In the moments when Dyce Lashmar was neither aware of being observed nor consciously occupied with the pressing problems of his own existence, his face expressed a natural amiability, inclining to pensiveness. The features were in no way remarkable; they missed the vigour of his father's type without attaining the regularity which had given his mother a claim to good looks. Such a visage falls to the lot of numberless men born to keep themselves alive and to propagate their insignificance. But Dyce was not insignificant. As soon as his countenance lighted with animation, it revealed a character rich in various possibility, a vital force which, by its bright indefiniteness, made some appeal to the imagination. Often he had the air of a lyric enthusiast; often, that of a profound thinker; not seldom there came into his eyes a glint of stern energy which seemed a challenge to the world. Therewithal, nothing perceptibly histrionic; look or speak as he might, the young man exhaled an atmosphere of sincerity, and persuaded others because he seemed so thoroughly to have convinced himself.
He did not give the impression of high breeding. His Oxford voice, his easy self-possession, satisfied the social standard, but left a defect to the finer sense. Dyce had not the self-oblivion of entire courtesy; it seemed probable that he would often err in tact; a certain awkwardness marred his personal bearing, which aimed at the modern ideal of flowing unconstraint.
Sipping the cup of tea which his mother had handed to him, Dyce talked at large. Nothing, he declared, was equal to the delight of leaving town just at this moment of the year, when hedge and meadow were donning their brightest garments and the sky gleamed with its purest blue. He spoke in the tone of rapturous enjoyment, and yet one might have felt a doubt whether his sensibility was as keen as he professed or imagined; all the time, he appeared to be thinking of something else. Most of his remarks were addressed to Miss Bride, and with that manner of intimate friendliness which he alone of the family used towards their visitor. He inquired about the events of her life, and manifested a strong interest in the facts which Constance briefly repeated.
"Let me walk with you as far as the station," he said, when the time came for her departure.
"Please don't trouble," Constance replied, with a quick glance at Mrs. Lashmar's face, still resentful under the conventional smile.
Dyce, without more words, took his hat and accompanied her; the vicar went with them to the garden gate, courteous but obviously embarrassed.
"Pray remember me to your father, Miss Bride," he said. "I should much like to hear from him."
"It's chilly this evening," remarked Dyce, as he and his companion walked briskly away. "Are you going far?"
"But you'll be travelling for two or three hours. What about your dinner?"
"Oh, I shall eat something when I get home."
"Women are absurd about food," exclaimed Dyce, with laughing impatience. "Most of you systematically starve yourselves, and wonder that you get all sorts of ailments. Why wouldn't you stay at the vicarage to-night? I'm quite sure it would have made no difference if you had got back to Hollingford in the morning."
"Perhaps not, but I don't care much for staying at other people's houses."
Dyce examined his companion's face. She did not meet his look, and bore it with some uneasiness. In the minds of both was a memory which would have accounted for much more constraint between them than apparently existed. Six years ago, in the days of late summer, when Dyce Lashmar was spending his vacation at the vicarage, and Connie Bride was making ready to go out into the world, they had been wont to see a good deal of each other, and to exhaust the topics of the time in long conversations, tending ever to a closer intimacy of thought and sentiment. The companionship was not very favourably regarded by Mr. Lashmar, and to the vicar's wife was a source of angry apprehension. There came the evening when Dyce and Constance had to bid each other good-bye, with no near prospect of renewing their talks and rambles together. What might be in the girl's thought, she alone knew; the young man, effusive in vein of friendship, seemed never to glance beyond a safe borderline, his emotions satisfied with intellectual communion. At the moment of shaking hands, they stood in a field behind the vicarage; dusk was falling and the spot secluded.--They parted, Constance in a bewilderment which was to last many a day; for Dyce had kissed her, and without a word was gone.
There followed no exchange of letters. From that hour to this the two had in no way communicated. Mr. Bride, somewhat offended by what he had seen and surmised of Mr. and Mrs. Lashmar's disposition, held no correspondence with the vicar of Alverholme; his wife had never been on friendly terms with Mrs. Lashmar. How Dyce thought of that singular incident it was impossible to infer from his demeanour; Constance might well have supposed that he had forgotten all about it.
"Is your work interesting?" were his next words. "What does Lady Ogram go in for?"
"You prefer it to the other work?"
"It isn't so hard, and it's much more profitable."
"By the bye, who is Lady Ogram?" asked Dyce, with a smiling glance.
"A remarkable old lady. Her husband died ten years ago; she has no children, and is very rich. I shouldn't think there's a worse-tempered person living, yet she has all sorts of good qualities. By birth, she belongs to the working class; by disposition she's a violent aristocrat. I often hate her; at other times, I like her very much."
Dyce listened with increasing attention.
"Has she any views?" he inquired.
"Oh, plenty!" Constance answered, with a dry little laugh.
"About social questions--that kind of thing?"
"I shouldn't be surprised if she called herself a socialist."
"That's just what she does--when she thinks it will annoy people she dislikes."
Dyce smiled meditatively.
"I should like to know her. Yes, I should very much like to know her. Could you manage it for me?"
Constance did not reply. She was comparing the Dyce Lashmar of to-day with him of the past, and trying to understand the change that had come about in his talk, his manner. It would have helped her had she known that, in the ripe experience of his seven and twentieth year, Dyce had arrived at certain conclusions with regard to women, and thereupon had based a method of practical behaviour towards them. Women, he held, had never been treated with elementary justice. To worship them was no less unfair than to hold them in contempt. The honest man, in our day, should regard a woman without the least bias of sexual prejudice; should view her simply as a fellow-being, who, according to circumstances, might or not be on his own plane. Away with all empty show and form, those relics of barbarism known as chivalry! He wished to discontinue even the habit of hat-doffing in female presence. Was not civility preserved between man and man without such idle form? Why not, then, between man and woman? Unable, as yet, to go the entire length of his principles in every-day life, he endeavoured, at all events, to cultivate in his intercourse with women a frankness of speech, a directness of bearing, beyond the usual. He shook hands as with one of his own sex, spine uncrooked; he greeted them with level voice, not as one who addresses a thing afraid of sound. To a girl or matron whom he liked, he said, in tone if not in phrase, "Let us be comrades." In his opinion this tended notably to the purifying of the social atmosphere. It was the introduction of simple honesty into relations commonly marked--and corrupted--by every form of disingenuousness. Moreover, it was the great first step to that reconstruction of society at large which every thinker saw to be imperative and imminent.
But Constance Bride knew nothing of this, and in her ignorance could not but misinterpret the young man's demeanor. She felt it to be brusque; she imagined it to imply a purposed oblivion of things in the past. Taken together with Mrs. Lashmar's way of receiving her at the vicarage, it stirred in her heart and mind (already prone to bitterness) a resentment which, of all things, she shrank from betraying.
"Is Lady Ogram approachable?" Dyce asked, when his companion had walked a few paces without speaking. "Does she care to make new acquaintances?"
"It depends. She likes to know interesting people."
"Well"--Dyce murmured a laugh--"perhaps she might think me interesting, in a way. Her subject is mine. I'm working at sociology; have been for a long time. I'm getting my ideas into shape, and I like to talk about them."
"Do you write?" asked the girl, without raising her eyes to his.
"No. People write too much; we're flooded with print. I've grown out of my old ambitions that way. The Greek philosophers taught by word of mouth, and it was better. I want to learn how to talk--to talk well--to communicate what I have to say in a few plain words. It saves time and money; I'm convinced, too, that it carries more weight. Everyone nowadays can write a book, and most people do; but how many can talk? The art is being utterly forgotten. Chatter and gabble and mumble--an abuse of language. What's your view?"
"I think perhaps you are right."
"Come, now, I'm glad to hear you say that. If I had time, I would tell you more; but here's the station, and there's the smoke of the train. We've cut it rather close. Across the line; you'll have to run--sharp!"
They did so, reaching the platform as the train drew up. Dyce allowed his companion to open a carriage-door for herself. That was quite in accord with his principles, but perhaps he would for once have neglected them had he been sure by which class Miss Bride would travel. She entered the third.
"You wouldn't care to introduce me to Lady Ogram?" he said, standing by the window, and looking straight into the girl's eyes.
"I will if you wish," she answered, meeting his look with hard steadiness and a frown as of pain.
"Many thanks! Rivenoak, Hollingford, the address? Suppose I call in a few days?"
"If you like."
The train moved. Dyce bared his head, and, as he turned away, thought how contemptible was the practice.
Walking briskly against a cold wind, he busied his imagination about Lady Ogram. The picture he made to himself of this wealthy and original old lady was very fertile of suggestion; his sanguine temper bore him to heights of brilliant possibility. Dyce Lashmar had a genius for airy construction; much of his time was spent in deducing imaginary results from some half presented opportunity. As his fancy wrought, he walked faster and faster, and he reached the vicarage in a physical glow which corresponded to his scintillating state of mind.
Of Constance Bride he thought hardly at all. She did not interest him; her proximity left him cold. She might be a useful instrument; apart from his "method," that was the light in which he regarded all the women he knew. Experience had taught him that he possessed a certain power over women of a certain kind; it seemed probable that Constance belonged to the class; but this was a fact which had no emotional bearing. With a moment's idle wonder he remembered the circumstances of their former parting. He was then a boy, and who shall account for a boy's momentary impulses? Constance was a practical sort of person, and in all likelihood thought no more of that foolish incident than he did.
"Why are you so eccentric in your movements, Dyce?" said Mrs. Lashmar, irritably, when he entered the drawing-room again. "You write one day that you're coming in a week or two, and on the next here you are. How could you know that it was convenient to us to have you just now?"
"The Woolstan boy has a cold," Dyce replied, "and I found myself free for a few days. I'm sorry to put you out."
"Not at all. I say that it might have done."
Dyce's bearing to his mother was decently respectful, but in no way affectionate. The knowledge that she counted for little or nothing with him was an annoyance, rather than a distress, to Mrs. Lashmar. With tenderness she could dispense, but the loss of authority wounded her.
Dinner was a rather silent meal. The vicar seemed to be worrying about something even more than usual. When they had risen from table, Mrs. Lashmar made the remark which was always forthcoming on these occasions.
"So you are still doing nothing, Dyce?"
"I assure you, I'm very busy," answered the young man, as one indulgent to an inferior understanding.
"So you always say. When did you see Lady Susan?"
"Oh, not for a long time."
"What vexes me is, that you don't make the slightest use of your opportunities. It's really astonishing that, with your talents, you should be content to go on teaching children their A. B. C. You have no energy, Dyce, and no ambition. By this time you might have been in the diplomatic service, you might have been in Parliament. Are you going to waste your whole life?"
"That depends on the view one takes of life," said Dyce, in a philosophical tone which he sometimes adopted--generally after dinner. "Why should one always be thinking about 'getting on?' It's the vice of the time. Why should I elbow and hustle in a vulgar crowd? A friend of mine, Lord Dymchurch--"
"What! You have made friends with a lord?" cried Mrs. Lashmar, her face illumined.
"Why not?--I was going to say that Dymchurch, though he's poor, and does nothing at all, is probably about the most distinguished man in the peerage. He is distinguished by nature, and that's enough for him. You'd like Dymchurch, father."
The vicar looked up from a fit of black brooding, and said "Ah! no doubt." Mrs. Lashmar, learning the circumstances of Lord Dymchurch, took less pride in him, but went on to ask questions. Had his lordship no interest, which might serve a friend? Could he not present Dyce to more influential people.
"I should be ashamed to hint that kind of thing to him," answered Dyce. "Don't be so impatient, mother. If I am to do anything--in your sense of the word the opportunity will come. If it doesn't, well, fate has ordered it so."
"All I know is, Dyce, that you might be the coming man, and you're content to be nobody at all."
"The coming man! Well, perhaps, I am; who knows? At all events, it's something to know that you believe in me. And it may be that you are not the only one."
Later, Dyce and his father went into the study to smoke. The young man brought with him a large paperbacked volume which he had taken out of his travelling bag.
"Here's a book I'm reading. A few days ago I happened to be at Williams & Norgates'. This caught my eyes, and a glance at a page or two interested me so much that I bought it at once. It would please you, father."
"I've no time for reading nowadays," sighed the vicar. "What is it?"
He took the volume, a philosophical work by a French writer, bearing recent date. Mr. Lashmar listlessly turned a few pages, whilst Dyce was filling and lighting his pipe.
"It's uncommonly suggestive," said Dyce, between puffs. The best social theory I know. He calls his system Bio-sociology; a theory of society founded on the facts of biology--thoroughly scientific and convincing. Smashing socialism in the common sense that is, social democracy; but establishing a true socialism in harmony with the aristocratic principle. I'm sure you'd enjoy it. I fancy it's just your view."
"Here's the central idea. No true sociology could be established before the facts of biology were known, as the one results from the other. In both, the ruling principle is that of association, with the evolution of a directing power. An animal is an association of cells. Every association implies division of labour. Now, progress in organic development means the slow constitution of an organ-- the brain--which shall direct the body. So in society--an association of individuals, with slow constitution of a directing organ, called the Government. The problem of civilisation is to establish government on scientific principles--to pick out the fit for rule--to distinguish between the Multitude and the Select, and at the same time to balance their working. It is nonsense to talk about Equality. Evolution is engaged in cephalising the political aggregate--as it did the aggregate of cells in the animal organism. It makes for the differentiation of the Select and of the Crowd--that is to say, towards Inequality."
"Very interesting," murmured the vicar, who listened with an effort whilst mechanically loading his pipe.
"Isn't it? And the ideas are well marked out; first the bio-sociological theory,--then the psychology and ethics which result from it. The book has given me a stronger impulse than anything I've read for years. It carries conviction with it. It clears one's mind of all sorts of doubts and hesitations. I always kicked at the democratic idea; now I know that I was right."
"Ah! Perhaps so. These questions are very difficult--By the bye, Dyce, I want to speak to you about a matter that has been rather troubling me of late. Let us get it over now, shall we?"
Dyce's animated look faded under a shadow of uneasiness. He regarded the vicar steadily, with eyes which gathered apprehension.
"It's very disagreeable," pursued Mr. Lashmar, after puffing a pipe unlit. "I'm afraid it'll be no less so to you than to me. I've postponed the necessity as long as I could. The fact is, Dyce, I'm getting pinched in my finances. Let me tell you just how matters stand."
The son listened to an exposition of his father's difficulties; he had his feet crossed, his head bent, and the pipe hanging from his mouth. At the first silence, he removed his pipe and said quietly:
"It's plain that my allowance must stop. Not another word about that, father. You ought to have spoken before; I've been a burden to you."
"No, no, my dear boy! I haven't felt it till now. But, as you see, things begin to look awkward. Do you think you can manage?"
"Of course I can. Don't trouble about me for a moment. I have my hundred and fifty a year from Mrs. Woolstan, and that's quite enough for a bachelor. I shall pick up something else. In any case, I've no right to sponge on you; I've done it too long. If I had had the slightest suspicion--"
A sense of virtue lit up Dyce's countenance again. Nothing was more agreeable to him than the uttering of generous sentiments. Having reassured his father, he launched into a larger optimism.
"Don't Suppose that I have taken your money year after year without thinking about it. I couldn't have gone on like that if I hadn't felt sure that some day I should pay my debt. It's natural enough that you and mother should feel a little disappointed about me, I seem to have done nothing, but, believe me, I am not idle. Money-making, I admit, has never been much in my mind; all the same, I shall have money enough one of these days, and before very long. Try to have faith in me. If it were necessary, I shouldn't mind entering into an obligation to furnish such and such a sum yearly by when I am thirty years old. It's a thing I never said to anyone, but I know perfectly well that a career--perhaps rather a brilliant one--is opening before me. I know it--just as one knows that one is in good health; it's an intimate sense, needing no support of argument."
"Of course I'm glad to hear you speak like that," said the vicar, venturing only a glance at his son's face.
"Don't, I beg, worry about your affairs," pursued Dyce, with kindling eye. "Cut off my supplies, and go quietly on." He stretched out a soothing hand, palm downwards. "The responsibility for the future is mine; from to-night I take it upon myself."
Much more in the same vein did Dyce pour forth, obviously believing every word he said, and deriving great satisfaction from the sound of his praises. He went to bed, at length, in such a self-approving frame of mind that no sooner had he laid his head on the pillow than sweet sleep lapped him about, and he knew nothing more till the sunlight shimmered at his window.
A letter awaited him at the breakfast table; it had been forwarded from his London address, and he knew at a glance that it came from Mrs. Woolstan, the mother of his pupil. The lady, dating from a house at West Hampstead, wrote thus:
"Dear Mr. Lashmar, "You will be surprised to hear from me so soon again. I particularly want to see you. Something has happened which we must talk over at once. I shall be alone tomorrow afternoon. Do come if you possibly can.
Dyce had come down in a mood less cheerful than that of over-night. As happened sometimes, he had slept too soundly; his head was not quite clear, and his nerves felt rather unsteady. This note from Mrs. Woolstan, he knew not why, caused him uneasiness; a vague prevision of ill was upon him as he read.
He had intended passing the day at Alverholme, and, on the morrow, travelling to Hollingford. Now he felt no inclination to hazard a call upon Lady Ogram; he would return to London forthwith.
"No bad news, I hope?" said his father, when this purpose was announced.
"Mrs. Woolstan wants me back sooner than I expected, that's all."
His mother's lips curled disdainfully. To be at the beck and call of a Mrs. Woolstan, seemed to her an ignoble thing. However, she had learnt the tenor of Dyce's discourse of the evening before, and tried once more to see a radiance in his future.
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