Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter IV. A Little Music.

After lunch, Herbert Le Breton went off for his afternoon ride--a grave social misdemeanour, Ernest thought it--and Arthur Berkeley took Edie round to show her about the college and the shady gardens. Ernest would have liked to walk with her himself, for there was something in her that began to interest him somewhat; and besides, she was so pretty, and so graceful, and so sympathetic: but he felt he must not take her away from her host for the time being, who had a sort of proprietary right in the pleasing duty of acting as showman to her over his own college. So he dropped behind with Harry Oswald and old Mrs. Martindale, and endeavoured to simulate a polite interest in the old lady's scraps of conversation upon the heads of houses, their wives and families.

'This is Addison's Walk, Miss Oswald,' said Berkeley, taking her through the gate into the wooded path beside the Cherwell; 'so called because the ingenious Mr. Addison is said to have specially patronised it. As he was an undergraduate of this college, and a singularly lazy person, it's very probable that he really did so; every other undergraduate certainly does, for it's the nearest walk an idle man can get without ever taking the trouble to go outside the grounds of Magdalen.'

'The ingenious Mr. Addison was quite right then,' Edie answered, smiling; 'for he couldn't have chosen a lovelier place on earth to stroll in. How exquisite it looks just now, with the mellow light falling down upon the path through this beautiful autumnal foliage! It's just a natural cathedral aisle, with a lot of pale straw-coloured glass in the painted windows, like that splendid one we went to see the other day at Merton Chapel.'

'Yes, there are certainly tones in that window I never saw in any other,' Berkeley said, 'and the walk to-day is very much the same in its delicate colouring. You're fond of colour, I should think, Miss Oswald, from what you say.'

'Oh, nobody could help being struck by the autumn colouring of the Thames valley, I should fancy,' said Edie, blushing. 'We noticed it all the way up as we came in the train from Reading, a perfect glow of crimson and orange at Pangbourne, Goring, Mapledurham, and Nuneham. I always thought the Dart in October the loveliest blaze of warm reds and yellows I had ever seen anywhere in nature, but the Thames valley beats it hollow, as Harry says. This walk to-day is just one's ideal picture of Milton's Vallombrosa.'

'Ah, yes, I always look forward to the first days of October term,' said Berkeley, slowly, 'as one of the greatest and purest treats in the whole round workaday twelvemonth. When the creeper on the Founder's Tower first begins to redden and crimson in the autumn, I could sit all day long by my open window, and just look at that glorious sight alone instead of having my dinner. But I'm very fond of these walks in full summer time too. I often stop up alone all through the long (being tied to my curacy here permanently, you know), and then I have the run of the place entirely to myself. Sometimes I take my flute out, and sit under the shade here and compose some of my little pieces.'

'I can easily understand that they were composed here,' said Edie quickly. 'They've caught exactly the flavour of the place--especially your exquisite little Penseroso.'

'Ah, you know my music, then, Miss Oswald?'

'Oh yes, Harry always brings me home all your pieces whenever he comes back at the end of term. I can play every one of them without the notes. But the Penseroso is my special favourite.'

'It's mine, too. I'm so glad you like it. But I'm working away at a little thing now which you shall hear as soon as I've finished it; something lighter and daintier than anything else I've ever attempted. I shall call it the Butterfly Canzonet.'

'Why don't you publish your music under your own name, Mr. Berkeley?'

'Oh, because it would never do. I'm a parson now, and I must keep up the dignity of the cloth by fighting shy of any aesthetic heterodoxies. It would be professional suicide for me to be suspected of artistic leanings. All very well in an archdeacon, you know, to cultivate his tastes for chants and anthems, but for a simple curate!--and secular songs too!--why, it would be sheer contumacy. His chances of a living would shrink at once to what your brother would call a vanishing quantity.'

'Well, you can't imagine how much I admire your songs and airs, Mr. Berkeley. I was so pleased when you invited us, to think I was going to lunch with a real composer. There's no music I love so much as yours.'

'I'm very glad to hear it, Miss Oswald, I assure you. But I'm only a beginner and a trifler yet. Some day I mean to produce something that will be worth listening to. Only, do you remember what some French novelist once said?--"A poet's sweetest poem is always the one he has never been able to compose." I often think that's true of music, too. Away up in the higher stories of one's brain somewhere, there's a tune floating about, or rather a whole oratorio full of them, that one can never catch and fix upon ruled paper. The idea's there, such a beautiful and vague idea, so familiar to one, but so utterly unrealisable on any known instrument--a sort of musical Ariel, flitting before one and tantalising one for ever, but never allowing one to come up with it and see its real features. I'm always dissatisfied with what I've actually written, and longing to crystallise into a score the imaginary airs I can never catch. Except in this last piece of mine; that's the only thing I've ever done that thoroughly and completely pleases me. Come and see me next week, and I'll play it over to you.'

They walked all round the meadows, and back again beside the arches of the beautiful bridge, and then returned to Berkeley's rooms once more for a cup of afternoon tea, and an air or two of Berkeley's own composing. Edie enjoyed the walk and the talk immensely; she enjoyed the music even more. In a way, it was all so new to her. For though she had always seen much of Harry, and though Harry, who was the kindest and proudest of brothers, had always instinctively kept her up to his own level of thought and conversation, still, she wasn't used to seeing so many intelligent and educated young men together, and the novelty of their society was delightfully exhilarating to her eager little mind. To a bright girl of nineteen, wherever she may come from, the atmosphere of Oxford has a wonderfully cheering and stimulating effect; to a country tradesman's daughter from a tiny west-country village it is like a little paradise on earth with a ceaseless round of intensely enjoyable breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, and water-parties.

Ernest, for his part, was not so well pleased. He wanted to have a little conversation with Oswald's sister; and he was compelled by politeness to give her up in favour of Arthur Berkeley. However, he made up for it when he returned, and monopolised the pretty little visitor himself for almost the entire tea-hour.

As soon as they had gone, Arthur Berkeley sported his oak, and sat down by himself in his comfortable crimson-covered basket chair. 'I won't let anybody come and disturb me this evening,' he said to himself moodily. 'I won't let any of these noisy Magdalen men come with their racket and riot to cut off the memory of that bright little dream. No desecration after she has gone. Little Miss Butterfly! What a pretty, airy, dainty, delicate little morsel it is! How she flits, and sips, and natters about every possible subject, just touching the tip of it so gracefully with her tiny white fingers, and blushing so unfeignedly when she thinks she's paid you a compliment, or you've paid her one. How she blushed when she said she liked my music! How she blushed when I said she had a splendid ear for minute discrimination! Somehow, if I were a falling-in-love sort of fellow, I half fancy I could manage to fall in love with her on the spot. Or rather, if I were a good analytical psychologist, perhaps I ought more correctly to say I am in love with her already.'

He sat down idly at the piano and played a few bars softly to himself--a beautiful, airy sort of melody, as it shaped itself vaguely in his head at the moment, with a little of the new wine of first love running like a trill through the midst of its fast-flowing quavers and dainty undulations. 'That will do,' he said to himself approvingly. 'That will do very well; that's little Miss Butterfly. Here she flits, flits, flits, flickers, sip, sip, sip, at her honeyed flowers; twirl away, whirl away, off in the sunshine--there you go, Miss Butterfly, eddying and circling with your painted mate. Flirt, flirt, flirt, coquetting and curvetting, in your pretty rhythmical aerial quadrille. Down again, down to the hare-bell on the hill side; sip at it, sip at it, sip at it, sweet little honey-drops, clear little honey-drops, bright little honey-drops; oh, for a song to be set to the melody! Tra-la-la, tro-lo-lo, up again, Butterfly. Little silk handkerchief, little lace neckerchief, fluttering, fluttering! Feathery wings of her, bright little eyes of her, flit, flit, flicker! Now, she blushes, blushes, blushes; deep crimson; oh, what a colour! Paint it, painter! Now she speaks. Oh, what laughter! Silvery, silvery, treble, treble, treble; trill away, trill away, silvery treble. Musical, beautiful; beautiful, musical; little Miss Butterfly--fly--fly--fly away!' And he brought his fingers down upon the gamut at last, with a hasty, flickering touch that seemed really as delicate as Edie's own.

'I can never get words for it in English,' he said again, half speaking with his parted lips; 'it's too dactylic in rhythm for English verse to go to it. Beranger might have written a lilt for it, as far as mere syllables go, but Beranger to write about Miss Butterfly!--pho, no Frenchman could possibly catch it. Swinburne could fit the metres, I dare say, but he couldn't fit the feeling. It shall be a song without words, unless I write some Italian lines for it myself. Animula, blandula vagula--that's the sort of ring for it, but Latin's mostly too heavy. Io, Hymen, Hymenae, Io; Io, Hymen, Hymenae! What's that? A wedding song of Catullus--absit omen. I must be in love with her indeed.' He got up from the piano, and paced quickly and feverishly up and down the room.

'And yet,' he went on, 'if only I weren't bound down so by this unprofitable trade of parson! A curate on eighty pounds a year, and a few pupils! The presumptuousness of the man in venturing to think of falling in love, as if he were actually one of the beneficed clergy! What are deacons coming to, I wonder! And yet, hath not a deacon eyes; hath not a deacon hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? And if you show us a little Miss Butterfly, beautiful to the finger-ends, do we not fall in love with her at least as unaffectedly as if we were canons residentiary or rural deans? Fancy little Miss Butterfly a rural deaness! the notion's too ridiculous. Fly away, little Miss Butterfly; fly away, sweet little frolicsome, laughsome creature. I won't try to tie you down to a man in a black clerical coat with a very distant hypothetical reversionary prospect of a dull and dingy country parsonage. Flit elsewhere, little Miss Butterfly, flit elsewhere, and find yourself a gayer, gaudier-coloured mate!'

He sat down again, and strummed a few more bars of his half-composed, half-extemporised melody. Then he leant back on the music-stool, and said gently to himself once more: 'Still, if it were possible, how happy I should try to make her! Bright little Miss Butterfly, I would try never to let a cold cloud pass chillily over your sunshiny head! I would live for you, and work for you, and write songs for your sake, all full of you, you, you, and so all full of life and grace and thrilling music. What's my life good for, to me or to the world? "A clergyman's life is such a useful one," that amiable old conventionality gurgled out this morning; what's the good of mine, as it stands now, to its owner or to anybody else, I should like to know, except the dear old Progenitor? A mere bit of cracked blue china, a fanciful air from a comic opera, masquerading in black and white as a piece of sacred music! What good am I to anyone on earth but the Progenitor (God bless him!), and when he's gone, dear old fellow, what on earth shall I have left to live for. A selfish blank, that's all. But with her, ah, how different! With her to live for and to cherish, with an object to set before oneself as worth one's consideration, what mightn't I do at last? Make her happy--after all, that's the great thing. Make her fond of my music, that music that floats and evades me now, but would harden into scores as if by magic with her to help one to spell it out--I know it would, at last, I know it would. Ah, well, perhaps some day I may be able; perhaps some day the dream will realise itself; till then, work, work, work; let me try to work towards making it possible, a living or a livelihood, no matter which. But not a breath of it to you meanwhile, Miss Butterfly; flit about freely and joyously while you may; I would not spoil your untrammelled flight for worlds by trying to tether it too soon around the fixed centre of my own poor doubtful diaconal destinies.'

At the same moment while Arthur Berkeley was thus garrulously conversing with his heated fancy, Harry and Edie Oswald were strolling lazily down the High, to Edie's lodgings.

'Well, what do you think now of Berkeley and Le Breton, Edie?' asked her brother. 'Which of them do you like the best?'

'I like them both immensely, Harry; I really can't choose between them. When Mr. Berkeley plays, he almost makes me fall in love with him; and when Mr. Le Breton talks, he almost makes me transfer my affections to him instead... But Mr. Berkeley plays divinely... And Mr. Le Breton talks beautifully... You know, I've never seen such clever men before--except you, of course, Harry dear, for you're cleverer and nicer than anybody. Oh, do let me look at those lovely silks over there?' And she danced across the road before he could answer her, like a tripping sylph in a painter's dreamland.

'Mr. Le Breton's very nice,' she went on, after she had duly examined and classified the silks, 'but I don't exactly understand what it is he's got on his conscience.'

'Nothing whatsoever, except the fact of his own existence,' Harry answered with a laugh. 'He has conscientious scruples against the existence of idle people in the community--do-nothings and eat-alls--and therefore he has conscientious scruples against himself for not immediately committing suicide. I believe, if he did exactly what he thought was abstractly right, he'd go away and cut his own throat incontinently for an unprofitable, unproductive, useless citizen.'

'Oh, dear, I hope he'll do nothing of the sort,' cried Edie hastily. 'I think I shall really ask him not to for my sake, if not for anybody else's.'

'He'd be very much flattered indeed by your interposition on his behalf, no doubt, Popsy; but I'm afraid it wouldn't produce much effect upon his ultimate decision.'

'Tell me, Harry, is Mr. Berkeley High Church?'

'Oh dear no, I shouldn't say so. I don't suppose he ever gave the subject a single moment's consideration.'

'But St. Fredegond's is very High Church, I'm told.'

'Ah, yes; but Berkeley's curate of St. Fredegond's, not in virtue of his theology--I never heard he'd got any to speak of--but in virtue of his musical talents. He went into the Church, I suppose, on purely aesthetic grounds. He liked a musical service, and it seemed natural to him to take part in one, just as it seemed natural to a mediaeval Italian with artistic tendencies to paint Madonnas and St. Sebastians. There's nothing more in his clerical coat than that, I fancy, Edie. He probably never thought twice about it on theological grounds.'

'Oh, but that's very wrong of him, Harry. I don't mean having no particular theological beliefs, of course; one expects that nowadays; but going into the Church without them.'

'Well, you see, Edie, you mustn't judge Berkeley in quite the same way as you'd judge other people. In his mind, the aesthetic side is always uppermost; the logical side is comparatively in abeyance. Questions of creed, questions of philosophical belief, questions of science don't interest him at all; he looks at all of them from the point of view of the impression alone. What he sees in the Church is not a body of dogmas, like the High Churchmen, nor a set of opinions, like the Low Churchmen, but a close corporation of educated and cultivated gentlemen, charged with the duty of caring for a number of beautiful mediaeval architectural monuments, and of carrying on a set of grand and impressive musical or oral services. To him, a cathedral is a magnificent historical heritage; a sermon is a sort of ingenious literary exercise; and a hymn is a capital vehicle for very solemn emotional music. That's all; and we can hardly blame him for not seeing these things as we should see them.'

'Well, Harry, I don't know. I like them both immensely. Mr. Berkeley's very nice, but perhaps I like Mr. Le Breton the best of the two.'

Grant Allen