“Quem, whom; fugis, are you avoiding; ab demens, you silly ass; habitarunt di quoque, gods too have lived in; silvas, the woods.’ Go ahead!”
I always brighten the classics—it is part of my system—and therefore I translated demens by “silly ass.” But Miss Beaumont need not have made a note of the translation, and Ford, who knows better, need not have echoed after me. “Whom are you avoiding, you silly ass, gods too have lived in the woods.”
“Ye—es,” I replied, with scholarly hesitation. “Ye—es. Silvas—woods, wooded spaces, the country generally. Yes. Demens, of course, is de—mens. ‘Ah, witless fellow! Gods, I say, even gods have dwelt in the woods ere now.'”
“But I thought gods always lived in the sky,” said Mrs. Worters, interrupting our lesson for I think the third-and-twentieth time.
“Not always,” answered Miss Beaumont. As she spoke she inserted “witless fellow” as an alternative to “silly ass.”
“I always thought they lived in the sky.”
“Oh, no, Mrs. Worters,” the girl repeated. “Not always.” And finding her place in the note-book she read as follows: “Gods. Where. Chief deities—Mount Olympus. Pan—most places, as name implies. Oreads—mountains. Sirens, Tritons, Nereids—water (salt). Naiads —water (fresh). Satyrs, Fauns, etc.—woods. Dryads—trees.”
“Well, dear, you have learnt a lot. And will you now tell me what good it has done you?”
“It has helped me—” faltered Miss Beaumont. She was very earnest over her classics. She wished she could have said what good they had done her.
Ford came to her rescue, “Of course it’s helped you. The classics are full of tips. They teach you how to dodge things.”
I begged my young friend not to dodge his Virgil lesson.
“But they do!” he cried. “Suppose that long-haired brute Apollo wants to give you a music lesson. Well, out you pop into the laurels. Or Universal Nature comes along. You aren’t feeling particularly keen on Universal Nature so you turn into a reed.”
“Is Jack mad?” asked Mrs. Worters.
But Miss Beaumont had caught the allusions—which were quite ingenious I must admit. “And Croesus?” she inquired. “What was it one turned into to get away from Croesus?”
I hastened to tidy up her mythology. “Midas, Miss Beaumont, not Croesus. And he turns you—you don’t turn yourself: he turns you into gold.”
“There’s no dodging Midas,” said Ford.
“Surely—” said Miss Beaumont. She had been learning Latin not quite a fortnight, but she would have corrected the Regius Professor.
He began to tease her. “Oh, there’s no dodging Midas! He just comes, he touches you, and you pay him several thousand per cent, at once. You’re gold—a young golden lady—if he touches you.”
“I won’t be touched!” she cried, relapsing into her habitual frivolity.
“Oh, but he’ll touch you.”
Miss Beaumont took up her Virgil and smacked Ford over the head with it.
“Evelyn! Evelyn!” said Mrs. Worters. “Now you are forgetting yourself. And you also forget my question. What good has Latin done you?”
“Mr. Ford—what good has Latin done you?”
“Mr. Inskip—what good has Latin done us?”
So I was let in for the classical controversy. The arguments for the study of Latin are perfectly sound, but they are difficult to remember, and the afternoon sun was hot, and I needed my tea. But I had to justify my existence as a coach, so I took off my eye-glasses and breathed on them and said, “My dear Ford, what a question!”
“It’s all right for Jack,” said Mrs. Worters. “Jack has to pass his entrance examination. But what’s the good of it for Evelyn? None at all.”
“No, Mrs. Worters,” I persisted, pointing my eye-glasses at her. “I cannot agree. Miss Beaumont is—in a sense—new to our civilization. She is entering it, and Latin is one of the subjects in her entrance examination also. No one can grasp modern life without some knowledge of its origins.”
“But why should she grasp modern life?” said the tiresome woman.
“Well, there you are!” I retorted, and shut up my eye-glasses with a snap.
“Mr. Inskip, I am not there. Kindly tell me what’s the good of it all. Oh, I’ve been through it myself: Jupiter, Venus, Juno, I know the lot of them. And many of the stories not at all proper.”
“Classical education,” I said drily, “is not entirely confined to classical mythology. Though even the mythology has its value. Dreams if you like, but there is value in dreams.”
“I too have dreams,” said Mrs. Worters, “but I am not so foolish as to mention them afterwards.”
Mercifully we were interrupted. A rich virile voice close behind us said, “Cherish your dreams!” We had been joined by our host, Harcourt Worters—Mrs. Worters’ son, Miss Beaumont’s fiance. Ford’s guardian, my employer: I must speak of him as Mr. Worters.
“Let us cherish our dreams!” he repeated. “All day I’ve been fighting, haggling, bargaining. And to come out on to this lawn and see you all learning Latin, so happy, so passionless, so Arcadian——”
He did not finish the sentence, but sank into the chair next to Miss Beaumont, and possessed himself of her hand. As he did so she sang: “Ah yoù sílly àss góds lìve in woóds!”
“What have we here?” said Mr. Worters with a slight frown.
With the other hand she pointed to me.
“Virgil—” I stammered. “Colloquial translation——”
“Oh, I see; a colloquial translation of poetry.” Then his smile returned. “Perhaps if gods live in woods, that is why woods are so dear. I have just bought Other Kingdom Copse!”
Loud exclamations of joy. Indeed, the beeches in that copse are as fine as any in Hertfordshire. Moreover, it, and the meadow by which it is approached, have always made an ugly notch in the rounded contours of the Worters estate. So we were all very glad that Mr. Worters had purchased Other Kingdom. Only Ford kept silent, stroking his head where the Virgil had hit it, and smiling a little to himself as he did so.
“Judging from the price I paid, I should say there was a god in every tree. But price, this time was no object.” He glanced at Miss Beaumont.
“You admire beeches, Evelyn, do you not?”
“I forget always which they are. Like this?”
She flung her arms up above her head, close together, so that she looked like a slender column. Then her body swayed and her delicate green dress quivered over it with the suggestion of countless leaves.
“My dear child!” exclaimed her lover.
“No: that is a silver birch,” said Ford,
“Oh, of course. Like this, then.” And she twitched up her skirts so that for a moment they spread out in great horizontal layers, like the layers of a beech.
We glanced at the house, but none of the servants were looking. So we laughed, and said she ought to go on the variety stage.
“Ah, this is the kind I like!” she cried, and practised the beech-tree again.
“I thought so,” said Mr. Worters. “I thought so. Other Kingdom Copse is yours.”
“Mine——?” She had never had such a present in her life. She could not realize it.
“The purchase will be drawn up in your name. You will sign the deed. Receive the wood, with my love. It is a second engagement ring.”
“But is it—is it mine? Can I—do what I like there?”
“You can,” said Mr. Worters, smiling.
She rushed at him and kissed him. She kissed Mrs. Worters. She would have kissed myself and Ford if we had not extruded elbows. The joy of possession had turned her head.
“It’s mine! I can walk there, work there, live there. A wood of my own! Mine for ever.”
“Yours, at all events, for ninety-nine years.”
“Ninety-nine years?” I regret to say there was a tinge of disappointment in her voice.
“My dear child! Do you expect to live longer?”
“I suppose I can’t,” she replied, and flushed a little. “I don’t know.”
“Ninety-nine seems long enough to most people. I have got this house, and the very lawn you are standing on, on a lease of ninety-nine years. Yet I call them my own, and I think I am justified. Am I not?”
“Ninety-nine years is practically for ever. Isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes. It must be.”
Ford possesses a most inflammatory note-book. Outside it is labelled “Private,” inside it is headed “Practically a book.” I saw him make an entry in it now, “Eternity: practically ninety-nine years.”
Mr. Worters, as if speaking to himself, now observed: “My goodness! My goodness! How land has risen! Perfectly astounding.”
I saw that he was in need of a Boswell, so I said: “Has it, indeed?”
“My dear Inskip. Guess what I could have got that wood for ten years ago! But I refused. Guess why.”
We could not guess why.
“Because the transaction would not have been straight.” A most becoming blush spread over his face as he uttered the noble word. “Not straight. Straight legally. But not morally straight. We were to force the hands of the man who owned it. I refused. The others—decent fellows in their way—told me I was squeamish. I said, ‘Yes. Perhaps I am. My name is plain Harcourt Worters—not a well-known name if you go outside the City and my own country, but a name which, where it is known, carries, I flatter myself, some weight. And I will not sign my name to this. That is all. Call me squeamish if you like. But I will not sign. It is just a fad of mine. Let us call it a fad.'” He blushed again. Ford believes that his guardian blushes all over—if you could strip him and make him talk nobly he would look like a boiled lobster. There is a picture of him in this condition in the note-book.
“So the man who owned it then didn’t own it now?” said Miss Beaumont, who had followed the narrative with some interest.
“Oh, no!” said Mr. Worters.
“Why no!” said Mrs. Worters absently, as she hunted in the grass for her knitting-needle. “Of course not. It belongs to the widow.”
“Tea!” cried her son, springing vivaciously to his feet. “I see tea and I want it. Come, mother. Come along, Evelyn. I can tell you it’s no joke, a hard day in the battle of life. For life is practically a battle. To all intents and purposes a battle. Except for a few lucky fellows who can read books, and so avoid the realities. But I——”
His voice died away as he escorted the two ladies over the smooth lawn and up the stone steps to the terrace, on which the footman was placing tables and little chairs and a silver kettle-stand. More ladies came out of the house. We could just hear their shouts of excitement as they also were told of the purchase of Other Kingdom.
I like Ford. The boy has the makings of a scholar and—though for some reason he objects to the word—of a gentleman. It amused me now to see his lip curl with the vague cynicism of youth. He cannot understand the footman and the solid silver kettle-stand. They make him cross. For he has dreams—not exactly spiritual dreams: Mr. Worters is the man for those—but dreams of the tangible and the actual robust dreams, which take him, not to heaven, but to another earth. There are no footmen in this other earth, and the kettle-stands, I suppose, will not be made of silver, and I know that everything is to be itself, and not practically something else. But what this means, and, if it means anything, what the good of it is, I am not prepared to say. For though I have just said “there is value in dreams,” I only said it to silence old Mrs. Worters.
“Go ahead, man! We can’t have tea till we’ve got through something.”
He turned his chair away from the terrace, so that he could sit looking at the meadows and at the stream that runs through the meadows, and at the beech-trees of Other Kingdom that rise beyond the stream. Then, most gravely and admirably, he began to construe the Eclogues of Virgil.
Other Kingdom Copse is just like any other beech copse, and I am therefore spared the fatigue of describing it. And the stream in front of it, like many other streams, is not crossed by a bridge in the right place, and you must either walk round a mile or else you must paddle. Miss Beaumont suggested that we should paddle.
Mr. Worters accepted the suggestion tumultuously. It only became evident gradually that he was not going to adopt it.
“What fun! what fun! We will paddle to your kingdom. If only—if only it wasn’t for the tea-things.”
“But you can carry the tea-things on your back.”
“Why, yes! so I can. Or the servants could,”
“Harcourt—no servants. This is my picnic, and my wood. I’m going to settle everything. I didn’t tell you: I’ve got all the food. I’ve been in the village with Mr. Ford.”
“In the village——?”
“Yes, We got biscuits and oranges and half a pound of tea. That’s all you’ll have. He carried them up. And he’ll carry them over the stream. I want you just to lend me some tea-things—not the best ones. I’ll take care of them. That’s all.”
“Evelyn,” said Mrs. Worters, “how much did you and Jack pay for that tea?”
“For the half-pound, tenpence.”
Mrs. Worters received the announcement in gloomy silence.
“Mother!” cried Mr. Worters. “Why, I forgot! How could we go paddling with mother?”
“Oh, but, Mrs. Worters, we could carry you over.”
“Thank you, dearest child. I am sure you could.”
“Alas! alas! Evelyn. Mother is laughing at us. She would sooner die than be carried. And alas! there are my sisters, and Mrs. Osgood: she has a cold, tiresome woman. No: we shall have to go round by the bridge.”
“But some of us——” began Ford. His guardian cut him short with a quick look.
So we went round—a procession of eight. Miss Beaumont led us. She was full of fun—at least so I thought at the time, but when I reviewed her speeches afterwards I could not find in them anything amusing. It was all this kind of thing: “Single file! Pretend you’re in church and don’t talk. Mr. Ford, turn out your toes. Harcourt—at the bridge throw to the Naiad a pinch of tea. She has a headache. She has had a headache for nineteen hundred years.” All that she said was quite stupid. I cannot think why I liked it at the time.
As we approached the copse she said, “Mr. Inskip, sing, and we’ll sing after you: Ah yoù silly àss góds lìve in woóds.” I cleared my throat and gave out the abominable phrase, and we all chanted it as if it were a litany. There was something attractive about Miss Beaumont. I was not surprised that Harcourt had picked her out of “Ireland” and had brought her home, without money, without connections, almost without antecedents, to be his bride. It was daring of him, but he knew himself to be a daring fellow. She brought him nothing; but that he could afford, he had so vast a surplus of spiritual and commercial goods. “In time,” I heard him tell his mother, “in time Evelyn will repay me a thousandfold.” Meanwhile there was something attractive about her. If it were my place to like people, I could have liked her very much.
“Stop singing!” she cried. We had entered the wood. “Welcome, all of you.” We bowed. Ford, who had not been laughing, bowed down to the ground. “And now be seated. Mrs. Worters—will you sit there—against that tree with a green trunk? It will show up your beautiful dress.”
“Very well, dear, I will,” said Mrs. Worters.
“Anna—there. Mr. Inskip next to her. Then Ruth and Mrs. Osgood. Oh, Harcourt—do sit a little forward, so that you’ll hide the house. I don’t want to see the house at all.”
“I won’t!” laughed her lover, “I want my back against a tree, too.”
“Miss Beaumont,” asked Ford, “where shall I sit?” He was standing at attention, like a soldier.
“Oh, look at all these Worters!” she cried, “and one little Ford in the middle of them!” For she was at that state of civilization which appreciates a pun.
“Shall I stand. Miss Beaumont? Shall I hide the house from you if I stand?”
“Sit down. Jack, you baby!” cried his guardian, breaking in with needless asperity. “Sit down!”
“He may just as well stand if he will,” said she. “Just pull back your soft hat, Mr. Ford. Like a halo. Now you hide even the smoke from the chimneys. And it makes you look beautiful.”
“Evelyn! Evelyn! You are too hard on the boy. You’ll tire him. He’s one of those bookworms. He’s not strong. Let him sit down.”
“Aren’t you strong?” she asked.
“I am strong!” he cried. It is quite true. Ford has no right to be strong, but he is. He never did his dumb-bells or played in his school fifteen. But the muscles came. He thinks they came while he was reading Pindar.
“Then you may just as well stand, if you will.”
“Evelyn! Evelyn! childish, selfish maiden! If poor Jack gets tired I will take his place. Why don’t you want to see the house? Eh?”
Mrs. Worters and the Miss Worters moved uneasily. They saw that their Harcourt was not quite pleased. Theirs not to question why. It was for Evelyn to remove his displeasure, and they glanced at her.
“Well, why don’t you want to see your future home? I must say—though I practically planned the house myself—that it looks very well from here. I like the gables. Miss! Answer me!”
I felt for Miss Beaumont. A home-made gable is an awful thing, and Harcourt’s mansion looked like a cottage with the dropsy. But what would she say?
She said nothing.
It was as if he had never spoken. She was as merry, as smiling, as pretty as ever, and she said nothing. She had not realized that a question requires an answer.
For us the situation was intolerable. I had to save it by making a tactful reference to the view, which, I said, reminded me a little of the country near Veii. It did not—indeed it could not, for I have never been near Veii. But it is part of my system to make classical allusions. And at all events I saved the situation.
Miss Beaumont was serious and rational at once. She asked me the date of Veii. I made a suitable answer.
“I do like the classics,” she informed us. “They are so natural. Just writing down things.”
“Ye—es,” said I. “But the classics have their poetry as well as their prose. They’re more than a record of facts.”
“Just writing down things,” said Miss Beaumont, and smiled as if the silly definition pleased her.
Harcourt had recovered himself. “A very just criticism,” said he. “It is what I always feel about the ancient world. It takes us but a very little way. It only writes things down.”
“What do you mean?” asked Evelyn.
“I mean this—though it is presumptuous to speak in the presence of Mr. Inskip. This is what I mean. The classics are not everything. We owe them an enormous debt; I am the last to undervalue it; I, too, went through them at school. They are full of elegance and beauty. But they are not everything. They were written before men began to really feel.” He coloured crimson. “Hence, the chilliness of classical art—its lack of—of a something. Whereas later things—Dante—a Madonna of Raphael—some bars of Mendelssohn——” His voice tailed reverently away. We sat with our eyes on the ground, not liking to look at Miss Beaumont. It is a fairly open secret that she also lacks a something. She has not yet developed her soul.
The silence was broken by the still small voice of Mrs. Worters saying that she was faint with hunger.
The young hostess sprang up. She would let none of us help her: it was her party. She undid the basket and emptied out the biscuits and oranges from their bags, and boiled the kettle and poured out the tea, which was horrible. But we laughed and talked with the frivolity that suits the open air, and even Mrs. Worters expectorated her flies with a smile. Over us all there stood the silent, chivalrous figure of Ford, drinking tea carefully lest it should disturb his outline. His guardian, who is a wag, chaffed him and tickled his ankles and calves.
“Well, this is nice!” said Miss Beaumont. “I am happy.”
“Your wood, Evelyn!” said the ladies.
“Her wood for ever!” cried Mr. Worters. “It is an unsatisfactory arrangement, a ninety-nine years’ lease. There is no feeling of permanency. I reopened negotiations. I have bought her the wood for ever—all right, dear, all right: don’t make a fuss.”
“But I must!” she cried. “For everything’s perfect! Every one so kind—and I didn’t know most of you a year ago. Oh, it is so wonderful—and now a wood—a wood of my own—a wood for ever. All of you coming to tea with me here! Dear Harcourt—dear people—and just where the house would come and spoil things, there is Mr. Ford!”
“Ha! ha!” laughed Mr. Worters, and slipped his hand up round the boy’s ankle. What happened I do not know, but Ford collapsed on to the ground with a sharp cry. To an outsider it might have sounded like a cry of anger or pain. We, who knew better, laughed uproariously.
“Down he goes! Down he goes!” And they struggled playfully, kicking up the mould and the dry leaves.
“Don’t hurt my wood!” cried Miss Beaumont.
Ford gave another sharp cry. Mr. Worters withdrew his hand. “Victory!” he exclaimed. “Evelyn! behold the family seat!” But Miss Beaumont, in her butterfly fashion, had left us, and was strolling away into her wood.
We packed up the tea-things and then split into groups. Ford went with the ladies. Mr. Worters did me the honour to stop by me.
“Well!” he said, in accordance with his usual formula, “and how go the classics?”
“Does Miss Beaumont show any ability?”
“I should say that she does. At all events she has enthusiasm.”
“You do not think it is the enthusiasm of a child? I will be frank with you, Mr. Inskip. In many ways Miss Beaumont’s practically a child. She has everything to learn: she acknowledges as much herself. Her new life is so different—so strange. Our habits—our thoughts—she has to be initiated into them all.”
I saw what he was driving at, but I am not a fool, and I replied: “And how can she be initiated better than through the classics?”
“Exactly, exactly,” said Mr. Worters. In the distance we heard her voice. She was counting the beech-trees. “The only question is—this Latin and Greek—what will she do with it? Can she make anything of it? Can she—well, it’s not as if she will ever have to teach it to others.”
“That is true.” And my features might have been observed to become undecided.
“Whether, since she knows so little—I grant you she has enthusiasm. But ought one not to divert her enthusiasm—say to English literature? She scarcely knows her Tennyson at all. Last night in the conservatory I read her that wonderful scene between Arthur and Guinevere. Greek and Latin are all very well, but I sometimes feel we ought to begin at the beginning.”
“You feel,” said I, “that for Miss Beaumont the classics are something of a luxury.”
“A luxury. That is the exact word, Mr. Inskip. A luxury. A whim. It is all very well for Jack Ford. And here we come to another point. Surely she keeps Jack back? Her knowledge must be elementary.”
“Well, her knowledge is elementary: and I must say that it’s difficult to teach them together. Jack has read a good deal, one way and another, whereas Miss Beaumont, though diligent and enthusiastic——”
“So I have been feeling. The arrangement is scarcely fair on Jack?”
“Well, I must admit——”
“Quite so. I ought never to have suggested it. It must come to an end. Of course, Mr. Inskip, it shall make no difference to you, this withdrawal of a pupil.”
“The lessons shall cease at once, Mr. Worters.”
Here she came up to us. “Harcourt, there are seventy-eight trees. I have had such a count.”
He smiled down at her. Let me remember to say that he is tall and handsome, with a strong chin and liquid brown eyes, and a high forehead and hair not at all gray. Few things are more striking than a photograph of Mr. Harcourt Worters.
“Are you pleased?”
I began to pack up the tea-things. They both saw and heard me. It was their own fault if they did not go further.
“I’m looking forward to the bridge,” said he. “A rustic bridge at the bottom, and then, perhaps, an asphalt path from the house over the meadow, so that in all weathers we can walk here dry-shod. The boys come into the wood—look at all these initials—and I thought of putting a simple fence, to prevent any one but ourselves——”
“A simple fence,” he continued, “just like what I have put round my garden and the fields. Then at the other side of the copse, away from the house, I would put a gate, and have keys—two keys, I think—one for me and one for you—not more; and I would bring the asphalt path——”
“I—I don’t want an asphalt path.”
“No? Perhaps you are right. Cinders perhaps. Yes. Or even gravel.”
“But Harcourt—I don’t want a path at all. I—I—can’t afford a path.”
He gave a roar of triumphant laughter. “Dearest! As if you were going to be bothered? The path’s part of my present.”
“The wood is your present,” said Miss Beaumont. “Do you know—I don’t care for the path. I’d rather always come as we came to-day. And I don’t want a bridge. No—nor a fence either. I don’t mind the boys and their initials. They and the girls have always come up to Other Kingdom and cut their names together in the bark. It’s called the Fourth Time of Asking. I don’t want it to stop.”
“Ugh!” He pointed to a large heart transfixed by an arrow. “Ugh! Ugh!” I suspect that he was gaining time.
“They cut their names and go away, and when the first child is born they come again and deepen the cuts. So for each child. That’s how you know: the initials that go right through to the wood are the fathers and mothers of large families, and the scratches in the bark that soon close up are boys and girls who were never married at all.”
“You wonderful person! I’ve lived here all my life and never heard a word of this. Fancy folk-lore in Hertfordshire! I must tell the Archdeacon: he will be delighted——”
“And Harcourt, I don’t want this to stop.”
“My dear girl, the villagers will find other trees! There’s nothing particular in Other Kingdom.”
“Other Kingdom shall be for us. You and I alone. Our initials only.” His voice sank to a whisper.
“I don’t want it fenced in.” Her face was turned to me; I saw that it was puzzled and frightened. “I hate fences. And bridges. And all paths. It is my wood. Please: you gave me the wood.”
“Why, yes!” he replied, soothing her. But I could see that he was angry. “Of course. But aha! Evelyn, the meadow’s mine; I have a right to fence there—between my domain and yours!”
“Oh, fence me out if you like! Fence me out as much as you like! But never in. Oh Harcourt, never in. I must be on the outside, I must be where any one can reach me. Year by year—while the initials deepen—the only thing worth feeling—and at last they close up—but one has felt them.”
“Our initials!” he murmured, seizing upon the one word which he had understood and which was useful to him. “Let us carve our initials now. You and I—a heart if you like it, and an arrow and everything. H.W.—E.B.”
“H.W.,” she repeated, “and E.B.”
He took out his penknife and drew her away in search of an unsullied tree. “E.B., Eternal Blessing. Mine! Mine! My haven from the world! My temple of purity. Oh the spiritual exaltation—you cannot understand it, but you will! Oh, the seclusion of Paradise. Year after year alone together, all in all to each other—year after year, soul to soul, E.B., Everlasting Bliss!”
He stretched out his hand to cut the initials. As he did so she seemed to awake from a dream. “Harcourt!” she cried, “Harcourt! What’s that? What’s that red stuff on your finger and thumb?”
Oh, my goodness! Oh, all ye goddesses and gods! Here’s a mess. Mr. Worters has been reading Ford’s inflammatory note-book.
“This my own fault,” said Ford. “I should have labelled it ‘Practically Private.’ How could he know he was not meant to look inside?”
I spoke out severely, as an employé should. “My dear boy, none of that. The label came unstuck. That was why Mr. Worters opened the book. He never suspected it was private. See—the label’s off.”
“Scratched off,” Ford retorted grimly, and glanced at his ankle.
I affect not to understand. “The point is this. Mr. Worters is thinking the matter over for four-and-twenty hours. If you take my advice you will apologize before that time elapses.”
“And if I don’t?”
“You know your own affairs of course. But don’t forget that you are young and practically ignorant of life, and that you have scarcely any money of your own. As far as I can see, your career practically depends on the favour of Mr. Worters. You have laughed at him. He does not like being laughed at. It seems to me that your course is obvious.”
“And if I don’t?”
He sat down on the stone steps and rested his head on his knees. On the lawn below us was Miss Beaumont, draggling about with some croquet balls. Her lover was out in the meadow, superintending the course of the asphalt path. For the path is to be made, and so is the bridge, and the fence is to be built round Other Kingdom after all. In time Miss Beaumont saw how unreasonable were her objections. Of her own accord, one evening in the drawing-room, she gave her Harcourt permission to do what he liked. “That wood looks nearer,” said Ford.
“The inside fences have gone: that brings it nearer. But my dear boy—you must settle what you’re going to do.”
“How much has he read?”
“Naturally he only opened the book. From what you showed me of it, one glance would be enough.”
“Did he open at the poems?”
“Did he speak of the poems?”
“No. Were they about him?”
“They were not about him.”
“Then it wouldn’t matter if he saw them.”
“It is sometimes a compliment to be mentioned,” said Ford, looking up at me. The remark had a stinging fragrance about it—such a fragrance as clings to the mouth after admirable wine. It did not taste like the remark of a boy. I was sorry that my pupil was likely to wreck his career; and I told him again that he had better apologize.
“I won’t speak of Mr. Worters’ claim for an apology. That’s an aspect on which I prefer not to touch. The point is, if you don’t apologize, you go—where?”
“To an aunt at Peckham.”
I pointed to the pleasant, comfortable land-scape, full of cows and carriage-horses out at grass, and civil retainers. In the midst of it stood Mr. Worters, radiating energy and wealth, like a terrestrial sun. “My dear Ford—don’t be heroic! Apologize.”
Unfortunately I raised my voice a little, and Miss Beaumont heard me, down on the lawn.
“Apologize?” she cried. “What about?” And as she was not interested in the game, she came up the steps towards us, trailing her croquet mallet behind her. Her walk was rather listless. She was toning down at last.
“Come indoors!” I whispered. “We must get out of this.”
“Not a bit of it!” said Ford.
“What is it?” she asked, standing beside him on the step.
He swallowed something as he looked up at her. Suddenly I understood. I knew the nature and the subject of his poems. I was not so sure now that he had better apologize. The sooner he was kicked out of the place the better.
In spite of my remonstrances, he told her about the book, and her first remark was: “Oh, do let me see it!” She had no “proper feeling” of any kind. Then she said: “But why do you both look so sad?”
“We are awaiting Mr. Worters’ decision,” said I.
“Mr. Inskip! What nonsense! Do you suppose Harcourt’ll be angry?”
“Of course he is angry, and rightly so.”
“Ford has laughed at him.”
“But what’s that!” And for the first time there was anger in her voice. “Do you mean to say he’ll punish some one who laughs at him? Why, for what else—for whatever reason are we all here? Not to laugh at each other! I laugh at people all day. At Mr. Ford. At you. And so does Harcourt. Oh, you’ve misjudged him! He won’t—he couldn’t be angry with people who laughed.”
“Mine is not nice laughter,” said Ford. “He could not well forgive me.”
“You’re a silly boy.” She sneered at him. “You don’t know Harcourt. So generous in every way. Why, he’d be as furious as I should be if you apologized. Mr. Inskip, isn’t that so?”
“He has every right to an apology, I think.”
“Right? What’s a right? You use too many new words. ‘Rights’—’apologies’—’society’—’position’—I don’t follow it. What are we all here for, anyhow?”
Her discourse was full of trembling lights and shadows—frivolous one moment, the next moment asking why Humanity is here. I did not take the Moral Science Tripos, so I could not tell her.
“One thing I know—and that is that Harcourt isn’t as stupid as you two. He soars above conventions. He doesn’t care about ‘rights’ and ‘apologies.’ He knows that all laughter is nice, and that the other nice things are money and the soul and so on.”
The soul and so on! I wonder that Harcourt out in the meadows did not have an apoplectic fit.
“Why, what a poor business your life would be,” she continued, “if you all kept taking offence and apologizing! Forty million people in England and all of them touchy! How one would laugh if it was true! Just imagine!” And she did laugh. “Look at Harcourt though. He knows better. He isn’t petty like that. Mr. Ford! He isn’t petty like that. Why, what ‘s wrong with your eyes?”
He rested his head on his knees again, and we could see his eyes no longer. In dispassionate tones she informed me that she thought he was crying. Then she tapped him on the hair with her mallet and said: “Cry-baby! Cry-cry-baby! Crying about nothing!” and ran laughing down the steps. “All right!” she shouted from the lawn. “Tell the cry-baby to stop. I’m going to speak to Harcourt!”
We watched her go in silence. Ford had scarcely been crying. His eyes had only become large and angry. He used such swear-words as he knew, and then got up abruptly, and went into the house. I think he could not bear to see her disillusioned. I had no such tenderness, and it was with considerable interest that I watched Miss Beaumont approach her lord.
She walked confidently across the meadow, bowing to the workmen as they raised their hats. Her languor had passed, and with it her suggestion of “tone.” She was the same crude, unsophisticated person that Harcourt had picked out of Ireland—beautiful and ludicrous in the extreme, and:—if you go in for pathos—extremely pathetic.
I saw them meet, and soon she was hanging on his arm. The motion of his hand explained to her the construction of bridges. Twice she interrupted him: he had to explain everything again. Then she got in her word, and what followed was a good deal better than a play. Their two little figures parted and met and parted again, she gesticulating, he most pompous and calm. She pleaded, she argued and—if satire can carry half a mile—she tried to be satirical. To enforce one of her childish points she made two steps back. Splash! She was floundering in the little stream.
That was the dénouement of the comedy. Harcourt rescued her, while the workmen crowded round in an agitated chorus. She was wet quite as far as her knees, and muddy over her ankles. In this state she was conduced towards me, and in time I began to hear words; “Influenza—a slight immersion—clothes are of no consequence beside health—pray, dearest, don’t worry—yes, it must have been a shock—bed! bed! I insist on bed! Promise? Good girl. Up the steps to bed then.”
They parted on the lawn, and she came obediently up the steps. Her face was full of terror and bewilderment.
“So you’ve had a wetting, Miss Beaumont!”
“Wetting? Oh, yes. But, Mr. Inskip—I don’t understand: I’ve failed.”
I expressed surprise.
“Mr. Ford is to go—at once. I’ve failed.”
“I’ve failed with Harcourt. He’s offended. He won’t laugh. He won’t let me do what I want. Latin and Greek began it: I wanted to know about gods and heroes and he wouldn’t let me: then I wanted no fence round Other Kingdom and no bridge and no path—and look! Now I ask that Mr. Ford, who has done nothing, sha’n’t be punished for it—and he is to go away for ever.”
“Impertinence is not ‘nothing,’ Miss Beaumont.” For I must keep in with Harcourt.
“Impertinence is nothing!” she cried. “It doesn’t exist. It’s a sham, like ‘claims’ and ‘position’ and ‘rights.’ It’s part of the great dream.”
“What ‘great dream’?” I asked, trying not to smile.
“Tell Mr. Ford—here comes Harcourt; I must go to bed. Give my love to Mr. Ford, and tell him ‘to guess.’ I shall never see him again, and I won’t stand it. Tell him to guess. I am sorry I called him a cry-baby. He was not crying like a baby. He was crying like a grown-up person, and now I have grown up too.”
I judged it right to repeat this conversation to my employer.
The bridge is built, the fence finished, and Other Kingdom lies tethered by a ribbon of asphalt to our front door. The seventy-eight trees therein certainly seem nearer, and during the windy nights that followed Ford’s departure we could hear their branches sighing, and would find in the morning that beech-leaves had been blown right up against the house. Miss Beaumont made no attempt to go out, much to the relief of the ladies, for Harcourt had given the word that she was not to go out unattended, and the boisterous weather deranged their petticoats. She remained indoors, neither reading nor laughing, and dressing no longer in green, but in brown.
Not noticing her presence, Mr. Worters looked in one day and said with a sigh of relief: “That’s all right. The circle’s completed.”
“Is it indeed!” she replied.
“You there, you quiet little mouse? I only meant that our lords, the British workmen, have at last condescended to complete their labours, and have rounded us off from the world. I—in the end I was a naughty, domineering tyrant, and disobeyed you. I didn’t have the gate out at the further side of the copse. Will you forgive me?”
“Anything, Harcourt, that pleases you, is certain to please me.”
The ladies smiled at each other, and Mr. Worters said: “That’s right, and as soon as the wind goes down we’ll all progress together to your wood; and take possession of it formally, for it didn’t really count that last time.”
“No, it didn’t really count that last time,” Miss Beaumont echoed.
“Evelyn says this wind never will go down,” remarked Mrs. Worters. “I don’t know how she knows.”
“It will never go down, as long as I am in the house.”
“Really?” he said gaily. “Then come out now, and send it down with me.”
They took a few turns up and down the terrace. The wind lulled for a moment, but blew fiercer than ever during lunch. As we ate, it roared and whistled down the chimney at us, and the trees of Other Kingdom frothed like the sea. Leaves and twigs flew from them, and a bough, a good-sized bough, was blown on to the smooth asphalt path, and actually switchbacked over the bridge, up the meadow, and across our very lawn. (I venture to say “our,” as I am now staying on as Harcourt’s secretary.) Only the stone steps prevented it from reaching the terrace and perhaps breaking the dining-room window. Miss Beaumont sprang up and, napkin in hand, ran out and touched it.
“Oh, Evelyn——” the ladies cried.
“Let her go,” said Mr. Worters tolerantly. “It certainly is a remarkable incident, remarkable. We must remember to tell the Archdeacon about it.”
“Harcourt,” she cried, with the first hint of returning colour in her cheeks, “mightn’t we go up to the copse after lunch, you and I?”
Mr. Worters considered.
“Of course, not if you don’t think best.”
“Inskip, what’s your opinion?”
I saw what his own was, and cried, “Oh, let’s go!” though I detest the wind as much as any one.
“Very well. Mother, Anna, Ruth, Mrs. Osgood—we’ll all go.”
And go we did, a lugubrious procession; but the gods were good to us for once, for as soon as we were started, the tempest dropped, and there ensued an extraordinary calm. After all, Miss Beaumont was something of a weather prophet. Her spirits improved every minute. She tripped in front of us along the asphalt path, and ever and anon turned round to say to her lover some gracious or alluring thing. I admired her for it. I admire people who know on which side their bread’s buttered.
“Evelyn, come here!”
“Come here yourself.”
“Give me a kiss.”
“Come and take it then.”
He ran after her, and she ran away, while all our party laughed melodiously.
“Oh, I am so happy!” she cried. “I think I’ve everything I want in all the world. Oh dear, those last few days indoors! But oh, I am so happy now!” She had changed her brown dress for the old flowing green one, and she began to do her skirt dance in the open meadow, lit by sudden gleams of the sunshine. It was really a beautiful sight, and Mr. Worters did not correct her, glad perhaps that she should recover her spirits, even if she lost her tone. Her feet scarcely moved, but her body so swayed and her dress spread so gloriously around her, that we were transported with joy. She danced to the song of a bird that sang passionately in Other Kingdom, and the river held back its waves to watch her (one might have supposed), and the winds lay spell-bound in their cavern, and the great clouds spell-bound in the sky. She danced away from our society and our life, back, back through the centuries till houses and fences fell and the earth lay wild to the sun. Her garment was as foliage upon her, the strength of her limbs as boughs, her throat the smooth upper branch that salutes the morning or glistens to the rain. Leaves move, leaves hide it as hers was hidden by the motion of her hair. Leaves move again and it is ours, as her throat was ours again when, parting the tangle, she faced us crying, “Oh!” crying, “Oh Harcourt! I never was so happy. I have all that there is in the world.”
But he, entrammelled in love’s ecstasy, forgetting certain Madonnas of Raphael, forgetting, I fancy, his soul, sprang to inarm her with, “Evelyn! Eternal Bliss! Mine to eternity! Mine!” and she sprang away. Music was added and she sang, “Oh Ford! oh Ford, among all these Worters, I am coming through you to my Kingdom. Oh Ford, my lover while I was a woman, I will never forget you, never, as long as I have branches to shade you from the sun,” and, singing, crossed the stream.
Why he followed her so passionately, I do not know. It was play, she was in his own domain which a fence surrounds, and she could not possibly escape him. But he dashed round by the bridge as if all their love was at stake, and pursued her with fierceness up the hill. She ran well, but the end was a foregone conclusion, and we only speculated whether he would catch her outside or inside the copse. He gained on her inch by inch; now they were in the shadow of the trees; he had practically grasped her, he had missed; she had disappeared into the trees themselves, he following.
“Harcourt is in high spirits,” said Mrs. Osgood, Anna, and Ruth.
“Evelyn!” we heard him shouting within.
We proceeded up the asphalt path.
“He’s not caught her yet, evidently.”
“Where are you, Evelyn?”
“Miss Beaumont must have hidden herself rather cleverly.”
“Look here,” cried Harcourt, emerging, “have you seen Evelyn?”
“Oh, no, she’s certainly inside.”
“So I thought.”
“Evelyn must be dodging round one of the trunks. You go this way, I that. We’ll soon find her.”
We searched, gaily at first, and always with a feeling that Miss Beaumont was close by, that the delicate limbs were just behind this bole, the hair and the drapery quivering among those leaves. She was beside us, above us; here was her footstep on the purple-brown earth—her bosom, her neck—she was everywhere and nowhere. Gaiety turned to irritation, irritation to anger and fear. Miss Beaumont was apparently lost. “Evelyn! Evelyn!” we continued to cry. “Oh, really, it is beyond a joke.”
Then the wind arose, the more violent for its lull, and we were driven into the house by a terrific storm. We said, “At all events she will come back now.” But she did not come, and the rain hissed and rose up from the dry meadows like incense smoke, and smote the quivering leaves to applause. Then it lightened. Ladies screamed, and we saw Other Kingdom as one who claps the handsy and heard it as one who roars with laughter in the thunder. Not even the Archdeacon can remember such a storm. All Harcourt’s seedlings were ruined, and the tiles flew off his gables right and left. He came to me presently with a white, drawn face, saying: “Inskip, can I trust you?”
“You can, indeed.”
“I have long suspected it; she has eloped with Ford.”
“But how——” I gasped.
“The carriage is ready—we’ll talk as we drive.” Then, against the rain he shouted: “No gate in the fence, I know, but what about a ladder? While I blunder, she’s over the fence, and he——”
“But you were so close. There was not the time.”
“There is time for anything,” he said venomously, “where a treacherous woman is concerned. I found her no better than a savage, I trained her, I educated her. But I’ll break them both. I can do that; I’ll break them soul and body.”
No one can break Ford now. The task is impossible. But I trembled for Miss Beaumont.
We missed the train. Young couples had gone by it, several young couples, and we heard of more young couples in London, as if all the world were mocking Harcourt’s solitude. In desperation we sought the squalid suburb that is now Ford’s home. We swept past the dirty maid and the terrified aunt, swept upstairs, to catch him if we could red-handed. He was seated at the table, reading the Oedipus Coloneus of Sophocles.
“That won’t take in me!” shouted Harcourt. “You’ve got Miss Beaumont with you, and I know it.”
“No such luck,” said Ford.
He stammered with rage. “Inskip—you hear that? ‘No such luck’! Quote the evidence against him. I can’t speak.”
So I quoted her song. “‘Oh Ford! Oh Ford, among all these Worters, I am coming through you to my Kingdom! Oh Ford, my lover while I was a woman, I will never forget you, never, as long as I have branches to shade you from the sun.’ Soon after that, we lost her.”
“And—and on another occasion she sent a message of similar effect. Inskip, bear witness. He was to ‘guess’ something.”
“I have guessed it,” said Ford.
“So you practically——”
“Oh, no, Mr. Worters, you mistake me. I have not practically guessed. I have guessed. I could tell you if I chose, but it would be no good, for she has not practically escaped you. She has escaped you absolutely, for ever and ever, as long as there are branches to shade men from the sun.”