When Argemone rose in the morning, her first thought was of Lancelot. His face haunted her. The wild brilliance of his intellect struggling through foul smoke-clouds, had haunted her still more. She had heard of his profligacy, his bursts of fierce Berserk-madness; and yet now these very faults, instead of repelling, seemed to attract her, and intensify her longing to save him. She would convert him; purify him; harmonise his discords. And that very wish gave her a peace she had never felt before. She had formed her idea; she had now a purpose for which to live, and she determined to concentrate herself for the work, and longed for the moment when she should meet Lancelot, and begin — how, she did not very clearly see.
It is an old jest — the fair devotee trying to convert the young rake. Men of the world laugh heartily at it; and so does the devil, no doubt. If any readers wish to be fellow-jesters with that personage, they may; but, as sure as old Saxon women-worship remains for ever a blessed and healing law of life, the devotee may yet convert the rake — and, perhaps, herself into the bargain.
Argemone looked almost angrily round at her beloved books and drawings; for they spoke a message to her which they had never spoken before, of self-centred ambition. ‘Yes,’ she said aloud to herself, ‘I have been selfish, utterly! Art, poetry, science — I believe, after all, that I have only loved them for my own sake, not for theirs, because they would make me something, feed my conceit of my own talents. How infinitely more glorious to find my work-field and my prize, not in dead forms and colours, or ink-and-paper theories, but in a living, immortal, human spirit! I will study no more, except the human heart, and only that to purify and ennoble it.’
True, Argemone; and yet, like all resolutions, somewhat less than the truth. That morning, indeed, her purpose was simple as God’s own light. She never dreamed of exciting Lancelot’s admiration, even his friendship for herself. She would have started as from a snake, from the issue which the reader very clearly foresees, that Lancelot would fall in love, not with Young Englandism, but with Argemone Lavington. But yet self is not eradicated even from a woman’s heart in one morning before breakfast. Besides, it is not ‘benevolence,’ but love — the real Cupid of flesh and blood, who can first
‘Touch the chord of self which, trembling,
Passes in music out of sight.’
But a time for all things; and it is now time for Argemone to go down to breakfast, having prepared some dozen imaginary dialogues between herself and Lancelot, in which, of course, her eloquence always had the victory. She had yet to learn, that it is better sometimes not to settle in one’s heart what we shall speak, for the Everlasting Will has good works ready prepared for us to walk in, by what we call fortunate accident; and it shall be given us in that day and that hour what we shall speak.
Lancelot, in the meantime, shrank from meeting Argemone; and was quite glad of the weakness which kept him upstairs. Whether he was afraid of her — whether he was ashamed of himself or of his crutches, I cannot tell, but I daresay, reader, you are getting tired of all this soul-dissecting. So we will have a bit of action again, for the sake of variety, if for nothing better.
Of all the species of lovely scenery which England holds, none, perhaps, is more exquisite than the banks of the chalk-rivers — the perfect limpidity of the water, the gay and luxuriant vegetation of the banks and ditches, the masses of noble wood embosoming the villages, the unique beauty of the water-meadows, living sheets of emerald and silver, tinkling and sparkling, cool under the fiercest sun, brilliant under the blackest clouds. — There, if anywhere, one would have expected to find Arcadia among fertility, loveliness, industry, and wealth. But, alas for the sad reality! the cool breath of those glittering water-meadows too often floats laden with poisonous miasma. Those picturesque villages are generally the perennial hotbeds of fever and ague, of squalid penury, sottish profligacy, dull discontent too stale for words. There is luxury in the park, wealth in the huge farm-steadings, knowledge in the parsonage: but the poor? those by whose dull labour all that luxury and wealth, ay, even that knowledge, is made possible — what are they? We shall see, please God, ere the story’s end.
But of all this Lancelot as yet thought nothing. He, too, had to be emancipated, as much as Argemone, from selfish dreams; to learn to work trustfully in the living Present, not to gloat sentimentally over the unreturning Past. But his time was not yet come; and little he thought of all the work which lay ready for him within a mile of the Priory, as he watched the ladies go out for the afternoon, and slipped down to the Nun’s-pool on his crutches to smoke and fish, and build castles in the air.
The Priory, with its rambling courts and gardens, stood on an island in the river. The upper stream flowed in a straight artificial channel through the garden, still and broad, towards the Priory mill; while just above the Priory wall half the river fell over a high weir, with all its appendages of bucks and hatchways, and eel-baskets, into the Nun’s-pool, and then swept round under the ivied walls, with their fantastic turrets and gables, and little loopholed windows, peering out over the stream, as it hurried down over the shallows to join the race below the mill. A postern door in the walls opened on an ornamental wooden bridge across the weir-head — a favourite haunt of all fishers and sketchers who were admitted to the dragon-guarded Elysium of Whitford Priors. Thither Lancelot went, congratulating himself, strange to say, in having escaped the only human being whom he loved on earth.
He found on the weir-bridge two of the keepers. The younger one, Tregarva, was a stately, thoughtful-looking Cornishman, some six feet three in height, with thews and sinews in proportion. He was sitting on the bridge looking over a basket of eel-lines, and listening silently to the chat of his companion.
Old Harry Verney, the other keeper, was a character in his way, and a very bad character too, though he was a patriarch among all the gamekeepers of the vale. He was a short, wiry, bandy-legged, ferret-visaged old man, with grizzled hair, and a wizened face tanned brown and purple by constant exposure. Between rheumatism and constant handling the rod and gun, his fingers were crooked like a hawk’s claws. He kept his left eye always shut, apparently to save trouble in shooting; and squinted, and sniffed, and peered, with a stooping back and protruded chin, as if he were perpetually on the watch for fish, flesh, and fowl, vermin and Christian. The friendship between himself and the Scotch terrier at his heels would have been easily explained by Lessing, for in the transmigration of souls the spirit of Harry Verney had evidently once animated a dog of that breed. He was dressed in a huge thick fustian jacket, scratched, stained, and patched, with bulging, greasy pockets; a cast of flies round a battered hat, riddled with shot-holes, a dog-whistle at his button-hole, and an old gun cut short over his arm, bespoke his business.
‘I seed that ’ere Crawy against Ashy Down Plantations last night, I’ll be sworn,’ said he, in a squeaking, sneaking tone.
‘Well, what harm was the man doing?’
‘Oh, ay, that’s the way you young ‘uns talk. If he warn’t doing mischief, he’d a been glad to have been doing it, I’ll warrant. If I’d been as young as you, I’d have picked a quarrel with him soon enough, and found a cause for tackling him. It’s worth a brace of sovereigns with the squire to haul him up. Eh? eh? Ain’t old Harry right now?’
‘Humph!’ growled the younger man.
‘There, then, you get me a snare and a hare by tomorrow night,’ went on old Harry, ‘and see if I don’t nab him. It won’t lay long under the plantation afore he picks it up. You mind to snare me a hare to-night, now!’
‘I’ll do no such thing, nor help to bring fake accusations against any man!’
‘False accusations!’ answered Harry, in his cringing way. ‘Look at that now, for a keeper to say! Why, if he don’t happen to have a snare just there, he has somewhere else, you know. Eh? Ain’t old Harry right now, eh?’
‘There, don’t say I don’t know nothing then. Eh? What matter who put the snare down, or the hare in, perwided he takes it up, man? If ’twas his’n he’d be all the better pleased. The most notoriousest poacher as walks unhung!’ And old Harry lifted up his crooked hands in pious indignation.
‘I’ll have no more gamekeeping, Harry. What with hunting down Christians as if they were vermin, all night, and being cursed by the squire all day, I’d sooner be a sheriff’s runner, or a negro slave.’
‘Ay, ay! that’s the way the young dogs always bark afore they’re broke in, and gets to like it, as the eels does skinning. Haven’t I bounced pretty near out of my skin many a time afore now, on this here very bridge, with “Harry, jump in, you stupid hound!” and “Harry, get out, you one-eyed tailor!” And then, if one of the gentlemen lost a fish with their clumsiness — Oh, Father! to hear ’em let out at me and my landing-net, and curse fit to fright the devil! Dash their sarcy tongues! Eh! Don’t old Harry know their ways? Don’t he know ’em, now?’
‘Ay,’ said the young man, bitterly. ‘We break the dogs, and we load the guns, and we find the game, and mark the game — and then they call themselves sportsmen; we choose the flies, and we bait the spinning-hooks, and we show them where the fish lie, and then when they’ve hooked them, they can’t get them out without us and the spoonnet; and then they go home to the ladies and boast of the lot of fish they killed — and who thinks of the keeper?’
‘Oh! ah! Then don’t say old Harry knows nothing, then. How nicely, now, you and I might get a living off this ’ere manor, if the landlords was served like the French ones was. Eh, Paul?’ chuckled old Harry. ‘Wouldn’t we pay our taxes with pheasants and grayling, that’s all, eh? Ain’t old Harry right now, eh?’
The old fox was fishing for an assent, not for its own sake, for he was a fierce Tory, and would have stood up to be shot at any day, not only for his master’s sake, but for the sake of a single pheasant of his master’s; but he hated Tregarva for many reasons, and was daily on the watch to entrap him on some of his peculiar points, whereof he had, as we shall find, a good many.
What would have been Tregarva’s answer, I cannot tell; but Lancelot, who had unintentionally overheard the greater part of the conversation, disliked being any longer a listener, and came close to them.
‘Here’s your gudgeons and minnows, sir, as you bespoke,’ quoth Harry; ‘and here’s that paternoster as you gave me to rig up. Beautiful minnows, sir, white as a silver spoon. — They’re the ones now, ain’t they, sir, eh?’
‘Well, then, don’t say old Harry don’t know nothing, that’s all, eh?’ and the old fellow toddled off, peering and twisting his head about like a starling.
‘An odd old fellow that, Tregarva,’ said Lancelot.
‘Very, sir, considering who made him,’ answered the Cornishman, touching his hat, and then thrusting his nose deeper than ever into the eel-basket.
‘Beautiful stream this,’ said Lancelot, who had a continual longing — right or wrong — to chat with his inferiors; and was proportionately sulky and reserved to his superiors.
‘Beautiful enough, sir,’ said the keeper, with an emphasis on the first word.
‘Why, has it any other fault?’
‘Not so wholesome as pretty, sir.’
‘What harm does it do?’
‘Fever, and ague, and rheumatism, sir.’
‘Where?’ asked Lancelot, a little amused by the man’s laconic answers.
‘Wherever the white fog spreads, sir.’
Lancelot burst out laughing. The man looked up at him slowly and seriously.
‘You wouldn’t laugh, sir, if you’d seen much of the inside of these cottages round.’
‘Really,’ said Lancelot, ‘I was only laughing at our making such very short work of such a long and serious story. Do you mean that the unhealthiness of this country is wholly caused by the river?’
‘No, sir. The river-damps are God’s sending; and so they are not too bad to bear. But there’s more of man’s sending, that is too bad to bear.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Are men likely to be healthy when they are worse housed than a pig?’
‘And worse fed than a hound?’
‘Good heavens! No!’
‘Or packed together to sleep, like pilchards in a barrel?’
‘But, my good fellow, do you mean that the labourers here are in that state?’
‘It isn’t far to walk, sir. Perhaps some day, when the May-fly is gone off, and the fish won’t rise awhile, you could walk down and see. I beg your pardon, sir, though, for thinking of such a thing. They are not places fit for gentlemen, that’s certain.’ There was a staid irony in his tone, which Lancelot felt.
‘But the clergyman goes?’
‘And Miss Honoria goes?’
‘Yes, God Almighty bless her!’
‘And do not they see that all goes right?’
The giant twisted his huge limbs, as if trying to avoid an answer, and yet not daring to do so.
‘Do clergymen go about among the poor much, sir, at college, before they are ordained?’
Lancelot smiled, and shook his head.
‘I thought so, sir. Our good vicar is like the rest hereabouts. God knows, he stints neither time nor money — the souls of the poor are well looked after, and their bodies too — as far as his purse will go; but that’s not far.’
‘Is he ill-off, then?’
‘The living’s worth some forty pounds a year. The great tithes, they say, are worth better than twelve hundred; but Squire Lavington has them.’
‘Oh, I see!’ said Lancelot.
‘I’m glad you do, sir, for I don’t,’ meekly answered Tregarva. ‘But the vicar, sir, he is a kind man, and a good; but the poor don’t understand him, nor he them. He is too learned, sir, and, saving your presence, too fond of his prayer-book.’
‘One can’t be too fond of a good thing.’
‘Not unless you make an idol of it, sir, and fancy that men’s souls were made for the prayer-book, and not the prayer-book for them.’
‘But cannot he expose and redress these evils, if they exist?’
Tregarva twisted about again.
‘I do not say that I think it, sir; but this I know, that every poor man in the vale thinks it — that the parsons are afraid of the landlords. They must see these things, for they are not blind; and they try to plaster them up out of their own pockets.’
‘But why, in God’s name, don’t they strike at the root of the matter, and go straight to the landlords and tell them the truth?’ asked Lancelot.
‘So people say, sir. I see no reason for it except the one which I gave you. Besides, sir, you must remember, that a man can’t quarrel with his own kin; and so many of them are their squire’s brothers, or sons, or nephews.’
‘Or good friends with him, at least.’
‘Ay, sir, and, to do them justice, they had need, for the poor’s sake, to keep good friends with the squire. How else are they to get a farthing for schools, or coal-subscriptions, or lying-in societies, or lending libraries, or penny clubs? If they spoke their minds to the great ones, sir, how could they keep the parish together?’
‘You seem to see both sides of a question, certainly. But what a miserable state of things, that the labouring man should require all these societies, and charities, and helps from the rich! — that an industrious freeman cannot live without alms!’
‘So I have thought this long time,’ quietly answered Tregarva.
‘But Miss Honoria — she is not afraid to tell her father the truth?’
‘Suppose, sir, when Adam and Eve were in the garden, that all the devils had come up and played their fiends’ tricks before them — do you think they’d have seen any shame in it?’
‘I really cannot tell,’ said Lancelot, smiling.
‘Then I can, sir. They’d have seen no more harm in it than there was harm already in themselves; and that was none. A man’s eyes can only see what they’ve learnt to see.’
Lancelot started: it was a favourite dictum of his in Carlyle’s works.
‘Where did you get that thought, my friend’
‘By seeing, sir.’
‘But what has that to do with Miss Honoria?’
‘She is an angel of holiness herself, sir; and, therefore, she goes on without blushing or suspecting, where our blood would boil again. She sees people in want, and thinks it must be so, and pities them and relieves them. But she don’t know want herself; and, therefore, she don’t know that it makes men beasts and devils. She’s as pure as God’s light herself; and, therefore, she fancies every one is as spotless as she is. And there’s another mistake in your charitable great people, sir. When they see poor folk sick or hungry before their eyes, they pull out their purses fast enough, God bless them; for they wouldn’t like to be so themselves. But the oppression that goes on all the year round, and the want that goes on all the year round, and the filth, and the lying, and the swearing, and the profligacy, that go on all the year round, and the sickening weight of debt, and the miserable grinding anxiety from rent-day to rent-day, and Saturday night to Saturday night, that crushes a man’s soul down, and drives every thought out of his head but how he is to fill his stomach and warm his back, and keep a house over his head, till he daren’t for his life take his thoughts one moment off the meat that perisheth — oh, sir, they never felt this; and, therefore, they never dream that there are thousands who pass them in their daily walks who feel this, and feel nothing else!’
This outburst was uttered with an earnestness and majesty which astonished Lancelot. He forgot the subject in the speaker.
‘You are a very extraordinary gamekeeper!’ said he.
‘When the Lord shows a man a thing, he can’t well help seeing it,’ answered Tregarva, in his usual staid tone.
There was a pause. The keeper looked at him with a glance, before which Lancelot’s eyes fell.
‘Hell is paved with hearsays, sir, and as all this talk of mine is hearsay, if you are in earnest, sir, go and see for yourself. I know you have a kind heart, and they tell me that you are a great scholar, which would to God I was! so you ought not to condescend to take my word for anything which you can look into yourself;’ with which sound piece of common-sense Tregarva returned busily to his eel-lines.
‘Hand me the rod and can, and help me out along the buck-stage,’ said Lancelot; ‘I must have some more talk with you, my fine fellow.’
‘Amen,’ answered Tregarva, as he assisted our lame hero along a huge beam which stretched out into the pool; and having settled him there, returned mechanically to his work, humming a Wesleyan hymn-tune.
Lancelot sat and tried to catch perch, but Tregarva’s words haunted him. He lighted his cigar, and tried to think earnestly over the matter, but he had got into the wrong place for thinking. All his thoughts, all his sympathies, were drowned in the rush and whirl of the water. He forgot everything else in the mere animal enjoyment of sight and sound. Like many young men at his crisis of life, he had given himself up to the mere contemplation of Nature till he had become her slave; and now a luscious scene, a singing bird, were enough to allure his mind away from the most earnest and awful thoughts. He tried to think, but the river would not let him. It thundered and spouted out behind him from the hatches, and leapt madly past him, and caught his eyes in spite of him, and swept them away down its dancing waves, and let them go again only to sweep them down again and again, till his brain felt a delicious dizziness from the everlasting rush and the everlasting roar. And then below, how it spread, and writhed, and whirled into transparent fans, hissing and twining snakes, polished glass-wreaths, huge crystal bells, which boiled up from the bottom, and dived again beneath long threads of creamy foam, and swung round posts and roots, and rushed blackening under dark weed-fringed boughs, and gnawed at the marly banks, and shook the ever-restless bulrushes, till it was swept away and down over the white pebbles and olive weeds, in one broad rippling sheet of molten silver, towards the distant sea. Downwards it fleeted ever, and bore his thoughts floating on its oily stream; and the great trout, with their yellow sides and peacock backs, lounged among the eddies, and the silver grayling dimpled and wandered upon the shallows, and the may-flies flickered and rustled round him like water fairies, with their green gauzy wings; the coot clanked musically among the reeds; the frogs hummed their ceaseless vesper-monotone; the kingfisher darted from his hole in the bank like a blue spark of electric light; the swallows’ bills snapped as they twined and hawked above the pool; the swift’s wings whirred like musket-balls, as they rushed screaming past his head; and ever the river fleeted by, bearing his eyes away down the current, till its wild eddies began to glow with crimson beneath the setting sun. The complex harmony of sights and sounds slid softly over his soul, and he sank away into a still daydream, too passive for imagination, too deep for meditation, and
‘Beauty born of murmuring sound,
Did pass into his face.’
Blame him not. There are more things in a man’s heart than ever get in through his thoughts.
On a sudden, a soft voice behind him startled him.
‘Can a poor cockney artist venture himself along this timber without falling in?’
‘Come out to me, and if you stumble, the naiads will rise out of their depths, and “hold up their pearled wrists” to save their favourite.’
The artist walked timidly out along the beams, and sat down beside Lancelot, who shook him warmly by the hand.
‘Welcome, Claude Mellot, and all lovely enthusiasms and symbolisms! Expound to me, now, the meaning of that water-lily leaf and its grand simple curve, as it lies sleeping there in the back eddy.’
‘Oh, I am too amused to philosophise. The fair Argemone has just been treating me to her three hundred and sixty-fifth philippic against my unoffending beard.’
‘Why, what fault can she find with such a graceful and natural ornament?’
‘Just this, my dear fellow, that it is natural. As it is, she considers me only “intelligent-looking.” If the beard were away, my face, she says, would be “so refined!” And, I suppose, if I was just a little more effeminate and pale, with a nice retreating under-jaw and a drooping lip, and a meek, peaking simper, like your starved Romish saints, I should be “so spiritual!” And if, again, to complete the climax, I did but shave my head like a Chinese, I should be a model for St. Francis himself!’
‘But really, after all, why make yourself so singular by this said beard?’
‘I wear it for a testimony and a sign that a man has no right to be ashamed of the mark of manhood. Oh, that one or two of your Protestant clergymen, who ought to be perfect ideal men, would have the courage to get up into the pulpit in a long beard, and testify that the very essential idea of Protestantism is the dignity and divinity of man as God made him! Our forefathers were not ashamed of their beards; but now even the soldier is only allowed to keep his moustache, while our quill-driving masses shave themselves as close as they can; and in proportion to a man’s piety he wears less hair, from the young curate who shaves off his whiskers, to the Popish priest who shaves his crown!’
‘What do you say, then, to cutting off nuns’ hair?’
‘I say, that extremes meet, and prudish Manichaeism always ends in sheer indecency. Those Papists have forgotten what woman was made for, and therefore, they have forgotten that a woman’s hair is her glory, for it was given to her for a covering: as says your friend, Paul the Hebrew, who, by the bye, had as fine theories of art as he had of society, if he had only lived fifteen hundred years later, and had a chance of working them out.’
‘How remarkably orthodox you are!’ said Lancelot, smiling.
‘How do you know that I am not? You never heard me deny the old creed. But what if an artist ought to be of all creeds at once? My business is to represent the beautiful, and therefore to accept it wherever I find it. Yours is to be a philosopher, and find the true.’
‘But the beautiful must be truly beautiful to be worth anything; and so you, too, must search for the true.’
‘Yes; truth of form, colour, chiaroscuro. They are worthy to occupy me a life; for they are eternal — or at least that which they express: and if I am to get at the symbolised unseen, it must be through the beauty of the symbolising phenomenon. If I, who live by art, for art, in art, or you either, who seem as much a born artist as myself, am to have a religion, it must be a worship of the fountain of art — of the
“Spirit of beauty, who doth consecrate With his own hues whate’er he shines upon.”’
‘As poor Shelley has it; and much peace of mind it gave him!’ answered Lancelot. ‘I have grown sick lately of such dreary tinsel abstractions. When you look through the glitter of the words, your “spirit of beauty” simply means certain shapes and colours which please you in beautiful things and in beautiful people.’
‘Vile nominalist! renegade from the ideal and all its glories!’ said Claude, laughing.
‘I don’t care sixpence now for the ideal! I want not beauty, but some beautiful thing — a woman perhaps,’ and he sighed. ‘But at least a person — a living, loving person — all lovely itself, and giving loveliness to all things! If I must have an ideal, let it be, for mercy’s sake, a realised one.’
Claude opened his sketch-book.
‘We shall get swamped in these metaphysical oceans, my dear dreamer. But lo, here come a couple, as near ideals as any in these degenerate days — the two poles of beauty: the milieu of which would be Venus with us Pagans, or the Virgin Mary with the Catholics. Look at them! Honoria the dark — symbolic of passionate depth; Argemone the fair, type of intellectual light! Oh, that I were a Zeuxis to unite them instead of having to paint them in two separate pictures, and split perfection in half, as everything is split in this piecemeal world!’
‘You will have the honour of a sitting this afternoon, I suppose, from both beauties?’
‘I hope so, for my own sake. There is no path left to immortality, or bread either, now for us poor artists but portrait-painting.’
‘I envy you your path, when it leads through such Elysiums,’ said Lancelot.
‘Come here, gentlemen both!’ cried Argemone from the bridge.
‘Fairly caught!’ grumbled Lancelot. ‘You must go, at least; my lameness will excuse me, I hope.’
The two ladies were accompanied by Bracebridge, a gazelle which he had given Argemone, and a certain miserable cur of Honoria’s adopting, who plays an important part in this story, and, therefore, deserves a little notice. Honoria had rescued him from a watery death in the village pond, by means of the colonel, who had revenged himself for a pair of wet feet by utterly corrupting the dog’s morals, and teaching him every week to answer to some fresh scandalous name.
But Lancelot was not to escape. Instead of moving on, as he had hoped, the party stood looking over the bridge, and talking — he took for granted, poor thin-skinned fellow — of him. And for once his suspicions were right; for he overheard Argemone say —
‘I wonder how Mr. Smith can be so rude as to sit there in my presence over his stupid perch! Smoking those horrid cigars, too! How selfish those field-sports do make men!’
‘Thank you!’ said the colonel, with a low bow. Lancelot rose.
‘If a country girl, now, had spoken in that tone,’ said he to himself, ‘it would have been called at least “saucy”— but Mammon’s elect ones may do anything. Well — here I come, limping to my new tyrant’s feet, like Goethe’s bear to Lili’s.’
She drew him away, as women only know how, from the rest of the party, who were chatting and laughing with Claude. She had shown off her fancied indifference to Lancelot before them, and now began in a softer voice —
‘Why will you be so shy and lonely, Mr. Smith?’
‘Because I am not fit for your society.’
‘Who tells you so? Why will you not become so?’
Lancelot hung down his head.
‘As long as fish and game are your only society, you will become more and more morne and self-absorbed.’
‘Really fish were the last things of which I was thinking when you came. My whole heart was filled with the beauty of nature, and nothing else.’
There was an opening for one of Argemone’s preconcerted orations.
‘Had you no better occupation,’ she said gently, ‘than nature, the first day of returning to the open air after so frightful and dangerous an accident? Were there no thanks due to One above?’
Lancelot understood her.
‘How do you know that I was not even then showing my thankfulness?’
‘What! with a cigar and a fishing-rod?’
‘Certainly. Why not?’
Argemone really could not tell at the moment. The answer upset her scheme entirely.
‘Might not that very admiration of nature have been an act of worship?’ continued our hero. ‘How can we better glorify the worker than by delighting in his work?’
‘Ah!’ sighed the lady, ‘why trust to these self-willed methods, and neglect the noble and exquisite forms which the Church has prepared for us as embodiments for every feeling of our hearts?’
‘Every feeling, Miss Lavington?’
Argemone hesitated. She had made the good old stock assertion, as in duty bound; but she could not help recollecting that there were several Popish books of devotion at that moment on her table, which seemed to her to patch a gap or two in the Prayer-book.
‘My temple as yet,’ said Lancelot, ‘is only the heaven and the earth; my church-music I can hear all day long, whenever I have the sense to be silent, and “hear my mother sing;” my priests and preachers are every bird and bee, every flower and cloud. Am I not well enough furnished? Do you want to reduce my circular infinite chapel to an oblong hundred-foot one? My sphere harmonies to the Gregorian tones in four parts? My world-wide priesthood, with their endless variety of costume, to one not over-educated gentleman in a white sheet? And my dreams of naiads and flower-fairies, and the blue-bells ringing God’s praises, as they do in “The story without an End,” for the gross reality of naughty charity children, with their pockets full of apples, bawling out Hebrew psalms of which they neither feel nor understand a word?’
Argemone tried to look very much shocked at this piece of bombast. Lancelot evidently meant it as such, but he eyed her all the while as if there was solemn earnest under the surface.
‘Oh, Mr. Smith!’ she said, ‘how can you dare talk so of a liturgy compiled by the wisest and holiest of all countries and ages! You revile that of whose beauty you are not qualified to judge!’
‘There must be a beauty in it all, or such as you are would not love it.’
‘Oh,’ she said hopefully, ‘that you would but try the Church system! How you would find it harmonise and methodise every day, every thought for you! But I cannot explain myself. Why not go to our vicar and open your doubts to him?’
‘Pardon, but you must excuse me.’
‘Why? He is one of the saintliest of men!’
‘To tell the truth, I have been to him already.’
‘You do not mean it! And what did he tell you?’
‘What the rest of the world does — hearsays.’
‘But did you not find him most kind?’
‘I went to him to be comforted and guided. He received me as a criminal. He told me that my first duty was penitence; that as long as I lived the life I did, he could not dare to cast his pearls before swine by answering my doubts; that I was in a state incapable of appreciating spiritual truths; and, therefore, he had no right to tell me any.’
‘And what did he tell you?’
‘Several spiritual lies instead, I thought. He told me, hearing me quote Schiller, to beware of the Germans, for they were all Pantheists at heart. I asked him whether he included Lange and Bunsen, and it appeared that he had never read a German book in his life. He then flew furiously at Mr. Carlyle, and I found that all he knew of him was from a certain review in the Quarterly. He called Boehmen a theosophic Atheist. I should have burst out at that, had I not read the very words in a High Church review the day before, and hoped that he was not aware of the impudent falsehood which he was retailing. Whenever I feebly interposed an objection to anything he said (for, after all, he talked on), he told me to hear the Catholic Church. I asked him which Catholic Church? He said the English. I asked him whether it was to be the Church of the sixth century, or the thirteenth, or the seventeenth or the eighteenth? He told me the one and eternal Church which belonged as much to the nineteenth century as to the first. I begged to know whether, then, I was to hear the Church according to Simeon, or according to Newman, or according to St. Paul; for they seemed to me a little at variance? He told me, austerely enough, that the mind of the Church was embodied in her Liturgy and Articles. To which I answered, that the mind of the episcopal clergy might, perhaps, be; but, then, how happened it that they were always quarrelling and calling hard names about the sense of those very documents? And so I left him, assuring him that, living in the nineteenth century, I wanted to hear the Church of the nineteenth century, and no other; and should be most happy to listen to her, as soon as she had made up her mind what to say.’
Argemone was angry and disappointed. She felt she could not cope with Lancelot’s quaint logic, which, however unsound, cut deeper into questions than she had yet looked for herself. Somehow, too, she was tongue-tied before him just when she wanted to be most eloquent in behalf of her principles; and that fretted her still more. But his manner puzzled her most of all. First he would run on with his face turned away, as if soliloquising out into the air, and then suddenly look round at her with most fascinating humility; and, then, in a moment, a dark shade would pass over his countenance, and he would look like one possessed, and his lips wreathe in a sinister artificial smile, and his wild eyes glare through and through her with such cunning understanding of himself and her, that, for the first time in her life, she quailed and felt frightened, as if in the power of a madman. She turned hastily away to shake off the spell.
He sprang after her, almost on his knees, and looked up into her beautiful face with an imploring cry.
‘What, do you, too, throw me off? Will you, too, treat the poor wild uneducated sportsman as a Pariah and an outcast, because he is not ashamed to be a man? — because he cannot stuff his soul’s hunger with cut-and-dried hearsays, but dares to think for himself? — because he wants to believe things, and dare not be satisfied with only believing that he ought to believe them?’
She paused, astonished.
‘Ah, yes,’ he went on, ‘I hoped too much! What right had I to expect that you would understand me? What right, still more, to expect that you would stoop, any more than the rest of the world, to speak to me, as if I could become anything better than the wild hog I seem? Oh yes! — the chrysalis has no butterfly in it, of course! Stamp on the ugly motionless thing! And yet — you look so beautiful and good! — are all my dreams to perish, about the Alrunen and prophet-maidens, how they charmed our old fighting, hunting forefathers into purity and sweet obedience among their Saxon forests? Has woman forgotten her mission — to look at the heart and have mercy, while cold man looks at the act and condemns? Do you, too, like the rest of mankind, think no-belief better than misbelief; and smile on hypocrisy, lip-assent, practical Atheism, sooner than on the unpardonable sin of making a mistake? Will you, like the rest of this wise world, let a man’s spirit rot asleep into the pit, if he will only lie quiet and not disturb your smooth respectabilities; but if he dares, in waking, to yawn in an unorthodox manner, knock him on the head at once, and “break the bruised reed,” and “quench the smoking flax”? And yet you churchgoers have “renounced the world”!’
‘What do you want, in Heaven’s name?’ asked Argemone, half terrified.
‘I want you to tell me that. Here I am, with youth, health, strength, money, every blessing of life but one; and I am utterly miserable. I want some one to tell me what I want.’
‘Is it not that you want — religion?’
‘I see hundreds who have what you call religion, with whom I should scorn to change my irreligion.’
‘But, Mr. Smith, are you not — are you not wicked? — They tell me so,’ said Argemone, with an effort, ‘And is that not the cause of your disease?’
‘No, fairest prophetess, it is the disease itself. “Why am I what I am, when I know more and more daily what I could be?”— That is the mystery; and my sins are the fruit, and not the root of it. Who will explain that?’
Argemone began —
‘The Church —’
‘Oh, Miss Lavington,’ cried he, impatiently, ‘will you, too, send me back to that cold abstraction? I came to you, however presumptuous, for living, human advice to a living, human heart; and will you pass off on me that Proteus-dream the Church, which in every man’s mouth has a different meaning? In one book, meaning a method of education, only it has never been carried out; in another, a system of polity — only it has never been realised; — now a set of words written in books, on whose meaning all are divided; now a body of men who are daily excommunicating each other as heretics and apostates; now a universal idea; now the narrowest and most exclusive of all parties. Really, before you ask me to hear the Church, I have a right to ask you to define what the Church is.’
‘Our Articles define it,’ said Argemone drily.
‘The “Visible Church,” at least, it defines as “a company of faithful men, in which,” etc. But how does it define the “Invisible” one? And what does “faithful” mean? What if I thought Cromwell and Pierre Leroux infinitely more faithful men in their way, and better members of the “Invisible Church,” than the torturer-pedant Laud, or the facing bothways Protestant–Manichee Taylor?’
It was lucky for the life of young Love that the discussion went no further: Argemone was becoming scandalised beyond all measure. But, happily, the colonel interposed —
‘Look here; tell me if you know for whom this sketch is meant?’
‘Tregarva, the keeper: who can doubt?’ answered they both at once.
‘Has not Mellot succeeded perfectly?’
‘Yes,’ said Lancelot. ‘But what wonder, with such a noble subject! What a grand benevolence is enthroned on that lofty forehead!’
‘Oh, you would say so, indeed,’ interposed Honoria, ‘if you knew him! The stories that I could tell you about him! How he would go into cottages, read to sick people by the hour, dress the children, cook the food for them, as tenderly as any woman! I found out, last winter, if you will believe it, that he lived on bread and water, to give out of his own wages — which are barely twelve shillings a week — five shillings a week for more than two months to a poor labouring man, to prevent his going to the workhouse, and being parted from his wife and children.’
‘Noble, indeed!’ said Lancelot. ‘I do not wonder now at the effect his conversation just now had on me.’
‘Has he been talking to you?’ said Honoria eagerly. ‘He seldom speaks to any one.’
‘He has to me; and so well, that were I sure that the poor were as ill off as he says, and that I had the power of altering the system a hair, I could find it in my heart to excuse all political grievance-mongers, and turn one myself.’
Claude Mellot clapped his white woman-like hands.
‘Bravo! bravo! O wonderful conversion! Lancelot has at last discovered that, besides the “glorious Past,” there is a Present worthy of his sublime notice! We may now hope, in time, that he will discover the existence of a Future!’
‘But, Mr. Mellot,’ said Honoria, ‘why have you been so unfaithful to your original? why have you, like all artists, been trying to soften and refine on your model?’
‘Because, my dear lady, we are bound to see everything in its ideal — not as it is, but as it ought to be, and will be, when the vices of this pitiful civilised world are exploded, and sanitary reform, and a variety of occupation, and harmonious education, let each man fulfil in body and soul the ideal which God embodied in him.’
‘Fourierist!’ cried Lancelot, laughing. ‘But surely you never saw a face which had lost by wear less of the divine image? How thoroughly it exemplifies your great law of Protestant art, that “the Ideal is best manifested in the Peculiar.” How classic, how independent of clime or race, is its bland, majestic self-possession! how thoroughly Norse its massive squareness!’
‘And yet, as a Cornishman, he should be no Norseman.’
‘I beg your pardon! Like all noble races, the Cornish owe their nobleness to the impurity of their blood — to its perpetual loans from foreign veins. See how the serpentine curve of his nose, his long nostril, and protruding, sharp-cut lips, mark his share of Phoenician or Jewish blood! how Norse, again, that dome-shaped forehead! how Celtic those dark curls, that restless gray eye, with its “swinden blicken,” like Von Troneg Hagen’s in the Niebelungen Lied!’
He turned: Honoria was devouring his words. He saw it, for he was in love, and young love makes man’s senses as keen as woman’s.
‘Look! look at him now!’ said Claude, in a low voice. ‘How he sits, with his hands on his knees, the enormous size of his limbs quite concealed by the careless grace, with his Egyptian face, like some dumb granite Memnon!’
‘Only waiting,’ said Lancelot, ‘for the day-star to arise on him and awake him into voice.’
He looked at Honoria as he spoke. She blushed angrily; and yet a sort of sympathy arose from that moment between Lancelot and herself.
Our hero feared he had gone too far, and tried to turn the subject off.
The smooth mill-head was alive with rising trout.
‘What a huge fish leapt then!’ said Lancelot carelessly; ‘and close to the bridge, too!’
Honoria looked round, and uttered a piercing scream.
‘Oh, my dog! my dog! Mops is in the river! That horrid gazelle has butted him in, and he’ll be drowned!’
Alas! it was too true. There, a yard above the one open hatchway, through which the whole force of the stream was rushing, was the unhappy Mops, alias Scratch, alias Dirty Dick, alias Jack Sheppard, paddling, and sneezing, and winking, his little bald muzzle turned piteously upward to the sky.
‘He will be drowned!’ quoth the colonel.
There was no doubt of it; and so Mops thought, as, shivering and whining, he plied every leg, while the glassy current dragged him back and back, and Honoria sobbed like a child.
The colonel lay down on the bridge, and caught at him: his arm was a foot too short. In a moment the huge form of Tregarva plunged solemnly into the water, with a splash like seven salmon, and Mops was jerked out over the colonel’s head high and dry on to the bridge.
‘You’ll be drowned, at least!’ shouted the colonel, with an oath of Uncle Toby’s own.
Tregarva saw his danger, made one desperate bound upward, and missed the bridge. The colonel caught at him, tore off a piece of his collar — the calm, solemn face of the keeper flashed past beneath him, and disappeared through the roaring gate.
They rushed to the other side of the bridge — caught one glimpse of a dark body fleeting and roaring down the foam-way. The colonel leapt the bridge-rail like a deer, rushed out along the buck-stage, tore off his coat, and sprung headlong into the boiling pool, ‘rejoicing in his might,’ as old Homer would say.
Lancelot, forgetting his crutches, was dashing after him, when he felt a soft hand clutching at his arm.
‘Lancelot! Mr. Smith!’ cried Argemone. ‘You shall not go! You are too ill — weak —’
‘A fellow-creature’s life!’
‘What is his life to yours?’ she cried, in a tone of deep passion. And then, imperiously, ‘Stay here, I command you!’
The magnetic touch of her hand thrilled through his whole frame. She had called him Lancelot! He shrank down, and stood spell-bound.
‘Good heavens!’ she cried; ‘look at my sister!’
Out on the extremity of the buck-stage (how she got there neither they nor she ever knew) crouched Honoria, her face idiotic with terror, while she stared with bursting eyes into the foam. A shriek of disappointment rose from her lips, as in a moment the colonel’s weather-worn head reappeared above, looking for all the world like an old gray shiny-painted seal.
‘Poof! tally-ho! Poof! poof! Heave me a piece of wood, Lancelot, my boy!’ And he disappeared again.
They looked round, there was not a loose bit near. Claude ran off towards the house. Lancelot, desperate, seized the bridge-rail, tore it off by sheer strength, and hurled it far into the pool. Argemone saw it, and remembered it, like a true woman. Ay, be as Manichaean-sentimental as you will, fair ladies, physical prowess, that Eden-right of manhood, is sure to tell upon your hearts!
Again the colonel’s grizzled head reappeared — and, oh joy! beneath it a draggled knot of black curls. In another instant he had hold of the rail, and quietly floating down to the shallow, dragged the lifeless giant high and dry on a patch of gravel.
Honoria never spoke. She rose, walked quietly back along the beam, passed Argemone and Lancelot without seeing them, and firmly but hurriedly led the way round the pool-side.
Before they arrived at the bank, the colonel had carried Tregarva to it. Lancelot and two or three workmen, whom his cries had attracted, lifted the body on to the meadow.
Honoria knelt quietly down on the grass, and watched, silent and motionless, the dead face, with her wide, awestruck eyes.
‘God bless her for a kind soul!’ whispered the wan weather-beaten field drudges, as they crowded round the body.
‘Get out of the way, my men!’ quoth the colonel. ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth.’ And he packed off one here and another there for necessaries, and commenced trying every restorative means with the ready coolness of a practised surgeon; while Lancelot, whom he ordered about like a baby, gulped down a great choking lump of envy, and then tasted the rich delight of forgetting himself in admiring obedience to a real superior.
But there Tregarva lay lifeless, with folded hands, and a quiet satisfied smile, while Honoria watched and watched with parted lips, unconscious of the presence of every one.
Five minutes! — ten!
‘Carry him to the house,’ said the colonel, in a despairing tone, after another attempt.
‘He moves!’ ‘No!’ ‘He does!’ ‘He breathes!’ ‘Look at his eyelids!’
Slowly his eyes opened.
‘Where am I? All gone? Sweet dreams — blessed dreams!’
His eye met Honoria’s. One big deep sigh swelled to his lips and burst. She seemed to recollect herself, rose, passed her arm through Argemone’s, and walked slowly away.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10