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Title: The Corner of Harley Street - Being Some Familiar Correspondence of Peter Harding, M.D.
Author: Bashford, Henry
Language: English
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[Illustration: Book Cover]



THE CORNER OF HARLEY STREET



THE CORNER
OF HARLEY STREET


BEING SOME FAMILIAR
CORRESPONDENCE OF
PETER HARDING. M.D.


[Illustration]


BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
1913



CONTENTS

I

  To Robert Lynn, M.R.C.S.,
  Applebrook, Devon                       March 4th                    9

II

  To Horace Harding,
  Trinity College, Cambridge              March 11th                  20

III

  To Miss Josephine Summers,
  The Cottage, Potham, Beds.              March 14th                  32

IV

  To Colonel R. F. Morris, C.B.,
  7th Division, Meerut, India             March 15th                  34

V

  To Hugh Pontrex,
  Villa Rosa, Mentone                     March 23rd                  45

VI

  To Miss Sarah Harding,
  The Orphanage, Little Blessington,
  Dorset                                  March 31st                  55

VII

  To Harry Carthew,
  Trenant Hotel, Leeds                    April 8th                   66

VIII

  To John Summers, M.B.,
  At Actonhurst, Granville Road,
  Bristol                                 April 12th                  71

IX

  To Harry Carthew,
  Trenant Hotel, Leeds                    April 15th                  78

X

  To the Rev. Bruce Harding,
  S. Peter's College, Morecambe Bay       April 20th                  79

XI

  To Miss Josephine Summers,
  The Cottage, Potham, Beds.              April 22nd                  87

XII

  To Tom Harding,
  c/o the Rev. Arthur Jakes, Rugby        April 24th                  88

XIII

  To Hugh Pontrex,
  Villa Rosa, Mentone                     May 3rd                     95

XIV

  To Miss Molly Harding,
  91B, Harley Street, W.                  May 6th                    109

XV

  To Miss Josephine Summers,
  The Cottage, Potham, Beds.              May 16th                   116

XVI

  To Lady Wroxton,
  The Manor House, Stoke Magna,
  Oxon                                    May 23rd                   118

XVII

  To Miss Sarah Harding,
  The Orphanage, Little Blessington,
  Dorset                                  June 7th                   127

XVIII

  To Robert Lynn, M.R.C.S.,
  Applebrook, Devon                       June 25th                  151

XIX

  To Hugh Pontrex,
  Hotel Montana, Biarritz                 July 16th                  157

XX

  To Horace Harding,
  c/o Major Alec Cameron, Glen
  Bruisk, Sutherland, N.B.                Aug. 17th                  166

XXI

  To Miss Josephine Summers,
  The Cottage, Potham, Beds.              Aug. 25th                  177

XXII

  To Reginald Pole,
  S.Y. Nautilus, Harwich                  Aug. 30th                  179

XXIII

  To Miss Sarah Harding,
  The Orphanage, Little Blessington,
  Dorset                                  Sept. 6th                  195

XXIV

  To the Rev. Bruce Harding,
  S. Peter's College, Morecambe Bay       Sept. 14th                 202

XXV

  To Hugh Pontrex,
  Villa Rosa, Mentone                     Oct. 3rd                   219

XXVI

  To John Summers, M.B.,
  c/o the Rev. W. B. La Touche,
  High Barn, Winchester                   Oct. 18th                  231

XXVII

  To Miss Sarah Harding,
  The Orphanage, Little Blessington,
  Dorset                                  Nov. 7th                   242

XXVIII

  To Miss Josephine Summers,
  The Cottage, Potham, Beds.              Nov. 26th                  249

XXXIX

  To the Rev. Bruce Harding,
  S. Peter's College, Morecambe Bay       Dec. 2nd                   251

XXX

  To Hugh Pontrex,
  Villa Rosa, Mentone                     Dec. 25th                  255



I

_To Robert Lynn, M.R.C.S., Applebrook, Devon._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _March_ 4, 1910.

MY DEAR BOB,

Your letter of this morning, like the cream that it was, rose naturally
to the surface of the little pile of correspondence that awaited me on
the breakfast-table; and if I didn't read it then, and am only answering
it now, in front of my dressing-room fire, there are more reasons than
one for this. You might even detect a little pathos, perhaps, in the
chief of these. For I can't help feeling that a younger man--myself, for
example, twenty years ago--would have been into it before you could say
scalpel, snatching his joy as one of your own parr will take a Wickham
on a clear pool before the half-pounder beside him has even decided to
inspect it. And if I have not done this, if I have learned the better
way, the art of lingering, the value of the "bouquet," well, there's a
rather forlorn piece of scalp in the opposite looking-glass to tell me
the reason why.

So you see that I didn't rush headlong at your letter, tearing it open
with a feverish, if mature, forefinger. I even ignored the twinkle in my
wife's eye, and the more impertinent expression that Miss Molly was
permitting to rest upon her usually calm features.

"Another lump, my pet," was all I said, and stirred my coffee with that
inscrutable calm so justly associated with Destiny, Wisdom, and the
Consulting Physician.

"He's pretending not to be excited," explained Miss Molly to a college
friend across the table; and Claire, all chestnut mop and
black-stockinged legs (and convalescent, by the way, from the mumps),
gurgled suddenly over her Henty when she ought by rights to have been
completely breathless.

Through the open window a pleasant breeze stirred lazily across the
table, decked with its stolen sweets from our own and our neighbours'
hyacinths. And in a welcome sunshine the windows of Sir Jeremy's
consulting-room beamed as merrily as their owner's eyes.

"And not even one spark of enthusiasm," proceeded Molly. "Oh, who would
have a mere physician for a parent?"

"For the elderly," I told her, "excitement is to be deprecated. Now if I
were twenty-four, perhaps----"

"Twenty-three," put in Molly, adding, with very great distinctness,
"to-morrow."

"And that reminds me," murmured Claire from her sofa under the window.

So I opened the other envelopes first, those that contained the bills,
the appointments, the invitations, and the unpleasant letters, just as a
wise man should, who is at his best, and realizes it, tubbed and shaved
and over his breakfast bacon. And since Molly and her friend appeared to
have interrupted themselves in the midst of some earnest political
discussion, I begged them to resume this. For in making the
breakfast-table their judgment-bar they were setting an example, as I
reminded them, that the world would do well to follow. Breakfast-table
verdicts, breakfast-table sermons, breakfast-table laws, for true and
kindly sanity they might be safely backed, I observed, against any
product of the midnight oil that has emerged from the brain of
man--including even woman as produced by Newnham; or so, at any rate,
thought a middle-aged physician whose opinions were dear to me. Only,
of course, it would have to be a well-furnished table; and the
marmalade, if possible, should have been made at home.

"You had better just _glance_ at it though, hadn't you?" asked
Esther--dear, wise Esther--from her throne behind the urn; after which
there was quite obviously nothing else to be done. Applebrook--glorious
postmark--it had already begun to weave its magic for me as I slipped a
knife into the comfortable envelope, and ran a well-mastered eye over
its contents.

"Nothing of importance," I announced; "only fish."

"_Only_ fish," scoffed Molly, well into her third muffin.

And yet, though I have not actually read it till just now--my sacred ten
minutes before the dinner-gong summons me downstairs--your letter has
really followed me all day, even as Applebrook itself will follow a
returning angler down the evening moor, and ripple through his
after-supper dreams. It has blessed me, and made a dull day bright (for
the sun began to sulk again at noon), and the more so because my wisdom
kept it at a distance until just now. Applebrook--as I emerged from the
District Railway into that faint but inexorable smell of burnt coffee
and human unwashedness which broods over Whitechapel Road, the extra
bulge in my breast-pocket reminded me suddenly of wind-blown gorse and
all the hard-bitten, sunburnt heath that stands for Dartmoor. My step
quickened. I entered the hospital gates with a jauntier tread, and could
have sworn that a silver trout shot spectrally round the corner in front
of me. A poor presage for my lucidity in the afternoon march round the
wards, I can hear you murmur. But you are wrong there. For, on the
contrary, the points of my discourse made their bows to my memory with
unwonted briskness; and I contrived, I think, to keep the
notebook-pencils pretty busy.

Yet the afternoon did contain one of those disquieting surprises that
used at one time to seem so catastrophic, and now appear only too
wonderfully uncommon. For some weeks past I have had a poor fellow in
one of my beds, a cheerful soul, for all he knew himself to be treading
a downhill road. His condition, rather an obscure one, and in any event
incurable, might have represented one of two causes. Week by week, to a
respectful and intelligent body of students, I have demonstrated the
signs and symptoms of this patient, and proved to them how, on the
whole, they must be taken to indicate B--shall we say?--as the root of
the mischief. And now to-day, before an expectant gathering, the
uncompromising knife of the pathologist in the post-mortem room has
revealed the precisely opposite. It was A all the time, and there was
nothing for it but to accept defeat, and retire strategically in as good
an order as might be. There was, at any rate, the consolation that the
mistake could not have affected the unhappy issue of the malady. It was
merely a sort of academic pride that was to suffer; and I suppose it is
only an acquired familiarity with death that could have made so small a
personal disaster even imaginable--for I don't think it ever really
became actual--under its great shadow. So I made my retreat--in fair
order, I believe, with baggage intact and a minimum of casualties.
Nevertheless I caught young Martyn, the wing three, you know--what
wouldn't I have given for his swerve thirty years ago!--smiling
significantly across at your son, who was very tactfully endeavouring to
appear oblivious. And it was Applebrook that fortified my powers of
forgiveness--Applebrook rippling peacefully over its immemorial granite.

And so there's plenty of water, is there, and the colour has been just
right? And you have already been into a pounder, and landed him too.
That's good, for though we miss a lot of pounders in Applebrook--"a
pound, sir, if it weighed an ounce, and took half the cast away with
it"--we seldom land one. And am I game to come down on May 1st as usual?

A day-dream, or dusk-dream, has been interrupted here--I might have
prophesied it--by one of those earnest, cadaverous persons whose pride
it is that they have never taken--never felt the need of it, they
usually add--a holiday in their lives.

"Not for thirty-five years, sir," said this latest specimen to me just
now, rubbing his hands with counting-house pride.

"God help you," I replied, which took him aback a little, and was not, I
admit, a tactful welcome to a prospective two guineas. But then, you
see, he had fetched me back from a dusk-dream.

"Does that mean _you_ can't?" he inquired a little acidly. And really I
should not have been quite so abrupt with him, for his confession gave
me the right cue to his treatment. A holiday, in fact, was all that he
needed, though I doubted his ability to use one. So I assumed my
heaviest manner, as one must when it is to be unaccompanied by an
expensive prescription.

"If you don't take one," I proceeded to tell him, "though you will
probably survive with the aid of iron, arsenic, and an occasional
Seidlitz powder, you will become eventually like those sorrowful civil
servants that may be met at almost any time in Somerset House or the
General Post Office. They have been pensioned for months, but there they
are, unable to inter themselves decently among the mashies and geraniums
of Wimbledon and Weybridge, haunting their former desks, poor forlorn
creatures, whose one bond of life has been severed--a torture to
themselves and their successors."

While I was taking breath after this rather impressive harangue, he
stared at me gloomily.

"It has always," he said, "been my one great desire to die in harness."

After congratulating him on the possession of so modest, if somewhat
cheerless, an ambition, I asked him why he had come to see me. A
physician, to a man with such a goal, seemed, on the face of it,
something of a superfluity. But I learned that there was a wife at home,
poor soul. And it was her doctor, he said, who had recommended this
visit.

"And I may tell you," he added, "that your opinion coincides with
theirs." He handed me his two guineas. "Where shall I go?" he asked.

By now of course I could see that my advice was going to be useless; but
there was no better alternative.

"Have you any hobbies?" I inquired. But he shook his head. No; he had
never had time for hobbies. And by to-morrow afternoon he will be
reading his _Financial News_ on Brighton Pier, and wondering when he can
decently return.

       *       *       *       *       *

But the dressing-gong has sounded already, and the embers in my fire are
reddening into darkness. Outside, the wheels of a myriad motor-cars and
carriages pass ceaselessly, and repass; and from beyond and beneath
them, through the open window, comes the roar of London. I believe you
sigh for it sometimes, don't you, down there among your moorland
silences? Give me three weeks of it a year, and, as far as I am
concerned, you might monopolise the orchestra for the other forty-nine.
I don't particularly want my dinner, and I am still less inclined to
talk amiably with the two dull, but worthy, guests--may the gods of
hospitality forgive me--who are to sit at our board to-night. With the
tired girl-poet, I am praying instead;

  God, for the little streams that tumble as they run.

For there are times when I think that the best thing about Harley Street
is that there are exactly twelve ways out of it, and this, I think, is
one of them.

If to-morrow now were only the 1st of May, and that doorstep of mine
opened into Paddington, cheeriest of railway stations. By the way,
somebody ought to write an essay on the Personality of Railway Stations.
Liverpool Street, for example, smokes cheap cigarettes, and lives at
Walthamstow--does its baggage up with string, and takes dribbly children
to Clacton-on-Sea. And Paddington is a sun-tanned country squire, riding
a good thirteen stone, and with an eye for an apple. His luggage is of a
well-ripened leather, and he is a bit lavish with his tips.

       *       *       *       *       *

But, alas, my door merely opens to admit the timid nose of a new maid
who announces the arrival of the visitors. Dressing-gowns must be shed,
and tails donned. I am grasping your hairy brown hand. Can you feel it?

"Lucky dog," I am saying to you, "the wind's up-stream, and the trout
are hungry, and for all your scattered practice you can still nip down
for one perfect hour to Marleigh Pool--still feel your rod-point bending
to some heaven-sent troutling of the true fighting stock." Will I come?
Won't I! And till then I can merely remain London-bound.

  Your envious old friend,
  P. H.



II

_To Horace Harding, Trinity College, Cambridge._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _March_ 11, 1910.

MY DEAR HORACE,

Casting a remorseful eye at the date upon your letter, I perceive that
it is already almost a week since I resolved to sit down, and answer it
immediately; and the postscript that follows "your aff. son H." gazes at
me with a rebuking stare, as if to remind me how very far I have been
from bucking up, as you so tactfully suggested, and flooring the problem
with which you have presented me. And yet you mustn't suppose that I
have been altogether too careless or too busy to deal with it as you
wished. On the other hand, I have been dodging it round the ring of
everyday happenings ever since I first beheld it eyeing me beneath the
Trinity crest. For the fact of the matter is, my dear Horace, that your
revered Daddy has all along been more than doubtful about his ability to
stretch the fellow on the carpet. And now, at the end of a week's
somewhat cowardly--footwork, shall we call it?--he has decided to crawl
under the ropes, and make room for a lustier substitute.

Shall you become a doctor? Well, I'm afraid, after all, that you must
tackle the question for yourself. As an American patient, with a
doubtful liver, observed to me this morning, the problem is right up
against you; and nobody else can defeat it in your stead. The thought of
this has cheered me so amazingly that from now onwards you may safely
imagine, I think, an almost contented physician, sitting plumply in a
front stall, smiling at the fight over contemplative finger-tips, and
merely tendering, between the rounds, some well-worn pieces of ring-side
advice.

And so the peaks are challenging you, eh? The wig, the gaiters, the gold
_pince-nez_, and the bedside manner, they have risen up to bid you
choose your future path. For twenty-two years, you tell me, you haven't
greatly disturbed yourself about these things. You have accepted
parental orders: you have taken, in consequence, a respectable, if not
distinguished, degree in classics; you have mastered enough science to
rob your "first medical" of most of its fears; and you have obtained, by
the way, a Rugger "blue," of which you are, no doubt, a great deal more
proud. And now that all this has been accomplished you turn to your
former guide, and say to him, "Whither away?" And like Gilbert's poor
wit, I feel inclined to retort very truthfully that I do indeed wither
away. Behold, I have vanished. The mountain range is before you. Choose
your summit.

       *       *       *       *       *

As if to point a moral, I have been here interrupted by a pitiful voice
over the telephone. Indeed for a week past, I have been its victim at
varying intervals. For Mrs. Cholmondeley, let us call her, cannot make
up her mind between the rival hygienic attractions of Cannes and
Torquay. As a matter of fact Camberwell or Camden Town would be equally,
probably more, effectual. Organically she is perfectly sound. For the
rest she is merely over-fed and under-occupied. She has deleted very
nearly every healthful activity from her list of physical employments.
And now those of her will are to be similarly abandoned; delegated to
paid assistants like myself.

Cannes or Torquay? Well, I have refused the responsibility of deciding.
In league with her long-suffering family physician, I am endeavouring
to force her faculties to make this little effort by themselves. For I
doubt if the sorrowful gates of illness behold anything more entirely
pitiable than the spectacle of a will on crutches.

Well then, having, as you see, completely foisted the ultimate issue
upon your own shoulders, it seems to me that there are three main
standpoints from which you must regard our profession before finally
deciding to embark upon it. To take the least important of these first,
you must bear in mind, I think, that while you should undoubtedly be
able to pay your way, and to make an honest living, yet the financial
rewards that medicine has to offer are scarcely worth considering. Given
an equal amount of capital, both in brain-power and pounds sterling,
your hours of work, your expenditure of energy, your capacity for
diagnosis and research, your readiness at the reading of human nature,
would bring you a far greater return of this world's goods in almost any
other occupation that you care to name--incomparably so in commerce. At
the same time I don't think that this point of view will detain you very
long; because, however little fathers may really know of their own sons
(and the sum of parental ignorance under this heading must be something
rather stupendous), I am quite sure that the financial laurel, _per se_,
has no overwhelming attraction for you.

Having deigned then to consider the problem from this lowest and most
sordid standpoint, you should shift your ground, I think, and reflect
upon it from the midmost of my three Pisgahs, the scientific one. If I
haven't led you to this first, it is because you have probably scrambled
up it already, and paid no attention at all to the one that I have just
recommended to you. And in a sense your instinct will perhaps have taken
you by a straighter route to the heart of this matter than that which
your more prudent parent has indicated. Because ultimately it is from
this point that you will have to make your final decision. You must ask
yourself, with all the earnestness of a novice at his altar-vigil, "Am I
prepared to _know_?"

For the long day of the charlatan and the quack is drawing at last to
its close, and their sun is even now setting in a blaze of
patent-medicine advertisements. Modern Europe has almost ceased to be
possible for the would-be Paracelsus; even America will not contain him,
I think, for very much longer. And through a dissolving mist of white
spats and atrocious Latin the eyes of humanity are turning slowly, but
very surely, towards the man who _knows_. Are you prepared to become
such a man?

I fancy that I can see your forehead wrinkling a little here; so let me
explain myself in a parable. There is an old story, familiar in the
hospitals, of a bygone practitioner whose simple habit it was to tie a
piece of string about the waist of his patient. He would then ask the
sufferer to locate the pain. If this were above the string he
administered an emetic, if below a purgative; while if the pain and the
string coincided, the unhappy victim would receive both. Now it is
melancholy to reflect that this gentleman has never been without
disciples. And yet how difficult at times may it become to avoid such a
fate. Are you prepared to avoid it?

Let me put the question in yet another shape. Some day a patient will
come to you--you may be quite certain that he will--at the end of a long
round or an exhausting afternoon at hospital; will complain to you of
his lamentable depression of spirits, his entire loss of appetite, his
slight but continual headache; and will show you, in confirmation of
these symptoms, nothing graver, let us say, than a dull eye and a
yellowish tongue. You will be tired; you will see at a glance that his
subjective troubles are altogether disproportionate to the objective
gravity of his complaint, and perhaps justifiably you will send him away
happy, or at any rate contented, in the belief that he is a bit
"liverish." But are you going to allow "liverish" to satisfy yourself?
"Of course not," you reply; and yet, believe me, my son, it will be a
very real temptation. Why bother, at a long day's end, to worry your
tired faculties into presenting to your mind as exact a mental picture
of the man's actual condition as they can draw? Nevertheless, unless you
do this, you will be treating him with less respect than your old
bicycle in the coach-house; as though, if it should creak or wheeze or
begin to run less smoothly, you would merely tell yourself that it was
"wheelish," and drop oil at random into its most convenient aperture. Do
you begin to see what I am driving at?

And then you will probably turn upon me and say, "But to cultivate this
habit of forming proper mental pictures, I shall have to be at least a
chemist, a physicist, a pathologist, a bacteriologist, to say nothing of
a philosopher; and how can a single human being, however industrious,
contain as many persons as these?" And of course he cannot. Upon no
more than one branch of the tree of Healing will it be given to you to
climb out a little farther than your fellows; but, at any rate, you can
keep your eye upon the others. It is in this way alone that you can
become a scientific physician in the best and broadest sense. And you
can take my word for it that it will never be worth your while to become
any other sort of a sawbones--an exacting prospect? I agree with you.
And many an hour will come to you with the easy question, "Why lavish
all this time and trouble in gathering up some very trifling grain of
extra knowledge--knowledge that, in all probability, will never become
of the least importance in your hands?"

And then, perhaps, a moment will flash into your life when this very
grain shall shape a million destinies. Are you prepared to live for that
moment?

I am almost tempted to finish my letter at this question mark; and the
more so because the great public, or such of it as has been led away by
a certain school of literary sentimentalists, has plastered my final
mound of observation--shall we call it the human one?--with such a
viscid layer of adulation that it has become a little hard for a
self-respecting physician to take his stand there even for two and a
half moments. Has ever, I wonder, a doctor figured in fiction or drama
who, being neither a clown nor a fool, was not described as noble? Have
we not tracked him on his rounds through unconscionable horrors, and
wept big tears at his preposterous death-bed? No wonder such a fellow
finds it hard to get his bills paid. To offer him mere money would seem
little less than sacrilege.

And yet, I think, you will agree with me that here is an aspect of
medicine worth consideration. To the seeing eye and the tender hand
there is no easier door into the warm heart of humanity. There is no
other profession that will lead you quite so close to reality. And by
this I don't mean realism in the modern sense, wherein, as it seems to
me, the altogether ugly looms so disproportionately large. For after
thirty years of tolerably wide opportunity I have still failed to find
the altogether ugly. And though of course you will meet ugliness in
plenty--a cancer that will find you shocked and, alas, largely
impotent--yet, if you look long enough, and carefully enough, how often
will you discover it to be but the shadow of some clearly shining
spiritual beauty. No, you need not fear, I think, to tread behind the
veil.

And now let me round off my epistle with a brief reminiscence. In my
early twenties, just after I had qualified, I travelled down to a small
fishing-village in Cornwall to act there as locum tenens for a
practitioner who had finally broken down in health. The practice, mostly
among a poor population, was a scattered one, and I was kept fairly
busy; so busy, in fact, that beyond a hazy impression of buffeting
across estuaries in big-bottomed ferryboats, and driving, upon a wild
night or two, along as rough a coast-line as one could desire to see, I
remember very little of that month's experiences.

One remains with me. And you must imagine a rather tumble-down,
twopenny-halfpenny cottage, half-way down a cobbled street, with its
front door opening directly into a tiny living-room. A youthful-looking
Hippocrates is backing out of it rather more awkwardly than usual. And
in front of him, still holding one of his hands, is a willowy, comely
Cornish lass, mother of three, with the most disturbingly moist-looking
eyes. In the background there would be, I think, a very old and rugged
woman, crooning over her youngest grandchild, just recovered, happily,
and rather miraculously, from a very tough attack of pneumonia. The
young man had been telling them, this simple family, that he was going
away now, back to London and the big hospital. And hence--dare I write
it?--hence these tears.

"Ah, doctor," says the lassie, "'tis wisht you've made us. An'
whatever'll us do now if the little uns take bad?"

"Oh, rot," says the blushing physician, jolted for the moment out of a
rather elaborate bedside manner--"nonsense, I mean. You'll get along all
right. There's another man coming. And I didn't do anything, you know,
really."

"Didn't do nothen? D'you hear that, mother?" And the old woman looks up,
with her wrinkled cheeks and cavernous, sea-blue eyes. "D'you think us
don't know very well as you've saved the poor lamb's life?"

And so, as Pepys would say, into the wet, bright street, and up the hill
to the surgery. She was under a misapprehension, of course. Presently,
if you take up medicine, you will learn that a doctor's part in the
treatment of pneumonia consists chiefly of a masterly inactivity. But a
boy of twenty-four can't hear words like that spoken to him, and remain
quite the same person; even if next week he is busy bashing hats in at a
Hospital Cup-tie. By the way, I got mine rather badly damaged last
Wednesday when Guy's won the cup again. And, I think, now you have read
this letter, that I can almost hear you murmuring, "No wonder."

  Your affect. father,
  P. H.



III

_To Miss Josephine Summers, The Cottage, Potham, Beds._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _March_ 14, 1910.

MY DEAR AUNT JOSEPHINE,

I am very glad to learn that your health on the whole has not been much
worse since your visit to us last month. And I have no doubt that this
last week's sunshine will have already improved it. Claire is now quite
fit again after a mild attack of mumps, and goes back to Eastbourne in
two days' time.

With regard to your rheumatism, there are, as you say, several kinds of
this complaint, or at any rate a good many affections that go popularly
under the same name. And I think that it is quite likely that the
wearing of a ring upon your third finger might very probably benefit
your own particular variety, though I am much more doubtful about its
efficacy in the case of your coachman's wife. Yes, there are two I's in
bacilli, as you point out, but I'm afraid that the article you read in
the paper is quite correct in stating that our insides contain a very
large number of these active little animals. Nor is the female sex
exempt, I'm sorry to say. But it is an idea that one soon gets used to,
and I doubt if the measures that you suggest will make a very great
difference either to their health or your own. But there was once a wise
old doctor who used to say that between milk and good sound blood there
was no difference but the colour. Personally I prefer it sweet. But the
sour kind is no doubt better than none at all.

With best love from Esther and the girls,

  Your affect. nephew,
  PETER HARDING.



IV

_To Colonel R. F. Morris, C.B., 7th Division, Meerut, India._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _March_ 15, 1910.

MY DEAR RUPERT,

It gave me real joy to see your hand-writing again this morning on the
breakfast-table. Only last week I had been thinking that one of your
rare letters was about due. So you have just had the time of your life,
have you, during your last shoot in Kashmir, and find Meerut, as a
result, pretty deadly--and oh to be in England now that April's nearly
there? A pestilent thing, isn't it, this divine discontent? Only last
week I had a letter from old Bob Lynn. You remember Bob. You were his
fag, I think, for half a term. London, London, London--that was the
burden of his desire; and he with a trout stream, by turns cavernous and
romantic and sheerly lyrical, splashing his very doorstep!

And now here are you, too, sighing for Pall Mall and the Park, whereas
I, who have them both, would hold six months at Meerut as a cheap price
indeed for those seven weeks of Kashmir forests. Is it racial, or
universal, or merely temperamental, I wonder, this passionate yearning
to be elsewhere--some uncrushable remnant of Romance? I give it up. I am
sure that it is a nuisance; and equally certain that it is in reality
the very salt of life.

Coming home sometimes in a tube railway-carriage--the latest invention
of the modern impersonal Devil--I glance down the long line of returning
City faces. There they are, sleek, absorbed, consciously prosperous. And
I wonder if they are to be read as indications of an absolute content;
or do they conceal, by some stern effort of will, a restless desire for
snow mountains, forests, moors, streams, sunshine, anything in fact that
is the antithesis of Oxford Circus? It is hard to believe it; and yet I
am not so sure that it is even unlikely. For as Matthews, the alienist,
said to me the other day, the only _really_ contented people are usually
to be found in lunatic asylums. So we must give them the benefit of the
doubt. But it's news that you want and not surmise.

And first of all let me reassure you, and with no shadow of professional
reserve, about your aunt--I was almost going to write your mother--Lady
Wroxton. For a month or two, it is true, I was really in anxiety about
her. Sir Hugh's death was a literal dividing in twain of every interest
of her life, and the very breadth and diversity of these was the
consequent measure of her suffering. But, as you know, that fine,
deep-founded will of hers could never really fail her. And even in the
darkest days of her first grief and almost complete insomnia it was
there for us inadequate physicians to work upon--our stay and hers.
Since then she has been resting down at Stoke, and has been progressing
slowly but steadily. I saw her last month for half an hour, and
Rochester, one of the best of G.P.'s, has written to me with increasing
confidence in each letter; so that I hope, when you return in the
autumn, you will find her again the strong, serene woman whom we both
love so well.

As regards ourselves--well, if the ratio between happiness and history
that is supposed to hold good for nations is equally true of families,
ours must be singularly blessed. For, upon my soul, I find it very hard
to think of any at all. We are all a little older, of course, and both
Esther and I have made modest additions to our equipment--of grey hairs.
For me there is, at any rate, in this the compensation of that
increasing maturity of appearance which lends weight to my opinions in
the eyes of a good many of my patients. For Esther, I suppose, there is
none. But (I speak of course as a husband. And who should know better?)
they are not altogether unbecoming.

And it is chiefly in the children that the march of time is being most
visibly displayed for us. Every month, or so it seems to us, they are
altering before our eyes. And the adventures, as a consequence, have
been chiefly theirs. Horace, for example, has filled out and solidified
to an alarming extent during the last year or so, tips the scale at
thirteen stone, ventures an occasional opinion on wine and the other
members of its trinity, and has succeeded in attaining his Rugger
"blue." It is his last year at Cambridge though and I'm afraid that the
memory of his one and only Varsity match at Queen's is likely to be a
little chequered. For, as you probably know, it was a record defeat; and
though both teams were fairly matched as regarded the forwards, Oxford
was vastly superior in all other departments of the game, as the
sporting papers say. But it was a great spectacle for the onlookers. The
Oxford threes, magnificently set in motion by their stand-off half,
were quite an ideal picture of clever and unselfish attack. Time and
again they swept down the field, alert, speedy, and opportunist, in the
cleanest sense of the word. The weakness of the opposition flattered
them, no doubt. But it was a splendid and invigorating exhibition for
all that, and one that must have sent the blood tingling enviously down
a good many middle-aged arteries. For there's always something superbly
tonic about this particular match, emanating even more from the
surrounding crowd than from the actual struggle of healthy young
athletes that it has come to witness. There is no other large crowd
quite like it, so unanimously well-coloured, clean, and cheerful, so
lusty of shoulder and clear of eye. The winter air has set a colour in
the girls' cheeks, to be heightened presently by the instructed ardour
with which they follow the doings of their cousins and brothers, or
cousins' and brothers' friends. And even the old duffers among us seem
to don an infectious vitality as we greet our grey-haired friends by
rope and doorway. The strained eyes and late-night cheeks that are not
uncommon at such comparable gatherings as those at Lord's and Henley are
to be sought in vain at this mid-winter festival. And I can think of no
sounder answer to the modern cries of race-degeneracy than a stroll
round Queen's at half-time. "Ah, but that shows you merely the cream,"
you may tell me. But then races, like milks, must be judged, I think, by
the cream that they produce. And this particular spectacle at Queen's is
sufficiently reassuring both as to quality and amount.

Well, it was a great game, and I wish you could have been there to see
it. Molly, with the halo of Newnham still upon her, was as enthusiastic
as her tradition will allow, while Claire, on a special holiday from her
school at Eastbourne, was quite openly broken-hearted for poor Horace's
sake. However, he got enough hero-worshipping next day to soothe the
most wounded of defeated warriors. The more prosaic problem of how to
tackle his future is troubling him now; and I more than half suspect him
of designs on Medicine.

Molly, on the other hand, is disturbed by no such uncertainty. She is
already on the committee of the W.S.P.U., which being interpreted means
the Women's Social and Political Union; and concerns herself vigorously
with the vexed questions of adult suffrage and the feminine vote.
Besides this she is assistant manager of a girls' club in Hoxton, and
combines an intense faith in the political future of her sex with an
ardent admiration for Mr. Wells and Mr. Shaw. Religiously, she is, for
the moment (to the acute distress of some of our nearer relatives),
inclining to an up-to-date form of polytheism; but hedges with an
occasional (rather unobtrusive) attendance at a more orthodox early
service. Fortunately she is inveterately addicted to the coldest of cold
baths, the roughest of towels, and a plentiful breakfast. Moreover
another phase of experience is presenting itself modestly, but with a
quite unmistakable sturdiness, to her consideration. He is a nice,
open-air sort of boy (_entre nous_, Bob Lynn junior. What fogies we are
getting, to be sure), untroubled about the constitution of his _ego_,
and frankly bored by politics, but with a passion for his microscope
that must be running, I think, a very neck-and-neck sort of race with
his admiration for Miss Molly.

Tom, as you know, is still at Rugby; and about him we are all, that is
Esther and I and Jakes, his house-master, a little anxious. For it seems
that during the latter part of his Christmas holidays, which he spent
with a friend at Scarborough, he fell very deeply under the influence of
one of those ardent, but dangerous, people possessed of what they
describe as a passion for souls. This particular one, a sort of
nondescript with private means, was what he called, and what he has
tried to make Tom and his friend, an "out and outer."

Obviously shyly, Tom sent us a programme of this man's meetings--he was
holding a mission to schoolboys--from which we gathered that his
particular spiritual preserves are confined to our larger public
schools. He was a little careful to emphasise this. Boys from elsewhere
were only permitted to hear him by special introduction. He has not
apparently been to a public school himself; but owns, or was once owned
by, one of the more recent colleges at Cambridge. I hope that I am not
writing this too bitterly, for I am trying to be kind to his motives.
But the results of his efforts upon Tom have been, up to the present,
rather devastating. The boy is quite clearly in earnest, has been indeed
very profoundly stirred. With one or two others he has started a meeting
for prayer in his house, has given up singing his comic songs, and has
been systematically tackling his fellows about their souls' health.

Knowing a little bit about the boy, I should scarcely have been able to
believe all this, if Jakes hadn't written to me so very fully about the
matter. He is acting quite wisely, I think--has given full permission
and facilities for their little meetings, with a gentle word or two
about the inadvisability of too much publicity. Nevertheless a certain
amount of natural, and, as I can't help feeling, healthy hostility has
sprung up against the movement--a hostility that we both fear is being
interpreted by the boys, and their spiritual adviser, as persecution for
their Lord's sake.

I doubt if you'll understand much of this. Your temperament has always
been too downright, too untroubled with spiritual questionings, too
simply aware of the "things we don't talk about." "Isn't this all rather
like cant?" I can imagine you wondering. But it isn't by any means all
cant. And that is what makes the whole question so difficult to deal
with. For into the warm nest of the boy's soul this holy blunderer has
thrust his easy, ignorant fingers, pulling out, as it were, the
fledgling spiritual secrets. They were not ready for the air and the
light and the winds. They were tucked away, as a wise Nature meant them
to be, under the protecting feathers of the natural boy's carelessness.
And now, since they have been plucked out into the open for all the
world to see, they must needs flap their premature wings in a sort of
pitiful, earnest foolishness. While we, who know so well what has really
happened, can only stand by, at whatever cost, to see that the
half-sprouted pinions may not beat themselves into some permanent
distortion or futility--may become, after all, those strong, supporting
structures that they were designed for at their birth.

And all the while there will be the ever-present danger of the natural
boy himself discovering suddenly, in a dumb sort of way, that his
fledgling has been making (as he will most certainly put it) a little
fool of itself. And then how desperately likely will he be to disown it
altogether, to his lifelong incompleteness. Self-constituted missioners
to schoolboys should be required to possess a licence. And it should be
pretty difficult to obtain.

Claire you will still find, I think, when you come home next autumn,
very much of the pure child, for all her fifteen and a half years.
Hockey and Henty bound her physical and mental horizons, and she writes
periodical letters to Tom urging the army as the only possible
profession for him. And now I must put a stop to what will seem in your
bachelor eyes the prosy outpourings of the typical family man. But then
your Kashmir precipices are not for all of us, you know; and I have only
just been giving you what you asked for.

  Yours as ever,
  PETER HARDING.

P.S.--There will of course be a spare bedroom and a well-stoked fire
here against your return next October.



V

_To Hugh Pontrex, Villa Rosa, Mentone._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _March_ 23, 1910.

MY DEAR HUGH,

Our exchange of letters, since you finally left our fickle climate, has
become so regular that I would apologise for not having written to you
since the New Year, were it not that by so doing I should be distilling
the poison of formality into the pot-luck of our correspondence. So I
won't.

I am sorry to hear that the bronchitis has been bothering you again,
joining hands with _anno Domini_ to remind you of our human frailty. But
your fingers, I see, have lost none of their cunning, and I immensely
enjoyed your little exhibition of etchings at Obach's. Two of them I
have acquired, I am glad to say, and they are looking at me as I write.
And now I almost think that I shall have to take a third. It has drifted
into Obach's window, and for several days past its fascination has been
growing upon me. Three or four times in passing I have paused to
consider it; and on each occasion it has brightened far more than Bond
Street for me.

It is the drawing of the little flower-girl who has forgotten her wares
to feast her eyes upon the silk gown in the shop-window. And there was a
time, I think, when an older, or younger, Pontrex would rather have
scorned to descend upon so well-worn a theme--it would have seemed a
descent in those days. And at first I thought that even now you had
thrown it in among the others as a kind of sop to the easy sentiments of
the majority. But I have learned better, I think, and discovered that
you have treated what is, after all, the perennially beautiful with all
your own scrupulous severity.

I met such a little girl only to-day in Aldgate. She was not selling
flowers, and was singularly northern in type--coming home, I should
guess, from afternoon school. Moving mechanically through the maze of
hurrying passengers, she was obviously as deaf to the street-side
costers as to the more thunderous traffic of the dock-yard waggons. At
the corner of Houndsditch we almost collided, and she looked up for a
moment from her book. It was a healthy and piquant little face, if
typically town-bred, that she turned towards mine. But the look, if I
could have captured it on canvas, would have done more than immortalise
us both. For there was reflected in it--just for a moment--the very
dazzle itself of that authentic Wonder which some of us call Mysticism,
and some Romance; but which is only half named by them both. And I
should greatly have liked to ask her what book had wrought the miracle.
But the currents of crossing pedestrians separated us almost instantly,
though not so quickly as the look itself had bolted back into hiding,
leaving in its stead a very ordinary little schoolgirl extending the tip
of a small pink tongue.

"'Ullo, fice," she said.

So I blessed her, and went on my way rejoicing; and was quite ignorant,
for at least a quarter of an hour, of the very gorgeous pageant of smoke
and sunset that faced me towards Cheapside. For, like yourself, it is
always the humanity that these things frame that captures me first and
holds me longest. And I believe I would exchange any merely physical
panorama in the world for a new vista of the human soul. So greatly
indeed is this preference growing in me that, keenly as I love it, I
find my English landscape already rearranging itself in my memory. Where
it was once punctuated by trees or monuments or natural wonders, it is
now becoming mapped out for me by such trivial affairs as some passing
word of greeting or chance exchange of easy gossip. At this bend of the
road I met the decidedly tipsy old rascal who assured me that he had
made his début with Henry Irving. By that hedge two little girls gave me
a spontaneous, and consequently very sweet, small handful of half-ripe
blackberries.

So your little flower-seller has gone to my heart; and if Esther will
let me--and I think that she will--I shall take her into my house as
well. Can I tell you more than this? My opinion on your technique is not
worth having, as you know very well. I only know that I am less
conscious of it in these latest etchings of yours than in any of the
others; and that too ought to count for praise, I think. And in any case
I mean it as such. For indeed it is rather refreshing just now to be
able, for once in a way, to ignore technique, or at any rate so
unconsciously to take it for granted that the message conveyed by it at
once, and alone, fills the mind. Because, _entre nous_, I seem lately to
have diagnosed in most of our galleries a small epidemic of--shall we
say?--hypertechnique. The origin of the malady cannot, I think, be very
deep-seated. But its outward and visible signs are rather striking
eruptions of a polymorphic type, for the most part somewhat grotesque,
and not infrequently even a little nauseous. And they are very modern.
Nothing quite like them has ever been seen before; unless--can it be
possible?--every age has known them, but time, in his mercy, has hidden
them in due season--a reflection that is not without a certain comfort,
since its corollary suggests the same process as being at work
to-day--unobtrusively, no doubt, but with equal certainty. As Wensley
said to me last week, if the authorities could only be induced to put
up, for example, Velasquez' Philip IV, or The Laughing Cavalier among
the annual exhibits of the New English Art Club, even the most
completely self-satisfied of Mr. John's young ladies would call out for
a catalogue to cover her nakedness. But, alas, Philip IV remains where
he is, and the neo-intellectuals of the art-world still perspire
admiration round their master's most recent visions, to drift hence, in
due season, that they may do homage to those "obscenities in lavender"
on the one hand, and the Bedlamite echoes of Van Gogh on the other, that
emerge annually from Paris to soil our walls in the name of progress.

Poor Wensley, he is still chipping away at his unprofitable marble,
spending two years over a group that his conscience forbids him to
finish in as many months. Every year there are rumours that the Chantrey
trustees are to buy something from his studio. And every year they just
fail to do so for varying reasons. Poor Wensley, if ever a genius cut
life out of marble (and will never, I'm afraid, cut marble out of life)
it is he, hammering his years away in the purlieus of Chelsea. I have
seen a good deal of him lately, and once I am fairly inside his studio
find it very hard to escape those siren hands of his white-limbed men
and maidens under a good two hours. His group for this year's Academy,
if he has been able to finish it, will be as good as, if not better
than, anything that he has yet done, I think. May the gods be kind to
him, for he needs their pity in more ways than one. He is too good to be
allowed to fritter his life away in illustrating nursery books and
repairing mediocre saints; and there are times when one cannot help
feeling that his long knocking at the gates of official appreciation is
making him just a little bitter--brief times, for the next moment his
eye will be bright again and his smile so boyish as to make his fifty
years of struggle seem almost mythical.

Leaving him there, with his beautiful, unwanted works about him, I
always encounter a certain wave of spiritual depression. For, look where
one will, one's eyes would seem to be confronted only with the
grotesque, the degenerate, the pernicious; so much so that it becomes
hard to realise them merely as the little unworthy successes of a very
passing hour. Our newest music would appear fain to wed itself to the
obscene imaginings of a decadent poesy, to find its loftiest inspiration
in pathological versions of Elektra and Salome. Our latest dances seek
to lift into the very publicity that he lives for the erotic beastliness
of some such vicious weakling as a Parisian apache. Our most up-to-date
novels probe the labyrinths of sexual perversity at a shilling a time
under the banner of an emancipated virility, and our Sunday newspapers
reap the dung-hills for their headlines.

By this time, if it is on foot, my middle-Victorianism will nearly have
reached South Kensington Station, or, if it has been driving, Carter's
rosy-gilled countenance will be at the carriage-door wondering why it
doesn't get out. And so the wave will pass over me, and I shall be
rocking once again upon a more equable ocean. I shall behold your little
flower-girl hungering for her beautiful gown, and beside her
nine-tenths at least of her brothers and sisters, hands out for the real
beauty, and entirely impervious to the Wildes and the Strausses, the
Beardsleys, Johns, and Polaires. After all--let us remember it humbly
with thanksgiving--these people do not penetrate our homes. They are
doled out to us in public. We scan them in galleries. They are momentary
sensations in the circulating libraries. But we don't live with them. At
least I don't think we do, and in one way and another I have seen the
insides of a good many different homes. For a man may perhaps
temporarily subordinate his sense of decency to a well-meaning desire
for artistic fairness. He may accord a judicial word of praise to some
particularly masterly portrayal of a libertine's blotches or the pimples
of a fading courtesan. But he will seldom bear them home in his bosom to
set up among his _lares_ and _penates_. And since it is by these that we
must judge (for they are the heart-judgment of the race), my billow of
pessimism drops behind me and expends itself in foam upon the rocks.

No, it is our Thackerays and Fieldings, our Dickenses and Shakespeares,
that we still escort, hats off, to the true and formative intimacy of
our firesides. Our Blyths and Waleses and Victoria Crosses--my
classification is mainly themic--are for furtive journeys on the
underground, and a hasty burying in obscure corners; where a sanitary
Providence no doubt arranges for them some useful and inconspicuous
destiny.

Well, the hour is late, and I must stop. I can hear footsteps in the
hall, and in comes Molly, looking very gay, if a little sleepy, in her
newest evening frock. She has just been with some rather dull girls (Ah,
Molly, Molly, they are non-Shavians, I admit, but just talk to them
about horses!) to see a play. "The--_what_ was the name, my dear?"

"'The Scarlet Pimpernel,'" confesses Molly.

I look surprised--even incredulous--remembering certain sweeping
damnations of a month or two ago. "But surely," I venture timidly,
"isn't that the very--er--acme of provincial melodrama?"

The words have a strangely familiar sound, and Molly appears to
recognise them.

"Of course it is," she says. "I was _taken_ there."

The expression suggests ropes and cart-tails, and I commiserate with her
appropriately.

"Poor Molly, and of course you--you----"

But my courage fails me, and I dare not finish the question. She tosses
her dark head a little.

"W-well," she stammers, and then, being very honest with herself, stops
short, and begins to grow a little pink. I gasp, half rising from my
chair.

"Surely," I exclaim, "you--you don't mean to say you actually _enjoyed_
it?"

There is a moment's appalled stillness; and then, very rosy, she stoops
suddenly to kiss my forehead.

"Daddy," she says, "you're an old _beast_."

  Ever yrs.,
  PETER HARDING.



VI

_To Miss Sarah Harding, The Orphanage, Little Blessington, Dorset._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _March_ 31, 1910.

MY DEAR SALLY,

If the proprietors of a very excellent emulsion of cod liver oil did not
send me (as they do) a little memorandum book at the beginning of each
year, I should find letter-writing to my sister considerably more
difficult. The book is not spacious enough to be called a diary, and the
lines allotted to each day are merely sufficient to contain the baldest
records of two or three dry facts. But while it is less than a diary,
for the keeping of which, if it weren't for you, I'm afraid that I
should never have had even the desire, it is entirely valuable as a
means to an end. And may the aforesaid proprietors wax therefore as fat
and well-liking as their advertised babies. For although you may never
have thought of it, oh sister mine, it was by no means an easy condition
that you imposed upon me in exchange for your consent to my wedding.

"One letter a month, Peter," I can see your stern uplifted finger even
now, "one letter a month you must faithfully promise me, or Esther shall
only capture you over my dead body."

And although in those glorious days it seemed but a little bargain to
set one's hand to, yet I may now reveal to your horrified gaze--as
regards the pre-emulsion period at any rate--visions of a haggard
physician battering his cranium in a desperate effort to jog his memory
for news. A little reflection will secure you from considering this to
be an affront. For the very existence of such visions is the most
eloquent testimony to the state of his brotherly affections; and to
prevent your instantly taking the next train to town, I can assure you
positively that the wing of a merciful providence (the liver wing) took
him under its protection at the psychological moment. Thanks to the cod,
its oil, and the emulsion thereof, his memory has been propped up just
when he began to need it most. And this is why I can assure you most
positively that, although ourselves and our daffodils are shrivelling
to-day in the bitterest of easterly winds, but three short weeks ago we
were picking primroses in the woods of Upper Basildon.

We were staying of course with Uncle Jacob, who was celebrating his
seventy-sixth birthday and the fourth anniversary of his retirement from
the judicial bench in contravening all the known rules of health--or, at
any rate, the modern conception of them. Esther and Molly went down on
the Friday night, and I joined them on Saturday, his birthday.

It was a lovely warm morning, with just enough briskness in the air to
remind one that winter was still fighting a rearguard action, and just
enough warmth in the sun to make one quite certain that it would end in
a general defeat. Slipping into Portland Road Station in golfing kit, I
caught an early train at Paddington, and was down at Goring soon after
ten, where Esther and Molly met me in the pony-trap. We were to spend
the day upon some private links upon the downs above Streatley, a
beautiful, invigorating piece of country, and an offshoot, I think, of
the Berkshire Ridgeway. From a strictly golfing point of view the course
is, I suppose, an easy one. To players like myself, of the occasional
order, too delighted at achieving anything that may decently be called a
stroke to mind very much about a little pulling or slicing, the
penalties, no doubt, are scarcely severe enough. But there are
possibilities, at any rate, of some grand, exhilarating drives; the
greens are capital; and there is seldom the nerve-racking ordeal of
playing off before a multitude of cynical observers.

Instead, this particular course is filled for me with memories of
elemental foursomes, innocent of caddies, unwitnessed by any living
creature other than some simple sheep or an occasional pony, but filled
to the brim with such dramatic fluctuations of chance and skill as are
unknown to (or at any rate unremembered by) your poor plus 1 players at
Richmond or St. Andrews. For golf, like her fairer sister cricket,
reveals her wild and fickle heart in a truer lovableness at such places
as this. Kneeling on immaculate turf, you may salute her queenly
finger-tips at Hoylake or Sandwich or Rye--as her sister's at Lord's.
But to know her as she is--to know them both as they really are--to
snatch kisses from their sweet and rosy lips, to look deep into their
honest, if baffling eyes, you must woo them, afar from fashion, by
brae-side and village green.

And yet--and yet--well, perhaps that's just how we duffers always did
talk. Like amateur mountaineers, we are fain to conceal our lack of
craft in an admiration of extraneous circumstances--such as the view,
for instance. And indeed the view from almost any of these particular
eighteen holes is of the most comforting type that I know--a wide,
pastoral expanse, silvered here and there with water, and apparently
melting upon its horizons into a veiled and delicate endlessness. Upon
such a view I would quite willingly close my eyes for the last time. And
when the day comes for me to retire it will be to the arm of some such
westward hill as this that I shall trust my agéd pilgrimage.

Grindelwald, Como, Cap Martin--they are good enough company for a mile
or two of the road. To have known them has been a real privilege, and to
meet them again would be an equal joy. But for the long, all-weathers'
tramp, for the comfortable silences of true comradeship, and above all
for those last hobbling footsteps of the journey, give me some little
hill like this above English cornlands.

And, taking everything into consideration, I can really find very little
in the way of an emotional demand that the view, for example, from the
fourth hole of this particular course doesn't amply satisfy. For eyes
necessarily accustomed to close studies and narrower outlooks there is
space enough and to spare, and grandeur too, if they are content to
accept it from above rather than below, and to feast upon those
heavenly Himalayas and ethereal Pacifics that Nature and a south-west
wind will always provide for the untravelled. As an echo, or perhaps
fountain, of which sentiments let me extract for you three verses from a
weekly paper upon my table. They are entitled--it is the Prayer Book
heading of the traveller's psalm--"Levavi oculos."

  Mahomed, when the mountains stood
    Aloof from his so strong desire,
  Mahomed, being great and good--
    And likewise free--concealed his ire.
  And since their will might not be bent,
  Mahomed to the mountains went.

  I too, a clerk in Bedford Row,
    Long years the mountains yearned to see,
  And since to them I could not go,
    Besought that they might come to me.
  "If Faith," I said, "can mountains move,
  How surely should they come for Love."

  And lo, to-day I watch them crowd,
    Range upon range, above my head,
  Cordilleras of golden cloud,
    And snow-white Andes, captive-led,
  Yea, Himalayas, crowned with snow,
  Above my head in Bedford Row.

Wiser than Mahomed, like this little clerk, I begin to think that I can
see myself enthroned, in my retirement, and letting my mountains be
brought to my door. Moreover to old age, a little timid of loneliness,
such a view as this would be completely reassuring. Cottages,
manor-houses, Oxford with her dreaming spires, they are all contained
within its broad and kindly grasp. Life, human life, trivial, cheery,
part and parcel of the ages, has not here been sacrificed to any merely
scenic splendour; while beneath it, if still flowing through it, lies
the fierce and jovial memory of Briton and Saxon and Dane, their frames
long since a part of this quiet crucible, and all but the heroic of
their memories--a peaceable reflection--distilled into oblivion.

Yes, one might do a great deal worse, I think, than retire to Streatley.
At any rate that is Uncle Jacob's opinion, and he has been there a year.

"View?" he remarked, when I pointed it out to him, "God bless my soul,
it's the finest view in England. Let me see, where are they? Aha, just
there. No, that's not them. _There_ they are--the Wittenham Clumps. My
honour, I think. Fore!"

When you have stayed here so long as an afternoon and evening, you will
perceive that as St. Paul's to Ludgate Hill or the cross to Banbury, so
are the Wittenham Clumps to Streatley. They are, at any rate, its
soundest conversational investment.

We celebrated the evening with a feast to which Uncle Jacob had bidden
several of his fellow-bachelors--Esther and Molly being the only ladies
honoured with an invitation. Uncle Jacob, who has never, I should think,
for the last thirty years consumed less than five glasses of port a
night, accompanied, upon normal occasions, by two cigars, and followed,
a little later, by a couple of large whiskies-and-sodas, was in great
form, and very anecdotal. He did full justice to an excellent repast,
and was knocking at our bedroom door at seven the next morning to summon
us for early service.

"After that, sir, you may loaf, lounge, practise approach shots in the
garden, play billiards, or pick primroses. But every able-bodied person
must attend divine service at least once on Sundays while he is a guest
under my roof." And so there he was, pink from his morning tub, and with
an autocratic twinkle in an eye as clear as yours. I have often, I'm
afraid, in a horrid, professional sort of way, contemplated Uncle Jacob,
who is typical of a distinct class of prosperous old gentlemen, albeit
not a large one. All my training and instincts tell me that he eats too
much, and drinks too much. And I know that, until his retirement, his
life, as a county-court judge, was almost wholly sedentary. And yet here
he is at seventy-six, cheerful, vigorous, and very pleasantly
self-satisfied--so apparently sound himself, in fact, as to be perhaps
just a little bit intolerant of the frailties of others. Personally I am
always tempted--a little unfairly, since he is really a trifle
exceptional--to wield him as a bludgeon over the misguided pates of
fanatical vegetarians. But, on the other hand, how just as reasonably
might not some head-strong _bon viveur_ wield him over mine, who am of
course a preacher of the simple life. No, I think that Uncle Jacob has
three things to thank for the blithe appearance that he cuts before the
world: his forefathers' healthy and athletic simplicity; the fact that
both by temperament and profession he has lived an objective, rather
than a subjective, life; and finally the truth--Medicine's most
comfortable axiom--that Nature, given half a chance, will always come up
smiling. He is lusty _malgré lui_.

Apart from this little visit in the country I have been very busy; and
some difficult and rather critical cases have tied me to town ever
since. Horace, after some hesitation, has decided to take up medicine,
and is working already for his first and second examinations at
Cambridge, where he will now, I think, stay an extra year. Next month
Esther and I are snatching a week with old Bob Lynn at Applebrook, when
young Calverley will look after my patients, and I shall, I hope, land
trout for a little while instead of fees. Molly is well and very
stately, biding her time, politically speaking, with a stern eye on Mr.
Asquith and a doubtful one on Mr. Balfour. Claire decided after all that
she would like to postpone her confirmation until next year. She came up
for a week-end, at her mistress's wish, to consult about it.

"You see, Daddy," she told me thoughtfully, "I'm not _frightfully_ keen
on it"; and then after contemplating her toes for a moment, "It's not
that I want to be wicked exactly, only I like feeling sort of comfy."

When Mummy came in we had a little talk about it, and it emerged, I
think, that being "comfy" meant retaining certain rights as to dormitory
feasts and midnight expeditions that were believed to be incompatible
with the confirmed conscience. Next year it would be different. Well, I
suppose next year it will; and having preached her a little sermon,
which she accepted very gracefully, we ended in a compromise. She was to
be as good as she could, but need not take the irrevocable step till she
felt quite ready for it--somewhere about next Easter.

Meanwhile she has discovered Mr. Stanley Weyman, and is doubtful if
there is anything in all literature to compare with "Under the Red
Robe," though one of the girls thinks "Count Hannibal" almost as good.

Tom's letters are terse, and, as I told you last month, we are still
rather troubled about him.

My love to the orphans, with their proper little plaits and their shiny
cheeks. And that they may continue to rejoice their matron's heart is
the prayer of

  Her affectionate brother
  PETER.



VII

_To Harry Carthew, Trenant Hotel, Leeds._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _April_ 8, 1910.

MY DEAR CARTHEW,

I believe every word you tell me about yourself--that you are feeling,
that is to say, pumped-out, uncertain, doubtful each morning if you can
get through the day without breaking down, and as a result of it all,
very wretched and depressed. At the same time I can only assure you, and
I think you must accept my word as a trained man, that you are
physically sound, and indeed at this very moment a "first-class life."

I know how difficult it is to believe all this when one is suffering as
you are now. But believe me, it is the gospel truth, and one that you
must reiterate daily, and if need be hourly, to yourself. Remember that
all this is just a phase of experience. Twelve months from now you will
be laughing at the memory of it. Twelve years hence it will have ceased
even to be a memory. And if you could only observe your troubles from
without, as I do, you would see at once how very understandable they
are.

For here are you, a busy enough barrister at all times, plunging
headlong into the sea of electioneering, from which, after a very stormy
month or two, you emerge to find heavy arrears of work awaiting you at
chambers, to say nothing of two unexpectedly prolonged and arduous cases
in the courts. In addition to these things you have been, as you tell
me, caught up a little in the present whirlwind of rubber speculation,
and have had rather disquieting reports of Eric's health in Switzerland.

Now I know you to be a healthy disbeliever in drugs, the possessor of a
scepticism, in this respect, that I largely share. And I'm not going to
wind up this letter with a prescription. But you tell me that your cases
are now well in hand, and that you have four clear days before the Leeds
Sessions begin; and therefore, if you will let me, I am going to assume
the sceptre of the autocrat, and commandeer them for your good. First,
then, select a bedroom with a south aspect, and have your bed pulled up
beneath the window in such a manner that, being propped up with pillows,
you can survey some little portion of the outside world. Having done
this, prepare to stop in it for thirty-six hours. The preparation will
be simple. Procure a round table and a selection of suitable books. What
these should be I daren't prescribe. Let me suggest widely that most of
them should deal rather with abstracts than concretes, that some of them
should therefore be books of poetry, but that a volume of Jacobs'
stories should by all means be included. Select one newspaper only, and
that of an unsensational character. Let me recommend, without prejudice
to political convictions, the "Morning Post." As regards Eric, consign
him mentally, as you have done actually, to the wisdom of his headmaster
and the school doctor. And for the rest, commend your affairs to the
discretion of your broker. Now as to diet--for twenty-four hours you
must live on milk, and milk alone, no matter how hungry you may become.
The hunger will by no means be hurtful, and you can console yourself by
remembering that your bodily tissue-waste, while in bed, will be
comparatively small. So much for the first day. For breakfast, upon the
second, have a bowl of bread and milk. Lunch in bed on some sole or
plaice, followed by a rice pudding and some stewed fruit. Rise at three,
spend an hour in the garden if the day is warm enough, and have tea at
half-past four. Being in the provinces, this meal may be accompanied by
two boiled eggs without creating undue attention. Have a warm bath,
followed by a cold sponge-down, at seven o'clock, when you must retire
to bed, supping on bread and milk at half-past eight, and taking
thereafter some effective, but not too violent aperient, such as five
grains of calomel, let us say, an hour later.

On the third day, having breakfasted in bed upon a cup of tea, two
rounds of buttered toast and a boiled egg, you may rise at eleven, and
take an hour's walk. For lunch you should have some boiled fish,
potatoes, stewed fruit and custard. In the afternoon you should take
another hour's walk, and have a cup of tea and some toast at half-past
four. Dine in your room at half-past seven upon some clear soup, sole, a
nicely grilled chop with some mashed potatoes, and any sort of sweet
that you may fancy. Having dined, drink a cup of coffee, and smoke your
first cigar among your fellow-men downstairs. Upon the fourth day,
arise, and have a cold tub. Don some old and comfortable tweeds, eat the
biggest breakfast of which you are capable, seize a stout stick, take an
early train, and spend the day in the country, eating when and what you
like, and drinking, if you can get it, some good home-brewed ale. Go to
bed early, and I will promise you that, upon the morning of the fifth,
you will arrive in court at any rate relatively cheerful. A fortnight's
holiday, when the sessions are over, will complete the good work.

  Yrs. very sincerely,
  PETER HARDING.



VIII

_To John Summers, M.B., at Actonhurst, Granville Road, Bristol._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _April_ 12, 1910.

MY DEAR JACK,

I expect that, by this time, a good long night and twenty-four hours'
reflection will have restored your equanimity. For I can't imagine that
much more would be necessary, although I can sympathise, with a very
sincere fellow-feeling. Bless you, my boy, it's happened to all of
us--and goes on happening too, if that's any comfort to you.

Why even young Calverley, who was in here just now, and who looks, as
you know, almost supernaturally solemn for his five-and-thirty years,
was the victim of a similar experience only last week, under
circumstances far less considerate than yours. For the old lady--the
scene was somewhere near Cadogan Square, and it was his second
visit--received him in person, sitting very bolt upright.

"You're very young," she told him. "I _don't_ like you. And you don't
understand my case."

So you see your experience has not been by any means unique; and I
really don't think that you have any ethical ground for complaint. The
lady considered you, quite erroneously of course, to be too
inexperienced, and having told you so in a letter that is by no means
ungraceful, has called in another practitioner. He may be, as you say,
an ignorant old rotter. But that is irrelevant. And the fact that you
are a locum tenens doesn't, I think, alter the situation.

After all, we are merely the servants of the public, in spite of our
M.D.'s and our hospital appointments. And we must face the fact with as
much philosophy as we can gather about us. If they don't want us, well,
they won't have us, and there's the bitter end of it. Coming fresh from
the hospital, where one has been, perhaps, a house-surgeon or
house-physician, into the entirely different atmosphere of private
practice, it is sometimes a bit hard to realise this, and the process is
always a painful one. For between the house-surgeon, clad in white,
backed up by the accumulated authority and tradition of his hospital,
surrounded by satellite nurses, and perhaps (dare I breathe it?) a wee
bit lordly, and the very young man, in a new frock-coat, who will be
ushered next week by a curious parlour-maid into a private drawing-room,
there is all the difference in the world.

Moreover you seem to have got yourself into the sort of practice that
for a young man is perhaps the most difficult to manage--a practice
consisting almost entirely of prosperous and middle-class patients. I am
not using the term middle-class--it is one that I particularly hate--in
any derogatory sense, but _faute de mieux_ as describing the very large
stratum of society that pivots upon the shop-counter or the offices
behind it. It is a stratum, as you will be sure to find out pretty soon,
as kindly, honest, and really considerate as any other, and no less
lacking in heroism and endurance. But it is one that has not yet fully
acquired perhaps the habit of emotional suppression--the latest to be
developed in social evolution--and is consequently a little addicted to
superlatives, and still somewhat over-respectful, no doubt, to such mere
externals as eloquence and millinery in other people. On the other hand
it possesses an extremely accurate appreciation of the cash value of
services rendered, and its consideration for a gentleman is by no means
going to interfere with this when he comes before them as a salesman of
physic and incidentally of advice. Moreover--and it's no good being
hypersensitive about it--we mustn't forget that we too, as a profession,
have but lately differentiated ourselves from the ranks of retail
commerce--so lately, in fact, that the barber tradition is far from
being entirely defunct.

I can remember very well, for instance, in my first locum, a fortnight
after I had qualified, standing behind the counter of a little surgery
in Shadwell in response to a patient who had tapped upon it loudly with
the edge of his shilling, and summoned me with a call of "Shop." Would I
take out his tooth for sixpence? No, I wouldn't. A shilling was the
recognised fee for this operation. Well, what about ninepence? No, not
even for ninepence.

"Orl right, guv'nor, 'eave away then," and the shilling went into the
till, while the tooth, neatly wrapped in paper, was borne homewards for
domestic inspection. Nor are such incidents by any means uncommon even
to-day, and they add excellent lessons to those of Winchester and New.

Then, too, you mustn't overlook the fact that mere youth itself is under
a greater disadvantage in medicine than in almost any other profession.
The idea of a young advocate may fire the imagination. The idea of a
young doctor only suggests distrust. A young lawyer, having the keener
wit of youth, may be a safe adviser in our legal dilemmas. The young
officer is the marrow of our army and navy. We may even venture to
entrust our souls for spiritual guidance to some earnest young priest.
But when it comes to our bodies, to the actual tenements that contain
us, to such intimate events as percussion, palpation, the administration
of tonics, or the insertion of knife and forceps--why then, you know, we
must really insist upon maturity.

Your mere boys may administer our properties, or defend our countries,
or even dally gently with our souls. But when it comes to our actual
flesh and blood--well, we prefer the assistant or the locum to confine
his attentions to the servants, the children, or the very poor. There
are exceptions to the rule, no doubt. But I'm afraid that you will find
it a very general one. I know that I did. And about the only comfort to
be extracted from it is the fact that it may be regarded as an excellent
medium for the acquirement of humility. And that's why, if your brothers
in the Church or the Army become more lowly in spirit than yourself, it
must be taken to argue in them a greater endowment of natural grace.
For their teaching, in this respect, is not likely, I think, to be more
thorough than yours. At the same time, there are, as you have just been
finding out, some rather bitter moments for the newly fledged medico. I
remember once, when I was about twenty-four, I think, and doing a locum
in Portsmouth, being called up for the third night in succession to
attend a confinement. It was three o'clock in the morning, and the
night-bell stirred me out of the profoundest depths of slumber. Very
weary, and very bleary, I remember cursing myself by all my gods for
having set my hand to so laborious a plough as the pursuit of healing.
But later, walking grimly down the empty streets in a pallid drizzle of
rain, a certain sense of heroism came to my rescue. After all, it _was_
rather a noble thing to be doing; and no doubt my patient would be
proportionately grateful. As a matter of solemn fact, on setting eyes
upon me, she lifted up her voice, and wept incontinently.

It was a perfectly natural thing to do, of course, in the light of after
reflection. She had expected to see the genial, middle-aged physician
who had so often attended her; and behold, in his stead, a pale-faced
boy who might very nearly have been her son! It was no wonder that she
burst into tears. But it was rather a blow for the poor hero.
Afterwards, I think, having both made the best of a bad job, and
observed an all-wise Nature introduce to us an entirely normal baby, we
became quite friendly. And you will generally find, if you know your
work, and refrain from dogma, that a little patience will heal most of
these differences, while the cause of them, alas, will depart readily
enough. It is good, no doubt, to be considered a wise old codger. But
the pearl that pays for it is of great price. So don't be in too much of
a hurry to part with it.

  Your affect. uncle,
  PETER HARDING.



IX

_To Harry Carthew, Trenant Hotel, Leeds._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _April_ 15, 1910.

MY DEAR CARTHEW,

I am very glad. But let me put it to you, sir--that _is_ the phrase,
isn't it?--that you really cured yourself.

  Yrs. very sincerely,
  PETER HARDING.



X

_To the Rev. Bruce Harding, S. Peter's College, Morecambe Bay._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _April_ 20, 1910.

MY DEAR BRUCE,

The whole subject is so difficult, and one's opinions upon it, in cold
ink as it were, are so liable to be misread, that I wish we could have
had a quiet talk about it instead. But of course, since you cannot leave
the school until the May holiday begins, and will have, if you decide to
take so radical a step, to write to the boys' parents in India and
Egypt, this is quite impossible. From your letter I seem to gather that
this was your intention at the time of writing, and it is a decision in
which I can sympathise with you very deeply.

For the whole ten years during which the school has been in your charge
it has, to your almost certain knowledge, and according also to the
testimony of many of your old pupils, been absolutely free from this
"moral canker," as you describe it, that you have just discovered in it
now. And even for a preparatory school, like yours, this is a record for
which you are right to be profoundly thankful. It is one also that
naturally throws up into a blacker relief the present condition of
affairs. Moreover, having discovered its sphere to be at present fairly
circumscribed--confined apparently to a single coterie of some half a
dozen boys--the obvious course, as you say, would seem to be a prompt
and thorough excision, _pro bono publico_.

And yet I believe that there's a better way--so much better that I am
sure, before receiving this, you will have already found it, and
abandoned your first decision. You won't expel the youngsters. You'll
create instead a public feeling that will cure them. And you'll
distribute them in such a way that each will be surrounded by it to his
best advantage. I feel so certain that you'll have already made up your
mind to do this that I won't put in any special pleading on behalf of
these particular nippers or their parents abroad, although I sincerely
believe that in taking so drastic a step as you suggest in your letter
you would not only be magnifying their offence out of all proportion,
but that the result all round would be more than harmful.

Instead, the point that I would most urgently put before you--in spite
of many an old drawn battle upon the subject--is that the present little
crisis would be an excellent excuse for reconsidering your position as
regards giving to your scholars some definite physiological instruction.
Because I am quite convinced that at least three-quarters of your moral
canker would more properly be defined as physiological curiosity and
that the whole problem is only secondarily one of actual perversity. Now
your custom up to the present has had, I'll admit, a great deal to
recommend it. For your boys come to you very young, usually at the age
of nine or ten, shy and imaginative enough perhaps, but for the most
part mentally sexless, and with an almost entirely objective outlook
upon life. In other words, their inquisitiveness is eccentric rather
than concentric. It's a happy condition, and one, as you say, that must
be dealt with exceedingly carefully. When they leave you, somewhere
about fourteen or fifteen years old, you usually take the opportunity of
the good-bye interview to give them some warnings as to confronting
moral dangers. But purposely, for fear of prematurely dissipating a
desirable innocence, or awakening what you call an illegitimate
curiosity, you keep your advice to generalities in all but the rarest
instances. The possible stimulus to dangerous self-exploration in some
unsuspecting youngster has always outweighed for you the advantages of a
too direct explanation.

And this is where, in spite of your ten years' immunity, I feel sure
that your methods have fallen short of the best. Self-exploration is
only dangerous when it's blind, and if self-curiosity is ever
illegitimate--and I don't see why it should be--we both know that some
day or another it is going to become inevitable. We know more, because
we are fully aware that some day or another it is going to be satisfied.
And for the life of me I cannot see why mere physiological ignorance
shouldn't be dispelled in the same routine that is employed for
dispelling any other sort of ignorance, mathematical, historical, or
what you will. It can be done, I am quite certain, without rubbing a
particle off the sweet bloom of childhood, and it will go a very long
way in preserving from a much ruder handling that of adolescence and
early manhood. For it seems to me that the very fact of refraining from
any definite instruction upon what, after all, from the purely physical
point of view, is the bed-rock of our _raison d'être_, lends the
subject in advance precisely that air of unnecessary and even shameful
mystery which is responsible for about nine-tenths of our prudery on the
one hand, and our obscenity on the other.

There's so little original in these reflections, they represent the
attitude of so large a number of ordinarily thoughtful persons, that
they may probably bore you. But, on the other hand, although there's a
good deal of educational spade-work still before us, the day will
certainly come, I think, when we shall treat and teach sexual phenomena
in the same sane and self-consciousless way as we treat and teach the
principles of personal cleanliness and physical hygiene. It will be a
great day--may it come soon--and with its dawning will disappear not
only the entire stock-in-trade of a not uncommon type of smoking-room
raconteur, but a very considerable portion of actual and imaginative
immorality. For if you cover up anything long enough, and refer to it
slyly enough, you can be certain in the end of making its exposure
indecent. If gloves became _de rigueur_ for a couple of centuries we
should raise prurient titters at the mention of a knuckle. No; it's air
and sunlight and the salt of a bracing sanity in these matters that is
our crying need.

"The sea," says Mr. Stacpoole in his clever romance "The Blue Lagoon,"
"is a great purifier," and proceeds, in a little piece of delicate and
absolutely true psychology, to describe how Dick, the derelict boy on
the coral island, instinctively ran naked with his sister in the
presence of winds and waves, although some impulse, born probably of
memory, bade him cover himself inland. But his decency was the same in
either place.

And it's the sea air of a healthy knowledge and acceptance of these
matters that we ought to be pumping through our schoolrooms, our
dormitories, and our heart-to-heart talks with our children. Approach
them frankly enough, and with no semblance of shamefacedness, and we
needn't be afraid, I think, of any evil consequences. The guilty smile,
the illicit joke, become disarmed in advance when their subject is
treated in the same matter-of-fact and unmysterious fashion as those of
geography or astronomy. And that is why, on the whole, I am opposed to
the average "purity" volumes that are published for purposes of sexual
instruction. For though they acknowledge this to be the solution of a
large portion of the problem, they are so written, circulated, and
advertised as to suggest rather an initiation into the unspeakable than
a straightforward piece of natural history. And I suspect, as a
consequence, that their sales are considerably larger among the prurient
than the pious. An older generation was brought up on "Reading without
tears." The next should have a companion volume "Biology without shame."

Forgive this sermon, but I have been confronted just lately with such a
lot of human mental wreckage, the direct result, in my opinion, of the
half-religious, half-fearful shrouds with which we always swaddle up
these questions, that I rejoice in an opportunity for their wholesale
condemnation. It was Mrs. Craigie, I think, who said that every girl of
eighteen should read "Tom Jones." And one can see why, for it is a clean
and wholesome history, if a little unspiritual. But her education, like
her brother's, should not be left haphazard to the chance reading of a
novel, or to the unnecessary blushes with which she ponders certain
passages of Scripture.

Well, good-bye, old man, and God bless you. Chat it all over with the
young sinners, and then work out a little course of lectures upon the
reproduction of species. If you have never talked collectively to a
roomful of boys upon the subject before, you will be surprised at the
rapt interest and genuine solemnity with which they will attend to what
you have to tell them. And the purity of your school won't suffer, I
think, by its change of foundations.

  Your affect. cousin,
  PETER HARDING.



XI

_To Miss Josephine Summers, The Cottage, Potham, Beds._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _April_ 22, 1910.

MY DEAR AUNT JOSEPHINE,

I am glad to hear that the ring has been so completely successful in
driving away the pains from your joints. I haven't actually heard of the
wearing of a ring round the waist for pains elsewhere. But, as you say,
it sounds a distinctly hopeful idea. With regard to the pills, so much
depends, of course, on what you mean by being worth a guinea. If you are
to measure these benefits in actual cash, I believe this amounts to
about three farthings. But perhaps that is an unfair standard. No, I
don't think that there is the least risk in taking four. I am sorry to
hear of your gardener's troubles. But I should hardly have thought that
it would be necessary to send him to Torquay. Has it ever occurred to
you to suggest that he should sign the pledge?

  Your affect. nephew,
  PETER HARDING.



XII

_To Tom Harding, c/o the Rev. Arthur Jake Rugby._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _April_ 24, 1910.

MY DEAR TOM,

I have been expecting this letter of yours for a good many weeks. It
would be almost true, I think, to say that I have been hoping for it.
And yet each week of delay has been making, I believe, for safety. So
strongly have I been feeling this last, indeed, that now your letter has
actually come, and actually contains to so large an extent the sort of
material that I expected to find in it, I am more than glad that you
have hesitated so long before writing it. One must always stand away a
little from the burning bush to discuss its relations with an everyday
world. Close beneath it, in the first apprehension of its significance,
there is no room for anything but adoration. And I am afraid this letter
of mine, had you received it then, would have seemed to you, if not even
a little blasphemous, at any rate lacking in true reverence. For
although you haven't told me so, I expect that I shouldn't be far wrong
in hazarding a guess that for the first month or two after your
experience at Scarborough you told yourself that your father, and
perhaps even your mother, were a little wanting in a true understanding
of the miracle that had befallen you. It was all so new, so
overwhelming; it threw such a strange light not only upon your own
individual life, past and to come, but upon the sum total of all other
life as well, that you felt its wonder to be almost incompatible with
the humdrum, commonplace existence that we and most of our friends
appeared to be leading.

Had we known it, as it was then shining upon you, surely we should have
been so different! You felt, I think, as if you had suddenly found us
out. And though you didn't love us any the less for this--perhaps even
loved us more, in another kind of way--you were quite sure that if you
hadn't actually outstripped us by this single leap into the light, we
had at any rate dropped down a little from the high plane on which, till
then, you had never doubted that we lived.

How, for example, in a world that teemed with sin, could the governor be
so keen on catching trout? How was it, with these dark, tremendous
millions hemming him in, that you had never seen him hand away a tract,
or preach the Word in season? How came it, alas, that he could even
sometimes say "damn" when he broke a bootlace, or waste some
unreturnable hour over a rubber of bridge? Of course with the mater it
was different. Maters _are_ different, and I'm glad you thought of that,
Tom. But come now, didn't it run somehow in this way? Why naturally it
did, and it meant that your discovery had already begotten another. It
meant that you had suddenly realised the weak humanity of your parents.
But you must try to be kind to it.

And that's how it is with all great discoveries, Tom, in every branch of
life. First one is struck with their extraordinary, their dazzling,
simplicity. Belief--life; acceptance--salvation; and you had never
somehow thought of it before! How simple, and by its very simplicity how
god-like, how utterly convincing!

And then, in this new irrefragable conception, everything (even the
governor) has to be reconsidered, appraised, condemned, readjusted, and
inspired afresh. What is this going to mean to me personally? What does
it mean to other people? And again, what responsibility towards them
does its possession entail on myself? These are the inevitable questions
that follow. The putting of them is the second stage in the general
process. The very fact of their being put at all shows the discovery to
be already at work. And the answers, if the discovery is worth anything
at all, and we have postulated it to be a great one, can be of only one
kind. I must pursue it to the end. I must follow out its leading as far
as my humanity will let me. And I must communicate the results to my
fellows according to the best of my abilities. That is the third stage,
and it is coterminous with life, Tom. Because, you see, all great
discoveries, like yours, contain within them the germ-cells of a
thousand others. To discover one or two of these, to nourish them, and
perhaps even, if one is very fortunate, to enable them in some degree to
fructify, is more than a life-work for most of us.

So true is this, and so endless and apparently diverse appear to be
their various possibilities, that we are apt very easily (especially in
middle life) to forget the splendid, sweeping simplicity of the initial
idea, just as we are equally apt to overrate, perhaps, the importance of
those particular germs that we have, by temperament and circumstance,
elected to serve, and to underrate the value of those to which our
neighbours have been attracted. And it is because of the first of these
things that I want to thank you for your letter, and tell you how very
much I value it. You have reminded me again of something that I would
never like to forget. You have re-created for me the right atmosphere.
Belief _is_ life, Tom, in a great many more senses than one. Hang on to
that like a limpet, and the peace of heart that means strength of hand
will never leave you. But it's because of the second of these things
that I want you to hesitate just a little longer before you commit
yourself to the proposition in your letter.

To be a lay evangelist, something like the gentleman whose services you
attended, may be as high and noble a life as any that the world has to
offer you. As I conceive it, lived to its greatest advantage, it must be
an exceedingly difficult one, which should only of course make it the
more worth living. But to say that it is the _best_ worth living, while
it may be true for yourself, is certainly not true as a general
principle. There is no one sort of life that is the best worth living.
And in considering the question, as you certainly must, I think you
ought to be very careful to keep this before your mind. Ways in life
are not to be selected like articles from a shop-window. You cannot ask
for the best, and go away with it in your pocket. The best worth living
life is already inside you. And your new discovery is not going to
determine its nature--heredity and a thousand other things have already
done that--but rather its quality. You may be cut out for a lay, or any
other kind of evangelist. I hadn't somehow suspected it in you. But I
may easily have been wrong. Yet I think you mustn't take any definite
vows upon your shoulders--at any rate, for some time--and probably, I
suspect, for several years.

Promises of this sort, you see, are so very much better left unmade. For
in the first place, the remembrance of them is more than likely to blur
the gladness, and consequent usefulness, with which you will obey your
temperament and tendencies in later years, should these determine for
you some different course. And in the second, they may even, standing
upon some mistaken scruple of conscience, succeed in forcing you,
against your real calling, into an altogether unsuitable career.

Meanwhile you need have no fears, I think, in leading your normal,
probationary life. You have the opportunity of University education
before you. And that, at any rate, can do you no harm, and will probably
be of extreme use to you, whatever your ultimate decision. You want to
find out the truth, to impart the truth, and to help your fellow-men to
lead better lives. Very well then, if there's a God, Tom, as you and I
believe, you must be just the material that He would most greatly care
to use. So why not leave it at that for a little while? Want to do the
right thing, and so do the next one; and you'll find, I think, that the
precise nature of your own particular right thing, evangelist or
engineer, will pretty certainly settle itself.

  Your aff. father,
  P. H.



XIII

_To Hugh Pontrex, Villa Rosa, Mentone._


  c/o DR. ROBERT LYNN,
  APPLEBROOK, DEVON,
  _May_ 3, 1910.

MY DEAR HUGH,

I have just come back to read your letter from one of those super-days
of which even the happiest life can contain, I imagine, no more than a
handful. Of merely good days I can remember many enough--a sufficient
number, at any rate, to absorb very happily the memory of their less
favoured brethren. And several of them remain distinct by virtue of some
outstanding incident or emotion that they contained or inspired. But
most, I think, have become blended into a general peaceable impression
of past contentment. To use a popular Americanism, they were good times,
and usually real good times at that.

But of these super-days, these Olympians among mundane experiences, no
man can expect very many, and I have been, I suspect, as fortunate as
most--in any case so fortunate as to be more than grateful,
notwithstanding the tiny, struggling sense in me (a legacy of
superstition, I suppose, from some far-back ancestors) that so exquisite
an enjoyment must surely prelude some equivalent disaster. They are not,
as a rule, I think, critical days, at any rate in the ordinarily
accepted sense of the term, though I can remember perhaps a couple that
in a small fashion might answer this description.

The first of them was in my fifteenth year, and was the last day (at the
end of six weeks' strict training) of the House Races at school. Our
four had started bottom of the river, and day by day had crept up until,
in the evening of this particular one, we were to row the favourites,
School House, for the cup. When I call them the favourites, they were
this merely in a sporting sense. Because, I think, the succession of
good fights put up by our own insignificant little house, added to a
certain reputation for conceit that most School Houses would seem to
possess, had won pretty nearly the whole of the rest of the school to
our support. As a very junior and inferior oarsman (and I was more than
conscious of this at the time, I remember) I can claim no particular
share, other than an accidental one, in this series of victories. I had
been one of two candidates for the post of bow, and being a few pounds
heavier than my opponent, had managed to secure the thwart. But my mere
undeservedness did not lessen--in fact, I think, it enhanced--the almost
miraculous sweetness of those wonderful twelve hours. To be gazed at
surreptitiously by yet smaller boys in a patently envious admiration; to
be patted on the back by older ones who had never hitherto noticed my
existence; to be let out of school half an hour earlier by the
form-master, with a jocose phrase about privileged heroes--all these
things wove a magic round my way that no anxiety about the coming race
was strong enough to mar, and that has survived a good many years. Of
the race itself I can remember, curiously, nothing but the peculiar
hollow echo of our oars as we came through the Town Bridge, and the bare
fact that we succeeded in winning, to the supposed vast humiliation of
our superior enemies. But what I do remember most distinctly is being
invited to tea with the captain, a big man and a monitor. It was a
splendid, god-like meal, in which the six weeks' abstention (mistaken,
no doubt, but none the less heroic) from sweets and pastries was
utterly forgotten. And there stands out to me the doughnut that
dismissed them to oblivion, a doughnut of so succulent a clamminess that
it is unlikely, I think, ever to have had its peer--a very Lycidas among
doughnuts.

The second day that occurs to me is that in which, playing through, for
the first time in many years, to the Finals, the Hospital XV was
defeated after a gruelling ninety minutes by the team that represented
Guy's. This must have been some eight or nine years later, and its
essence is contained in my memory by five perfect minutes, gloriously
relaxed, tired but hard, in a hot bath at Richmond.

Now looking back, I know these to have been super-days, and they were,
as I have explained, in a very minor sense critical perhaps. But they
were exceptions, I think, to the general rule. For though the critical
day, the long-looked-forward-to, the apparently, and indeed,
chronologically speaking, the really important day may be a good one,
and contain great things, yet in later life, at any rate, there is an
inseparable anxiety about it of which the super-day knows nothing. The
day one qualified, for example, and became by one scratch of the pen
licensed to sign death-certificates, exempt from serving on fire
brigades, and worth (on paper) from three to five guineas a week as a
locum tenens, was, no doubt, a notable one. The day one proposed oneself
in a kind of stammering paralysis as a possible husband to the only
possible girl--and was unbelievably accepted; the marriage day; the day
when one was appointed to the hospital staff; the day when, in a cool
and blinded room, one stooped to kiss the tired but joyful eyes of the
first baby's mother--these are the dates over which, most probably, the
outside historian would choose to pour the vials of his fancy. But I
doubt if in any life these are ever the super-days. They are days to
remember; but at the same time they are days that one is glad to have
seen closed. They have beheld Destiny too visibly hanging on so
desperately fine a balance.

No, they come, these gift-days from the gods, even as they list; and
they refuse to be classified. The most constant feature about them, I
think, is that they rather generally appear during a holiday. And this,
I believe, is because they depend so much on a certain purely bodily
fitness. I hesitate a little to be very dogmatic about this, because the
older one grows the more spiritual, and consequently deeper, becomes
their joy. And yet, for the majority of us, at any rate, I am certain
that the temple must be at least in passable order if the spirit within
is to look abroad with an unworried heart, and thoroughly spring-cleaned
before its householder, free from domestic cares, can roam joyously at
will to find those rarer flowers that he's so seldom free enough to
seek. And there lies my stock argument for all misguided religious
workers who won't take holidays, and incidentally the real damnation of
all systems of monastic self-mortification. A sound body not only means
a sound mind, but an untrammelled spirit. For a spirit that has
constantly to be down on its knees stopping up some leak in the basement
cannot possibly find much time for walking in the garden with God. And
if it's a self-made or self-permitted leak, it hasn't even the excuse of
being engaged in some equally necessary occupation.

Yet apart from this, there isn't a doubt, I think, that these super-days
stand out in memory, and gain their constructive force less by reason of
their muscular exaltation than by virtue of their spiritual vision. For
even in the days of the doughnut and the hot bath this last wasn't
altogether absent. The doughnut marked the closing of an epoch and the
dawn of its successor. It meant the passage--and to a certain extent
the conscious passage, too--of an irresponsible childhood into a region
of honourable reputation. It was a doughnut that had been bestowed by
the hands of a captain. While the hot bath, careless of defeat, merely
whispered how great had been the game. And in their successors of later
years this spiritual factor has tended to emphasise itself in an
ever-growing proportion. Wordsworth might almost have selected the
theme, I think, for an Ode on the Intimations of Immortality in Middle
Age. I can remember one such day on Butser Hill, during a snatched
week-end in Hampshire, and another that is summed up for me in a bend of
heather-bordered road, turning, at a hot day's end, towards
Stronachlacher and a green lawn above Loch Katrine.

And now, with an equal unexpectedness, there has come the latest of them
all.

You know how it goes on a holiday--the holiday, that is, of a man to
whom holidays are rare and very blessed. For the first day your mind has
not yet freed itself from town and toil and the hundred other interests
for which they stand. Nor has your body quite overcome the lassitude
inspired by pavements, and encouraged by taxi-cabs and broughams. Your
host, too, wants to learn the latest tidings from the great metropolis;
what So-and-so thinks of the political situation; the prevailing opinion
on stocks and shares; the last pronouncements on art and music; the
newest good thing in plays. And perhaps even, if you chance to be of the
same profession, you fall to talking shop. Not even the magic of
plunging streams and deep, rock-shaded pools is quite sufficient, for
the moment, to dispel the urban atmosphere that still clings about you.
Your unused muscles remind you of the reason for their flabbiness. Your
eye, too long engaged upon other sights, is not yet quick enough to mark
the swift rise among those ripples at the tail of the pool. And you
return from your first day's fishing a little annoyed with yourself,
aching as regards the wrist and thigh, and more often than not with a
light or empty bag. Yet even so, mark the change in your after-dinner
talk! Smoking there round the hall fire, surrounded by rods and guns and
cases of fish and game, you no longer deliver yourself of opinions on
the rubber market or the precise value of the latest vaccine. You
discuss instead the reason why you missed that pounder under Applebrook
Bridge. And you sit for long minutes staring through a blue tobacco haze
into the wood-fire's heart, presumably thinking, but in reality doing
nothing of the kind. For though the gates of your brain are open, it is
to speed rather than receive impressions. And by to-morrow the
overcrowded hostel of your mind will be standing with doors ajar for its
lustier moorland visitors.

So it has been with me, Hugh, and to-day, the third of my holiday, has
been one of those great ones of which I have been writing. Talking
sleepily in bed last night to Esther I had announced an intention,
received by her with a discreet appearance of belief, of sallying out
early to try a couple of those big pools at the junction of the
Applebrook and Dart. But the servant with the shaving water found us
both comfortably asleep at half-past eight, with two silvery morning
hours unfished except in dreams. Dear me, but what a glorious air, and
how divine a whisper, too frail to be called a scent, of delicately
browning trout!

For old Bob had been up betimes, and, in spite of a powder of frost on
the riverside gorse and alders, had succeeded in beguiling half a dozen
plump little troutlings into providing the _hors-d'oeuvre_ to a
substantial three-decker breakfast. The family had already made their
meal, by the time we got downstairs, and old Bob, ruddy and contented,
surveyed us approvingly from the hearthrug.

"If the sun didn't find you yesterday," he chuckled, "I fancy the breeze
did," and Mrs. Bob murmured something to Esther about hazeline ointment.
A long round would prevent Bob from doing any more fishing for the rest
of the day, but a touch of south in the wind had decided him that Esther
and I must settle upon the East Dart for our third day's sport.

"The wind should help you," he said; "and you ought to have a pretty
good time," and became forthwith a prophet, though not concerning trout.
I'm not going to bother you with details of our angling. It was very
arduous, for the wind changed almost as soon as we had started, and blew
down the steep valley at a good many miles an hour. But it was at least
exciting, and we lunched in a hail-storm on sandwiches and fruit pies,
conveyed to us across the moor by Nancy on her pony.

Do you remember Nancy Lynn, a blush-rose little baby-girl a dozen years
ago? But I'm sure you do, and I wish you could have seen her to-day as
she rode down to us along the steep path to the river, straddle-legged
on her Dartmoor pony, bareheaded, and the colour of a ripe
chestnut--lustiest of little animals, but with eyes, as she cuddled her
pony's nose, that have already learned to spell mother, and sometimes
wonder what it means.

After lunch, Esther went home with her to meet some friends of Mrs. Lynn
at tea, and I was to fish a mile or two further up stream, returning
later in the evening. But smoking my pipe under the stone wall that had
sheltered our meal, it was a long time before I again took up my rod.
And instead I sat there under the clearing sky--a great gulf now of
tear-washed blue, deepening into an immeasurable calm behind these
trivial clouds--and watched the two of them making their leisurely way
along the hill. And seen thus, at a little distance, they might very
easily have been sisters. There was the same spring in their boyish
tread, and, could I have seen it, I have no doubt that there was the
same kind of look in their clear, contented eyes. For what Nancy now
was, Esther so obviously once had been. And what Esther had become,
Nancy in her kind would also grow to be--and subtly, to some small
extent, because of Esther. Indeed it might almost have been Esther as
she was, walking pleasantly with Esther as she is, the child's instinct
of living only each moment's life, clinging happily to the woman's
deeper philosophy of doing precisely the same. I wonder if you see what
I'm driving at. It all looks so commonplace on paper. They were really
of course two ordinary people, a young girl and a woman, disappearing
down a path. But to an elderly physician (a thousand feet up, and on a
super-day, mind you) they seemed suddenly to be something rather more.
For swinging hands as they walked, half-way between the changing water
and the changeless Tor, it was as though now they held visibly between
them some mystical arm's-length of the secret core of life--something
that was at once common to their age and youth, and was yet apart from
both; something, independent of circumstance, that was swinging for a
benediction over the years that lay between them. And I'll tell you what
it was, Hugh, or at any rate what I knew it to be this afternoon. It was
just the Ultimate Truth about things. And behold it was very good!

So that's why I've written you this letter in answer to your sad one of
this evening.

For though there is said to be a kind of comfort, I believe, in
realising that others are suffering like ourselves, I doubt if this is
ever a comfort worth having. And, on the other hand, there is a certain
amount of real satisfaction in knowing, at the end of a blank day, that
your neighbour, at any rate, has had a bit of luck. And so because you
write to me _de profundis_, your bronchial mucous membrane being more
than usually congested, I'm deliberately crowing to you from my little
hill-top. But there's another reason, Hugh. Do you remember, twelve
years ago, facing me on Believer Bridge, and holding out to me a lean
brown hand to grasp? I was there this afternoon, and that nice sunburnt
girl has now got a family of six.

"Peter," you said to me, "this has been a great day. It has been worth
living for. I wouldn't have missed it for whatever's got to come. And if
you're a real pal you won't let me forget that."

And so I have reminded you. That was one of _your_ super-days, and you
chose to make it your throne of judgment upon life. And you were right,
Hugh, because you judged by the best, and life, like genius, must always
be greater than even its highest gifts to us. Some day, when I too am
glowering upon it from the windward side of a bronchitis-kettle, I hope
there'll be an equally tactful fellow to remind me of this. Perhaps
you'll be the fellow.

  Ever yours,
  P. H.



XIV

_To Miss Molly Harding, 91B Harley Street, London, W._


  c/o DR. ROBT. LYNN,
  APPLEBROOK, DEVON,
  _May_ 6, 1910.

MY DEAR HOUSEKEEPER,

Twenty years ago your mother and I came down here for a fortnight's
fishing to stay, just as we are staying now, and in the same month, too,
with Bob Lynn and his wife. I remember that we wondered for quite six
weeks if we could properly afford to do this. The house, you see--not
91B, but the tiny one at the end of Devonshire Street--had been so very
costly in its demand for furniture, for rent, for wear and tear. The
practice was so uncertain, seemed so desperately slow in growing. Was it
safe to leave it? Would it be still there when we returned? And if
not----?

So we argued, and knew all the time that there was a far more important
consideration than any of these tucked away in the upstairs part of our
minds. Was it safe to leave her at only ten months old? Would she know
us again when we came back? Could any one in the world take a great
enough care of her?

Perhaps you have never guessed what an important little person she was;
and perhaps, even now, you decline, in that very calm and unimpassioned
habit of yours, to believe it. But that must be because you have never
properly studied the evidence. I wonder if you have ever seen, for
instance, the clothes that she wore--such little clothes, but just look
at them, every stitch as delicate as a tendril, and every dimple and
pucker as soft as a wild bird's nest. There's never more than one person
in the world who can make clothes like that; and nobody, not even her
husband, knows where she learned the secret. And if this were only the
husk, what then about the plump little kernel inside?

I can remember the long discussions, and how at last two cold-blooded
physicians, the one in Devonshire and the other in town, had their own
way, and forced a mother from her babelet for two long, if
health-giving, weeks. I can remember the arrival of a Miss Sarah
Harding--admirablest of lay-mothers (God bless them all)--to take up her
awful charge; and the hour or so during which she received instructions
enough to cause a less iron brain to melt upon its pan. But she was a
wonderful woman even then, and _somebody_ had to take care of the child.

And now, with a trifling difference or two, here's history repeating
itself in the oddest manner possible, father and mother flown down again
to Devonshire, and somebody offering, in their absence, to take care of
Miss Molly--but for rather longer than a paltry two weeks; and please
what do we think of it?

By the same post, too, comes a brief, apologetic sort of letter from the
candidate himself. He had meant to wait for another year or so before
suggesting himself as even a possible caretaker, only as it happened
last night at Lady Pearson's she was looking, etc. etc.--and you know
how these things will get the better of a chap, etc. etc.--and, well,
there it was, don't you know; and now it is all upon the knees of the
gods. Or of one little goddess, did he mean to say? Because that of
course is where it really is, as you both know very well indeed, in
spite of your pretty letters to us, which have made your mother and me
feel at once very elderly and happy and anxious (in a not too unpleasant
sense) and also--do you mind?--vicariously honoured.

I doubt if I am looking at the matter quite eye to eye with the W.S.P.U.
when I say this; but you'll have to forgive me, I think, especially as
it's your Daddy's opinion that you ask for, and not theirs. So I'll tell
you just what I felt when I read your letter, and comprehended its
tidings.

1. Dear me, is she really as old as that?

2. Then what am I?

3. _O tempus edax rerum!_

4. But it's really rather gratifying.

5. Because after all there are so many nice girls in the world.

6. And yet it's _my_ girl that he would like to marry.

7. _Our_ girl, please. (This from Esther.)

You see how primitive we become in these little crises of life.

And I think, if you really want to have my very particular message to
you about this, it is--don't mind being a little primitive yourself.

On the whole, perhaps, I am not able to prescribe this as often as I
should like; and chiefly because, I suppose, the young couples that come
to me for an opinion on matrimony are not as a rule normal young
couples. They have usually been sent, that is to say, by some wise or
anxious guardian who has foreseen for them some probable disaster. And
often enough I have had to beseech them for their own good and for the
unborn others to let their reason lay aside their passion--not without
tears.

Now, I believe I know you well enough to be right in saying that
the--shall I call it the strictly eugenic?--side of the question is not
likely to suffer from your neglect. Newnham and the W.S.P.U. will have
taken care of that. Nor is there anything, in the present case, to
trouble you from this point of view. For Arthur Lynn is a sound,
healthy, athletic young man, four years your senior, of good stock and
sufficiently satisfactory means and prospects. Both physically and in
every other way he would be a desirable husband for you. And all this,
as I gather from your letter, you have been very carefully, and very
rightly, considering. Moreover you can be quite sure--you probably _are_
quite sure--that there is no one whom your mother and I would sooner
have for a son-in-law, as I am writing to tell him this evening.

No, my dear, I don't think that your danger lies in a too slender
application of reason to the problem before you. It lurks, if anywhere,
in a too great disregard of what is often supposed to be its
antithesis. And I should like you to have written to me, not only that
you were 'naturally pleased, of course, if a little perplexed,' but that
you were _thrilled_. To which, no doubt, you will reply that in the
first place you're not the sort of young woman that indulges in thrills,
and in the second that, had you done so, you would certainly never have
committed the fact to paper. But I should have read it between the
lines. Ah, Molly, don't ever be _too_ afraid of thrills. For at the
worst (the most _bourgeois_) they are at any rate evidences of life, not
only within but without--some all-pervading force, short-circuited for a
moment through your own awakened consciousness to that old, old world on
which you stand; while at the best--well, who shall say from what unseen
Vessel the current has its birth?

  Could I find a place to be alone with heaven,
  I would speak my heart out; heaven is my need.

Was it like that with you, Molly? Because that is how I would have it
for you, my dear. And I think it is worth waiting for, not for a week
only, as you have suggested to Arthur, but for far longer than that. You
will tell me, very likely, and with perfect truth, to remember that
wherever marriages may be said to have their hypothetical origin, in
actual practice they must needs evolve upon earth. And that's a side of
the question, no doubt, that a good many people are inclined to forget.
But you're not one of them. And I should like you to give Heaven a
chance, not only for your own sake, but for your future husband's,
whoever he may ultimately be. Husbands need a little halo, you see, at
any rate to begin with. And that's why I should like you to wait
awhile--say six months or so--even at the risk of causing young Lynn a
little gentle (but quite harmless) unhappiness. And when--and if--he
comes to you then (for you mustn't allow him to promise) let your heart
have no doubt in its yes.

  Your affect. father,
  P. H.



XV

_To Miss Josephine Summers, The Cottage, Potham, Beds._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _May_ 16, 1910.

MY DEAR AUNT JOSEPHINE,

It is certainly very wrong of Claire not to have written to thank you
for the mittens. As you say, colds in the head are quite common in the
months of May and June, and I have no doubt that if she wears them, as
you suggest, whenever she goes out to play, they will keep her hands
very warm indeed. I hope that you will hear from her in a day or two.
With regard to the vicar's boy, I think, from what I remember of him,
that you can quite safely leave him in the hands of the vicar's very
wise housekeeper and your own excellent doctor. I doubt too if he would
ever really constantly wear the flannel cholera-belt that you have been
making for him; and in any case, I think a temporary abstinence from
butter-scotch would be an even more effective measure. Your doctor is
quite right about the tomatoes. There is no evidence to show that they
cause cancer. But of course one must always be careful not to eat too
many of them. No, the gravel from which, I am sorry to hear, the new
lay-reader suffers has nothing to do with that which is found in
gardens. And it is quite sufficient, as you say, to account for a little
occasional hastiness in his temper. We are all glad to hear that you
have been so busy and comparatively well, and both Esther and Molly join
me in sending you their best love.

  Your affect. nephew,
  PETER HARDING.



XVI

_To Lady Wroxton, The Manor House, Stoke Magna, Oxon._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _May_ 23, 1910.

MY DEAR LADY WROXTON,

I was very glad, as were we all, to hear from you again after so long a
silence, and gladder still to learn that the pleasant peacefulness of
Stoke is doing its good work on your behalf so surely, if still a little
slowly. For both from your own letter and that of Dr. Rochester I can
see that the spirit of you is climbing back again towards the light,
less lonely than you would have thought possible six months ago, and
into an air as clear even as that which you and your husband breathed
together before he was taken from you. I think that I know how hard must
be the ascent, although in my own perhaps too peaceful life I have had
little enough experience of these swift and terrible bereavements, that
will come to me also, I must suppose, in their due time. And it is only
from the share, sometimes completely professional, sometimes rather
more intimate than this, that I have been called upon to take in such
experiences of others that I seem to have learned a very little about
the tides of grief.

Looking down upon the dead face, touching the cold hand, lifting up the
leaden arm, one cannot help feeling how utterly dead a dead man looks,
an impression enormously deepened, as a rule, by the circumstances of
the last days. For in these his external, his spiritual activities have
been, of necessity almost, set aside, and perhaps temporarily forgotten
in the paramount appeals of his body itself. Now this organ, now that,
must be attended to, supported, cleansed, stimulated, implored, as it
were, to fulfil its duty towards the struggling economy of the whole.
And as an almost inevitable result their slender responses, their final
refusals, have obsessed both patient and friends to the exclusion of
everything else. The bodily case, so long taken for granted, and now so
fast giving way, has become no longer a subordinate, but the predominant
factor in its owner's entity. So that when the body, _Imperator et Dux_
of these later hours, at length lays down its sceptre, it's a small
wonder if all else has appeared to die with it. Nor for a time can the
formulæ of the churches seem anything but unreal, however humbly a
schooled faith may try to accept their verity. The dead thing beneath
the sheet seems to weigh down the balance with a fact too stark for
disputation. Of the earth earthy, it is committed to the earth,
resolving presently into its elements--and who shall tell its number any
more?

Between mere friends, the friend taken and the friend left, this bodily
dissolution has perhaps a less grim significance, or makes, at any rate,
a smaller demand on faith. We loved our friend for his ways, his wit,
his kindliness, his character, and not very particularly for his cast of
feature or mould of physique. But where friendship has allied itself
with passion, where the actual flesh has meant much, where souls have
spoken, not only in sight and speech, but in touch and fast embrace, the
death of the flesh must necessarily seem to involve so infinitely
more--enough almost to justify mediæval thought in demanding, for its
consolation, a belief in the resurrection of the body. And as a result
the well-meant advice of physicians and friends must appear at these
times to be entirely inadequate--I was almost going to say
impertinent--because it must necessarily be only half informed.

And yet I am not sure that we, standing at a distance (and perhaps even
because of this), have not, after all, the real comfort in our hands. To
you, from whose close touch the alabaster box has slipped, its breaking
has seemed to mean the end of all things. You were so near to it. And
how irreparable was its fracture no eyes but yours could tell. So what
can we others say to you that can be of any value in your sorrow?

Well, we can at least say this--that its perfume is still upon the air,
its real gift to us and our great and permanent possession. It may be
easier for us--his mere friends--to declare thus that we haven't really
lost him. But given a little time it will become possible even to you,
who were heart of his heart. And if there's no older--and perhaps
colder--truism than this, yet it has a very sound and, I believe, an
actually physical basis. For if we grant, as we needs must, that the
material body is ever changing, cell replacing cell by a continuous
process of wasting and repair, so that the substance containing us
to-day is by no means identical with that which contained us, as it
were, yesterday, why then the cells that called out for the physical
sight and touch of those other cells that surrounded him we loved must
necessarily pass also upon their journey, and with them, to a very great
extent, their anguish of unsatisfied desire. This is why, I think,
nothing becomes more absolutely obliterated than a dead passion that has
been merely bodily; and why also, in most other cases where passion has
been a factor, the diminution of grief must be regarded as a completely
natural process and one that implies no shadow of disloyalty. It merely
means that the sense of loss has been transferred to another and more
spiritual plane, where, lo! it even appears at times to have been
scarcely a loss at all; but instead a withdrawal, so obviously transient
as to be itself an evidence of some certain, if incomprehensible
reunion. With his memories so thronging, with the visible and abiding
evidences of his activities so implicit in the growth of his successors,
how little, after all, has become the value of the vessel that contained
him! Am I right? Isn't it going with you somehow in this fashion?

But, dear me, if your power of sleep were not returning to you so
rapidly, you would be imagining this some subtle form of prescription by
epistle.

And that was one of the best bits of news in your letter, besides being
the chief reason why you mustn't, I think, come back to town just yet,
even at the risk of disappointing Hilary and Norah. For Sleep's a fickle
goddess when she once goes wandering, and the way to woo her home is not
to woo her at all. Seek her not, and she will come stealing back to you
round the corner to know the reason why. And there's no place like the
country and some quiet garden therein in which to declare your war of
independence.

For, as I told you before, sleeplessness _per se_ has never killed
anybody yet; and where nothing but the rising and setting of stars, and
the opening and closing of flowers need call for your attention, you can
very comfortably afford to snap your fingers at it in defiance. But in
town it would be different. Your days would become, in spite of
yourself, so automatically exacting that you would of necessity demand
respite from your nights--the very demand that, just at present, you
mustn't be obliged to make. At Stoke, on the other hand, it doesn't
matter (and the more you insist on this the better), it doesn't matter a
bit where, when, or how much, you sleep. The very air of the place is a
far too bewitching, and incidentally a quite adequate, substitute;
while for dreams you have the whole cycle of field and garden husbandry
spread out before your eyes, as little changing as the downs themselves,
and like them pretty nearly "half as old as time." So watch it for a
year, day in and day out, and leave the turmoils and telephones of
London to such unfortunate and envious friends as P. H., of medicinal
memory.

As regards the girl you sent up to me from the village last Friday, I
have taken her into one of my wards at the Hospital, where I fancy a
little careful dieting will soon set her right again. At the same time I
may take the opportunity of examining the defaulting organ by means of a
very ingenious instrument just devised by two of my junior colleagues.
It's a toy--it's going to be much more than that--that would have
delighted your husband's heart, and by its means, down a bent tube,
inserted through her mouth, fitted with a tiny electric lamp and
reflectors at the angles, I shall be able not only to peep into her
stomach, but to survey it as thoroughly and particularly as I am now
able to inspect her tongue. Even so do the youngsters show us the way!

Yes, you are quite right. Anæmia, dyspepsia, gastric ulcer seem to be
the special afflictions of the under-housemaid. And it's the damnable
habit of providing her with "kitchen" tea, and "kitchen" butter, and
"kitchen" food of all sorts that is largely responsible for this, not
only directly, but indirectly, in that it tempts her to indulge in
various kinds of unhealthy in-between meals. Surely the servants who
work for us, and feed us, and keep us clean, should be at least as well
and as carefully fed as ourselves, even if they wouldn't be quite happy,
perhaps, to sit at our own tables. And the careless (and I'm afraid
doubtful) ladies who think otherwise should be made to undergo a spell
of domestic dieting in their own establishments.

Esther and Molly, who are at home, join me in sending you their very
best love and hopes for a near-at-hand complete recovery; and, if you
can really put up with them, nothing will make Tom and Claire happier
than to spend a week or two of their summer holidays at Stoke.

  Your sincere friend,
  PETER HARDING.

P.S.--You must try to forgive me for this rambling and rather
inconsequent letter, but I have been both inflicting and enduring, for
the last ten days, a superfluity of full-dress lectures. So I have been
writing to you, as a result, in my mental shirtsleeves.



XVII

_To Miss Sarah Harding, The Orphanage, Little Blessington, Dorset._


  HOTEL MODERNE, LOURDES,
  _June_ 7, 1910.

MY DEAR SALLY,

I have just encountered one of those strange half-accidents that crop up
like rocks in the quiet stream of one's everyday life just where a rock
is the least likely to be. You turn the bend from Tuesday into
Wednesday, and hey presto, before you know what's happened, your little
canoe has been shot out of the main current into some unsuspected
channel, whence it emerges presently as from a waking dream.

Last week as I went into the club between an afternoon at the hospital
and two evening visits in Kensington, I met Bettany, of whom you may
perhaps have heard me speak. A quite successful Government official, he
contrives also to edit one of the leading Roman Catholic newspapers and
incidentally to organise with conspicuous ability periodical pilgrimages
to various Continental shrines. He is a man who has always interested
me, partly because he has seemed to me to possess in a very marked
degree one of the strongest and most challenging characteristics of his
Church--the habit, even in matters of religion, of completely
dissociating the man from his function. A ladder for the faith of other
people need not necessarily have any faith of its own--and be an
extremely serviceable ladder for all that. In his particular case, a
belief in the miraculous powers of those relics and waters to which he
enables the faithful so comfortably to travel, is not, I think, _de
fide_--demanded by his Church. In any case he does not possess it, but
regards the whole phenomenon through his gold-rimmed spectacles with an
entirely amiable, and of course very discreet, scepticism. At the same
time his talent for organisation and his unique knowledge of Continental
hotels and railways are entirely at the disposal of his more credulous
brethren. And his name must be known in this connection to many
thousands of Catholics on both sides of the Channel.

On this particular evening he told me that he was extremely busy making
the final arrangements for what promised to be the largest English
pilgrimage that has yet travelled to Lourdes. And then, remembering
suddenly, I suppose, that I was a doctor of medicine, he sat bolt
upright and said, "By George, you're the very man that can help me." For
it seemed that there were so many invalids going out with the party--at
least forty, he told me--some of whom were in a very bad way, that it
had appeared desirable to take a medical man in case of emergencies upon
the long journey. And did I know of anyone who would care to go? He had
already made some inquiries, he said, among Catholic medical friends,
but hadn't as yet found anyone who had been able to undertake the
duties. He was not in a position to offer anything more than travelling
expenses; and he was beginning, as a consequence, to feel rather
doubtful about finding a man in time. It was not essential, he
considered, that the accompanying physician should be himself a
Catholic, provided that he was reasonably sympathetic; and then, reading
my thoughts, I suppose, he asked me if I should be sufficiently
interested to make the little trip myself.

Well at first, of course, this seemed quite out of the question; but on
looking through my engagements I began to think that with a certain
amount of arrangement it might become possible after all. We were to
leave Charing Cross at ten o'clock on Friday morning, and would be home
by the following Thursday night. And it was to be quite understood that
I was coming not as an official, but only as a visitor who would be
willing, if necessary, to render aid _en route_--all of which goes to
account for the address upon my notepaper, and the fact that I seem at
this moment to be very much more than eight hundred miles from Harley
Street.

Joining the train at Charing Cross, it was quite obvious to me that a
very considerable proportion of the party was Irish--the sing-song
western accent was everywhere--and that a comparatively large number of
priests would be travelling with us. Most of these I have since
discovered to be genial, even hilarious, souls, drawn, as it appears,
from every stratum of society, and differing, as a consequence, very
greatly both in real education and superficial polish.

It was not until we got on board at Folkestone that I had a first
opportunity of becoming acquainted with the sick people of the assembly;
and by this time I was already conscious of being surrounded by some
curious, indefinable atmosphere, that was walling us away from what to
me, with my half-Protestant, half-scientific upbringing, represented
the everyday world. I doubt if many of my fellow-pilgrims felt this. But
I am certain that the other passengers on the boat did. And it was both
odd and a trifle amusing to observe the blank expressions upon numerous
well-fed and monocled countenances on their way to a normal Paris. Yet
from my own point of view I had to admit that there was a good deal of
excuse for them. For we might all, as it seemed to me, very easily have
stepped out of the Middle Ages.

Of the more obvious invalids there were none, as far as I could see, who
stood the smallest chance of benefiting, in a material sense, from their
visit to Lourdes. There were two blind girls, both cases of congenital
organic disease--and who both chanced, by the way, to be among the very
few sufferers from sea-sickness. There was a little boy from a Sussex
village, a case of infantile paralysis, brought by his mother in the
fervent hope, as she told me, that Our Lady would use him as a means to
convert an extremely Nonconformist community. There was an older girl,
similarly affected; and an elderly man, travelling quite alone, in
almost the last stages of cancer of the throat. With this poor fellow,
who was almost too weak to stand unaided, I had a long and very
pathetic conversation. He knew himself to be past all human aid, and was
journeying from his home on the east coast to the shrine upon the Gave
as to his last anchorage upon life. And I doubt, even so, if he had any
real belief in its efficacy for himself. But his journey, a really
enormous effort for a man in his condition, would at any rate show that
he had had courage enough to make the trial. His is the only case that
has given me cause for any immediate anxiety, and were it not for his
extraordinary pluck and will-power I should be more than doubtful about
getting him home alive.

Of the other invalids, none were sufficiently apparent to disclose
themselves to me in a cursory tour round the ship with Bettany; and
after making the poor cancer patient as cosy as possible in the special
train that was waiting for us at Boulogne, I repaired to the very
comfortable carriage reserved for us, and shared an excellent lunch with
Bettany, his lady secretary, and another member of the committee. The
journey to Paris was uneventful, and after manoeuvring round its
southern suburbs, we found ourselves about seven o'clock in the Gare
d'Orléans, where a portion of the refreshment-room had been reserved for
our dinner. During this meal I was introduced by Bettany to the Bishop
who is leading the pilgrimage--one of those rare men of whose essential
saintliness one becomes instantly aware, yet a man, too, of abundant
strength, and one, as I have since found out, capable of ensuring, with
the profoundest personal humility, the utmost tribute of respect to the
high office that he represents. I suppose every Church contains such
men. It is at any rate pleasant to think so. But not all are wise enough
to make them bishops--and missionary bishops at that.

The same train left Paris with us about nine o'clock on the long journey
to Lourdes; and after some desultory conversation we made ourselves
comfortable for the night. Fortunately, since our train was not of the
corridor type, the sick persons seemed to settle down pretty easily, and
the chief impressions that remain to me of the journey are a peep into a
cool and cloudless sunrise over some vineyards between Poitiers and
Angoulême and a very satisfactory _café complet_ at Bordeaux. Two or
three times during the morning, both before and after reaching this
place, we were jeered at by onlookers at various wayside stations, who
had read the inscription _Pèlerinage_ upon our carriage; and one or two
of these had even gone so far as to throw stones. They were reminders,
I suppose, that here in Lourdes seem almost incredible, of the enormous
extent to which the anti-clerical movement has permeated elsewhere in
France. The latter part of our journey, climbing slowly into the
Pyrenees, was enlivened for us by the presence of the Bishop, who had
given up his own carriage to some indignant Irish pilgrims that had been
so unfortunate as to have spent a sleepless night. Haymaking was already
in full swing in these steaming valleys, with men and boys and
bare-legged, brown-faced women all backs down over what seems to be a
very plentiful crop.

       *       *       *       *       *

I have just here been tapped on the shoulder by an immaculately
apparelled American Catholic, who has just joined the pilgrimage from
Florence. He had learned, he told me, that I was a physician willing to
oblige. He suffered a little from gout, he said, and then proceeded to
pose me with the rather difficult question as to how often he ought to
take the waters.

I explained to him that, as far as I knew, these have none but an
ethical value--a reply that obviously puzzled him.

"You mean," he inquired at last, "that it's ENtirely a matter of faith?"

"Precisely," I answered, and his brow cleared a little.

"Do you think I might have a Seidlitz powder to go on with?" he asked.

       *       *       *       *       *

We arrived at Lourdes at about four o'clock on Saturday afternoon, after
just thirty hours' travelling, and landed into a seething tumult of
departing pilgrims, bullock-wagons, carriages, and electric trams.
Losing sight of Bettany, I found myself looking vaguely round for some
kind of conveyance, in company with the Bishop and his chaplain; and
between us we managed to secure also a seat for our poor
fellow-traveller from Essex, for whom we afterwards discovered a
moderately quiet bedroom in our hotel.

After tea, the Bishop asked me to accompany him in a stroll round the
town and shrine, during which I learned a little about Lourdes, and a
good deal about my companion. Half-way between the plains and the higher
ranges of the Pyrenees, Lourdes itself lies in a valley, bisected by the
Gave, a tumbling mountain stream that supplies the holy water to the
grotto and the _piscines_, or invalid baths. The town itself, with its
narrow, winding streets, strung, as it were, between the
fourteenth-century château on the one side and the nineteenth-century
church that surmounts the shrine, on the other, is quite the most
remarkable combination of mediævalism and modernity that I have seen;
while its crowded, ever-changing population must be, I suppose, the
saddest, oddest, and perhaps the most unique in both the hemispheres. As
we walked down towards the shrine, we met returning most of those who
had gathered round the great square for the daily blessing of the sick;
and passing through them we must have heard, I should think, almost
every dialect of Europe, Flemish perhaps predominant, since this was the
last day of a great Belgian pilgrimage, but German, Italian, English,
Spanish, and of course French, at nearly every step.

Every now and again, too, some ardent man or woman, seeing the big
amethyst ring on my friend's finger, would kneel down to kiss it and
receive his blessing, caring nothing for his difference of language and
nationality, and everything for his holy office in their common church.
Once or twice he smiled gently when they had gone their fervent way,
clasping their votive candles or little bottles of sacred mountain
water, and once I ventured to press him a trifle as to his personal
faith in the Lourdes miracles. But he was a statesman, as I discovered,
no less than a saint, and would confess to no more than a belief that
these dear people obtained perhaps a score of spiritual to each merely
temporal favour. And surely these were after all the better?

The actual grotto, where fifty-two years ago the little Bernadette saw
her visions of the Blessed Mary, lies now about a hundred yards from the
river's edge, along which a palisaded embankment has been built, that is
apt however, after sudden storms, to be pretty often under water. It is
really a cave set in a large rock around which, one above the other,
have since been built three churches, the topmost, with its tall and
slender spire, being perhaps the most prominent landmark for a good many
miles around. With its walls polished by the elbows and fingers of
countless thousands of pilgrims, this little cavern contains an altar
before which, in the open air, are ranged several rows of seats for
worshippers at the shrine, and where, as I afterwards learned from a
disappointed Irish priest, it is considered a very special privilege to
say Mass.

Next to the grotto are the baths, where the sick are immersed, and from
which bottles of the holy water can be carried away to all parts of the
world; and to the left and above this is the great church, the lowest
and largest of the three that now surmount the rock. The entrance to
this church stands upon a broad terrace above the immense open
amphitheatre, about which, in a circle some half a mile in
circumference, gather the sick people and their helpers and relations
for the afternoon passing of the Host. It is at this ceremony that the
majority of the miracles take place, of which, I suppose, the crutches,
splints, spinal jackets, and other surgical appliances that hang rusting
among the wild geraniums over the entrance to the grotto are to be taken
as partial evidences.

There were still some poor sufferers waiting outside the _piscines_, and
a few others praying before the grotto; and pausing for a moment to
watch them and the various passers-by, one could not help being very
forcibly struck with the all-pervading atmosphere of pity. Sights that
elsewhere would have been veiled from the daylight are here frankly
exposed, not to a kind of shuddering, if sympathetic horror, but as
pitiful, broken flowers to be gathered up, and laid with prayers upon
the altar of mercy. We concluded our little tour with a visit to the
Bureau des Contestations, the offices where the doctors attached to the
grotto--one of them an Englishman--receive and classify the histories of
the cures, examine the alleged _miraculés_, deprecating the excited
allegations of some, postponing their verdicts upon others, and
recording what seem to them, among a host of claims, to be genuine cases
of Divine interposition. Both the doctors present when we arrived, and
to whom Bettany, who had joined us, now introduced me, were extremely
courteous and only too anxious to lay before me all the material at
their command. Both, as I could see at once, were men accustomed to deal
with human nature of the type and under the conditions that Lourdes
presents, and it was therefore with very great diffidence that I found
myself even mentally criticising their results. Nevertheless it is true,
I think, that nothing approaching to ordinary, exact scientific
observation, as the modern medical world understands it, is carried out
at Lourdes; I doubt indeed if it would be possible; and I saw no
instance, either then or later, of a Lourdes cure that could not be
explained upon the observed and established lines of mental suggestion,
or, apart from this, could bear a thorough cross-examination. Needless
to say, the two doctors, both ardent and devout Roman Catholics,
entirely disagreed with me, and assured me that after twenty years at
the shrine they were only the more convinced of Our Lady's blesséd and
material favours. And perhaps, after all, it is merely a question of
terminology.

But it is not until one has actually seen the procession of the Host at
the afternoon service in the amphitheatre that one has penetrated, as it
were, into the very heart of Lourdes. And so it was not, perhaps, until
three o'clock on the next afternoon that I found myself laid under the
full power of the strange, half-intoxicating, half-repellent spell of
this almost passionately fervent and yet at the same time strangely
commercial factory of miracles. All the morning, ever since the very
early hours, special trains had been rolling into the station, carrying,
as we learned at breakfast, a pilgrimage, ten thousand strong, from the
towns and villages of Toulouse. At every turn we met them, groups of
swarthy, and for the most part stunted, men and women, with sombre,
toil-worn faces, yet lit, in the majority of cases, with a deep-burning
and almost apostolic faith. Gathered about their parish priests, buying
rosaries and trinkets, little images of Bernadette Soubirous (sold by
her numerous relatives, most of whom have already, in one way and
another, made considerable fortunes out of her vision), they filled the
narrow streets to overflowing, ardent, undoubting, agog for the least
whisper of some strange and fortunate miracle. And needless to say such
whispers were plentiful enough. Just before noon, for instance, an
apple-faced sister, collecting money from the more prosperous visitors
at such hotels as ours for the free hostelries that are open elsewhere
to the poor, told us with beaming smiles of a poor girl, with a large
ulcer upon her arm that had resisted all treatment for years. Last night
she had dipped it into the waters, and lo, this morning the disease had
utterly vanished, and her skin was as the skin of a little child! There
is a young priest here, a fine, upstanding fellow, who is a qualified
doctor, and has been a house-surgeon at one of our London hospitals. He
is trying hard, I can see, to square his scientific prejudices, as he
would call them, with his religious desire to believe in these miracles.
And at this he turned to me with something of triumph.

"If we could only find her out now," he said, "how would you account for
that?"

But on closer inquiry we discovered, alas, that the sister had not
herself seen the ulcer before the cure was wrought; and later on in the
day the doctors at the bureau assured me that no reports of such an
incident had reached them. And we never succeeded in finding the girl,
although the rumour of her cure had already spread like wildfire, and
will soon, no doubt, be reported as a definite miracle in cottages a
thousand miles from here.

In such an atmosphere then, and under a cloudless, burning sky, we
gathered in the afternoon, some fourteen thousand strong, in a vast
circle before the steps of the grotto church. Quite early the
_brancardiers_, a self-appointed order of workers, who assist in
transporting the sick, had been busy bringing their charges to the great
square; so that the innermost row of the waiting host was already
entirely composed of sufferers praying to be healed. Marching up and
down before them, clad in their robes of office, were the various
priests who had come with them, telling their beads, and invoking the
multitudes to prayer. As doctor to our own little party, Bettany enabled
me to step within the ring, and walking with him, before the service, I
made a slow round of the circle, beholding such a clinic as could be
seen, I suppose, nowhere else in the world--the clinic of Our Lady of
Lourdes, and one that seemed to me to contain, on this particular
afternoon, pretty nearly every malady under the sun.

"Seigneur, Seigneur, ayez pitié de moi." "Mein Herr und mein Gott."
"Lord save us, or we perish." "Hail, Mary, blessed among women."
"Seigneur, Seigneur, ayez pitié de moi." In every tongue, as we walked
round, the age-old cries for mercy rang in our ears, from a faith that
it was impossible to doubt, and from a depth of human need that here, at
any rate, nothing short of the Divine might satisfy.

Presently, just as we had made our way back to our own little party, of
whom many, hitherto unsuspected, had now, by kneeling in the front row,
tacitly declared themselves to be in need of physical healing, a new and
solemn sound began to break upon our ears--the sonorous chanting of
men's voices on the way up from the grotto in a long and slow
procession. "Ave, Ave, Ave Maria," marching four abreast they now came
into sight, bearing lighted candles in their hands, and in an apparently
endless succession, to turn presently into the great empty space about
which the rest of us were gathered. Up the centre of this they now
marched, all the able-bodied men of the Toulouse pilgrimage, accompanied
by many of their priests, singing the Lourdes hymn, and massing
themselves at last upon the broad terrace before the grotto church. Some
twenty minutes it must have taken for them thus to file past us; and
finally, under a canopy borne by four stalwart attendants, came the
officiating priest, clad in his heavy and gorgeous robes, and bearing
before him the golden, flame-shaped monstrance in whose centre rested,
as all this expectant gathering believed, the actual and visible body of
the Christ Himself. As they passed us I could see that the arduous task,
under this thrilling June sun, of thus holding up his Saviour to each of
these thousand sufferers had fallen to our own Bishop--the highest
dignitary of the Church, I suppose, who happens just now to be in
Lourdes. As he moved slowly up the centre of the hot amphitheatre the
cries of the poor _malades_ and their friends redoubled themselves in
ardour. "Seigneur, Seigneur, ayez pitié de moi." The tides of adoration
rose and fell and rose again until, as step by step he passed along the
circle, they climbed up to a crest of almost agonising entreaty. "Lord,
save us. Lord, save us, or we perish." To left and right we could hear
the broken voices sobbing their prayers to God, and even among our more
stolid English sufferers could see the tears running down the uplifted
worshipping faces. Watching the Bishop, as at last, after perhaps half
an hour, his laboured progress brought him opposite to ourselves, I
could not help feeling how great must be the burden now bearing upon his
shoulders, since apart from the actual physical strain, the continual
stooping, in his thick robes and with his heavy monstrance, over patient
after patient in this thunderous heat, the emotional tax must have been
enormous. For upon him and That which he bore there impinged now the
whole sum of these heart-wrung supplications. Upon his vicarious
shoulders he must carry, as it were, the multitudinous petitions of all
these kneeling thousands. And yet it was just this, as afterwards, in
the cool of the hotel, he assured me, that was his chief support.
Upborne by all this simple and unshakable belief, it was only then that
he was beginning to feel the bodily weariness that the long procession
had entailed upon him. So step by step he passed upon his way, until,
more than an hour later, the long round had been at last completed. And
it was then, in a momentary silence that followed the conclusion of his
passage, that from the far end of the circle a little cry arose, and a
woman, bedridden, as we afterwards learned, for more than fourteen
years, rose up from her chair, and tottered out into the space before
her. Instantly the cry was everywhere abroad, "A miracle, a miracle";
and like a leaf on the wind of ten thousand shoulders, she was being
borne in an ecstasy of triumph towards the Bureau des Constatations.

It was here, an hour later, that I saw her, a gentle-faced, devout
little peasant woman, about whose past history the evidence seemed
fairly conclusive. Smiling at us, she took a few steps across the room
among the uplifted hands and eager exclamations of the assembled
priests. But, alas, there would appear to be no physical reason why she
should not have walked thus at any time during her invalid years, if
only some stimulus, sufficiently effective, had been applied to her
before.

Making my way slowly back to the hotel for tea, I was touched on the arm
by a young French priest to whom I had spoken earlier in the day. He had
been lamenting the great wave of godlessness that has seemed for the
moment to submerge the whole of France. But now his eyes were shining.
"Is it not wonderful," he cried, "to see all this so great faith?" He
moved his hands expressively. "Ah, _la belle_ France, the heart of her
people is still hungry for its God--and some day--some day it will lift
Him up again for all the world to see." And in the evening I saw him
once again at what was perhaps, after all, the great climax of the
Lourdes day.

Sipping my coffee with Bettany at a small boulevard near the hotel, we
had already seen hundreds of little points of flame gathering out of the
growing darkness towards the grotto and its churches. And this evening
procession of candle-bearing pilgrims marks perhaps the last word--if I
may quite reverently put it so--in the stage-management of Lourdes. For
at a given signal not only do a thousand slender lamps pencil out in
gold and red and blue the uplifted tapering spire and every arch and
pinnacle of the church upon the rock; but a couple of miles away, and
three thousand feet high on the crest of the Pic du Ger, a great cross,
illuminated by a battery from the town, springs suddenly out into the
sky. The outline of the hill itself, and behind it the snow-clad,
retreating summits of the higher Pyrenees have long since been blotted
away in the night; so that now this gleaming cross shines out among the
stars, among which it might well be some new and glorious constellation.
To many, indeed, among the more ignorant of the processionists it must
in itself savour strongly of the miraculous; and in any case, swung
there in the southern sky, it lends a note, a little bizarre perhaps,
and yet, in its way, extraordinarily impressive, to the general vision
of Lourdes by night.

Presently the long procession has formed itself, and now begins to move
from the grotto out towards the big statue of the Virgin at the opposite
end of the square (itself lit up with coloured fairy lamps) and thence,
a river of light in the soft June darkness, through the rocky defile,
where are represented the seven stations of the Cross. And as it passes
onwards the hymn once more swells up to us in a hundred keys and voices,
altos and baritones and trebles, "Ave, Ave, Ave Maria," robbed, by the
very depths of its sincerity, of any semblance of discord. For fully an
hour we watched it--the solemn passing of these earnest, candle-lit
faces; and then, moving down the broad terrace above the square, we met
again the leaders of the procession as they drew up below the steps.
Presently they had all gathered there, thousands strong; whereupon, led
by a priest from the open door of the church, they recited in one voice
the great credo of their faith. Catholic or not, materialist, or
veriest atheist, it would have been impossible, I think, to listen
unmoved to the deep-chested volume of sound that now rose up before
us--superstitious if you will, but with a superstition that had laid its
fibres into humanity's deepest being. And perhaps, after all, it was
this strong, vibrating declaration of belief, purged, if not completely,
yet to a very great extent, of such hysterical elements as had been
obvious in the afternoon, that swept us up to the topmost pinnacle of
the day's experiences. In the eyes of my young priest, at any rate, I
could read that this was so. For him, as I could see, this was at once
the bugle-note of the undefeatable hosts of God, and the herald of the
great kingdom that was to come. It was the day's last word to him; and
it rang gloriously with victory.

But for us there was another. For returning presently in a darkness that
seemed doubly deep after the sudden extinguishing of all these lamps and
candles, we came by accident upon a lover and his sweetheart. His arm
was about her waist, and as we passed he was kissing her under the
shadow of a doorway--a common enough spectacle, yet one that came upon
us now with a shock that was almost startling. It served, at any rate,
to demonstrate how far, in twenty-four hours, we had drifted from the
normal--and to remind me, with an odd and almost unbelievable emphasis,
that in less than three days' time I shall be walking through Kensington
Gardens.

  Yr. affect. brother,
  PETER.



XVIII

_To Robert Lynn, M.R.C.S., Applebrook, Devon._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _June_ 25, 1910.

MY DEAR BOB,

I have had a talk with Arthur, as you suggested, about his new
appointment, and I think, on the whole, that he would be well advised to
take it. As he said to me, poor boy, he has had just lately to readjust
his future a bit, and the practice that he had thought of buying has
ceased to have much attraction for him. And I needn't tell you again how
very sorry I am that Molly, and perhaps to a lesser degree both Esther
and myself, have been responsible for this. For you know quite well that
there is nobody whom we would more gladly have welcomed as an extra son;
and until quite lately we both fully believed--although we had never of
course actually ascertained this--that Molly returned his feelings.
Alas, however, for the best-laid plans--for since we discussed the
matter at Applebrook, I have become almost certain that although her
answer would be "yes" on every other ground but this, on this
particular one she will never, I'm afraid, be able to meet him with open
arms. The event may contradict me, but I think not. The divine spark has
not yet touched her heart. And I know you are with me in believing that
she would be wrong, with all her youth in front of her, not to wait for
it a little longer. And so Arthur, being robbed (but only for a time, I
hope) of what he tells me sorrowfully was his _raison d'être_, has
decided to postpone his début as a general practitioner--yet not
without, unless I am very greatly mistaken, a certain secret atom of
relief. For his real inclinations, I am sure, still centre in the
laboratory and the microscope; and it was chiefly for financial reasons
that he had abandoned any ideas of further dallying with them. He wanted
to "do Molly," as he confided to me, "as well as he could"; and that
would have been impossible, he was afraid, as a bacteriologist or
pathologist. And there, from a strictly monetary standpoint, he was
perhaps in the right. For though, as a profession (and through us, the
great public), we must needs lean each year more heavily upon these
skilled workers at our right hand, yet at present we are all very
reluctant to give them their full dues either in professional _éclat_
or pounds, shillings, and pence. All the same, their day is coming, if
perhaps a little slowly; so that maybe, after all, Miss Molly's
unintentional cruelty may prove to be an angel in mufti. And now that he
is in no immediate need of earning more money than can comfortably
support himself, I think that this new appointment, as assistant in the
inoculation department, is just the job for him. It will mean of course
two years of life; but he has already been a house-surgeon and a
house-physician, and in any case a two years' training in the exactest
of all scientific technique will not be a waste of time whatever his
ultimate occupation is destined to be.

Moreover (though it is seldom wise to prophesy) I am becoming pretty
thoroughly convinced that the future of medicine lies more wholly in the
hands of the vaccino-therapists than any of us are as yet quite able to
realise. For when one comes to think of it, although surgery, during the
last fifty years, has been advancing by leaps and bounds, medicine has
been standing very still indeed. Where it has moved at all it has been
chiefly on the lines of improving its methods of diagnosis, while as
regards treatment it has remained very nearly as empirical as it was a
century ago. Perhaps this is rather a hard saying, but in the main I am
quite sure that it is a true one. And I think its restoration to lively
and effective growth will be more dependent upon the methods, so sound
in their conception and so brilliant in their performance, of Sir
Almroth Wright and his fellow-workers, at home and abroad, than upon any
other factor now making for medical progress. As a school they are no
doubt destined to confront a good many reverses. And they will presently
be forced, I suspect, to re-state a certain number of their present
beliefs. But their guiding principle is so essentially sane, so really
scientific, in the true sense of an abused adjective, that I cannot
think your boy will go far wrong in perfecting himself in their methods,
and even perhaps deciding later to specialise altogether in this
particular branch of medicine.

To determine by culture the precise organism that is causing a patient's
malady (and how few are the diseases left to us that may be definitely
classed as non-microbic); to learn by an examination of his blood-cells
the exact condition of his resisting powers; and to increase these by
carefully graduated doses of his own or similar bacteria until his newly
stimulated anti-bodies have been so increased and fortified as to be
able to win their own battle--it is a general method of treatment that
seems to me to hold more palpably the key to future victory than any
other. There's an infinity yet to be learned about it, of course. The
mysteries of the anti-body have been scarcely fringed. And the technique
is still so difficult that none but a highly trained man can be trusted
with it. But if anybody is to win an ultimate triumph over incidental
disease it is that trained man who is going to do it. And the sooner we
consulting physicians learn rather to count him as a brother than a mere
laboratory assistant, the better will it be for the march of light and
healing. Amen. This little peroration was put into my head by a passage
in an address that I heard delivered the other day at an evening lecture
to post-graduates.

"Gentlemen," said the lecturer--a well-known provincial consultant, "I
should like the day to dawn when I could be met at the door of my
hospital by a trained chemist, a trained bacteriologist, a trained
pathologist, so that when I came to some complicated case I could say,
'Chemist, a part of this problem is yours, take it and work it out.
Bacteriologist, perform your share in elucidating this difficulty.
Pathologist, advance, and do likewise.'"

There was a little applause; and after all, he had got, I suppose, some
glimmering of what the new medicine is to be. Only he, the lecturer, was
still, do you see, to be the _deus ex machina_. He was a genial old
gentleman and quite without conceit, and was merely taking, as we all
do, I'm afraid, the predominant position of the consulting physician as
fixed for eternity. Whereas instead it is quite healthily rocking, I
fancy, on waters that are ceasing to be stagnant.

  Yours ever,
  P. H.



XIX

_To Hugh Pontrex, Hotel Montana, Biarritz._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _July_ 16, 1910.

MY DEAR HUGH,

So the pendulum of our frailty swings. The warm airs of July have
surrounded you with well-being in your Atlantic quarters, and a
confounded carbuncle under my left shoulder has been painting my world
quite black for at least four days, and grey for the inside of a week.
It's the penalty, I suppose, of being rarely laid aside by sickness,
that when some trivial misfortune does make its appearance, one
exaggerates its proportion in the general scheme of things to a quite
unmerited degree--and especially, I think, if one happens to be a
doctor. "Physician, heal thyself," the mockers say. But he should never
attempt to. He knows too much about the various possibilities, the
remoter significances of each one of his little troubles, to be a
sufficiently clear-minded judge. And he is far better advised when he
resigns his body _in toto_ to the care of some outside mind, and
confines his own mental powers to the fortification of his private
philosophy.

Pain, sleeplessness, and that peculiar sense of being disowned by one's
own body that a high temperature always seems to induce--I suppose if
all the comfortable words that have been uttered in their explanation
were to be gathered up into a book the whole world would not be great
enough to contain it. We were told not so desperately long ago that they
represented the direct tenancy of the evil one or some of his
dependents. Then a more enlightened but still stern theology informed us
that they represented the well-deserved judgments of God; until a later
and more generous interpretation has inclined rather to believe in them
as evidences, a little puzzlingly disguised, of a chastening yet still
indubitable Love.

But, alas, it is so easy, even in the full comfort of bodily health, to
perceive the bottomless gaps in these and all other arguments about the
great problem of pain, that in the actual enduring of it there seems,
after all, very little to be done but to lie low, and bear it humbly--as
many a better fellow and weaker woman have borne worse things before us
since the foreconsciousness of death became the price of the first
man's soul. And yet I believe quite orthodoxly that these unattractive
episodes in one's life--even carbuncles--do really contain some sort of
a message to one's intelligence, apart from the patent one that
somewhere or other one has blundered against a natural law, and paid the
necessary penalty.

For there comes a period in most illnesses, I think, sometimes during a
temporary respite, more often perhaps at the first dawn of
convalescence, when one becomes extraordinarily conscious, yet without
discomfort, of the almost trivial delicacy of one's surrounding tissue.
It is generally, I suppose, a moment of exhaustion, both mental and
physical, either upon the bugle of a victory or a truce. But it is a
moment when one's spiritual æsthesis, as it were, is peculiarly at
liberty. Very soon, in a minute or two even, Nature will begin her work
of restoration--none more willing than she, given a very little patience
and half a straw to make her bricks with. But now she is standing by for
a moment, trowel in hand, and the outer wind is breathing through the
gap. And it's then, I think, if you'll only listen carefully enough,
that you can sometimes hear it whispering.

"Presently," you can hear it say, "this little house of yours will be
mended, and the more easily maybe, because its walls are so thin. But
don't--don't forget too quickly that it is but a house after all."

Yet I suppose we do forget it, most of us, and probably quite healthily,
when once the dwelling-place is bricked up again, and the new paint is
on, and it stands foursquare to the winds that may not enter now. And
yet again, if the message has once been heard, or twice, or thrice, as
circumstances have it, I don't believe that it is ever entirely lost.
And there, perhaps, may even lie the key to all the mystery; so that
when the last storm blows, and Nature must shake her head, and let the
frail house fall, its tenant may not go out altogether unprepared.

I felt all this very strongly some ten days ago, having made or reviewed
my will about twenty-seven times, resigned myself to the administration
of gas and the skilful weapons of old Sir Jeremy across the way, and
awakened next morning to a normal temperature and a comparatively
comfortable back. But a week's high feeding, and three days with Esther
at Eastbourne, in the occasional brisk and simple company of Claire and
her pals, have been steadily blunting my higher susceptibilities. So
that's why I've been setting them on record with so much circumstantial
detail--a great deal less for your satisfaction than my own.

We had resolved to take Miss Claire by surprise, and, calling at the
school, found, as a consequence, that she was out. She had probably gone
Pevensey way, thought the maid, with some of the older young ladies and
one of the governesses. And it was out Pevensey way that we presently
recognised upon the beach, among a heterogeneous collection of empty
shoes and stockings, some big-brimmed straw hats with the school ribbon
upon them. Their owners were for the most part thigh-deep in the English
Channel with their skirts tucked conveniently round their plump waists.
And they were being watched from the shore by a very pleasant young
lady, who looked rather wistfully as if she would like to be out there
too. Yes, she told us, Claire was in the water with the others, probably
among the deeper ones who were getting their knickers wet. Surveying the
melée with an expression of polite concern, she was rather afraid that
it would be a little difficult to make Claire understand who we were.
But if we wouldn't mind waiting for a minute or two they would all be
coming in to dry their legs before going back to prep.

Presently some floating atom of wreckage took them unanimously eastward,
splashing through the shallows, until the governess, waving a white
handkerchief, brought them gingerly ashore across a little bank of
rather slippery-looking rock. There was a general shaking out and
rearranging of tousled manes, yellow and chestnut and black, and a
modest dropping of skirts to the demurer level of shining wet knees.

The little party drifted slowly towards us, their brown feet lingering
wholesomely across the sands.

"You'll know Claire," said the governess, "by the bandage round her
instep. I oughtn't really to have let her paddle."

Esther's eyes became a little anxious.

"But what has been the matter?" she asked.

The governess smiled.

"Oh, nothing very serious," she said. "And I think you must ask Claire
herself. Tales out of school, you know."

And then the least tidy, perhaps, of the damsels detached herself
suddenly from her comrades, and came down upon us at top speed,
regardless of pebbles.

"Have you got me off prep?" she asked earnestly, after she had kissed us
and found her shoes and stockings. And having explained to her that we
were going to take her out to tea for a pre-birthday treat--she was
going to be sixteen next week--we inquired about the bandage. It was the
result, we discovered, of an illegal (and unconfirmed) raid upon a
neighbouring dormitory, during which, by a kind of Homeric retribution,
a stray tin-tack had wounded her unprotected foot.

"But it's about well now, I should think," she said, undoing the
bandage, and turning up a salmon-pink sole for our inspection. And we
were obliged to confess that it was.

She rolled up the bandage into a little ball, and threw it down the
beach.

"I wish we could _always_ go barefoot," she sighed. And for the moment I
felt inclined to agree with her. For the happy foot, as T. E. Brown has
said, swings rather from the heart than from the hip. And there are few
prettier things in nature than the restless, romping legs of the average
healthy little maiden. They are her life's joy made visible; so that it
really seems a shame, if a necessary one, to imprison them in even the
airiest of stockings and the most hygienic of leather shoes.

  Blue gingham petticoats,
  White blown aprons,
  Five pairs of plump legs
  Twinkling down the hill,
  Black imprisoned plump legs,
  Fretful for the stream bed,
  Tired of shoes and stockings,
  Dancing like a rill,
  Dancing down the hillside,
  So come the children,
  Like a rill in sunshine,
  So dance they,
  Seek the solemn waters,
  Marching to the ocean,
  Set the solemn waters
  Laughing at their play.
  So into my heart come,
  Silver it with laughter,
  Lest among the shadows
  Lost should be its way,
  So into my heart come
  Rosamund and Daphne,
  Marian and Rosemary,
  And little baby May.

Claire and her companions had been paddling in the big ocean itself; and
being comparatively dignified did not of course wear aprons. Moreover,
as I had the strongest reasons for believing, they were at this moment
quite innocent of petticoats. But the little poem comes back to me as I
write.

"And next week," she proceeded ruefully, "I shall have to go into blobs
and half-masters."

We stared at her rather blankly.

"All the girls do, you know," she added, "when they turn sixteen."

"But blobs----" I began.

"And half-masters?" puzzled Esther.

"When your hair's neither up nor down," Claire explained, "with a big
fat bow on it. And when you have to wear skirts a foot below your
knees."

She rolled over, and struck her toes into the sand.

"It's to show," she finished pathetically, "that you're too grown up to
be spanked and not old enough to have visiting cards."

Which seems to suggest that even sixteen may have its tragedies, though
its capacity for ices remains happily unimpaired. Or would you call them
growing pains? And are all pains growing pains?

  Ever yrs.,
  P. H.



XX

_To Horace Harding, c/o Major Alec Cameron, Glen Bruisk, Sutherland,
N.B._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _August_ 17, 1910.

MY DEAR HORACE,

So you have yielded at last. Your fine contempt for the gentlest art has
begun to dissolve. And being on the very brink of one of the snuggest of
sea-trout lochs you think that you must really have a cast or two upon
its waters. There are people who will tell you, of course, that it's a
blind man's game, or very nearly so, this loch trout fishing. But let
the blue waters--crinkled, if fortune smiles, with the daintiest of
ripples--be their immediate and sufficient refutation. And some day they
may behold you casting one of Mrs. Richardson's artfullest duns over
those senior wranglers among trout that lurk in the disillusioned depths
of the Itchen.

At the same time I am not forwarding you an outfit for your birthday
present, as you so delicately suggest, firstly because you tell me that
Major Cameron can easily fix you up with all that is necessary; but
principally because I am not quite comfortable in my mind as to your
real motive for caressing the surface of Loch Bruisk. I should like to
be just a little surer that it is a genuine regard for _salmo trutta_
rather than a merely altruistic (though very praiseworthy) desire to be
properly companionable to Miss Graham, who is, as you tell me, so
awfully keen about it.

It is of course a very strong point in her favour, and I remember her
brother quite well. He plays half for Richmond, I think, and you
introduced us to one another at Queen's. And his sister--I don't
remember that you have mentioned her to me before--may of course be the
means to an end--an instrument chosen by a merciful Providence whereby a
new channel of enjoyment is about to be revealed to you. But on the
other hand, I can't help feeling that with your duty done, cheerfully
and bravely, as I have no doubt will be the case--and Miss Graham
away--the yearning to catch trout may conceivably leave you. So I am
sending you instead my very best wishes for the happiest of birthdays,
and a hope that you have many others yet in store for you.

I am glad that you have determined to go up for your second medical some
time next year, and note that you have taken away volumes of anatomy and
physiology in your trunk. If you will accept my paternal advice,
however, you will leave them there until you have decided that your
health is sufficiently recuperated to return either to Cambridge or
Harley Street. I don't want you to curtail your holidays. I have far too
much respect both for holidays in general and yourself in particular.
For it's one of the most pathetic features about the genuine old codger
(and one of his surest signs too) that his periods of recreation tend to
become progressively shorter--and not always by force of circumstances.
They may actually begin to bore him. He may even have to make an effort
of will to prolong them for his ultimate good--to school himself into
regarding them as cures. Thus, while at twenty-two a summer vacation of
less than two months is too monstrous to be seriously considered, at
forty-two one becomes grateful for a fortnight, could do with three
weeks, but is apt to find a month just a trifle too long. Whereas at
fifty-two---- So don't curtail them. And yet better is it to curtail
them than to pollute. And unless you particularly need them for
preserving specimens of the local flora or maintaining the creases upon
your Sunday trousers, you should never, never, never pack technical
books in a holiday trunk. It is to put poison--or at any rate
water--into the wine that you are to pour out before the gods of
mountain and moor and loch. And though they are generous they are proud.
And they will surely make you repent it--not merely because it is
tactless, as though you should make Miss Dolly--I think that was her
name?--the staple article of your conversations with Miss Graham; and
not merely because it shows your ignorance, as though you should munch
ginger-nuts with that fine old port which your uncle has dug up for your
especial benefit; but because--far worse--it is an evidence of
double-dealing. And no god, not even the presiding deity of the tiniest
mountain ash, is going to stand that. If you read your Bible, as I hope
you do, you will have been warned concerning this simultaneous worship
of two contrary masters, and the doom that must certainly befall it. And
that's why no really wise schoolmaster ever sets his pupils a holiday
task, though there are still, I'm afraid, a few foolish ones left. I
hardly like to think that mine can have been among them; and yet there's
no doubt that "Marmion," the "Lady of the Lake," the "Cloister and the
Hearth," and several other peaks upon the literary landscape remain
clouded to me for ever.

You would have thought this a sufficiently clear lesson, perhaps, upon
the point that I am pressing into you. But it wasn't. And I remember
consecrating a golden September in Fife to the mastery of my materia
medica. There's a moor, for instance, somewhere between Dunfermline and
Rumbling Bridge that will eternally be associated in my mind with the
preparations of opium. I can recall in all its hideous detail some such
afternoon's tramp as this:--

"By George, that's a fine piece of colouring, the sunlight on that dying
heather over there, Tinct: Camph: Co: strength of opium one in two
hundred and forty. There are the Ochils again, pil: plumbi cum opio,
strength of opium one in eight---- Damn, I forgot to look for that big
trout when I crossed the burn just now. Extractum opii, strength of
opium two in one" (it sounds improbable--even theological--but if you
look it up you will discover it to be correct, and I have never found
the knowledge in the least important). And, as a result, that particular
moor will always whisper to me unhealthily of morphia, while the
preparations of opium had to be learned all over again in something
less than six weeks' time.

And you will generally find it to be the case, I think, that the work
which has desecrated the holiday can seldom stand either the test of an
examination or the more valuable one of practical appliance. For it's
the term's work, the good, solid, everyday's grind in the
dissecting-room or the physiological theatre, and later in the wards and
the out-patient department, that is the bone and marrow of your
pre-graduate education. Without it no amount of feverish cramming will
ever make you efficient, though it may occasionally perhaps save you
from being deservedly ploughed. And with it no cramming should be
necessary--or at most a very little. For there are still a few subjects,
alas, demanded by examining boards that can be learned, I suppose, in no
other way--such as the preparations of opium before mentioned, with
their respective strengths and all that appertains unto them, and the
ingredients of various obscure powders that you will never hear about
again. In after life you will always refer to your pharmacopeia if you
want information upon these subjects, and no normal mind has either the
capacity or the desire to retain their details for so long as
twenty-four hours after they have been required in the examination-room.

But as a general rule, and one that is happily gaining ground every
year, you will find that your examiners will far prefer to discover in
you the evidences of a functionally active, if somewhat lightly stored,
mind than a kind of _paté de foie gras_, fattened up for the occasion,
but too inert, as a result, to leave him quite happy about its future.
And that's why it's always a good thing to take life easily during the
last week before your papers have to be written. Go abroad, mix with
normal men and women, to whom examinations are just episodes in the
lives of other people, fearsome but remote. And remind yourself in their
unruffled company that, after all, they _are_ merely episodes. You won't
forget anything really important in that time. If you do, you can never
properly have known it. While as for the trimmings, you will be more
than compensated for the shedding of a few of these by the sanity and
freshness with which your brain will come to its ordeal--as an example
of the reverse of which there occurs to me the vision of a pallid young
man who addressed me about six weeks ago in the hospital lobby. He was
very much frightened. I didn't know who he was. Indeed I don't think
that I had ever seen him before. And the remnants of a natural modesty
were evidently struggling to hold him back. But Circumstance, and the
awful fact that in less than an hour's time he was due for a _viva_ upon
the Thames Embankment, forced him trembling towards me. He wiped his
forehead--I was the only likely subject within range at the moment, and
his train was to leave in exactly seven and a half minutes.

"I can remember the hooklets," he gasped, "but _would_ you mind telling
me, sir, which of the tapeworms it is that has four suckers?"

Poor boy--I could see that his whole future was pivoting miserably upon
those forgotten suckers; and, by an excessively fortunate accident, I
happened to have some notes for a lecture upon the subject in one of my
pockets.

"If you'll wait a moment," I told him honestly, "I think that I can let
you know. But I really couldn't tell you offhand."

He looked at me anxiously, and I could see my reputation tottering in
his eyes as I searched about for my pocket-book.

"Nor could your examiners, you know," I assured him, "unless they had
just primed themselves beforehand, or carried notes upon their
cuffs--which they probably do."

His brow cleared amazingly at this, and I could see that the relative
importance of knowing, without reference, the precise number of a
tapeworm's suckers was beginning to define itself a little more clearly
to his distressed understanding. So I read out my notes to him, and he
dashed upon his way, relieved if not rejoicing. But you mustn't ever
become like that, you know, although it's not so difficult to do so as
you may think.

And lastly, if there should be a Miss Graham--I speak in the abstract,
of course, and very, very tentatively--she must be allowed to share none
of the homage that every respectable examination insists upon
monopolising. She may still be the goddess in your car. For on the whole
I think that goddesses (of the right sort) make for careful driving. But
at present your eyes must be chiefly upon the reins. You must forgive me
for touching upon a topic that you will probably find extremely
irrelevant, but there are certain things in a Highland country house
that are curiously apt to wander a little from their true perspective. I
ought to have mentioned, by the way, that Churchills are sending you a
gun, which I hope may arrive safely with this letter. For though I am
quite open to conviction about the fishing, I feel rather more certain
about the shooting. It was pre-Grahamite, you see--you haven't told me
her Christian name--pre-Dollyite, pre-Berylite--and even, if I remember
rightly, pre-Looite; so that I think it may safely be accepted as being
integral and not merely adventitious. Anyway, there's the gun, and I
hope that you'll kill many grouse with it in spite of your sister Molly
and her humanitarian comrades. For grouse, like men, must die on a day,
and better the quick shot in mid-flight than to crawl away, and to
perish slowly in the corner as most of us, alas, will probably have to
do when our sunset days come round.

I expect you will already have had letters from mother and Molly, if not
from Tom and Claire, who are staying with Lady Wroxton at Stoke, and
defying the Thames Conservancy in the matter of mixed bathing during
most of the forbidden hours. You heard, no doubt, or saw in the papers,
that Rupert Morris has had a K added to his C.B.; which means, I
suppose, that his little scrap on the frontier was more important than
he led us to suppose. In any case, nobody, I should think, has deserved
his title more, and quite certainly no one will value it less. He is
expected home, I believe, about the end of September, and you will
probably meet him at Stoke, where Molly (having squared her conscience)
is presently to assist in the extra housekeeping demanded by the
partridges and pheasants. With much love,

  Yr. affect. father,
  P. H.



XXI

_To Miss Josephine Summers, The Cottage, Potham, Beds._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _August_ 25, 1910.

MY DEAR AUNT JOSEPHINE,

I have, of course, frequently seen many of the pictures that you
mention, and have also read some of the stories of which, as you say,
each illustration professes to tell one. I don't think however that I
have seen the particular one of the signalman which you enclose; and it
certainly seems a coincidence that he should be pressing his left hand
so vehemently upon the precise spot at which your cook also is so apt to
suffer pain. And it is odd too that, like her, he would appear to be so
thoroughly respectable that their common affliction becomes a little
difficult to understand. It is not, as you say, as if either of them
gave one the least impression of being in any degree _loose_ or
_rackety_. At the same time, from a close examination of the signalman's
anatomy, I don't think that the organs so frequently mentioned in his
very eloquent account of himself are those most likely to be affected.
And perhaps your cook may also be happily under a similar
misapprehension. And that is why, before taking the pills that have been
so markedly blessed to the signalman, I would suggest the outward
application of a little friction with the open palm of someone else's
hand in which have been previously placed a few drops of turpentine. It
will be so far less expensive, you see; and, even if not finally
successful, will at any rate do no harm. But I have great hopes.

  Your affect. nephew,
  PETER HARDING.



XXII

_To Reginald Pole, S.Y. Nautilus, Harwich._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _August_ 30, 1910.

MY DEAR REGGIE,

When one of your youngest journalists from Franciscan House called upon
me last night, I guessed at once that you were either away from home or
that you had given the lad _carte blanche_ to collect material for a
"silly season" discussion, without adding an Olympian hint or two as to
where he had best go hunting. As a matter of fact both surmises turned
out to be correct; and I even seemed to detect in him a certain air of
relief as he admitted the first, while he was still young enough to feel
rather important with regard to the second. Unhappy youth--how should he
know that he had run into the very jaws of your arch-enemy?

It was a college friendship with Horace, he informed me, that was his
excuse for calling upon me, although of course he knew quite well that I
was an eminent authority on the subject in hand. This was so obvious an
afterthought that I couldn't help asking him what the subject might be.
He told his lie so nicely, you see, and was so humbly aware of its small
worth. He coloured a little.

"Are we nervous?" he said.

I pushed over the tobacco-jar, and asked him to fill his pipe.

"I hope not," I replied, and he coloured a little more.

"You don't understand," he explained. "That is to be the headline of the
discussion. At least, that was what I'd thought myself. But some of the
other fellows have suggested, 'Are we _more_ nervous?' or 'Where are our
National Nerves?' or 'National Neurosis; are we suffering from it?'"

I nodded.

"Yours is the shortest," I said.

"Just so," he replied, "and, I think, the most arresting."

"And who's going to write the first letter?" I asked.

"Well," he stammered, "I rather expect it will be me."

"And you'll call yourself 'A London Physician,' I suppose?"

"Something like that," he confessed. "You see, a newspaper discussion
like this is all right when once it's started--that is, if it's a live
one, as Mr. Pole calls it. The other letters simply pour in."

"From Balham and Holloway and Tottenham and Ilford----"

"Oh yes," he smiled, "and from Kensington and Mayfair as well."

"You think that a good many of your readers will like to tell the public
all about their nerves?"

"Thousands of 'em," he said confidently.

"And you'll select a certain number of letters from each district, and
fill up a couple of your daily columns for nothing?"

"That's the idea. And we shall give a lot of pleasure too."

"And the writers and the writers' friends will rush to buy copies, I
suppose, and cut out their letters, and stick them in albums."

He laughed.

"I shouldn't wonder," he said. "Making personal friends for the
paper--that's what Mr. Pole calls it. He says that nothing pays better."

"And presently, perhaps, you'll collect all the letters, and put them in
a little booklet of which you'll sell large numbers for sixpence in a
comfortable dressing-gown of advertisements."

"Possibly," he said, "if it goes really well."

I looked at him for a moment, upon the threshold of his life-work. He
was a nice boy, though the shades of Franciscan House were fast closing
about him.

"D'you think it's worth it?" I asked him.

"Why rather," he said. "Pays like anything."

"Forty per cent, perhaps?"

"Very likely."

"The Franciscan heaven," I admitted, and he winced a little. By which I
knew, of course, that he was as yet no true Franciscan--who never
winces, and whose conscience, to use a borrowed phrase, is merely his
accomplice.

"Do you object to forty per cent?" he asked.

"_Per se?_" I answered, "not at all."

"But to the correspondence perhaps?"

"I'm not enamoured of the idea," I confessed. "Are you?"

He reached for the ash-tray, and knocked out his pipe.

"We must give 'em what they want, you know," he said.

I bowed.

"The Franciscan creed," I told him. "But perhaps they don't know yet
that they do want it."

"Then we must show 'em," he replied.

"The Franciscan gospel," I sighed, for, as I have said, he was a nice
boy, still trailing a wisp or two of glory.

"And besides," he went on, "people always like to talk about their weak
nerves, don't they?"

He was getting in under my guard now to bleed me of copy, so I stepped
aside.

"Play cricket?" I asked him.

"A bit," he confessed.

"Ever stopped a rot?"

"Sometimes," he replied warily.

"How did you do it?" I inquired.

He laughed again.

"Now you're getting at me, aren't you?" he said.

"Of course I am. Haven't you been trying to get at me?"

"Do you think you're going to score?" he asked.

"I shouldn't wonder," I told him; "because you didn't encourage those
panicky fellow-batsmen of yours to talk about their nerves, did you? On
the contrary, you swaggered a bit yourself, and told 'em that the
bowling was poor stuff. You didn't even tell 'em to forget that growing
excavation behind their belt-buckles. You were subtler. You took it for
granted that they hadn't got one. You surrounded 'em with the proper
atmosphere. You were more than half a nerve specialist already--the
better half. You infected them with your own health. But what are you
proposing to do now?"

The journalist in him died hard.

"Then you think there _is_ a rot?" he asked.

"I didn't say so."

He put his pipe in his pocket, and picked up his hat and gloves.

"After all," he smiled, "you've only been preaching the old doctrine of
responsibility, you know. And the modern journalist is a detached
person." But I shook my head.

I repeat that he was a nice boy, and had borne my little pi-jaw with
admirable fortitude.

"Only semi-detached," I ventured, "with a half-educated brother next
door."

I fancy that I can see you lying snugly aft upon the "Nautilus" at
anchor--a bronzing cynic, smiling gently over this ingenuous little
duel. And perhaps you have already made up your mind to transfer this
incomplete disciple of yours to some other department, or even
(according to a fundamental Franciscan tradition) to dispense with his
services altogether. For if he cannot bring himself to demolish one
prehistoric physician, what can he do? And I shall be sorry if he is put
to any real inconvenience. But on the other hand I shall rejoice openly
to see him save his soul alive. For though I didn't tell him so, and
though I am convinced that at the core--the germ-plasm, if you like--the
race is still happily sound enough, yet if there is a rot, a temporary
epidemic of nervous instability, it is largely confined to those who
draw their mental nourishment from Franciscan House, and whose
twitterings you are now proposing to exploit.

_Autres temps, autres moeurs_, for while there was a time when our
more ignorant forefathers were wont to scoff (mistakenly, no doubt, but
on balance with a tonic effect) at the possessors of "weak nerves," now
that we have learned just enough to talk about them in bad Greek
"neurasthenia" is an affection of which no man need be ashamed. "Poor
chap," we say, and begin to wonder if we are not sufferers ourselves.

You will have observed that my reference is masculine, although the
older historians have regarded the complaint as being chiefly confined
to women. But you are not to deduct from this, as I can see you trying
to do, that the neurasthenia of to-day is therefore a new variety, whose
exhibition in your halfpenny daily paper is justifiable on public
grounds. For if it attacked mainly a certain class of our
great-grandmothers and their maternal ancestors, this was less, I think,
on account of their sex than of their circumstances--the predisposing
combination in some of them of slender academic endowment with
unexercised mental activity.

Times have changed, but even then it was not the woman of affairs, whose
education, ample or the reverse, had been salted by the winds of
action--it was not the queens and the stateswomen at the one pole, or
the workers in the fields at the other, but the secluded gentlewomen
between them, who fainted daily, and agonised over beetles and mice.
_Requiescant in pace_, for their day is no more, and their busier
daughters have no longer time to write pathetic little self-revelations
in unventilated boudoirs, or collapse at a knock upon the door. Instead,
they will vault nimbly over the window-sill; while as for the beetles,
they will kill them for you mercifully, and explain their pedigree in
Latin.

But the class that they have thus vacated has not, alas, been suffered
to die out, and is now perhaps even fuller than ever. Gone, it is true,
with the conditions that produced them, are the vaporous women of
Richardson and Fielding. But here in their stead, and in a very similar
soil, is the twopenny clerk of to-day. And it is typically in his
Harringay villa that one must search for the modern neurasthenic. A
little cheap education, a long period of physical security, a
comfortable, if inexpensive, assurance of at any rate the more primal
necessities, and the demand of ever coalescing industries for an
innumerable army of semi-automatic dependents--all these have been at
work. And they have built up for us a hundred airless mental chambers,
whose inhabitants, desperately aware of their gentility, and
sufficiently educated for a little self-probing, have nothing more
demanded from them than to copy out stereotyped letters or manipulate a
Morse key. To obtain their chance of doing these things they had to
acquire a small amount of knowledge--since seldom added to; and to do
them automatically a few months of mental apprenticeship became
necessary. No more was asked of them. And after a little while, and in
the great majority of cases, they have ceased to ask more of themselves.
And I have seen men crying in my consulting-room over some trivial,
unexpected appeal that has been too much for their paralysed initiative.

You may think that my analogy is far-fetched, and superficially I'll
admit that it is. But probe a little deeper, and you'll find how exactly
the related conditions have produced corresponding types. Look at my
sequestered lady busy with her eternal crochet, but in reality not busy
at all. And then behold my little clerk occupied with his letters and
his envelope-licking, but with a brain as really unemployed as my
lady's. Read out to me the writings of my sequestered lady or the
records of her conversations. How little she had read or seen or
studied, and yet with what confident persistence she uttered her
superlatives. And now talk to my little clerk, who likewise has climbed
no mountains of comparison, and his tiniest headache is "shocking," his
least calamity "terrible." Why, only this afternoon I was asked for a
tonic by such an one (your halfpenny illustrated was peeping out of his
pocket) on the ground that yesterday he had seen a small child cut its
forehead, and held it till the doctor came. Listen to my sequestered
lady, innocence herself, and her talk, with titters, is of my lord's
_liaisons_, my lady's cure, and what the neighbours think. And listen to
my little clerk, and what are his topics but these?

God forbid that I should hold either of them up for ridicule (it's you
that I'm ultimately to annihilate), for such generalities as these are
never more than half true. My lady was only waiting for the marching
years to become a Florence Nightingale and a Madame Curie. She was only
waiting to be shown, and admitted into, the great worlds outside her
boudoir to prove a right of way that has long since ceased to be
questioned. And who shall say what shining destiny awaits my little
clerk? For it is not, as we are so often told, the mere rush of our
modern industrialism that is at the root of so much neurasthenia--it is
its blank automatism, with its endless opportunities for self-pity. And
one can only suppose that as we advance in knowledge much of this human
drudgery will be delegated to other instruments. But the time is not
yet, alas, and meanwhile all that is best of him has to struggle with
circumstances only too sorrowfully adapted to morbid mental imaginings.
"The result of all this free education," you will be told by a certain
type of elderly _raisonneur_. But of course he is wrong. It's not less
education that we want, but more. For even in the good old days, as I
have said, it was not the Marie Stuarts and the Queen Elizabeths,
delivering their Latin orations and translating their "Mirrors of the
Sinful Soul" at thirteen and fourteen years old, it was not the
full-tide women of the Renaissance, who were afterwards conspicuous for
nervous debility. And nor is it the really well-educated clerk of
to-day. For while a little education is chiefly dangerous in so far as
it increases a man's self-consciousness without showing him where it is
gently to be laughed at, a little more will generally remedy this
defect, to the lasting benefit of his sanity. No, it's in his awful
self-seriousness that lurks the subtlest enemy of the half-educated man.
If you can make a man laugh at himself, you can make him laugh at his
nerves--which is better than a hecatomb of bromides.

Well then, there's my analogy; and here's where it breaks down. My
lady's prison walls were concrete as well as abstract; my clerk's are
chiefly abstract. She was in the world but not of it. He is both in it
and of it. She could scarcely touch upon its treasures if she would.
For him they are waiting--the real ones--if he will only take them. Long
ago we have recognised the merely physical dangers of his daily enforced
imprisonment. And we have framed a hundred sanitary laws to provide him
with his oxygen unsullied. But what about his half-developed mind? You
will tell me that good lectures are abundant, and that classics may be
bought for a shilling. Yet what are these, at the best, but occasional
winds of thought, too often resented as a draught? And who is it but
you, creeping under his door for a halfpenny, that creates his mental
atmosphere? You may tell me that you only reproduce it, with its
constituents very faithfully proportioned--a nebulous sermonette once a
week, an inch to the scientific progress of both the hemispheres, and
three columns to the personal appearance of the Camden murderer. And you
may justify yourself on the same grounds for covering your nakedness, as
you did last week (I'm glad that you yourself were away), with an appeal
in big letters that he should buy your orange-coloured weekly,
wherein--with delicious exclusiveness--he might find, in all its
details, the life-history of this same criminal's flimsy little
paramour, written (God forgive you--and him) by her own father; and the
nadir, one can only pray, of your efforts for forty per cent. But you
cannot at the same time lay a finger on your paragraph of Health Hints,
and boast complacently about the influence of the Press. Nor do you, I
suppose, with any real conviction; and I may have exaggerated, perhaps,
in crediting you with the creation of anybody's atmosphere. For the true
brain-worker passes you by, and the manual labourer has his antidote at
hand; while the little clerk is not, in a modern and abominable phrase,
"a person who matters." But then he is. And in the battle for mental
vigour that, under present conditions, he must consciously fight or die,
you might so easily be playing the biggest rather than the least worthy
part. For our help still cometh from the hills. And surely it's of the
hill-top men, the men who are climbing, the men with a view, that you
should be telling him, morning and evening, as he sits in his London
cellule. Whereas instead, with his birthright ever broadening about him,
you still drearily drag him after you to Bow Street, where you
photograph him in his pitiful queue for to-morrow's illustration. Dear
me, I'm afraid that I'm tub-thumping; and you'll think that I've
forgotten your farm and your balloon-house and your daily reports upon
the cuckoo and the corn-crake. But I haven't; and what's more, I'm quite
ready to believe that if Bow Street went out of fashion you'd be the
first to appreciate the fact. We should soon be hearing indeed that you
had led the movement. And that's why you don't really stem the onward
march of sanity, though there are casualties _en route_ of which it
would be difficult to acquit you. While as for your National Neurosis,
one foreign battery on Primrose Hill would bury it for two generations.

It might also blow the roof off Franciscan House.

       *       *       *       *       *

"But poor Reggie can't do anything by himself," says Esther.

"They all say that," I grumble.

"And haven't you been just a little bit rude?"

"I'm attacking a point of view," I explain, "and I feel rather heated."

She looks over my shoulder reproachfully.

"And you've never even _mentioned_ our having the baby when they take
the 'Nautilus' to Italy."

"No more I have."

"And it's the very thing I told you to write about."

And this is true. For we _must_ have the baby.

  Yr. sorrowful friend,
  P. H.

P.S.--This letter almost makes me wonder why I like you.



XXIII

_To Miss Sarah Harding, The Orphanage, Little Blessington, Dorset._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _September_ 6, 1910.

MY DEAR SALLY,

There was a young American, Stephen Crane, who wrote, a few years ago, a
little volume called "Wounds in the Rain." You may have read it. It was
rather a grim book, but written with a good deal of power, and a promise
of more to come that the author, alas, never lived to fulfil. And not
the worst part of it was its title, with its suggestion of grey
suffering, the aftermath alike of victory and defeat. And yet I am not
sure that "Wounds in the Sun" would not literally have stood for a far
greater sum of misery. Only he would never have made us feel it.

For there's an implicit sadness in the monosyllable rain--in the very
sound of it--that depends, I think, when you come to analyse it, less
upon the ideas of water and wetness and possible chill that it conjures
up, than upon an underlying suggestion of something falling. It's a
little hard to account for it--I would commend the subject to a
metaphysician if I could be certain that it hasn't already been dealt
with by him--and yet it's a fact, I think, that we have invested all
falling things with a certain quality of tragedy, with at any rate no
single idea of cheerfulness. Think of what you will, from little Susan's
tear to Lucifer, son of the Morning, and of all the more material
phenomena that lie between them--cascades, avalanches, autumn
leaves--and you will find that while your vision perceives in them pity,
or solemnity, or terror, or even disgust, it clothes no falling thing
with actual joy. And the swifter the fall the more profound are these
sentiments that it engenders.

Thus the sheer waterfall, spilling itself unbroken over some brooding
crag into a pit of blackness, contains just so much more gloom than the
torrent, leaping down from rock to rock, as its descent is more vertical
and headlong. The thistledown, sliding earthwards upon the wind, is less
tragic than the rain-sodden beech-leaf by just the measure of its longer
passage through the air. While the rain that drives horizontally against
one's Burberry may be a good deal more penetrating, but is seldom so
dismal as that which drops down undisturbed from the drab sky to earth.

I believe that there is a sermon in all this somewhere--in the universal
instinct with which we find sorrow, or at least some factor of it, in
all that falls; and joy, or at any rate its suggestion, in most things
that rise up, and open, and turn themselves towards the heavens. But
I'll spare you the preaching of it, since these reflections merely
spring to my mind as the result, last Saturday, of a particularly wet
tramp from Beer to Sidmouth.

I had been called down in consultation on Friday, and having spent the
night in the sick man's house, decided next morning to walk the eight
miles along the coast. It was one of those baffling Devonshire mornings
of rain and mist with rhythmical promises, never fulfilled, of a watery
sunshine to come; and both my hostess and the local doctor were fain to
press motor-cars upon me. But I had made up my mind, and assured them
that I was one of those many people--possibly foolish--who rather
enjoyed a walk in the rain.

My host, who was by way of being a philosopher as well as an invalid,
looked at me with a twinkle.

"So you really think you like it?" he asked me.

"Yes," I told him. "I really do like it."

He put a hand on my shoulder.

"No, you don't," he said. "Just think it over between here and
Sidmouth."

And he was right. Before I had walked two miles I knew that he was
right. I don't enjoy walking in the rain, though I often do it, and
always claim to like it. I merely walk in it for the rather subtle
enjoyment of getting out of it, and for the sake of plumbing a little
more deeply, at my journey's end, the everyday delights of dryness,
warmth, and a deep-bosomed chair. I become a Tibetan at the prayer-wheel
storing up joys to come in a whetted appetite for to-morrow's blue sky.
For though I must admit that there's a certain decorative effect about
rain over a countryside, yet it's an effect of pure melancholy,
scientifically unfounded of course--at any rate until science can
explain the proposition at the beginning of this letter--heightening
loneliness, exaggerating the hardship of toil, deepening the horror of
death, but adding quite an extraordinary power to any gleam of even the
tearfullest of sunshine that may have stumbled into some corner of the
landscape. And there's always the possibility of that gleam being the
herald of a sudden conquest of glory, in whose triumph your merely
fair-weather pedestrian can never have a part.

Thus a memory comes back to me, for instance, of a dreary
five-in-the-morning start, a hopeless breakfast, a dogged rain-soaked
tramp up the steep hillside--and then the summit of Ben Lomond, a very
ark above the flood, borne up, as it were, into the midmost sanctuary of
heaven, with the submerging seas rolling out to the world's end, and the
wind thrilling over them like an organ. Ten minutes ago, and the sun had
lost itself for ever. And now it flamed there like the white throne of
God, till the horizons melted before its gaze, and the great dead began
majestically to rise--Ben More, Ben Lawers, the Cairngorms, and the
distant peaks of Arran.

My sunshine on Saturday last however was not, I should think, more than
twelve years old. She was standing rather pensively (but without
agitation) near a cottage gate; and fortunately I had provided myself
with some bulls'-eyes at a village called Branscombe, where a kindly old
lady had assured me that there was still a great demand for them. I
extracted one from the bag, and was thanked politely but by no means
deferentially. There was a moment's pause during which a damp physician
was being gravely relegated to his proper sphere in the natural scheme
of things--an obviously humble one. Then she threw me a fact.

"Nellie arn't got one," she observed.

So I gave her one for Nellie.

"Anybody else?" I inquired.

She looked down for a minute at the plump and striped confection.

"Mother likes _them_ things," she said--and I had seen by this time, of
course, that her mother must be a very nice mother. So she accepted one
for mother.

"And is that all?" I asked.

"Well," she said doubtfully, "_Baby's_ just arf to sleep."

And this is all that I shall ever remember about the road from Beer to
Sidmouth.

I am finding it harder than ever this year to get a summer holiday. And
while these little glimpses of the country merely sharpen my desire for
more, I find myself telling myself sternly that I must really learn to
be contented with them. And at any rate I have been enabled to see more
of the hospital than for some time past; and, as you know, this is to be
my last year there as a visiting physician.

This afternoon, my junior being salmon-fishing in Norway, I thought
that I would take the out-patients for the first time in twelve years;
and the clinical assistant proving not unwilling to go and play tennis,
I amused myself with seeing the lot of them. For there's no other
commentary upon men and manners quite like a collection of out-patients
at a large hospital. Listen therefore to a stalwart gentleman who earns
twenty shillings a week, and doesn't stint himself in beer.

"Debility, doctor," he said, "that's what's the metter with me." He
dropped his voice huskily. "Domestic trouble," he added.

"Dear me," I sympathised, feeling his pulse. "Serious?"

"Twins," he said gloomily; "second lot I've 'ed in eighteen months; an'
I think it's run me down."

  Your aff. brother,
  PETER.



XXIV

_To the Rev. Bruce Harding, S. Peter's College, Morecambe Bay._


  c/o HARRY CARTHEW, CROME LODGE,
  NEAR CAVERSHAM, BERKS,
  _September_ 14, 1910.

MY DEAR BRUCE,

I am very glad to hear that you have had such an excellent holiday in
Switzerland, and brought home four or five more mountain scalps to your
Cumberland wigwam. But it's rather sad that the little storm that was
brewing at S. Peter's before you left should have burst in thunder and
lightning during your absence. Knowing both Merridew and Rogers, I quite
agree with you that it was probably inevitable, and may ultimately tend
to a clearer atmosphere. Meanwhile however the little community makes
war from opposite camps, and there is a great deal of unnecessary
bitterness in their tactics that seems likely to increase when Rogers
comes back from London. And, as you say, it's all rather sad and sordid,
and only humorous because the parish is so small and the whole storm
contained, as it were, in one of its afternoon teacups. But then most
parishes are comparatively small, and we all have to live in one or
other of them, and storms in teacups are apt to be just as devastating
as any other kind of storm--even more so perhaps, because it's so much
easier on these occasions to insist upon recommending one's own
particular infusion of tannin, than to insert instead an unobtrusive
drop or two of the calming milk of human kindness. Whereas cyclones have
a habit of setting us shoulder to shoulder, by virtue of the unanimous
discovery that they rather suddenly engender of the extraordinary
unimportance of our differences.

So on the whole I'm with you in preferring cyclones, although at first I
was rather inclined to disagree with your assertion that this little
flare-up between Rogers and your new vicar was merely a somewhat
exaggerated instance of the general underlying hostility that seems to
exist between Medicine and the Church.

I was for pointing out to you, with some vigour, the fact that we both
have friends, not a few, in the consulting-room and cloth respectively,
to whom we can talk with a complete frankness, and in the assurance of a
reciprocated understanding. And yet, on second thoughts, I am
reluctantly sure that you are right, and that, speaking in very general
terms, there does exist some such feeling as you have named--less
hostility, perhaps, than a decently veiled distrust. It's a little hard
to see why this should be the case. For there would appear superficially
to be at least a hundred reasons why the precisely opposite should be
true. Perhaps the foundation of it is historical. Centuries enough have
not yet rolled away since medicine came out of the side of priestcraft;
so that on the one hand there is still an occasional smarting of the old
wound, and on the other a little over-insistence, perhaps, upon a
complete and rather superior liberty--tradition still looming somewhat
largely in the education of the young clergyman, and reverence being
not, perhaps, a particularly prominent feature in the training of his
medical brother. In any case, there it is; and though I think that
Rogers has been wrong, or at any rate tactless, in his opposition to the
extra services that Merridew wishes to hold in the cottage hospital, it
seems to me that your two protagonists are very typical of all that is
best (and possibly least reconcilable) on either side. For on the one
hand you have Merridew, ardent, sincere, sacerdotal, and very nearly
young enough to account for, though not of course to justify, Rogers's
rudeness in referring to him as "the boy from Cuddesdon." And on the
other, you have Rogers, equally genuine, generous, uncompromising, and
almost fiercely insistent in his demand for intellectual honesty. Indeed
I think his rather truculent materialism is far more an expression of
this desire than an exact creed of his personal belief. And both men, it
seems to me, are so obviously the logical products of their respective
upbringings.

Of Merridew's I can only speak of course as an outsider. His father,
whom I knew very slightly, was himself a clergyman of the old High
Church type, moderately wealthy, refined to the uttermost, acutely
sensitive, artistic, yet as rigid in his standards as any Cromwellian
Ironside. He was happily married, and his home--and young
Merridew's--was, almost necessarily, like himself. Merridew was the only
child, and when his father died, while he was still at Lancing, it was
only natural that he should resolve to enter the Church, and that his
mother should henceforth devote herself almost entirely to his welfare
and to the furtherance of these boyish resolutions. Leaving Lancing, he
went up to his father's old college at Cambridge, commended to his
tutors, and known to his fellow-undergraduates, from the outset, as a
candidate for Holy Orders. And here--again as a perfectly accepted
consequence--he took his degree in classics, and dabbled a little in
history. He was not unpopular. His ardour, never awkward, procured him
many friends and indeed followers among like-minded youths with a
similar future in front of them; and, being adequately athletic, he was
on friendly, if not intimate, terms with a good many others. At
twenty-two or so he left Cambridge for Cuddesdon, and at twenty-four he
obtained a curacy in Hoxton, where he overworked himself for four years.
He was then, I think, an assistant priest at a fashionable church in
Kensington, until he was presented by one of his uncles with the living
of S. Peter's. Those are the external facts, and, as a guesser from the
opposite camp, I may very likely go wrong in estimating their inner
significances. But it seems to me--and in talking with Merridew I am
always conscious of this--that as the inevitable result of this training
he has been surrounded by a kind of protective aura, now almost
impenetrable, that has interposed itself, as it were, between himself,
as an anointed priest, and the great tides of actual life that go
surging about him. Little by little it was created for him by his
parents. The vicissitudes of school life made him cling to it only the
more firmly. Cambridge, and the conspiracy of silence that, to a lesser
extent, surrounds the embryo and younger clergy as certainly as it does
their sisters at home, merely strengthened it fourfold; so that when he
left Cuddesdon there it was complete--his lifebelt for the conflicting
seas of reality--and not only about his waist, but also to a large
extent encircling his intellect. For if you examine his education you
will find, I think, that never in all that time was he encouraged, for
himself and by himself, to discover, to classify, to co-relate, one
single naked fact of real existence. Science was then, and has always
been, in its inward sense, a thing unknown to him. Of the living stuff
of humanity he was given not the smallest primary notion. And his
observation of it since has been that of a man who has never been
equipped with the first unprejudiced principles of observation at all.
Of heredity and psychology he knows not a line. And of their results in
actual character and conduct he can perceive, as a rule, only as much as
the normal man will reveal to the present type of normal parson--while
even of that he has never been given the wherewithal to judge.

Rogers, on the other hand, was the son of a small Northampton milliner.
At the age of fourteen he ran away to sea, where he served for four
years in all sorts of ships, in all sorts of capacities. It was on one
of these that some rough and ready, but skilful, surgery, by which a
young ship's doctor removed some broken bone from the brain of a comrade
who had fallen from the rigging, first fired him with the desire to be a
surgeon. He returned home to find his father dead and his mother in
straitened circumstances. He got work in a boot factory, and studied at
night schools for his preliminary examination. Having passed this, he
went back to sea for a year, and then, coming up to London, he managed
to attend at hospital by day, while he kept himself as dispenser,
bottle-washer, and general handy man to a dispensing practitioner in his
spare hours.

By this means, and with the aid of a scholarship or two, he obtained his
diplomas, and started a cash surgery near Waterloo. Five years later he
was a Fellow of the College of Surgeons, and in another three had become
a member of his hospital staff. For a year or so he found it pretty hard
to make both ends meet behind his modest plate (one of five) upon a
front door in Harley Street. But then the tide began to turn. A
brilliant paper or two marked him out as a coming man. A new and
admirable method of performing a certain cerebral operation became
associated with his name. And in ten years' time he had become perhaps
the foremost brain surgeon in London. Twelve years after this he lost a
hand, in consequence of a post-mortem infection, but retired a wealthy
man, though at first a rather disconsolate one. For a time his love of
the sea reasserted itself, and he travelled. Then, as you know, he found
a retreat that suited him on the shores of Cumberland, where he has
built, endowed, and kept lavishly up-to-date the little cottage hospital
about which your teacup storm is raging.

You may tell me, perhaps, that both Rogers and Merridew are extreme
instances. But if they are, it is in degree only and not in kind. For
behind Rogers I can see a large and quickly growing army of thinking men
and women, risen like him from what are called the masses, vigorous of
mind and hard of muscle, men accustomed to deal with life at first hand,
trained to observe, quick to deduct, unhampered, if perhaps a little too
unmoved by tradition, state-makers, explorers, and men withal not
impervious to, but on the contrary almost passionately eager for the
truth.

And behind Merridew I can see many, if not most, of his brethren, men of
fine instincts and real devotedness--narrow-minded in none but the most
literal sense, and in that merely because of the school that has moulded
them--men who would cheerfully give all that they possess to be able to
influence in any substantial degree the great world's dreamers and
doers. And behind them again I can see their Church.

       *       *       *       *       *

Curiously enough, we have just been discussing something of all this
upon Carthew's Thames-side lawn. We had crossed the river in the
morning, and walked up, about a couple of miles, to a neighbouring
village church. And now, as I write to you in the boat under the
willows, they seem to me--the temple and its service--to have been
almost tragically symbolic. The village itself, on the outskirts of
Reading, consists of a rustic core, about which time and circumstance
have wrapped several red-brick layers, the innermost containing workers
from the various shops and factories of the neighbouring town, together
with a sprinkling of day-labourers in the country round; and the outer
accommodating some superior clerks and their families, a few of the more
substantial Reading tradesmen, and the inevitable retired colonel.

Most of these, as we passed upon our way, were smoking over the Sunday
papers in their front gardens, or preparing for a morning to be spent
upon the river; and the church was far from their midst, a mile in fact
beyond their extremest outskirts. Moreover the day was hot, and the road
to it dusty.

The building itself was neither old nor new, and we were shown into a
pew beneath a large stained-glass window that almost immediately began,
in spite of myself, to monopolise my attention. The congregation
consisted, of course, mainly of women. ("It will be the same in the
Hereafter," my Aunt Josephine once assured me when commenting upon the
same phenomenon.) But there were about thirty men present, for the most
part gnarled and sunburnt sons of the field, in uncomfortable,
ready-made suits--men, as I guessed, in whose veins there still ran
something of the older homage once shared by parson and squire. What was
this particular parson going to give them, I wondered, as mental and
moral food for the week's sustenance? His delivery of the prayers and
lessons was not very promising. It was not that he had any physical
impediment in his speech. It was merely that he had never been taught to
produce his sounds effectively, and that Oxford and his clubs had
successfully schooled him into eliminating any tincture of emotion from
their quality. But he might still, of course, have a message in waiting
for us from the pulpit.

He preached upon the value of communicating before breakfast; and, as
far as I could see, his remarks upon the subject were received,
especially by the male portion of his congregation, with the same kind
of curious, impassive gusto that had been noticeable in their delivery
of the responses and the hymns. I remember a verse of one of these, and
am quoting it exactly:

  Whatever, Lord, we lend to Thee
  Repaid a thousandfold will be;
  _Then_ gladly will we give to Thee,
      Who givest all.

Could they have known what they were singing? Had their vicar read these
lines before he gave them out? Let us hope not.

But, as I said, it was the stained-glass window that dominated me, and
seemed to contain in itself an epitome--yet not quite that, perhaps--of
sermon and service and hymn, and the system that had made their survival
possible in twentieth-century England. And yet, let me first put down
that through it came light, real if distorted, and distilled, but how
faintly, from the true arch of the outside heaven. And let me not forget
this as I go on to remember its eight divisions, containing each a
worshipping and apparently musical young woman, arrayed as no being has
ever been arrayed, and regarding with upturned eyes--well, fortunately
the artist had stopped short there, though merely, one fears, from want
of space. I have called these maidens musical for the rather inadequate
reason that in the hands of each were instruments by and through which
sounds might conceivably be produced. But at the nature of these one
could, alas, guess only too readily. Even in the grasp of experts one
would have been justly dubious about the capabilities of those
two-stringed violins, that one-keyed portable organ, those twin-trumpets
with a common mouthpiece. And imagination reeled before their combined
contemplation in the hands of these anæmic and self-evident amateurs.
Nor could one turn from the subject, and find consolation in its colour
or history. The window was not forty years old, and the colour was but
a ghost of what colour might be.

The whole window indeed was but a ghost--a ghost, manufactured at the
thirtieth hand, of the mediæval work of some laborious but crude
designer. And what, one wondered, could be even its pretended message to
the full-blooded, restless, and instructed generation of to-day? Could
these sallow-cheeked saints, these obviously unhealthy, ill-nourished,
incapable young women, tell anything worth the hearing upon any single
plane of thought or conduct to the men and women of 1910? Could they
indeed preach any other possible sermon than to cry out to all would-be
healthy people to flee away from them into the outer sunshine? Were they
even justified as reflections, infinitely remote, of the pale Galilean
of Gautier and Swinburne? And was there in fact ever a pale Galilean,
the least of Whose doctrines they could ever imaginably have embodied?
Was that sturdy, sun-browned Youth, with His carpenter's wrists and His
physical endurance, with His undreamed spiritual forces and His splendid
sanity in their control, with the glory of His emancipating conceptions
and His divine simplicity in their exposition--was He ever such as to be
thus pallidly worshipped save in the twilight imageries of earlier
centuries and the resentful poetry of rebellious thinkers? And I
couldn't help wondering if my stained-glass window had perhaps cast its
spell not only upon the aisles, but the authority of the Church that had
set it up.

Only a year or two ago, for instance, I remember being assured by a
youthful priest from Cambridge, who had scarcely ever stirred beyond his
East End settlement, that, while he would refrain from setting a limit
to God's mercy, no man could really be considered safe who had not made
verbal confession of his sins to himself or one of his brothers. And
only last week, upon the beach at Swanage, I heard another young
clergyman, of a rather more so-called evangelical way of thinking, most
positively assuring a ring of little children that the Devil was even
then whispering in their ears what a good time he would like to give
them. No wonder that the Carthews and the Rogers' stand aside, and wait
impatiently for the coming of the New Word or of the Old one as it was.
And no wonder that men and women, more really religious now, perhaps,
than ever in history, look on at it all rather dubiously in a healthy
hesitation, or turn frankly away to the tennis-lawn and river.

I have been watching them all the afternoon plying their oars here upon
the Thames--strong and ruddy, keen-faced artisans from Reading,
actresses from town, barristers, doctors, men of leisure, and men of
affairs. And now, as I write, they are plying still, while across the
fields comes the ineffectual call of the various ecclesiastical bells.
By some they are not even heard, I suppose. They are singing choruses
from "Our Miss Gibbs." To others they are just decorative in the region
of river sounds, as the loose-strife and charlock in that of its
colours. To a few they must even be merely sad. They might mean--they
once have meant--so much to their country's seething life. And now they
would seem to contain almost less significance than the gramophone in
the steam-launch round the corner.

A few moments ago the Bishop, Carthew's newly-acquired brother-in-law,
was leaning forward in his chair.

"If you knew," he said, "the real agony with which the Church has to
face these problems."

Carthew nodded.

"Yes," he said slowly, "parturition's always painful--especially to the
elderly--but the price for shirking it----"

"Is sterility," said the Bishop. "I know. But we don't want your pity.
We want your help."

Carthew knocked the ashes out of his pipe.

"Then first," he said, "you must get rid of those lifebelts, where the
race goes past them, and teach your clergy to swim. And then you must
keep 'em swimming. And you must see that they swim first. Don't stultify
their efforts by askin' 'em to square impossible traditions with new
truths, or mediæval ethics with essential Christianity. Don't call 'em
unsound because they have inklings inside 'em that Revelation didn't
cease with St. John or interpretation with the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Let 'em have Visions of their own. Tell 'em to go out, and make
discoveries. Let 'em dare to be simple--really simple, that is. And
trust God and human kindness to do the rest."

I don't think that he was speaking lightly, but the Bishop looked at him
for a moment rather closely.

"You're a believer?" he said. "You don't mind my asking?"

"Not a bit," said Carthew. "I'm a believer. And what's more, I'm a
believer in an organised, visible Church, not because it's vital, but
because it's expedient. Only its stained-glass windows, if they _must_
be stained, should contain blacksmiths and boxers and wireless
telegraphists, with some bank clerks and a bus driver, and of course
some children." Mrs. Carthew had just brought out the twins, "for of
such is the Kingdom of Heaven."

  Your affect. cousin,
  PETER HARDING.

P.S.--Rogers is coming to dinner with us, as you suggested, before he
goes back to Cumberland.



XXV

_To Hugh Pontrex, Villa Rosa, Mentone._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _October_ 3, 1910.

MY DEAR HUGH,

When you write and ask me to tell you what books I read during my
illness I can see an ancient accusation of yours peering at me behind
the question--as though you had visibly added that, except when
indisposed, I never read books at all. And if it weren't that I too find
other people's reading so interesting, though less informing perhaps
than their pictures, I might possibly stand upon my dignity, and decline
to supply you with an answer. And in any case, now that I come to
reflect a little, this will be rather a difficult thing to do. For
having got me at a disadvantage, you see, I could no longer pick and
choose, as is my wont when the health within me is rude and exacting. I
could no longer demand haughtily of a book that it must make me read it,
or remain within its covers for ever unread. My defences were down, and
I had perforce to roll over, hands up, for anything in the shape of book
with which Accident and Mudie had happened to endow my house. And as a
result I read half a dozen novels that, as the Americans say, left me
cold, although I must needs give them the credit of having whiled away
the time. Moreover, before dismissing them thus unkindly, I must
remember that they were each the work of somebody's hand and brain, and
the hard work too--at any rate so far as the hand was concerned--as
anyone who has tried to put eighty thousand words of even unimaginative
English upon paper would surely bear witness. Some of it too, one could
see, was the rather tired work of minds that should really have been
(perhaps only too willingly) lying fallow of production. And I think
that I noticed this particularly in an altogether unimportant little
volume called "Daisy's Aunt" by Mr. E. F. Benson, that may well stand
for a sorrowful example. It's true that it was merely a two-shilling
story; but even so, it was surely an unworthy one. And yet, I suppose,
there _is_ a public that likes to devour these descriptions of very
ordinary London drawing-rooms and very usual Thames-side bungalows--that
would fain listen to even the weariest repetitions of the somewhat
annoying slang of the "oh you heavenly person" type that for the moment
is being affected by Mr. Benson's "quite nice people." And having thus
found, or created, such a public, and designed the precise bait that it
requires, I suppose that one is justified in hooking, as often as may
be, one's share of their two-shilling pieces. But alas for the artist in
Mr. Benson, in whose books there have been passages good enough of their
kind to have made, perhaps, three or four pieces of real literature that
few, I suppose, would have bought, but that some, at any rate, would
have liked to keep upon their shelves. And yet again, who is to say that
Mr. Benson (as representing not a few) has not after all chosen his
better way? For if his popularity has been costly, it is at any rate of
a clean and healthy sort, and one that may well, perhaps, be
substituting itself for vogues unworthier and less wholesome.

They form an interesting study, these three brothers, not merely in
heredity of talent, but because, as it seems to me, they stand very high
in that small but growing band of really able writers, who possess also
the knack of a popular appeal. The sons of a religious, scholarly, and
discreet father, who himself had the power of attracting both attention
and success, these qualities, with no suspicion of a more wayward
genius, have descended upon them in very generous measure. The social
sense, the faculty of choosing the right friends, and a gift for getting
them on paper; the high purpose, clerically moulded; the gentle inward
warring of trained intellect and instinctive orthodoxy; to each has
fallen a share of his father's mantle, wherewith to make himself a
garment. And the mental pabulum that they provide is just what is wanted
by a large number of active, intelligent men and women to whom genius is
at all times unsympathetic; and by the yet greater company--including
most of us, I suppose--to whom its strongest appeal is a matter of mood
and place. Every generation seems to provide itself with such writers,
and as a rule rewards them well; and while, no doubt, it is genius alone
that survives, with a light that can never remain hidden, the others, by
their more instant and transient appeal, do yeoman work, and are
gathered honourably to their fathers. For we may not always be tuned to
the tang of Stevenson or the burr of Dr. John Brown. But we are seldom
incapable of sitting with enjoyment at some College Window, or allowing
the lesser voices to prepare us for those that are mightier than they.

And never, perhaps, has a generation possessed so many of these. Never
certainly has their level of eloquence been so high. Hichens and Locke
and Anthony Hope, Phillpotts, Marriott, Munro, and Wells, with Hewlett
and de Morgan a little nearer, perhaps, to the stars, and a score of
others close upon their heels--how sound and various is their artistry,
and how consistent, as a whole, is the quality of their output. For
this, one thinks, must be the besetting danger of all these skilled
professionals--to avoid, on the one hand, the Scylla of over-repetition
(to which most of the monthly magazines were long ago safely anchored)
and on the other, the more dangerous Charybdis of a too venturesome
novelty. Upon the first (and still confining oneself to the more
considerable writers) Mr. Benson, the essayist, for example, would seem,
more nearly than many, to be in danger of foundering. While upon the
second I can think of Conan Doyle as having bumped as badly as most
writers of an equal eminence. For while there is no man who can spin a
better yarn for a dull journey (even if he has never given us a
Brushwood Boy), his particular talent is about as at home among the
delicate domesticities of his "Duet with an Occasional Chorus" as would
be some genial pugilist with the "Pot-pourri of a Surrey Garden." And
yet, while one could pile up examples of sad wreckage upon both these
rocks, the wonder, after all, is that there is really so little of it.

Mr. Benson, no doubt, will put up his helm in time; and Sir Arthur has
been wise enough, as far as I know, to avoid any further emulation of
Mrs. Gaskell and Miss Mitford. But it is, perhaps, to Mrs. Humphry Ward
that one naturally seems to turn for a demonstration of the completely
median course--so rigidly median indeed, in its lofty mediocrity, that I
am sometimes at a loss to account for her very great popularity even
among (as the critics have called it) the circulating-library public.
For though she has a gift, and a very considerable one, for bringing
together the materials--a little machine-made, perhaps--of dramatic
incident, one may search her books in vain for a single thrill that they
have produced; while of humour they contain not a semblance. Indeed they
form, as it seems to me, a long series of admirably well-laid fires, for
which only the matches are wanting. As Dr. Brown would have said, she is
the Maker, not the Mother, of her books. And I think hers must be the
twentieth-century triumph of the college-bred lady inspector.

It's strange how increasingly one misses, when it is absent, this
underlying sense of humour; so much so indeed that one perceives it more
and more to be a _sine qua non_ of all towering and durable achievement.
Given Meredith's humour, how Hardy, with his first-hand observation, his
extraordinary detachment, and the beautiful lucidity of his English,
would have loomed above the creator of Sir Willoughby. With humour for
its lightning, how Tess would have stricken us to the heart. And how
poor a substitute for it is irony, howsoever its subjects may deserve
it. To withstand the years it must, no doubt, surround itself with the
stronger qualities--depth and simplicity and desire--or Barrie, least of
the Immortals, would be among their giants; and Jacobs would be knocking
at their door. But that Olympus demands it let all testify who have
tried to love Sordello, or watched Jude fade ever deeper into his
obscurity, or read again, a generation later, the rhapsodies of
Inglesant and Elsmere. There are a few exceptions of course, chiefly, I
think, in the sphere of the short story, the mere _conte_, and among the
poets, of whom perhaps Wordsworth is the one that springs most readily
to the mind. By the way, I saw a discussion (a rather unkindly one) in
one of the magazines, a year or two ago, as to the worst line in
reputable poetry, and I am rather afraid that last Sunday I discovered
it, and that Wordsworth must be regarded as its sponsor. Here it is, and
one grain of humour would surely have made it impossible.

  Spade! with which Wilkinson has tilled his land.

And yet he has written a sonnet or two, and at least one ode, that are
as immortal, I suppose, as anything in letters.

But I don't seem to have told you very much about my bedside books. And
the truth of it is that "Daisy's Aunt" is the only title that I can
remember, though it may conveniently be stretched, perhaps, to embrace
them all. For it concluded, if I remember rightly, with the matrimony of
four persons; and the others also are now a blur to me of ultimate
marriages--marriages between pathological pianists and high-born,
introspective damsels; and marriages between athletic young gentlemen,
good at puncture-mending, and the distressed maidens whose tyres had
become deflated.

Of the books, on the other hand, that have made me read them--rare and
beloved visitors--there have been fewer this year than usual, though it
is I, and not the books, that must bear the chief blame for this. The
two latest of these, separated by an interval of months, and both, I
believe, already elderly as the lives of modern novels go, are "The
Cliff End" and "Captain Margaret." The first of these delighted me from
cover to cover, in spite of some exaggerations of character-drawing and
dialogue; and I reverently bow my head to its author as having made
himself at a bound the laureate, not only of the bath-tub, but of that
peculiarly distressing variety of it that is very wide and shallow, with
a dimple in it that cracks when you stand upon it, and a capacity for
water that no housemaid has ever satisfied. It is perhaps too late for
the nature of this vessel to change. But never more, with that rosy
vision of sponging maidenhood before my eyes, shall I regard it as
anything but blessed.

So it's a book for which I should like to prophesy life, though with
less certainty, perhaps, than "Captain Margaret," upon the deck of his
_Broken Heart_, carries the very germ of it in his delicate hands. For
to his eldorado of dreams we have all of us, at one time or another,
turned our eyes. And in his schooner might have sailed any Quixote of
history, lucky indeed to find a Cammock for his navigator.

And yet who am I to be thus prophesying so boldly? For the third of my
books has been a collection of Oscar Wilde's contributions to the "Pall
Mall Gazette," full of such forecasts, and written, too, by a practised
hand. Has one half of them been verified? I think not. And yet I suspect
that few critics could more equably confront a reprinting of their
twenty-year-old opinions. Looking through this book, I read, for
example, whole pages devoted to the novel of Miss So-and-so whom one
would have supposed, in the eighties, to have been an emerging George
Eliot. And how desperately must the praise have fired her to further
efforts. Yet what, in 1910, has become of poor Miss So-and-so; and where
are those great works that were so certainly to be? There is the writer
himself too, so young then, with his brilliant flippancies--his
impeachment of the British Cook, for instance, with her passion for
combining pepper and gravy and calling it soup, and her inveterate habit
of sending up bread poultices with pheasant--and all his promises of
grace.

So, upon the whole, it's a sad book; and here, for a brisker comment
upon all that I have been writing, comes a volume of American essays
that has just been lent to Esther, wherein I am positively assured that
the volumes of Mrs. Humphry Ward are quite dangerously immoral! While
there, upon a chair, lies a novel, "Mr. Meeson's Will," that Rupert
Morris has just recommended to me as being his beau-ideal of a really
outstanding story. So let me lie low. I have spoken out my literary
heart to you, as any man, on occasion, should have the courage to do.
But now let me lie low. For by what standards am I judging, after all,
who have only spent an hour in Chicago, and never a moment east of Suez?

You will remember Morris, whom you met here during his last visit to
England. And as you remember him so he is, with perhaps an added grey
hair or two in his moustache, and a few more upon his temples. For the
rest, he is just as lean and brown and boyish as he has always been, and
with a touch of deference in his first greetings to Esther and me that
has survived from the school-days, when he was a comparative nipper, and
that he will carry, I suppose, since he is English of the English, until
common earth shall level us all. He was looking, when he first came in,
rather hesitating and ill at ease, with his title, as it were, tucked
awkwardly under his arm. Much like this I have seen him at school, on
some Old Boys' Day, coming back to the pavilion after making his
century, with an uncomfortable shove at his cap, and something about the
bowlers having been "dead off their luck."

Finding us alone however, and not disposed to worry him, he cheered up
amazingly, and was soon chattering to us briskly about his various
adventures. His personal part in these would seem as a rule to have been
conspicuous by its dullness; but the adventures themselves were well
worth hearing about. And it was only quite accidentally, as he was
leaving for Stoke, that we discovered him to be seconded for some
special duties in the colonies--"imperial defence, don't you know, and
all that sort of thing; rather an interesting job."

And did I tell you, by the way, that the Poles have bequeathed us their
baby during their visit to Italy? Esther has just brought her in, and
she is staring at me now with the solemnest eyes in creation--little
pools of Siloam, but with the angels just going to be busy. I must go to
them, and be healed.

  Ever yrs.,
  P. H.



XXVI

_To John Summers, M.B., c/o the Rev. W. B. La Touche, High Barn,
Winchester._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _October_ 18, 1910.

MY DEAR JACK,

I have just received your letter, and also the accountant's statement as
regards Dr. Singleton's books; and I have instructed the solicitors to
sell out enough of your stock to buy the quarter-share of his practice
upon which you and he have agreed. If you can manage to obtain with it
an equal proportion of his skill, kindliness, and cheerful adequacy you
may be quite sure that the advantage of the bargain will not be
altogether upon his side. For though books are important of course, if
the man who keeps them is sound you needn't trouble your head so very
much about them. And Singleton is sound through and through--not exactly
one of those brilliant men, perhaps, of whom, as operating surgeons, Sir
Frederick Treves has declared himself to be so justly timid, but what
is far better, one of those level-headed, big-hearted general
practitioners, tender of hand and essentially careful, in whose
professional history mistakes have been, and will continue to be,
practically unknown.

Moreover he was never, even as a student, one of those people who have
set out to purchase skill in their own profession by the sacrifice of
very nearly every other human interest. _Nihil humani a me alienum puto_
has been his own as well as his hospital's motto. And you must some day
get him to tell you the story of how an odd little insight into esoteric
Buddhism that he was once curious enough to obtain became the means of
saving the life, to say nothing of the sanity, of one of the most
valuable men of our time. That late cut of his, too, is still well worth
seeing; and there are not many of my friends who can go straighter to
the heart of a book or a picture--that is, if the book or the picture
has a heart to be got to.

He may not be able to excise a Gasserian ganglion, or know very much
about the researches of Calmette or von Pircquet. But he knows precisely
when to call in the men who do. And he's just the sort of assistant with
whom they feel safe in setting out to work. While, on the other hand,
upon a hundred points--little everyday problems of medical practice,
unclassified ailments that have never got into the text-books or been
dignified with a Latin name, doubtful beginnings of more definite
illnesses, their home-treatment, and the adequate settlement of the
domestic problems that they involve--there isn't a man in Harley Street
who could give a more valuable opinion. And he has performed a
tracheotomy with his pocket-knife and a hair-pin, five miles from
anywhere, in the heart of the Hampshire downs.

Such men are not only the pillars of our profession, but its topmost
pinnacles, even if the wreaths and the knighthoods but seldom come their
way. I am saying all this because I think that I can detect in your
letter, and certainly in the newer generation of qualifying students, a
kind of reluctance about going into general practice, as if this were in
a way an admission of failure, a sort of _dernier ressort_. Whereas of
course there is no point of view from which such a way of looking at it
is at all justifiable. General practice is at least as difficult, if it
is to be carried on well and successfully, as any special practice can
be, and probably more so; for the G.P. has to live continually, as it
were, with the results of his handiwork. He is always liable to meet his
failures round the next corner; and his mistakes may quite easily rent
the pew behind him in the parish church. The consultant, on the other
hand, comes into the family life from afar, and returns again, an hour
or two later, to the seclusion of his private fastness. He has brought
down his little bit of extra technical skill or knowledge. He has used
it for good or ill. And the results do not follow him, save indirectly,
and at a very comfortable distance. But the G.P. who has taken upon
himself the responsibility of calling him in must needs still bear upon
his shoulders not only the anxiety that heralds ultimate success, but a
large share of the possible obloquy that may follow failure.

Moreover, in all the hundred extraneous interests that are involved, his
advice becomes of paramount importance. This would be the best room for
the patient from the point of view of quietness and aspect. But that, on
the other hand, is the room that he has been used to. His favourite
books and pictures surround him there in the old accustomed order. Does
the doctor think it better for him to be moved? His wife, his mother,
or his sister are anxious to nurse him. Are they strong enough or
skilful enough? What is the doctor's opinion on this point? Here is a
telephone message from the office. A disturbing point has arisen in the
conduct of a great business, and should be dealt with promptly. Are we
to worry the patient with it now, or postpone the settlement, with the
possibilities of greater anxieties later on? Let us wait, at any rate,
until the doctor comes.

And from this household he has to drive home by a private school where
lies some boy with a cheerful countenance and a suspicious red rash on
his chest. It would never do to create a false alarm. But, on the other
hand, it would be more than disastrous to let the origin of some
sweeping epidemic go free for convenience' sake. And here is a
servant-maid in the surgery with a throat that looks as diphtheritic as
a throat can well be; and she comes from a dairy farm that supplies half
the town with milk, under the eyes of a government inspector; while the
rector's wife, nervous, and uncomfortably near forty, is expecting her
first, long-looked-for baby some time this afternoon.

It may take a good man to remove successfully an adherent appendix or
an obscure tumour of the brain, or to diagnose some out-of-the-way
lesion of a heart valve. But such a man, after all, has spent the
greater portion of his professional life in dealing with no other
subjects but these. And it must surely require at least an equal
equipment, after its own kind, to deal wisely and rapidly with such
variously conflicting problems as I have just been describing.

You are probably becoming a little bored by these commonplace remarks of
mine. But they are the sort of truism that will generally bear an
occasional reconsideration. And if I have a very private opinion, to
which you cannot subscribe, that the really able general practitioner is
perhaps the very best man in our ranks bar none, I am quite willing to
concede this extra superiority if you will grant him at least an equal
eminence to that of Sir Grosvenor le Draughte, as Mr. Russell has called
him in one of his recent books.

So go into your practice with a good heart. Your experience as a locum
in Bristol and Shropshire will have prepared you for any little
mortifications that may be in waiting during your first few months. You
will be used to the disheartening fall of the countenance that greets
the junior partner when his senior was expected. And you will accept
with a grave countenance and an inward chuckle your knowledge of the
extremely frank criticism that is likely to herald and succeed your
first few visits. Even now there's a letter upon my desk from a
disrespectful young lady who shall be nameless. A new curate has made
his initial appearance in an Eastbourne drawing-room. "He shook hands
just like a baby," she writes, "and he stopped to tea, and he sprawled
all over the table, and he has quite nice eyes, but his mouth is just
like cook's when she's having one of her windy spasums." And if sixteen
can rise to heights like this, what about eighteen and twenty and
twenty-two? Nor are curates, alas, the only legitimate prey. I wonder if
there's a girls' school in your practice?

You may lament too, for a little while perhaps, the slow dawning of
confidence in your new patients. But before very long you may even be
rather overwhelmed (quite privately of course) by the freedom and
completeness with which it is accorded you. And above all things, be
just your natural self in dealing with them, forgetting, if you can,
that you have ever even heard of such an attribute as a good bedside
manner.

This reminds me that only last week, in a railway carriage, I overheard
two young ladies discussing a very sympathetic physician well known to
us both. One of them was wondering why he had always been so successful.
"Oh, that," said the other cheerfully, "is because he's so frightfully
good at comforting the relatives--_afterwards_, you know."

If your news must be bad, tell it soberly and promptly. It's
seldom--very seldom--wise to conceal it for some dubious temporary
benefit. And if you are in doubt about any of their maladies let them
know it quite frankly, explaining to them in language suited to their
degree of education and intelligence exactly why this should be the
case.

There's been a good deal written lately about the personal factor in
treatment, the Psychology of the Physician, and the mental therapeutics
at his command. And I even saw a letter in the "Lancet," a few weeks
ago, urging that the practical application of Personality in the
sick-room should form one of the recognised subjects of the medical
curriculum. But in the first place, I'm exceedingly doubtful if the
modesty of our profession is so excessively marked as to demand for its
correction a course of instruction in the conscious prescribing of its
own personality. And in the second, I fail to see how this latter could
ever be done without, by the very act, considerably altering that
uncertain quantity, at any rate so far as its victim was concerned. And
what would one's _ego_ be like, I wonder, after ten years' conscientious
labour? So I shouldn't worry too much about your personality if I were
you. It will be a good thing, no doubt, to get all you can into it by
encouraging such tentacles as it may put forth to the sun and the
breeze. But what other people are to get out of it is a matter with
which you may quite properly, I think, be too busy to concern yourself.

While I'm still in the pulpit, let me recommend you to husband your
energies. Don't play tennis all the afternoon (even with Amaryllis) if
you have been up all night. Go to sleep in the hammock, instead, over a
book or a paper or a letter from Uncle Peter. And don't forget sometimes
to say your prayers. For whatever may be one's private notions as to
their ultimate Destination; whether one affects a belief in some
beneficent Overlord, once incarnate; or regards God as the ever-growing
sum of all higher human volitions; or, remembering this infinitesimal
particle of earth in the greatness of the universe, considers such a
conception to be inadequate; or admits only some possible
Starting-point, a kind of Divine Convenience upon which to found
theories; or has never thought about the matter at all--it's always a
gracious and comforting act to remove one's moral hat, as it were (even
if reverence goes no further) to Something at any rate bigger than most
of us. While even on the very chilliest of auto-suggestion grounds there
is still a word to be said for it as a vehicle wherein to despatch one's
extra troubles to some handy mental cemetery. For prayer, whether we
look upon it as sacred or superstitious, must still, as the hymn says,
be the soul's sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed. And occasional
expression is about as valuable a prelude to the acquiring of knowledge
as any that are going.

So I may as well tell you at once that I know nothing whatever about
motor-cars, and therefore find the last half of your letter entirely
unintelligible. But I gather that the one you mean to purchase combines
speed, silence, and freedom from odour in a quite unusual degree. Some
day, no doubt, I shall be sponging upon you for a lesson in driving
it--or him--or do you call the thing her?

  Yr. affect. uncle,
  PETER HARDING.



XXVII

_To Miss Sarah Harding, The Orphanage, Little Blessington, Dorset._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _November_ 7, 1910.

MY DEAR SALLY,

This is going to be a short letter because the news that it contains is
probably speeding to you already--from Esther, to whom its greatness is
not unmixed with tears; and from Molly, to whom its joy is of the
eternal gold. Ten days ago she came back to us from Stoke, where, as she
told us, she had been having a good time, but seemed now to have
fulfilled her little contract. For the house-party had broken up: Horace
had long ago made a late return to Cambridge; Carthew was in the Temple,
and Pole in Fleet Street; Hilary and Norah were off to Spain; and the
one or two extra guns, just leisurely shooting men, had betaken
themselves, at any rate superficially regretful, to other people's
houses. Lady Wroxton was better--very nearly her old self, and for the
moment wrapped up, heart and soul, in her nephew Rupert. It had been a
pleasant visit. She kissed us very tenderly. And now it was high time
that she was back again among her girls at Hoxton.

Two days later came a wire from Rupert asking if he might spend a night
with us on his way to Yorkshire. And in the evening he duly arrived.
Nobody else was dining with us that night, and our little party at the
table was perhaps quieter than usual. After dinner we were going to
smoke our pipes in the library with Esther and Molly, when Rupert drew
me aside and asked me to take him into the consulting-room.

"I want you just to run over me," he said, with his eyes on a dangling
stethoscope, "to run over me rather thoroughly."

I glanced at him anxiously. But in his evening clothes he seemed even
lither and more bronzed than ever.

"Feeling bad anywhere?" I inquired. But he shook his head.

"Rather fit," he admitted, as he took off his coat and waistcoat. And as
I suspected, I could find nothing wrong with him. On the contrary, he
appeared to be in the very pink of condition, for all his tropical
sojournings.

"Good," he said; "and, as a matter of fact, I saw Manson this morning,
and West this afternoon, and they both told me the same thing."

I began to laugh at him, though he was speaking very seriously. "You're
surely not becoming a hypochondriac?" I asked.

"No," he said gravely; "I don't think so. But I'm forty-seven, you see.
And I want to get married."

I was, perhaps, rather taken aback at this, though I scarcely knew why.
And he himself appeared to consider the idea as savouring somewhat of
presumption. For he blushed a little as he slowly collected his clothes.
Somehow we had neither of us thought of him as being a marrying man.
Then, as he began to dress himself again, I congratulated him, and asked
him if the lady was known to me. He hesitated for a moment, and then
smiled.

"Yes, I think she is," he said; "though I doubt if you'd consider me
much of a husband for her."

He filled his pipe thoughtfully.

"For though in some ways she seems to me to be rather old for her
years--old-fashioned, you know, and womanly, and all that--she's really
rather young."

He seemed to consider this a difficulty. Then he looked at me with a
kind of deprecating straightness.

"You'd be giving her," he said, "to a fellow who's old enough to be her
father."

I suppose that I looked a little surprised.

"Yes, I do," he said humbly; "I mean Molly."

We sucked our pipes in silence for a minute or two, looking at one
another through the tobacco smoke. Then I asked him if he had ever
pointed out to Molly her striking lack of modernity. He shook his head.

"Hadn't the pluck," he confessed; "but it's so obvious, isn't it?"

He glanced at me anxiously.

"But you mustn't think I'm against it," he said. "It's so rare nowadays.
And I think it's beautiful; and anyway, it's just what I've been wanting
all my life."

"You'll let me talk to Esther?" I asked presently.

"I should like to talk to her myself," he answered, "only I'm such a
fool at these things."

He lit another match.

"Look here," he went on, "I don't want you to tell me what you both
think for a week--till I come back from Yorkshire. I'm too old for her,
I know. But I seem to be pretty sound, and I--well, dash it all, Peter,
you know her better than I do, although you--d'you know, by the way,
that you rather put me off her in that last letter of yours?"

"Did I?" I asked. "Perhaps that was because I don't really know her so
well."

"Well, first," he said, "there was that Lynn affair, of course. But
that's dead, isn't it?"

"Quite," I told him; "and they've both gone out of mourning."

"And then," he went on, "you made me think of a rather up-to-date young
woman, quite nice, of course," he looked at me apologetically, "but
perhaps just a little bit self-complacent. Whereas I found in her,
instead, everything that I've always worshipped most, you know--from
rather a long way off."

       *       *       *       *       *

That was a week ago. And since he left, as you will imagine, both Esther
and I have done a good deal of thinking. For on the one side we
couldn't help feeling the absurdity of regarding Rupert as a son-in-law.
And on the other we should be giving our daughter--or rather watching
her go--into the hands of one of our oldest friends. Given love too, how
well should they be mated; both so strong, but he so abidingly simple,
so unchallenged by surrounding mysteries, and she so eager, so
delicately tuned to each passing subtlety of thought.

Characteristically enough, he had neither told us, before he went, how
clearly he had shown Molly his feelings, nor asked us to discuss with
her, or to withhold, his announcement to ourselves. And so we said
nothing to her about it. But just now, as we were expecting his arrival,
I discovered, I think, that our desire for her had been fulfilled. For
with a shyness bringing back to me a little girl that I had forgotten,
she had perched herself on the arm of my chair; so that when his voice
was in the hall there wasn't very far to bend.

"You told me to wait for Heaven, you know," she reminded me. And her
eyes confessed that it was standing at the door.

  Your affect. brother,
  PETER.

P.S.--I can see you pursing those wise lips of yours, and muttering that
Heaven has been a little sudden. But I believe that there are precedents
for this.



XXVIII

_To Miss Josephine Summers, The Cottage, Potham, Beds._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _November_ 26, 1910.

MY DEAR AUNT JOSEPHINE,

We shall be very disappointed if you don't come to Molly's wedding,
although it is to be rather a quiet one, or at any rate as quiet as we
can manage to keep it--not because we are anything but desirous that as
many people as are kind enough to do so may rejoice with us over the
occasion; but because, from Molly downwards, we have a temperamental
shrinking from crowded churches, pavement druggets, hired exotics, and
paid choir-boys. And you mustn't worry because your favourite porter has
been transferred to Leeds, and therefore won't be able to look after
your luggage at St. Pancras. Because one of us will be sure to meet you
with the carriage, and escort both you and it quite safely to Harley
Street.

I have received your cheque, and will buy the little medicine-chest for
Rupert to-morrow. As you say, it's most important that the breadwinner
should try to keep himself in as good a state of health as possible,
even if he is so liable, as Rupert is, to be suddenly shot. And we all
think the old bracelet that you have sent to Molly very beautiful. Both
of them will so much want to thank you personally for your gifts that
you must really make up your mind, I think, to take the risks of the
journey (the most recent statistics show these to be quite small) and
stay with us here for a couple of nights from December 6th.

  Yr. affect. nephew,
  PETER HARDING.



XXIX

_To the Rev. Bruce Harding, S. Peter's College, Morecambe Bay._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _December_ 2, 1910.

MY DEAR BRUCE,

It was very good of you to enclose a note in your letter to Molly, and
the more so because I have an uncomfortable suspicion that I may have
wounded you a little when I wrote to you last. If only we could use
colours now, to express our deeper attitude on these occasions--as some
of your fellow-clergy wear stoles at certain seasons--with what pleasant
impunity could we write to one another in yellow, or purple, or red,
leaving black for the editor of "The Times," or the plumber whose bill
we're disputing. But, alas, even our lightest thoughts must needs go
forth clad like mutes at a funeral, and dependent upon those who meet
them to detect their forlorn humanity. And so if I have talked, as the
outsider that I am, too harshly of things that are dear to you, you
must forgive me even as Merridew has forgiven Rogers.

For you know--why should I tell you?--that it was no Word from on high
that my puny humanity was attempting to challenge, but only the chains
(as they seem to me) of Its ecclesiastical exposition; as though man had
been made for the Church, and not the Church for man. And yet even thus
one can only bow before its achievement. For to be able, as the miner of
whom we read the other day, to sing "Lead, kindly Light" through the
foul air of some blocked-up coal-pit is better than to have all
knowledge--and an abundant justification of any creed that makes it
possible.

"Thou wouldst not seek Me," says the Saviour in the "Mirror of Jesus,"
"if thou hadst not found Me."

Do you know the quotation? I came upon it by chance the other day as
repeated by Bourget in a book that I happened to be reading. And it
seems to me to contain very simply--if only we might give it something
more than an academic consent--just the one conception that is needed
for the true and permanent sweetening of all our religious
relationships. For they _are_ seeking, these pig-headed people who annoy
us so much--I think that, nowadays, we most of us can admit as much as
that. Methodist, Sacerdotalist, Hyde-Park Agnostic, Christian Socialist,
Roman Modernist, Traditional Romanist, High, Low, Broad, Middle, Open,
Closed (I wonder if God laughs sometimes at our resounding definitions),
or Free Lance--we cannot help pitying them, of course, according to our
several lights; but in so far as their sincerity is manifest, we do
behold in them the signs of a mistaken search.

And yet, by that very fact, have they not really found? Not our
particular little glimpse of the Almighty and the Eternal, but some
other little glimpse--something, at any rate, that is evidently making
them strive for more; and something that they, like we, are desperately
anxious to share. Or why these dusts of conflict?

And yet, perhaps, the dusts are inevitable, after all--the surest sign
that the Building grows beneath its million workers, and that the
mallets and chisels are being busy against that great day of Affirmation
when the Temple shall stand complete at the meeting-place of all our
roads.

And meanwhile Molly and Rupert, at any rate, are feeling very
happy--with a proud humility, carefully concealed. His years have
seldom weighed heavily on Molly's future husband, though as a matter of
bald fact he is Mr. Pickwick's senior. And lately he has been dropping
them by handfuls. Molly, however, must have picked some of them up, I
fancy, and is wearing them with an appropriate dignity.

  Your affect. cousin,
  PETER HARDING.



XXX

_To Hugh Pontrex, Villa Rosa, Mentone._


  91B HARLEY STREET, W.,
  _December_ 25, 1910,
  10.30 p.m.

MY DEAR HUGH,

This seems an odd sort of time at which to begin a letter--even to you.
But this has been an odd sort of Christmas, a kind of aftermath, as far
as its festivities have been concerned, of those demanded by Molly's
marriage. The two water-colours that you sent them, by the way, were
both lovely, quite in your happiest vein; and I am sorry that at present
they have no permanent wall to hang them on. But Rupert's colonial tour,
upon which they had to start early last week, will scarcely be finished,
I suppose, for twelve months; and even then their place of habitation
seems likely to be very movable. So, upon the whole, we have been a
quiet little party, or as quiet, at any rate, as Claire and Tom will
allow; and we decided to spend the afternoon at the hospital, which is
_en fête_ for some twenty-four hours, at the price, possibly, of a few
subsequent temperatures, but to the immediate benediction of all
concerned.

Have you ever been to the hospital? I think not. And I daren't attempt
to describe it to you, chiefly, I suppose, on account of the natural
reticence, the _mauvaise bonte_, or the golden silence--I leave you to
select--with which most men avoid such subjects as their wives, their
souls, and their _alma mater_; but secondarily because, by the time my
letter reached you, the description would most probably have ceased to
be true. It would have added a storey, or sprouted a wing. Let me
content myself therefore with pointing out to you those two boys
standing rather awkwardly in one corner of the entrance-hall--the
left-hand corner between the cloak-room and the porter's desk. Both of
them have only just left school. The shiny-haired one, with the crimson
tie, and the gold buttons on his waistcoat, and the creases on his
rather striking trousers, was at one of our older foundations. The
other, with yesterday's collar round his neck, and a stain or two of
nitric acid upon his sleeves, has just won an entrance scholarship from
a private school at Camberwell. The second is the shyer of the two
perhaps, in spite of his ardent Fabianism and his bitter independence
of revealed religion. But both are a little nervous in that they are
only in their first year, and still, academically speaking, confined to
the study of the dog-fish in a remoter corner of the college. They are
feeling rather young, in fact, though the hospital's name is on their
visiting cards--something like new boys again, at the bottom of the
first form.

Three Christmases from now, however, and they will be sauntering here
very much at their ease, waiting about with their house-physicians for
the two o'clock arrival of their chiefs from Harley Street. The gold
buttons will have disappeared, I think, by then, and the trousers will
be modester in hue; while on the other hand that collar will be above
suspicion, and you might search in vain for a trace of red corrosive.
Both, too, will be dangling stethoscopes, and would like, if they were
quite certain of the chairman, to be smoking a Virginian cigarette. In
other words, they have deserted the college for the "house." They have
become critics of the nursing staff, and their talk--not on Christmas
Day, of course--is of _râles_ and _rhonchi_ and the merits of their
respective H.P.'s. There are some of them standing about in the hall as
our party dismounts from the carriage. But the majority are already in
their favourite wards, whose walls they have been helping to decorate.
Far removed are they from the Sawyers of yesterday, though at times they
grow merry with wine. For the demands of examiners have become annually
more stringent; their hospital duties are arduous; and hard work, as
everybody knows, is the next-door neighbour to virtue.

Give them but three Christmases more, and they will be even as this
white-coated and dignified young man whom Horace and I are watching as
he deals with the patients in the receiving-room. For these will drift
in from the streets and tenements, whether or no the day be a Festival,
and partly, perhaps, with an eye to possible good cheer. We wait a
little, as he stands there by the pillar, a curious contrast, with his
fresh face and athletic figure, to the slouching fleshiness of these big
navvies and the stunted urbanity of the rest.

Behind him stand a couple of dressers, fresh from the college, willing,
but still perhaps a little bewildered, and to whom this all-knowing and
self-possessed young surgeon is something of a god. His treatment is
rapid--it has to be--for he is here primarily to sort out the cases
that come crowding in their daily hundreds. But he must never make a
mistake--a grave one, that is. And the remembrance of this has taught
him--no easy matter--to know real illness when he sees it with a pretty
high degree of certainty. So the bad cases he sets on one side. For if
possible they must be admitted; and at any rate they must be seen by the
house-surgeon or house-physician on duty. While as for the rest, they
may be given at once the necessary pill, or a desirable draught from
that decorated urn in the corner--there's a certain irony in that
particular wreath of holly--or despatched, with out-patient cards, to
appropriate special departments.

And all this time there is flowing from him to the dressers a little
stream of wounds to be stitched, torn scalps to be cleaned, and sprains
and strains to be temporarily bandaged. Odder things too may be
demanding their youthful attention. Here, for instance, is a genial but,
alas, beery Irishwoman of vast _embonpoint_, whose wedding-ring has been
jammed into her finger, and must at all costs be removed. Alcoholic
invocations are breathed into the dresser's ear as he files patiently at
this brass emblem of married unity. Sure, darlin', she tells him, if
she could only be rid of her ould man as aisy, she'd be another woman
to-morrer, she would. While here, sitting next her, is a dark-eyed
twelve-year-old, holding out a pathetic little toe that has been stamped
upon by a passing dray-horse. It is attached to a very grimy foot that
was not, one fears, the only inhabitant of the stocking that contained
it. And the dresser is not sure if the bone is broken. She has the
countenance of a tear-stained Madonna; but her language, when he twists
her toe, becomes positively lurid. The other women titter or are
shocked, the Sister rebukes her, and young white-coat is called up for
reference. He likes the little girl, and gives her some chocolate,
whereupon she stifles half her sobs and most of her profanity. Yes, it's
a fracture all right. Does the dresser know how to put on a poroplastic
splint? The dresser looks a little uncertain. So white-coat gives him a
swiftly helping hand, and within five minutes is removing a decayed
Semitic molar that has been giving its owner _schmerz_ indescribable.
Accompanying this gentleman are his two sisters, a married brother with
his wife and family, and an elderly uncle, all of whom wail
incontinently to the general discomfort. Glancing over his shoulder,
young white-coat sends briefly for a porter, who courteously removes
them; and is only just in time, having extracted the tooth successfully,
to avoid the happy sufferer's embraces. He has never hurried; and yet by
the time that we have made our round of the dressing-rooms the benches
are empty, and he has disappeared to his pipe and his arm-chair. Can you
believe that but four years ago he was throwing chalk about the
dissecting-room, and stamping uproariously during lectures?

This wonder has my hospital performed. And what am I to tell you of the
Sister who has witnessed it--whose shrewd eyes have beheld so many
dressers emerging rawly from the college or from Cambridge, becoming in
due time even as our white-clad friend, and passing hence, as he will
pass, into the staid gravity of the family doctor?

There's a time--fortunately brief--in the career of the just-qualified
student when he is a little inclined to assert his professional
supremacy. How tenderly she watches him through it; and how, telling him
all things, she apparently tells him nothing! I wouldn't like to say how
many years she has stood there, or what sights, humorous, tragic,
unpaintably indecent, she has witnessed in all that time. And you could
certainly never guess them for yourself. Let me only say then that her
wisdom is more than the wisdom of many physicians, and that no gentler
fingers have touched the seamy side of life.

And yet, I suppose, she was once a little girl, shinning up the orchard
trees for the apples at the top. And she can still, I believe, drop a
sentimental tear or two upon the last page of a novel. So can this be
yet another miracle that my hospital has wrought? Dear me--and we have
got no further than the receiving-room, and scarcely even thought about
the patients.

Sometimes I wonder if the people whose pennies are invited to keep us
for a second ever realise the full significance of the instant that they
make their own. Not always, I think, for even I, who am in the hospital
three times a week, only get an occasional vision of it--chiefly on such
days as these, when one may travel its wards at large, unforbidden by
professional etiquette. Do they know, for example, that under the roof
of the out-patients' department there are two small boys--open-mouthed
little snorers of yesterday, sprawling about on the pavement inviting
trouble--whose tonsils during that moment have been successfully removed
from them? And can they perceive, in the same measure of time, a dozen
blocked-up ears and noses being skilfully examined by electrical
illumination? Do they realise that, simultaneously with all this, eight
short-sighted persons are being tested for spectacles, and two more
being operated upon for squint; that three men with diseased skins are
being prescribed for in another part of the building, and that four
women who were being consumed with lupus are now being cured with light;
that a poor servant-girl is under gas while her yet poorer teeth are
being removed, and that three others are being fitted with nerveless new
ones; that a little damsel with a dislocated hip is having it put in
plaster; that an elderly and rheumatic cab-driver is being helped with
radiant heat; and that some four hundred men and women of all
descriptions are waiting their turn for treatment? My numbers are
conservative; but, even so, does the gentleman on the underground
railway platform realise (to be merely sordid) that during his second
some five hundred pounds' worth of free operations are in progress? Does
he visualise the resultant satisfaction in all those squalid little
homes, the domestic relief, the returning efficiency, the rolled-away
anxiety, the dawning happiness? And does he remember that he has as yet
peeped into but one department of the great hospital that he is
supporting?

But really, on a Christmas Day one shouldn't be thinking about these
things; and you must put them down to an elderly garrulity, or as being,
if you will, in the nature of a half-sorrowful farewell. For by next
Christmas, alas, my wards will have ceased to know me. The twenty years'
span allotted to me will have come to its close; and even to-day, at a
corner of the corridor, I overheard a hazarded guess at my successor.

So after a long pilgrimage through gay and chattering wards--they were
all gay this afternoon, only you mustn't look, perhaps, at those quiet
corners--we at last found Esther and her party in the gayest of them
all. I will call it this, as being a very complete disguise if you
should ever quote me to the Sister of another. And here a troupe of
residents was delivering a little series of songs and dances, to the
complete delight of some forty patients and a background of visitors and
nurses. Its members were particularly hilarious. I fancy indeed that
they must have primed themselves with a little previous champagne--a
very little, and you must remember that at least two of them had been up
for most of the night. But nobody noticed this; and Claire, at any rate,
was very thoroughly taken by storm.

"Won't they come back presently?" she asked.

But the Sister shook her head. If Claire wanted to see them again she
must go off to some other ward. I saw her turn to Tom.

"Shall we?" she said, and they slipped away together. But before they
went I heard her calling his particular attention to one of the players,
"the second from the left," she whispered, "the awfully handsome one"--a
new note for Claire? Yes, just a little new.

And so we left it at last, driving out into the street through a small
crowd of eager, white-faced children, for some of whom, no doubt, its
walls were as the walls of Paradise. It was quite dark, with a blur of
rain upon the carriage windows; and for a minute or two the hospital,
with its long rows of lighted wards, towered dimly upon our left.

"Just like a great big liner," said Claire, who had been down to
Southampton when Molly and Rupert sailed. And so indeed one could
imagine it--lifting its strong sides above all these crowded roof-tops,
with unshaken bows, and Hope upon the bridge, and Comfort, at least, to
minister in its cabins.

"And yet there's something awful in it too," said Jeanie Graham.

"Chiefly," explained Horace philosophically, "because we're going home
ourselves to an excellent Christmas dinner."

"And happen to be feeling rather well," said Esther.

"And partly, I suppose," added Jeanie, "because just now we're looking
at it from the outside."

"And a little bit," I guessed, "because it stands, in a sense, for
Knowledge with a big K. And there are times when we're all rather afraid
of that--even when it wants to do us good."

"But we run to it in the end," smiled Jeanie.

Let me introduce you to her as she sits opposite to me in the
brougham--or to so much of her as is not obscured by Claire, who is
dividing her weight between Horace and his wife-apparent. Strictly
speaking, I suppose, she is scarcely to be described as pretty. Her
cheek-bones are the least shade too high, and her eyebrows just a trifle
too level. Here and there too her skin, still clinging to its Highland
brown, is powdered with tiny freckles; and though her nose is straight
enough, a purist might consider her mouth too big, and her chin perhaps
a little too firm--but very pleasantly so. Her hair is dark and wavy,
and in its natural setting--a grey tam-'o-shanter, I think, and the tail
of a Scotch mist--might well contain the deep, divine, dark dayshine of
the poet. And indeed I have been assured that it does. I have left her
eyes to the last, because at present she is standing away from them a
little. Regarded as mere windows to her mind they are well opened,
clear, and grey. But Horace, who has seen their owner leaning out of
them, could no doubt describe them better. And we think that he's a
fortunate young man.

Our only other guest was Wensley, dragged reluctantly from Chelsea. His
year has had some of its usual disappointments. His big work wasn't
finished in time for the Academy, and is still in his studio. But though
the Chantrey trustees passed over the very beautiful bronze that he did
send, he has sold this to the National Gallery at Copenhagen for six
hundred pounds, and has spent, in consequence, a fortnight at
Whitby--his first holiday, I believe, in three years, since his invalid
aunt and sister absorb most of his usual earnings. He always looks odd
and uncomfortable in evening dress. But our very informal table
generally sets him at his ease. And he is an extreme favourite with both
Tom and Claire. To-night he remembered one of Tom's songs, and persuaded
him, after dinner, to deliver it--with a little hesitation at first (for
the poor boy has still got some scruples, I think), but ultimately to
his saving grace. He left us at ten o'clock, for the invalids' sake, by
which time Tom and Claire announced themselves to be feeling rather
sleepy, without, as I observed, any notable protest from Jeanie and
Horace. So they have both gone upstairs to bed; or at least I had
thought so. But a tentative whisper at my door-handle has aroused my
suspicions. I am busy writing to Mr. Pontrex, so that I shall be sure
not to hear anything; and slowly the crack widens between the door-edge
and the architrave. Across the blackness disclosed, flashes the gleam of
a white-frocked arm, like a turning trout in a pool; and presently a
brown hand, desperately silent, begins feeling for my key. I look at it
apprehensively (for I have become a little nervous on this point lately)
and am happily relieved to find it ringless. I must be very quick.

       *       *       *       *       *

And yet, as you will have noticed, even Claire is growing up, still
faithful to a more boisterous March, but now and then holding out her
finger-tips to May. She reposes, as you may remember, in the little room
next to ours. And yesterday morning Esther called me from my
shaving-glass. For she had opened the door between, to discover that
Claire had flown. Whither we could guess very easily, as she was even
then hammering Tom with her pillow. But there, balanced face downwards
on the edge of the bolster, lay a momentarily forgotten photograph.
Esther touched it with a smile.

"D'you think we ought to?" she asked. And then she drew back. But at
that moment a rather more vehement bump than its predecessors shook the
wall and floor so thoroughly that the photo slid down upon the sheets,
poised itself for a second upon its edge, and then dropped over, to
reveal the very debonair figure of Mr. George Alexander as the gallant
Rudolf Rassendyll. We looked at one another, and laughed--but only a
little. And then Esther restored the picture to its resting-place.

Some day we shall meet him in the Park, and Claire will behold a very
genial, middle-aged gentleman, a little inclined to be plump. But he
won't be Rudolf Rassendyll. And what will happen to his likeness?

       *       *       *       *       *

"She'll put it in her bottom drawer," smiles Esther, leaning over me as
I write, "and it'll become part of somebody else."

She drops a kiss upon my occiput.

"And now you must come to bed," she adds, "or perhaps to-morrow morning
you'll be tired."

And by this, of course, she means "cross," though possibly, by some
blessed dispensation, she imagines that she doesn't. For long (as I am
minded to tell you, Hugh Pontrex), long before she's married, a woman
has made a garment for the man who is to wed her--a beautiful and rather
princely garment, and fortunately a bigger one than is usually required.
Because then, you see, she has only to take a tuck in it--and forget
about it--and there's her man clad in his coat, just as she had always
dreamed that he would come to her. Most women, I'm afraid, have to
deepen this tuck until there's no more stuff that they can turn. And by
that time, perhaps, we have begun to suspect that there has been some
tampering with our property.

"D'you mean to say," we inquire bitterly, "that we've grown out of it
already?"

And then it is that they must needs explain to us, with dewy eyes and
hands upon our shoulders, how it's only the same dear garment
still--_three times as thick_.

"What nonsense," says Esther above my shoulder.

"The garment?" I ask.

"No, the--the tuck."

But she looks a little conscious.

  Ever yours,
  P. H.





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