--for all that he was capable of doing.
All this had awaited him. . . .
Is it any wonder if a young man with an excitable imagination came
at times to the pitch of audible threats? If the extreme indulgence
of his opportunity and his sense of ability and vigour lifted his
vanity at moments to the kingly pitch? If he ejaculated and made a
gesture or so as he went along the Embankment?
In the disquisition upon choice that opened Benham's paper on
ARISTOCRACY, he showed himself momentarily wiser than his day-
dreams. For in these day-dreams he did seem to himself to be
choosing among unlimited possibilities. Yet while he dreamt other
influences were directing his movements. There were for instance
his mother, Lady Marayne, who saw a very different London from what
he did, and his mother Dame Nature, who cannot see London at all.
She was busy in his blood as she is busy in the blood of most
healthy young men; common experience must fill the gaps for us; and
patiently and thoroughly she was preparing for the entrance of that
heroine, whom not the most self-centred of heroes can altogether
avoid. . . .
And then there was the power of every day. Benham imagined himself
at large on his liberating steed of property while indeed he was
mounted on the made horse of Civilization; while he was speculating
whither he should go, he was already starting out upon the round.
One hesitates upon the magnificent plan and devotion of one's
lifetime and meanwhile there is usage, there are engagements. Every
morning came Merkle, the embodiment of the established routine, the
herald of all that the world expected and required Benham to be and
do. Usually he awakened Benham with the opening of his door and the
soft tinkle of the curtain rings as he let in the morning light. He
moved softly about the room, gathering up and removing the crumpled
hulls of yesterday; that done he reappeared at the bedside with a
cup of admirable tea and one thin slice of bread-and-butter,
reported on the day's weather, stood deferential for instructions.
"You will be going out for lunch, sir. Very good, sir. White slips
of course, sir. You will go down into the country in the afternoon?
Will that be the serge suit, sir, or the brown?"
These matters settled, the new aristocrat could yawn and stretch
like any aristocrat under the old dispensation, and then as the
sound of running water from the bathroom ceased, stick his toes out
The day was tremendously indicated. World-states and aristocracies
of steel and fire, things that were as real as coal-scuttles in
Billy's rooms away there at Cambridge, were now remoter than Sirius.
He was expected to shave, expected to bath, expected to go in to the
bright warmth and white linen and silver and china of his breakfast-
table. And there he found letters and invitations, loaded with
expectation. And beyond the coffee-pot, neatly folded, lay the
TIMES, and the DAILY NEWS and the TELEGRAPH all with an air of
requiring his attention. There had been more fighting in Thibet and
Mr. Ritchie had made a Free Trade speech at Croydon. The Japanese
had torpedoed another Russian ironclad and a British cruiser was
ashore in the East Indies. A man had been found murdered in an
empty house in Hoxton and the King had had a conversation with
General Booth. Tadpole was in for North Winchelsea, beating Taper
by nine votes, and there had been a new cut in the Atlantic
passenger rates. He was expected to be interested and excited by
Presently the telephone bell would ring and he would hear the clear
little voice of his mother full of imperative expectations. He
would be round for lunch? Yes, he would be round to lunch. And the
afternoon, had he arranged to do anything with his afternoon? No!--
put off Chexington until tomorrow. There was this new pianist, it
was really an EXPERIENCE, and one might not get tickets again. And
then tea at Panton's. It was rather fun at Panton's. . . . Oh!--
Weston Massinghay was coming to lunch. He was a useful man to know.
So CLEVER. . . . So long, my dear little Son, till I see you. . . .
So life puts out its Merkle threads, as the poacher puts his hair
noose about the pheasant's neck, and while we theorize takes hold of
us. . . .
It came presently home to Benham that he had been down from
Cambridge for ten months, and that he was still not a step forward
with the realization of the new aristocracy. His political career
waited. He had done a quantity of things, but their net effect was
incoherence. He had not been merely passive, but his efforts to
break away into creative realities had added to rather than
diminished his accumulating sense of futility.
The natural development of his position under the influence of Lady
Marayne had enormously enlarged the circle of his acquaintances. He
had taken part in all sorts of social occasions, and sat and
listened to a representative selection of political and literary and
social personages, he had been several times to the opera and to a
great number and variety of plays, he had been attentively
inconspicuous in several really good week-end parties. He had spent
a golden October in North Italy with his mother, and escaped from
the glowing lassitude of Venice for some days of climbing in the