Actions and Reactions - Rudyard Kipling - ebook

Actions and Reactions ebook

Rudyard Kipling



This is a scatter shot collection of short stories and poems that really have nothing to do with each other. Most of them come from Kipling’s early years, so some stories are good. Night Mail is the only science fiction; then there is a fantastic story about a haunted house, almost made up as a detective story, and in the less haunted genre, the couple moves to an old estate and finds that the bonds of earth and blood are stronger than human travels.

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Liczba stron: 321

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My friend, if cause doth wrest thee, Ere folly hath much oppressed thee, Far from acquaintance kest thee Where country may digest thee... Thank God that so hath blessed thee, And sit down, Robin, and rest thee. –THOMAS TUSSER.

It came without warning, at the very hour his hand was outstretched to crumple the Holz and Gunsberg Combine. The New York doctors called it overwork, and he lay in a darkened room, one ankle crossed above the other, tongue pressed into palate, wondering whether the next brain-surge of prickly fires would drive his soul from all anchorages. At last they gave judgment. With care he might in two years return to the arena, but for the present he must go across the water and do no work whatever. He accepted the terms. It was capitulation; but the Combine that had shivered beneath his knife gave him all the honours of war: Gunsberg himself, full of condolences, came to the steamer and filled the Chapins’ suite of cabins with overwhelming flower-works.

“Smilax,” said George Chapin when he saw them. “Fitz is right. I’m dead; only I don’t see why he left out the ‘In Memoriam’ on the ribbons!”

“Nonsense!” his wife answered, and poured him his tincture. “You’ll be back before you can think.”

He looked at himself in the mirror, surprised that his face had not been branded by the hells of the past three months. The noise of the decks worried him, and he lay down, his tongue only a little pressed against his palate.

An hour later he said: “Sophie, I feel sorry about taking you away from everything like this. I–I suppose we’re the two loneliest people on God’s earth to-night.”

Said Sophie his wife, and kissed him: “Isn’t it something to you that we’re going together?”

They drifted about Europe for months–sometimes alone, sometimes with chance met gipsies of their own land. From the North Cape to the Blue Grotto at Capri they wandered, because the next steamer headed that way, or because some one had set them on the road. The doctors had warned Sophie that Chapin was not to take interest even in other men’s interests; but a familiar sensation at the back of the neck after one hour’s keen talk with a Nauheimed railway magnate saved her any trouble. He nearly wept.

“And I’m over thirty,” he cried. “With all I meant to do!”

“Let’s call it a honeymoon,” said Sophie. “D’ you know, in all the six years we’ve been married, you’ve never told me what you meant to do with your life?”

“With my life? What’s the use? It’s finished now.” Sophie looked up quickly from the Bay of Naples. “As far as my business goes, I shall have to live on my rents like that architect at San Moritz.”

“You’ll get better if you don’t worry; and even if it rakes time, there are worse things than–How much have you?”

“Between four and five million. But it isn’t the money. You know it isn’t. It’s the principle. How could you respect me? You never did, the first year after we married, till I went to work like the others. Our tradition and upbringing are against it. We can’t accept those ideals.”

“Well, I suppose I married you for some sort of ideal,” she answered, and they returned to their forty-third hotel.

In England they missed the alien tongues of Continental streets that reminded them of their own polyglot cities. In England all men spoke one tongue, speciously like American to the ear, but on cross-examination unintelligible.

“Ah, but you have not seen England,” said a lady with iron-grey hair. They had met her in Vienna, Bayreuth, and Florence, and were grateful to find her again at Claridge’s, for she commanded situations, and knew where prescriptions are most carefully made up. “You ought to take an interest in the home of our ancestors as I do.”

“I’ve tried for a week, Mrs. Shonts,” said Sophie, “but I never get any further than tipping German waiters.”

“These men are not the true type,” Mrs. Shouts went on. “I know where you should go.”

Chapin pricked up his ears, anxious to run anywhere from the streets on which quick men, something of his kidney, did the business denied to him.

“We hear and we obey, Mrs. Shonts,” said Sophie, feeling his unrest as he drank the loathed British tea.

Mrs. Shonts smiled, and took them in hand. She wrote widely and telegraphed far on their behalf till, armed with her letter of introduction, she drove them into that wilderness which is reached from an ash-barrel of a station called Charing Cross. They were to go to Rockett’s–the farm of one Cloke, in the southern counties–where, she assured them, they would meet the genuine England of folklore and song.

Rocketts they found after some hours, four miles from a station, and, so far as they could, judge in the bumpy darkness, twice as many from a road. Trees, kine, and the outlines of barns showed shadowy about them when they alighted, and Mr. and Mrs. Cloke, at the open door of a deep stone-floored kitchen, made them shyly welcome. They lay in an attic beneath a wavy whitewashed ceiling, and, because it rained, a wood fire was made in an iron basket on a brick hearth, and they fell asleep to the chirping of mice and the whimper of flames.

When they woke it was a fair day, full of the noises, of birds, the smell of box lavender, and fried bacon, mixed with an elemental smell they had never met before.

“This,” said Sophie, nearly pushing out the thin casement in an attempt to see round the corner, “is–what did the hack-cabman say to the railway porter about my trunk–‘quite on the top?’”

“No; ‘a little bit of all right.’ I feel farther away from anywhere than I’ve ever felt in my life. We must find out where the telegraph office is.”

“Who cares?” said Sophie, wandering about, hairbrush in hand, to admire the illustrated weekly pictures pasted on door and cupboard.

But there was no rest for the alien soul till he had made sure of the telegraph office. He asked the Clokes’ daughter, laying breakfast, while Sophie plunged her face in the lavender bush outside the low window.

“Go to the stile a-top o’ the Barn field,” said Mary, “and look across Pardons to the next spire. It’s directly under. You can’t miss it–not if you keep to the footpath. My sister’s the telegraphist there. But you’re in the three-mile radius, sir. The boy delivers telegrams directly to this door from Pardons village.”

“One has to take a good deal on trust in this country,” he murmured.

Sophie looked at the close turf, scarred only with last night’s wheels, at two ruts which wound round a rickyard, and at the circle of still orchard about the half-timbered house.

“What’s the matter with it?” she said. “Telegrams delivered to the Vale of Avalon, of course,” and she beckoned in an earnest-eyed hound of engaging manners and no engagements, who answered, at times, to the name of Rambler. He led them, after breakfast, to the rise behind the house where the stile stood against the skyline, and, “I wonder what we shall find now,” said Sophie, frankly prancing with joy on the grass.

It was a slope of gap-hedged fields possessed to their centres by clumps of brambles. Gates were not, and the rabbit-mined, cattle-rubbed posts leaned out and in. A narrow path doubled among the bushes, scores of white tails twinkled before the racing hound, and a hawk rose, whistling shrilly.

“No roads, no nothing!” said Sophie, her short skirt hooked by briers. “I thought all England was a garden. There’s your spire, George, across the valley. How curious!”

They walked toward it through an all abandoned land. Here they found the ghost of a patch of lucerne that had refused to die: there a harsh fallow surrendered to yard-high thistles; and here a breadth of rampant kelk feigning to be lawful crop. In the ungrazed pastures swaths of dead stuff caught their feet, and the ground beneath glistened with sweat. At the bottom of the valley a little brook had undermined its footbridge, and frothed in the wreckage. But there stood great woods on the slopes beyond–old, tall, and brilliant, like unfaded tapestries against the walls of a ruined house.

“All this within a hundred miles of London,” he said. “Looks as if it had had nervous prostration, too.” The footpath turned the shoulder of a slope, through a thicket of rank rhododendrons, and crossed what had once been a carriage drive, which ended in the shadow of two gigantic holm-oaks.

“A house!” said Sophie, in a whisper. “A Colonial house!”

Behind the blue-green of the twin trees rose a dark-bluish brick Georgian pile, with a shell-shaped fan-light over its pillared door. The hound had gone off on his own foolish quests. Except for some stir it the branches and the flight of four startled magpies; there was neither life nor sound about the square house, but it looked out of its long windows most friendlily.

“Cha-armed to meet you, I’m sure,” said Sophie, and curtsied to the ground. “George, this is history I can understand. We began here.” She curtsied again.

The June sunshine twinkled on all the lights. It was as though an old lady, wise in three generations’ experience, but for the present sitting out, bent to listen to her flushed and eager grandchild.

“I must look!” Sophie tiptoed to a window, and shaded her eyes with her hand. “Oh, this room’s half-full of cotton-bales–wool, I suppose! But I can see a bit of the mantelpiece. George, do come! Isn’t that some one?”

She fell back behind her husband. The front door opened slowly, to show the hound, his nose white with milk, in charge of an ancient of days clad in a blue linen ephod curiously gathered on breast and shoulders.

“Certainly,” said George, half aloud. “Father Time himself. This is where he lives, Sophie.”

“We came,” said Sophie weakly. “Can we see the house? I’m afraid that’s our dog.”

“No, ’tis Rambler,” said the old man. “He’s been, at my swill-pail again. Staying at Rocketts, be ye? Come in. Ah! you runagate!”

The hound broke from him, and he tottered after him down the drive. They entered the hall–just such a high light hall as such a house should own. A slim-balustered staircase, wide and shallow and once creamy-white, climbed out of it under a long oval window. On either side delicately moulded doors gave on to wool-lumbered rooms, whose sea-green mantelpieces were adorned with nymphs, scrolls, and Cupids in low relief.

“What’s the firm that makes these things?” cried Sophie, enraptured. “Oh, I forgot! These must be the originals. Adams, is it? I never dreamed of anything like that steel-cut fender. Does he mean us to go everywhere?”

“He’s catching the dog,” said George, looking out. “We don’t count.”

They explored the first or ground floor, delighted as children playing burglars.

“This is like all England,” she said at last. “Wonderful, but no explanation. You’re expected to know it beforehand. Now, let’s try upstairs.”

The stairs never creaked beneath their feet. From the broad landing they entered a long, green-panelled room lighted by three full-length windows, which overlooked the forlorn wreck of a terraced garden, and wooded slopes beyond.

“The drawing-room, of course.” Sophie swam up and down it. “That mantelpiece–Orpheus and Eurydice–is the best of them all. Isn’t it marvellous? Why, the room seems furnished with nothing in it! How’s that, George?”

“It’s the proportions. I’ve noticed it.”

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