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Blood: A Story of Two Brothers

A certain titled lady, great in the social world, was walking down the
village street between two ladies of the village, and their
conversation was about some person known to the two who had behaved in
the noblest manner in difficult circumstances, and the talk ran on
between the two like a duet, the great lady mostly silent and paying
but little attention to it. At length the subject was exhausted, and as
a proper conclusion to round the discourse off, one of them remarked:
"It is what I have always said,--there's nothing like blood!" Whereupon
the great person returned, "I don't agree with you: it strikes me you
two are always praising blood, and I think it perfectly horrid. The
very sight of a black pudding for instance turns me sick and makes me
want to be a vegetarian."

The others smiled and laboriously explained that they were not praising
blood as an article of diet, but had used the word in its other and
partly metamorphical sense. They simply meant that as a rule persons of
good blood or of old families had better qualities and a higher
standard of conduct and action than others.

The other listened and said nothing, for although of good blood herself
she was an out-and-out democrat, a burning Radical, burning bright in
the forests of the night of dark old England, and she considered that
all these lofty notions about old families and higher standards were
confined to those who knew little or nothing about the life of the
upper classes.

She, the aristocrat, was wrong, and the two village ladies, members of
the middle class, were right, although they were without a sense of
humour and did not know that their distinguished friend was poking a
little fun at them when she spoke about black puddings.

They were right, and it was never necessary for Herbert Spencer to tell
us that the world is right in looking for nobler motives and ideals, a
higher standard of conduct, better, sweeter manners, from those who are
highly placed than from the ruck of men; and as this higher, better
life, which is only possible in the leisured classes, is correlated
with the "aspects which please," the regular features and personal
beauty, the conclusion is the beauty and goodness or "inward
perfections" are correlated.

All this is common, universal knowledge: to all men of all races and in
all parts of the world it comes as a shock to hear that a person of a
noble countenance has been guilty of an ignoble action. It is only the
ugly (and bad) who fondly cherish the delusion that beauty doesn't
matter, that it is only skin-deep and the rest of it.

Here now arises a curious question, the subject of this little paper.
When a good old family, of good character, falls on evil days and is
eventually submerged in the classes beneath, we know that the aspects
which please, the good features and expression, will often persist for
long generations. Now this submerging process is perpetually going on
all over the land and so it has been for centuries. We notice from year
to year the rise from the ranks of numberless men to the highest
positions, who are our leaders and legislators, owners of great estates
who found great families and receive titles. But we do not notice the
corresponding decline and final disappearance of those who were highly
placed, since this is a more gradual process and has nothing
sensational about it. Yet the two processes are equally great and far-
reaching in their effects, and are like those two of Elaboration and
Degeneration which go on side by side for ever in nature, in the animal
world; and like darkness and light and heat and cold in the physical
world.

As a fact, the country is full of the descendants of families that have
"died out." How long it takes to blot out or blur the finer features
and expression we do not know, and the time probably varies according
to the length of the period during which the family existed in its
higher phase. The question which confronts us is: Does the higher or
better nature, the "inward perfections" which are correlated with the
aspects which please, endure too, or do those who fall from their own
class degenerate morally to the level of the people they live and are
one with?

It is a nice question. In Sussex, with Mr. M. A. Lower, who has written
about the vanished or submerged families of that county, for my guide
as to names, I have sought out persons of a very humble condition, some
who were shepherds and agricultural labourers, and have been surprised
at the good faces of many of them, the fine, even noble, features and
expression, and with these an exceptionally fine character. Labourers
on the lands that were once owned by their forefathers, and children of
long generations of labourers, yet still exhibiting the marks of their
aristocratic descent, the fine features and expression and the fine
moral qualities with which they are correlated.

I will now give in illustration an old South American experience, an
example, which deeply impressed me at the time, of the sharp contrast
between a remote descendant of aristocrats and a child of the people in
a country where class distinctions have long ceased to exist.

It happened that I went to stay at a cattle ranch for two or three
months one summer, in a part of the country new to me, where I knew
scarcely anyone. It was a good spot for my purpose, which was bird
study, and this wholly occupied my mind. By-and-by I heard about two
brothers, aged respectively twenty-three and twenty-four years, who
lived in the neighbourhood on a cattle ranch inherited from their
father, who had died young. They had no relations and were the last of
their name in that part of the country, and their grazing land was but
a remnant of the estate as it had been a century before. The name of
the brothers first attracted my attention, for it was that of an old
highly-distinguished family of Spain, two or three of whose adventurous
sons had gone to South America early in the seventeenth century to seek
their fortunes, and had settled there. The real name need not be
stated: I will call it de la Rosa, which will serve as well as another.
Knowing something of the ancient history of the family I became curious
to meet the brothers, just to see what sort of men they were who had
blue blood and yet lived, as their forbears had done for generations,
in the rough primitive manner of the gauchos--the cattle-tending
horsemen of the pampas. A little later I met the younger brother at a
house in the village a few miles from the ranch I was staying at. His
name was Cyril; the elder was Ambrose. He was certainly a very fine
fellow in appearance, tall and strongly built, with a high colour on
his open genial countenance and a smile always playing about the
corners of his rather large sensual mouth and in his greenish-hazel
eyes; but of the noble ancestry there was no faintest trace. His
features were those of the unameliorated peasant, as he may be seen in
any European country, and in this country, in Ireland particularly, but
with us he is not so common. It would seem that in England there is a
larger mixture of better blood, or that the improvements in features
due to improved conditions, physical and moral, have gone further. At
all events, one may look at a crowd anywhere in England and see only a
face here and there of the unmodified plebeian type. In a very large
majority the forehead will be less low and narrow, the nose less coarse
with less wide-spreading alae, the depression in the bridge not so
deep, the mouth not so large nor the jowl so heavy. These marks of the
unimproved adult are present in all infants at birth. Lady Clara Vere
de Vere's little bantling is in a sense not hers at all but the child
of some ugly antique race; of a Palaeolithic mother, let us say, who
lived before the last Glacial epoch and was not very much better-
looking herself than an orang-utan. It is only when the bony and
cartilaginous framework, with the muscular covering of the face,
becomes modified, and the wrinkled brown visage of the ancient pigmy
grows white and smooth, that it can be recognised as Lady Clara's own
offspring. The infant is ugly, and where the infantile features survive
in the adult the man is and must be ugly too, _unless the expression
is good_. Thus, we may know numbers of persons who would certainly
be ugly but for the redeeming expression; and this good expression,
which is "feature in the making," is, like good features, an "outward
sign of inward perfections."

To continue with the description of my young gentleman of blue blood
and plebeian countenance, his expression not only saved him from
ugliness but made him singularly attractive, it revealed a good nature,
friendliness, love of his fellows, sincerity, and other pleasing
qualities. After meeting and conversing with him I was not surprised to
hear that he was universally liked, but regarding him critically I
could not say that his manner was perfect. He was too self-conscious,
too anxious to shine, too vain of his personal appearance, of his wit,
his rich dress, his position as a de la Rosa and a landowner. There was
even a vulgarity in him, such as one looks for in a person risen from
the lower orders but does not expect in the descendant of an ancient
and once lustrous family, however much decayed and impoverished, or
submerged.

Shortly afterwards a gossipy old native estanciero, who lived close by,
while sitting in our kitchen sipping maté, began talking freely about
his neighbour's lives and characters, and I told him I had felt
interested in the brothers de la Rosa; partly on account of the great
affection these two had for one another, which was like an ideal
friendship; and in part too on account of the ancient history of the
family they came from. I had met one of them, I told him,--Cyril--a
very fine fellow, but in some respects he was not exactly like my
preconceived idea of a de la Rosa.

"No, and he isn't one!" shouted the old fellow, with a great laugh; and
more than delighted at having a subject presented to him and at his
capture of a fresh listener, he proceeded to give me an intimate
history of the brothers.

The father, who was a fine and a lovable man, married early, and his
young wife died in giving birth to their only child--Ambrose. He did
not marry again: he was exceedingly fond of his child and was both
father and mother to it and kept it with him until the boy was about
nine years old, and then determined to send him to Buenos Ayres to give
him a year's schooling. He himself had been taught to read as a small
boy, also to write a letter, but he did not think himself equal to
teach the boy, and so for a time they would have to be separated.

Meanwhile the boy had picked up with Cyril, a little waif in rags, the
bastard child of a woman who had gone away and left him in infancy to
the mercy of others. He had been reared in the hovel of a poor gaucho
on the de la Rosa land, but the poor orphan, although the dirtiest,
raggedest, most mischievous little beggar in the land, was an
attractive child, intelligent, full of fun, and of an adventurous
spirit. Half his days were spent miles from home, wading through the
vast reedy and rushy marshes in the neighbourhood, hunting for birds'
nests. Little Ambrose, with no child companion at home, where his life
had been made too soft for him, was exceedingly happy with his wild
companion, and they were often absent together in the marshes for a
whole day, to the great anxiety of the father. But he could not
separate them, because he could not endure to see the misery of his boy
when they were forcibly kept apart. Nor could he forbid his child from
heaping gifts in food and clothes and toys or whatever he had, on his
little playmate. Nor did the trouble cease when the time came now for
the boy to be sent from home to learn his letters: his grief at the
prospect of being separated from his companion was too much for the
father, and he eventually sent them together to the city, where they
spent a year or two and came back as devoted to one another as when
they went away. From that time Cyril lived with them, and eventually de
la Rosa adopted him, and to make his son happy he left all he possessed
to be equally divided at his death between them. He was in bad health,
and died when Ambrose was fifteen and Cyril fourteen; from that time
they were their own masters and refused to have any division of their
inheritance but continued to live together; and had so continued for
upwards of ten years.

Shortly after hearing this history I met the brothers together at a
house in the village, and a greater contrast between two men it would
be impossible to imagine. They were alike only in both being big, well-
shaped, handsome, and well-dressed men, but in their faces they had the
stamp of widely separated classes, and differed as much as if they had
belonged to distinct species. Cyril, with a coarse, high-coloured skin
and the primitive features I have described; Ambrose, with a pale dark
skin of a silky texture, an oval face and classic features--forehead,
nose, mouth and chin, and his ears small and lying against his head,
not sticking out like handles as in his brother; he had black hair and
grey eyes. It was the face of an aristocrat, of a man of blue blood, or
of good blood, of an ancient family; and in his manner too he was a
perfect contrast to his brother and friend. There was no trace of
vulgarity in him; he was not self-conscious, not anxious to shine; he
was modesty itself, and in his speech and manner and appearance he was,
to put it all in one word, a gentleman.

Seeing them together I was more amazed than ever at the fact of their
extraordinary affection for each other, their perfect amity which had
lasted so many years without a rift, which nothing could break, as
people said, except a woman.

But the woman who would break or shatter it had not yet appeared on the
horizon, nor do I know whether she ever appeared or not, since after
leaving the neighbourhood I heard no more of the brothers de la Rosa.

W. H. Hudson