Gregory walked long in the Scotch garden with his eyes on the stars. One, larger than all the rest, over the larches, shone on him ironically, for it was the star of love. And on his beat between the yew-trees that, living before Pendyces came to Worsted Skeynes, would live when they were gone, he cooled his heart in the silver light of that big star. The irises restrained their perfume lest it should whip his senses; only the young larch-trees and the far fields sent him their fugitive sweetness through the dark. And the same brown owl that had hooted when Helen Bellew kissed George Pendyce in the conservatory hooted again now that Gregory walked grieving over the fruits of that kiss.
His thoughts were of Mr. Barter, and with the injustice natural to a man who took a warm and personal view of things, he painted the Rector in colours darker than his cloth.
'Indelicate, meddlesome,' he thought. 'How dare he speak of her like that!'
Mr. Paramor's voice broke in on his meditations.
"Still cooling your heels? Why did you play the deuce with us in there?"
"I hate a sham," said Gregory. "This marriage of my ward's is a sham. She had better live honestly with the man she really loves!"
"So you said just now," returned Mr. Paramor. "Would you apply that to everyone?"
"Well," said Mr. Paramor with a laugh, "there is nothing like an idealist for-making hay! You once told me, if I remember, that marriage was sacred to you!"
"Those are my own private feelings, Paramor. But here the mischief's done already. It is a sham, a hateful sham, and it ought to come to an end!"
"That's all very well," replied Mr. Paramor, "but when you come to put it into practice in that wholesale way it leads to goodness knows what. It means reconstructing marriage on a basis entirely different from the present. It's marriage on the basis of the heart, and not on the basis of property. Are you prepared to go to that length?"
"You're as much of an extremist one way as Barter is the other. It's you extremists who do all the harm. There's a golden mean, my friend. I agree that something ought to be done. But what you don't see is that laws must suit those they are intended to govern. You're too much in the stars, Vigil. Medicine must be graduated to the patient. Come, man, where's your sense of humour? Imagine your conception of marriage applied to Pendyce and his sons, or his Rector, or his tenants, and the labourers on his estate."
"No, no," said Gregory; "I refuse to believe----"
"The country classes," said Mr. Paramor quietly, "are especially backward in such matters. They have strong, meat-fed instincts, and what with the county Members, the Bishops, the Peers, all the hereditary force of the country, they still rule the roast. And there's a certain disease--to make a very poor joke, call it 'Pendycitis' with which most of these people are infected. They're 'crass.' They do things, but they do them the wrong way! They muddle through with the greatest possible amount of unnecessary labour and suffering! It's part of the hereditary principle. I haven't had to do with them thirty five years for nothing!"
Gregory turned his face away.
"Your joke is very poor," he said. "I don't believe they are like that! I won't admit it. If there is such a disease, it's our business to find a remedy."
"Nothing but an operation will cure it," said Mr. Paramor; "and before operating there's a preliminary process to be gone through. It was discovered by Lister."
"Paramor, I hate your pessimism!"
Mr. Paramor's eyes haunted Gregory's back.
"But I am not a pessimist," he said. "Far from it.
"'When daisies pied and violets blue, And lady-smocks all silver-white, And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue Do paint the meadows with delight, The cuckoo then, on every tree----'"
Gregory turned on him.
"How can you quote poetry, and hold the views you do? We ought to construct----"
'You want to build before you've laid your foundations," said Mr. Paramor. "You let your feelings carry you away, Vigil. The state of the marriage laws is only a symptom. It's this disease, this grudging narrow spirit in men, that makes such laws necessary. Unlovely men, unlovely laws--what can you expect?"
"I will never believe that we shall be content to go on living in a slough of--of----"
"Provincialism!" said Mr. Paramor. "You should take to gardening; it makes one recognise what you idealists seem to pass over--that men, my dear friend, are, like plants, creatures of heredity and environment; their growth is slow. You can't get grapes from thorns, Vigil, or figs from thistles--at least, not in one generation-- however busy and hungry you may be!"
"Your theory degrades us all to the level of thistles."
"Social laws depend for their strength on the harm they have it in their power to inflict, and that harm depends for its strength on the ideals held by the man on whom the harm falls. If you dispense with the marriage tie, or give up your property and take to Brotherhood, you'll have a very thistley time, but you won't mind that if you're a fig. And so on ad lib. It's odd, though, how soon the thistles that thought themselves figs get found out. There are many things I hate, Vigil. One is extravagance, and another humbug!"
But Gregory stood looking at the sky.
"We seem to have wandered from the point," said Mr. Paramor, "and I think we had better go in. It's nearly eleven."
Throughout the length of the low white house there were but three windows lighted, three eyes looking at the moon, a fairy shallop sailing the night sky. The cedar-trees stood black as pitch. The old brown owl had ceased his hooting. Mr. Paramor gripped Gregory by the arm.
"A nightingale! Did you hear him down in that spinney? It's a sweet place, this! I don't wonder Pendyce is fond of it. You're not a fisherman, I think? Did you ever watch a school of fishes coasting along a bank? How blind they are, and how they follow their leader! In our element we men know just about as much as the fishes do. A blind lot, Vigil! We take a mean view of things; we're damnably provincial!"
Gregory pressed his hands to his forehead.
"I'm trying to think," he said, "what will be the consequences to my ward of this divorce."
"My friend, listen to some plain speaking. Your ward and her husband and George Pendyce are just the sort of people for whom our law of divorce is framed. They've all three got courage, they're all reckless and obstinate, and--forgive me--thick-skinned. Their case, if fought, will take a week of hard swearing, a week of the public's money and time. It will give admirable opportunities to eminent counsel, excellent reading to the general public, first-rate sport all round.
The papers will have a regular carnival. I repeat, they are the very people for whom our law of divorce is framed. There's a great deal to be said for publicity, but all the same it puts a premium on insensibility, and causes a vast amount of suffering to innocent people. I told you once before, to get a divorce, even if you deserve it, you mustn't be a sensitive person. Those three will go through it all splendidly, but every scrap of skin will be torn off you and our poor friends down here, and the result will be a drawn battle at the end! That's if it's fought, and if it comes on I don't see how we can let it go unfought; it's contrary to my instincts. If we let it go undefended, mark my words, your ward and George Pendyce will be sick of each other before the law allows them to marry, and George, as his father says, for the sake of 'morality,' will have to marry a woman who is tired of him, or of whom he is tired. Now you've got it straight from the shoulder, and I'm going up to bed. It's a heavy dew. Lock this door after you."
Mr. Paramor made his way into the conservatory. He stopped and came back.
"Pendyce," he said, "perfectly understands all I've been telling you. He'd give his eyes for the case not to come on, but you'll see he'll rub everything up the wrong way, and it'll be a miracle if we succeed. That's 'Pendycitis'! We've all got a touch of it. Good- night!"
Gregory was left alone outside the country house with his big star. And as his thoughts were seldom of an impersonal kind he did not reflect on "Pendycitis," but on Helen Bellew. And the longer he thought the more he thought of her as he desired to think, for this was natural to him; and ever more ironical grew the twinkling of his star above the spinney where the nightingale was singing.
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