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When it came to holy matrimony, writer H.G. Wells had a rather interesting personal history. He married his first cousin, soon left her for one of his students, and then had multiple affairs (and children) with important female thinkers and writers over the course of the rest of his lifetime. With that in mind, Wells brings a unique twist to this relatively straightforward take on Edwardian morals and mores in Marriage.
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H. G. Wells
A DAY WITH THE POPES
An extremely pretty girl occupied a second-class compartment in one of those trains which percolate through the rural tranquillities of middle England from Ganford in Oxfordshire to Rumbold Junction in Kent. She was going to join her family at Buryhamstreet after a visit to some Gloucestershire friends. Her father, Mr. Pope, once a leader in the coach-building world and now by retirement a gentleman, had taken the Buryhamstreet vicarage furnished for two months (beginning on the fifteenth of July) at his maximum summer rental of seven guineas a week. His daughter was on her way to this retreat.
At first she had been an animated traveller, erect and keenly regardful of every detail upon the platforms of the stations at which her conveyance lingered, but the tedium of the journey and the warmth of the sunny afternoon had relaxed her pose by imperceptible degrees, and she sat now comfortably in the corner, with her neat toes upon the seat before her, ready to drop them primly at the first sign of a fellow-traveller. Her expression lapsed more and more towards an almost somnolent reverie. She wished she had not taken a second-class ticket, because then she might have afforded a cup of tea at Reading, and so fortified herself against this insinuating indolence.
She was travelling second class, instead of third as she ought to have done, through one of those lapses so inevitable to young people in her position. The two Carmel boys and a cousin, two greyhounds and a chow had come to see her off; they had made a brilliant and prosperous group on the platform and extorted the manifest admiration of two youthful porters, and it had been altogether too much for Marjorie Pope to admit it was the family custom--except when her father's nerves had to be considered--to go third class. So she had made a hasty calculation--she knew her balance to a penny because of the recent tipping--and found it would just run to it. Fourpence remained,--and there would be a porter at Buryhamstreet!
Her mother had said: "You will have Ample." Well, opinions of amplitude vary. With numerous details fresh in her mind, Marjorie decided it would be wiser to avoid financial discussion during her first few days at Buryhamstreet.
There was much in Marjorie's equipment in the key of travelling second class at the sacrifice of afternoon tea. There was, for example, a certain quiet goodness of style about her clothes, though the skirt betrayed age, and an entire absence of style about her luggage, which was all in the compartment with her, and which consisted of a distended hold-all, a very good tennis racquet in a stretcher, a portmanteau of cheap white basketwork held together by straps, and a very new, expensive-looking and meretricious dressing-bag of imitation morocco, which had been one of her chief financial errors at Oxbridge. The collection was eloquent indeed of incompatible standards....
Marjorie had a chin that was small in size if resolute in form, and a mouth that was not noticeably soft and weak because it was conspicuously soft and pretty. Her nose was delicately aquiline and very subtly and finely modelled, and she looked out upon the world with steady, grey-blue eyes beneath broad, level brows that contradicted in a large measure the hint of weakness below. She had an abundance of copper-red hair, which flowed back very prettily from her broad, low forehead and over her delicate ears, and she had that warm-tinted clear skin that goes so well with reddish hair. She had a very dainty neck, and the long slender lines of her body were full of the promise of a riper beauty. She had the good open shoulders of a tennis-player and a swimmer. Some day she was to be a tall, ruddy, beautiful woman. She wore simple clothes of silvery grey and soft green, and about her waist was a belt of grey leather in which there now wilted two creamy-petalled roses.
That was the visible Marjorie. Somewhere out of time and space was an invisible Marjorie who looked out on the world with those steady eyes, and smiled or drooped with the soft red lips, and dreamt, and wondered, and desired.
What a queer thing the invisible human being would appear if, by some discovery as yet inconceivable, some spiritual X-ray photography, we could flash it into sight! Long ago I read a book called "Soul Shapes" that was full of ingenious ideas, but I doubt very much if the thing so revealed would have any shape, any abiding solid outline at all. It is something more fluctuating and discursive than that--at any rate, for every one young enough not to have set and hardened. Things come into it and become it, things drift out of it and cease to be it, things turn upside down in it and change and colour and dissolve, and grow and eddy about and blend into each other. One might figure it, I suppose, as a preposterous jumble animated by a will; a floundering disconnectedness through which an old hump of impulse rises and thrusts unaccountably; a river beast of purpose wallowing in a back eddy of mud and weeds and floating objects and creatures drowned. Now the sunshine of gladness makes it all vivid, now it is sombre and grimly insistent under the sky of some darkling mood, now an emotional gale sweeps across it and it is one confused agitation....
And surely these invisible selves of men were never so jumbled, so crowded, complicated, and stirred about as they are at the present time. Once I am told they had a sort of order, were sphered in religious beliefs, crystal clear, were arranged in a cosmogony that fitted them as hand fits glove, were separated by definite standards of right and wrong which presented life as planned in all its essential aspects from the cradle to the grave. Things are so no longer. That sphere is broken for most of us; even if it is tied about and mended again, it is burst like a seed case; things have fallen out and things have fallen in....
Can I convey in any measure how it was with Marjorie?
What was her religion?
In college forms and returns, and suchlike documents, she would describe herself as "Church of England." She had been baptized according to the usages of that body, but she had hitherto evaded confirmation into it, and although it is a large, wealthy, and powerful organization with many minds to serve it, it had never succeeded in getting into her quick and apprehensive intelligence any lucid and persuasive conception of what it considered God and the universe were up to with her. It had failed to catch her attention and state itself to her. A number of humorous and other writers and the general trend of talk around her, and perhaps her own shrewd little observation of superficial things, had, on the other hand, created a fairly definite belief in her that it wasn't as a matter of fact up to very much at all, that what it said wasn't said with that absolute honesty which is a logical necessity in every religious authority, and that its hierarchy had all sorts of political and social considerations confusing its treatment of her immortal soul....
Marjorie followed her father in abstaining from church. He too professed himself "Church of England," but he was, if we are to set aside merely superficial classifications, an irascible atheist with a respect for usage and Good Taste, and an abject fear of the disapproval of other gentlemen of his class. For the rest he secretly disliked clergymen on account of the peculiarity of their collars, and a certain influence they had with women. When Marjorie at the age of fourteen had displayed a hankering after ecclesiastical ceremony and emotional religion, he had declared: "We don't want any of that nonsense," and sent her into the country to a farm where there were young calves and a bottle-fed lamb and kittens. At times her mother went to church and displayed considerable orthodoxy and punctilio, at times the good lady didn't, and at times she thought in a broad-minded way that there was a Lot in Christian Science, and subjected herself to the ministrations of an American named Silas Root. But his ministrations were too expensive for continuous use, and so the old faith did not lose its hold upon the family altogether.
* * * * *
At school Marjorie had been taught what I may best describe as Muffled Christianity--a temperate and discreet system designed primarily not to irritate parents, in which the painful symbol of the crucifixion and the riddle of what Salvation was to save her from, and, indeed, the coarser aspects of religion generally, were entirely subordinate to images of amiable perambulations, and a rich mist of finer feelings. She had been shielded, not only from arguments against her religion, but from arguments for it--the two things go together--and I do not think it was particularly her fault if she was now growing up like the great majority of respectable English people, with her religious faculty as it were, artificially faded, and an acquired disposition to regard any speculation of why she was, and whence and whither, as rather foolish, not very important, and in the very worst possible taste.
And so, the crystal globe being broken which once held souls together, you may expect to find her a little dispersed and inconsistent in her motives, and with none of that assurance a simpler age possessed of the exact specification of goodness or badness, the exact delimitation of right and wrong. Indeed, she did not live in a world of right and wrong, or anything so stern; "horrid" and "jolly" had replaced these archaic orientations. In a world where a mercantile gentility has conquered passion and God is neither blasphemed nor adored, there necessarily arises this generation of young people, a little perplexed, indeed, and with a sense of something missing, but feeling their way inevitably at last to the great releasing question, "Then why shouldn't we have a good time?"
Yet there was something in Marjorie, as in most human beings, that demanded some general idea, some aim, to hold her life together. A girl upon the borders of her set at college was fond of the phrase "living for the moment," and Marjorie associated with it the speaker's lax mouth, sloe-like eyes, soft, quick-flushing, boneless face, and a habit of squawking and bouncing in a forced and graceless manner. Marjorie's natural disposition was to deal with life in a steadier spirit than that. Yet all sorts of powers and forces were at work in her, some exalted, some elvish, some vulgar, some subtle. She felt keenly and desired strongly, and in effect she came perhaps nearer the realization of that offending phrase than its original exponent. She had a clean intensity of feeling that made her delight in a thousand various things, in sunlight and textures, and the vividly quick acts of animals, in landscape, and the beauty of other girls, in wit, and people's voices, and good strong reasoning, and the desire and skill of art. She had a clear, rapid memory that made her excel perhaps a little too easily at school and college, an eagerness of sympathetic interest that won people very quickly and led to disappointments, and a very strong sense of the primary importance of Miss Marjorie Pope in the world. And when any very definite dream of what she would like to be and what she would like to do, such as being the principal of a ladies' college, or the first woman member of Parliament, or the wife of a barbaric chief in Borneo, or a great explorer, or the wife of a millionaire and a great social leader, or George Sand, or Saint Teresa, had had possession of her imagination for a few weeks, an entirely contrasted and equally attractive dream would presently arise beside it and compete with it and replace it. It wasn't so much that she turned against the old one as that she was attracted by the new, and she forgot the old dream rather than abandoned it, simply because she was only one person, and hadn't therefore the possibility of realizing both.
In certain types Marjorie's impressionability aroused a passion of proselytism. People of the most diverse kinds sought to influence her, and they invariably did so. Quite a number of people, including her mother and the principal of her college, believed themselves to be the leading influence in her life. And this was particularly the case with her aunt Plessington. Her aunt Plessington was devoted to social and political work of an austere and aggressive sort (in which Mr. Plessington participated); she was childless, and had a Movement of her own, the Good Habits Movement, a progressive movement of the utmost scope and benevolence which aimed at extensive interferences with the food and domestic intimacies of the more defenceless lower classes by means ultimately of legislation, and she had Marjorie up to see her, took her for long walks while she influenced with earnestness and vigour, and at times had an air of bequeathing her mantle, movement and everything, quite definitely to her "little Madge." She spoke of training her niece to succeed her, and bought all the novels of Mrs. Humphry Ward for her as they appeared, in the hope of quickening in her that flame of politico-social ambition, that insatiable craving for dinner-parties with important guests, which is so distinctive of the more influential variety of English womanhood. It was due rather to her own habit of monologue than to any reserve on the part of Marjorie that she entertained the belief that her niece was entirely acquiescent in these projects. They went into Marjorie's mind and passed. For nearly a week, it is true, she had dramatized herself as the angel and inspiration of some great modern statesman, but this had been ousted by a far more insistent dream, begotten by a picture she had seen in some exhibition, of a life of careless savagery, whose central and constantly recurrent incident was the riding of barebacked horses out of deep-shadowed forest into a foamy sunlit sea--in a costume that would certainly have struck Aunt Plessington as a mistake.
If you could have seen Marjorie in her railway compartment, with the sunshine, sunshine mottled by the dirty window, tangled in her hair and creeping to and fro over her face as the train followed the curves of the line, you would certainly have agreed with me that she was pretty, and you might even have thought her beautiful. But it was necessary to fall in love with Marjorie before you could find her absolutely beautiful. You might have speculated just what business was going on behind those drowsily thoughtful eyes. If you are--as people say--"Victorian," you might even have whispered "Day Dreams," at the sight of her....
She was dreaming, and in a sense she was thinking of beautiful things. But only mediately. She was thinking how very much she would enjoy spending freely and vigorously, quite a considerable amount of money,--heaps of money.
You see, the Carmels, with whom she had just been staying, were shockingly well off. They had two motor cars with them in the country, and the boys had the use of the second one as though it was just an old bicycle. Marjorie had had a cheap white dinner-dress, made the year before by a Chelsea French girl, a happy find of her mother's, and it was shapely and simple and not at all bad, and she had worn her green beads and her Egyptian necklace of jade; but Kitty Carmel and her sister had had a new costume nearly every night, and pretty bracelets, and rubies, big pearls, and woven gold, and half a score of delightful and precious things for neck and hair. Everything in the place was bright and good and abundant, the servants were easy and well-mannered, without a trace of hurry or resentment, and one didn't have to be sharp about the eggs and things at breakfast in the morning, or go without. All through the day, and even when they had gone to bathe from the smart little white and green shed on the upper lake, Marjorie had been made to feel the insufficiency of her equipment. Kitty Carmel, being twenty-one, possessed her own cheque-book and had accounts running at half a dozen West-end shops; and both sisters had furnished their own rooms according to their taste, with a sense of obvious effect that had set Marjorie speculating just how a room might be done by a girl with a real eye for colour and a real brain behind it....
The train slowed down for the seventeenth time. Marjorie looked up and read "Buryhamstreet."
Her reverie vanished, and by a complex but almost instantaneous movement she had her basket off the rack and the carriage door open. She became teeming anticipations. There, advancing in a string, were Daffy, her elder sister, Theodore, her younger brother, and the dog Toupee. Sydney and Rom hadn't come. Daffy was not copper red like her sister, but really quite coarsely red-haired; she was bigger than Marjorie, and with irregular teeth instead of Marjorie's neat row; she confessed them in a broad simple smile of welcome. Theodore was hatless, rustily fuzzy-headed, and now a wealth of quasi-humorous gesture. The dog Toupee was straining at a leash, and doing its best in a yapping, confused manner, to welcome the wrong people by getting its lead round their legs.
"Toupee!" cried Marjorie, waving the basket. "Toupee!"
They all called it Toupee because it was like one, but the name was forbidden in her father's hearing. Her father had decided that the proper name for a family dog in England is Towser, and did his utmost to suppress a sobriquet that was at once unprecedented and not in the best possible taste. Which was why the whole family, with the exception of Mrs. Pope, of course, stuck to Toupee....
Marjorie flashed a second's contrast with the Carmel splendours.
"Hullo, old Daffy. What's it like?" she asked, handing out the basket as her sister came up.
"It's a lark," said Daffy. "Where's the dressing-bag?"
"Thoddy," said Marjorie, following up the dressing-bag with the hold-all. "Lend a hand."
"Stow it, Toupee," said Theodore, and caught the hold-all in time.
In another moment Marjorie was out of the train, had done the swift kissing proper to the occasion, and rolled a hand over Toupee's head--Toupee, who, after a passionate lunge at a particularly savoury drover from the next compartment, was now frantically trying to indicate that Marjorie was the one human being he had ever cared for. Brother and sister were both sketching out the state of affairs at Buryhamstreet Vicarage in rapid competitive jerks, each eager to tell things first--and the whole party moved confusedly towards the station exit. Things pelted into Marjorie's mind.
"We've got an old donkey-cart. I thought we shouldn't get here--ever.... Madge, we can go up the church tower whenever we like, only old Daffy won't let me shin up the flagstaff. It's perfectly safe--you couldn't fall off if you tried.... Had positively to get out at the level crossing and pull him over.... There's a sort of moat in the garden.... You never saw such furniture, Madge! And the study! It's hung with texts, and stuffed with books about the Scarlet Woman.... Piano's rather good, it's a Broadwood.... The Dad's got a war on about the tennis net. Oh, frightful! You'll see. It won't keep up. He's had a letter kept waiting by the Times for a fortnight, and it's a terror at breakfast. Says the motor people have used influence to silence him. Says that's a game two can play at.... Old Sid got herself upset stuffing windfalls. Rather a sell for old Sid, considering how refined she's getting...."
There was a brief lull as the party got into the waiting governess cart. Toupee, after a preliminary refusal to enter, made a determined attempt on the best seat, from which he would be able to bark in a persistent, official manner at anything that passed. That suppressed, and Theodore's proposal to drive refused, they were able to start, and attention was concentrated upon Daffy's negotiation of the station approach. Marjorie turned on her brother with a smile of warm affection.
"How are you, old Theodore?"
"I'm all right, old Madge."
"Every one's all right," said Theodore; "if it wasn't for that damned infernal net----"
"Ssssh!" cried both sisters together.
"He says it," said Theodore.
Both sisters conveyed a grave and relentless disapproval.
"Pretty bit of road," said Marjorie. "I like that little house at the corner."
A pause and the eyes of the sisters met.
"He's here," said Daffy.
Marjorie affected ignorance.
"Il vostro senior Miraculoso."
"Just as though a fellow couldn't understand your kiddy little Italian," said Theodore, pulling Toupee's ear.
"Oh well, I thought he might be," said Marjorie, regardless of her brother.
"Oh!" said Daffy. "I didn't know----"
Both sisters looked at each other, and then both glanced at Theodore. He met Marjorie's eyes with a grimace of profound solemnity.
"Little brothers," he said, "shouldn't know. Just as though they didn't! Rot! But let's change the subject, my dears, all the same. Lemme see. There are a new sort of flea on Toupee, Madge, that he gets from the hens."
"Is a new sort," corrected Daffy. "He's horrider than ever, Madge. He leaves his soap in soak now to make us think he has used it. This is the village High Street. Isn't it jolly?"
"Corners don't bite people," said Theodore, with a critical eye to the driving.
Marjorie surveyed the High Street, while Daffy devoted a few moments to Theodore.
The particular success of the village was its brace of chestnut trees which, with that noble disregard of triteness which is one of the charms of villages the whole world over, shadowed the village smithy. On either side of the roadway between it and the paths was a careless width of vivid grass protected by white posts, which gave way to admit a generous access on either hand to a jolly public house, leering over red blinds, and swinging a painted sign against its competitor. Several of the cottages had real thatch and most had porches; they had creepers nailed to their faces, and their gardens, crowded now with flowers, marigolds, begonias, snapdragon, delphiniums, white foxgloves, and monkshood, seemed almost too good to be true. The doctor's house was pleasantly Georgian, and the village shop, which was also a post and telegraph office, lay back with a slight air of repletion, keeping its bulging double shop-windows wide open in a manifest attempt not to fall asleep. Two score of shock-headed boys and pinafored girls were drilling upon a bald space of ground before the village school, and near by, the national emotion at the ever-memorable Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria had evoked an artistic drinking-fountain of grey stone. Beyond the subsequent green--there were the correctest geese thereon--the village narrowed almost to a normal road again, and then, recalling itself with a start, lifted a little to the churchyard wall about the grey and ample church. "It's just like all the villages that ever were," said Marjorie, and gave a cry of delight when Daffy, pointing to the white gate between two elm trees that led to the vicarage, remarked: "That's us."
In confirmation of which statement, Sydney and Rom, the two sisters next in succession to Marjorie, and with a strong tendency to be twins in spite of the year between them, appeared in a state of vociferous incivility opening the way for the donkey-carriage. Sydney was Sydney, and Rom was just short for Romola--one of her mother's favourite heroines in fiction.
"Old Madge," they said; and then throwing respect to the winds, "Old Gargoo!" which was Marjorie's forbidden nickname, and short for gargoyle (though surely only Victorian Gothic, ever produced a gargoyle that had the remotest right to be associated with the neat brightness of Marjorie's face).
She overlooked the offence, and the pseudo-twins boarded the cart from behind, whereupon the already overburthened donkey, being old and in a manner wise, quickened his pace for the house to get the whole thing over.
"It's really an avenue," said Daffy; but Marjorie, with her mind strung up to the Carmel standards, couldn't agree. It was like calling a row of boy-scouts Potsdam grenadiers. The trees were at irregular distances, of various ages, and mostly on one side. Still it was a shady, pleasant approach.
And the vicarage was truly very interesting and amusing. To these Londoners accustomed to live in a state of compression, elbows practically touching, in a tall, narrow fore-and-aft stucco house, all window and staircase, in a despondent Brompton square, there was an effect of maundering freedom about the place, of enlargement almost to the pitch of adventure and sunlight to the pitch of intoxication. The house itself was long and low, as if a London house holidaying in the country had flung itself asprawl; it had two disconnected and roomy staircases, and when it had exhausted itself completely as a house, it turned to the right and began again as rambling, empty stables, coach house, cart sheds, men's bedrooms up ladders, and outhouses of the most various kinds. On one hand was a neglected orchard, in the front of the house was a bald, worried-looking lawn area capable of simultaneous tennis and croquet, and at the other side a copious and confused vegetable and flower garden full of roses, honesty, hollyhocks, and suchlike herbaceous biennials and perennials, lapsed at last into shrubbery, where a sickle-shaped, weedy lagoon of uncertain aims, which had evidently, as a rustic bridge and a weeping willow confessed, aspired to be an "ornamental water," declined at last to ducks. And there was access to the church, and the key of the church tower, and one went across the corner of the lawn, and by a little iron gate into the churchyard to decipher inscriptions, as if the tombs of all Buryhamstreet were no more than a part of the accommodation relinquished by the vicar's household.
Marjorie was hurried over the chief points of all this at a breakneck pace by Sydney and Rom, and when Sydney was called away to the horrors of practice--for Sydney in spite of considerable reluctance was destined by her father to be "the musical one"--Rom developed a copious affection, due apparently to some occult aesthetic influence in Marjorie's silvery-grey and green, and led her into the unlocked vestry, and there prayed in a whisper that she might be given "one good hug, just one"--and so they came out with their arms about each other very affectionately to visit the lagoon again. And then Rom remembered that Marjorie hadn't seen either the walnut-tree in the orchard, or the hen with nine chicks....
Somewhere among all these interests came tea and Mrs. Pope.
Mrs. Pope kissed her daughter with an air of having really wanted to kiss her half an hour ago, but of having been distracted since. She was a fine-featured, anxious-looking little woman, with a close resemblance to all her children, in spite of the fact that they were markedly dissimilar one to the other, except only that they took their ruddy colourings from their father. She was dressed in a neat blue dress that had perhaps been hurriedly chosen, and her method of doing her hair was a manifest compromise between duty and pleasure. She embarked at once upon an exposition of the bedroom arrangements, which evidently involved difficult issues. Marjorie was to share a room with Daffy--that was the gist of it--as the only other available apartment, originally promised to Marjorie, had been secured by Mr. Pope for what he called his "matutinal ablutions, videlicet tub."
"Then, when your Aunt Plessington comes, you won't have to move," said Mrs. Pope with an air of a special concession. "Your father's looking forward to seeing you, but he mustn't be disturbed just yet. He's in the vicar's study. He's had his tea in there. He's writing a letter to the Times answering something they said in a leader, and also a private note calling attention to their delay in printing his previous communication, and he wants to be delicately ironical without being in any way offensive. He wants to hint without actually threatening that very probably he will go over to the Spectator altogether if they do not become more attentive. The Times used to print his letters punctually, but latterly these automobile people seem to have got hold of it.... He has the window on the lawn open, so that I think, perhaps, we'd better not stay out here--for fear our voices might disturb him."
"Better get right round the other side of the church," said Daffy.
"He'd hear far less of us if we went indoors," said Mrs. Pope.
The vicarage seemed tight packed with human interest for Marjorie and her mother and sisters. Going over houses is one of the amusements proper to her sex, and she and all three sisters and her mother, as soon as they had finished an inaudible tea, went to see the bedroom she was to share with Daffy, and then examined, carefully and in order, the furniture and decoration of the other bedrooms, went through the rooms downstairs, always excepting and avoiding very carefully and closing as many doors as possible on, and hushing their voices whenever they approached the study in which her father was being delicately ironical without being offensive to the Times. None of them had seen any of the vicarage people at all--Mr. Pope had come on a bicycle and managed all the negotiations--and it was curious to speculate about the individuals whose personalities pervaded the worn and faded furnishings of the place.
The Popes' keen-eyed inspection came at times, I think, dangerously near prying. The ideals of decoration and interests of the vanished family were so absolutely dissimilar to the London standards as to arouse a sort of astonished wonder in their minds. Some of the things they decided were perfectly hideous, some quaint, some were simply and weakly silly. Everything was different from Hartstone Square. Daffy was perhaps more inclined to contempt, and Mrs. Pope to refined amusement and witty appreciation than Marjorie. Marjorie felt there was something in these people that she didn't begin to understand, she needed some missing clue that would unlock the secret of their confused peculiarity. She was one of those people who have an almost instinctive turn for decoration in costume and furniture; she had already had a taste of how to do things in arranging her rooms at Bennett College, Oxbridge, where also she was in great demand among the richer girls as an adviser. She knew what it was to try and fail as well as to try and succeed, and these people, she felt, hadn't tried for anything she comprehended. She couldn't quite see why it was that there was at the same time an attempt at ornament and a disregard of beauty, she couldn't quite do as her mother did and dismiss it as an absurdity and have done with it. She couldn't understand, too, why everything should be as if it were faded and weakened from something originally bright and clear.
All the rooms were thick with queer little objects that indicated a quite beaver-like industry in the production of "work." There were embroidered covers for nearly every article on the wash-hand-stand, and mats of wool and crochet wherever anything stood on anything; there were "tidies" everywhere, and odd little brackets covered with gilded and varnished fir cones and bearing framed photographs and little jars and all sorts of colourless, dusty little objects, and everywhere on the walls tacks sustained crossed fans with badly painted flowers or transfer pictures. There was a jar on the bedroom mantel covered with varnished postage stamps and containing grey-haired dried grasses. There seemed to be a moral element in all this, for in the room Sydney shared with Rom there was a decorative piece of lettering which declared that--
"Something attempted, something done, Has earned a night's repose."
There were a great number of texts that set Marjorie's mind stirring dimly with intimations of a missed significance. Over her own bed, within the lattice of an Oxford frame, was the photograph of a picture of an extremely composed young woman in a trailing robe, clinging to the Rock of Ages in the midst of histrionically aggressive waves, and she had a feeling, rather than a thought, that perhaps for all the oddity of the presentation it did convey something acutely desirable, that she herself had had moods when she would have found something very comforting in just such an impassioned grip. And on a framed, floriferous card, these incomprehensible words:
|================================| |THY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR ME. | |================================|
seemed to be saying something to her tantalizingly just outside her range of apprehension.
Did all these things light up somehow to those dispossessed people--from some angle she didn't attain? Were they living and moving realities when those others were at home again?
The drawing-room had no texts; it was altogether more pretentious and less haunted by the faint and faded flavour of religion that pervaded the bedrooms. It had, however, evidences of travel in Switzerland and the Mediterranean. There was a piano in black and gold, a little out of tune, and surmounted by a Benares brass jar, enveloping a scarlet geranium in a pot. There was a Japanese screen of gold wrought upon black, that screened nothing. There was a framed chromo-lithograph of Jerusalem hot in the sunset, and another of Jerusalem cold under a sub-tropical moon, and there were gourds, roses of Jericho, sandalwood rosaries and kindred trash from the Holy Land in no little profusion upon a what-not. Such books as the room had contained had been arranged as symmetrically as possible about a large, pink-shaded lamp upon the claret-coloured cloth of a round table, and were to be replaced, Mrs. Pope said, at their departure. At present they were piled on a side-table. The girls had been through them all, and were ready with the choicer morsels for Marjorie's amusement. There was "Black Beauty," the sympathetic story of a soundly Anglican horse, and a large Bible extra-illustrated with photographs of every well-known scriptural picture from Michael Angelo to Dore, and a book of injunctions to young ladies upon their behaviour and deportment that Rom and Sydney found particularly entertaining. Marjorie discovered that Sydney had picked up a new favourite phrase. "I'm afraid we're all dreadfully cynical," said Sydney, several times.
A more advanced note was struck by a copy of "Aurora Leigh," richly underlined in pencil, but with exclamation marks at some of the bolder passages....
And presently, still avoiding the open study window very elaborately, this little group of twentieth century people went again into the church--the church whose foundations were laid in A.D. 912--foundations of rubble and cement that included flat Roman bricks from a still remoter basilica. Their voices dropped instinctively, as they came into its shaded quiet from the exterior sunshine. Marjorie went a little apart and sat in a pew that gave her a glimpse of the one good stained-glass window. Rom followed her, and perceiving her mood to be restful, sat a yard away. Syd began a whispered dispute with her mother whether it wasn't possible to try the organ, and whether Theodore might not be bribed to blow. Daffy discovered relics of a lepers' squint and a holy-water stoup, and then went to scrutinize the lettering of the ten commandments of the Mosaic law that shone black and red on gold on either side of the I.H.S. monogram behind the white-clothed communion table that had once been the altar. Upon a notice board hung about the waist of the portly pulpit were the numbers of hymns that had been sung three days ago. The sound Protestantism of the vicar had banished superfluous crosses from the building; the Bible reposed upon the wings of a great brass eagle; shining blue and crimson in the window, Saint Christopher carried his Lord. What a harmonized synthesis of conflicts a country church presents! What invisible mysteries of filiation spread between these ancient ornaments and symbols and the new young minds from the whirlpool of the town that looked upon them now with such bright, keen eyes, wondering a little, feeling a little, missing so much?
It was all so very cool and quiet now--with something of the immobile serenity of death.
When Mr. Pope had finished his letter to the Times, he got out of the window of the study, treading on a flower-bed as he did so--he was the sort of man who treads on flower-beds--partly with the purpose of reading his composition aloud to as many members of his family as he could assemble for the purpose, and so giving them a chance of appreciating the nuances of his irony more fully than if they saw it just in cold print without the advantage of his intonation, and partly with the belated idea of welcoming Marjorie. The law presented a rather discouraging desolation. Then he became aware that the church tower frothed with his daughters. In view of his need of an audience, he decided after a brief doubt that their presence there was unobjectionable, and waved his MS. amiably. Marjorie flapped a handkerchief in reply....
The subsequent hour was just the sort of hour that gave Mr. Pope an almost meteorological importance to his family. He began with an amiability that had no fault, except, perhaps, that it was a little forced after the epistolary strain in the study, and his welcome to Marjorie was more than cordial. "Well, little Madge-cat!" he said, giving her an affectionate but sound and heavy thump on the left shoulder-blade, "got a kiss for the old daddy?"
Marjorie submitted a cheek.
"That's right," said Mr. Pope; "and now I just want you all to advise me----"
He led the way to a group of wicker garden chairs. "You're coming, mummy?" he said, and seated himself comfortably and drew out a spectacle case, while his family grouped itself dutifully. It made a charming little picture of a Man and his Womankind. "I don't often flatter myself," he said, "but this time I think I've been neat--neat's the word for it."
He cleared his throat, put on his spectacles, and emitted a long, flat preliminary note, rather like the sound of a child's trumpet. "Er--'Dear Sir!'"
"Rom," said Mrs. Pope, "don't creak your chair."
"It's Daffy, mother," said Rom.
"Oh, Rom!" said Daffy.
Mr. Pope paused, and looked with a warning eye over his left spectacle-glass at Rom.
"Don't creak your chair, Rom," he said, "when your mother tells you."
"I was not creaking my chair," said Rom.
"I heard it," said Mr. Pope, suavely.
"It was Daffy."
"Your mother does not think so," said Mr. Pope.
"Oh, all right! I'll sit on the ground," said Rom, crimson to the roots of her hair.
"Me too," said Daffy. "I'd rather."
Mr. Pope watched the transfer gravely. Then he readjusted his glasses, cleared his throat again, trumpeted, and began. "Er--'Dear Sir,'"
"Oughtn't it to be simply 'Sir,' father, for an editor?" said Marjorie.
"Perhaps I didn't explain, Marjorie," said her father, with the calm of great self-restraint, and dabbing his left hand on the manuscript in his right, "that this is a private letter--a private letter."
"I didn't understand," said Marjorie.
"It would have been evident as I went on," said Mr. Pope, and prepared to read again.
This time he was allowed to proceed, but the interruptions had ruffled him, and the gentle stresses that should have lifted the subtleties of his irony into prominence missed the words, and he had to go back and do his sentences again. Then Rom suddenly, horribly, uncontrollably, was seized with hiccups. At the second hiccup Mr. Pope paused, and looked very hard at his daughter with magnified eyes; as he was about to resume, the third burst its way through the unhappy child's utmost effort.
Mr. Pope rose with an awful resignation. "That's enough," he said. He regarded the pseudo-twin vindictively. "You haven't the self-control of a child of six," he said. Then very touchingly to Mrs. Pope: "Mummy, shall we try a game of tennis with the New Generation?"
"Can't you read it after supper?" asked Mrs. Pope.
"It must go by the eight o'clock post," said Mr. Pope, putting the masterpiece into his breast pocket, the little masterpiece that would now perhaps never be read aloud to any human being. "Daffy, dear, do you mind going in for the racquets and balls?"
The social atmosphere was now sultry, and overcast, and Mr. Pope's decision to spend the interval before Daffy returned in seeing whether he couldn't do something to the net, which was certainly very unsatisfactory, did not improve matters. Then, unhappily, Marjorie, who had got rather keen upon tennis at the Carmels', claimed her father's first two services as faults, contrary to the etiquette of the family. It happened that Mr. Pope had a really very good, hard, difficult, smart-looking serve, whose only defect was that it always went either too far or else into the net, and so a feeling had been fostered and established by his wife that, on the whole, it was advisable to regard the former variety as a legitimate extension of a father's authority. Naturally, therefore, Mr. Pope was nettled at Marjorie's ruling, and his irritation increased when his next two services to Daffy perished in the net. ("Damn that net! Puts one's eye out.") Then Marjorie gave him an unexpected soft return which he somehow muffed, and then Daffy just dropped a return over the top of the net. (Love-game.) It was then Marjorie's turn to serve, which she did with a new twist acquired from the eldest Carmel boy that struck Mr. Pope as un-English. "Go on," he said concisely. "Fifteen love."
She was gentle with her mother and they got their first rally, and when it was over Mr. Pope had to explain to Marjorie that if she returned right up into his corner of the court he would have to run backwards very fast and might fall over down the silly slope at that end. She would have to consider him and the court. One didn't get everything out of a game by playing merely to win. She said "All right, Daddy," rather off-handedly, and immediately served to him again, and he, taken a little unawares, hit the ball with the edge of his racquet and sent it out, and then he changed racquets with Daffy--it seemed he had known all along she had taken his, but he had preferred to say nothing--uttered a word of advice to his wife just on her stroke, and she, failing to grasp his intention as quickly as she ought to have done, left the score forty-fifteen. He felt better when he returned Marjorie's serve, and then before she could control herself she repeated her new unpleasant trick of playing into the corner again, whereupon, leaping back with an agility that would have shamed many a younger man, Mr. Pope came upon disaster. He went spinning down the treacherous slope behind, twisted his ankle painfully and collapsed against the iron railings of the shrubbery. It was too much, and he lost control of himself. His daughters had one instant's glimpse of the linguistic possibilities of a strong man's agony. "I told her," he went on as if he had said nothing. "Tennis!"
For a second perhaps he seemed to hesitate upon a course of action. Then as if by a great effort he took his coat from the net post and addressed himself houseward, incarnate Grand Dudgeon--limping.
"Had enough of it, Mummy," he said, and added some happily inaudible comment on Marjorie's new style of play.
The evening's exercise was at an end.
The three ladies regarded one another in silence for some moments.
"I will take in the racquets, dear," said Mrs. Pope.
"I think the other ball is at your end," said Daffy....
The apparatus put away, Marjorie and her sister strolled thoughtfully away from the house.
"There's croquet here too," said Daffy. "We've not had the things out yet!"....
"He'll play, I suppose."
"He wants to play."...
"Of course," said Marjorie after a long pause, "there's no reasoning with Dad!"
Character is one of England's noblest and most deliberate products, but some Englishmen have it to excess. Mr. Pope had.
He was one of that large and representative class which imparts a dignity to national commerce by inheriting big businesses from its ancestors. He was a coach-builder by birth, and a gentleman by education and training. He had been to City Merchant's and Cambridge.
Throughout the earlier half of the nineteenth century the Popes had been the princes of the coach-building world. Mr. Pope's great-grandfather had been a North London wheelwright of conspicuous dexterity and integrity, who had founded the family business; his son, Mr. Pope's grandfather, had made that business the occupation of his life and brought it to the pinnacle of pre-eminence; his son, who was Marjorie's grandfather, had displayed a lesser enthusiasm, left the house at the works for a home ten miles away and sent a second son into the Church. It was in the days of the third Pope that the business ceased to expand, and began to suffer severely from the competition of an enterprising person who had originally supplied the firm with varnish, gradually picked up the trade in most other materials and accessories needed in coach-building, and passed on by almost imperceptible stages to delivering the article complete--dispensing at last altogether with the intervention of Pope and Son--to the customer. Marjorie's father had succeeded in the fulness of time to the inheritance this insurgent had damaged.
Mr. Pope was a man of firm and resentful temper, with an admiration for Cato, Brutus, Cincinnatus, Cromwell, Washington, and the sterner heroes generally, and by nature a little ill-used and offended at things. He suffered from indigestion and extreme irritability. He found himself in control of a business where more flexible virtues were needed. The Popes based their fame on a heavy, proud type of vehicle, which the increasing luxury and triviality of the age tended to replace by lighter forms of carriage, carriages with diminutive and apologetic names. As these lighter forms were not only lighter but less expensive, Mr. Pope with a pathetic confidence in the loyalty of the better class of West End customer, determined to "make a stand" against them. He was the sort of man to whom making a stand is in itself a sombre joy. If he had had to choose his pose for a portrait, he would certainly have decided to have one foot advanced, the other planted like a British oak behind, the arms folded and the brows corrugated,--making a stand.
Unhappily the stars in their courses and the general improvement of roads throughout the country fought against him. The lighter carriages, and especially the lighter carriages of that varnish-selling firm, which was now absorbing businesses right and left, prevailed over Mr. Pope's resistance. For crossing a mountain pass or fording a river, for driving over the scene of a recent earthquake or following a retreating army, for being run away with by frantic horses or crushing a personal enemy, there can be no doubt the Pope carriages remained to the very last the best possible ones and fully worth the inflexible price demanded. Unhappily all carriages in a civilization essentially decadent are not subjected to these tests, and the manufactures of his rivals were not only much cheaper, but had a sort of meretricious smartness, a disingenuous elasticity, above all a levity, hateful indeed to the spirit of Mr. Pope yet attractive to the wanton customer. Business dwindled. Nevertheless the habitual element in the good class customer did keep things going, albeit on a shrinking scale, until Mr. Pope came to the unfortunate decision that he would make a stand against automobiles. He regarded them as an intrusive nuisance which had to be seen only to be disowned by the landed gentry of England. Rather than build a car he said he would go out of business. He went out of business. Within five years of this determination he sold out the name, good will, and other vestiges of his concern to a mysterious buyer who turned out to be no more than an agent for these persistently expanding varnish makers, and he retired with a genuine grievance upon the family accumulations--chiefly in Consols and Home Railways.
He refused however to regard his defeat as final, put great faith in the approaching exhaustion of the petrol supply, and talked in a manner that should have made the Automobile Association uneasy, of devoting the rest of his days to the purification of England from these aggressive mechanisms. "It was a mistake," he said, "to let them in." He became more frequent at his excellent West End club, and directed a certain portion of his capital to largely indecisive but on the whole unprofitable speculations in South African and South American enterprises. He mingled a little in affairs. He was a tough conventional speaker, rich in established phrases and never abashed by hearing himself say commonplace things, and in addition to his campaign against automobiles he found time to engage also in quasi-political activities, taking chairs, saying a few words and so on, cherishing a fluctuating hope that his eloquence might ultimately win him an invitation to contest a constituency in the interests of reaction and the sounder elements in the Liberal party.
He had a public-spirited side, and he was particularly attracted by that mass of modern legislative proposals which aims at a more systematic control of the lives of lower class persons for their own good by their betters. Indeed, in the first enthusiasm of his proprietorship of the Pope works at East Purblow, he had organized one of those benevolent industrial experiments that are now so common. He felt strongly against the drink evil, that is to say, the unrestricted liberty of common people to drink what they prefer, and he was acutely impressed by the fact that working-class families do not spend their money in the way that seems most desirable to upper middle-class critics. Accordingly he did his best to replace the dangerous freedoms of money by that ideal of the social reformer, Payment in Kind. To use his invariable phrase, the East Purblow experiment did "no mean service" to the cause of social reform. Unhappily it came to an end through a prosecution under the Truck Act, that blot upon the Statute Book, designed, it would appear, even deliberately to vitiate man's benevolent control of his fellow man. The lessons to be drawn from that experience, however, grew if anything with the years. He rarely spoke without an allusion to it, and it was quite remarkable how readily it could be adapted to illuminate a hundred different issues in the hospitable columns of the Spectator....
At seven o'clock Marjorie found herself upstairs changing into her apple-green frock. She had had a good refreshing wash in cold soft water, and it was pleasant to change into thinner silk stockings and dainty satin slippers and let down and at last brush her hair and dress loiteringly after the fatigues of her journey and the activities of her arrival. She looked out on the big church and the big trees behind it against the golden quiet of a summer evening with extreme approval.
"I suppose those birds are rooks," she said.
But Daffy had gone to see that the pseudo-twins had done themselves justice in their muslin frocks and pink sashes; they were apt to be a little sketchy with their less accessible buttons.
Marjorie became aware of two gentlemen with her mother on the lawn below.
One was her almost affianced lover, Will Magnet, the humorous writer. She had been doing her best not to think about him all day, but now he became an unavoidable central fact. She regarded him with an almost perplexed scrutiny, and wondered vividly why she had been so excited and pleased by his attentions during the previous summer.
Mr. Magnet was one of those quiet, deliberately unassuming people who do not even attempt to be beautiful. Not for him was it to pretend, but to prick the bladder of pretence. He was a fairish man of forty, pale, with a large protuberant, observant grey eye--I speak particularly of the left--and a face of quiet animation warily alert for the wit's opportunity. His nose and chin were pointed, and his lips thin and quaintly pressed together. He was dressed in grey, with a low-collared silken shirt showing a thin neck, and a flowing black tie, and he carried a grey felt hat in his joined hands behind his back. She could hear the insinuating cadences of his voice as he talked in her mother's ear. The other gentleman, silent on her mother's right, must, she knew, be Mr. Wintersloan, whom Mr. Magnet had proposed to bring over. His dress betrayed that modest gaiety of disposition becoming in an artist, and indeed he was one of Mr. Magnet's favourite illustrators. He was in a dark bluish-grey suit; a black tie that was quite unusually broad went twice around his neck before succumbing to the bow, and his waistcoat appeared to be of some gaily-patterned orange silk. Marjorie's eyes returned to Mr. Magnet. Hitherto she had never had an opportunity of remarking that his hair was more than a little attenuated towards the crown. It was funny how his tie came out under his chin to the right.
What an odd thing men's dress had become, she thought. Why did they wear those ridiculous collars and ties? Why didn't they always dress in flannels and look as fine and slender and active as the elder Carmel boy for example? Mr. Magnet couldn't be such an ill-shaped man. Why didn't every one dress to be just as beautiful and splendid as possible?--instead of wearing queer things!
"Coming down?" said Daffy, a vision of sulphur-yellow, appearing in the doorway.
"Let them go first," said Marjorie, with a finer sense of effect. "And Theodore. We don't want to make part of a comic entry with Theodore, Daffy."
Accordingly, the two sisters watched discreetly--they had to be wary on account of Mr. Magnet's increasingly frequent glances at the windows--and when at last all the rest of the family had appeared below, they decided their cue had come. Mr. Pope strolled into the group, with no trace of his recent debacle except a slight limp. He was wearing a jacket of damson-coloured velvet, which he affected in the country, and all traces of his Grand Dudgeon were gone. But then he rarely had Grand Dudgeon except in the sanctities of family life, and hardly ever when any other man was about.
"Well," his daughters heard him say, with a witty allusiveness that was difficult to follow, "so the Magnet has come to the Mountain again--eh?"
"Come on, Madge," said Daffy, and the two sisters emerged harmoniously together from the house.
It would have been manifest to a meaner capacity than any present that evening that Mr. Magnet regarded Marjorie with a distinguished significance. He had two eyes, but he had that mysterious quality so frequently associated with a bluish-grey iris which gives the effect of looking hard with one large orb, a sort of grey searchlight effect, and he used this eye ray now to convey a respectful but firm admiration in the most unequivocal manner. He saluted Daffy courteously, and then allowed himself to retain Marjorie's hand for just a second longer than was necessary as he said--very simply--"I am very pleased indeed to meet you again--very."
A slight embarrassment fell between them.
"You are staying near here, Mr. Magnet?"
"At the inn," said Mr. Magnet, and then, "I chose it because it would be near you."
His eye pressed upon her again for a moment.
"Is it comfortable?" said Marjorie.
"So charmingly simple," said Mr. Magnet. "I love it."
A tinkling bell announced the preparedness of supper, and roused the others to the consciousness that they were silently watching Mr. Magnet and Marjorie.
"It's quite a simple farmhouse supper," said Mrs. Pope.
There were ducks, green peas, and adolescent new potatoes for supper, and afterwards stewed fruit and cream and junket and cheese, bottled beer, Gilbey's Burgundy, and home-made lemonade. Mrs. Pope carved, because Mr. Pope splashed too much, and bones upset him and made him want to show up chicken in the Times. So he sat at the other end and rallied his guests while Mrs. Pope distributed the viands. He showed not a trace of his recent umbrage. Theodore sat between Daffy and his mother because of his table manners, and Marjorie was on her father's right hand and next to Mr. Wintersloan, while Mr. Magnet was in the middle of the table on the opposite side in a position convenient for looking at her. Both maids waited.
The presence of Magnet invariably stirred the latent humorist in Mr. Pope. He felt that he who talks to humorists should himself be humorous, and it was his private persuasion that with more attention he might have been, to use a favourite form of expression, "no mean jester." Quite a lot of little things of his were cherished as "Good" both by himself and, with occasional inaccuracies, by Mrs. Pope. He opened out now in a strain of rich allusiveness.
"What will you drink, Mr. Wintersloan?" he said. "Wine of the country, yclept beer, red wine from France, or my wife's potent brew from the golden lemon?"
Mr. Wintersloan thought he would take Burgundy. Mr. Magnet preferred beer.
"I've heard there's iron in the Beer, And I believe it,"
misquoted Mr. Pope, and nodded as it were to the marker to score. "Daffy and Marjorie are still in the lemonade stage. Will you take a little Burgundy to-night, Mummy?"
Mrs. Pope decided she would, and was inspired to ask Mr. Wintersloan if he had been in that part of the country before. Topography ensued. Mr. Wintersloan had a style of his own, and spoke of the Buryhamstreet district as a "pooty little country--pooty little hills, with a swirl in them."
This pleased Daffy and Marjorie, and their eyes met for a moment.
Then Mr. Magnet, with a ray full on Marjorie, said he had always been fond of Surrey. "I think if ever I made a home in the country I should like it to be here."
Mr. Wintersloan said Surrey would tire him, it was too bossy and curly, too flocculent; he would prefer to look on broader, simpler lines, with just a sudden catch in the breath in them--if you understand me?
Marjorie did, and said so.
"A sob--such as you get at the break of a pinewood on a hill."
This baffled Mr. Pope, but Marjorie took it. "Or the short dry cough of a cliff," she said.
"Exactly," said Mr. Wintersloan, and having turned a little deliberate close-lipped smile on her for a moment, resumed his wing.
"So long as a landscape doesn't sneeze" said Mr. Magnet, in that irresistible dry way of his, and Rom and Sydney, at any rate, choked.
"Now is the hour when Landscapes yawn," mused Mr. Pope, coming in all right at the end.
Then Mrs. Pope asked Mr. Wintersloan, about his route to Buryhamstreet, and then Mr. Pope asked Mr. Magnet whether he was playing at a new work or working at a new play.
Mr. Magnet said he was dreaming over a play. He wanted to bring out the more serious side of his humour, go a little deeper into things than he had hitherto done.
"Mingling smiles and tears," said Mr. Pope approvingly.
Mr. Magnet said very quietly that all true humour did that.
Then Mrs. Pope asked what the play was to be about, and Mr. Magnet, who seemed disinclined to give an answer, turned the subject by saying he had to prepare an address on humour for the next dinner of the Literati. "It's to be a humourist's dinner, and they've made me the guest of the evening--by way of a joke to begin with," he said with that dry smile again.
Mrs. Pope said he shouldn't say things like that. She then said "Syd!" quietly but sharply to Sydney, who was making a disdainful, squinting face at Theodore, and told the parlourmaid to clear the plates for sweets. Mr. Magnet professed great horror of public speaking. He said that whenever he rose to make an after-dinner speech all the ices he had ever eaten seemed to come out of the past, and sit on his backbone.
The talk centered for awhile on Mr. Magnet's address, and apropos of Tests of Humour Mr. Pope, who in his way was "no mean raconteur," related the story of the man who took the salad dressing with his hand, and when his host asked why he did that, replied: "Oh! I thought it was spinach!"
"Many people," added Mr. Pope, "wouldn't see the point of that. And if they don't see the point they can't--and the more they try the less they do."
All four girls hoped secretly and not too confidently that their laughter had not sounded hollow.
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