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Second String, by Anthony Hope,brings to mind a new tendency in British fiction which has quite been creeping in during the last years of the 19th century; namely, the tendency to concern itself more and more with the social life of middle class people rather than the upper circles. Second String deals with the extremely mixed society of a small English town, in which the hero, Andy Hayes, upon returning home after some years in the Canadian lumber district, finds it somewhat embarrassing to steer successfully between the distinctly "high-life" people on his father's side of the house and Jack Rock, the village butcher, with whom he is connected through his mother's second marriage. There is nothing of great importance in the main thread of the story; it is a tranquil chronicle of how Vivian Welgood, a frail, timid sort of girl, while engaging herself to another man, discovers that there is something in the physical presence of strong, big Andy Hayes that gives her a certain borrowed courage and self-reliance. And of courseit is no surprise to the reader when the other man finally elopes with Vivian's hired companion that she promptly and indeed gladly turns to Andy as Second String. The value of the book lies in the deft portrayal of present-day manners, and as such, slight and modest as it is, it rings true.
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Anthony Hope – His Life And Work
Chapter I. Home Again.
Chapter II. A Very Little Hunting.
Chapter III. The Potent Voice.
Chapter IV. Settled Programmes.
Chapter V. Broadening Life.
Chapter VI. The Worlds Of Meriton.
Chapter VII. Entering For The Race.
Chapter VIII. Wonderful Words.
Chapter IX. "Interjection."
Chapter X. Friends In Need.
Chapter XI. The Shawl By The Window.
Chapter XII. Concerning A Stolen Kiss.
Chapter XIII. A Lover Looks Pale.
Chapter XIV. Saving The Nation.
Chapter XV. Love And Fear.
Chapter XVI. A Choice Of Evils.
Chapter XVII. Reformation.
Chapter XVIII. Penitence And Problems.
Chapter XIX. Marked Money.
Chapter XX. No Good?
Chapter XXI. The Empty Place.
Chapter XXII. Grubbing Away.
Chapter XXIII. A Stop-Gap.
Chapter XXIV. Pretty Much The Same!
Chapter XXV. The Last Fight.
Chapter XXVI. Tales Out Of School For Once.
Chapter XXVII. Not Of His Seeking.
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
By Frederick Taber Cooper
It is a sufficiently pleasant task to undertake to write a brief appreciation of Mr. Anthony Hope. The prevailing urbanity of his manner, the sustained sparkle of his wit, the agreeable expectation that he arouses of something stimulating about to happen, largely disarm criticism. Besides, he does not seem to demand to be taken too seriously; he is not a preacher or reformer, he is not trying to revolutionize the world; he is too well pleased with men and women as they actually are, to desire to make them something different. In short, he is a suave and charming public entertainer, and like all wise entertainers he alters the character of his program in accordance with the fluctuations of public taste. And being both versatile and farsighted he is usually in the van of each new movement. The God in the Car, his story of gigantic land speculations in South Africa, with the Herculean figure whom he chooses to disguise under the name of " Juggernaut," appeared in 1894, thus antedating by five years The Colossus, by Morley Roberts. Phroso, with its romantic setting among the islands of modern Greece, anticipated by a year Mr. E. F. Benson's analogous attempts, The Vintage and The Capsina. When the revival of the English historical novel was at its height, he succeeded once more in coming in ahead of his competitors, and Simon Dale, which appeared in 1898 and is a study of Restoration manners, with Nell Gwynn for its central interest, led the way for The Orange Girl by Sir Walter Besant, issued in 1899, and F. Frankfort Moore's Nell Gwynn, Comedian, which was not published until 1900.
But although he so cleverly adapts himself to the trend of public taste, Mr. Anthony Hope is not an innovator; he adapts but does not originate. Yet it is no uncommon thing to hear him erroneously praised for having created two new and widely popular types of fiction, the Zenda type and that of The Dolly Dialogues. Now, The Prisoner of Zenda, as we remember at once when we stop to think, is not the first up-to-date sword and buckler story of an imaginary principality; it was preceded, by nearly a decade, by Stevenson's Prince Otto; and the only reason that it so often gets the credit of being the forerunner of its class is simply because it was done with a defter, lighter touch, a more spontaneous inspiration. Similarly, The Dolly Dialogues are not the first attempt to imitate in English the sparkle and the piquancy of the Gallic dialogue in the form that " Gyp " and Henri Lavedan have made familiar. Although it is quite likely that at that time Anthony Hope had never even heard of it, The Story of the Gadsbys had at least three years the start of The Dolly Dialogues, and even though it was done with a heavier hand, it succeeded in getting a greater effectiveness out of the type.
But, after all, statistics of this sort, while interesting to a person of precise and inquiring mind, have little or no bearing upon the sources of enjoyment which a surprisingly large number of people undoubtedly find in Mr. Hope's writings. And there is variety enough among them to suit all tastes. He began in a spirit of blithe and irresponsible romanticism; he has gradually come, in his later years, to look upon life in a rather matter-of-fact way and to picture, by choice, the more serious problems of life in the social world to which he belongs. Yet his novels, even the most ambitious of them, never suggest the ponderousness of a novel-with-a-purpose; he never forgets what is expected from a conscientious entertainer. And one reason why he so uniformly succeeds is that he is an exceedingly good craftsman; he has mastered the sheer mechanics of his art. It is never wise for a novelist, whatever his literary creed may be, to be wantonly scornful of technique. There are just a few erratic geniuses who, because they have in them certain big thoughts that are struggling for utterance and apparently cannot be uttered in the simple usual way, boldly break the established rules and make new ones to suit their needs. To draw an offhand parallel, they are somewhat in the position of a man who, although untrained in public speaking, is listened to indulgently because of the importance of what he has to say. But your public entertainer enjoys no such license; and the lighter and more irresponsible his theme the more perfect must be his execution. And it is because Mr. Hope possesses that magic touch of the born story teller, that such delightful triflings as The Dolly Dialogues and The Indiscretion of the Duchess seem to linger in the memory with perennial youth, while many another weightier volume has faded out with the passage of years.
Accordingly, Mr. Hope belongs to that order of novelists about whom it is not only more enjoyable but more profitable to gossip genially than to weigh strictly in the balance. It is so easy to become garrulous over volumes that have worn well and afford many a pleasant hour of relaxation. It would be purposeless to take up serially each one of his many volumes, analyze and pigeonhole it according to its relative value. The better and the franker thing to do is to admit that there are certain volumes by Mr. Hope which gave the present writer genuine pleasure, and certain others that gave him no pleasure at all, and that those falling under the first division are the only ones which it seems worth while to discuss. In his earlier period the mere mention of Anthony Hope conjured up scenes of spirited adventure, reckless daring, gallant heroes combining the good breeding, the patrician ease, the assured manner of the better class of young Englishmen possessing the double advantage of birth and education, who, nevertheless, despite their studied reserve and immaculateness of dress, are plunged by a whim of fate into adventures of extraordinary daring and sublime audacity, adventures that would have taxed the prowess of Dumas's Immortal Three. It is a clever formula, this trick of taking certain types of familiar everyday people straight out of prosaic actuality and compelling them, whether they will or no, to perform romantic deeds against a romantic background. This peculiar combination was certainly a happy thought. It appealed to that latent thirst for adventure which we almost all possess; it unconsciously flattered the reader with a new sense of daring, a feeling that he too, if thus suddenly and surprisingly transported into Zendaland, might similarly rise to the occasion and achieve great deeds. There is no purpose served by analyzing once again the story of The Prisoner of Zenda. It is one of those stories the artificiality of which stands out glaringly the moment one starts to lay its bones bare.
Any story which depends upon the chance resemblance of two human beings, a resemblance so close, so misleading, that even the wife of one of the two is at a loss to distinguish them, takes on, when stated briefly, apart from the glamour of the tale itself, an air of palpable falsity to life. And yet the fact remains that tens of thousands of readers have lost themselves, forgotten time and space, in their utter absorption in the dilemma of the Princess Flavia, who finds in Rudolph Rassendyl all the qualities which might have made it possible for her to love her husband, if only he had been as close a replica of Rassendyl morally as he was physically.
I do not mind admitting that personally I revert more frequently to The Dolly Dialogues than to any other volume by Mr. Hope. This is not merely because of the delicate touch and epigrammatic neatness for which they have been so universally praised. Superficially considered they are a series of encounters between a sparkling and fascinating little lady and a sedate and nimble-witted gentleman, whom it is insinuated that the Lady Dolly has jilted. Now, the real fascination about these brilliant exchanges of repartee lies chiefly in the subtle and yet elusive implications that we are always on the point of reading between the lines, and yet never quite get in their entirety. That Mr. Carter has long been a worshiper at the shrine of Lady Dolly, that he has many a time felt a pang of regret that his fortune in life has made him ineligible, that he considers her husband not half grateful enough to Providence and that his own assumed air of sentimental resignation has in it a little touch of genuine regret, all this we get pretty clearly. And yet, we are well aware, all the time, that Mr. Carter, in spite of an occasional twinge of envy, would not change his condition if he could; that, although he may not be precisely aware of it, he is already confirmed in his bachelor habits; that he likes his freedom from responsibility, his harmless, unprofitable daily routine, his favorite corner in his favorite club, his innocent philandering with various young women, married and unmarried. He may, at times, deceive the Lady Dolly into commiserating him and blaming herself as a thoughtless coquette, but never for very long at a time. The whole thing is a sort of grown-up game of make-believe in which the players get a curious transitory, almost illogical enjoyment in feigning broken hearts and blighted lives. And yet there is just enough truth underlying it all to suggest that Mr. Hope was capable of more serious work than he had yet done. There was, for instance, everywhere a pervading suggestion of the infinite number of contradictory motives and impulses that determine every human action, and the impossibility which every man and woman must admit to themselves of deciding just how much gladness and how much regret is entailed in every least little thing that they do.
Almost without warning Mr. Hope proved that the vague promise of more serious work was well founded, by producing what, I think, the sober judgment of posterity will recognize as his most ambitious and most enduring work, Quisante. Alexander Quisante, from whom the volume takes its name, is not an Englishman either by birth or ancestry. He comes of antecedents almost unknown beyond the fact that they are a mixture of French and Spanish. With scanty means he comes, an absolute outsider, preparing to lay siege to the political and social world of London. In every way he finds himself handicapped. The foreordained course of education through which the English ruling classes pass as a matter of course and by which their prejudices and points of view are determined, has not been his privilege. In addition to this he lacks that inborn refinement which sometimes makes up for good breeding and social experience. His taste is often exceedingly bad; his manner is alternately too subservient and too arrogant. Of the higher standards of morality he has no perception; he is the typical adventurer, unscrupulous, insincere, monumentally selfish. But, to offset all this, his intellect is quite extraordinary; his brain is an instrument marvelously under control, and he uses it at his pleasure, to bring the lesser intellects about him under his dominion. Above all, he has the gift of eloquence; and when he chooses to give full rein to his rhetorical powers, he can sway his audience at will, and thrill and sweep them with him through the whole gamut of human emotions. Of the men and women whom he meets, fully one-half are antagonized and repelled; the others give him an unquestioning, almost slavish devotion. But he has a personality which cannot leave negative results; it must breed love or hate.
The other character in the book who shares the central interest is Lady May Gaston, a woman who, by birth and training, participates in all those special privileges of rank and caste, all the traditions of her order from which Quisante is shut out. There is another man, one in her own class, who would be glad to make her his wife. He is in all respects the sort of man whom she is expected to marry; and she is not wholly indifferent to him. But she meets Quisante, and, from the first, comes under the spell of his dominant personality. There is much in him from which she shrinks. His social ineptitude, his faculty for doing the wrong thing, or the right thing at the wrong time, makes her shudder. Although fascinated, she is not blinded. She sees his vulgarities, she questions his sincerity, she even doubts whether he is deserving of her respect. Nevertheless, the spectacular, flamboyant brilliancy of the man dominates her better judgment, and in spite of her relatives' remonstrances, in spite of warnings from a member of Quisante's own family, she marries him, unable to resist the almost hypnotic spell cast over her by this man, who is something of a charlatan and something of a cad. The greater part of the book concerns itself with the story of the married life of this curiously ill-assorted couple; of his success in the public eye; of her gradual disillusionment, which, bitter though it is in its completeness, finds her somewhat apathetic, unable to feel the resentment that she knows she ought, unable to acknowledge that she regrets her choice. This, indeed, is the most interesting aspect of the book, the domination, mentally and morally, of a woman of rare sensitiveness and infinite possibilities by a man with whom companionship inevitably means deterioration.
The next of Mr. Anthony Hope's volumes, which personally appealed to the present writer, is entitled A Servant of the Public, and is enjoyable chiefly because of the tantalizing witchery of its heroine. Ora Pinsent is a young actress, who has taken London by storm. She has a husband somewhere, it is said, " whose name does not matter "; indeed, it matters so little that it does not prevent her from letting Ashley Mead make ardent love to her, one Sunday afternoon, though all the while she " preserves wonderfully the air of not being responsible for the thing, of neither accepting nor rejecting, of being quite passive, of having it just happen to her." Thus with a single pen stroke Mr. Hope has set the woman unmistakably before us. Throughout the book she practices the art of having things just happen to her, the art of dodging responsibility. With Ashley she drifts, dangerously one thinks, at first, until one sees how easily she checks his ardor when she chooses, with a nervous laugh, and a low whispered " Don't, don't make love to me any more now." She talks much solemn nonsense about her duty to the husband whose name does not matter, and about her intention to renounce Ashley, although one realizes that there is really nothing to renounce, nor ever will be. And when the time comes for her company to leave London and start on their American tour, here also she plays the passive role, neither accepting nor rejecting. It is only when the weary months of her absence are over and she comes back as the wife of her leading man, that Ashley begins to see her as she really is; only then that he feels her power over him has ceased; only then that he can say, " I no longer love her, but I wish to God I did! " It is not easy to convey an impression of a woman's charm, when it lies not in what she says, but in the way she says it; not in what she does, but in the way she does it. But this is precisely what Anthony Hope has done triumphantly in his portraiture of Ora Pinsent, Ora, with her upturned face, with its habitual expression of expecting to be kissed, is one of the heroines in contemporary fiction that will not easily be forgotten.
Helena's Path deserves something more than a passing word of commendation, for it is an excellent example of Mr. Hope's deftness in doing a very slight thing extremely well. It has an outward framework of actuality, the atmosphere of present day English country life; yet into this he has infused a certain spirit of old-time chivalry and homage that gives to his whole picture something of the grace and charm of a Watteau landscape. The whole theme of the volume, which is scarcely more than a novelette, concerns itself with a right of way. The hero's estates lie somewhere on the east coast of England; but between his land and the strip of beach where he and his fathers before him have for generations been in the habit of bathing lies the property which the heroine has recently purchased; and, unaware of any right of way, she closes up the gate through which it is his habit to pass for his daily swim. He writes courteously but firmly, insisting on his right. She answers in the same spirit, emphatically denying it. He refuses to be robbed of his legal rights, even by a pretty woman; she refuses to yield, at a command, what she would have graciously granted to a prayer. As neither side chooses to adopt legal measures, a state of mimic war ensues, in which he continues to invade the enemy's territory, while she continues to barricade and entrench. And all the while, although they have not once met face to face, each is quietly falling in love with the other, so that when finally honorable terms of peace are concluded, it is already a foregone conclusion that the whole dainty little comedy will end with oaths of fealty and bestowal of favors worthy of a knight and a lady of the olden times.
With the passage of years, however, the author of The Dotty Dialogues has tended to give us fewer and fewer of these dainty trifles and more and more of his serious and careful social studies. In this class belongs The Great Miss Driver, and there is no exaggeration in saying that since the publication of Quisante it is easily the biggest, best-rounded, and altogether worthiest book he has written. And yet, the first thing you are apt to think of is that the germ idea of the story goes straight back to The Dolly Dialogues; that in a superficial way, yes, and perhaps in a deeper way, too, there is a certain rather absurd similarity between them; just as though the author, having once made a pleasant little comedy out of a certain situation, had ever since been turning over in his mind the possibility of using it in a bigger and more serious way, until eventually he evolved the present volume. Not that Jennie Driver, heiress to Breysgate Priory, bears any close resemblance to Lady Mickleham beyond the very feminine desire for conquest, any more than the Mr. Austin of the one story is a close relative of Mr. Carter in the other. The resemblance lies in this, that both stories are told in the first person by the man who in his secret heart loves the woman of whom he writes, but knows that because he is poor, because he has the natural instinct of an old bachelor, because, also, she has given her heart elsewhere, he must remain content to look upon her joys and sorrows in the capacity of a friend, and not that of a lover. To this extent The Great Miss Driver may be defined as The Dolly Dialogues rendered in a different tempo.
Yet, such a definition gives no hint of the strength, the variety, the vital interest of this story. In the character of Jennie Driver Mr. Hope has given us a woman whose ruling passion is to hold sway, to fascinate and bend to her will every one who comes within her sphere. And because of this desire she can never bear to lose the allegiance of any man, no matter how mean and unworthy he has proved himself; and herein lies the source of her life's tragedy. She is not content to be merely the richest woman in the county, to play the part of Lady Bountiful, and build memorials and endow institutions with fabulous sums; she wants also to be a social leader with undisputed right to take precedence over all the other ladies of the community, and this she could do if she married Lord Fillingford, whom she respects, and who badly needs her fortune; but not if she should marry Leonard Octon, big, brusque, rather brutal, who is cut by the whole county, and whom she happens to love. It is a rather unique situation in fiction for a woman to be forced into publicly slighting the one man on earth that she cares for; still more unique for a woman who is pledged to marry one man to be secretly meeting the other man, and thus atoning for deliberately cutting him whenever they meet in public. And, surely, it was a rather audacious thing for Mr. Hope to attempt to make us feel that in spite of her double-dealing Jennie Driver is a rather big and fine and splendid sort of woman; that she would have kept faith with Fillingford had he been big enough to trust her when appearances were heavily against her; and that in defying convention and scandalizing the little world she lives in by fleeing with Octon to Paris, she is doing the one big, brave, inevitable act. Yet, that is precisely what the author does succeed in making us feel; and when because Fate intervenes and wrecks the last chance of Jennie's happiness through the death of Octon, we not only sympathize with her bitterness toward the narrow-minded social circle that had forced her lover into exile, but we also glory with her in the big, carefully planned and altogether adequate revenge by which she forces the county to pay tardy homage to the name of Octon.
Notwithstanding the statement made at the beginning of this chapter, to the effect that Mr. Anthony Hope does not write problem novels, the volume entitled Mrs. Maxon Protests comes critically near the border-line. Mrs. Maxon is simply one more young woman who has discovered marriage to be something vastly different from what she had imagined; and her difficulty is of the variety which she regards as almost humiliatingly commonplace namely, incompatibility. Her husband happens to be one of those narrow, self-satisfied, dictatorial men, with old-fashioned ideas about women in general and a rooted conviction that a man has a high moral responsibility for his wife's conduct and must mould her in all fashions to his own way of thinking. Mrs. Maxon bears the strain for five years; then she consults a lawyer. She learns that while she cannot get a divorce in England, she can leave her husband and he cannot force her to come back. At the time of their separation, or to be more accurate, her desertion of him for Maxon refuses to take the matter seriously there is no other man in her life; but in the weeks that follow during which she stays at the country home of some friends with lax ideas of life and a houseful of curious and often irregular people, she suddenly surprises herself by falling in love with a certain Godfrey Ledstone and promptly scandalizes society by eloping with him openly and unashamed. The rest of the book traces, with a clear-sightedness that Mr. Hope has not always shown in his books, the subsequent career of a woman who thinks that by the force of her own example she can bring the whole world over to her way of thinking. He does not spare us any of her disillusions, her humiliations, her heartache and loneliness. But through it all she is learning, strangely and cruelly learning, much that is exceedingly good for her. She is learning, for instance, that charity and sympathy and understanding are often found where least expected. She is learning, too, that there are many other standards in this world as well as her own and that they are just as reasonable and perhaps nobler. She learns that one of the best men she has ever had the good fortune to meet, loving her, pitying her, utterly disapproving of her, would nevertheless have made her his wife in spite of the scandal that had preceded and followed her divorce but for one reason: he is an army officer, and a woman with a taint upon her name would lower the social tone of his regiment and be in some degree a menace to the moral tone of the younger set. It is a temptation to analyze at some length the separate episodes of this rather unusual book throughout the years while Mrs. Maxon is slowly finding her way out of the quagmire of her own making into a belated peace and happiness. Yet, after all, what the book stands for is so admirably summed up in the concluding paragraph that one cannot do it a greater service than to close with one brief quotation. It is a satisfaction to find a book written upon this theme which, while recognizing that there is much to be said on both sides, shows neither vindictiveness toward the woman nor a misplaced championship that would exalt her into a martyr.
In the small circle of those with whom she had shared the issues of destiny she had unsettled much; of a certainty she had settled nothing. Things were just as much in solution as ever; the welter was not abated. Man being imperfect, laws must be made. Man being imperfect, laws must be broken or ever new laws will be made. Winnie Maxon had broken a law and asked a question. When thousands do the like, the Giant, after giving the first comers a box on the ear, may at last put his hand to his own and ponderously consider.
Such are the volumes chosen as a matter of personal preference, out of the generous series that Mr. Hope has so industriously turned out, during a score of years. Another reader's choice might be different, and who shall say whether it would not be as well justified? Because, the first duty of a public entertainer is to entertain; and, taking this for a criterion, the most that any one can say of his own knowledge is, such-and-such volumes have entertained me. It is obvious that Mr. Hope's own preference is for his more serious work, that with the passage of years he has grown more willing to allow the books of his romantic period to fade from sight. Yet, by doing this, he challenges a harder competition, a stricter measurement against a host of rivals. There has been no one to give us a second Prisoner of Zenda, excepting Mr. Hope himself, notwithstanding that many another writer has tried his best. But it would be easy to name a dozen contemporary novelists who could give us the annals of another Servant of the People, or chronicle some further Intrusions of Peggy, and one or two who, perhaps, could do it better. Mr. Hope is not one of the great novelists of his generation; but he is never mediocre, and even in his uninspired moments never dull. His Prisoner of Zenda and his Dolly Dialogues were both gems of the first water; his Quisante certainly suffers nothing by comparison with George Gissing's Charlatan, separated from it by barely a year. As a chronicler of English manners he is certainly of rather more importance than Mr. E. F. Benson or Mr. Maarten Maartens, although not in the same class with Galsworthy, Bennett, or W. H. Maxwell. He will be remembered, I think, somewhat as William Black and Marion Crawford are remembered, as having preserved a wholesome optimism, an unshaken belief in human nature, and as having done his part to keep the tone of the modern novel clean and wholesome.
Jack Rock stood in his shop in High Street. He was not very often to be seen there nowadays; he bred and bought, but he no longer killed, and rarely sold, in person. These latter and lesser functions he left to his deputy, Simpson, for he had gradually developed a bye-trade which took up much of his time, and was no less profitable than his ostensible business. He bought horses, "made" them into hunters, and sold them again. He was a rare judge and a fine rider, and his heart was in this line of work.
However to-day he was in his shop because the Christmas beef was on show. Here were splendid carcasses decked with blue rosettes, red rosettes, or cards of "Honourable Mention;" poor bodies sadly unconscious (as one may suppose all bodies are) of their posthumous glories. Jack Rock, a spruce spare little man with a thin red face and a get-up of the most "horsy" order, stood before them, expatiating to Simpson on their beauties. Simpson, who was as fat as his master was thin, and even redder in the face, chimed in; they were for all the world like a couple of critics hymning the praise of poets who have paid the debt of nature, but are decorated with the insignia of fame. Verily Jack Rock's shop in the days before Christmas might well seem an Abbey or a Pantheon of beasts.
"Beef for me on Christmas Day," said Jack. "None of your turkeys or geese, or such-like truck. Beef!" He pointed to a blue-rosetted carcass. "Look at him; just look at him! I've known him since he was calved. Cuts up well, doesn't he? I'll have a joint off him for my own table, Simpson."
"You couldn't do better, sir," said Simpson, just touching, careful not to bruise, the object of eulogy with his professional knife. A train of thought started suddenly in his brain. "Them vegetarians, sir!" he exclaimed. Was it wonder, or contempt, or such sheer horror as the devotee has for atheism? Or the depths of the first and the depths of the second poured into the depths of the third to make immeasurable profundity?
A loud burst of laughter came from the door of the shop. Nothing startled Jack Rock. He possessed in perfection a certain cheerful seriousness which often marks the amateurs of the horse. These men are accustomed to take chances, to encounter the unforeseen, to endure disappointment, to withstand the temptations of high success. Mens Aequa! Life, though a pleasant thing, is not a laughing matter. So Jack turned slowly and gravely round to see whence the irreverent interruption proceeded. But when he saw the intruder his face lit up, and he darted across the shop with outstretched hand. Simpson followed, hastily rubbing his right hand on the under side of his blue apron.
"Welcome, my lad, welcome home!" cried Jack, as he greeted with a hard squeeze a young man who stood in the doorway. "First-rate you look too. He's filled out, eh, Simpson?" He tapped the young man's chest appreciatively, and surveyed his broad and massive shoulders with almost professional admiration. "Canada's agreed with you, Andy. Have you just got here?"
"No; I got here two hours ago. You were out, so I left my bag and went for a walk round the old place. It seems funny to be in Meriton again."
"Come into the office. We must drink your health. You too, Simpson. Come along."
He led the way to a back room, where, amid more severe furniture and appliances, there stood a cask of beer. From this he filled three pint mugs, and Andy Hayes' health and safe return were duly honoured. Andy winked his eye.
"Them teetotallers!" he ejaculated, with a very fair imitation of Simpson, who acknowledged the effort with an answering wink as he drained his mug and then left the other two to themselves.
"Yes, I've been poking about everywhere—first up to have a look at the old house. Not much changed there—well, except that everything's changed by the dear old governor's not being there any more."
"Ah, it was a black Christmas that year—four years ago now. First, the old gentleman; then poor Nancy, a month later. She caught the fever nursin' him; she would do it, and I couldn't stop her. Did you go to the churchyard, Andy?"
"Yes, I went there." After a moment's grave pause his face brightened again. "And I went to the old school. Nobody there—it's holidays, of course—but how everything came back to me! There was my old seat, between Chinks and the Bird—you know? Wat Money, I mean, and young Tom Dove."
"Oh, they're both in the place still. Tom Dove's helpin' his father at the Lion, and Wat Money's articled to old Mr. Foulkes the lawyer."
"I sat down at my old desk, and, by Jove, I absolutely seemed to hear the old governor talking—talking about the Pentathlon. You've heard him talk about the Pentathlon? He was awfully keen on the Pentathlon; wanted to have it at the sports. I believe he thought I should win it."
"I don't exactly remember what it was, but you'd have had a good go for it, Andy."
"Leaping, running, wrestling, throwing the discus, hurling the spear—I think that's right. He was talking about it the very last day I sat at that desk—eight years ago! Yes, it's eight years since I went out to the war, and nearly five since I went to Canada. And I've never been back! Well, except for not seeing him and Nancy again, I'm glad of it. I've done better out there. There wasn't any opening here. I wasn't clever, and if I had been, there was no money to send me to Oxford, though the governor was always dreaming of that."
"Naturally, seein' he was B.A. Oxon, and a gentleman himself," said Jack.
He spoke in a tone of awe and admiration. Andy looked at him with a smile. Among the townsfolk of Meriton Andy's father had always been looked up to by reason of the letters after his name on the prospectus of the old grammar school, of which he had been for thirty years the hard-worked and very ill-paid headmaster. In Meriton eyes the letters carried an academical distinction great if obscure, a social distinction equally great and far more definite. They ranked Mr. Hayes with the gentry, and their existence had made his second marriage—with Jack Rock the butcher's sister—a mésalliance of a pronounced order. Jack himself was quite of this mind. He had always treated his brother-in-law with profound respect; even his great affection for his sister had never quite persuaded him that she had not been guilty of gross presumption in winning Mr. Hayes' heart. He could not, even as the second Mrs. Hayes' brother, forget the first—Andy's mother; for she, though the gentlest of women, had always called Jack "Butcher." True, that was in days before Jack had won his sporting celebrity and set up his private gig; but none the less it would have seemed impossible to conceive of a family alliance—even a posthumous one—with a lady whose recognition of him was so exclusively commercial.
"Well, I'm not a B.A.—Oxon. or otherwise," laughed Andy. "I don't know whether I'm a gentleman. If I am, so are you. Meriton Grammar School is responsible for us both. And if you're in trade, so am I. What's the difference between timber and meat?"
"I expect there's a difference between Meriton and Canada, though," Jack Rock opined shrewdly. "Are you goin' to stay at home, or goin' back?"
"I shall stay here if I can develop the thing enough to make it pay to have a man on this side. If not, pack up! But I shall be here for the next six months anyway, I expect."
"What's it worth to you?" asked Jack.
"Oh, nothing much just now. Two hundred a year guaranteed, and a commission—if it's earned. But it looks like improving. Only the orders must come in before the commission does! However it's not so bad; I'm lucky to have found a berth at all."
"Yes, lucky thing you got pals with that Canadian fellow down in South Africa."
"A real stroke of luck. It was a bit hard to make up my mind not to come home with the boys, but I'm sure I did the right thing. Only I'm sorry about the old governor and Nancy."
"The old gentleman himself told me he thought you'd done right."
"It was an opening; and it had to be taken or left, then and there. So here I am, and I'm going to start an office in London."
Jack Rock nodded thoughtfully; he seemed to be revolving something in his mind. Andy's eyes rested affectionately on him. The two had been great friends all through Andy's boyhood. Jack had been "Jack" to him long before he became a family connection, and "Jack" he had continued to be. As for the mésalliance—well, looking back, Andy could not with candour deny that it had been a surprise, perhaps even a shock. It had to some degree robbed him of the exceptional position he held in the grammar school, where, among the sons of tradesmen, he alone, or almost alone, enjoyed a vague yet real social prestige. The son shared the father's fall. The feeling of caste is very persistent, even though it may be shamed into silence by modern doctrines, or by an environment in which it is an alien plant. But he had got over his boyish feeling now, and was delighted to come back to Meriton as Jack Rock's visitor, and to stay with him at the comfortable little red-brick house adjoining the shop in High Street. In fact he flattered himself that his service in the ranks and his Canadian experiences had taken the last of "that sort of nonsense" out of him. It was, perhaps, a little too soon to pronounce so confident a judgment.
Andy was smitten with a sudden compunction. "Why, I've never asked after Harry Belfield!" he cried.
He was astonished at his own disloyalty. Harry Belfield had been the hero of his youth, his ideal, his touchstone of excellence in all things, the standard by which he humbly measured his own sore deficiencies, and contemptuously assessed the demerits of his schoolfellows. Of these Harry had not been one. No grammar school for him! He was the son of Mr. Belfield of Halton Park—Harrow and Oxford were the programme for him. The same favourable conditions gave him the opportunity—which, of course, he took—of excelling in all the accomplishments that Andy lacked and envied—riding, shooting, games of skill that cost money. The difference of position set a gulf between the two boys. Meetings had been rare events—to Andy always notable events, occasions of pleasure and of excitement, landmarks in memory. The acquaintance between the houses had been of the slightest. In Andy's earliest days Mr. and the first Mrs. Hayes had dined once a year with Mr. and Mrs. Belfield; they were not expected to return the hospitality. After Andy's mother died and Nancy came on the scene, the annual dinner had gone on, but it had become a men's dinner; and Mrs. Belfield, though she bowed in the street, had not called on the second Mrs. Hayes—Nancy Rock that had been. It was not to be expected. Yet Mr. Belfield had recognized an equal in Andy's father; he also, perhaps, yielded some homage to the B.A. Oxon. And Harry, though he undoubtedly drew a line between himself and Andy, drew another between Andy and Andy's schoolfellows, Chinks, the Bird, and the rest. He was rewarded—and to his worship-loving nature it was a reward—by an adoration due as much, perhaps, to the first line as to the second. The more definite a line, the more graciousness lies in stepping over it.
These boyish devotions are common, and commonly are short-lived. But Andy's habit of mind was stable and his affections tenacious. He still felt that a meeting with Harry Belfield would be an event.
"He's all right," Jack Rock answered, his tone hardly responding to Andy's eagerness. "He's a barrister now, you know; but I don't fancy he does much at it. Better at spendin' money than makin' it! If you want to see him, you can do it to-night."
"Can I? How?"
"There's talk of him bein' candidate for the Division next election, and he's goin' to speak at a meeting in the Town Hall to-night, him and a chap in Parliament."
"Good! Which side is he?"
"You've been a good while away to ask that!"
"I suppose I have. I say, Jack, let's go."
"You can go; I shan't," said Jack Rock. "You'll get back in time for supper—and need it too, I should say. I never listen to speeches except when they put me on a jury at assizes. Then I do like to hear a chap fight for his man. That's racin', that is; and I like specially, Andy, to see him bring it off when the odds are against him. But this politics—in my opinion, if you put their names in a hat and drew 'em blindfolded, you'd get just as good a Gover'ment as you do now, or just as bad."
"Oh, I'm not going for the politics. I'm going to hear Harry Belfield."
"The only question as particularly interests me," said Jack, with one of his occasional lapses into doubtful grammar, "is the matter of chilled meat. But which of 'em does anything for me there? One says 'Free Trade—let it all come!' The other says, 'No chilled meat, certainly not, unless it comes from British possessions'—which is where it does come from mostly. And it's ruin to the meat, Andy, in my opinion. I hate to see it. Not that I lose much by it, havin' a high-class connection. Would you like to have another look in the shop?"
"Suppose we say to-morrow morning?" laughed Andy.
Jack shook his head; he seemed disappointed at this lack of enthusiasm. "I've got some beauties this Christmas," he said. "All the same I shan't be lookin' at 'em much to-morrow mornin'! I've got a young horse, and I want just to show him what a foxhound's like. The meet's at Fyfold to-morrow, Andy. I wish I could mount you. I expect you ride fourteen, eh?"
"Hard on it, I fancy—and I'm a fool on a horse anyhow. But I shall go—on shanks' mare."
"Will you now? Well, if you're as good on your legs as you used to be, it's odds you'll see a bit of the run. I recollect you in the old days, Andy; you were hard to shake off unless the goin' was uncommon good. Knew the country, you did, and where the fox was likely to make for. And I don't think you'll get the scent too good for you to-morrow. Come along and have tea. Oh, but you're a late-dinner man, eh?"
"Dinner when, where, and how it comes! Tea sounds capital—with supper after my meeting. I say, Jack, it's good to see you again!"
"Wish you'd stay here, lad. I'm much alone these days—with the old gentleman gone, and poor Nancy gone!"
"Perhaps I shall. Anyhow I might stay here for the summer, and go up to town to the office."
"Aye, you might do that, anyhow." Again Jack Rock seemed meditative, as though he had an idea and were half-minded to disclose it. But he was a man of caution; he bided his time.
Andy—nobody had ever called him Andrew since the parson who christened him—seemed to himself to have got home again, very thoroughly home again. Montreal with its swelling hill, its mighty river, its winter snow, its Frenchness, its opposing self-defensive, therefore self-assertive, Britishness, was very remote. A talk with Jack Rock, a Conservative meeting with a squire in the chair (that was safely to be assumed), a meet of the hounds next morning—these and a tide of intimate personal memories stamped him as at home again. The long years in the little house at the extreme end of Highcroft—Highcroft led out of High Street, tending to the west, Fyfold way—in the old grammar school, in the peace of the sleepy town—had been a poignant memory in South Africa, a fading dream in the city by the great river. They sprang again into actuality. If he felt a certain contraction in his horizon he felt also a peace in his mind. Meriton might or might not admire "hustlers;" it did not hustle itself. It was a parasitic little town; it had no manufactures, no special industry. It lived on the country surrounding it—on the peasants, the farmers, the landowners. So it did not grow; neither did it die. It remained much as it had been for hundreds of years, save that it was seriously considering the introduction of electric light.
The meeting was rather of an impromptu order; Christmas holidays are generally held sacred from such functions. But Mr. Foot, M.P., a rising young member and a friend of Harry Belfield's, happened to be staying at Halton Park for shooting. Why waste him? He liked to speak, and he spoke very well. The more Harry showed himself and got himself heard, the better. The young men would enjoy it. A real good dinner beforehand would send them down in rare spirits. A bit of supper, with a whisky-and-soda or two, and recollections of their own "scores," would end the evening pleasantly. Meriton would not be excited—it was not election time—but it would be amused, benevolent, and present in sufficiently large numbers to make the thing go with éclat.
There was, indeed, one topic which, from a platform at all events, one could describe as "burning." A Bill dealing with the sale of intoxicating liquor had, the session before, been introduced as the minimum a self-respecting nation could do, abused as the maximum fanatics could clamour for, carried through a second reading considerably amended, and squeezed out by other matters. It was to be re-introduced. The nation was recommended to consider the question in the interval. Now the nation, though professing its entire desire to be sober—it could not well do anything else—was not sure that it desired to be made sober, was not quite clear as to the precise point at which it could or could not be held to be sober, and felt that the argument that it would, by the gradual progress of general culture, become sober in the next generation or so—without feeling the change, so to say, and with no violent break in the habits of this generation (certainly everybody must wish the next generation to be sober)—that this argument, which men of indisputable wisdom adduced, had great attractions. Also the nation was much afraid of the teetotallers, especially of the subtle ones who said that true freedom lay in freedom from temptation. The nation thought that sort of freedom not much worth having, whether in the matter of drink or of any other pleasure. So there were materials for a lively and congenial discussion, and Mr. Foot, M.P., was already in the thick of it when Andy Hayes, rather late by reason of having been lured into the stables to see the hunters after tea, reached the Town Hall and sidled his way to a place against the wall in good view of the platform and of the front benches where the big-wigs sat. The Town Hall was quite two-thirds full—very good indeed for the Christmas season!
Andy Hayes was not much of a politician. Up to now he had been content with the politics of his métier, the politics of a man trying to build up a business. But it was impossible not to enjoy Mr. Foot. He riddled the enemy with epigram till he fell to the earth, then he jumped on to his prostrate form and chopped it to pieces with logic. He set his audience wondering—this always happens at political meetings, whichever party may be in power—by what odd freak of fate, by what inexplicable blunder, the twenty men chosen to rule the country should be not only the twenty most unprincipled but also the twenty stupidest in it. Mr. Foot demonstrated the indisputable truth of this strange fact so cogently before he had been on his legs twenty minutes that gradually Andy felt absolved from listening any longer to so plain a matter; his attention began to wander to the company. It was a well-to-do audience—there were not many poor in Meriton. A few old folk might have to go to "the house," but there were no distress or "unemployment" troubles. The tradesfolk, their families, and employees formed the bulk. They were presided over by Mr. Wellgood of Nutley, who might be considered to hold the place of second local magnate, after Mr. Belfield of Halton. He was a spare, strongly built man of two or three and forty; his hair was clipped very close to his head; he wore a bristly moustache just touched with gray, but it too was kept so short that the lines of his mouth, with its firm broad lips, were plain to see; his eyes were light-blue, hard, and wary; they seemed to keep a constant watch over the meeting, and once, when a scuffle arose among some children at the back of the hall, they gave out a fierce and formidable glance of rebuke. He had the reputation of being a strict master and a stern magistrate; but he was a good sportsman, and Jack Rock's nearest rival after the hounds.
Beside him, waiting his turn to speak and seeming rather nervous—he was not such an old hand at the game as Mr. Foot—sat Andy's hero, Harry Belfield. He was the pet of the town for his gay manner, good looks, and cheery accessibility to every man—and even more to every woman. His youthful record was eminently promising, his career the subject of high hopes to his family and his fellow-citizens. Tall and slight, wearing his clothes with an elegance free from affectation, he suggested "class" and "blood" in every inch of him. He was rather pale, with thick, soft, dark hair; his blue eyes were vivacious and full of humour, his mouth a little small, but delicate and sensitive, the fingers of his hands long and tapering. "A thoroughbred" was the only possible verdict—evidently also a man full of sensibility, awake to the charms of life as well as to its labours; that was in keeping with all Andy's memories.
The moment he rose it was obvious with what favour he was regarded; the audience was predisposed towards all he said. He was not so epigrammatic nor so cruelly logical as Mr. Foot; he was easier, more colloquial, more confidential; he had some chaff for his hearers as well as denunciation for his enemies; his speech was seasoned now by a local allusion, now by a sporting simile. A veteran might have found its strongest point of promise in its power of adaptation to the listeners, its gift of creating sympathy between them and the speaker by the grace of a very attractive personality. It was a success, perhaps, more of charm than of strength; but it may be doubted whether in the end the one does not carry as far as the other.
On good terms as he was with them all, it soon became evident to so interested an onlooker as Andy Hayes that he was on specially good terms, or at any rate anxious to be, in one particular quarter. After he had made a point and was waiting for the applause to die down, not once but three or four times he smiled directly towards the front row, and towards that part of it where two young women sat side by side. They were among his most enthusiastic auditors, and Andy presently found himself, by a natural leaning towards any one who admired Harry Belfield, according to them a share of the attention which had hitherto been given exclusively to the hero himself.
The pair made a strong contrast. There was a difference of six or seven years only in their ages, but while the one seemed scarcely more than a child, it was hard to think of the other as even a girl—there was about her such an air of self-possession, of conscious strength, of a maturity of faculties. Even in applauding she seemed also to judge and assess. Her favour was discriminating; she let the more easy hits go by with a slight, rather tolerant smile, while her neighbour greeted them with outright merry laughter. She was not much beyond medium height, but of full build, laid on ample lines; her features were rather large, and her face wore, in repose, a thoughtful tranquillity. The other, small, frail, and delicate, with large eyes that seemed to wonder even as she laughed, would turn to her friend with each laugh and appear to ask her sympathy—or even her permission to be pleased.
Andy's scrutiny—somewhat prolonged since it yielded him all the above particulars—was ended by his becoming aware that he in his turn was the object of an attention not less thoroughgoing. Turning back to the platform, he found the chairman's hard and alert eyes fixed on him in a gaze that plainly asked who he was and why he was so much interested in the two girls. Andy blushed in confusion at being caught, but Mr. Wellgood made no haste to relieve him from his rebuking glance. He held him under it for full half a minute, turning away, indeed, only when Harry sat down among the cheers of the meeting. What business was it of Wellgood's if Andy did forget his manners and stare too hard at the girls? The next moment Andy laughed at himself for the question. In a sudden flash he remembered the younger girl. She was Wellgood's daughter Vivien. He recalled her now as a little child; he remembered the wondering eyes and the timidly mirthful curl of her lips. Was it really as long ago as that since he had been in Meriton? However childlike she might look, now she was grown-up!
His thoughts, which carried him through the few sentences with which the chairman dismissed the meeting, were scattered by the sudden grasp of Harry Belfield's hand. The moment he saw Andy he ran down from the platform to him. His greeting was all his worshipper could ask.
"Well now, I am glad to see you back!" he cried. "Oh, we all heard how well you'd done out at the front, and we thought it too bad of you not to come back and be lionized. But here you are at last, and it's all right. I must take Billy Foot home now—he's got to go to town at heaven knows what hour in the morning—but we must have a good jaw soon. Are you at the Lion?"
"No," said Andy, "I'm staying a day or two with Jack Rock."
"With Jack Rock?" Harry's voice sounded surprised. "Oh yes, of course, I remember! He's a capital chap, old Jack! But if you're going to stay—and I hope you are, old fellow—you'll want some sort of a place of your own, won't you? Well, good-night. I'll hunt you up some time in the next day or two, for certain. Did you like my speech?"
"Yes, and I expected you to make a good one."
"You shall hear me make better ones than that. Well, I really must—All right, Billy, I'm coming." With another clasp of the hand he rushed after Mr. Foot, who was undisguisedly in a hurry, shouting as he went, "Good-night, Wellgood! Good-night, Vivien! Good-night, Miss Vintry!"
Miss Vintry—that was the other girl, the one with Vivien Wellgood. Andy was glad to know her name and docket her by it in her place among the impressions of the evening.
So home to a splendid round of cold beef and another pint of that excellent beer at Jack Rock's. What days life sometimes gives—or used to!
If more were needed to make a man feel at home—more than old Meriton itself, Jack Rock with his beef, and the clasp of Harry Belfield's hand—the meet of the hounds supplied it. There were hunts in other lands; Andy could not persuade himself that there were meets like this, so entirely English it seemed in the manner of it. Everybody was there, high and low, rich and poor, young and old. An incredible coincidence of unplausible accidents had caused an extraordinary number of people to have occasion to pass by Fyfold Green that morning at that hour, let alone all the folk who chanced to have a "morning off" and proposed to see some of the run, on horseback or on foot. The tradesmen's carts were there in a cluster, among them two of Jack Rock's: his boys knew that a blind eye would be turned to half an hour's lateness in the delivery of the customers' joints. For centre of the scene were the waving tails, the glossy impatient horses, the red coats, the Master himself, Lord Meriton, in his glory and, it may be added, in the peremptory mood which is traditionally associated with his office.
Andy Hayes moved about, meeting many old friends—more, indeed, than he recognized, till a reminiscence of old days established for them again a place in his memory. He saw Tom Dove—the Bird—mounted on a showy screw. Wat Money—Chinks—was one of those who "happened to be passing" on his way to a client's who lived in the opposite direction. He gave Andy a friendly greeting, and told him that if he thought of taking a house in Meriton, he should be careful about his lease: Foulkes, Foulkes, and Askew would look after it. Jack Rock was there, of course, keeping himself to himself, on the outskirts of the throng: the young horse was nervous. Harry Belfield, in perfect array, talked to Vivien Wellgood, her father on a raking hunter close beside them. A great swell of home-feeling assailed Andy; suddenly he had a passionate hope that the timber business would develop; he did not want to go back to Canada.
It was a good hunting morning, cloudy and cool, with the wind veering to the north-east and dropping as it veered. No frost yet, but the weather-wise predicted one before long. The scent should be good—a bit too good, Andy reflected, for riders on shanks' mare. Their turn is best served by a scent somewhat variable and elusive. A check here and there, a fresh cast, the hounds feeling for the scent—these things, added to a cunning use of short cuts and a knowledge of the country shared by the fox, aid them to keep on terms and see something of the run—just as they aid the heavy old gentlemen on big horses and the small boys on fat ponies to get their humble share of the sport.
But in truth Andy cared little so that he could run—run hard, fast, and long. His powerful body craved work, work, and work yet more abundantly. His way of indulging it was to call on it for all its energies; he exulted in feeling its brave response. Fatigue he never knew—at least not till he had changed and bathed; and then it was not real fatigue: it was no more than satiety. Now when they had found—and they had the luck to find directly—he revelled in the heavy going of a big ploughed field. He was at the game he loved.
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