SEES AN EDITOR, AND FINDS A FARMER
Not for some days after his fall from the window did Mr. Lavender begin to regain the elasticity of body necessary to the resumption of public life. He spent the hours profitably, however, in digesting the newspapers and storing ardour. On Tuesday morning, remembering that no proof of his interview had yet been sent him, and feeling that he ought not to neglect so important a matter, he set forth to the office of the great journal from which, in the occult fashion of the faithful, he was convinced the reporter had come. While he was asking for the editor in the stony entrance, a young man who was passing looked at him attentively and said: "Ah, sir, here you are! He's waiting for you. Come up, will you?"
Mr. Lavender followed up some stairs, greatly gratified at the thought that he was expected. The young man led him through one or two swing doors into an outer office, where a young woman was typing.
Mr. Lavender shook his head, and sat down on the edge of a green leather chair. The editor, resuming his seat, crossed his legs deferentially, and sinking his chin again on his chest, began:
"About your article. My only trouble, of course, is that I'm running that stunt on British prisoners--great success! You've seen it, I suppose?"
"Yes, indeed," said Mr. Lavender; I read you every day.
The editor made a little movement which showed that he was flattered, and sinking his chin still further into his chest, resumed:
"It might run another week, or it might fall down to-morrow--you never can tell. But I'm getting lots of letters. Tremendous public interest."
"Yes, yes," assented Mr. Lavender, "it's most important."
"Of course, we might run yours with it," said the editor. "But I don't know; I think it'd kill the other. Still----"
"I shouldn't like----" began Mr. Lavender.
"I don't believe in giving them more than they want, you know," resumed the editor. "I think I'll have my news editor in," and he blew into a tube. "Send me Mr. Crackamup. This thing of yours is very important, sir. Suppose we began to run it on Thursday. Yes, I should think they'll be tired of British prisoners by then."
"Don't let me," began Mr. Lavender.
The editor's eye became unveiled for the Moment. "You'll be wanting to take it somewhere else if we----Quite! Well, I think we could run them together. See here, Mr. Crackamup"--Mr. Lavender saw a small man like Beethoven frowning from behind spectacles--"could we run this German prisoner stunt alongside the British, or d'you think it would kill it?"
Mr. Lavender almost rose from his chair in surprise. "Are you----" he said; "is it----"
The small man hiccoughed, and said in a raw voice:
"The letters are falling off."
"Ah!" murmured the editor, "I thought we should be through by Thursday. We'll start this new stunt Thursday. Give it all prominence, Crackamup. It'll focus fury. All to the good--all to the good. Opinion's ripe." Then for a moment he seemed to hesitate, and his chin sank back on his chest. "I don't know," he murmured, "of course it may----"
"Please," began Mr. Lavender, rising, while the small man hiccoughed again. The two motions seemed to determine the editor.
"That's all right, sir," he said, rising also; "that's quite all right. We'll say Thursday, and risk it. Thursday, Crackamup." And he held out his hand to Mr. Lavender. "Good morning, sir, good morning. Delighted to have seen you. You wouldn't put your name to it? Well, well, it doesn't matter; only you could have written it. The turn of phrase--immense! They'll tumble all right!" And Mr. Lavender found himself, with Mr. Crackamup, in the lobby. "It's bewildering," he thought, "how quickly he settled that. And yet he had such repose. But is there some mistake?" He was about to ask his companion, but with a distant hiccough the small man had vanished. Thus deserted, Mr. Lavender was in two minds whether to ask to be readmitted, when the four gentlemen with notebooks repassed him in single file into the editor's room.
"My name is Lavender," he said resolutely to the young woman. "Is that all right?"
"Quite," she answered, without looking up.
Mr. Lavender went out slowly, thinking, "I may perhaps have said more in that interview than I remember. Next time I really will insist on having a proof. Or have they taken me for some other public man?" This notion was so disagreeable, however, that he dismissed it, and passed into the street.
On Thursday, the day fixed for his fresh tour of public speaking, he opened the great journal eagerly. Above the third column was the headline: OUR VITAL DUTY: BY A GREAT PUBLIC MAN. "That must be it," he thought. The article, which occupied just a column of precious space, began with an appeal so moving that before he had read twenty lines Mr. Lavender had identified himself completely with the writer; and if anyone had told him that he had not uttered these sentiments, he would have given him the lie direct. Working from heat to heat the article finished in a glorious outburst with a passionate appeal to the country to starve all German prisoners.
Mr. Lavender put it down in a glow of exultation. "I shall translate words into action," he thought; "I shall at once visit a rural district where German prisoners are working on the land, and see that the farmers do their duty." And, forgetting in his excitement to eat his breakfast, he put the journal in his pocket, wrapped himself in his dust-coat and broad-brimmed hat, and went out to his car, which was drawn up, with Blink, who had not forgotten her last experience, inside.
"We will go to a rural district, Joe," he said, getting in.
"Very good, sir," answered Joe; and, unnoticed by the population, they glided into the hazy heat of the June morning.
"Well, what abaht it, sir?" said Joe, after they had proceeded for some three hours. "Here we are."
Mr. Lavender, who had been lost in the beauty of the scenes through which he was passing, awoke from reverie, and said:
"I am looking for German prisoners, Joe; if you see a farmer, you might stop."
"Any sort of farmer?" asked Joe.
"Is there more than one sort?" returned Mr. Lavender, smiling.
Joe cocked his eye. "Ain't you never lived in the country, sir?"
"Not for more than a few weeks at a time, Joe, unless Rochester counts. Of course, I know Eastbourne very well."
"I know Eastbourne from the inside," said Joe discursively. "I was a waiter there once."
"An interesting life, a waiter's, Joe, I should think."
"Ah! Everything comes to 'im who waits, they say. But abaht farmers--you've got a lot to learn, sir."
"I am always conscious of that, Joe; the ramifications of public life are innumerable."
"I could give you some rummikins abaht farmers. I once travelled in breeches."
"You seem to have done a great many things Joe."
"That's right, sir. I've been a sailor, a 'traveller,' a waiter, a scene-shifter, and a shover, and I don't know which was the cushiest job. But, talking of farmers: there's the old English type that wears Bedfords--don't you go near 'im, 'e bites. There's the modern scientific farmer, but it'll take us a week to find 'im. And there's the small-'older, wearin' trahsers, likely as not; I don't think 'e'd be any use to you.
"What am I to do then?" asked Mr Lavender.
"Ah!" said Joe, "'ave lunch."
Mr. Lavender sighed, his hunger quarelling with his sense of duty. "I should like to have found a farmer first," he said.
"Well, sir, I'll drive up to that clump o'beeches, and you can have a look round for one while I get lunch ready.
"That will do admirably."
"There's just one thing, sir," said Joe, when his master was about to start; "don't you take any house you come across for a farm. They're mostly cottages o' gentility nowadays, in'abited by lunatics."
"I shall be very careful," said Mr. Lavender.
"This glorious land!" he thought, walking away from the beech clump, with Blink at his heels; "how wonderful to see it being restored to its former fertility under pressure of the war! The farmer must be a happy man, indeed, working so nobly for his country, without thought of his own prosperity. How flowery those beans look already!" he mused, glancing at a field of potatoes. "Now that I am here I shall be able to combine my work on German prisoners with an effort to stimulate food production. Blink!" For Blink was lingering in a gateway. Moving back to her, Mr. Lavender saw that the sagacious animal was staring through the gate at a farmer who was standing in a field perfectly still, with his back turned, about thirty yards away.
"Have you----" Mr. Lavender began eagerly; "is it--are you employing any German prisoners, sir?"
The farmer did not seem to hear. "He must," thought Mr. Lavender, "be of the old stolid English variety."
The farmer, who was indeed attired in a bowler hat and Bedford cords, continued to gaze over his land, unconscious of Mr. Lavender's presence.
"I am asking you a question, sir," resumed the latter in a louder voice. "And however patriotically absorbed you may be in cultivating your soil, there is no necessity for rudeness."
The farmer did not move a muscle.
"Sir," began Mr. Lavender again, very patiently, "though I have always heard that the British farmer is of all men least amenable to influence and new ideas, I have never believed it, and I am persuaded that if you will but listen I shall be able to alter your whole outlook about the agricultural future of this country." For it had suddenly occurred to him that it might be a long time before he had again such an opportunity of addressing a rural audience on the growth of food, and he was loth to throw away the chance. The farmer, however, continued to stand with his hack to the speaker, paying no more heed to his voice than to the buzzing of a fly.
"You SHALL hear me," cried Mr. Lavender, unconsciously miming a voice from the past, and catching, as he thought, the sound of a titter, he flung his hand out, and exclaimed:
"Grass, gentlemen, grass is the hub of the matter. We have put our hand to the plough"--and, his imagination taking flight at those words, he went on in a voice calculated to reach the great assembly of farmers which he now saw before him with their backs turned--"and never shall we take it away till we have reduced every acre in the country to an arable condition. In the future not only must we feed ourselves, but our dogs, our horses, and our children, and restore the land to its pristine glory in the front rank of the world's premier industry. But me no buts," he went on with a winning smile, remembering that geniality is essential in addressing a country audience, "and butter me no butter, for in future we shall require to grow our margarine as well. Let us, in a word, put behind us all prejudice and pusillanimity till we see this country of ours once more blooming like one great cornfield, covered with cows. Sirs, I am no iconoclast; let us do all this without departing in any way from those great principles of Free Trade, Industrialism, and Individual Liberty which have made our towns the largest, most crowded, and wealthiest under that sun which never sets over the British Empire. We do but need to see this great problem steadily and to see it whole, and we shall achieve this revolution in our national life without the sacrifice of a single principle or a single penny. Believe me, gentlemen, we shall yet eat our cake and have it."
Mr. Lavender paused for breath, the headlines of his great speech in tomorrow's paper dancing before his eyes: "THE CLIMACTERIC--EATS CAKE AND HAS IT--A GREAT CONCLUSION." The wind, which had risen somewhat during Mr. Lavender's speech, fluttered the farmer's garments at this moment, so that they emitted a sound like the stir which runs through an audience at a moment of strong emotion.
"Ah!" cried Mr. Lavender, "I see that I move you, gentlemen. Those have traduced you who call you unimpressionable. After all, are you not the backbone of this country up which runs the marrow which feeds the brain; and shall you not respond to an appeal at once so simple and so fundamental? I assure you, gentlemen, it needs no thought; indeed, the less you think about it the better, for to do so will but weaken your purpose and distract your attention. Your duty is to go forward with stout hearts, firm steps, and kindling eyes; in this way alone shall we defeat our common enemies. And at those words, which he had uttered at the top of his voice, Mr. Lavender stood like a clock which has run down, rubbing his eyes. For Blink, roaming the field during the speech, and encountering quadruped called rabbit, which she had never seen before, had backed away from it in dismay, brushed against the farmer's legs and caused his breeches to fall down, revealing the sticks on which they had been draped. When Mr. Lavender saw this he called out in a loud voice Sir, you have deceived me. I took you for a human being. I now perceive that you are but a selfish automaton, rooted to your own business, without a particle of patriotic sense. Farewell!"