The excursion to Salisbury was but a poor business--in fact, Rickie never got there. They were not out of the drive before Mr. Wonham began doing acrobatics. He showed Rickie how very quickly he could turn round in his saddle and sit with his face to Aeneas's tail. "I see," said Rickie coldly, and became almost cross when they arrived in this condition at the gate behind the house, for he had to open it, and was afraid of falling. As usual, he anchored just beyond the fastenings, and then had to turn Dido, who seemed as long as a battleship. To his relief a man came forward, and murmuring, "Worst gate in the parish," pushed it wide and held it respectfully. "Thank you," cried Rickie; "many thanks." But Stephen, who was riding into the world back first, said majestically, "No, no; it doesn't count. You needn't think it does. You make it worse by touching your hat. Four hours and seven minutes! You'll see me again." The man answered nothing.
"Eh, but I'll hurt him," he chanted, as he swung into position. "That was Flea. Eh, but he's forgotten my fists; eh, but I'll hurt him."
"Why?" ventured Rickie. Last night, over cigarettes, he had been bored to death by the story of Flea. The boy had a little reminded him of Gerald--the Gerald of history, not the Gerald of romance. He was more genial, but there was the same brutality, the same peevish insistence on the pound of flesh.
"Hurt him till he learns."
"Learns, of course," retorted Stephen. Neither of them was very civil. They did not dislike each other, but they each wanted to be somewhere else--exactly the situation that Mrs. Failing had expected.
"He behaved badly," said Rickie, "because he is poorer than we are, and more ignorant. Less money has been spent on teaching him to behave."
"Well, I'll teach him for nothing."
"Perhaps his fists are stronger than yours!"
"They aren't. I looked."
After this conversation flagged. Rickie glanced back at Cadover, and thought of the insipid day that lay before him. Generally he was attracted by fresh people, and Stephen was almost fresh: they had been to him symbols of the unknown, and all that they did was interesting. But now he cared for the unknown no longer. He knew.
Mr. Wilbraham passed them in his dog-cart, and lifted his hat to his employer's nephew. Stephen he ignored: he could not find him on the map.
"Good morning," said Rickie. "What a lovely morning!"
"I say," called the other, "another child dead!" Mr. Wilbraham, who had seemed inclined to chat, whipped up his horse and left them.
"There goes an out and outer," said Stephen; and then, as if introducing an entirely new subject-- "Don't you think Flea Thompson treated me disgracefully?"
"I suppose he did. But I'm scarcely the person to sympathize." The allusion fell flat, and he had to explain it. "I should have done the same myself,--promised to be away two hours, and stopped four."
"Stopped-oh--oh, I understand. You being in love, you mean?"
He smiled and nodded.
"Oh, I've no objection to Flea loving. He says he can't help it. But as long as my fists are stronger, he's got to keep it in line."
"A man like that, when he's got a girl, thinks the rest can go to the devil. He goes cutting his work and breaking his word. Wilbraham ought to sack him. I promise you when I've a girl I'll keep her in line, and if she turns nasty, I'll get another."
Rickie smiled and said no more. But he was sorry that any one should start life with such a creed--all the more sorry because the creed caricatured his own. He too believed that life should be in a line--a line of enormous length, full of countless interests and countless figures, all well beloved. But woman was not to be "kept" to this line. Rather did she advance it continually, like some triumphant general, making each unit still more interesting, still more lovable, than it had been before. He loved Agnes, not only for herself, but because she was lighting up the human world. But he could scarcely explain this to an inexperienced animal, nor did he make the attempt.
For a long time they proceeded in silence. The hill behind Cadover was in harvest, and the horses moved regretfully between the sheaves. Stephen had picked a grass leaf, and was blowing catcalls upon it. He blew very well, and this morning all his soul went into the wail. For he was ill. He was tortured with the feeling that he could not get away and do--do something, instead of being civil to this anaemic prig. Four hours in the rain was better than this: he had not wanted to fidget in the rain. But now the air was like wine, and the stubble was smelling of wet, and over his head white clouds trundled more slowly and more seldom through broadening tracts of blue. There never had been such a morning, and he shut up his eyes and called to it. And whenever he called, Rickie shut up his eyes and winced.
At last the blade broke. "We don't go quick, do we" he remarked, and looked on the weedy track for another.
"I wish you wouldn't let me keep you. If you were alone you would be galloping or something of that sort."
"I was told I must go your pace," he said mournfully. "And you promised Miss Pembroke not to hurry,"
"Well, I'll disobey." But he could not rise above a gentle trot, and even that nearly jerked him out of the saddle.
"Sit like this," said Stephen. "Can't you see like this?" Rickie lurched forward, and broke his thumb nail on the horse's neck. It bled a little, and had to be bound up.
"Thank you--awfully kind--no tighter, please--I'm simply spoiling your day."
"I can't think how a man can help riding. You've only to leave it to the horse so!--so!--just as you leave it to water in swimming."
Rickie left it to Dido, who stopped immediately.
"I said leave it." His voice rose irritably. "I didn't say 'die.' Of course she stops if you die. First you sit her as if you're Sandow exercising, and then you sit like a corpse. Can't you tell her you're alive? That's all she wants."
In trying to convey the information, Rickie dropped his whip. Stephen picked it up and rammed it into the belt of his own Norfolk jacket. He was scarcely a fashionable horseman. He was not even graceful. But he rode as a living man, though Rickie was too much bored to notice it. Not a muscle in him was idle, not a muscle working hard. When he returned from the gallop his limbs were still unsatisfied and his manners still irritable. He did not know that he was ill: he knew nothing about himself at all.
"Like a howdah in the Zoo," he grumbled. "Mother Failing will buy elephants." And he proceeded to criticize his benefactress. Rickie, keenly alive to bad taste, tried to stop him, and gained instead a criticism of religion. Stephen overthrew the Mosaic cosmogony. He pointed out the discrepancies in the Gospels. He levelled his wit against the most beautiful spire in the world, now rising against the southern sky. Between whiles he went for a gallop. After a time Rickie stopped listening, and simply went his way. For Dido was a perfect mount, and as indifferent to the motions of Aeneas as if she was strolling in the Elysian fields. He had had a bad night, and the strong air made him sleepy. The wind blew from the Plain. Cadover and its valley had disappeared, and though they had not climbed much and could not see far, there was a sense of infinite space. The fields were enormous, like fields on the Continent, and the brilliant sun showed up their colours well. The green of the turnips, the gold of the harvest, and the brown of the newly turned clods, were each contrasted with morsels of grey down. But the general effect was pale, or rather silvery, for Wiltshire is not a county of heavy tints. Beneath these colours lurked the unconquerable chalk, and wherever the soil was poor it emerged. The grassy track, so gay with scabious and bedstraw, was snow-white at the bottom of its ruts. A dazzling amphitheatre gleamed in the flank of a distant hill, cut for some Olympian audience. And here and there, whatever the surface crop, the earth broke into little embankments, little ditches, little mounds: there had been no lack of drama to solace the gods.
In Cadover, the perilous house, Agnes had already parted from Mrs. Failing. His thoughts returned to her. Was she, the soul of truth, in safety? Was her purity vexed by the lies and selfishness? Would she elude the caprice which had, he vaguely knew, caused suffering before? Ah, the frailty of joy! Ah, the myriads of longings that pass without fruition, and the turf grows over them! Better men, women as noble--they had died up here and their dust had been mingled, but only their dust. These are morbid thoughts, but who dare contradict them? There is much good luck in the world, but it is luck. We are none of us safe. We are children, playing or quarreling on the line, and some of us have Rickie's temperament, or his experiences, and admit it.
So be mused, that anxious little speck, and all the land seemed to comment on his fears and on his love.
Their path lay upward, over a great bald skull, half grass, half stubble. It seemed each moment there would be a splendid view. The view never came, for none of the inclines were sharp enough, and they moved over the skull for many minutes, scarcely shifting a landmark or altering the blue fringe of the distance. The spire of Salisbury did alter, but very slightly, rising and falling like the mercury in a thermometer. At the most it would be half hidden; at the least the tip would show behind the swelling barrier of earth. They passed two elder-trees--a great event. The bare patch, said Stephen, was owing to the gallows. Rickie nodded. He had lost all sense of incident. In this great solitude--more solitary than any Alpine range--he and Agnes were floating alone and for ever, between the shapeless earth and the shapeless clouds. An immense silence seemed to move towards them. A lark stopped singing, and they were glad of it. They were approaching the Throne of God. The silence touched them; the earth and all danger dissolved, but ere they quite vanished Rickie heard himself saying, "Is it exactly what we intended?"
"Yes," said a man's voice; "it's the old plan." They were in another valley. Its sides were thick with trees. Down it ran another stream and another road: it, too, sheltered a string of villages. But all was richer, larger, and more beautiful--the valley of the Avon below Amesbury.
"I've been asleep!" said Rickie, in awestruck tones.
"Never!" said the other facetiously. "Pleasant dreams?"
"Perhaps--I'm really tired of apologizing to you. How long have you been holding me on?"
"All in the day's work." He gave him back the reins.
"Where's that round hill?"
"Gone where the good niggers go. I want a drink."
This is Nature's joke in Wiltshire--her one joke. You toil on windy slopes, and feel very primeval. You are miles from your fellows, and lo! a little valley full of elms and cottages. Before Rickie had waked up to it, they had stopped by a thatched public-house, and Stephen was yelling like a maniac for beer.
There was no occasion to yell. He was not very thirsty, and they were quite ready to serve him. Nor need he have drunk in the saddle, with the air of a warrior who carries important dispatches and has not the time to dismount. A real soldier, bound on a similar errand, rode up to the inn, and Stephen feared that he would yell louder, and was hostile. But they made friends and treated each other, and slanged the proprietor and ragged the pretty girls; while Rickie, as each wave of vulgarity burst over him, sunk his head lower and lower, and wished that the earth would swallow him up. He was only used to Cambridge, and to a very small corner of that. He and his friends there believed in free speech. But they spoke freely about generalities. They were scientific and philosophic. They would have shrunk from the empirical freedom that results from a little beer.
That was what annoyed him as he rode down the new valley with two chattering companions. He was more skilled than they were in the principles of human existence, but he was not so indecently familiar with the examples. A sordid village scandal--such as Stephen described as a huge joke--sprang from certain defects in human nature, with which he was theoretically acquainted. But the example! He blushed at it like a maiden lady, in spite of its having a parallel in a beautiful idyll of Theocritus. Was experience going to be such a splendid thing after all? Were the outside of houses so very beautiful?
"That's spicy!" the soldier was saying. "Got any more like that?"
"I'se got a pome," said Stephen, and drew a piece of paper from his pocket. The valley had broadened. Old Sarum rose before them, ugly and majestic.
"Write this yourself?" he asked, chuckling.
"Rather," said Stephen, lowering his head and kissing Aeneas between the ears.
"But who's old Em'ly?" Rickie winced and frowned.
"Now you're asking.
"Old Em'ly she limps, And as--"
"I am so tired," said Rickie. Why should he stand it any longer?
He would go home to the woman he loved. "Do you mind if I give up Salisbury?"
"But we've seen nothing!" cried Stephen.
"I shouldn't enjoy anything, I am so absurdly tired."
"Left turn, then--all in the day's work." He bit at his moustache angrily.
"Good gracious me, man!--of course I'm going back alone. I'm not going to spoil your day. How could you think it of me?"
Stephen gave a loud sigh of relief. "If you do want to go home, here's your whip. Don't fall off. Say to her you wanted it, or there might be ructions."
"Certainly. Thank you for your kind care of me."
"'Old Em'ly she limps, And as--'"
Soon he was out of earshot. Soon they were lost to view. Soon they were out of his thoughts. He forgot the coarseness and the drinking and the ingratitude. A few months ago he would not have forgotten so quickly, and he might also have detected something else. But a lover is dogmatic. To him the world shall be
beautiful and pure. When it is not, he ignores it.
"He's not tired," said Stephen to the soldier; "he wants his girl." And they winked at each other, and cracked jokes over the eternal comedy of love. They asked each other if they'd let a girl spoil a morning's ride. They both exhibited a profound cynicism. Stephen, who was quite without ballast, described the household at Cadover: he should say that Rickie would find Miss Pembroke kissing the footman.
"I say the footman's kissing old Em'ly."
"Jolly day," said Stephen. His voice was suddenly constrained. He was not sure whether he liked the soldier after all, nor whether he had been wise in showing him his compositions.
"'Old Em'ly she limps, And as--'"
"All right, Thomas. That'll do."
"I wish you'd dry up, like a good fellow. This is the lady's horse, you know, hang it, after all."
"Don't you see--when a fellow's on a horse, he can't let another fellow--kind of--don't you know?"
The man did know. "There's sense in that." he said approvingly. Peace was restored, and they would have reached Salisbury if they had not had some more beer. It unloosed the soldier's fancies, and again he spoke of old Em'ly, and recited the poem, with Aristophanic variations.
"Jolly day," repeated Stephen, with a straightening of the eyebrows and a quick glance at the other's body. He then warned him against the variations. In consequence he was accused of being a member of the Y.M.C.A. His blood boiled at this. He refuted the charge, and became great friends with the soldier, for the third time.
"Any objection to 'Saucy Mr. and Mrs. Tackleton'?"
The soldier sang "Saucy Mr. and Mrs. Tackkleton." It is really a work for two voices, most of the sauciness disappearing when taken as a solo. Nor is Mrs. Tackleton's name Em'lv.
"I call it a jolly rotten song," said Stephen crossly. "I won't stand being got at."
"P'r'aps y'like therold song. Lishen.
"'Of all the gulls that arsshmart,
There's none line pretty--Em'ly;
For she's the darling of merart'"
"Now, that's wrong." He rode up close to the singer.
"It's as my mother taught me."
"I don't care."
"I'll not alter from mother's way."
Stephen was baffled. Then he said, "How does your mother make it rhyme?"
"Squat. You're an ass, and I'm not. Poems want rhymes. 'Alley' comes next line."
He said "alley" was--welcome to come if it liked.
"It can't. You want Sally. Sally--alley. Em'ly-alley doesn't do."
"Emily-femily!" cried the soldier, with an inspiration that was not his when sober. "My mother taught me femily.
"'For she's the darling of merart, And she lives in my femily.'"
"Well, you'd best be careful, Thomas, and your mother too."
"Your mother's no better than she should be," said Thomas vaguely.
"Do you think I haven't heard that before?" retorted the boy. The other concluded he might now say anything. So he might--the name of old Emily excepted. Stephen cared little about his benefactress's honour, but a great deal about his own. He had made Mrs. Failing into a test. For the moment he would die for her, as a knight would die for a glove. He is not to be distinguished from a hero.
Old Sarum was passed. They approached the most beautiful spire in the world. "Lord! another of these large churches!" said the soldier. Unfriendly to Gothic, he lifted both hands to his nose, and declared that old Em'ly was buried there. He lay in the mud. His horse trotted back towards Amesbury, Stephen had twisted him out of the saddle.
"I've done him!" he yelled, though no one was there to hear. He rose up in his stirrups and shouted with joy. He flung his arms round Aeneas's neck. The elderly horse understood, capered, and bolted. It was a centaur that dashed into Salisbury and scattered the people. In the stable he would not dismount. "I've done him!" he yelled to the ostlers--apathetic men. Stretching upwards, he clung to a beam. Aeneas moved on and he was left hanging. Greatly did he incommode them by his exercises. He pulled up, he circled, he kicked the other customers. At last he fell to the earth, deliciously fatigued. His body worried him no longer.
He went, like the baby he was, to buy a white linen hat. There were soldiers about, and he thought it would disguise him. Then he had a little lunch to steady the beer. This day had turned out admirably. All the money that should have fed Rickie he could spend on himself. Instead of toiling over the Cathedral and seeing the stuffed penguins, he could stop the whole thing in the cattle market. There he met and made some friends. He watched the cheap-jacks, and saw how necessary it was to have a confident manner. He spoke confidently himself about lambs, and people listened. He spoke confidently about pigs, and they roared with laughter. He must learn more about pigs. He witnessed a performance--not too namby-pamby--of Punch and Judy. "Hullo, Podge!" cried a naughty little girl. He tried to catch her, and failed. She was one of the Cadford children. For Salisbury on market day, though it is not picturesque, is certainly representative, and you read the names of half the Wiltshire villages upon the carriers' carts. He found, in Penny Farthing Street, the cart from Wintersbridge. It would not start for several hours, but the passengers always used it as a club, and sat in it every now and then during the day. No less than three ladies were these now, staring at the shafts. One of them was Flea Thompson's girl. He asked her, quite politely, why her lover had broken faith with him in the rain. She was silent. He warned her of approaching vengeance. She was still silent, but another woman hoped that a gentleman would not be hard on a poor person. Something in this annoyed him; it wasn't a question of gentility and poverty--it was a question of two men. He determined to go back by Cadbury Rings where the shepherd would now be.
He did. But this part must be treated lightly. He rode up to the culprit with the air of a Saint George, spoke a few stern words from the saddle, tethered his steed to a hurdle, and took off his coat. "Are you ready?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," said Flea, and flung him on his back.
"That's not fair," he protested.
The other did not reply, but flung him on his head.
"How on earth did you learn that?"
"By trying often," said Flea.
Stephen sat on the ground, picking mud out of his forehead. "I meant it to be fists," he said gloomily.
"I know, sir."
"It's jolly smart though, and--and I beg your pardon all round." It cost him a great deal to say this, but he was sure that it was the right thing to say. He must acknowledge the better man. Whereas most people, if they provoke a fight and are flung, say, "You cannot rob me of my moral victory."
There was nothing further to be done. He mounted again, not exactly depressed, but feeling that this delightful world is extraordinarily unreliable. He had never expected to fling the soldier, or to be flung by Flea. "One nips or is nipped," he thought, "and never knows beforehand. I should not be surprised if many people had more in them than I suppose, while others were just the other way round. I haven't seen that sort of thing in Ingersoll, but it's quite important." Then his thoughts turned to a curious incident of long ago, when he had been "nipped"--as a little boy. He was trespassing in those woods, when he met in a narrow glade a flock of sheep. They had neither dog nor shepherd, and advanced towards him silently. He was accustomed to sheep, but had never happened to meet them in a wood before, and disliked it. He retired, slowly at first, then fast; and the flock, in a dense mass, pressed after him. His terror increased. He turned and screamed at their long white faces; and still they came on, all stuck together, like some horrible jell--. If once he got into them! Bellowing and screeching, he rushed into the undergrowth, tore himself all over, and reached home in convulsions. Mr. Failing, his only grown-up friend, was sympathetic, but quite stupid. "Pan ovium custos," he sympathetic, as he pulled out the thorns. "Why not?" "Pan ovium custos." Stephen learnt the meaning of the phrase at school, "A pan of eggs for custard." He still remembered how the other boys looked as he peeped at them between his legs, awaiting the descending cane.
So he returned, full of pleasant disconnected thoughts. He had had a rare good time. He liked every one--even that poor little Elliot--and yet no one mattered. They were all out. On the landing he saw the housemaid. He felt skittish and irresistible. Should he slip his arm round her waist? Perhaps better not; she might box his ears. And he wanted to smoke on the roof before dinner. So he only said, "Please will you stop the boy blacking my brown boots," and she with downcast eyes, answered, "Yes, sir; I will indeed."
His room was in the pediment. Classical architecture, like all things in this world that attempt serenity, is bound to have its lapses into the undignified, and Cadover lapsed hopelessly when it came to Stephen's room. It gave him one round window, to see through which he must lie upon his stomach, one trapdoor opening upon the leads, three iron girders, three beams, six buttresses, no circling, unless you count the walls, no walls unless you count the ceiling and in its embarrassment presented him with the gurgly cistern that supplied the bath water. Here he lived, absolutely happy, and unaware that Mrs. Failing had poked him up here on purpose, to prevent him from growing too bumptious. Here he worked and sang and practised on the ocharoon. Here, in the crannies, he had constructed shelves and cupboards and useless little drawers. He had only one picture--the Demeter of Cnidos-- and she hung straight from the roof like a joint of meat. Once she was in the drawing-room; but Mrs. Failing had got tired of her, and decreed her removal and this degradation. Now she faced the sunrise; and when the moon rose its light also fell on her, and trembled, like light upon the sea. For she was never still, and if the draught increased she would twist on her string, and would sway and tap upon the rafters until Stephen woke up and said what he thought of her. "Want your nose?" he would murmur. "Don't you wish you may get it" Then he drew the clothes over his ears, while above him, in the wind and the darkness, the goddess continued her motions.
Today, as he entered, he trod on the pile of sixpenny reprints. Leighton had brought them up. He looked at the portraits in their covers, and began to think that these people were not everything. What a fate, to look like Colonel Ingersoll, or to marry Mrs. Julia P. Chunk! The Demeter turned towards him as he bathed, and in the cold water he sang--
"They aren't beautiful, they aren't modest;
I'd just as soon follow an old stone goddess,"
and sprang upward through the skylight on to the roof. Years ago, when a nurse was washing him, he had slipped from her soapy hands and got up here. She implored him to remember that he was a little gentleman; but he forgot the fact--if it was a fact--and not even the butler could get him down. Mr. Failing, who was sitting alone in the garden too ill to read, heard a shout, "Am I an acroterium?" He looked up and saw a naked child poised on the summit of Cadover. "Yes," he replied; "but they are unfashionable. Go in," and the vision had remained with him as something peculiarly gracious. He felt that nonsense and beauty have close connections,--closer connections than Art will allow,- -and that both would remain when his own heaviness and his own ugliness had perished. Mrs. Failing found in his remains a sentence that puzzled her. "I see the respectable mansion. I see the smug fortress of culture. The doors are shut. The windows are shut. But on the roof the children go dancing for ever."
Stephen was a child no longer. He never stood on the pediment now, except for a bet. He never, or scarcely ever, poured water down the chimneys. When he caught the cat, he seldom dropped her into the housekeeper's bedroom. But still, when the weather was fair, he liked to come up after bathing, and get dry in the sun. Today he brought with him a towel, a pipe of tobacco, and Rickie's story. He must get it done some time, and he was tired of the six-penny reprints. The sloping gable was warm, and he lay back on it with closed eyes, gasping for pleasure. Starlings criticized him, snots fell on his clean body, and over him a little cloud was tinged with the colours of evening. "Good! good!" he whispered. "Good, oh good!" and opened the manuscript reluctantly.
What a production! Who was this girl? Where did she go to? Why so much talk about trees? "I take it he wrote it when feeling bad," he murmured, and let it fall into the gutter. It fell face downwards, and on the back he saw a neat little resume in Miss Pembroke's handwriting, intended for such as him. "Allegory. Man = modern civilization (in bad sense). Girl = getting into touch with Nature."
In touch with Nature! The girl was a tree! He lit his pipe and gazed at the radiant earth. The foreground was hidden, but there was the village with its elms, and the Roman Road, and Cadbury Rings. There, too, were those woods, and little beech copses, crowning a waste of down. Not to mention the air, or the sun, or water. Good, oh good!
In touch with Nature! What cant would the books think of next? His eyes closed. He was sleepy. Good, oh good! Sighing into his pipe, he fell asleep.
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